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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Hall of OddAnimals

Writing and illustrating children's books can be a solitary activity. Sure, there are school, library, and bookstore visits, but much more of my creative time is spent alone at a drawing desk, trying desperately not to be distracted by email, food, or my cat.

That's one of many reasons I'm very excited about my OddAnimals project at the Children's Hospital Boston. Starting this past November and continuing through February of 2011, I will be working with patients, families, and staff of the hospital to create animals that have never been seen before by the human eye. We call them OddAnimals. These newly-discovered species will be displayed in the gallery in the lobby of the hospital. It's being guest-curated by Emily Isenberg and presented by Jessica Finch and her Art for Kool Kids Program.

Anyone can submit their own personal OddAnimal by attending a workshop or filling out an OddAnimal guidebook and dropping it in the mailbox in the Children's Hospital lobby. You, yes you, can even download the guidebook and email your completed form back to me.


"Now, what is an OddAnimal?" you might be asking yourself right about now. Um, I don't know, but through a series of workshops, activities, and conversations, I hope to find out. We've already distributed over 500 guidebooks and have received a bunch of great submissions. I have met incredible kids and awesome families who were excited and willing to help me out with this admittedly weird project.

As always, I am inspired and awed by the imagination of children. In fact, I see my main role in this project as trying not to mess up their perfectly great ideas and drawings. I haven't really even had to explain what an OddAnimal is, and most of the children already have an idea of what theirs will look like as soon as I sit down with them.

To introduce myself to the population of the hospital, we have installed a wall's worth of my artwork, including 2 pages from my Charlesbridge book, A Call for A New Alphabet, as well as pages from some of my other books and some cool, big wall stickers of the letter X and his friends.


Here are a few examples of the work we've created so far:

The Chale by Kaleb
"The Chale is a joyful, ocean-dwelling creature. Its slimy, elephant-sized body resembles that of a killer whale, but its head is closer to that of a cheetah. This playful animal feeds on penguins, krill, shark, cuttlefish, octopus, and squid, and is known for its ability to swim up to 500 miles per hour."





The Hugo by Kelsey
"The Hugo is a magical animal that is roughly the size of an elephant. Its green, purple, yellow, red, blue, orange, and black scales derive their color from the jelly beans that make up its diet. Its main activity is snooping around its mountain habitat in search of other animals to play with."







The Night Night by Brice
"The Night Night is a dinosaur-sized creature that lives in the mountains. Despite its angry nature, this sleepy animal is an herbivore, eating only leaves. It has fuzzy, green skin with blue spots."








Willy by Lily
"Willy is a horse-sized creature that playfully roams the forest in search of blueberries, which it eats with an extremely long tongue. It has fuzzy black and white fur."

And here is what Willy sounds like.





And my interpretation of him:


You can see some more OddAnimals on our Tumblr page or my Facebook page. Or, better yet, come by the Children's Hospital Boston to see the ever-evolving Hall of OddAnimals!

And here's the link to the book trailer for my new book, A Call for a New Alphabet!





Posted by Jef Czekaj, author and illustrator of A Call for a New Alphabet, due out February 2011.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hangin’ Out with Uncle Wiggly Wings: Researching and Writing Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot”

It seems I have a fascination for true stories about children who endure tumultuous events in history, as I tend to write about them (The Children of Topaz; Brothers in Valor). So when I ran onto the story of the Berlin Candy Bomber, it was a natural fit, for it concerned children who suffered through years of war—some young enough to have only known a life of hunger and fear. The candy-laden handkerchief parachutes dropped over West Berlin by Gail Halvorsen, a young American pilot, lit up a dark world for kids who hadn’t tasted chocolate in years. But the mere gesture of kindness also offered those children both healing and hope amidst the rubble of WW II. Forevermore, those kids remembered Halvorsen as Uncle Wiggly Wings (because he wiggled the wings of his plane to signal a candy drop), the Chocolate Pilot or Chocolate Uncle, and, of course, the Candy Bomber. In the photograph above, you see Halvorsen sitting on his cot reading letters from grateful West Berlin children (note the boxes of Hershey bars behind him).

