It’s official. Metropolitan Reading Council (MRC) is changing its title to Metropolitan Literacy Council (MLC). Nationwide, literacy teachers are realizing that reading is certainly not the only skill involved for participation in the world of literature (online news and information, books, magazines, signs, menus, etc.). But today we know that writing, art images, suggestions from autocorrect, lights and sign shape, and other abilities that are involved in engaging with our world add to deciphering text to help us understand what others mean and to communicate with others.
So, we are following the lead of the now-named International Literacy Association, of which we are participants, to choose a term that more fully embraces the whole of the literate world and changing our identity name to Metropolitan Literacy Council. The term also more fully includes the writing contest that we’ve sponsored for many years, as well as our participation in book drives and supporting author speakers. We are also members of Nebraska’s State Literacy Association (who also recently changed from “Reading Association”) and many MLC members participate in their annual state conference.
Welcome to MLC!
Wilma D. Kuhlman, PhD
Hello fellow MRC members!
I am really excited to begin my tenure as board president for this upcoming year. As we begin to look ahead I would like to share a few things that are happening to our organization. We have started an exciting new venture to increase literacy in the Metro area. Working in tandem with Habitat for Humanity, we donate books to children moving in to their new Habitat homes. We will be offering more information for members to volunteer and participate in book drives that help this important work. We will also be continuing our Writing Contest and Meet the Author event. Please stay tuned for more information about these exciting events and our literacy outreach programs.
MRC Vice President
As a new member and current vice president of the Metropolitan Reading Council I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a member of an organization. I was not sure what a reading council would have to offer me, a high school
English teacher. I have since realized that the Metropolitan Reading Council has plenty to provide, and that I have plenty to give my fellow council members. When you join the Metropolitan Reading Council you are gaining access to a vast networking system that can help you better navigate your school and classroom. You gain valuable curriculum and literacy strategies that can help you refine your teaching practices. Most importantly, you give back to the community. This past year we were able to donate books to a refugee family with four children. This coming year we are planning on working with Habitat for Humanity. When you join the Metropolitan Reading Council you are gaining the expertise and research backed knowledge of hundreds of fellow educators and are gaining a chance to give back to the community that you know and love. Please think about referring fellow educators to this great organization!
If you know someone that is interested in joining MRC, more information can be found at http://www.metroreadingcouncil.org/
Have you RENEWED yet? Don't forget to renew your Metropolitan Reading Council membership for 2017-2018. You should have received a renewal notice and membership card in the mail. You can also renew online at
The Metro Reading Council is going digital! You will receive The Reader and other publications via e-mail. When completing your renewal, please be sure your e-mail address is up to date! If you are not sure whether we have your correct address on file, feel free to contact Renee McArthur, MRC Information Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Join us for 1, 2, or all 3 days of literacy experts, authors, exhibits, and professional networking!
Nebraska’s Premier Conference for Reading and Language Arts
Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 Exhibits Open
A.M. & P.M. Workshops Douglas Fisher - President of
International Literacy Association, professor of educational leadership, Visible Learning for Literacy
Ralph Fletcher - educational consultant, and author for children and professional educators
Welcome Reception social with wine, snacks, and door prizes
Mary Ann Manning Scholarship & Awards Banquet Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 Exhibits Open
Nell K Duke - educator and literacy researcher
Jordan Sonnenblick - author, books for children and young adults fiction
Monica Burns - EdTech & Curriculum Consultant
Breakout Sessions Author Luncheons Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018
Early Childhood Institute Featured Speakers
Dinah Zike & Judith Youngers - Foldables for Early Learners: Manipulatives and Stations
Penny Gildea - Early Language and Literacy for Infants and Toddlers Mary Beth Pistillo - Early Learning Guidelines, Literacy and Language Development
The Featured Speaker list will grow and weave into Nebraska’s Premier Literacy Conference. Check out: https://goo.gl/4LbtmK or the provided QR Code below.
Conference Proposals are now open until November 3, 2017. https://goo.gl/forms/Bjf0hALjDlpMozBA2
Become an NSRA member in order to receive the discounted registration fee and join a group of professionals dedicated to Promoting Literacy in Nebraska. Join online on our website.
All the reading she had done had given her a view of life they had never seen.
