Where do stories come from? Sometimes we have to travel to find them, journeying within or experiencing what happens in our paths along the way. Recently I was taking a new book, Abuelo, to Argentina, to people who had inspired it.
People arrive, events occur, that later become essential stories in each of our lives. Clearly, what becomes important is not the same for each person. But often, the stories that happen while we are young stay with us, and can help carry us through the rest of our lives. For my friend Aldo, who is Argentinean, riding La Pampa, the wide plains and foothills of Argentina when he was a boy with his “Abuelo Gaucho”—Grandfather Cowboy—has given him stories, a relationship and a strong place to return to that have helped him ride free through the years.
Aldo’s great grandfather Redmond arrived from Ireland in the 1840′s to a land that “had a lot of beef.” Argentines come in all colors and with names from many cultural backgrounds–from English to Italian, Lebanese to northern European, not just the Hispanic surnames that many associate with Latin America. Aldo explained to me that the popular way to address someone in a friendly way, saying “Che”— something akin to “hello friend”— likely comes from a Guarani Indian word.Like the US, South America is a quilt built of many cultures, from Indian to European to African, and more. But back to Aldo and his young days riding the range with Abuelo Gaucho, that first inspired me to write Abuelo.
As a boy, Aldo lived in a small town in La Pampa where raising cattle was a major enterprise. Cowboys— called gauchos— rode through the streets and sometimes brought herds to load onto the nearby trains. Aldo’s father worked for the railroad. Aldo would see the gauchos in town, and one older gaucho who knew his family well would say to Aldo that he should learn to ride a horse and the ways of the gauchos, that he would teach him. With the permission of Aldo’s family, on Sundays, the gaucho’s day off, the old gaucho began to teach Aldo— first to ride, how to guide and talk to the horse, how to find his way securely on the pampas. Over the years they rode out, the old gaucho on his horse, and Aldo on his own. Grandfather, or Abuelo, Redmond had died before Aldo was born, and so the old gaucho became like a grandfather to Aldo.
When Aldo grew up, he moved away from the small town of Roberts and “Abuelo Gaucho” to the city of Rosario to find work at a newspaper, and eventually for a bank. Throughout many changes, Aldo could return to La Pampa and Abuelo Gaucho in his mind. At a bank meeting that was droning on for hours, Aldo, who had been very active and successful in his work, was silent for a time. When someone at the meeting looked at him being so quiet and asked “where is Aldo?” a friend who knew him well said, “he is on La Pampa.” Throughout his life, he has found strength there.
Now in his eighties, Aldo says that relationships between people are most important. His daughter and her family, his grandchildren live nearby. They know some of the great stories of their Abuelo Aldo, and his wife, Abuela Delia, who is a wonderful artist. Among the drawings I admired in their home was one of a gaucho, which thanks to Delia I now have with me. More tales there. I watched as Aldo saw and read Abuelo for the first time. He smiled at connections to places and relationships he has known so well. When I visited granddaughter Victoria’s school, the students, who see gauchos still, recognized the story and beautiful pictures drawn by Raúl Colón, cheered, and raced to tell new tales they found in their own lives— a fountain of youth and stories.
Arthur Dorros views being a writer as like being a traveling detective. He finds ideas all around. He learned Spanish while living in Latin America, and many of his stories, such as Abuelo, grow from those experiences. Arthur is the author of many books for children, including Julio’s Magic, a CLASP Américas Award Commended Title; Papá and Me, a Pura Belpré Honor Book, and the popular Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science book Ant Cities. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
GALAPAGOS GEORGE is the story of the famous Lonesome George, a giant tortoise who was the last of his species, lived to be one hundred years old, and became known as the rarest creature in the world. This incredible evolution story by renowned naturalist and Newbery Medal winner Jean Craighead George gives readers a glimpse of the amazing creatures inhabiting the ever-fascinating Galápagos Islands, complete with back matter that features key terms, a timeline, and further resources for research.
Here are some Common Core objectives that GALAPAGOS GEORGE can help meet:
Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe. Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a book to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot. Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.
