Boys and Books – Get them Hooked!


Once upon a time I had dreams…

I dreamed that I would have children who loved to read as much as I did.  That we would be a literary family comparing the books we adored and arguing over Tolkien versus Lewis.

Then I met my son –


Reading is not his idea of a good time.

And apparently my son is not the only boy who would rather eat fire than read books.

As a teacher and a writer I had a new dream.  I was going to teach boys to like books.

Epic FAIL. Again.

No matter how much you bribe some boys, they will not enjoy Amber Brown, Junie B. Jones, or The Magic Treehouse.  And I used some great bribes, like – if you read this book, I’ll help you build an exploding rocket.  Or if you read this book – I’ll take you rock hunting.  Instead they wanted to read about how to build the rocket or how to find fossils.

Oh wait – they wanted to READ about how to do things!  They wanted to learn facts and decipher instructions. Finally!! I got it. And I started giving them what they wanted.  NONFICTION!!!

Over the years I have learned that all I really have to do is learn what interests a reluctant reader. (And this applies to girls, too.) Do they like cars? Airplanes? Mummies? Sharks? Outer space? Disgusting body functions?  There’s a book about that!

Nonfiction is the way to a boys (and girls) heart.  And my latest book series is designed just for them.  The Top Secret Files of History explores the truth behind dangerous spies like The White Mouse Mata Hari. Readers can discover real life pirates of the Caribbean and learn about the true Lone Ranger.

The stories are all short.  Many of them no longer than 500 words.  The books also have multiple entry points.  They are not in sequential order so readers can pick up the books and read in the middle or at the end and still get great information.

1618214616_b 9781618214621

The two newest books, Wild West and Gangsters and Bootleggers will be in bookstores December 1.  I hope you will check them out for your own favorite reluctant reader!

Picture Book Diversity in 2015


I am a strong proponent of diversity and I firmly believe that our children need to see a diverse world in the books they read.  I am happy to say there have been several great picture books published this year that give our children a beautiful view of the world.

Take a look at these titles and revel in the diversity on the pages and in the pictures!

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrewsbennyby Kathleen Benson and Benny Andrews

Benny Andrews loved to draw. He drew his nine brothers and sisters, and his parents. He drew the red earth of the fields where they all worked, the hot sun that beat down, and the rows and rows of crops. As Benny hauled buckets of water, he made pictures in his head. And he dreamed of a better life—something beyond the segregation, the backbreaking labor, and the limited opportunities of his world.

     Benny’s dreams took him far from the rural Georgia of his childhood. He became one of the most important African American painters of the twentieth century, and he opened doors
for other artists of color.
28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World
by Charles R. smith
28DaysEach day features a different influential figure in African-American history, from Crispus Attucks, the first man shot in the Boston Massacre, sparking the Revolutionary War, to Madame C. J. Walker, who after years of adversity became the wealthiest black woman in the country, as well as one of the wealthiest black Americans, to Barack Obama, the country’s first African-American president.
Juna’s Jar
by Jan Bahk
Sometimes a simple, everyday object can take you away on great adventures. Juna and her best friend, Hector, have many adventures together, and they love to collect things in empty kimchi jars. Then one day, Hector unexpectedly moves away without having a chance to say good-bye. Juna is heartbroken and left to wonder who will on go on adventures with her. Determined to find Hector, Juna turns to her special kimchi jar for help each night. She plunges into the depths of the ocean, swings on vines through the jungle, and flies through the night sky in search of her friend. What Juna finds is that adventure―and new friends―can be found in the most unexpected places



connieHsuThis weekend I attended the Missouri SCBWI conference and got to hear the amazing Connie Hsu (Roaring Brook Press) speak on the need for diversity in children’s books.  She talked about growing up as a Chinese American in Alabama. As a young reader, Connie was a huge fan of the Sweet Valley Twins books. To this day she remembers which twin had a mole on her shoulder and which one was in the unicorn club.  While she loved the series and devoured the books, they never provided a reflection of her Ethnic heritage. As a matter of fact she rarely saw Chinese faces in the pages of any books or magazines, and that had an impact on her self image.

Its a problem that Latino, African-American, and Asian-American children have been facing for decades.  It seems like by 2015 we would have fixed the problem.  But we haven’t.  And shame on us!

Working as an editor Connie now has the opportunity to promote diversity in children’s books, but it’s not just up to the writers and editors to effect change.  As educators we need to demand diversity in the texts and images that are presented to the children in our classrooms.  What teachers say matters, and you can have an impact on the illustrations selected for books, and the stories that are purchased for your libraries.

WeneedDiverseBooksIf you are interested in helping promote diversity in children’s literature please get involved in the We Need Diverse Books Movement.  It does take a village to raise a child and that village is full of people from all different backgrounds.  Let’s make sure our books reflect the blessing of diversity.

Girl Power!



Teacher, counselors, and principals!  This is your chance to
show the world the amazing young women in your schools.  Kid President – whom I LOVE! – is seeking stories about Awesome Girls.