As you know, writers, particularly of nonfiction, must do their homework--in other words: research, research, research.
When writing about history, we spend lots of time checking secondary sources—books, magazines articles, etc. But we really get excited about primary source materials, such as letters, diaries, or (better yet) living people who were “there.” Of course, most historical events happened so long ago that finding and talking to folks who experienced those events is impossible (unless you know a good medium who can help you talk to the dead).

The World War II era (and its immediate aftermath) is now far enough in the past that we are beginning to run short of war veterans who can tell us first hand about that great and terrible conflict. Gail Halvorsen, the focus of my book, was a WW II pilot who was sent to Germany three years after the war ended to fly supplies into West Berlin. Our former ally, the Soviet Union (Russia), had turned against us and blockaded the surface routes into the American, British, and French sectors of the former capital city. To keep the West Berliners from starving, we flew in enough food and fuel to keep two million people alive for more than a year. Most of the flyers during what was known as the Berlin Airlift had been pilots during WW II, and not many of them are around anymore. So, to discover that Halvorsen was not only alive but also vibrant—and to realize he lived close to me—was more than exciting. It was exhilarating!

Meeting and getting to know Gail Halvorsen (who just turned ninety this year and is still qualified to fly C-54 cargo planes!) left no doubt this was a book I wanted to write. I discovered he is in constant, worldwide demand to tell his story, and so he travels a great deal. He goes to Germany often, where the children of 1948 still remember and love him, and he is regularly invited to present to school children, church groups, community organizations, and so. As a result of these ongoing appearances, he put together a short video presentation about the origins of the Berlin Airlift and about the implementation of his idea to parachute candy to the children. Here is the link to that presentation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-4vE6DCLeU). Click on it, and you’ll hear Gail’s voice narrating. You’ll also see some of the 8mm movie clips he shot of the Berlin Airlift in progress, as well as his “candy bombing” operations. I must say, it’s educational and inspiring.

As a result of his
travel schedule, I usually met with Halvorsen between trips while I was working on the book. That’s when I’d drive out to his small ranch, which lies about 20 miles south of my house in Orem, Utah. It has a beautiful setting, as you can see from the photograph of Gail and me with the mountains in the background. Gail allowed me access to his files, and therefore I was able to scan over 300 of his photos (many of which appear in the book). Of course, we had many long conversations, and he was always available, if not in person then by phone or email, to answer my endless questions, verify facts, or simply to visit. I think it’s safe to say that we became friends, which was the very best outcome of my writing project.

Gail
Halvorsen lives in Arizona these days, though he still owns and maintains his place in Utah (which, by the way, is his home state). Therefore, I seldom see him now—only when he blows into town to check on the ranch or visit family. But we still keep in contact, mostly via email. The last time I saw Gail was in early October (2010) when I received a call from him letting me know he’d be in Utah during the next few days. Of course, he was leaving soon after his arrival for far-flung spots—he’s still a veritable globetrotter and was heading to Germany again and then to Afghanistan, where the U.S. Air Force had invited him to participate in an airlift mission. Amazing! At any rate, he came by my house to pick up a half dozen copies of Candy Bomber, as he’d run low on them and needed some for some an upcoming event. Of course, Gail has written his own book for adults titled The Berlin Candy Bomber, and he sells a lot of them everywhere he goes. But he’s also very good at promoting my book during his travels, as well as Margot Theis Raven’s picture book, Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot.

Speaking of Mercedes, one of the best vignettes in Candy Bomber is about her. She was a seven-year-old girl living in an apartment building near Templehof Airport, where the American cargo planes landed every few minutes. She wrote Lt. Halvorsen a letter chiding him (and the other pilots, of course) for flying so low over her place in his approach to Templehof that her chickens were afraid and had stopped laying eggs—but the pain of it all might be alleviated if he were to manage a candy drop nearby. Mercedes ended her letter with these words: “When you see the white chickens please drop it there, all will be OK.” As it turned out, Mercedes and her husband, Peter Wild, were primary sources for me, as well. One important item they provided was a high-resolution photo of Mercedes at age seven. Note that she is wearing black market shoes, which were often mismatched. As you can see, these shoes are not the same size, a detail Mercedes and Peter pointed out to me.

