Saturday, June 26, 2010

Thoughts on my first 24 hours of Twitter

Yesterday, right about this time, I announced that I had joined the Twitter Nation (@denisejohnson1). I am following about 67 people so far, mostly in the technology and children's literature worlds. Here are my thoughts so far:


Professional Development: A number of the people I am following are attending the ISTE and ALA conferences going on right now. I was able to connect to a live stream of the lunch speaker at ISTE, Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann) and learn about some really cool sites from those in sessions who were "live" tweeting. Several people at ALA sent tweets with pictures of authors or new book releases. I would not have been aware of any of these events if it had not been for Twitter.

Cool Factor: I know which book Judy Blume just finished reading (yes, Judy Blume Twitters @judyblume) and I watched Neil Gaiman's 2010 Carnegie Medal acceptance speech.


It's addicting: I can't believe how fast the time has gone. I didn't get anything accomplished on my to-do list. I am trying to figure out how those who follow thousands of people do it.

Think before you follow: I think you have to be careful about who you follow if you are using Twitter as a professional development tool. Some people tweet for purely social reasons, which is fine, but I already have problems with "time suck" after only 24 hours. It makes me think before I tweet!

At the end of the day (and I pretty much monitored my Twitter feed all day), I felt as if I had learned a lot and that my time wasn't was completely wasted. I look forward to learning more about Twitter--how to maximize its potential and how to minimize "time suck." If you have ideas, please let me know.

Friday, June 25, 2010

I'm on Twitter!

I finally bit the bullet and joined Twitter @denisejohnson1. I don't have a clue as to what I'm doing, but sometimes it's just best to jump in. I started a tweetchat: #childrensliterature and sent my first message about reading Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick.

If you Twitter, let me know what you're reading!

If you've found Twitter to be a powerful professional development tool for children's literature, please let me know.

New Office + Reshelving = New Insights

The School of Education at The College of William & Mary just moved into a brand new building! It is a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility that holds much promise for teaching and learning, so I'm thrilled to be in this new space. However, the downside is that I had to pack all of my children's books and move them into my new office. I don't think anyone enjoys packing and moving, but with each move I make, I acquire new books. So the number of books I moved this time was astounding!

I was not looking forward to unpacking. But, as I pulled each book from the box and tried to decide where it would go, it sparked new thinking about the books, genre, theme, and ways I might use the books in the upcoming academic year.

Later in the week, I corresponded with a literacy coach, Wendy Melzer, at a local elementary school who was also moving offices. She talked about unpacking her children's books with her school's reading specialist. As they went through the books, they had great conversations about ways they could use great children's literature to support children's literacy development.

Wendy was so inspire by her "re"discovery and conversations with the reading specialist that she has already scheduled an inservice for the teachers in her school on nonfiction during the next school year.

Usually, at some point in the summer, teachers and librarians reorganize or rearrange the books in their classroom/libraries. This year, you might use that time to think about new or different ways to use your books in your teaching. Please share your ideas!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Skyping with the Author/Illustrator

In the past few weeks, I have had an amazing experience working with a first and fourth grade teacher and their amazing students on a virtual author/illustrator visit via Skype. Let me start from the beginning...

I was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to Skype with illustrator LeUyen Pham and author Ellen Potter as part of a presentation for the NCTE annual conference in Orlando in the fall. I thought long and hard about the best way to utilize the virtual author/illustrator visit. I could have set it up so that LeUyen Pham an Ellen Potter Skyped with the teachers in my children's literature course. That would have certainly been a valuable experience for all since teachers are more likely to utilize resources such as Skype if they have had positive experiences with it themselves.

However, about half way through my children's literature course, I knew that the more powerful way to use this wonderful opportunity was to have the author and illustrator Skype with children. Teachers would certainly benefit from the experience themselves, but they would see the greater benefit through the eyes of children. That would truly show the power of virtual author/illustrator visits.

For an author/illustrator visit (virtual or in person) to be successful, the students must be very familiar with the author/illustrator's work. It can take weeks or even months of reading, discussing, and studying an author/illustrator's craft before students are ready for the visit. So you would think that finding teachers who, at this late date in the school year, were willing to add a study of LeUyen Pham's illustrations and Ellen Potter's writing to their already busy end-of-the-year schedule would be a task, right? Not so.

Two amazing teachers enrolled in my children's literature course were more than willing to take on the task and the opportunity.  Leslie Panaro, a first grade teacher at a local elementary school jumped at the opportunity to engage her brilliant first grade students in the study LeUyen Pham's work and Amy Moser, a fourth grade teacher was also willing and eager to engage her brilliant students in the study of Ellen Potter's writing.