And you can use the following questions to help start a specific discussion about this book or a general discussion about informational texts and/or literature:
- How does a reader determine the genre of a particular book? What characteristics apply to GALAPAGOS GEORGE? RI.2.5, RL.2.3
- What elements of a book help the reader determine the main idea? What details support the main idea? RI.2.2, RL.2.2
- How do the illustrations contribute to the text (characters, setting, and plot)? RI.2.7, RL.2.7
GALAPAGOS GEORGE will be available next week!
Math is everywhere! That’s a message I always try to get across to kids, teachers and parents in my MathStart books and presentations. Too often, when students leave math class, I hear them say, “I’m done with my math.” Yet they never say “I’m done with my words” after reading and language arts. Well, just like words, you can’t do much without math. Math is an integral part of sports and music. You need math to go shopping, check on the time and count the number of candles on your birthday cake!
“Who Says Math Has to Be Boring?”—that was the eye-opening question posed in a recent New York Times editorial headline. Several improvements to math education were listed in the article, with early exposure to mathematical concepts singled out as a particularly rich area for improvement. In fact, new research suggests that children as young as three may be math-ready. It turns out we are wired for math!
The interest in early math is part of a larger movement to support universal Pre-K in the US—a rare non-partisan issue with the President and Congress as well as governors and mayors in dozens of states declaring their support. Over just the last year, 30 states have increased funding, while Congress has budgeted $1 billion for programs. The US military is also on board in a big way through Mission Readiness, an effort spearheaded by a who’s who list of retired generals and admirals.
THE COMMON CORE
Another important trend in education is the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) currently being implemented in 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense schools. Teachers, librarians, parents, and caregivers of children are clamoring for ways to effectively address the broad-reaching goals of the CCSS. These goals require elementary school educators to develop a new mind-set regarding their role in advancing mathematics education, as well as a new skill set for facilitating the teaching and learning of mathematical concepts.
Visual learning describes how we gather and process information from illustrations, diagrams, graphs, symbols, photographs, icons and other models. Since visual learning strategies build on children’s innate talent to interpret visual information, they can play an important role in reaching the goals of the CCSS for Mathematics. Visual models help students understand difficult concepts, make connections to other areas of learning and build mathematical comprehension. They are especially relevant for the youngest learners, who are accomplished visual learners even as pre-readers.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
“Math Skills are Life Skills!” That’s the motto of the kids in the Main Street Kids’ Club a musical based on six MathStart stories.
A good grounding in math from an early age is critical and visual learning strategies can play an important role. Children who are comfortable with mathematical concepts and understand that they use math all the time are more likely to do well in school and in everything else, too. It is a formula for success!
Stuart J. Murphy is a Boston-based visual learning specialist, author and consultant. He is the author of the award-winning MathStart series (HarperCollins), which includes a total of 63 children’s books that present mathematical concepts in the context of stories for Pre-K through Grade 4. (Over 10 million copies sold.) He is also the author of Stuart J. Murphy’s I SEE I LEARN (Charlesbridge), a 16-book series of storybooks for children in Pre-K, Kindergarten, and Grade 1 that focus on social, emotional, health and safety, and cognitive skills. Most of all, Stuart is an advocate of helping our children develop their visual learning skills so that they become more successful students.
The recently-published FOUNDING MOTHERS, by Cokie Roberts, presents the incredible accomplishments of the women who orchestrated the American Revolution behind the scenes.
In this vibrant nonfiction picture book, Roberts traces the stories of heroic, patriotic women such as Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, Phillis Wheatley, Mercy Otis Warren, Sarah Livingston Jay, and others through their personal correspondence, private journals, ledgers and lists, and even favored recipes. The extraordinary triumphs of these women created a shared bond that urged the founding fathers to “Remember the Ladies.”
Here are some Common Core objectives that FOUNDING MOTHERS can help meet:
- Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
- Describe the overall structure of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.
- Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.
And here are some questions you can use and build on for a Common Core-ready lesson:
- How does the structure of nonfiction text affect how we understand the material? RI.5.5
- What composite structure does the author use to shape events, ideas, concepts and information? RI.5.5
- What is the author’s purpose for writing this book? Do you think the author is a reliable source? Discuss. RI.5.8, SL.5.1d, SL.5.4
We’ll be highlighting lots more titles and how they can be used to support the Common Core in the coming months, so be sure to check back often for our Common Core Spotlight feature!
