Thursday, November 4, 2010

wRITING REASON 1: Writing is a Far-Reaching Tool

Wa-a-a-a-a-y back in Ma-a-a-a-a-a-y I posted a blog titled wRiting Reasons: The First of MANY Posts, and I did NOT think it would take five and a half months to get around to part 2, but it has. Nor did I think it would grow to SEVERAL postings, but it has. If not, a second part would take a week to read.

So, this is the deal, I am going to record about 10 reasons for writing - reasons we should all buy into, but hopefully, reasons that will also resonate with students. I have my own ideas, but I also checked around to see what other websters had to say about the topic.

So here goes with REASON NO. 1:

"Writing is an incredible tool that reaches farther than other forms of conversation do." ~ Liz Strauss.

Gramma Katie D. Salisbury
Let me tell you a little story about this reason to write. Sometime after my husband and I married, Gary's father gave me a letter written by his mother in 1919. It was MOST precious, and even thinking about it now makes me all teary and stuff. Living in Missouri at the time she wrote this letter, Katie reveals herself through her writing as a woman with a charming personality. Exhibiting her sense of humor, she used TOILET PAPER as stationery on which to write this epistle to her mother and sister. But do not think of Charmin Toilet Tissues here; picture instead a narrower, rougher version of Bounty, "the quicker picker-upper."

Now think about this, Katie Salisbury's conversation about life's joys and hardships in the early 20th century reaches across hundreds of miles and 9 decades of time to talk to her posterity. That means something. Over several days, she updated her sister and mother about the family, the neighbors, the chores, the wheat farm,  the weather, and the celebrations - that included a parade welcoming soldiers home from The Great War.

Because she took the time to record her thoughts, I feel I know her and love her. In fact, I wrote a response to her long-ago letter and posted it on Literacy Link-Up, a wiki site I don't update much anymore.

Today, I noticed some authors I follow on Twitter responded to the meme "Tweet Your 16-year-old self." As cool as I think that is, I wish I could RECEIVE a "Tweet" of sorts from my 16-year-old self to the 62-year-old me. Yes, I can find bits and pieces of writings from those long-ago days of euphoria and despondency, jubiliation and anguish, but none are forward thinking. (But what teen looks beyond the moment?)

While I tweeted 16-year-old Renae to "dump him and never look back," I do wonder what she would have advised me. I can guess, but I don't really know because I won't ever visit 1964 again - except when I watch Mad Men.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Teachers' Questions & Concerns about Assessment Results

Over the past few months Carolyn Gough, Secondary Language Arts Consultant for our school district, has crunched numbers, drawn conclusions, and shared information with middle school English and reading teachers. When she presents these various assessment results, some schools and teachers are delighted, while other are discouraged.

In her kind and professional manner, Carolyn helps educators recognize the areas for concern and then leads the group in addressing those problems by setting doable goals. Most leave her meetings feeling recommitted, but some well-meaning, hard-working teachers still feel dispirited.

In a recent message to Carolyn, one such teacher wrote: "I know I should take this as a great opportunity, but somehow I feel like I am a bad teacher. Yet, some of those classes had so many students who just didn't give a heck and would not try no matter what."

I doubt there is a teacher who has not felt this way, including Carolyn and me. Because teachers are often discouraged and overwhelmed with all that is expected, I want to share excerpts from my colleague's response to this dedicated veteran educator. Carolyn wrote the following:
I read your message and felt deeply touched by your sincerity and concern. I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts with me and I want you to know that I completely understand how many factors go into test results. The last thing I want anyone to feel is discouraged about teaching. Teaching is demanding, hard work and I know that you and all teachers are trying to help students in all the ways you know how.

I think there are two fundamental messages I'm trying to communicate with the data I've shared:
    1. Looking at data can help us get a general picture of where we are and where students are in the context of the school, district, and state which can help us plan for instruction.
    2. As teachers we can and should always be asking ourselves, "What else can I do to improve student learning?" The focus really needs to shift away from whether or not we taught the material, to whether or not the students learned the material. If their scores are hinting that they aren't learning as much as we'd like them to, it's important to ask ourselves how we can help them in their learning. I maintain that there is no perfect teacher. Each one of us can always search for ways to adjust instruction to help students learn.
The hardest part about asking this question is that we have to open ourselves up and feel vulnerable as we search for the best ways to help students learn. But the more teachers reach out to one another and to others for ways to help students learn, the more they realize there is to learn, and the better teachers they become. Whether a 1st year teacher or a veteran, there is ALWAYS something else we can do to improve student learning. I'm hoping that we'll focus our efforts on those things.
As we talked Friday morning, [one of your colleagues] asked, "What else can we do?" I hope that all teachers would ask a similar question about his/her own teaching. Rather than get down about what has happened, look ahead at what else we can do to improve student learning. Some ideas for how we can accomplish this are to ...
    • ask for a consulting educator to come and observe you in action and to notice ways you can increase student learning;
    • make time to watch another teacher in action;
    • ask other teachers how they are teaching a particular part of the core;
    • participate in creating a curriculum map that matches the core so that we can understand what the core is truly asking of us and our students;
    • be sure you know which standard and objective your lessons are tied to in the core;
    • help students know what it is they are supposed to be learning from the core.
One of the things you do so well ... is that you are open to new ideas and are willing to do things differently to affect change. You are one of those veteran teachers who wants students to succeed and cares about their learning. I know that about you because you have always been an active listener who asks excellent questions in discussions. I know you are open because you were willing to send me an e-mail about your thoughts. You have a great attitude ... which is the key to refining instruction and looking closer at all the ways we can help improve student learning.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Want to Know Why You Should Join Local Council of the International Reading Association?

TOP 10 Reasons to Join JCIRA
10. You really have NOTHING else to do on Monday night - except collapse from exhaustion. Why not start the process with friends at JCIRA?

9. There will be FREE food! Maybe districts have axed their food budget, but JCIRA has NOT!

8. It's your DUTY to LITERACY! Just in case you're not doing enough already!

7. You're tired of "SEX, lies, and videotapes." (Uh, I mean DVDs and Blue Ray.) You're ready for "TRUTH, JUSTICE, and THE AMERICAN WAY! (But DON'T count on a guest appearance by the man in blue tights UNLESS he's a Utah author or a character in a book!)

6. You can EARN professional development RElicensure points AND lane change credit, IF so desired, to save up for that day when you need to recertify or lane change raises are THAWED!

