Monday, February 28, 2011

"Between Shades of Gray" Unearths Lost Chapter in History

 From Publisher's Weekly

A simple question sparked the idea for Ruta Sepetys's first novel for young adults, Between Shades of Gray (release date 3/22), about Stalin's genocide in the Baltic states during WWII. On a visit to her family in Lithuania in 2005, Sepetys asked to see photographs of her grandfather, an officer in the Lithuanian army who had fled to a refugee camp before the genocide began and ultimately emigrated to America. "I was stunned to learn that they had burned every picture of him, to expunge any connection and to avoid persecution. Then they told me more about what happened to those who didn't escape. That's when I knew I had to tell this story."

Due this March from Philomel, Between Shades of Gray chronicles these horrific events through 15-year-old narrator Lina, balancing the brutality of her family's deportation to work camps in Siberia and the Arctic with remarkable hope and resilience. To research the novel, Sepetys traveled to Lithuania twice and interviewed family members, government officials, members of Parliament, psychologists, historians, and survivors. She also spent time in the train cars that transported the women and children to Siberia, visited prisons that the men occupied, and even lived in one for a weekend to brave the same brutal treatment as her heroine, re-enacted by Russians posing as Soviet guards.

In writing this novel, Sepetys says, "I felt a weighty responsibility to get this story right—for history, for my heritage, and for these survivors—especially the survivors. Because this chapter of history remained secret, no one had ever celebrated their bravery or consoled their regrets."

Even now, more than two decades after the end of the Soviet occupation, survivors exhibited great fear in opening up to Sepetys about their experiences. For so long, to speak meant further persecution, so that for many it was the first time they had talked about it with anyone. Sepetys particularly admired the survivors' resilience and ability to demonstrate kindness in the face of cruelty.

The prolonged Soviet occupation meant that this chapter of history had remained largely unknown. As Tamra Tuller, Sepetys's editor at Philomel, recalls, "One of the things that struck me about the novel was that this was a part of history I didn't know anything about. At first I thought it was just me. But as I talked to people, I realized that neither did others. We know so much about the Holocaust, and yet Stalin killed 20 million people, many more than Hitler. That the genocide targeted the Baltic states, as well, has been largely overlooked." Ellen Scott, manager of the Bookworm in Omaha, Neb., says she was shocked when she first read the book. "I've been reading about the Holocaust and WWII for years. And this was a whole new story. And it was so well handled. This character and her struggle stayed with me in a way few heroines do."

The stalwart support of booksellers and early readers demonstrates that the novel's appeal relies on more than just the history it reveals. Becky Anderson, owner of Anderson Books in Naperville and Downers Grove, Ill., says, "The book is so moving and so beautifully written. And the themes of the novel are so universal. Readers will identify with the bravery, hope, and triumph of the human spirit. I see tremendous crossover potential." As Tuller states, "This is the kind of story that strikes a chord, regardless of age."

Indeed, the power of this story and the writing has generated global interest, pre-pub buzz, and attention from adult audiences and publishers. Foreign rights have sold in 22 countries, half of them to adult publishers. The novel is the first YA novel chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club National Blue Ribbon selection, and it will be featured on The Today Show's spring books roundup; independent booksellers selected it as the #1 choice on the Spring 2011 Kids' Indie Next List.

Shining light on these events can both illuminate and heal. As Bill Cusomano, buyer at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor, Mich., says, "I consider this to be a YA version of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Sepetys's novel offers such in-depth knowledge of the Great Terror, and the camp scenes portray a microcosm of the horror of the gulag system while also demonstrating the courage of the targets of this ethnic cleansing." As Sepetys states, "History holds secrets. Secrets can be painful. Secrets can be so destructive." Thanks to Ruta Sepetys, the secret is out.

March 9 = World Read Aloud Day!

housands of people of all ages from all 50 United States and at least 40 countries will celebrate the power of words and stories during World Read Aloud Day, presented by LitWorld, the New York-based global literacy nonprofit organization, on Wednesday, March 9. Visit the LitWorld website to join in the festivities and for support in how you can celebrate, thereby taking action for the cause of global literacy.

World Read Aloud Day is an international event that motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words and stories by encouraging them to participate in a global movement to advocate for every child?s right to literacy, safe education, and access to books and technology. In honor of the event, LitWorld is inviting all participants to read with loved ones and new friends from now through March 9 and tally your minutes (sharing those totals with LitWorld) to reach the goal of 774 million minutes in honor of the 774 million people worldwide who cannot read. If you are a teacher or librarian, by reading aloud to one class of children for even ten minutes, you can tally 200 minutes for the cause.