I hated school. This probably isn’t something I should admit, but it’s true. For me, school was hours and hours of stuff I had no interest in learning, shoulder to shoulder with people I didn’t like. In my classmates’ defense, they didn’t like me either. I was smaller, younger, and had zero filter on my mouth.
For those of you playing along at home, that’s math even I can do. Smart mouth and bigger classmates equal Romily being stuffed into lockers twice and tossed into a Dumpster once. Eventually I learned how to outrun them, but not before I had to spend an entire afternoon smelling like dead pizza so, yeah, school wasn’t great.
But Mrs. King was. I had her for World History and our relationship started favorably (at least in my mind) because she put me at the back of the room. This was a great development because most teachers liked to put me in between problem students. Basically, I was supposed to play Switzerland and, let’s be honest, I don’t have the temperament for that.
Anyway, just like our other history teachers, Mrs. King started the semester in ancient Mesopotamia and ended us in modern Europe, but it was the way she taught us the events that really sticks with me. We didn’t just learn there was a girl called Joan of Arc, we learned why and how she might have happened. It wasn’t just that there was an ancient Chinese general called Yuan Chonghuan, it was more about how his life would have possibly shaped him.
For a writer, this was invaluable. She was essentially teaching character motivation, but, honestly, she was also teaching empathy. People are products of their environments and experiences and it’s not always pretty. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years. I may not remember specific battles from World War II, but I do remember to think about what someone else might be going through, which is probably one of the best lessons of all.
Romily Bernard is a debut author who graduated in Literature and Spanish from Georgia State University. She lives with her partner in Atlanta, riding horses and working in corporate law. FIND ME was a finalist in the 2012 Golden Heart Awards and placed first in the 2011 YA Unpublished Maggie Awards (given by Georgia Romace Writers).
We’re so proud of our award-winning authors, and we’d love for you to be able to use these great books in your classroom right away (if you aren’t already, of course)! Read on for some teaching resources to help jump-start discussions and lessons centered around these stellar titles . . .
Here are a handful of images from NELSON MANDELA that you can use as visual inspiration for lessons or projects on history, politics, biography, or even just to print and hang in your classroom or library.
Don’t forget to check out our Common Core Resources page for lots more teaching guides, discussion guides, lesson ideas, and more!
Working in children’s books, there are few days that can compare to the Monday morning of the ALA Midwinter conference, when the ALA Youth Media Awards are announced. Cheers and gasps follow the announcement of every award named, and hugs and happiness end the conference on the highest of notes. What a great day for authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, publishing professionals, and book lovers all over the world! We are so honored that awards committees named the following HarperCollins Children’s Books titles amongst the best and the brightest this year:
Coretta Scott King Author Award to Rita Williams-Garcia, for P.S. BE ELEVEN
Newbery Honor to Kevin Henkes, for THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER.
Schneider Family Book Award for Middle Grade to Merrie Haskell, for HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS
Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor to Kevin Henkes for PENNY AND HER MARBLE
Coretta Scott King Author Honor to Walter Dean Myers, for DARIUS & TWIG
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor to Kadir Nelson, for NELSON MANDELA
Pura Belpre Illustrator Honor to Rafael Lopez for TITO PUENTE, MAMBO KING (written by Monica Brown)
We’re grateful to publish these books, written and illustrated by the most creative, dedicated folks we know, and put them into your hands, the teachers and librarians who give them to children and promote a life-long love of learning. What a fine day to do what we do!
We’re thrilled to introduce our New Voices picks for Winter 2014! We absolutely loved these four debut novels, and we think you will, too. Be sure to click on the links below to read the first chapter of each title, and if you’re hungry for more, comment and we’ll send you a galley (while supplies last).
And now, without further ado . . .
SALVAGE, by Alexandra Duncan, is a sweeping, epic, literary science fiction story with a feminist twist. Teenaged Ava has lived aboard the male-dominated, conservative deep space merchant ship Parastrata her whole life. When a passionate mistake causes Ava’s people to turn against her, she faces banishment and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean. Her struggle to survive outside the insular world of her childhood is harrowing, full of surprises, and constantly thrilling. You’ll be rooting for Ava all the way! Read the first chapter here!
