Princeton Children’s Book Festival/Blogger Meet-up

Save the Date! The Princeton (NJ) library will be holding its annual Children’s Book Festival on September 13.  Check out the list of confirmed list of authors that will be in attendance!  Some of my favorites are Dan Gutman, Wendy Mass, Rebecca Stead, and Sarah Beth Durst.  I will definitely be in attendance- will you?

Still curious?  Here’s a bit more information from the website:

The Princeton Children’s Book Festival is an annual event each September at the Princeton Public Library and the Albert E. Hinds Memorial Plaza.

Our community is one that loves their library and loves books. The Princeton Children’s Book Festival is a celebration of this pairing. This well attended event continues to grow yearly and promises something for everyone. Here you may meet your favorite author or illustrator, listen to them discuss their work, have a book autographed or just have the opportunity to talk to them about their inspiration.

From picture book authors and illustrators to children’s fiction writers, live entertainment for children and their families and many activities throughout the afternoon, The Princeton Children’s Book Festival is an event that should not be missed.

The Princeton Children’s Book Festival is Saturday, September 13, 2008 from 12-5:00 PM.
The Festival will be held at the Princeton Public Library and the Albert E. Hinds Memorial Plaza located at 65 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ 08542.
For additional information about the Festival please contact Allison Santos.

Liz B. over at A Chair, A Fireplace, & a Tea Cozy suggested a NJ/PA bloggers meet up.  I’m in- are you??  Stay tuned for more details!

Swap

We have a bunch of people already signed up-some teachers, some not.  But we would love to have you, too!  Comment here, here, or email me!

Teacher Swap?

Just tossing an idea out there, trying to gauge some interest-

In my frequent blog reading, I have noticed a lot of swaps being mentioned. After a little bit of digging, I found out that a swap is when a group of bloggers/readers are paired up and send each other packages according to a theme. For example, there are New Mom swaps, Paper swaps, Pet swaps, and so much more. They are similar to random acts of kindness, or RAOKs, which are also popping up all over blogs and message boards. I LOVE this idea.

Would anyone be interested in a Teacher/Kidlitosphere swap? I am thinking the theme could be “Back to School”, though you wouldn’t have to be a teacher to participate! If you are interested, I will pair people up using the random number generator. You can send me your name and address and I will forward it to the person who has you. It will be a great way to promote blogs (yours or the ones you read)! Plus, who doesn’t like getting surprises in the mail?

For the actual swap, the theme word will be SCHOOL. You choose items to send to your partner based on this word. They can be teacher items, book related items, writing related items, or just plain fun ones! Here is an example:

S- Something to write with. You favorite type of pen/pencil to write with.

C- Crayons to brighten your life.

H- Happy things. I would totally send a copy of a favorite book here!

O- Organization. Something to keep you organized.

O- One thing I couldn’t live/teach without

L- Lazy days. Something that helps you relax, or calms you down during stressful times!

OK, in the act of typing this I have decided I want to host one!

Rules:
Sign up by: August 21st
Partners given by: August 23rd (I hope!)
Send out items by: September 20th

Budget: $20 (not including shipping)

To Sign up: e-mail me at thereadingzone@gmail.com with your name, mailing address and blog address. You do not have to be a blogger to join in the fun….Lurkers this is your chance to come out and play!!

I will list randomly selected partners on my blog by first name or nickname with links to their blogs…don’t worry if you don’t have a blog you can use e-mail to get to know each other.
I will send each person an e-mail with their partner’s e-mail. You guys can then exchange address info.

Theme: Back to school. Think along the lines of being a teacher, or starting a new year (us teachers always see September as the “real” New Years!). You can also think along the lines of passing along the love of reading/writing.

Details: You send your partner 6 items (somewhat school/reading/writing/teaching) in the theme which will represent the letters “S-C-H-O-O-L” (see above for example).
Your items can be store bought, handmade, secondhand, whatever…Be Creative!
Most importantly have fun!!!
Any questions please e-mail me at thereadingzone@gmail.com
Have Fun!!! Happy Fall!!