"Literacy is the human rights issue of our time," said Pam Allyn, executive director and founder of LitWorld. "By learning to read, we all have access to information, the power of shared stories of the human experience, and a way to connect with one another. By raising our voices to express the written word, we come together on behalf of all the world's people who long to join the world of readers."

In honor of the day, and in addition to many events worldwide, LitWorld will host a 24-hour Read-Aloud Marathon in New York's Times Square on March 9. Special guest readers at the event will include New York City Chancellor of Schools Cathie Black, Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development Dennis M. Walcott, and many renowned authors and performers. In addition, thousands of diverse individuals in at least 40 countries will be joining in the World Read Aloud Day celebration, hosting events ranging from poetry slams to international video chat readings in schools and community groups around the globe.

LitWorld has spread the word about World Read Aloud Day primarily through social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs, and encourages participants to link their posts to LitWorld?s social media accounts and the LitWorld website.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Shaun Tan's Oscar-nominated short film, The Lost Thing.


Don't you just hate it when a film you haven't seen gets nominated for an award? While a trip to the cinema may answer your problems for the feature films, what about the shorts? We have one for you today – Shaun Tan's Oscar-nominated short film, The Lost Thing.

Based on Tan's 2002 kids book with the same name, the story sees a boy discover a strange creature at the beach while out collecting bottle tops. After spending the day with it, he realises it is lost and sets about finding a place where it belongs. While it's essentially a children's story, it will appeal to young and old alike.

The animation style looks hand-drawn; it's quite cute and simple, but that just adds to its charm. The creature is very bizarre and has a steampunk vibe to it, but it's easy to see why the boy empathises with it and wants to help it.

The short is co-directed by Tan and Andrew Ruhemann, and is narrated by Australian comedian, actor and musican Tim Minchin. Video comes via Daily Motion.

 I love Shaun Tan's work and am thrilled to discover that The Lost Thing has been turned into a short film. I will be watch the Oscar's tonight with renewed hope! You can watch The Lost Thing in its entirety here.

UPDATE: The Lost Thing did win the Oscar for best animated short film!!!!! Congratulations!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Emily Gravett's artwork

Straight from the Waking Brain Cells blog:

The Guardian has a fabulous slideshow of some of award-winning illustrator Emily Gravett’s artwork.  Her illustrations are always filled with a warm humor no matter what the subject.  From multiplying rabbits to mouse-ravaged pages to a fear of wolves, her books are all gems to be enjoyed and shared.  Enjoy the slideshow!

SFWA's 2010 Nominees for the Andre Norton Award for YA Scifi

SFWA announces the 2010 Nebula Award Nominees

 Nominations for this year's Andre Norton award follow:
I've read all but two and even though I "think" I know which book will win, I love a good surprise! What about you?

For more information, visit or

Monday, February 21, 2011

Share a Story - Shape a Future: A Blog Tour for Literacy

Share a Story - Shape a Future:

A Blog Tour for Literacy
March 7-11, 2011

 Announcing the third annual Share a Story ~ Shape a Future blog tour for literacy. This year's theme: Unwrapping the Gift of Literacy
  • The Power of a Book - From the literal power of owning a book and a good story to the intangible power that comes with knowing how to read. 
  • The Gift of Reading - Whether you're looking for a book to excite a reader, want to help someone learn to read or celebrate the "gift" ... it's covered.
  • Unwrapping Literacy 2.0 - With all of the talk of digital literacy, e-readers, etc. What does "literacy" look like in this new century?
  • Love of Reading v. Homework - Do they have to be at odds? We'll talk about ways to help readers at home and at school.
  • The Gift that Keeps on Giving - To wrap up the week we'll be remembering "that moment" when we realized we were a reader or writer and how to celebrate it with others. Lots(!) of interviews this day.
Line up of bloggers:
  • Riley Carney will be visiting with Carol Rasco at Rasco from RIF. (Monday)
  • Chris Singer (BookDads) has lined up nearly two dozen (!) dad bloggers (who also happen to be readers, writers, educators) to talk about the gift of reading. (Tuesday)
  • Mary Ann Scheur (Great Kids Books) will be reviewing iPad books and talk about them in the context of promoting literacy when Danielle Smith hosts Literacy 2.0 at There's a Book. (Wednesday)
  • At a Year of Reading, Mary Lee Hahn and Franki Sibberson will be talking about ways to balance literacy fun and school. Mitali Perkins, Barbara Dee, Katie Davis, Courtney Sheinmel, and others will be sharing Writer's Notebook ideas/photos at The Reading Zone. (Thursday)
  • In her post today, Sarah Mulhern (The Reading Zone) said that "A great group of authors have volunteered to share their stories about the gift of reading- both giving the gift and receiving it. It’s going to be a fantastic day!" (Friday)
  • Also on Friday, author / illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba will be sharing authors' stories about when they fell in love with reading.
 You can learn more about the history of the literacy blog tour, by clicking here.