FAKING NORMAL, by Courtney C. Stevens, is a powerful, moving story about a teen girl struggling to forget a traumatic experience from her recent past. Alexi Littrell hasn’t told anyone what happened to her over the summer by her backyard pool. Instead, she hides in her closet, counts the slats in the air vent, and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does. When Bodee Lennox—”the Kool-Aid Kid”—moves in with the Littrells after a family tragedy, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in this quiet, awkward boy who has secrets of his own. As their friendship grows, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her summon the courage to find her voice and speak up. Read the first chapter here!
CRUEL BEAUTY, by Rosamund Hodge, is a dazzling twist on the story of Beauty and the Beast. Betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom, Nyx has always known her fate was to marry him, kill him, and free her people from his tyranny. But on her seventeenth birthday, when she moves into his castle high on the kingdom’s mountaintop, nothing is as she expected—particularly her charming and beguiling new husband. Nyx knows she must save her homeland at all costs, yet she can’t resist the pull of her sworn enemy—who’s gotten in her way by stealing her heart. Read the first chapter here!
SCHOOL OF CHARM, by Lisa Ann Scott, is an enchanting story full of spirit and hope, with a hint of magic. Eleven-year-old Chip has always been her daddy’s girl, so when he dies she pins her hopes on winning a beauty pageant to show her family of southern belles that she still belongs. The problem is, she’d rather be covered in mud than makeup! Can a rough-and-tumble girl ever become a beauty queen? SCHOOL OF CHARM tells the tale of one girl’s struggle with a universal question: How do you stay true to yourself and find a way to belong at the same time? Read the first chapter here!
Stay tuned for “Opening the Book” Q&A’s with the authors and insightful words from the editors of these fantastic New Voices!
In He Said, She Said, I set out to tell a simple love story about Omar, a popular, but shallow boy, who literally tries to change the world to get the attentions of Harvard-bound Claudia, a talented girl who’s uninterested in him. (Okay, maybe that’s not so simple). During this writing journey, an assortment of books and quotes and poems I’ve loved began to creep up on me, begging to be included in the story. And they wouldn’t stop. So I let them in.
He Said She Said is most definitely a tale of teenage love. But it is also an ode to the power of Pablo Neruda, Pat Conroy, Marjory Wentworth—the poet laureate of South Carolina—Alice Walker, and all of the writers who shaped me. The writers who helped this callow-schoolboy-now-writer find his voice. It’s a testament to the transformative power of love and words, in helping us become better people.
You see, I grew up in a home where my father was a writer, professor, and book publisher, and my mother was a storyteller who taught English at the local college. We didn’t watch television. Correction: We couldn’t watch television. If we were lucky, we’d catch reruns of Lucy or westerns on Saturday, but only when my father was travelling. Our house was a Wal-Mart of books. And reading was our hobby. Our play date. And when we misbehaved, our punishment. While my friends entertained themselves with board and video games, my shelves were lined with Eric Carle, Nikki Giovanni, Eloise Greenfield, and Lucille Clifton’s Everett Anderson’s books. I knew those books, word for word. This is what I know: In my home the words came alive. There were read-alouds before breakfast and reader’s theater after dinner. We were shown that there were whole new worlds present in each page. I have an appreciation for books, much like athletes who’ve played football since pee wee league, or musicians who’ve played piano since they could walk. Sure, I write because I can, because I love the way words can get together and dance. But, the most important reason I write is because I want others to fall in love with the power of words just like I did (even when I didn’t know it).
And find their own voice, just like Omar does in He Said, She Said.
Kwame Alexander has written fifteen books, owned several publishing companies, written for television (TLC’s Hip Hop Harry), recorded a CD, performed around the world, produced jazz and book festivals, hosted a weekly radio show, worked for the US government, and taught in a high school. Recently, Kwame was a visiting writer in Brazil and Africa. He resides in the Washington, DC, area, where he is the founding director of Book-in-a-Day (BID), a program that teaches and empowers teenagers to write and publish their own books.
I’m supposed to blog about my writing journey and I’ve been struggling with the best way to tackle the task. There are a lot of years between when I first put pen to paper and now, and there are ways to frame the interim events so that the story is epic, or action-packed (if by action you’re referring to my swift typing), or sad, maybe even tragic. Conversely, it could be pure comedy if I cherry pick moments and set up the jokes properly. Decisions, decisions. Thus is the burden of writers. We control worlds.