I observed in both teachers' classrooms as they immersed their students in the work of an author/illustrator study. Leslie's first graders constructed an anchor chart on which they documented the illustrative medium, style, and technique for each of LeUyen Pham's illustrated books. Amy's fourth graders all read Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer's new book, Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook. In the book, the authors encourage their young readers to try a particular writing techniques through prompts titled, I Dare You. Amy started a class blog on which the fourth graders would post their responses to the I Dare You prompts and would reply to each other.

After about a month of studying the author/illustrator's work, Amy and Leslie set up the Skype event with their respective author/illustrator. Now here this big secret: NO ONE involved in the project (teachers, author, illustrator, students) had ever Skyped before! That's right. Everyone was a neophyte. So, to be sure everyone knew what they were doing and the virtual visit would run as smoothly as possible, they conducted a "dry run" in which they connected via Skype a few days before the actual visit.

Leslie's class visit with LeUyen Pham was first. Leslie, her students, myself, the local newspaper, the principal of the school, and the media specialist were all waiting in anxious anticipation for the event to begin. And of course, it was AMAZING! You can read Leslie's account of the event on her blog here. You can read about the event from the report in the local newspaper here. It was the first time anyone had done anything like this in the school district. Below is a picture from the local paper:

Amy's Skype session with Ellen Potter was also an amazing success. You can read about the event here from the William & Mary News, which also reports on Leslie's Skyype event with LeUyen Pham.

For these virtual author events to be such a success took careful planning by the teachers and the author/illustrator. Without such careful planning, these events would not have been nearly as successful as they were. The students were clearly engaged and excited about visiting with these authors not only because to the medium through which they were "meeting," but because they genuinely enjoyed the author/illustrator's work and wanted to learn more.

Leslie and Amy will be presenting with me at NCTE along with LeUyen Pham and Ellen Potter. We will show video clips of the Skype events and discuss in more detail the pros and cons of using Skype for virtual author/illustrator visits. But, I can tell you now, there are way more pros than cons. I hope to see you at NCTE!

Trailer: The Library of the Early Mind

I have blogged about Library of the Early Mind, a feature-length documentary film about children’s literature directed by Edward J. Delaney and produced by Edward J. Delaney and Steven Withrow, several times (learn more about the film here). Co-producer Steven Withrow has posted enticing tidbits of video from interviews on the production blog since last June; all of which are on the who's-who list of best children's authors, illustrators, editors and publishers.

The first screening of Library of the Early Mind will be held on October 19 from 5:30 - 8:00 pm. at Harvard, free and open to the public. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers and featured authors and is being offered by the Askwith Education Forum which is part of  the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

But, for those of us who are not able to attend, the first trailer for the film has also been released and can be found here. It's just enough to leave you salivating for more! However, there seems to be the hint of a promise of more trailers to come, so that will have to do for now.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

2010 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards

for Excellence in Children’s Literature

Fiction: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books)

Honor books: The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan; illustrated by Peter Sís (Scholastic)

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow)

Nonfiction: Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge (Viking)

Honor Books: Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures by Menno Metselaar and Ruud van der Rol (Roaring Brook/Flash Point)

Smile by Reina Telgemeier (Scholastic/Graphix)

Picture Books: I Know Here by Laurel Croza; illustrated by Matt James (Groundwood)

Honor Books: The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown)

It's a Secret! by John Burningham (Candlewick)

The judges were Martha Parravano of the Horn Book; NYTBR Children's Books editor Julie Just; and novelist Gregory Maguire.

Thanks to Read Roger for the announcement

Book Trailer: The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester

I am a big fan of Barbara O'Connor's books. Her newest book, The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester, will be released at the end of August. In the mean time, this book trailer is just the enticement we need to keep us hanging on...

Thanks to Read, Read, Read for the link.

Friday, June 4, 2010

NPR interveiw with John Grisham about his new book for kids: Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer

In Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, the bestselling author writes about a 13-year-old amateur attorney. Grisham says writing his first book for young readers was a challenge because he didn't want to talk down to his audience. He tells NPR's Michele Norris that kids are "a tougher crowd" than adults.

Textbooks ditched at Clearwater High as students log on to Kindles

I think most of us have predicted the inevitable move from traditional textbooks to e-readers, but apparently Clearwater High School will be the first to do it. From the story in the St. Petersburg Times:

Clearwater High School next year will replace traditional textbooks with e-readers. The gadgets will be fully loaded with all the textbooks students need, minus all the paper.