Article of the Week: eVoc Strategies

The article for this week is eVoc Strategies: 10 Ways to Use Technology to build Vocabulary by Bridget Dalton and Dana L. Grisham, published in The Reading Teacher (February 2011/vol. 64, No. 5).


Vocabulary knowledge is key to comprehension and expression. For students in the intermediate grades, the need for breadth and depth of vocabulary accelerates as they encounter more challenging academic texts in print and on the Internet. Drawing on research-based principles of vocabulary instruction and multimedia learning, this article presents 10 eVoc strategies that use free digital tools and Internet resources to evoke students' engaged vocabulary learning. The strategies are designed to support the teaching of words and word learning strategies, promote students' strategic use of on-demand web-based vocabulary tools, and increase students' volume of reading and incidental word learning. The strategies emphasize developing students' interest in words as they read, view, interact with, and create word meanings in digital and multimedia contexts. Teachers are invited to ‘go digital with word learning’ and experiment with integrating technology to improve their students' vocabulary and reading comprehension.

The first 5 strategies focus on explicit teaching of vocabulary and helping students become independent word learners.

1. Learn from Visual Displays of Word Relationships within Text
"Graphic organizers and visual displays highlight the relationships between words (Baumann & Kame'enui, 2004)" (p. 308). The authors suggest two free web tools that allow students to create word clouds based on the frequency of the words entered from a particular text.

Wordle: "Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes" (reprinted from the Wordle website).

Wordsift:  "WordSift helps anyone easily sift through texts -- just cut and paste any text into WordSift and you can engage in a verbal quick-capture! The program helps to quickly identify important words that appear in the text. This function is widely available in various Tag Cloud programs on the web, but we have added the ability to mark and sort different lists of words important to educators. We have also integrated it with a few other functions, such as visualization of word thesaurus relationships (incorporating the amazing Visual Thesaurus® that we highly recommend in its own right) and Google® searches of images and videos" (reprinted from the Wordshift website).

2. Take a Digital Vocabulary Trip
"In the original vocabulary field trip (Blachowicz & Obrochta, 2005), the teacher begins with a large poster of a topic, such as weather...records what [students] saw as they read books and other materials" (p. 309).

Teachers can create a digital version of the vocabulary field trip using TrackStar: "TrackStar is your starting point for online lessons and activities. Simply collect Web sites, enter them into TrackStar, add annotations for your students, and you have an interactive, online lesson called a Track" (reprinted from the TrackStar website).

3. Connect Fun and Learning with Online Vocabulary Games
Two websites that offer a variety of activities to engage students in playing with words and word meanings: and

4. Have students use media to express vocabulary knowledge
"This strategy focuses on students' vocabulary representations in multiple modes--writing, audio, graphic, video, and animation (Nikolova, 2002; Xin & Rieth, 2001)" (p. 311). Here, the authors suggest using a presentation program such as PowerPoint to create multimedia representations of vocabulary words. More ideas here.

5. Take advantage of online word reference tools that are also teaching tools
Back in School webpage of

The next two strategies provide just-in-time support while reading.

6. Support reading and word learning with just-in-time vocabulary reference support
"Some word reference tools can be mounted on the browser toolbar, allowing you to right click on any word to look it up and have a brief definition display" (p. 312).

Internet Explorer and Mozilla dictionary addon
Back in School from
Merriam Webster's Word Central
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Langauge

Visual Dictionaries

Enchanted Learning
Merriam-Webster's Online Visual Dictionary

7. Use language translators to provide just-in-time help for ELs
"Online dictionaries often support multiple languages (e.g., the Yahoo! Kids dictionary supports 90 languages), and EL students should be taught to look for the option. Another resources is the language translator. the value of a translator is that it supports learning words as they occur naturally in authentic text and allows students to view bilingual versions of a text side by side so that they can use their first language knowledge to develop their English vocabulary" (p. 313).