5. You will rub shoulders with terrific friends and exemplary educators who LOVE literacy and still ENJOY sharing that love with students!

4. You will have the opportunity to "gather and give" - gather new ideas, knowledge, inspiration AND give of YOUR thoughts, ideas, and knowledge!

3. You can WIN FREE BOOKS! Lots and lots of books! NOVELS! PICTURE BOOKS! PRACTIONERS' BOOKS! (And we all know how much we LOVE books!)

2. You can be part of a great service project - BOARD BOOKS for BABIES! It's an easy inexpensive way to give the gift of literacy to the NEWEST generation!

1. You can grow as a teacher, reader, and WRITER because this year JCIRA members can WRITE with PROFESSIONAL writers - thanks to the kindness of several Utah authors who will present to us and work with us! ISN'T THAT A.W.E.S.O.M.E.?

Be a part of a GREAT organization. We need YOU!

Friday, September 3, 2010

See You in September

Why I love the ninth month of the year:
  • I feel a stronger sense of renewal in September than I do in January.
  • My biorhythm is in sync with the "school-year" cycle.
  • I love new pencils, pens, paper, tablets, folders, organizers, scissors, binders ...
  • EVERY student starts with an A!
  • I'm ready for routine.
  • Crisp air and colorful leaves are just around the corner.
  • I can pull out my sweaters - my favorite items of clothing.
  • I welcome the season of COMFORT foods: soups, chilli, roast and potatoes.
  • Great SEPTEMBER songs: My top 3 - "September" by Earth, Wind, & Fire; "See You in September" by The Temptations; and "September Morn" by Neil Diamond.
Why do YOU like September?
Do you remember, 21st night of September?
Love was changing the mind of the pretenders
While chasing clouds away. ~ Earth, Wind, & Fire
 Welcome Back, Friends!!!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Final Summer of My Utah Writers: I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER

I have tried some fun things on this blog, but I must say that reading and responding to some of the FAN.TAS.TIC Utah authors has been so so so enjoyable. I do NOT want to stop reading and writing about these fine novels, and so I won't. But I will post them on my writing blog: The Write Groove. Readers of this blog will still see my mini reviews on this site under "Read My List."

Now onto this most fascinating novel: I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells. First I have to say I received some funny comments when people saw me reading this book. My daughter-in-law read the title aloud and then added, "Glad to hear that, Renae. I was worried." My sons asked me if I was going to write my own versions, such as I am Not a Bad Driver or I am Not Hard of Hearing. Haha.

The most common reaction, however, was laughter out loud! Seriously, many thought this was a humorous novel, and when I told them it wasn't, they asked why then was I reading it. So here are the reasons:

1. Dan Wells, the author, hosted WRITING FOR CHARITY on August 21, 2010, and he was absolutely hilarious. Yes, he did plug his book, but it was in a charming, self-effacing way. Reassuring us that he was NOT the model for John Wayne Cleaver, he did admit to having a fascination for reading and talking about serial killers. Rather than sending him to a shrink, his friends requested that he stop talking about them and write about them.

2. Cheryl Bago, book-seller AND frequent guest blogger on Throwing Up Words, wrote about a possible up and coming/returning trend in YA: mysteries and horror novels - sort of in the Lois Duncan and R.L. Stein realm. At least she receives frequent requests for these genres. Well, I Am Not a Serial Killer fills both bills! And WHAT A PAGE TURNING TREAT IT IS.

3. I mean how many YA novels have you read where the main character possesses many of the traits of a serial killer, and yet, he is funny, likable, and sympathetic as well as irritating, scary, and courageous.

4. The plot is twisted, and I mean in a good way. SURPRISES! Interesting COMPLICATIONS that pull at your heartstrings. I'm serious!

5. The characters are intriguing. Mom and Auntie are morticians - don't know of many women funeral directors, but these 2 are good at what they do. Sister Lauren Bacall Cleaver is a moody rebel, and Max, John's one and only friend, is a loner who can be pretty funny, too. I like and trust John's psychiatrist, too, because John, who likes few people, likes and trusts him. He "gets" John. Besides the main character, Mr. Crowley is an especially compelling character. All of them are well developed with layers that demand our attention. Love it.

6. While reading, I would sometimes go, "EEE-YOOO" because John's dark thoughts would trouble me, but then I read the next paragraph and would think, "Oooooh! He's fighting so hard against being something he really doesn't want to be. Will he be all right? He will make it, won't he?" Dan keeps his readers off balance this way, and that makes reading all the better.

I know this book isn't for everyone, and I doubt that I would have picked it up if Dan hadn't charmed me and 150 other people into giving it a try, but I really enjoyed it. Creepiness and all. I just saw where Alpine School District teachers are reading it for their book club. Can't wait to see if it makes Alpine's approved book list. I'm doubting it as, you know, the district is in Utah County! It may be violent, but there is little to no swearing!

BUT it makes my approved list. Just be warned.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Summer of My Utah Writers: THE DARK DIVINE

If you are a fan of the Twilight series, you will enjoy Bree DeSpain's The Dark Divine. And if you DON'T like Stephanie Meyer's vampire trilogy, you'll STILL like Divine. Bree's first published novel is a paranormal romance that EXcludes vampires, but focuses upon the other scary but alluring monster who wants to do what is right. (Isn't the cover DIVINE, too?)

Grace Divine, the pastor's daughter, is the main character who must go against her near-perfect brother in order to support Daniel, a troubled friend whom they both loved at one time. (Click HERE to read the first chapter!)

While there are similarities between Grace and Bella of Twilight fame, Bree pulls in enough twists and turns to end the comparisons. I do enjoy Bree's stronger female lead, but like all 16-year-olds, affairs of the heart can weaken the best of intentions.Sigh.

Check this out, if you don't believe me!

Family dynamics also play a big part in developing the Divine plot, and that strengthens the "normal" in paraNORMAL! All in all, the novel is a romping page-turner. Way to go, Bree!

The Lost Saint, Bree's second book, is a sequel to The Dark Divine, and it will be available in December! These books are 2 reasons paranormal romances are ALIVE and WELL!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer of My Utah Writers: ONCE WAS LOST

I'm a BIG Sara Zarr fan. BIG. If you search this blog site to see how many times I've written about her, you'll find out how much I like this author; this person. Two reasons: 1) She is a remarkable writer; 2) she is a kind person.