Though the school hasn't settled on a vendor, school officials are negotiating with Amazon Kindle to try to equip all 2,100 students with the 10-ounce devices this fall.

Already, the school issued e-readers to all 100 of its teachers.

Clearwater could be the first high school attempting such a sweeping shift with the Kindle.

John Just, assistant superintendent for the district's management information systems, said Kindle officials told the district that no other high school had embarked on such an effort. Schools elsewhere have used e-readers, but mostly on a per class basis. A Massachusetts boarding school recently made waves by completely digitizing its library.

Principal Keith Mastorides said he was inspired to make the switch earlier this school year after campus surveys revealed a desire to integrate more technology with classroom instruction.

"When you think about students today, three-quarters of their day is spent on some kind of electronic device," Mastorides said. "We're just looking at textbooks a little differently."

Kindles are listed on for $259 a piece. That price doesn't include the cost of purchasing the electronic texts, which are typically far less than hard copies.

Students won't have the ability to purchase texts that the district hasn't already approved and purchased itself. Should a student lose a device, Just said, the text can be retrieved by a replacement.

At first blush, the expense appears a savings over traditional textbooks. Books can cost between $70 and $90 each. A typical high school student would have about seven.

But Just said it's too soon to estimate cost savings. He said the school hopes to strike a deal to pay less per Kindle while bundling in the price of the texts, technical support, teacher training and insurance.

More than likely, he said, parents will be offered insurance to cover the cost of damage that might occur off school property.

Besides offering an electronic format to read books, newspapers and magazines, the Kindle allows users to get word definitions, bookmark pages, highlight text and type notes they might otherwise scribble in the margins of a hard-bound book.

It also offers limited Internet access via a free 3G network. Students will be required to sign an agreement stating they will not use it to access inappropriate websites. The Kindle boasts a rechargeable battery life of one week when the wireless is turned on, two weeks when it isn't. Additionally, it has the capability to convert text to voice so that users can listen to the books.

Clearwater is prepared to spend about $600,000, Just said. That's money allocated to the school for technology and classroom materials over six years. But the district has agreed to juggle grants to help the school borrow the money from the district in advance.

What about those people not ready to go high-tech? Every class will have hard copy textbooks on hand.

But even a self-described "dinosaur" such as Kathy Biddle, who has been teaching more than 31 years, said she's excited about how it might enhance her world history and sociology classes.

"I think it's the way kids are thinking today," Biddle said.

50th Anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird

Publisher HarperCollins is marking the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee's classic book To Kill a Mockingbird with a special website. At the site, you can find information about celebratory events across North America, teacher resources, book club resources, and more.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

July/August Horn Book Starred Reviews

As Posted by Read Roger, below are the July/August starred reviews from Horn Book Magazine:

Sleepy, Oh So Sleepy by Denise Fleming (Holt)

The Village Garage by G. Brian Karas (Ottaviano/Holt)

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)

Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley by Stephanie Greene (Clarion)

Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett (Candlewick)

Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! by Grace Lin (Little, Brown)

The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine/Scholastic)

Big Nate: In a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce (HarperCollins)

The War to End All Wars: World War I by Russell Freedman (Clarion)

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan; illus. by Brian Floca (Porter/Flash Point/Roaring Brook)

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot [Scientists in the Field] by Sy Montgomery; photos by Nic Bishop (Houghton)

Exquisite Corpse News

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) has provided audio recordings for all the episodes of "The Exquisite Corpse Adventure," the rollicking episodic story available exclusively at the website. These podcasts enhance the accessibility of this story, which is being created by some of America’s finest writers and illustrators for young people. is a website of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

"The Exquisite Corpse Adventure" is a project of the Center for the Book and the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA). The NCBLA, in collaboration with the Butler Center for Children’s Literature at Dominican University, also offers an online educational resource center on its website to accompany "The Exquisite Corpse Adventure."

In other "Exquisite Corpse" news, the results of the Name the Mystery Author Contest have been announced. The author is young people’s favorite Jack Gantos, who writes the Rotten Ralph and Joey Pigza series, among others. The winning school, the Will Rogers Middle School in Lawndale, Calif., will receive a collection of books valued at more than $500, plus a phone call from Gantos himself. Gantos will pen the next-to-last episode of "The Exquisite Corpse," which will be available at on Friday, Sept. 10. The final episode, No. 27, will make its debut when it is read by its author, National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Katherine Paterson, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25, in the Children’s pavilion at the National Book Festival.