Google translator
Bing translator
Toolbar extension that translates any webpage automatically

The next two strategies help increase students' volume of reading, and indirectly, their incidental word learning.

8. Increase reading volume by reading digital text
"Many educational publishers and organizations provide free online content, including articles and media about current events, some of which are generated by students themselves. A few of our favorites include the following" (p. 314):

Time for Kids
Weekly Reader
National Geographic Kids
National Geographic Kids blogs
Science News for Kids

9. Increase reading volume by listening to digital text with a text-to-speech tool and audio books
"One powerful strategy is to allow students to listen to text with a text-to-speech (TTS) tool or, when available, listen to audio narration. This provides students with access to age-appropriate content and grade-level curriculum, a right mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004. For struggling readers, TTS increases their reading speed, reduces stress, and for some, but not all, improves comprehension (Elkind & Elkind, 2007)" (p. 314).

TTS Tools

Click, Speak for Firefox

Audio Books

Learning Through Listening
Audiobooks: Ear-resistible!

10. Combine vocabulary learning and social service
"The final eVoc strategy is a free online vocabulary game, Free Rice that has attracted millions of users, young and old. We believe it offers an opportunity to promote students' engagement with words while contributing to the social good.

From the Free Rice website: "FreeRice is a non-profit website run by the United Nations World Food Programme. In the middle of the Freerice Home page you will see something like:
  • small means:
    • little
    • old
    • big
    • yellow
To play the game, click on one of the four definitions ("little", "old", "big" or "yellow") that you think is correct. If you get it right, Freerice donates 10 grains of rice to help end hunger. In the example above, you would want to click on "little", which means "small". When you select the correct answer, you earn 10 grains of rice - your donation is automatically counted without any further action required on your part. You will then get a chance to play another question in the same way. You can play as long as you like and donate as much rice as you like."

This article provides many ways to engage students in meaningful development of vocabulary.  Have you tried any of these strategies? Do you have others to share?

Monday, February 14, 2011

2010 Cybils Awards Announced

The 2010 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards were announced today:

Winners, elementary & middle grade

Fiction Picture Books
61IwC70Uw2L._SL160_Interrupting Chicken
by David Ezra Stein

Nonfiction Picture Books
Twain The Extraordinary Life of Mark Twain (According to Susy)
by Barbara Kerley

Easy Readers
Willems We Are in a Book!
by Mo Willems

Short Chapter Books
Ramos Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off
by Jacqueline Jules; illustrated by Miguel Benitez
Albert Whitman & Co

Mirror Mirror Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse
by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josée Masse
Penguin Young Readers

Graphic Novels
Meanwhile Meanwhile: Pick Any Path. 3856 Story Possibilities.
by Jason Shiga
Abrams Books

Fantasy & Science Fiction
Shadows The Shadows
The Books of Elsewhere, Vol. 1
by Jacqueline West

Middle Grade Fiction
Yoda The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
By Tom Angleberger

Winners, young adult
Yellow Death The Secret of the Yellow Death: A True Story of Medical Sleuthing
by Suzanne Jurmain
Houghton Mifflin

Graphic Novels
Yummy Yummy; The Last Days of a Southside Shorty
by G. Neri, illustrated by Randy duBurke
Lee & Low Books

Fantasy & Science Fiction
Rot and Ruin Rot & Ruin
by Jonathan Maberry
Simon & Schuster

Young Adult Fiction
Split Split
by Swati Avasthi

Background on the Cybils awards

Our purpose is two-fold:
  • Reward the children’s and young adult authors (and illustrators, let’s not forget them) whose books combine the highest literary merit and "kid appeal." What’s that mean? If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussel sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.
  • Foster a sense of community among bloggers who write about children’s and YA literature, highlight our best reviewers (and shamelessly promote their blogs) and provide a forum for the similarly obsessed.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

I have been running for many years, inspired by my son who has run cross country since 7th grade. One of my New Year's resolutions is to run a marathon -- crazy right? So, in the process of ramping up my training, I subscribed to Running Times magazine. In the most recent edition, to my surprise, I found a YA book review for The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen.

