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.