Being the benevolent ruler that I am, I won’t wring tears from you today (go ahead, kiss the ring). Instead, I’ll give you a timeline of highlights and speed bumps along my path…
Age 6: Mom often says no when I ask for a new G.I. Joe or Transformer. She always says yes when I ask for books. There’s something important here. Must explore further.
Age 7: Reading is fun. I can’t believe people actually make up these stories. Hmmm, what if I tried making up some of my own?
Age 8: First place in my grade’s Young Author contest. I don’t know if I’ve ever won anything before. They must really like my story about a giant dinosaur emerging from a box of breakfast cereal. This is encouraging. Maybe I’ll keep going.
Age 11: I read IT by Stephen King (not something I recommend if you’re 11 and care to sleep without concerns of demonic clowns floating over you in the dark, however…) and my life changes. I want to do what this guy does.
Age 14: I start my first novel (yeah, took me 3 years, sue me), but reading is less fun. I’m in high school, and most of the “important” books are by and about people who look nothing like me. How should I take that? Not well.
Age 17: I finish that first novel. It’s a monstrous 600 pages, and it’s terrible. I’m discouraged. Not because I wrote a bad first novel (all the research I’ve done on working writers suggests first novels are often bad), but because I’m still not able to find the kinds of books I like by or about people like me. There are no black or brown Stephen Kings that I’m aware of. I search harder, but I’m losing hope. Maybe I’m wasting my time.
Age 18: I’m in college, and the call to decide ‘what I’m going to do with my life’ is louder than ever. At one time I would have shouted, “write books!” I have less conviction now. Less voice. I hear there are great careers in computer technology.
Age 19: I discover My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due. THIS BOOK. IS. AMAZING! It’s speculative fiction (or dark fantasy/horror, if you prefer…really the only label it needs is “excellent”), kind of like what Stephen King does, but a thing all its own. Ms. Due is black. Her characters are like me. Fully fleshed, not meant to give some other character comic relief, or wisdom, or time to escape while death looms. I read MSTK in one sitting. Then immediately track down her first book, The Between (much harder to do in the days before Amazon left things on your doorstep). There is hope.
Age 20: Blood Brothers by Steven Barnes. Another amazing book that hits all the marks for me. With an added bonus, Mr. Barnes is a dude (an awesome, sci-fi, martial arts dude). My hope from before amplifies into this badass Jedi-style new hope. I start semi-stalking researching him and discover (wait for it) HE’S FREAKIN’ MARRIED TO TANANARIVE DUE!!! Oh my God! I don’t know what to make of this new information (other than I’m easily excited). I feel the universe is telling me something, though. Like, keep going.
Age 21 – 30: Yep, nearly a decade. Each year could constitute its own post, but I’m not going to do it to you. Here’s what you need to know. I write a lot. Get rejected a lot. Start having small successes with short fiction, and I independently publish some longer work. I feel like quitting sometimes, but never can let the words go. I still don’t see people like me represented in many books (or TV, or movies…that’s another conversation), but I hang on to a quote I discovered shortly after reading Ms. Due and Mr. Barnes. It’s from Toni Morrison, one of the important writers who do look like me. She says, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Well, okay then.
Age 31: A single editor takes a chance on WHISPERTOWN, my high school murder mystery about a black teen boy with a unique past and exciting—if not pleasant—future. It’s not exactly Stephen King. Or Due. Or Barnes. But there are monsters in it. The human kind. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants and the view is just fine.
Now: As I write this, a copy of my novel sits on my desk in all its pre-pub glory. Soon it will have to make its own way in the world. Regardless of what happens next, a lifelong dream is realized. My journey has led me here, to FAKE ID (formerly WHISPERTOWN). It’s a book I want to read.
I hope you feel the same.
Lamar “L. R.” Giles writes stories for teens and adults. He’s never met a genre he didn’t like, having penned science fiction, fantasy, horror, and noir thrillers, among others. He is a Virginia native, Hopewell High Blue Devil, and Old Dominion University Monarch. He resides in Chesapeake, Virginia with his wife. Learn more about him at www.lrgiles.com.
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