The book review follows:

Writing about running with eloquence isn't an easy thing to do. Nor is writing from a teenager's perspective. Award-winning children's book author Wendelin Van Draanen pulls both off with flying colors in her latest novel about a high school junior who loses part of her right leg after a bus accident on the way home from a track meet. Van Draanen's astute writing and attention to detail bring Jessica Carisle to life in a heartstring-jerking story about pain, suffering and overcoming enormous challenges, all set against the backdrop of the love of running. It's that intangible passion for running and racing that helps guide Jessica from the pit of despair through a year-long process of self-discovery. While the book centers around Carlisle's injury. Van Draanen's crafty prose compels readers to understand the person and not dwell on the disability. It's an engaging read for anyone who's ever run high school track or cross country, but just as gripping for any parent of a teenager in competitive sports. ($18.99, Alfred A. Knopf)

I've put The Running Dream on my "to read" list! What about you?

New Issue of Notes from the Horn Book

V O L U M E  4 ,   N U M B E R  2  •  F E B R U A R Y   2 0 1 1

In this issue

Smithsonian on ePals

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Author Brian Jacques Dies at 71

British author Brian Jacques, author of the popular Redwall series of adventure books for kids, has died. He was 71. When my son was in middle school, he loved the Redwall books and read quite a few. Read the NPR story here.

Monday, February 7, 2011

National Book Festival to be a Two-Day Event!!!

I LOVE the National Book Festival so the post that follows from the Library of Congress blog made me SOOO happy!

Word’s going out today that the National Book Festival, heading into its 11th year on the National Mall, will be a two-day event for 2011.

The festival will take place on the National Mall, from 9th Street to 14th Street, on Saturday, Sept. 24 from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Sunday, Sept. 25 from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.. rain or shine.  Watch our website at for more developments.

For a decade, the excitement has been crammed into a single late-morning-to-late-afternoon window, with more than 70 authors speaking about their works and signing books for fans in massive pavilions that shelter attendees from the sun and rain.

This year, plans are for author sessions to be several minutes longer, to allow for more Q & A from festival-goers, and for more time to be allotted between sessions so authors and fans alike will have a better opportunity to navigate the grounds.  The added day will let us plan for at least 90 authors over the entire weekend.

Parents can also bring their kids to mingle with characters familiar from TV and sample many child-friendly reading and literacy programs, and families can enjoy the ever-popular Pavilion of the States, where representatives of Centers for the Book in the nation’s states and territories offer a fun take on reading and writing across America.

“Fans of the National Book Festival have urged us to make it a weekend-long event for many years,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

He notes that in 2010 – at the 10th anniversary National Book Festival – attendance over the history of the festivals topped 1 million.

“We look forward to welcoming millions more festival-goers of all ages for many years to come,” he said.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chertoff Mural by Maurice Sendak

The Chertoff mural, prior to conservation by Maurice Sendak, 1961
On Tuesday, NPR published a story about a mural that was painted on the wall in Larry and Nina Chertoff's childhood bedroom in Manhattan in 1961 by family friend Maurice Sendak, the author and illustrator who, two years later, would publish the award-winning children's book Where The Wild Things Are. The NPR story was titled, A Parade, Restored: A Maurice Sendak Mural Goes From Bedroom To Gallery, which includes an interview with Maurice Sendak and Larry and Nina Chertoff who talk about the mural and its journey from bedroom to museum.

The story reports that the Chertoffs have donated the mural to Philadelphia's Rosenbach Museum and Library, the home of the Maurice Sendak Gallery, where much of the writer's work is already housed. The museum has removed the mural from the apartment — right along with the wall beneath it — and has transported it back to Philadelphia. There, it's being restored for display.

Right before reading this NPR story, I had been perusing the Rosenback Museum and Library's website because I plan to attend a viewing of The Library of the Early Mind, which is scheduled for March 12 at the museum. While looking through the events calendar to find the viewing, I found the announcement for the Chertoff mural to be on display from February 2 - March 23. I feel like a lucky duck to be getting the opportunity to see The Library of the Early Mind AND the Chertoff mural on the same weekend!

I don't have memories of being read Where the Wild Things Are as a child, but I have vivid memories of reading the book to my son, Derek. We read the book so many times that he knew it by memory and often, when we came to the wild rumpus, we jumped up and started a wild rumpus of our own. Good stuff, that!

Many people have fond memories of Maurice Sendak's work. In a follow-up to the Chertoff mural story, listeners of NPR wrote in about their own memories.

Starred Reviews in Horn Book Magazine: March/April 2011

From Read Roger"

The following books will receive starred reviews in the March/April 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine:

Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage (Scholastic)

Chime by Franny Billingsley (Dial)

Recovery Road by Blake Nelson (Scholastic)

The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone (Levine/Scholastic)

Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt; illus. by Louise Yates (Knopf)

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade/Random)

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown)

Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story by Thomas F. Yezerski (Farrar)