Monthly Archives: January 2011

In The Classroom: Reading Aloud

Because of Mary Lee, a fellow classroom teacher as well as the author of a book about reading aloud, I’ve come around and decided to play, inspired by her superb post today on reading aloud in the classroom. You see, my first response to Rick Walton’s call for stories for his blog, “Why Read Aloud?” was more a feeling of ennui to be completely honest, that here was yet another well-intentioned person outside the classroom telling teachers what to do.  Wrote Rick:

And then we will figure out a way to get your stories to the administrators and teachers who need to hear them. Your story of how being read to made your life better might motivate a teacher to read to her kids and make their lives better.

I know, I know. Best of intentions here, but the reasons as to why teachers do or don’t read aloud may well be more complicated than simple motivation. Things like standards, test prep, parental pressure, and more may be significant factors too.  And so, inspired by Mary Lee, here are a handful of my posts about reading aloud to my class.

First two on some general thoughts about reading aloud to a whole class of children:

And then a bunch (but not all) of my posts on specific books:



Filed under In the Classroom, Reading Aloud

Children’s Fantasy Book Publishing and the Simpsons

According to Matt Selman, executive producer on The Simpsons, “Homer and some people in Springfield have to perpetrate an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist in the non-Ocean’s Eleven world of children’s fantasy book publishing.” Garcia will be voicing “an evil children’s fantasy book publisher” in a nod to Terry Benedict, his role in Ocean’s.

In another reference to Benedict, “no matter where [Garcia’s character] is, he’ll always have a famous painting behind him.” In case you haven’t seen the movie in awhile, Benedict had a “love of fine art.”

However, don’t expect to hear from other actors from the movies in this episode. The characters of The Simpsons will be plenty enough for them, though Neil Gaiman, a fantasy author, will also be giving his voice to his animated self for this episode.

via The Simpsons Plans Ocean’s Eleven Episode.


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Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children 2011

A bit under-the-radar, the Orbis Pictus Award is one that shouldn’t be.  Awarded yearly by NCTE,  it recognizes outstanding nonfiction writing for children.  The recently announced 2011 winner is, tada, Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan’s Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring illustrated by Brian Floca (Roaring Brook Press).

Honor Books

  • Birmingham Sunday by Larry Dane Brimner (Calkins Creek)
  • Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” by Michael O. Tunnell (Charlesbridge)
  • If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge by Mark Aronson (National Geographic)
  • Journey into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures by Rebecca L. Johnson (Millbrook Press)
  • Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age by Cheryl Bardoe (Abrams Books for Young Readers).

Recommended Books

  • Black Elk’s Vision: A Lakota Story by S.D. Nelson (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
  • Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Little, Brown & Company)
  • The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Suzy) by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic Press)
  • For Good Measure by Ken Robbins (Roaring Brook Press)
  • Henry Aaron’s Dream by Matt Tavares (Candlewick Press)
  • Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop (Houghton Mifflin)
  • Polar Bears by Mark Newman (Henry Holt and Company)
  • They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Houghton Mifflin).

Congratulations to all the winners!

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The Oscars of Children’s Literature

Last year The Today Show noted that the Newbery and Caldecott children’s book awards are often called the “Oscars of children’s literature.” Certainly, the awards are highly regarded and, like the movie ones, result in significant increases in sales.  As of this writing, two weeks after the awards were announced, the Newbery winner, Moon Over Manifest, is number five and the Caldecott winner, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, number two on the New York Times best seller lists.  Yet despite the endless concern expressed about children (most recently by President Obama in his State of the Union address), the contrast between the media attention for this Monday’s announcement of the Oscar nominations versus that two weeks ago for the Newbery and Caldecott winners could not be more extreme.

This year, while the Today Show did enthusiastically cover the Oscar nominationsthey passed on those “Oscars of children’s books.” The result was a lot of discussion within the children’s book world as to whether it mattered or not.  Those who felt it did wrote letters and emails, started a Facebook campaign, and otherwise tried to get the show to reconsider.  Others argued that the brief and often awkward Today Show segments were no longer relevant and that there were plenty of other places to promote the books. Indeed the winners were celebrated in industry publications like PW, heavily blogged, enthusiastically twittered, celebrated on Facebook, and featured in other media outlets, old and new.

I’m one who feels the Today Show still matters. A lot. It matters because there are still many people who depend on it for their information. I’m thinking of parents, grandparents, teachers and other viewers who care about the children in their lives and pay attention when something related to them shows up on a major television show that they watch daily.  I am certain it meant something to them when the show took a few minutes to interview winners of awards they remembered from their own childhood.  I’m sure many of those busy folks getting ready for the day thought as they caught one of those brief segments: “Hmm…I need to check out those books for my kids/grandkids/class/friend’s kid” just as many of us thought this past Monday, “Hmm… I’ve got to check out True Grit/Social Network/The King’s Speech.”

Bottom line for me: giving children’s book awards even a smidgen of the attention the Oscars get sends a message that our children matter.

Cross posted at Huffington Post.


Filed under awards, Huffington Post, Newbery

SLJ’s Battle of the Kids Books 2011 Contenders

These were just announced on twitter today and will be presented more formally on the official BoB blog very soon. But since we know there are avid BoB followers who want time to get and read the books, we decided to do a stealth/soft announcement just for you.  And now that they’ve all been announced, here they are again in a nice easy-to-read list.