When she presented at JCIRA last May, Sara talked about how she enjoys writing about family dynamics, and all three of her books testify of her expertise in so doing. Another important element she incorporates into these stories of families is a sense of hope.

While I really liked Story of a Girl and Sweethearts, I treasured Once Was Lost. It is my favorite SZ novel. Now this sort of amazes me because ofttimes authors who launch a critically acclaimed FIRST book fail to match their own success with their subsequent novels. Not so with Sara. She just gets better.

In Once Was Lost, Sara weaves together a story of lost faith, lost family ties, and lost family member. The catalyst that brings this all together is the kidnapping of a 13-year-old girl from one of the town's most respected families. But the Shaw family isn't the only ones experiencing loss.

Samara's pastor-father becomes less and less a father as he becomes more involved in shepherding his flock, comforting the grief-stricken Shaw family, and working with the exuberant youth counselor Erin.

Samara's mother slowly lost herself to the inebriated state of alcoholism. Sequestered in a rehabilitation facility, Sam's mother disappears into healing, which leaves Sam feeling even more alienated.

Sara pulls all this together with such tenderness that readers hurt for every character, but the weaknesses of each do not leave us without hope. That's what I love about this story. There is just not enough hope in families or society today. Because faith and hope prevail, the reader closes the book feeling that Samara and her family just might make it.

Make sure you pick up this book! It will touch your life.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Last Friday evening, I lounged on our deck, periodically enjoying the view as I read the last third of A.E. Cannon's novel The Loser's Guide to Life and Love. My husband busied himself with mowing, trimming, and watering our thirsty back yard. Occasionally, he interrupted HIS yard work and MY reading with a comment: "Are you enjoying yourself?" or observation: "I hope you're not overdoing."

I ignored his sarcastic remarks because a) I know he loves to work in our yard; b) I could NEVER do it to his satisfaction; and c) I really was enjoying myself! The July evening was much like the June midsummer eve described in the novel, minus dragonflies flitting about everywhere. And every few paragraphs, I laughed out loud - you know "lol". I've read humorous books that make me smile, but not so many that prompt audible giggles, chuckles, or snorts. (Yes, I even snorted.)

Loser's Guide is a perfect YA summertime read. It has fun elements like the lazy feel attached to long, warm days, a summer job that isn't the best but beats most part-time work; and most importantly, a summer romance based upon deceit. Yes, Ed's job at a movie rental store opens the door to the romance. Because he HAS to wear a name tag that claims the wearer is "Sergio," Ed adopts the persona of a romantic Brazilian transplant when the beautiful Ellie enters the store and his life.

(I couldn't help but remember the summer I was 14 and met a cutie in Las Vegas on our trip to Southern California. I lied and said I was 16 and for 3 hours I enjoyed a summer romance with a very handsome 18-year-old who was heading for college. We even wrote each other for about hmm 3 weeks.)

Besides the complicated premise, Ann (aka A.E.) develops endearing characters: the very funny Ed; the patient and slightly satirical Scout (aka Aurora Aurelia); the handsome geek Quark; and the deeper-than-you-think Ellie. I also love Ali, and who in the world of this novel doesn't love the exotic store owner who brings mystery, charm, and a Midsummer Eve celebration where "friends and friends-to-be" are invited to party from dusk to dawn?

This is a light-hearted romp readers will truly enjoy. It was the pick-me-up I longed for after reading wonderful, but sad novels about desperate teens. I LOVED Losers! And I really like that Ann Cannon, too!

P.S. When I finished the last page, G.E. finished the yard work. He turned to me and said, "Hmm. I feel like the paid gardener hired by a rest home." Bless him. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Summer of My Utah Writers: THE MAZE RUNNER

I will be the first to admit that I have NOT been a big fan of worlds-gone-wrong novels - aka dystopian genre. But last year I "had" to read a few books of this ilk as part of my job responsibilities. The first was Unwind by Neal Shusterman; the second was The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick; and then I got hooked on the first 2 books of the The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. (And yes, I'm counting down the days when the 3rd novel, Mockingjay, hits the book stores - 26 days until August 24th.)

This baptism into these excellent novels that delve into post-apocalyptic scenarios made a convert of me. And so when I found The Maze Runner or it found me, I was thrilled to read another page-turner in this genre. BUT I was even more excited to learn that James Dashner, the author, lives right here in the Beehive state. Granted, he grew up in another of my favorite states, Georgia, where I enjoyed teaching in the same county where James went to school, but I delegate him as a Utah writer because that is where he writes. Got it?

Now about the book. It's a GREAT book for boys, but girls will like it, too. While it doesn't have an overt romance YET, there is sure to be more of that in the upcoming sequel. But girls don't always read for romance. Well, a few teen girls don't.

During my reading, I caught glimpses of Lord of the Flies without the societal break-down, and I also felt connections to Ender's Game as well. But the "buggers" (grievers) are bigger, badder, and omnipresent! I also appreciated the sass and sarcasm exhibited by the characters without recognizable foul language. I say that because Dashner's glade/community spoke their own kind of potty-lingo, and so it wasn't as offensive. (I have an Austrian friend who has lived in the U.S. for a long time, and he claims that swearing in German just doesn't seem uncivil anymore. But I digress.)

Basically, the underlying question of Maze is what can drive intelligent young men plus one girl to solve the unsolvable before giving up? What challenges will discourage or destroy their determination? What else can such individuals accomplish if they overcome the impossible? It's VERY cool AND a GREAT RIDE. Yes, yes it is! If you doubt me, check out this awesome trailer.

P.S. This novel is the first of a trilogy, and I am just as excited to read the second book that debuts in October, thus starting yet another countdown!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer of My Utah Writers: EVERYTHING IS FINE

After reading Ann Dee Ellis' book Everything is Fine, my husband and I discussed why people want to read sad books. Some readers have experienced sadness, and so they may reach a point where reading a book about fictional characters experiencing similar situations comforts them. But we also realized as we talked that MOST readers relate to horrific experiences because such times may not come into their own lives, but tragedy often enters into the lives of people we know.


For example, we both know individuals who committed suicide; we know people who died of cancer at way-too-young ages; we know women who have been raped; we know a friend whose nieces died of heat-exhaustion when those little girls climbed into the trunk of the family's car; we met a woman in our neighborhood who backed over her two-year-old son; and so it goes.