-Roald Dahl, Matilda.
This fall, MRC sponsored a book drive with the goal of providing a personal library to two children whose families were partnering with Habitat for Humanity. It was such a treat for MRC President Abby Burke and Vice President JoAnna Hale to meet many of the women who participated in the building process. ‘Women Build is a Habitat for Humanity program that encourages women to make a difference while having fun building/renovating homes in their communities. This build brings together women from all walks of life to address the housing crisis facing millions of women and children.’ You can learn more about this powerful program at https://habitatomaha.org/volunteer/local-opportunities/.
Abby and JoAnna also had an opportunity to attend the dedication of the two newly built homes and present books that were collected during the book drive for the children. These children will now have a collection of books for their personal library. The smiles on the children’s face as they opened their packages was priceless.
Abby J. Burke, Ed. D--MRC President
Metropolitan Reading Council held its Literacy Educators Leadership Awards Event on April 20 at the Nebraska Brewing Company. We were honored to have Nebraska Senator Rick Kolowski as our keynote speaker. Sen. Kolowski is a member of Nebraska’s Legislative Education Committee. He provided an update on the happenings related to education at the
state level. In his closing, he reminded us as educators and as experts in the field of education of the importance of ‘sharing our stories’ with stakeholders. MRC members and members of the community had opportunities to network. In addition, there was a silent auction. The funds earned from this will support future endeavors supported by the Metropolitan Reading Council. MRC President, Dr. Abby Burke, announced the 2016-2107 Literacy Educators Leadership Awards at this event.
It’s been my treat for “several” years to get to write the column about children’s literature awards. It gives me a great excuse to buy more books and feed my biblioholism. But it also keeps me engaged with some of the newest books. I can’t possibly keep up, but it’s a bit of a peek. This year I’m also including a book that’s most appropriate for late middle school and high school. It’s also appropriate for adults, in my opinion and that of several who commented on Good Reads about March, Book 3 by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin with graphic novel illustrations by Nate Powell. March, Book 3 didn’t win just one award; it won at least four that are announced on the American Library Association’s web page. It won the Michael Printz Award, the Robert Sibert Medal for Informational books, the YALSA National book award for young people’s literature, and the Coretta Scott King author award! That’s amazing. And I have a feeling I’m missing some other awards. I think it’s history textbook worthy. And it’s in graphic-novel format. Congressman John Lewis grew up in the segregated south of the US, and he worked with, led, and collaborated with movements that challenged the Alabama policy that kept Black Americans from voting! Law enforcement kept them out violently – with blessings from their governor. Lewis was imprisoned often and beaten by law officers several times. The hatred and resolve of those white officers are demonstrated with the pictures as well as with the words. It can make one cringe to be confronted with the reality of our history. With a couple of flash forwards to current day when Lewis is a congressman and was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2011, the book follows Lewis from the time of the Birmingham church bombing in 1963 when four young children were killed to the time when Lyndon Johnson sent troops to the area to make sure all voters could register. The number of times the people were physically, mentally, and emotionally abused is devastating, and the resolve and sureness with which the marchers remained nonviolent is inspiring. The graphic novel approach works very well to communicate the brutal and agonizing work of Lewis when he was still in his early twenties. It’s complex and powerful, and it is a part of our history we must not forget. I believe the book is appropriate for late middle school and high school readers, and I believe the graphic novel format will make it more appealing and engaging for that age group than typical text-only history writings. The tweet from Lewis, “We are one people, one family, one house – the American house. We must learn to live together as brother and sister or we will perish as fools” seems very appropriate for all to learn, and this book can help us.
