Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Using Review Books in the Classroom by Meghan Robertson

     We all know the tremendous power of literacy for its possessor. What I didn’t imagine when I started reading and reviewing for Children’s Literature was the power reading a children’s book could have within my classroom.

     That was until one day before the start of my Latin I class when two students, one generally outgoing and the other her very reserved and likely quiet because of emerging acquisition of English. However, this day went differently from the usual “20 questions” her verbal friend manages to ask before the bell. This day, the quiet observer noticed a small, girlie colored book on my desk. She came closer – and closer – and turned her head to read the title, confirming it was, in fact, one of the “Goddess Girls” series. At the point, I was watching a big smile spread across her face. It seemed she was wanting to look through the book or ask me about it, and she seemed both surprised and elated when I handed the book to her. As if receiving the permission she thought she needed, she suddenly came alive with questions, comments, and storyline narrative because she was reading another of the same series, which she proved by nearly leaping to her desk and back to me with the book in hand.

     I shared with the student how I read and write reviews of different kinds of books and said that I was nearly done with this one, indicating that we could swap if she’d like. Indeed, she would like that she said. To my surprise, she finished her book that night and came in the next class excited to swap books with me. We did, we each read the new book, and discussed parts when she arrived to class. At the end of our quasi book club, when she thought we would return each others books, I asked if she’d like to keep it so she could collect the series. She seemed so happy, and we even agreed to obtain the other two books of the series to read and swap when we come back to school in the fall.

     What a great reminder for me to always be reading and model that for my students as a lifelong skill, and what a tremendously timely “gift” from Children’s Literature to unexpectedly “unlock” a student I didn’t know how to reach or bring out of her shell.

Meghan Robertson
Children's Literature

Monday, July 18, 2011

Pirate vs. Pirate by Mary Quattlebaum

Book Buccaneers

To borrow the opening line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: It is a truth universally acknowledged that…kids love to dress as pirates. And so do many adults, which is how I got the idea for my recent picture book Pirate vs. Pirate.

A few years ago my husband said to me, “Why don’t you write a pirate book so I can dress up like a pirate for your book events?” And so I wrote him a funny story—Pirate vs. Pirate—about a guy pirate and a girl pirate (Bad Bart and Mean Mo) who both want to be the biggest, baddest, richest pirate in the world. So they have a series of contests to determine who might lay claim to that dubious honor.

I loved every bit of the process for this picture book. The tale came easily in one draft and my editor at Disney Hyperion suggested only a few revisions. (I probably don’t need to tell you how rare that is for most writers, and certainly for me!) My editor chose the perfect illustrator—Alexandra Boiger—and I loved seeing her preliminary sketches turn into lively, full-color illustrations that swirl and swagger across the page. But my favorite part was writing the dedication to my husband, “a true treasure of a guy,” who has been cheerfully supportive of me and my writing for lo these many years.

An added bonus has been the chance to visit bookstores and schools…dressed as a pirate. Often the audience dresses, too—in everything from eye patches and paper hats to a velvet frock coat and ruffled shirt. And by audience, I mean kids and, yes, adult booksellers, teachers, librarians and parents. They all want to release their inner pirate! Arrrr!

“Pirate” can also be a playful way to connect books and writing with even reluctant young readers/writers (largely k-2nd). I teach some pirate lingo, show me powerful writing plume (because the pen is mightier than the sword) and have the audience help me to write a pirate poem. It’s all very Jolly Roger-ish. And I get to display some of my favorite pirate books, including June Sobel’s Shiver Me Letters: A Pirate ABC, with hilarious illustrations by Henry Cole, and Kathleen Krull’s Lives of the Pirates.

Pirate/writing games can be found on my website http://www.maryquattlebaum.com/. Palisades Librarian Jess Storke shares piratical decorating tips, activities and photos at http://www.dclibrary.org/node/13751 and http://inkspotplot.blogspot.com/2011/05/everybody-loves-good-pirate.html

Mary Quattlebaum

To have Mary visit your school or organization email marilyn@childrenslit.com

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

David Macinnis Gill

Teaching someone how to write a novel in a thirty minute class period is probably not going to pan out very well. Young Adult author David Macinnis Gill should know from his long experience teaching high school and college students. After receiving his bachelor's degree in English/creative writing and his doctorate in education, both from the University of Tennessee, David began his teaching career as a high school teacher in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He is now an Associate Professor of English Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

His approach to teaching creative writing is a little different. In that short thirty minute period he chooses to focus on teaching how to pitch an idea for a novel.

Just like pitches for movies, David shows students how to write a log-line. Understanding how a novel works is a big concept to teach in a short period of time, but teaching what elements make-up a story is a much needed foundation for future writers. So he teaches about story versus the sequence of events and the difference between conflict and a complication.

I had the pleasure of hearing David deliver a talk to a room full of English teachers and other interested attendees at last fall's ALAN Workshop. David, the past-president of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents, has served on the organization's board of directors for approximately ten years. In addition to sharing his strategy and tips on teaching writing to students with the group he also presented the template he gives to students to use as the skeleton of their novel.