We are all affected indirectly when tragedy strikes - even when we read about it in the newspaper or see the story on television. If it happens in our family, neighborhood, city, or state, it usually touches us in some way. Even so, we hang around the periphery, safe from the really deep hurt. Until we pick up a book like Ann Dee's.

Oh my, the peek into the pain suffered by this fictional family was emotionally draining. I was so grateful that it was a short book. But I loved Mazzy and her karate chops and her obsession with breasts - her own developing ones and the developed chests of others; her relationship with the boy next door, and her love for her mother. Ann Dee does a marvelous job of developing this 12-year-old heroine!

I once heard Ann Dee tell a group of teens that reading House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros inspired her writing. Until then, she thought she had to fill up all the white space, but seeing and feeling Sandra's style, she decided she could write a book. And so she took a summer to do just that. This is What I Did was the result. Isn't that amazing?

I'm amazed by her determination, her persistence, and her talent!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Summer of My Utah Writers: THE CHOSEN ONE

I first met Carol Lynch Williams at a poetry slam. We were both judges. While this "slam" was the third one I had judged, the experience was new to Carol. Ann Dee Ellis was another judge, and little did I know how our paths would cross again and again.

When Amy introduced us to the student performers, this is kind of how it went down:
Students, let me introduce you to today's judges. Ann Dee Ellis is the author of two young adult novels: This is What I Did, which received 3 starred reviews. Her latest novel is Everything is Fine.

Our second judge is Carol Lynch Williams who has won many writing awards and published numerous books including The Chosen One, which is being praised in the world of book critics. Her most recent book Glimpse will come out in July.

Renae Salisbury works for our school district.
It was a little humbling, but also inspiring. As is The Chosen One. I love reading, but I can put a novel down to fix dinner, wash, run to the store, etc. So when I ignored all those daily necessities so I could get Kyra out of her terrible situation, I knew all the reviews were true:
  • "Unsettling and COURAGEOUS ... beautiful, COMPASSIONATE, full of hope."
  • "An important book."
If you haven't checked it out, Chosen One is about a 13-year-old girl, raised in a polygamist community. Her father and motherS are good and kind and loving, but when the misguided prophet receives revelations that designate the older men should have the young girls as wives, the polygamist situation is even more scary.

I heard Carol say this was a hard book to write. Heartbreaking doesn't really describe her research. I would love to interview her and find out more about that research because her daughter quoted author Ellen Hopkins as saying something like, "tell [your] mom not to be afraid to write the truth." Of course, this made me wonder if Carol has been hastled about being so blunt about this very complex and frightening topic.

Secondly, I like to know if she has any plans for a sequel. Once again, I have SO many questions I would love to have answered. Somehow, I don't think Carol will do that because she just has so many more stories to tell. And I can't wait to read them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer of My Utah Writers - THE WAY HE LIVED

As I continue my quest of reading books by some of Utah's talented authors, I must say I am proud that this state can boast that it could become a YA Author Factory. Just as BYU earned the reputation of cranking out super-star quarter backs, Utah is producing an amazing array of WonderWriters.

Among these writers is Emily Wing Smith, author of The Way He Lived. There were so many things I loved about this novel, including the format. Each chapter tells the story about Joel, an outstanding young man who sacrificed himself to save others when a Scout troop ran out of water while hiking the Grand Canyon. Although Joel brought enough water to stay hydrated in the heat, some did not. He died of heat exhaustion because he deprived himself in order to help his fellow scouts and leaders.

As we view this teen through the eyes of his sisters and friends, we learn about him AND them. Using lines from "Monday's Child" to title the sections, Emily hints at what we can learn about the sister or friend. For Example, "Wednesday's child is full of woe" establishes Miles as the wayward friend who is deeply impacted by Joel's death.

Emily also uses first and third person narratives to tell the story, even using fictional blog entries, chats, and other communications to share intimate details. Included among the details are connections to life as a Latter-day Saint, a Mormon. Because Joel and his friends live in a community where most citizens are members of that church. I appreciate her realistic portrayal of teens who embrace AND struggle with that religious culture.

When I closed the book, I knew Joel a little better, but I was left with dozens of questions, too. Some about him, but mostly, I wanted to learn more about Miles, Norah, Alden, Claire, etc. I was still worried about Joel's mom and dad, too.

Isn't it a great book that leaves you wanting more?

Monday, July 12, 2010


A few conferences and workshops later, I have developed an awe for Utah's Young Adult authors. At least the ones I've met, and especially the ones I've read! Because these writers are A.MAZ.ING, I decided that I'd dedicate my summer reading to these talented individuals by delving into their works.

I've read two of Sara Zarr's novels, Story of a Girl and  Sweethearts, plus Brandon Mull's first book in the Fablehaven series, but I have a long way to go in my quest to sample books birthed right here in the Beehive state. Thus far, I have finished Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George.

While I am not a big fantasy fan, I wish I were because there are TONZ of great fantasy novels are out there. I do think Jessica's are my kind of fantasy, however, because I love fairy tales, and some of her books retell fairy tale in a refreshing way. Princess is one of those.

The twelve dancing princesses lie at the heart of this story, but an ex-soldier turned gardner is the hero who outwits the evil king from below. Jessica not only weaves in her knowledge of Norwegian tales and legends, she also tucks in details from her love of handicrafts: sewing, knitting, crocheting, tatting, fabrics, yarns, threads, etc. Jessica tucks in a fun surprise, when we learn our gardening hero also knits, and as readers might guess, this knowledge and talent helps him save the day!

This book is pure enough for the middle grade readers - chaste romance, minimal violence.

I can't wait to read Sun, Moon, Ice and Snow, but it must wait until I've visited stories by other authors from Utah. My next mini-review will be Emily Wing Smith's novel The Way He Lived.

Later, rbs

Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Affair at Valley High School!

Schools throughout the Jordan School District celebrate literacy in a number of ways. Middle schools like Elk Ridge Middle invite local authors to spend an evening with students and their parents to learn more about the joys of reading and writing. West Jordan High sponsors a very popular Poetry Slam that runs for 3 days. Valley High also holds a Slam, but for the seven or eight years, they have also promoted literacy by holding Book Affair.

According to Terry Jensen, English teacher at Valley, Book Affair was someone else's brainchild, but Terry soon took over and has chaired the annual event ever since.The purpose was to celebrate READING for LIFE and READING for PLEASURE. Organizers want students to know that reading remains a part of people's lives beyond formal schooling.