Let’s flood the web with great stories about young women doing incredible work in their community, church, and school.  Brag on the 4.0 athlete who also runs a food pantry.  Tell them about the group of girls who volunteers at the homeless shelter, gets good grades, and rules the science club.  The stories are out there and they need to be heard!

I can’t wait to watch Kid President’s series on Awesome Girls and I hope one of your students is the star!

Take a Test Break


Ah Spring, the season of tulips, tree leaves, and test taking. One way to make those test days more bearable is to insert a little reading fun. Pull out any of these fun books to read between sessions and your kids may start begging for testing days!

No it’s not Christmas – but this book is funny all year long.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

christmasThe Herdmans are the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie, steal, smoke cigars, swear, and hit little kids. So no one is prepared when this outlaw family invades church one Sunday and decides to take over the annual Christmas pageant.
None of the Herdmans has ever heard the Christmas story before. Their interpretation of the tale — the Wise Men are a bunch of dirty spies and Herod needs a good beating — has a lot of people up in arms. But it will make this year’s pageant the most unusual anyone has seen and, just possibly, the best one ever.

Many of your kids will have seen this movie, but as usual – the book is so much better.
cloucymeatballsCloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett
The tiny town of Chewandswallow was very much like any other tiny town except for its weather, which came three times a day–at breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Life for the townspeople was delicious until the miraculous food weather took a turn for the worse. The food got larger and larger, and so did the portions. The flood of huge food caused chaos, and the people feared for their lives. Something had to be done . . . before it was too late!

For the older students pull out
spidershirdoSpiders in the Hairdo – Modern Urban legends by David Holt.
This book has both funny, scary, and gross stories that will keep your students begging for more. They are short enough that you can read one or two as a short test break. It also makes a fun discussion about what legends they have heard.

Freebies for MLK Day!


Free MLK coloring pages!

I love finding resources that are free and ACTUALLY work!  So many times when I’m looking for free printables or worksheets I get suckered in to a website that promises FREE, but then has a trial membership, or you get the first one free – but pay for the rest of the lesson.  Argh!  I know everybody has to make a living.  I do, too.  But when I find something that is actually free and works like it is supposed to – then I’m going to share it with everyone I know.

So when I was looking for fun and free lesson plans for Martin Luther King Day I was delighted to find several great sites, and of course I’m going to share them with YOU! Enjoy!

The Teachers Corner has Martin Luther King Day activities that include customizable word puzzles.  It also has a fantastic section of seasonal bulletin boards.  Get ready to bookmark this site.  Once you find it you’ll use it all the time!

K12Reader has some wonderful worksheets for MKL day that mlkdayhelp students work on reading comprehension, fact and opinion, and vocabulary skills.  They also include information about other civil rights heroes.

Activity Village provides fun printables that include bookmarks, acrostics, and writing prompts.  They will ask if you want to sign up for their newsletter but you do not have to sign up to use the site.

And last but certainly not least, check out Teach-nology for some interesting lesson plans, bulletin board ideas, and easy to use worksheets.

Hope this helps you have a successful MKL Day celebration!

The State of Reading


the-children-who-loved-books-cover2The latest State of Reading survey is out from Scholastic and the news is not good.  Currently only 24% of school age boys read books for fun and only 14% of students ages 15-17 are reading books for entertainment.  Reading for fun is down in all age groups except ages 6-8.  And yes – the survey includes E-readers.

It’s an interesting look at the current state of reading in American homes and reflects what teachers instinctively know.  Those children who spend more time with their nose in a game screen spend less time with their nose in a book.  While computer time is not all bad, there is a significant correlation to heavy use of electronic devices and decreased reading time.  And that’s tough news for teachers.  We can control the amount of screen time our students receive at school, but how do we encourage reading at home?

Most parents want their children to read more.  An overwhelming 75% of parents agreed that “I wish my child would read more books for fun.” And 71% of parents said “I wish my child would do more things that did not involve screen time.”  So both teachers and parents are on the same page. (pun intended).  We need to work together to find ways to increase recreational reading.

The following diagram from Scholastic may give us some clues as to how to promote reading at school and home.

scholastic survey

As the chart shows free reading time in school actually promotes reading frequency.  If children are given the opportunity to read a book of their choice in school it encourages them to become frequent or recreational readers.  Allowing students reading time and coordinating with parents to follow through with this reading at home can help increase student reading frequency.

But to be successful we need to increase the coordination and communication between family families and classrooms.  There are lots of different ways to do this from read aloud nights to school author visits, and book fairs.  But it needs to be a coordinated effort.  Perhaps as teachers we need to start the conversation by making your own survey.  How much do your students read outside of school?  What do your families do to encourage reading?  And most important do they have ideas for how they would like to work with you and your school?

I challenge you to read the Scholastic survey and then make one of your own.  How can you make a difference in the number of frequent readers you have in your classroom?