*ETA:  Once you receive your package, you can blog about it and the sender!  Hopefully, we all meet someone new in the blogosphere, plus get our names out there on new blogs!

Oprah’s Book List for Kids


I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical when Oprah announced that she would be publishing a list of books she recommends for kids. While I certainly enjoy many of her adult book club picks, I wasn’t sure how a kids book list would turn out. However, I felt a little bit better when I heard that she had contacted the ALA for help.

Well, I finally got a chance to look at the list. Can I just tell you how THRILLED I am?!

Here is the press release from PW Children’s Weekly:

As of tomorrow, the Book Club section of Oprah Winfrey’s Web site will offer a list of recommended children’s titles, courtesy of the American Library Association’s Quick Lists Consulting Committee. According to Diane Foote, executive director at the ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children, the organization was contacted by Winfrey’s staff in the spring about putting together such a list. “We were gratified they came to librarians to do so,” Foote says.

The ALA compiled a list of 100 titles (including both recent and “classic” titles) in five age categories: infant to two, three to five, six to nine, 10 to 12 and 12 and up. The ALA’s Quick Lists Consulting Committee has prepared recommended reading lists for numerous organizations in the past, including the PBS Kids Web site, Toon Disney and the National Endowment for the Humanities Bookshelf Grant Program.

The list is divided by age. The 10-12 year old recommendations list includes the following titles (these are just my favorites):

New Releases- Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, , The Willoughbys, and Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree. YES YES YES! DIARY notwithstanding, these books all need to find more readers. EMMA JEAN is a personal favorite of mine and I would love to see this little book take off. And CRACKER was a huge hit with my readers this year.

Classics- Anne of Green Gables and Bridge to Terabithia.

Again, YES YES YES! These are the classics middle schoolers should be reading. Take note summer reading list makers!

And the 12+ list looks just as good!

New Releases- The Patron Saint of Butterflies, Paper Towns (which I haven’t read but I already know it is amazing), Found (Missing), The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Trouble, and The Wednesday Wars.

And I love all the classics!

Kudos, ALA and Oprah! Kudos! Hopefully, some of these books will now become more mainstream and make their way into the classroom. I would love to see Oprah put out an updated list every few months. Maybe schools and teachers (who aren’t aware of the vibrant kidlitosphere) will use the lists as a jumping off point for getting new books into our schools!

Amelia Atwater-Rhodes Interview!

Today, I am interviewing Amelia Atwater-Rhodes as part of her blog tour! (See the full schedule below the interview.) I am very excited, because as a writer who began getting published as a teen, she is a great inspiration to my own students.

Thanks for stopping by TheReadingZone! As a young writer, you are especially inspirational to myself and my middle school students. How did you begin writing?

I have always told stories, and since learning how to write, I have always attempted to write them down. The earliest attempts were of course nearly illegible and lacking in any notable grammar, but the point is, it’s something I have always done.

The first novel I finished, I started in fifth grade. I had particularly incredible teachers that year and the year before. I had performed in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet, had helped transform my fifth grade classroom into first a lighthouse and then a rain forest, had participated in trust-falls and egg-drops and other activities, and just in general had developed a great deal of faith in myself, and in life in general. When a lazy summer came about, it seemed perfectly natural to finish a novel.

What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?


Absolutely by the seat of my pants. Occasionally I outline, when I have ideas faster than I can get them down, but I tend to stray from even the briefest notes. I love discovering the story as I go along, just as I would if I were reading. I outline when I go to revise.

Do you write everyday? Do you have a specific writing schedule?

Part of the “seat of my pants” method involves never knowing when I’ll even have time to sit down at my computer. I have no set schedule; if I did, I would only break it.