Initially, administrators and teachers, staff members and some students shared their favorite books with students. More recently, however, Terry expanded the program to feature state and community leaders as well as published authors. A few years ago, Sharon Jensen, former assistant principal at Valley, suggested a book give-away to further motivate students to read the featured books. Using a portion of Trustland funds, Valley gives away scores of favorite titles!

This year's presenters ranged from a school board member to a manager of the King's English Book store. Here are some book picks and presenter pix to share with you.

Terry Jensen, presented at least a dozen of his favorite titles and introduced Madeline Stout who shared her favorite book - The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. Madeline enjoyed the book's humor, but even more, she appreciated that she learned the deeper meaning behind self image, and misguided ideas of perfection. The PRINTZ Honor book also talks about measuring up to family's expectations and asks teens to avoid being so hard on themselves.

J. Dale Christensen, a member and former president of JSD's  Board of Education, talked about the importance of reading and then told students about the non-fiction best-seller, 1776 by David McCullough.

Principal of Valley High School, Don Link, honored J.D. Salinger by talking about the first time he read Catcher in the Rye - the quintessential and controversial "coming of age" story. As Salinger passed away in January, this was especially appropriate. Mr. Link also recommended Salinger's Nine Stories, a collection of short stories.

Vickie Bork, school psychologist talked about The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind  about William Kamkwamba, a young man in Africa who "built a windmill to elevate the lives and spirits of those in his community." The book demonstrates how just one person can make a difference in the world, regardless of age.

Deseret News journalist, author of The Loser's Guide to Life and Love, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, my blogger friend Ann Cannon recalled a day spent at a book shop in a near empty mall where she stumbled onto Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein. That day she picked up a fantasy, even though she hated that genre; read the the prologue, which she NEVER DOES; and read a description of little people with big hairy feet. She was grateful that she overcame all those prejudices, including ones about feet, to read this classic.

Sharon Jensen's favorite book is The 4 Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book by Miguel Ruiz. The book suggests 4 ways of handling one's self in order to achieve personal freedom. They are as follows:
  • Be impeccable with your word. (Spot on) (positive)
  • Don't take anything personally - what people do is NOT because of you.
  • Don't make assumptions about others.
  • Always do your best - no MORE and no LESS. 
Lisa Kolstad, creative writing teacher at the high school keeps 3 journals near her bedside. One is her personal journal; another is her "managing anger" journal, and the 3rd is her writing ideas journal. Because of her love of journaling, Lisa recommended The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman. The novel is about the reuniting and reconcilation of 3 sisters whose lives have been laced with tragic chaos.

Margaret Brennan from THE KINGS ENGLISH, highly touted I Sang to the Monster, but she also recommended many other great reads, including the following with the disclaimer that not all of these titles are for young adults and include some heavy and/or adult themes.
  • Little Bee 
  • Adoration of Jenna Fox
  • (NOT Faux as I originally spelled it!)
  • Things Fall Apart 
  • Th1rteen R3asons Why
  • Reluctant Fundamentalist
  • Sarah's Key
  • Never Let Me Go
  • Beyond the Sky and Earth
  • Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
  • No Shortcuts to the Top
  • Escape
  • Infidel
  • 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East
  •  Between a Rock and a Hard Place
  • Wintergirls 
  •  Escape 
One of the surprising highlights was Mark and Caralyn Buehner's presentation. The husband and wife/illustrating and writing team shared their experiences in publishing their well-loved picture books, including Snowmen at Night and Dex:The Heart of a Hero. The students particularly enjoyed listening to Cara read Dex, and I heard a collective sigh from the audience when she shared the sweet ending.

The office ladies have organized their own book club and present their favorites every year at Book Affair.

Sara Zarr usually presents at B.A., but could not this year. Instead, she recommended Ann Dee Willis and Emily Wing Smith as presenters. Both young authors held the teens' attention even at the very end of the day as they talked about the influence of their favorite authors on their writing.

The simplicity of Sandra Cisernos's House on Mango Street motivated Ann Dee to dedicate a summer to writing and finishing her first book,This is What I Did. Ann Dee's first novel "received three starred reviews and was listed on Voice of Youth Advocates - 2007 Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers List, American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults for 2007 and was a 2008 International Reading Association honor book. Her second book, Everything is Fine was released March 2009. Kirkus described the book as 'Impressionistic, elliptical and full of feeling' and VOYA (starred review) called it 'a story so painful you want to read it with your eyes closed. It is a stunning novel.'”

Emily Wing Smith published her first YA novel, The Way He Lived, in 2007, and her second book is due out soon. The author quoted her favorite author M.E. Kerr's observation that writing helps young adults work through tough experiences and get back to where they want and need to be. Loosely based upon an incident that happened during her high school years, Emily's novel revolves around peers' perceptions of a young many who died one summer. Seen as a martyr by some and self-destructive by others, the protagonist is all and none of what others think of him.

"The Way He Lived received accolades including a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. It was also winner of the Utah Book Award in Young Adult Fiction. Her next YA novel, Back when You Were Easier to Love, will be released from Dutton (Penguin) early next year."

Kay Erickson and Mark Murphy, faculty members at Valley, wrapped up Book Affair by promoting their favorites: The Greatest Generation, a book Kay recommends because her dad was a WWII vet who never talked about the war. Magnificent Obsession, written by Lloyd C. Douglas and published in 1929, has been been his favorite job for 40 years. The classic nspired him to be of service to others, and Douglas' novel also touched my life some 35 years ago when I read it. It's one whose message I will never forget.

This summer my reading goal is to consume as many books by Utah authors as I can. They include Ann Dee's and Emily's, as well as Carol Lynch Williams' book The ChosenI recently finished Jessica Day George's fairytale-fantasy Princess of the Midnight Ball, and I am anxious to start Bree DeSpain's The Dark Divine.

Oh, and I won't let summer end until I read Ann Cannon's The Loser's Guide to Life and Love and The Chihuahua Chase!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

wRITING REASONS ~ The First of MANY Posts

Inspired by Kelly Gallagher's Reading Reasons, I have been contemplating why we write. Using a similar format as the esteemed Mr. Gallagher, and withOUT his permission, I will share a few ideas that wake me at night and distract me by day.