The other
vignette that I found most delightful was about Peter Zimmerman, who sent Halvorsen a letter with a map to guide the lieutenant’s plane to his backyard. “Drop the chocolate there,” he wrote. Gail attempted to find Peter’s place and did make a drop—but not close enough, apparently. Another letter from Peter complained that because Halvorsen had missed his yard, bigger kids had beaten him to the candy. A drawing accompanying the letter showed a cargo plane with the words “No chocolate yet” on the tailfin. Finally, in frustration, Peter wrote this: “You are a pilot? I gave you a map. How did you guys win the war?” Drops to Mercedes and Peter were never successful, so Gail mailed packages filled with sweets to both children.

One of the most
salient historical concepts is people’s capacity for inhumanity. In fact, our wars often are the events around which we organize the recounting of our history. I suppose one of the things I liked best about writing Candy Bomber was that this little slice of history reveals, instead, our capacity for compassion and love—even for our recent enemies.



Halvorsen at the end of the airfield with German children.




Halvorsen leading German athletes into the stadium during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.



Posted by Michael O. Tunnell, author of Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot".

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Starting at the top . . . with M&M's®

My 1994 The M & M’s® Counting Book started as a lesson plan. I certainly wasn’t the only teacher with a sweet-tooth and a little creativity. Teachers everywhere were embracing hands-on math activities with everything from Goldfish crackers to peanuts…because it made learning fun. Little, colorful candies that every student from ages 3 on up instantly recognized as yummy engaged them instantly in any math task at hand...in hand...and maybe as a special treat...in mouth.

I would like to
say I acted on a good idea. I didn’t. I only did the creative part. The creative part is not a big deal in publishing. Millions of people have great ideas for children’s stories and picture books. If you think you have had an original idea the odds are overwhelming that someone somewhere has had that same idea. But, if you have the patience, persistence, or perhaps a husband on a mission, a friend of a friend, right place, right time...you can get it done. It’s not easy.

As most good ideas often do, it spawned from boredom. One evening I brought a package of M & M’s
® to our basement. I was hiding from my mother-in-law who was living with us at the time. I settled on the couch to try to think of a different lesson to teach “colors” to my class of 4 and 5 year olds. Nothing. So, while thinking of nothing I spilled the candy out on the coffee table and started playing with them. I counted the colors and paired them up. Suddenly I saw. I wrote. I ate. Then, being a teacher, I laminated. Large construction paper M & M’s®. I brought the poem and my home-made manipulatives to class.

Suddenly 3 and four year olds could sit long enough to get the concept o
f colors, graphing, greater than, less then, addition, subtraction, etc. The amazing thing--no chocolate needed. Even back in the 80’s teachers knew that you couldn’t feed any amount of sweets to children without wiggly repercussions. It wasn’t and still isn’t necessary. Paper images of the candies were just fine--as long as they had the white “M’s” on them. Children chose their “favorite” color. When they chose the giant plastic image the question followed, “What color is that?” The questions and comparisons were endless. The learning was exciting and contemporary.

As far as me going on to find a publisher and really believing that this idea would become a piece of children’s literature--no. I did nothing. It involved licensing - permission to use a world-wide product and their famous brand icon. There were phone calls and contracts
. I had a baby and a toddler, and I was very happy teaching.