I tend to write more when I’m insanely over-scheduled, and get little done on vacations when I should have plenty of time. I write in the five-minute breaks between other things, in my head while I’m trying to fall asleep, in the margins of my class notes, and occasionally on my hand in movie theaters.

Congratulations on graduating, and I hope the job hunt is going well! What inspired you to become an English teacher?

Three things inspired me to teach: the wonderful teachers I had, the awful teachers I had, and all the readers I’ve had a chance to speak with over the years. I have known, as a student, the kind of power a teacher can hold to inspire, and I have known as a writer how wonderful it feels to see the spark of inspiration alight in someone you have been working with.

Your books delve into complex fantasy worlds, fraught with numerous characters, histories, and stories. Do your characters come to you first, do the stories come first, or do they shape each other?

It tends to be the characters who drive my stories. I’m lucky if I figure out the plotline before the fifth or sixth chapter of a first draft, but in that time, I get to know my narrator. Once I know the character, I can figure out the story.

What can we look forward to next? Are you working on anything right now?

The next book, arriving at bookstores on December 9, is Persistence of Memory. It returns to modern day, with the vampires and witches and shapeshifters. After that is Night’s Plutonian Shore (tentative title), which explores another facet of Nyeusigrube’s magic.

What is your advice for other writers, especially young writers?

The first piece of advice I always give is, do it. If you want to write, if you have stories and characters in your head and know you need to share them somehow, just pick up a pen or go to a keyboard and start. So many people never get started because they wait to have everything perfect first. First drafts exist for a reason; they’re supposed to be messy. Write first. If you decide to share your work, you can always edit later, but get the story out first.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Amelia! I am sure you are very busy getting ready for the beginning of the new school year. Good luck with your students- they are lucky to have such an accomplished author as their teacher!

Make sure to visit the other stops on Amelia’s blog tour:
July 22nd – Bildungsroman
July 24th – Cheryl Rainfield
July 25th – BookLoons
July 28th- Mrs. Magoo Reads
July 30th – Teen Book Review
July 31st – Saundra Mitchell
August 4th – Bookwrym Chrysalis
August 5th – Here!
August 7th – Through a Glass, Darkly

Rapunzel’s Revenge

Congratulations to Shannon and Dean Hale! Today, Al Roker announced that Rapunzel’s Revenge is the newest pick for Al’s Book Club for Kids! How exciting is that? It is wonderful to see a national media outlet embracing graphic novels this way. Hopefully, this will legitimize graphic novels for some of those parents who just don’t want to believe that “comic books” are legitimate novels.

I loved Rapunzel’s Revenge- check out my review of it here. More importantly, my students just ate it up. Boys and girls alike loved the book and were passing it around before school ended. They will be thrilled to hear that thanks to Al Roker, the book’s publication date has been moved up and it is on sale now!

Summer Reading Update

Today I went into NYC to see “Hairspray” on Broadway with my friend’s day camp. A lot of my students from this past year were campers and we got to catch up a bit. Of course, I asked what they have been reading. What awesome language arts teacher wouldn’t? But I got a few recommendations from them, which made me happy. And we laughed because they are starting to see some of the ARCs we read earlier this year finally coming out in the bookstore. They love that they read the books and recommended them to friends before they were published.

Of course, we eventually got around to the summer reading list. The kids I didn’t teach seem to be avoiding summer reading, with most of them saying they will start after camp. But my former students have all finished their summer reading! I was so impressed. And even better, they enjoyed their books! Interestingly, everyone I talked to today read Cynthia Voight’s Homecoming (The Tillerman Series #1). They not only enjoyed it- they even read the next Dicey book on their own!  How awesome is that?  I do find it interesting that the newest book on the list seems to be the most-read.  Yet it is also the longest book!  It just shows what a great book talk can do for a book.  Kids who would never choose a long book on their own chose it based on the summary I gave.  Summer reading lists need to be booktalked!