If educators were ONLY concerned about test scores, then we would be overwrought about our students' writing results as reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP, considered the Nation's report card, indicates that Utah's READING scores are "pretty good," but students' WRITING scores are significantly lower than students nationwide.
Like most teachers, however, I have a difficult time standing before a classroom of students to tell them that the main reason they need to be better writers is because they have GOT to earn better scores on standardized tests. Yes, some would be motivated by this concern, but many - if not most - would not. (Starting in the 2010-11 school year, we do not even have the UBSCT writing assessment to hang over high schoolers' heads.)
On the other hand, NOT many students challenge the necessity of learning to write like they question other kinds of learning: "I'll NEVER write in the real world." Too many, however, fail to realize how much required writing or the expected high level of writing they will encounter after leaving public school - whether it's college or career-related.
The questions about writing, therefore, are similar to those posed about reading:
    • How do we turn around apathetic attitudes about writing?
    • How do we address an unwillingness to draft, revise, revise, revise, and edit?
    • How do light a writing fire under our students?
    • How do shelter fragile adolescent writers and help them grow into confident people for whom writing well matters?
    • How can we meaningfully and consistently reinforce the benefits of writing and writing well?
    • Where do we start?
Just as educators need to explicitly teach READING REASONS to students, teachers must also EXPLICITLY teach WRITING REASONS to their pupils. By the time adolescents are in middle school and/or high school, we assume that most of them understand the importance of writing. As a result, we assign the essay or the reflective written response without explicit instruction that includes the reason.
Furthermore, the strong emphasis upon summative assessments, along with accompanying administrator and teacher angst, supports the less important reason for writing - scoring well on the Direct Writing Assessment or some other summative test. It is important that educators ensure that students know and understand there are much stronger reasons for learning to write effectively.
As with reading, before teachers and students discuss, discover, and develop solid and motivating writing reasons, building blocks must be in place to support young writers.
Building block 1: Students must experience many different kinds of writing, including WRITING TO LEARN and LEARNING TO WRITE a variety of genres. Among the traditional kinds of writing taught in schools, the National Common Core State Standards (NCCSS) requires students to be proficient in writing effective ARGUMENTS. This type of writing is different from creating persuasive pieces of writing but is used more in ALL disciplines.
Building block 2: Students must have ample time to compose, especially extended pieces of writing. They must be able to draft, review with peers, revise, edit, and PUBLISH.Thinking and drafting take TIME; reviewing and revising take more TIME because writers often go through this step again and again.
Building block 3: Teachers must model writing and the VALUE of writing. Composing, sharing, revising and editing with students, and thinking aloud while working through the process makes the writing process more transparent for students.
Demonstrating a positive attitude about writing is crucial! Too many teachers lack confidence in their own writing; consequently, they may AVOID teaching writing or LIMIT the number of writing assignments.  Tracy Gardner, NCTE Inbox editor writes, "YOU are a WRITER when you BELIEVE that you ARE—and once PEOPLE BELIEVE they are WRITERS, they are ON THE PATH to a life-long LOVE of WRITING."
Building block 4: Teachers must STOP GRADING EVERYTHING. The paper-grading horror stories that follow English teachers not only scare away prospective language arts teachers, they also discourage educators from assigning writing. Because students hang from fluorescent lights in Utah's classrooms, grading EVERY essay, response, or narrative is especially daunting. BUT there are many ways to effectively assess student writing and learning WITHOUT grading every paper. Rather than limit writing, teachers need to PICK and CHOOSE what they will and will not grade. This can be accomplished without diminishing the value of all student writing.
Additionally, Utah Write and MY Access online writing programs are available to support student writing by providing feedback. When used correctly, these tools ASSIST teachers; they DO NOT REPLACE teachers!
Building block 5: Teachers must incorporate writing into MOST aspects of learning. WRITING to LEARN includes tools that help students process learning through writing. Some of these tools include graphic organizers, admit/exit slips, R.A.F.T., Silent Discussions, etc. A new report from the Carnegie Institute, Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading, shares recent research that supports the importance of writing to the reading process.
Building block 6: Students must WANT to write, and they MUST see what's in it for them. Too many young people believe that writing is only important in the academic world. The second part of "wRITING REASONS" will share why we write - reasons that go beyond those connected to school.
While I have some ideas, I plan to search out more; and I would LOVE to hear YOUR ideas. Please share your thoughts with Link2Literacy, and then teachers can share them with future students.

Thanks so very much.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sara Zarr and the Writer Within

Sara Zarr - isn't that just the coolest author name? And it's NOT even a pen name! Anyway, Sara, the Utah ZARRina of realistic young adult fiction (and yes, I am fawning) spent over an hour sharing reflections about her writing life with the largest group of secondary educators to attend a JCIRA meeting in YEARS. (Okay, there were only 13, but that's an average improvement of 900% - seriously!) AND, I very much appreciate Sara's comment when I told her NOT to expect huge numbers. She wrote,
Since it sounds like it's likely to be a small group, we can keep it conversational, which is always nice. I just couldn't remember if this was a very formal in-service-y type of presentation or not. Conversational is my favorite.
Rather than summarize all her interesting observations, I'd like to paraphrase several of Sara's thoughts that were meaningful to me. Sound good?