  2. THE CARDTURNER by Louis Sachar
  3. A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS by Megan Whalen Turner
  4. COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles
  5. THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan
  6. THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE by Tanya Lee Stone
  8. KEEPER by Kathi Appelt
  9. THE ODYSSEY by Gareth Hinds
  10. ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia
  11. THE RING OF SOLOMON by Jonathan Stroud
  12. SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos
  13. A TALE DARK AND GRIMM by Adam Gidwitz
  14. THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE K.K.K. by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  15. TRASH by Andy Mulligan
  16. WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan



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SLJs Battle of the Kids’ Books Stealth Announcement…

of the 2011 Contenders. Follow @SLJsBoB to get the first word on these!

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In the Classroom: Writing in Your “Office”

After an immersion in the Cinderella story, my 4th graders are now deep into writing their own.  They read, talked, and considered what this tale type was, the broader theme as we see it in everything from a Cinderella sports team, Harry Potter, Abraham Lincoln, and (my current favorite) Susan Boyle.  Adam Gidwitz came last week and talked about his writing process and then got my students talking about the emotional truth within the Cinderella story and how they could relate to it.  He’s coming back this week to work with them again and I can’t wait to see how what he says and does with them affects their writing.  I’ve already read their first drafts and they are fascinating.

Because I want to watch kids’ process and help them with it I tend to have them do most of their writing in school.  And so when they started these Cinderella stories I gave each of them an “office.” That is, a space where they are to work as if they are alone in an office as many an author is.  They are not allowed to talk to me, to a neighbor, to a friend while writing. It is to be just them and their writing.  All of them are in their school desks, but some of them are moved so that they are not too close to someone else.  And because they, of course, might want to know what to do when a problem comes up (as they aren’t allowed to ask me or a peer unless it is a technological emergency) we put together a list of tips which we will be adding to as we go on.  For your information, here is the current list:

Writing the Story

  • Delete and rewrite.
  • Save and then delete.
  • Look at plan.
  • Look at books for ideas.
  • Check online (e.g. details about soccer).
  • keep writing.
  • think about showing with action and dialog.
  • Use books to help with form (e.g. dialog).
  • Think about voice — who is telling the story?
  • Try changing first to third person or third to first person.
  • WWMD: (what would Monica — Ms. Edinger that is — do?) keep writing/print out what she has so far and read over with a pencil.
  • WWAD:  (what would Adam Gidwitz do?)  try writing from a different place in the story,  tell it to the wall, the pillow, the chair, and the lamp (and hope it goes on),  think about how would YOU feel in a similar situation or how have YOU felt.


  • Use your dictionary.
  • Use your grammar/spell check.
  • Think hard.
  • WWMD: wouldn’t spend too much time fretting about it, but move on. She knows it can be fixed later.


Filed under In the Classroom

Why Historical Fiction Now?

Writing historical fiction is the easiest way to escape the Now; to avoid dealing with the internet, you only have to step back a decade or two. If you’d prefer to write about characters entirely innocent of TV, you’d need to retreat as far as the 1940s; then you get the second world war and the Holocaust, subjects that, despite their historical specificity, are understood by everyone to be unimpeachably Timeless.

Four out of five of this year’s Newbery honorees are historical fiction.  I’m curious — is it indeed easier to go back in time as Laura Miller suggests in today’s Guardian rather than grapple with contemporary circumstances like the Internet?  While she’s writing about adult literary fiction, it seems to me the problem is true for writers of children’s and YA literature as well.


Filed under Historical Fiction

Voyeur, Myself

In the case of child beauty pageants, Orenstein offers a shrewd critique of why media exposés of the phenomenon are so perennially popular. They “give viewers license, under the pretext of disapproval, to be titillated by the spectacle, to indulge in guilty-pleasure voyeurism,” she observes. “They also reassure parents of their own comparative superiority by smugly ignoring the harder questions: even if you agree that pageant moms are over the line in their sexualization of little girls — way over the line — where, exactly, is that line, and who draws it and how?”

That’s from today’s NYTimes review of Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter. And while I’m definitely interested in the book, I’m even more interested in this bigger issue that she has hit upon here — the way we watch and read this and similar material (be it child pagents or something else) and both disapprove of what we are viewing/reading while being entertained at the same time.  Something worth reflecting on, I say.

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Special Horn Book Issue on “Fact, Fiction, and In-Between”

From Roger Sutton:

Sorry to be such a slug here but we’ve been knee deep not just in snow (and, yes, we HAD a snow day, but I had to spend it working on reviews) but in our special March/April issue of the Magazine, “Fact, Fiction, and In-Between.” Really, subscribe now: I think it’s going to be one of the best things we’ve ever published. Contributors include Kathy Isaacs, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Erica Zappy, Matt Tavares, Mark Aronson, Steve Jenkins, Betsy Partridge, Monica Edinger, Tanya Lee Stone, Viki Ash and Thom Barthelmess, Marthe Jocelyn, Steve Herb, and Leonard Marcus; with short author-essays by Laurie Halse Anderson, Chris Barton, Margarita Engle, Candy Fleming, Jim Giblin, Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, Deborah Heiligman, Katherine Paterson, and Andrea Davis Pinkney. PLUS reviews, which include–how does this happen?–two new picture book biographies of Jane Goodall.

My contribution is on historical fiction back matter, something I’ve been mulling on for some time, say in this post. All aspects of the theme fascinate me so I can’t wait to see the whole issue.  I agree with Roger that it is going to be excellent.

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