It was my husband who read the poem and said, “This would make a grea
t book”. It became his hobby. On first approach to M & M Mars (now Masterfoods, Inc.), the answer was “no.” They liked the book very much, since it promoted their product for education, but the company did not have an “avenue - licensing division” in place. In fact, the same year we applied for permission was the same year Steven Spielberg applied to use M & M’s® in the movie, ET. They said “no” to him, too! So that was my claim to fame...Steven Spielberg and I got refused by Masterfoods. And that was fine with me. Mr. Spielberg went on to use Reece’s Pieces and my husband simply waited. Eight years later...Masterfoods opened their licensing division and he got permission to publish. He then set out to find a publisher who also believed the book was a great idea. Thirty-five rejection letters and two years later...he found one! Many publishers were scared off, ironically, by the licensing contracts--they had never seen a book of this type before. There weren’t any. The M &M’s® Counting Book started a new genre of children’s books: Snack Food Books. The year it was finally released it made the Publisher’s Weekly Bestseller List and won The Teacher’s Choice Award from Learning Magazine. Math programs embraced it and college professors used it to teach perspective teachers how to teach. The first review was horrible, to which my husband said, “Well, they spelled your name right.”

The manuscript spent 2 years in production at Charlesbridge. From the time I wrote the poem to publication...twelve years had passed. And in those early years we were dealing with a major corporation who knew as little about publishing as we did about licensing. It was a learning experience in itself.
I felt appreciative that the book was the first “licensed product” from this huge family-owned company. It was a humbling opportunity. But I must confess I never felt the love. I never had a problem paying for use to their trademark. The book would not be the same without the “M.” And children love those M & M’s
® TV characters with attitude. It’s what sells their product and mine. As licensing fees and royalty percentages increased, we tried to explain that this was children’s literature, not a mug or a t-shirt. It didn’t matter--corporate policy. Yet, I was bringing their product brand name in to places where they couldn’t get it--to schools. I ask Masterfoods to sponsor my school visits to inner city schools that could not afford to bring in an author as a literacy enrichment program. “No. We are giving to breast cancer this year,” which is of course, commendable. My response: “I’m sure you can do both.” But that corporate policy plagued me. It was frustrating for all involved.


For years, during the talk of “advertising to children” controversy, The M & M’s
® Book remained “under the radar” because it’s merit seemed to outweighed the controversy. To learn to love to read, you need to get children to turn the page. Maybe people were just being polite, but when I visited schools, I never heard a negative comment, and teachers usually don’t hold anything back. One special education teacher in South Carolina told me because of The M&M’s® Book, her class had reached their goal of counting to ten, 6 months early. I choked back tears. While signing books at a reading conference, a recently retired teacher told me her colleague had died the month before and requested to be buried with my book. I had no words. One middle school student in New Jersey told me she wanted to become a math teacher because of the book. She said she slept with it when she was little.

I am blessed to have countless boxes of fan mail about this book. I traveled nation-wide to show the writing process, to inspire children to read and write, and to tell them that when they have to correct or change something they aren’t making “mistakes,” they are making a “change” which is part of the process...and though I have many books in fiction and non-fiction I still show The M & M’s
® Counting Book. It’s fun.

Over the years The M & M’
s® Book went on to sell over a million copies. I heard it saved the trade division of Charlesbridge Publishing, which made me happy and proud. It opened doors for them in sales in places like Walmart and Target. Not bad for a smaller publishing house. They took a chance and won big. As far as the writer,I will answer the question: I didn’t build an empire and make a million dollars. Not even close. The formula is that a children’s author would need 12 books on the market at the same time--all selling briskly to make a living off royalties. Dr. Seuss made a living from sales. The shelf life of a children’s picture book is maybe 2 years before it’s out-of-print.

My M & M’s
® Book had a great run of ten years. Because it’s “off the shelf,” I can’t afford the price it now sells for on Amazon!

The key to every problem our country needs to solve is education. When an issue such as nutrition and obesity in children was being legitimately addressed, we saw the problem, raised awareness, then did what we always do: take the extreme--stop everything. No cupcakes for birthdays, no soda in high schools, no trail mix. I fear we might be creating “forbidden fruit” hoping for a quick fix. It is destined t
o be a failed solution. Eventually, the pendulum swings to the middle and we get the correct solution. We teach. We educate children to make good choices. It’s a lasting solution. That’s where we are now.

