Sunday, June 27, 2010

The" No-Excuse-for-Not-Reading-During-the-Summer" List

If your child moans and groans about reading over the summer, here are some suggestions to counter all complaints. Brought to you by the International Reading Association and Reading Today, this is a smörgåsbord of suggestions to encourage good reading habits over the summer.

Francie Alexander, chief academic officer for Scholastic, Inc.advices parents that:

1.  Families should set aside a regular time of day when everyone reads. (Model it!)
2.  Hook your kids on a series. If they like the first book, they will like more.
3.  Let your children choose their books.

Linda Gambrell, a past president of the IRA, recommends:

1. Schedule weekly trips to the library.
2. Let your child select books you will read aloud.
3. Let your child read in bed. Extend bedtime only for reading.
4. Buy an inexpensive camera and notebook and let your child create a picture journal of his or her summer.  Read it with her!

Here are some great web resources which promote summer reading and writing:

1. You'll find activities, projects, games, tools, tips and how-to's for kids from kindergarten through twelfth grade on the IRA and National Council of Teachers Of English ReadWriteThink website.  
2. Reading Rockets offers booklists and online activities for parents and teachers.
3. Scholastic Inc has a Summer Challenge which encourages kids to log their summer reading. Last year 63,000 kids logged 35 million minutes!
4. The National Summer Learning Association provides resources for learning in all forms, including reading.

If you like booklists, here are places you can find them:

1. Children's Choices are books which children have evaluated and reviewed.
2. Students can travel across a map of the U.S. by reading a book that takes place in each of the states. Find the fiction and nonfiction lists here.
3. Looking for the 2010 Notable books? You'll find them on a list compiled by the Association for Library Service to Children.
4. The National Endowment for the Humanities has a list of classic literature for kindergarten through 12th graders.

Enough? Now, grab your child, a book, and get reading!

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Teaching the Story: A Middle School Teacher's Testimonial

Last November when I taught at NCCAT, I met Rebecca Quick who had taken a workshop from me at the North Carolina Middle School Conference. I was delighted to find out that she had been using my book and asked if I could interview her.  Now, seven months later, here is the interview. (Scroll down for the video.)

Carol: You have taught language arts for thirteen years. How is Teaching the Story different than other materials you have used?

Rebecca: I have many other writing materials which I never know quite when to use.  Teaching the Story is very well organized and allows me to stay focused on teaching each story element.  The CD provides worksheets that I use as overheads thus simplifying the process of developing a story.

I want to allow my students to write freely, but they get very overwhelmed with the process. Before I used your book I found myself teaching all over the place without a lot of structure. As a result, my students’ writing was all over the place.  Now, using Teaching the Story, at the end of each semester my students have a well written short story of which they are proud.

Carol: What was the most significant way that Teaching the Story helped you as a teacher?

Rebecca: It gave me an outline and direction to teach each element of a story.  For example, the fact that there was a separate chapter on developing the character and then several mini-lessons to help students develop their character was very helpful. 

Teaching the Story is very specific and detailed with lessons that explain and show exactly how to create a setting, develop a character, and create a "real" problem with a "real" solution. 

Carol: Was there a particular lesson that was most helpful?

Rebecca: I found that planning the plot helped the students organize their stories. The “Build-a-Plot” handout was one of the most useful instruments.  As a teacher, I was able to give the students a visual representation of their story in a very simple format.  It allowed me to conference with them and they could adjust their stories as needed. 

Carol: How did the book help you to be a more organized teacher?

Rebecca: By taking time to teach each element in a very simple manner my students did not get overwhelmed and could really focus on the key elements of their story.  It also helped to have a focus when conferencing.  I knew what I had just covered in class and I was able to discuss and give very specific feedback when trying to help them revise. 

Carol:  What would you say to other language arts teachers?

Rebecca: I believe that Teaching the Story will give direction when teaching the fictional narrative. There are many ways to teach students how to write stories, but you will find that Teaching the Story is very helpful in staying focused and keeping the process simple.  At the same time, the book still allows room for your personal style and additional lessons.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover

I always told my girls when they picked up a book off the library shelf, looked at it, and then put it down again, that they shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. I almost made the same mistake myself, thinking that the preppy girl with the short skirt on the cover of this book made it look like a ditzy book without much substance. 