Oh, and I was so happy to hear that a good number of my students have started using the public library this summer.  In our town, the library is used to research projects and summer reading once the kids reach the middle grades.  To hear that they are going to the library, taking out books, and even getting on the waiting list for popular books absolutely made my heart sing.  (I know, I’m corny).  But it made me feel like I made a difference!

Amelia Atwater-Rhodes Blog Tour

Amelia Atwater-Rhodes is a young author who published her first novel, In the Forests of the Night (Den of Shadows), in 1999 when she was just thirteen. I was only sixteen then, and I remember being amazed that someone so young was publishing novels. To date, she has published a new YA novel every year since then. Right now, she is participating in a blog tour, and I jumped at the chance to be involved. As a recent college graduate, who started writing her first novel in fifth grade, she is an inspiration to my 6th grade students. She will be interviewed here on August 5th!

For now, you can read more about her on the rest of her blog tour, which started today!

July 22nd: Bildungsroman
July 24th: Cheryl Rainfield
July 25th: BookLoons
July 28th: Mrs. Magoo Reads
July 30th: Teen Book Review
July 31st: Making Stuff Up for a Living
August 4th: Bookwyrm Chrysalis
August 5th: The Reading Zone

Summer Literacy Packets and Summer Reading

At the end of the school year I handed out a Summer Literacy Packet to my students.  I told my students it was completely voluntary, and I am very happy to say that a few of my students have been sending me weekly emails detailing their progress.  And come August I expect a few more to pop their notebooks in the mail to me.  It’s been awesome being able to continue our literacy dialogue through the summer months and I am enjoying the deeper conversations we have been having over email.  But today I received a letter essay from one of my students that only further fueled my anger with required summer reading lists.

This particular student is a very strong reader, and an avid one.  She is currently reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  (Three of the six books on our summer reading list are classics).  The email I received from her today broke my heart.  This girl loves to read and shouldn’t be forced to read a book that she is hating.  All year long I preached choice, choice, choice.  I taught my students to choose books on their level, and to be aware when books are not on their level.  Tom Sawyer needs a good deal of scaffolding for 7th graders, and that scaffolding can’t happen over the summer, when students are on their own.

I want to share a few quotes from her letter:

Today, I read chapters 15 and 16 in Tom Sawyer.  So far I rate this book a three out of ten.  this book is really boring and I do not understand it.  Every chapter talks about something different then the last chapter.  It doesn’t flow very well.  It also shocks me that it is considered a classic because I am not enjoying it.  I expect more from a classic than this book has to offer

Is this how we want to introduce the classics, the canon of English literature to our students?  How long will this attitude stay with these student?

Also, they talk in old southern accents and use older words and use old fashioned tools and devices.  Finally, it is boring because the print is small, it is hard to read, the characters are boring, the adventures are boring, and basically the whole book is boring.

Scaffolding, scaffolding, scaffolding!  This should not be happening!  The vocabulary is difficult, the accents are hard to decipher, and a lot of the “adventures” require a good deal of historical background knowledge.  All things students are not being supported with during summer reading.  Ridiculous!

I would recommend this book to no one except older people from the South.  This book is boring and a waste of time.  I can’t wait to finish this book and be done with the required summer reading!

The only thing these required reading lists is doing is making our students despise the classics.  There is nothing wrong with the classics, but forcing students to read them independently, without the background knowledge and support they require is practically cruel.  It really is a shame.

Summer Reading continued

Thanks to everyone for the great responses to my summer reading rant!  I am so glad to see that I am not the only person who is upset with the static, stagnant lists handed out by too many schools across the country.  I am also thrilled to hear from so many others that their districts are not like that. I love hearing about what is and isn’t working in your schools.

There are a lot of great ideas being kicked around in the blogosphere right now.  I think we, as bloggers, are in a prime position for affecting change when it comes to summer reading lists.  I am thrilled by the passion and ideas that my rant seemed to dredge up.  I am looking forward to working on a few of these ideas and seeing if we can make enjoyable summer reading an important part of growing up!

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