But it wasn’t the nutrition issue that made Masterfoods decide to revoke the license to use their product. It was the “advertising to children” issue. All food companies did. No more books that advertise any food products, including my Cheerios Book. And what have we gained? Nothing. What have we lost? Certainly not weight. We lost a fun teaching tool that tied math to literature. Do children still know what M & M’s
® are? “Yes.” Do they know the characters? “Yes.” Does it matter? “No.” It’s like School Snack Prohibition.

As far as the “advertising to children” issue. We ask these large food companies to give to education--and they do, millions of dollars--yet we ask them to do it quietly and specifically. They can’t give the donation of bookmarks or book covers or rulers with their brand on it or hang a banner at a book fair they have sponsored. I don’t know how I even feel about that. Maybe schools shouldn’t ask them for money. I do know these American snack foods and their brand icons are not going away. Thank goodness. I need a few M & M’s around mid afternoon. And, I confess that I even love those M & M® characters on TV. They are a riot--throwing the bread at the man’s head when he says, “Get in the bowl!” How funny is that?!

Regarding obesity and nutrition: I feel in actuality, M & M’s
® and similar snack food products, in pieces, are the perfect tool to teach children good nutrition. Why? Because they are little. You don’t have to eat the whole bag. You set a good example by eating a few--another good example by sharing a few. I dare say, in my opinion, a childhood without a few M & M’s® is a little sad. School lessons can not be fun all the time. Those multiplication facts have to be memorized. But, once in a while it needs to be fun. Those fun lessons are remembered for a lifetime. This gives children a general good feeling about school and education and in turn they pass that down to their children. It’s an important process. I don’t remember specifically learning how to read. But I do remember how much fun Friday Spelling Bees were--the winner got a Hershey Bar (I never won). I remember a very hot June day, when my kindergarten teacher took the whole class on a walk to the little market down the street and bought us all popsicles. I remember how special I felt when I passed out my birthday cupcakes. What are we losing?

The M & M’s
® Counting Book opened doors for me as well--allowed me to travel and teach, which I love. I have been so fortunate in a very tough, competitive industry. People ask me about publishing all the time. I still don’t understand it and I’ve been in it for over 30 titles and 18 years. And I still get “rejected” manuscripts! Recently I’ve worked with Charlesbridge editors to rewrite the M & M’s® series: McGrath Math: Teddy Bear Counting Book is a new release. I used another popular class manipulative: little plastic teddy bears. The books are adorable. Illustrated by Tim Nihoff. I hope children don’t try to eat those bears.

When I become a grandparent I want you all to know I will be armed with M & M’s
® - and the first edition copy of The M & M’s® Counting Book!

Happy trails and trail mixes to all! Thank you for your continued interest in my work.





Posted by Barbara Barbeiri McGrath, author of several books for
children, including Teddy Bear Counting and The Little Red Elf.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In That Enchanted Place

I have no memory of my parents reading to me. But when I was sick the aunt who lived downstairs would arrive at my bedside, noisily jolly with a kitchen chair in tow, to read a Dr. Seuss story. She favored the tongue-twisty types and feigned consternation and frustration over saying the right words in the right way and the right order. Her comical performance was generally limited to one read-through, though, and I was always left wanting more. How quiet the sickroom seemed when she was gone!

My first sustained experience of being read to didn't arrive until I was eight. In that long ago time, before parents thought to question a child's placement in school, the name of the next year's teacher was written in cursive at the bottom of the June report.

Grade 3 Miss Flynn Room 10

Quiet in school, eager to be good and do well, I didn't feel my future classmates' glee at our assignment when we left second grade for summer. Miss Flynn, you see, was known in Smith Street Elementary as the teacher who didn't believe in homework. That's the way the kids said it too. They didn't boast that she didn't give homework. The woman didn't believe in it!

In September Mildred Flynn proved to be mild and gray-haired with two routines that endeared her to me, neither of them concerning homework. The first was Oscar, the invisible flee she claimed lived in her hair. The second was circle time at the back of the room, when she read to us.