More than just the one YA choice is nonfiction in 2017 youth literature awards. Javaka Steptoe’s Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat won both the Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott King illustrator award. Steptoe was encouraged by Basquiat’s artwork when he was starting his own work as an artist, and he works to use Basquiat’s style in the illustrations in his book that briefly tells the history of Basquiat’s short life. Artist Basquiat’s father was an immigrant from Haiti, and his mother was from Puerto Rico. His mother was his inspiration and support in learning to see the art in all scenes in New York, not just in art galleries. He painted on materials that were available – wood pieces, scrap paper, used fabric, etc. As Steptoe writes: “His art is not neat or clean and definitely not inside the lines, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL.” That also describes the art in Steptoe’s book. The art in Steptoe’s book is amazing and hard for a non-artist like me to describe. Because of my inadequacy, I am choosing to quote directly from the review in School Library Journal. “Pieces of discarded wood from Basquiat's stomping grounds fit together to form the painted surfaces for Steptoe's scenes of the Afro Puerto Rican artist, each unfolding within a colored frame. Occasional collage elements of newsprint, photographs, and art materials add dimension and immediacy, highlighting both artists' immersion in their work and surroundings.” Yeah, that! It is a book I’ve read once and studied the art several times. Plan to spend time just immersing in the art when you read this book.
Sticking with the non-fiction focus, another picture book biography that is receiving attention this year is Six Dots: A story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Boris Kulikov. The book is the winner of the Schneider Family Book Award, the award for a book that “embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” There are three categories in the award, and Six Dots was chosen for the young child award. I find this a book for all children (and some of us old folks) to learn more about Louis Braille than just that he was blind. He lost his sight at age five and was totally focused on being able to read, and even in the special school for the blind in France, there were no books for him to read. This frustrated him a great deal. At home, his family helped him learn to find his way around the town and yard by counting steps and listening to sounds echoing back to him when he whistled. A most useful skill for him was learning to play dominos by counting the dots with his fingertips. When Louis (pronounced Loo-WEE) decided he absolutely wanted to find a way to write in a way that could be read by him and others who were blind, he used the arrangements of dots on the dominos to develop the alphabet. He was fifteen when he had the headmaster read him a chapter from a book while he “wrote” it down by using an awl to press dots into paper with his own developed system for the alphabet. After the headmaster was done reading, Louis turned over the papers and read the chapter back word for word! It worked and the system has endured because of its flexibility to be applied to any text and many languages. Because he was in France, we get to see some French words, too. Pronunciations are included at the front of the book. I think it’s an important book to be in libraries and many classrooms.
Last, but not least, is the Newbery Award winner (definitely fiction) The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. And the Newbery is only one of nine awards listed on Amazon as well as it being a New York Times bestseller! Yeah, it’s a winner all right, especially for girls around 10 to 14. It’s a bit fantasy, a bit fairyland, and a bit nightmare in places. Fast paced and a bit confusing at times, it’s a whole different world of mystery and subterfuge. The Protectorate community is kept subservient and afraid by leaders (both male and female) who convince all that they must sacrifice a newborn infant each year by putting him/her in the woods to be eaten or destroyed by an evil witch who lives there.
But, in fact, the witch is kind and loving who takes the infants and lovingly feeds them starlight before taking them to far cities to be adopted and raised by families who care for them. Somehow she doesn’t question why the babies are left there. When one of the baby girls is left, the good witch Xan accidentally feeds her on moonlight rather than starlight, which enmagicks that baby. Xan keeps, truly loves, and raises the child she names Luna. There are several other important characters including a very small dragon that Luna carries in her pocket, a bog monster, a young man and his wife and baby, Luna’s tragically grieving mother in prison, the leading elders, and the REAL evil witch. The plot can be rather complex at times, and I suggest that many young readers won’t be able to stick with it without conversation. That’s why it might make a good read-aloud. One review I read indicates that the real magic that comes through it all is love. I can see that, but it’s not conspicuous. For fantasy lovers, it’s a superb book. With Harry Potter lovers everywhere, I can see this being a favorite among fifth and sixth graders. I predict that only self-assured boys will choose to try it, but I can see it becoming a club starter for some girls. Read it yourself and be prepared to experience lots of twists and turns and magic in the text.
Metropolitan Reading Council--Celebrating Innovations in Literacy Education
Abby Burke, Ed.D.--MRC President
University of Nebraska at Omaha
In an education climate, where standardization and one size fits all approaches to policies and practices appear to be the norm, teachers are still challenging these norms in favor of innovative techniques that are best for students. In my current position teaching in the College of Education at UNO and newly elected MRC president, I am fortunate to rub shoulders with some of these teachers and hear about their innovations on a regular basis~ teachers all over the metropolitan area who are committed to advocating and implementing highly effective literacy practices. As I share the amazing work of teachers across the metropolitan Omaha area I have come to realize that others could grow and learn by hearing about the innovative work that is being done. This is why MRC has chosen to use our fall 2016 conference as a platform for sharing, celebrating, strategizing and advocating for the amazing work that is being accomplished in literacy educations. We have chosen to title this conference the MRC Innovative Unconference: Celebrating Innovations in Literacy Education.
