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!
Series books in Children’s Literature
Wilma Kuhlman, Ph.D.
As I thought through appropriate themes for this issue, I reflected on the affection "my" library patrons at Girls, Inc. have for some series books. I also remembered my oldest grandson's (he was then a young reader) insightful comment when I questioned his almost exclusive reading of Boxcar Children books. His response, "They aren't great books, but I learned to become a reader with those books." I've researched a bit, and I believe he had some insight. There are reasons that series books are valid for young readers, not the least of which is the consistency of characters from one book to the next. Add graphic novel characteristics, and you have winners, in my experience. I will discuss some of the books that consistently leave the library at Girls, Inc. almost as quickly as they come in, and look at the latest publications in the series to share.
A series that I only recently encountered is Dork Diaries. Other librarians agree to their popularity. Dork diaries: Tales from a NOT-SO- Friendly Frenemy by Rachel Renee Russell, published by Simon & Schuster, 2016 is the most recent in the series. The cover has a note saying that Dork Diaries is the #1 New York Times Bestselling Series. The newest book finds our protagonist, Nikki, spending a week in an exclusive school as part of her school's student exchange program. Nikki's major antagonist, MacKenzie, attends that school and they have both clashes and cooperation - thus the frenemy. Written in the diary format with words crossed out and current young teen slang, she uses terms like BFF, OMG, and emojis to show approval or disapproval. The format of pencil drawn illustrations fits a diary, but also becomes a bit like a graphic novel. However, the text is more than would be the case in a typical graphic novel. The plot has common early teen social issues to the extreme. Because readers get Nikki's thoughts that aren't always spoken aloud, the drama is huge! The accusations from her frenemy nearly cost her a special spot on a Paris trip, but a local TV station shows up at the right time. Interesting read, and I can see the draw to upper elementary and middle school girls. After ten books, the plot and pictures aren't too new, and that makes it very readable. I find that girls do move on to more complex reads.
No one is likely to be surprised to see Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty series on the list of favorites, and seeing the title of Bad Kitty Takes the Test (Roaring Book Press, 2017), in light of all the testing students face, I was intrigued. It seems Kitty has done bad things once too often and must pass a test to continue to be confirmed as a cat. He goes to the testing place to get his instruction on being a cat before he takes the 14 pre-tests to prepare for the final test. (Does that sound a bit familiar?) There are numerous puns and plays on words that actually require some sophisticated knowledge to fully understand. For instance, one of the supposed cats who comes for the test is a chicken with some cat ears attached. The teacher welcomes "Mittens" with, "I hope you didn't have any trouble crossing the road to get here." While I would classify Bad Kitty books as basically graphic novels, the conversation bubbles and language are fairly lengthy and sophisticated. Teachers would enjoy the innuendos about testing in general and can use the popular books for puns, idioms, and other plays on words. I totally enjoyed the book.
This article couldn't be complete without including the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. The 2016 Amulet publication is titled Double Down, which I never really connected to the events of the book. As is true of Jeff Kinney's other books, Gregg is a specialist at finding different ways to get into trouble. Halloween candy is a recurring theme and shows up as corn candy that Gregg wins for his balloon going the furthest and being returned, and gummy worms that he finds hidden in his house. Somehow the pet pig manages to eat the majority of the candy, even though it makes him very sick. But those are just a couple of the crazy events that cause problems. Gregg is grounded so many times, one wonders how he has time for anything else. Gregg's obsession with the Spinetickler's book series by I.M. Spooky indicate Kinney's own sense of humor with his books’ popularity. He includes a parent protest about the books, possibly referencing that Wimpy Kid books are sometimes challenged because of objections to inclusion of body parts and body functions that parents don't appreciate. While considered graphic novels by some, Wimpy Kid books seem to have enough reading in them to support young readers' literacy growth. Even with a male protagonist, these books are very popular at Girls, Inc.
I "read" Jennifer L. and Matthew Holms' most recent Babymouse book Babymouse Goes for the Gold (Random House, 2016) because of the great popularity of these graphic novels with young readers. As was true when I was involved in Children's Choices, Babymouse books are popular with many early readers. I do find that some sophistication is necessary to understand these books. The graphics are mandatory for understanding the happenings, and also for discerning that the captions in squares hold comments of someone/thing outside Babymouse's mind. Babymouse joins a swim team after urging from her mother to be more active. It's not a smooth transition for our protagonist, and as is her classic MO, she has major problems and sees strange creatures in the water. While the title implies that she aims to win a gold medal, that is never close to happening. The book is full of her drama - as is typical of the series. While I don't find the actual reading to be very engaging, the artwork is very entertaining and worth the time in class to analyze illustrations for the subtleties of meaning. Very entertaining.
Looking forward to new and potentially popular graphic novel series, I read the #1 series book in Judd Winick's HiLo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth first published in 2015 by Random House. It fits the MRC writing contest prompt very well, as HiLo is actually a robot, with young boy physical characteristics. HiLo lands on earth while escaping the nasty monster, Razorwark, who wants to destroy him as well as all of earth and its inhabitants. Our earthling school student, D.J., finds HiLo and takes him home. Kids will love it when HiLo eats a lot of food and is totally delighted when he burps. He gets excited about the chance to burp again. D.J. needs to get him clothes and takes him to school where D. J. is joined by his good friend, Gina, who has just moved back to town. Together D.J. and Gina adventure with HiLo as he battles a monster, totally comes apart and learns he's actually a robot. After he manages to put himself together again, the adventure continues. The writing and artwork sync together to make a delightful read that I predict will gain in popularity. Book #2 HiLo Saves the Whole Wide World was published in 2016 and #3 HiLo: The Great Big Boom is due out in February of 2017. I can see both girls and boys being eager to read books in this series. Recommended reader ages are 8 – 12 or 3rd – 7th grade, which seems reasonable to me.
What’s your favorite series, for kids or for yourself? I’ve been avoiding series lately, but I did like The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. That could be a fun conversation!
Refugees--Resettling and Reading
Abby J. Burke, Ed. D--MRC President
A recent article in the Omaha World-Herald boasted that Nebraska is a welcoming state as it led the nation in resettling the most refugees per capita in the last year. After completing the application process that took approximately two years, Omaha welcomed an Afghani family of six this past October. The Metropolitan Reading Council played a role in embracing and supporting some the newest members of this community. Our new community members have four school-aged children. MRC’s goal was to ensure that they had a bookshelf full of books to read in their home. Over 75 books were collected. I was honored to be able to deliver the books. What fun it was to spread out all of the books and spend an afternoon reading and learning with our new friends. MRC would love to hear how you welcome refugee families as they resettle in their new community. Email MRC at metroreadingcouncil@gmail or post on MRC’s facebook page.