Oscar "appeared" whenever Miss Flynn held one hand out in front, palm to the ceiling. She talked to him and coaxed him to perform for us, her eyes following his movement as he jumped from one hand to the other with backflips and loop-the-loops. When occasionally he escaped during lessons, Miss Flynn walked up and down the aisles calling for him. Me, me! I'd think. Find Oscar in my hair! But no. Always somewhere else. Now a teacher myself, it suddenly occurs to me that Miss Flynn might have been recapturing straying attention. Clever lady! Perhaps it was a compliment to my attentiveness that Oscar never chose my head for his holidays, perhaps not. Back then, insecure child that I was, I could only wish for proof that she liked me.

I'm standing in the back row, the third from the left.

The stories Miss Flynn read were about A.A. Milne's Pooh. She affected voices for each character--excitable Roo, timid Piglet, depressed Eeyore, pompous Owl and slow-thinking Pooh. (This was before their Disney-fication and, besides Miss Flynn's, the cartoon versions pale.)

"Christopher Robin was going away," began Chapter X of The House At Pooh Corner, IN WHICH Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There. The last Pooh story. Little by little it became clear that Christopher Robin was leaving the forest and his childhood for school. Before she could reach the last lines, Miss Flynn was overcome with emotion. As she brushed past me on her way out of the circle, she pushed the book into my hands and told me to read the end out loud.

"So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."

The magic of these words! The rapt attention of the room!--despite Miss Flynn's theatrical sobbing into a handkerchief in front of the chalkboard. I was hooked. I successfully begged the hearty aunt for my own copy of The World of Pooh (I have it still), and read out loud at home to anyone who would listen. The stories I began writing were, I suppose, gifts to Miss Flynn, Miss Flynn who loved stories, Miss Flynn who collected mine in a desk drawer and told me I might be published some day.

Others in the class began writing stories too, an assignment I don't remember being part of my education at that time or for years afterward. We did it for fun. Room 10 positively sparked with creative energy during free time. We bragged to each other: My story is three pages long! Mine is ten! Those with other inclinations created different gifts. I remember that Ronnie L. wrote pages and pages of numbers. He claimed to have reached incredibly high figures, happily ignorant of the fact that 1,099 is not followed by 2,000.

I went on to imagine my own Oscars too--like the elf in our living room cuckoo clock, who wrote letters to my younger sisters that my aunt allowed me to post with real stamps--and began to wonder if I actually could become a writer.

My first two books were published the same year that my son was born, and some of my favorite memories of raising Peter and, later, my daughter, Gemma, include sharing books out loud. I'm convinced it reinforced for them how to be still and listen, how to focus their attention and use imagination. I feel sure they absorbed sentence structure and vocabulary as well as a love for words. It was after hearing Rikki-Tikki-Tavi that Peter, at four, said with passion, "You have to teach me how to read!"

He soon became a narrator himself, reading books like Brian Jacques's Redwall to his sister. And today I am delighted to read to his daughter, Riley, when she comes to visit. At two, she will sit and listen for as along as I will read. "The end," she announces upon reaching the final page. "Read more, p'ease?"

I wonder how many other flames were lit by the sparks in room 10, torches to be passed along generations.

Ready, Riley? "Once upon a time..."





Posted by Patricia Baehr, author of Boo Cow.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Justice for All: Some Thoughts on Character Education

The start of the school year is the perfect time to think Grand Thoughts, and few thoughts are grander than those in our pledge of allegiance. Just for fun, you might try to write a variation that emphasizes what is most important to you. Here is mine:

Liberty
by Janet Wong

I pledge acceptance
of the views,
so different,
that make us America

To listen, to look,
to think, and to learn

One people
sharing the earth
responsible
for liberty
and justice
for all.

Justice for all: this is a hot topic among children as young as two, as any parent or teacher who has heard "but that's not fair" knows well. What can we, as parents and teachers, do to make this world as just as possible for our children?

When my son was in second grade, his school experimented with "character beads." Children who were spotted doing something good during lunch or recess were given little beads that could be strung together to make a bracelet or backpack decoration. These beads were quite a hit. My son was so proud each time he received one. Even though you could buy similar beads at the store for a quarter each, buying them was clearly something only a child (or parent) of bad character would do.