The MRC Innovative Unconference is an attendee-driven conference where session content is determined by participants. This event is meant be as interactive as possible with everyone learning and participating with one another. Participants bring to the event a desire to share literacy innovations and learn from one another in an open environment. Sessions are meant to be discussion-based and participant-driven. We ask that participants come prepared to either share an innovation and/or learning about innovations in literacy education. If you decide to share one of your innovations feel free to bring in artifacts that represent the work. (Visuals are powerful learning tools!)
Examples of innovations include but are by no means limited to the following…
Do you participate in Mystery Skypes with Authors?
Have you written a grant?
Have you implemented a service learning project in your classroom?
Do you use alternative seating in your classroom?
Are you using social media as a learning tool in your classroom?
How are you advocating for literacy education in your classroom or school?
Collaboration Pays Dividends!
Linda Placzek--MRC Treasurer
What does it take to engage high risk teen parents in literacy experiences for their babies and toddlers?
THE ANSWER IS SIMPLE: Give high risk teenage parents the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities which encourage developing literacy skill development with their babies and support them with instruction and materials and see what happens.
How did it happen?
A dedicated group of former educators and community members came together to design a literacy opportunity for high risk teenage moms. The project needs included the appropriate literacy training materials, an attractive, colorful and useful bag for materials which the moms could carry with them, and additional books for the moms to continue practicing these skills. Of course, these items required dollars and an agency to collaborate with.
Who were these former educators and community members bold enough to attempt this project?
Carolyn Law, former Westside Schools educator and Linda Placzek, former OPS educator and MRC Past President had the vision. They approached a community group, (of which both are members) the Omaha Golden K Kiwanis Club, which is dedicated to children, for support and funding. After sharing the idea, the two were given the go-ahead to apply for a grant from the Nebraska-Iowa District Kiwanis Foundation. After the grant was written and submitted, word came that the Foundation grant request was funded, but only partially. At that point the Club Officers and Board offered a contribution from the Club treasury and then members were asked to make individual contributions to address the shortfall. The Kiwanians came through! Within a few weeks, the necessary funding was in place.
The other need, a community agency to partner with, was filled by the Women’s Assure Center of Omaha, which serves at-risk teenage mothers. The agency was delighted to have this opportunity for their clients. The literacy training would become part of their education classes for these young clients and provided by their own staff. Carolyn Law provided training for the Assure staff.
With these needs filled, materials were ordered for training, additional books purchased, bags ordered for the moms, and in September, 2015, the program began.
Was it difficult to engage these young moms in literacy classes?
The answer is a happily resounding NO! The young moms have loved the opportunity to enhance their babies’ life experience with literacy activities. They have learned to read to their babies, sing nursery rhymes and have loved starting book collections for their little ones. Not only do the moms receive additional books as the classes continue, but they earn points by attending other Center classes to purchase additional books at the Assure Baby Store.
So what have we learned through this collaboration?
First, and more importantly, all parents understand that early literacy experiences are critical for their babies’ success.
Second, giving teenage or at-risk parents the instruction and most importantly, the tools, for early literacy experiences for their babies is a recipe for success.
Third, the need for this type of training has a place in our community.
Fourth, the collaboration of educators, community members, agencies and parents can make a difference in bringing literacy to infants and young children.
Fifth, community groups and members are willing to support this type of effort with time, talent and treasure.
So, stop for a moment to look around for possibilities to serve the needs of high risk children in your community and collaborate with others to make something special happen, too!
Addendum: We included in the materials for the parents, a copy of “Read to Me”, a brochure created by the Nebraska State Reading Association as well as a copy of the “Early Childhood Calendar”, which was created in collaboration of the Nebraska Department of Education, the Nebraska State Reading Association, Read ALoud Nebraska, the Lincoln’s Children’s Museum and the University of Nebraska Extension Services. Collaboration Pays!