Her genre-of-choice:
  • Sara is drawn to the family drama - "things happening in kitchens and cars."
  • When males write "domestic fiction," it's referred to as "literary fiction." (Go figure.)
Her inspiration:
  • Sara's teen years were influenced by her own family drama - moving around, an alcoholic father, and divorce. She added that children in these kinds of situations often fill their minds with "what if" scenarios - "What if he doesn't come home; what if he DOES and he's drunk, etc." Imagining the "what ifs" can fuel creativity.
  • Her teen reading was enriched by 80's YA authors, including Robert Cromier, M.E. Kerr, and others. She enjoyed reading about characters who were like her. And while her life did not include the fighting and death found in Cromier's The Chocolate War, for example, she did relate to the dysfunction that realistically penetrates every life. 
Her respect for teens:
  • Sara empathizes with the angst that often fills teen lives. Unlike some adults, she sees their challenges as "high stakes" issues that they "don't have practice in dealing with ... ."
  • She observes that sometimes it's "easy to look at teens and say 'you don't know how good you have it,'" but their problems "are as real and rough and new" as those experienced by adults. 
  • Adolescence is "a transitional time," and a teen's job is to break away from parents. When going through that, many see their parents as clueless. Sara shared the example of Ann Frank's issues with her own mother - a woman who possessed none of the attributes Ann honored during that season in her life. Had she been allowed to grow up, however, "she would have worked that out. Instead, the moment is frozen in time."
  • Writers mustn't see teen problems as melodramatic - the "gossip will ruin my life." Authors cannot "dismiss their pain" because if that occurs, they "dismisses what readers are feeling."
Her story goals:
  • Sara sees adults as "ambassadors of adulthood," saying "come on," and so she wants her books to "model the possibilities."  She hopes to demonstrate to her adolescent readers that they can "navigate through" their experiences.
  • Her desired message is that the way "may not be perfect, but it will be okay." 
  • She wants her books to "offer some kind of hope as long as the definition of family is wide ranging."
  • Realistically, she knows that her character won't have the "big triumphs" - win the popularity contest, the game, or the piano competition - but will be able to "look Dad in the eye" or have more patience with a well-meaning mom. 
  • Sara also likes to end her stories with "forward momentum" versus the "big wrap-up." Sometimes teens are disappointed in that. Sara mentioned that her 12 to 15-year-old fans "want a happier ending." They also think that the author is writing about her own life. One group of girls Sara met with in California took one look at the visiting writer and then checked out the cover of Story of a Girl . "This ISN'T you!" they exclaimed in surprise. (Yet another disappointment!)
Her inner voice:
  • Once Sara realized she could be a writer, she knew that she would author young adult books because that is the voice within her. She can see through a teen's eyes. Not as an adult looking back on adolescent experiences but rather as a 15-year-old living in the moment. (I think that is remarkable. I've tried to do it, and the 62-year-old me keeps interrupting the teen me! Darn her!)
  • One of Sara's author-friends listens to her 6-year-old self, and so I think Ms. Zarr's advice to prospective authors is to discover who resides in their hearts and minds. Next listen and then record who is talking and what is being said. (I was listening more than writing notes at this point, and so I hope I've captured her thoughts about this subject.)
My reflection - I love to write, and I've even written a couple of chapters of a NOVEL - but I have to laugh. My main character is from England - a country I have NEVER visited, but I loudly hear her accent. I think, however, it's more Irish than British. So I started this adventure by writing in a dialect. Can you believe that?

Now I've stopped writing because the accent is growing thicker, and I'm afraid it's losing any authenticity it MAY have had. Awhile ago, I decided to rewrite the chapters and drop the dialect - but that accent is still lodged in my brain.

Dear Sara Zarr, what do you advise? HELP ME!!!

I hope that you enjoy catching a glimpse of our evening with the lovely Ms. Sara. And I plan to bring more such experiences to our JCIRA meetings in the future. I hope you readers of this blog will drop in sometime and mingle with us.

Take care,

Sara Zarr - Star of JCIRA's May Meeting!

On Monday, May 10th, Sara Zarr - author extraordinaire - sat down with 13 secondary educators to chat about her writing life. What a pleasant experience that was for all of us - those who dream about authoring works and those who enjoy reading them.

Let me tell you a bit about Sara's accomplished WONDERFULNESS, and then I'll link you to a summary of what she shared with us! Sound good?
  • She has published 3 YA novels: Story of a Girl; Sweethearts; and Once Was Lost
  • Honors and Awards:
    • Story of a Girl
      • 2007 National Book Award Finalist
      • American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults
      • ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers
      • International Reading Association Honor Book
      • International Reading Association Choices Book
      • New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
      • Capitol Choices Pick
      • TX Tayshas Pick
      • Utah Book Award Finalist
    • Sweethearts
      • 2008 Cybil Awards Finalist
      • Oprah Book Club Kids Reading List
      • American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults
      • New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
      • Utah Book Award Finalist
      • TX Tayshas Pick
      • 2010 International Reading Association Choices pick
    • Once Was Lost - Just published in October, this book was inspired by events surrounding Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping. It has already been recognized with the following honors:
      • An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
      • A Kirkus Best Book of 2009
      • Fall 2009 Reading the West pick – Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association
  • Sara has also contributed to the following collections:
    • Does This Book Make Me Look Fat - A collection of stories and essays by YA authors that "sound off on body image., self-esteem, diets, eating disorders, boys, fashion magazines, and why trying on jeans is a bad experience for everyone."
    • Geektastic - "Short stories from some of the best selling and most promising geeks in young adult literature; covers all things geeky, from Klingons and Jedi Knights to fan fiction, theater geeks, and cosplayer."
    • Jesus Girls - "Together this collection of essays provides a vivid and diverse portrait of life in the evangelical church, warts and all."
  • Sara is featured on a podcast.
    • Click HERE to learn more about this amazing young author via the podcast.
    • Go HERE to read more on her website.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What NOT to Assign for Summer Reading

It's that time when teachers are thinking about summer reading – their own AND their students. In the not-too-distant past, a parent talked to me about books assigned to her daughter, and most of the choices were drawn from a list of the classics. Now I'm NOT talking about Young Adult classics; I'm thinking about those still-in-print books originally published between the 1700 and 1800s. Tale of Two Cities; Wuthering Heights; Jude the Obscure; Les Miserables, etc. 

(Note: The cute boy in this picture is my grandson, and reading in trees is his favorite pastime!)

Please do not think I am ANTI-classics. I definitely am NOT. I also realize that students registered for AP English need a jump-start on the upcoming school year by reading some Austen and Faulkner over the summer. Additionally, I have been researching and building a case for teaching such works in the general language arts curriculum, but I question whether or not teachers should require or recommend them as summer reading. Here are a few questions at the heart of the BIG question.
  • What is the purpose for assigning these works for summer reading? Introducing young readers to timeless, universal themes or ruining vacations at the beach?
  • Can students comprehend these difficult texts without teacher's scaffolding? Will filling out the work sheets or writing up summaries or reflections really help them understand why Heathcliff is such a grouch? (Heathcliff the tortured soul, NOT Garfield's cartoon contemporary.)
  • Will entering into the task without sufficient support discourage their efforts to the point of giving up? How many will make it beyond "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity …"?
  • Will they resort to replacing the novel with Cliff Notes? Or the movie versions; ie A&E's Pride and Prejudice with hunky Collin Firth OR Kiera Knightley's 2005 portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet OR the new BBC 6-part episodes?
  • Will the experience create life-long despisers of classics? Will they ever trust an author over 100 again?
Carol Jago, former middle and high school teacher; president of NCTE; director of the California Reading and Literature Project, and a whole bunch of other impressive titles, writes that "we should be teaching what Lev Vygotsky calls the zone of proximal development. Vygostky explains, 'the only good kind of instruction is that which marches ahead of development and leads it'"(2009). When we assign difficult or frustration-level texts for summer reading without marching ahead of students' literary development, we may be setting up those readers for failure as well as giving them one more reason to dislike reading.