This template is the spine of the novel--it covers the over arching actions and is composed of six parts. First, the given situation. Followed with an action by hero; then a complication occurs. Despite this complication the hero goes on to another action. However, the antagonist tries to thwart the hero with his/her own action before the hero's plan succeeds. David emphasized that pitches and templates require more than a cool premise or character. Teaching students about tension is key.

After writing short stories for magazines such as The Crescent Review and Writer's Forum, David's debut novel, Soul Enchilada, was published by HarperCollins in 2009. It was featured on several Best Book lists such as those from Bank Street College of Education, Kirkus, and YALSA; and was included in New York Public Library's Stuff for the Teen Age list.

His newest novel, Black Hole Sun, also from HarperCollins, was published in August 2010. Durango, a sixteen-year-old living on Mars, is leader of a crew of mercenaries who have been hired to protect miners from a cannibalistic group pursuing the mining treasure. Action packed and witty it has received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist, who said "readers will have a hard time turning the pages fast enough as the body count rises to the climactic, satisfying ending, which will leave new fans hopeful for more adventures." Luckily, it's sequel, Invisible Sun, will be out in early 2012.

David is very active on social media and his website. To watch book trailers, read his blog, follow him on twitter, and much more visit: http://davidmacinnisgill.com/

Black Hole Sun
David Macinnis Gill
Movie-ready doesn't even begin to describe this lightning-paced action novel about a group of teen mercenaries out to make a living on a hardscrabble Mars and, if it's financially rewarding, save a few lives along the way. To be fair, only a few members of the ragtag group are in it solely for the cash, while the others are following a complex moral code of a samurai-esque group called the Regulators. Either way, none of them is quite prepared for the horror of the flesh-eating Draeu and their even more powerful, used-to-be human leader. Mars is tough living at best, and a group of miners, long weary of handing over their children on demand to the Draeu, decide to take a stand. Durango, the book's protagonist, takes the job to help them, and gathers as many allies as he can, though his word as an outcast Regulator means little. He has Mimi, his dead leader who is implanted in his head (and who offers both sardonic advice and technologically advanced assistance), and fiercely loyal Vienne, who will always help him, but everyone else in the group is dubious at best. The good guys are muddy and just trying to survive; the bad guys are creepy in all the right ways and just trying to survive as well. The elegantly, intricately described exotic setting is unremittingly bleak, and it serves almost as a character in itself, sometimes subtly sucking away ambition and other times bashing characters over the head with yet another Mars-related nightmare. Action, adventure, sci-fi, and horror buffs will all find this an almost perfect mix of all of the genres, and the addition of a soupçon of romance and hints of painful family drama results in a book that's got appeal to just about any potential speculative-fiction fan Review Code: R -- Recommended. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2010, Greenwillow, 340p., $16.99 and E-book ed. $12.99. Grades 9-12. Reviewer: April Spisak (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October 2010 (Vol. 64, No. 2)).
ISBN: 9780061673047
ISBN: 9780061673054

Contributor: Emily Griffin

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Picture Books from India Offer Visual Excitement

Books, particularly picture books, become more valuable as resources as our educational goals reach out globally. Often labeled "multicultural" because their subject matter deals with areas and peoples our children are less familiar with, they offer both textual and visual information along with the emotions they evoke. Most books currently available from American or European publishers are influenced by Western traditions. If they are motivated to tell a story from another part of the world, they must translate and interpret story and image to fit our protocols.

So currently we find Gerald McDermott in Monkey: A Trickster Tale from India (Harcourt, 2011) telling his story with a simple American text and objects reflecting current esthetics. How different are the following books now available from Tara Publishers: first Gita Wolf & Swarna Chitrakar's Monkey Photo, visualized in the patua folk style of Bengal! Another mischievous monkey stars in the Indonesian folk tale, Mangoes & Bananas, by Nathan Kumar Scott with art by T. Balaji in the traditional Kalamkari style of Indian textile painting. Another impressive book is illustrated by a self-taught "domestic helper," Dulari Devi, whose story is told by Gita Wolf  in Following My Paint Brush, and who paints in the Mithila style of folk painting from Bihar in eastern India.

The illustrations of the almost textless Do! are rendered in the style of the traditional Warli wall paintings from western India, painted in white on the outsides of their houses. Another remarkable work is Tsunami by Joydeb and Moyna Chitrakar, whose ballad-like text describes the horrors of the flood. The book is a Patua from Bengal, striking narrative graphic art in series of panels bound together to open vertically, so we follow the flood from the top to the bottom of each horizontal page.

Traditional books from another Indian publisher, Karadi Tales Company, will soon be available in the United States as well. A series of folk classics include CDs with music along with the text read aloud. Stories are from folk classics like the Panchatrantra and the Jataka. These books can also offer students a view of another culture.

Contributor: Ken & Sylvia Marantz

Tara Publishers: http://www.tarabooks.com/

Karadi Tales: http://www.karaditales.com/