Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What Happens When You Write to an Author?

I thought of this topic when reading an inspirational article about the multiple-award winning author Walter Dean Myers who responded to a fan letter by inviting a teenaged boy to co-write his next novel! The result is Kick, coming out next week!

Have any of you ever written to your favorite authors? I first wrote to an author when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. I sent a letter and drawing of a horse to the now late Marguerite Henry, greatly beloved author of many classic horse novels, and was utterly thrilled to get a warm and positive response, which I still have tucked away in a special place at home.

This first encounter encouraged me, and over the years I've made a point to send a note of appreciation to many authors I've admired to let them know how their books have touched me. I imagine that writing can sometimes be a lonely and solitary occupation. Writers set their books loose in the world hoping that they will meet a sympathetic mind and I want them to know if their books changed me in an important way or made me think or even just brightened up my life for a few weeks. Sometimes I get a response, sometimes not. That's ok. I'd much prefer that my favorite writers spend their time working on new books than writing to fans!

If you want to write to an author, first try searching for their website. The Internet has vastly changed how we contact people! They may list their preferences for personal contact somewhere online. If not, you can do an online search to find the name of their agent and write care of him or her. Failing that, check the title page of the book and send a letter care of their publisher, being sure to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you're hoping for a response! Writing generally does not pay well and most authors have a day job to pay the bills.

If you do write to an author, I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Don't Believe Everything You Read!

An article about a controversy regarding a textbook used in a 4th grade classroom was recently posted to a librarians' mailing list that I'm on. The author of the textbook, who is not a professional historian, used websites from an organization called the Sons of Confederate Veterans to support the claim - disputed by experts - that thousands of African Americans fought on the side of the South during the Civil War. This argument is put forward by organizations which attempt to minimize slavery as a factor in the Civil War.

Situations such as this can make for wonderful conversations about the validity of sources. They are reminders to young people not to believe everything they read, whether it's in print or on the Internet (the same goes for everything they see or hear on television or the radio)! Mistakes happen and information can be skewed deliberately to further an agenda.

When I talk about this type of case with students (as well as the importance of bibliographies so people can check on sources!) two examples I like to share are the War of the Worlds and Snopes. Megan McCarthy has written a great book for young people called Aliens are Coming! The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast. The original listeners' credulity may strain belief today, but the existence of Snopes, a site which verifies or debunks urban legends forwarded by email, shows that people still have a tendency to accept as true anything delivered via a medium they trust.

Encourage your son or daughter to develop his or her critical thinking skills by questioning what they read and hear. Discuss together the information presented in commercials, newspaper articles, etc. In 5th grade library classes we have been working on distinguishing between fact and fiction, as well as on paraphrasing - putting information from a source into one's own words without changing the original meaning or adding personal opinions. These are challenging skills, but they are crucial ones in our increasingly media and information saturated lives.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Books about grief and loss

Lately several children have shared with me the death of a beloved family member and I have also been searching for appropriate titles to share with teachers and parents who have requested books on this topic.

Sometimes nonfiction titles are most suitable, especially when young people have factual questions, but at other times, fiction can speak to the tumult of conflicting emotions felt by a grieving person.

Today I'd like to share a few reading lists as well as a handful of my own favorite books on this difficult and sensitive subject.

Reading lists

40 Books about Grief and Loss - mostly fiction, organized by type of loss and age level (preschool-teen)
Books for Teens on Grief and Loss - annotated nonfiction reading list
Children's Books about Grief - annotated reading list organized by age (preschool-teen)
Children's Books on Death-Related Issues - annotated reading list for younger readers
Death & Dying - annotated fiction list for the kindergarten-tween years
Pet Loss and Bereavement: Books Especially for or about Children - a selection of fiction and nonfiction titles
Top 10 Children's Picture Books about the Death of a Pet - annotated list of fiction books with age recommendations (preschool to tween)

My recommendations

Before I Die by Jenny Downham - A gripping and compelling novel for high school students and adults about a girl facing her own mortality.

Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles - Southern warmth and humor infuse this chapter book for upper elementary and middle school students.

Looking for Bapu by Anjali Banerjee - This middle grade novel deftly and honestly explores a young boy's confusing swirl of emotions after his beloved grandfather dies.

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola - Based on the author's childhood memories, this is a beautiful picture book that speaks to the reader in a simple and heartfelt way.

Michael Rosen's Sad Book by Michael Rosen - The talented poet and former British Children's Laureate shares his experience of grief following the loss of his son in a picture book that can be appreciated by people of all ages.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2010 & the WCCPBA

Recently the New York Times chose the Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2010 and there are some wonderful selections on the list that can be enjoyed by all ages!

Picture books are a format rather than a genre. They generally are 32 pages long and what makes them different from books that have some or no illustrations is that in a picture book, text and illustrations unite to create a new whole that is equally dependent on both elements. (Having said that, some are slightly longer or shorter and there are wordless picture books!)

There are picture books for infants and there are others that are more sophisticated or that deal with more mature topics that only an older teen or adult will fully appreciate. You can find just about any genre written in picture book format. It is a rich and innovative area of publishing!

Right now, grades K-3 are taking part in the Washington Children's Choice Picture Book Awards. This is an annual tradition that the students greatly look forward to. We will read all 20 nominated books during library classes, then students will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite. The nominees appeal to a wide range of tastes and ages, and always spark spirited discussions.

What is most fascinating for me is to observe different reactions to the same book across grade levels. For example, so far this week I've read Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Duck! Rabbit! to kindergartners, first graders and third graders. Kindergartners were intrigued but rather literal-minded in their interpretations, first graders thought it was simply hilarious, and third graders delved deeply into the meaning of the story and its implications for conflict resolution and building empathy between people. All this from one small picture book!

The process of participating in the WCCPBA also allows us to talk about how books are chosen to receive awards, who does the selecting for most awards (adults!), and how very difficult it is to choose one "best" book. Why not check out their website and borrow some of the past winners to enjoy with your family?