I would have been wrong.

Since I had enjoyed Ally Carter’s first book in this mini-series, I’d Tell You that I Love You but then I’d Have to Kill You, I thought this third book would also be audio entertainment in the car. (I didn’t realize that I had missed the second one, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy.)  

Cover proved to be more than just entertainment as Carter skillfully uses the “cover” of a story which takes place in the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women to hit the meaty themes of lies, deception, and truth. Just as the main character, Cameron, has to figure out what is the real story behind the events happening to Macey, one of her roommates and the daughter of the US vice-presidential candidate, she also has to figure out when her boyfriend Zach; her mother (the head mistress of the school); her favorite teacher, Mr. Solomon; Macey; and her Aunt Abby, an undercover secret service agent, are telling the truth or really being “themselves.”

This is a fun and thought-provoking read for upper elementary and middle school girls. Apparently the fourth book in the series, Only the Good Spy Young, is coming out later this month. I guess I’ll have to get in line at the library and find out if Cammie figures out the secrets hinted at in the walls of the Gallagher Academy.  And by the way, Ms. Carter, bravo on your book titles. They’re enviably clever! (Hyperion, 2009)
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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Summer Reading & Writing in Charlotte, NC

If you are like me, you try to plan a mixture of summertime events which your children will enjoy as well as profit from. In our latest issue of Talking Story, Joyce Hostetter and I suggested several summer activities which families can enjoy.

Today, an editor from Charlotte Parent wrote and asked me to tell you about an event which they sponsor, the 2010 Young Authors Book Writing Contest. The deadline is not until November 4, but if you are looking for a stimulating activity for your budding K-8th grade author, you can get him or her started on their story this summer.

And, if your 5th-10th grader has 3 or 4 friends who want to really get ready for the contest, I offer writing classes and would be happy to work with a small group of students during the summer. You can email me at for more information.

If you live in or around Cornelius, a colleague of mine and talented writer, Lisa Williams Kline, is also offering workshops for teen writers. The workshops are at the Warehouse Performing Arts Center; scroll down until you see Teen Writers Loft. For more information, you can email Lisa at

And if you need further "proof" that your children should be reading over the summer,  this article will convince you.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

One Crazy Summer

When I read historical fiction for intermediate or young adult readers, I look for three things:

1.       1.  A well-written, engaging story that resonates as true to life.

2.       2. Historical information that is subtly woven into the text and increases my knowledge of the time and place.

3.      3.  Poetic language. In other words, good use of figurative language communicated through imagery, metaphors, and similes.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia certainly meets the first two criteria.

Eleven-year-old Delphine is in charge of her two younger sisters as they fly to Oakland, California to visit their estranged mother.  The year is 1968 and they haven’t seen Cecile since she left when Fern, the youngest, was  born seven years ago.

Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern find everything about their mother to be "crazy": her lack of maternal affection, her home, and her preoccupation with keeping her work a secret. Dismissively, the girls are told to spend their days at a Black Panthers summer camp. While there the girls learn about the movement and eventually, about the role that their mother and her poetry play in the organization.

Cecile’s poetry is central to the plot, but ironically, the one thing that I felt the book lacked was poetic language.  Here is an example of powerful imagery that I loved. I wished that Williams-Garcia had included more descriptions like this. Here Delphine is remembering a time back home in New York when she was a young girl:

Although no one thinks I can, I remember a time when smoke filled the house. Not coughing smoke but smoke from a woman’s smooth-voiced singing, with piano, bass, and drums. All together these sounds made smoke. Uncle Darnell would say, “You can’t remember that. You were two. Three,  maybe.” But I do. I still see, hear, and feel bits and flashes. The sounds of musical smoke….And when Uncle played the albums Cecile had left behind—the ones with piano, bass, drums, and smooth-voiced Sarah Vaughan—in my mind, smoke still filled the house. (p.81)

The image of music described as smoke filling a house is beautiful; and one that I will probably remember for months.

Although I expected that there would be some form of reconciliation between the family members before the ending; I was pleasantly surprised with how Williams-Garcia tied up the different story strands. I haven’t come across many books that portray this time period so I think this novel fills a unique void in American historical fiction. Since there is only one minor male character, I think the book will appeal mainly to girls in 4-7th grade.   
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