There was an immediate school-wide spike in genuinely good behavior: sharing, holding doors open, cooperative play. But the savviest of students soon figured out clever and not-so-honorable ways to rack up the beads. For instance, my son complained that he saw a child drop trash on the playground about twenty yards in front of a friend who slowly picked up this trash in such a dramatic fashion that she managed to catch the attention of the recess teacher and earn a bead. He then saw the littering friend join the bead-receiving friend to celebrate. These girls will undoubtedly be billionaire junk bond brokers by the time they are thirty, having received an early and practical education in "how to succeed."

Children hear news reports every week that show the amazing and rotten things our leaders and celebrities manage to get away with. The message clearly is: do what you want, just don't get caught. Or, if you do get caught, say you're sorry, cry in public, and get on with your life. Bad deeds might cost you a job or a TV show, but people will forgive and forget sooner than you can spell
N-i-k-e.

What can we, as teachers and parents, do? How can we teach character education?

By setting aside time for children to think about it, talk about it, read about it, and write about it. "It's not fair" invites an experienced adult to respond "that's life," but we need to restrain ourselves and let our little victims of injustice have their say. As parents, we need to encourage our children to talk about the bully who got away with bullying, the cheat who got away with cheating, the liar who told a ridiculous lie and yet went unpunished.

As teachers, we are under constant pressure with all that we are supposed to teach during our time-constrained day. But let me ask you: did you become a teacher because you wanted to prepare someone to get high test scores and make a lot of money, or did you become a teacher because it is the best way that you can make this world a better place? Will you be proud to have educated a famous mathematician, if she turns out to be an unethical person?

This new year: how about setting aside some time each day for grousing? For talking about fairness and for teaching ethics through discussion or (real or fictional) unethical situations?

Three minutes at the end of the day: can you ask your children to jot down a list of the good or bad, fair or unfair, honest or dishonest things that happened? Would they be more eager to participate if you promised total privacy by allowing children to tear their paper into 100 pieces after writing this list of complaints?

Just a thought, a starting point for discussion. Ideas, anyone?




Posted by Janet Wong, author of Me and Rolly Maloo, a "hybrid graphic novel" ideal for grades 3-5 about a cheating incident--and the justice that follows.




Monday, August 23, 2010

Mitali Perkins launches Bamboo People at Porter Square Books

On August 19th Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, hosted the launch party for Mitali Perkins' new book Bamboo People.

Here is video of Mitali reading from Bamboo People:



A huge thank you to everyone at Porter Square Books, especially Nathan who took such good care of us and made this event so great.

If you went and enjoyed the delicious appetizers, please note that this came from YoMa restaurant on North Beacon Street in Allston. They specialize in traditional Burmese recipes. Awesome.

Here are some pictures from the event:


Mitali discusses the background of Bamboo People.















Mitali and some young fans.















Mitali signs a copy of Bamboo People for a young fan.











Sharing a story with a young reader.













Mitali and a few Charlesbridgians.
From left to right: Sarah, Gina, Lili, and Mitali.












Mitali and Deborah Sloane.













Mitali shares a copy of Bamboo People with Nathan, of Porter Square Books.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Puppy Named Pickle

The following post is by Stuart J. Murphy, author of the new series, I SEE I LEARN™.

What would you name your puppy if he happened to be green? This was Emma's dilemma. She was in a pickle! She thought about "Jelly Bean." Green jellybeans were Emma's favorites. She considered just "Bean." Beans are a nice shade of green. She made a long list of all the names that she could think of but none of them seemed right. Then one day she was eating a pickle. Her daddy said, "You know what, Emma? That pickle looks just like your puppy." And it did!

Emma knew at that moment that they had found the perfect name for her pup--"Pickle!"

Pickle kept Emma company when she moved to a new house in See-and-Learn City and hadn't yet made any new friends (Emma's Friendwich). After a while, Emma made lots of friends. Pickle did, too. Pickle was even invited to a picnic (Freda Plans a Picnic)! There was a special treat at the picnic--just for Pickle.