So what makes up a good summer reading list? Good question. Yesterday I talked with a high school teacher whose sophomore students are reading The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom's remarkable memoir about hiding Dutch Jews during World War II. The book is listed as having a 900L Lexile level, within the range of 10th graders, but its length and complexity can make it a difficult read for many teens. That is why teachers often choose it for classroom study. 

After reading The Hiding Place and studying the Holocaust during the last few weeks of school, students will be assigned to read Night by Elie Wiesel during summer. The content is tough because of the topic, but it is short and poignant. The students have the background knowledge needed to comprehend the text and the reading level is 580L. 

Carol J. also believes that "if students can read a book on their own, it probably isn't the best choice for classroom study" (2009). Now there are many things to consider when determining whether or not students can read a book on their own, ranging from having the ability to comprehend the text to possessing the maturity to appreciate the content. But if teachers believe their students can, then that title might be a perfect choice for a summer reading recommendation.

My colleague/friend/supervisor Carolyn discussed this topic as well, and she shared an interesting idea. She thinks books that are short, but unique with richly layered content are great for summer reads. Two examples she mentioned were Yellow Star  by Jennifer Roy or Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. Both of these books, written in a poetic, free-verse format, are easy reads filled with thought-provoking imagery and circumstance - fodder for riveting reflections and discussions. (Monster by Walter Dean Myers is also a quick read, written in screen-play format. It is both heart-breaking and disturbing, and guys like it!)

I also think summer reading is the time for fun - yes, F.U.N. reading. A time to include graphic novels or Lois Duncan (queen of YA thrillers) or Louis L'Amour novels (I love Hondo, and Louis hooked my sons onto reading, so I love him, too); OR Hunger Games! Even better!

What do YOU think makes a good "SUMMER READ?" Send in your thoughts about the topic OR share your favorite titles. I would LOVE, LOVE LOVE to hear from you! rbs
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Note: Jordan School District's policy for summer reading lists is consistent with classroom reading guidelines: books must be approved by the appropriate literature committees. If teachers want to include UNapproved books, the compiled list must be extensive enough that students have LOTS of choices. Btw, most titles mentioned in this post have been approved, including HUNGER GAMES, a new addition!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Board Books for Babies, an Update!

Over 200 new mommies who deliver babies at the Riverton IHC Hospital will receive little gifts with great potential: bags of board books to encourage reading to their little ones from the very beginning of their lives.

At the March 8th Jordan Council of the International Reading Association (JCIRA) meeting, members quickly assembled the bags that included a board book and a letter sharing research about the benefits of reading to children, starting at babyhood. In 20 minutes, approximately 20 participants folded letters, packed books, and tied bags to ready the gifts for delivery. (Pictured: Bev Griffith, R.S., Arlene Baumgardner, Becky Lind.)

On April 19th Susan Snow, Lori Huey, and I delivered many boxes filled with bags 'o books to hospital representatives. (I would have inserted a picture of that occasion if it had not turned out to be VERY out of focus. I would have also listed the names of the hospital's representatives if I had remembered to jot them down.)

Right now the labor and delivery, mom and baby care areas of the Women's Center are not operating at full capacity. Once they are, representatives indicated ABOUT 200 babies could be born each month. That means our donation will only last 30+ days!!! Consequently, we've decided to make this an ongoing project as we realize that MANY of the babies born at Riverton IHC this year will enter our schools in years to come! We want them to walk through our doors as lovers of literacy!!

The following is a "CopyPaste" version of the letter we enclosed with the books. You might find the research and the suggestions of interest.

Congratulations on the Birth of Your Baby
On behalf of the Jordan Council of the International Reading Association, our members present this board book to you and your little one because there are few gifts that outshine the gift of literacy! We know the importance of reading to your baby from the earliest possible moment, and we want you to share some of those reasons with you.
Reading to infants and toddlers can be very beneficial because it establishes a strong foundation for later literacy skills (McLane & McNamee, 1991). Little ones grow up believing that reading is fun to do as they become comfortable with the sound of language used in books. They learn to turn the pages and soon realize that printed words on pages have meaning (Rice, Burkes, & Kaplan-Sanoff).

After a few months of reading together, a baby’s face lights up when looking at favorite picture books. Before long squeals of laughter follow Mommy expressive narration, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” Eventually, chubby fingers point at colorful illustrations; and by the time baby is a toddler, Mommy hears her little one share the story through imitated words and sound effects.

A parent can also help young ones make connections beyond the printed page: “Here is YOUR soft brown bear. He looks like the bear on this page, doesn’t he?” Babies bask in the sense of closeness they feel in the arms of their parents. They respond to the sound of a mommy’s voice and the comfort of being held. They learn from peeking at the pictures, listening to the sounds, and interacting with the reader.

Realizing that all children develop at different rates, parents can refer to these guidelines published by the Corporation for National Service [CNS], U.S. Department of Education, & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for some suggestions.

Birth to Eight Months
·         Hold the baby in your lap as you share short books with bright pictures.
·         It’s normal for the child to want to handle the book and even chew on it. Use cloth, plastic, or board books that can be cleaned after each use.
·         Name pictures for the baby and respond to the baby when he/she points to the pictures.

Eight to Eighteen Months Old
·         Continue to read one-on-one. Children this age love to hear the same book again and again.
·         Follow the child’s lead. When the child brings you a book, do your best to find time to read it.
·         Relate pictures in the books to the child’s life.
·         Keep sturdy books within the children’s reach for them to explore on their own.
·         Offer books about everyday activities. Make some books yourself that include photos of the children.

Eighteen to Twenty-Four Months Old
·         Read to the children both one-on-one and in small groups, but don’t insist that the children stay in the group.
·         After hearing the same book often, the children will begin to join in and tell what happens next.
·         Point to the words as you read.
·         Encourage the children to talk about the stories. Add related props so the children can incorporate the stories into their play.

Our very best wishes to you and your new baby!
Jordan Council of the International Reading Association