Children love to read about pets. And they love to make up stories about pets. Our two granddaughters, Maddie (9) and Camille (5), have been staying with us for a number of weeks this summer. They would very much like to have a dog. They have already named her. She's going to be called Clementine!

One day, Maddie and Camille saw me unpack a large dehumidifier. Maddie immediately asked, "Can I have the box, Grandpa? It would make a nice house for Clementine." A few days later, the house had windows with a window box for flowers, a door, and a sign over the door that read "Clementine." The walls were painted beautiful colors and there was a mailbox on the side.

Over the next few weeks, Clementine received mail almost every day. She had letters from neighborhood dogs telling her how they couldn't wait to meet her. She even received a postcard from a dog on vacation. There was also an invitation to a doggy birthday party! I hope that Clementine arrives in time to be there.


Perhaps the story of Clementine will turn into a children's book some day. I get most of my story ideas from children. I was watching one of my grandson Jack's (11) baseball games when I saw some younger children nearby trying to learn how to throw a ball. That gave me the idea to write a story about someone who is trying to build up the confidence to throw a ball well (Good Job, Ajay!). I know that children like to read about sports. (Click here to read a review of Good Job, Ajay!)

Children also like to read about playing at the beach, at school, and at the park. It is really important that they learn how to play safely. Otherwise, they might get hurt. They could even hurt someone else. That's what caused me to write a book about playground safety (Percy Plays It Safe).

The books that I have mentioned are the first four titles in my new series, I SEE I LEARN™. The characters all live in See-and-Learn City. In addition to Freda, Percy, Ajay, and Emma, there are Carlos and Camille.

You may remember that Camille is the name of one of my granddaughters. Yes, this Camille is named after her! When I began working on I SEE I LEARN™, my other two grandchildren already had books named after them in my other series, MathStart (Jack the Builder and Mighty Maddie). Then along came Camille. At first, she didn't have a book. Now she not only has one book, she is part of a whole series. Lucky Camille!

The main characters in the series attend Ready Set Pre-K, they love to visit Readalot Library, and they have fun at Stay and Play Park. They take field trips to Duck Duck Goose Pond, and they build sandcastles at Friendly Waves Beach.

A few months ago, I had the chance to spend a day at the Snyder-Girotti Elementary School in Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania. The new books had just been published and I couldn't wait to read them to the Pre-K students. They loved hearing about the adventures of Freda, Percy, and Pickle and all their friends. I was pleased to see that, after I read the stories, the students were able to answer the questions that appear at the end of every book.


The books are organized around four domains: Social Skills, such as making friends and cooperation; Emotional Skills, like building confidence and dealing with frustration; Health and Safety Skills, such as playground safety and getting help when lost; and Cognitive Skills like sequencing and writing your name.



I SEE I LEARN™ stories employ a variety of visual learning strategies to get their messages across. The young children for whom the books are intended may not yet be readers, but they are all visual learners.

I have spent my entire career working in the field of visual learning--how information is conveyed and received through visual stimuli, such as charts, graphs, models, and pictures. The visual learning strategies used in I SEE I LEARN™ include symbolic icons, picture diagrams, visual sequences, and graphic models. These are all designed to help children learn. It is my hope that my books will succeed in doing what it says on the covers--that they will help to build "happier, healthier, more confident children!"

Now--back to Pickle! I was thinking that maybe Pickle should send a note to Clementine. What do you think he should write?



Stuart J. Murphy, author of the award-winning MathStart books, has developed I SEE I LEARN™, a new series for Charlesbridge. The I SEE I LEARN™ books feature simple stories and visual learning strategies to help young children learn important social, emotional, health and safety, and cognitive skills.

Stuart, a visual learning specialist, has also served on the authorship teams of a number of major educational programs. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Stuart and his wife, Nancy, live in Boston, Massachusetts, near their children and three grandchildren, Jack, Madeleine, and Camille.