Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why Can't Johnny Read? Because it's English!

Here is a fascinating article about how difficult the English language really is to read compared to other languages. A few highlights:

 “…the Spelling Society speculates that English may just be the world’s most irregularly spelled language.”


 “Mastering such a language takes a long time and requires abilities that most children don’t develop until the middle or latter part of elementary school.”
The article goes on to explain some of the reasons that spelling the English language became so unpredictable. One reason: it was cast in stone by non-native-language-users.

 “The first English printing press, in the 15th century, was operated by Belgians who didn’t know the language and made numerous spelling errors (such as ‘busy’ in place of ‘bisy’).”

And of course there was the influence of money…

 “…because they were paid by the line, they sometimes padded words with extra letters; ‘frend,’ for example, became ‘friend.'”

 My takeaway is this: When we compare the literacy levels of our children to children in other countries around the world, the difficulty of the language needs to be considered. Somehow, this had not occurred to me before.

Friday, January 2, 2015

ADHD/Creativity Connection

I love brain science! This article makes a lot of interesting points – a worthy read.
...researchers identified 22 recurring personality traits in creative people. Of these 22 personality traits, 16 are considered positive, such as independent, energetic, curious, risk-taking, emotional, and artistic. The remaining six traits are considered negative, and include such terms as impulsive, hyperactive, and argumentative.
Honestly, something I've come to wonder is this: Could it be that attention spans are just a normal variable in humans--no more a disability than someone who is short rather than someone who is tall? Or someone who is fair-skinned rather than someone with more pigment. It's obvious that a child with a short attention span and the need to move more than others is a difficult child for a teacher in a traditional classroom, but I don't believe that that necessarily makes it a disability. Just my thoughts on that, but it does lead me to this part of the article:
“In the school setting, the challenge becomes how to create an environment in which creativity is emphasized as a pathway to learning as well as an outcome of learning.”

Read more at:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Interview with Author/Illustrator Ed Young

Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm a huge fan of Ed Young's. So imagine my thrill at getting to
interview him. Here's what he had to say to me, you, us!

AIIS: What is your favorite thing about making books?

EY: My favorite thing about creating books is the pleasure of turning readers on in stories of the past, present and even future, The wonder of words and pictures!

AIIS: What is your favorite thing about visiting schools?
EY: School visits simply verify that books are made by people like themselves who also struggle with everyday mundane activities and face difficulties like everyone else.

AIIS: Would you describe your typical day in a school?

EY: My day at school depends on the need and limitations of the school. Some schools are so poor, I simply talk and draw pictures to tell stories, but often those were the best, students and teachers, in their thirst for knowledge and in their appreciation of visitors. I do workshops, large groups or small and all ages.

AIIS: How do your school visits benefit students?
EY: I know my visit benefits students; It's a win-win situation, if I'm not excited and receive a kick out of being there, they cannot be benefited by the visit either. 

AIIS: How do your visits benefit the teachers?
EY: Same with teachers. helpers (parents), everyone involved if they put in their minds, they receive many times more. 

AIIS: What do you want schools to know about planning author visits?
EY: Plan it well like all Mazza bookfests, It's well run if it appears so easy. Not so, a lot of work and heart in everyone who's involved without exceptions. The better prepared the students, the higher the spirit and anticipation.

AIIS: Is there anything else that you would like students and schools to know about you?
EY: That I am human and I have my limitations like all human beings. 

Thank you, Ed, for taking the time to visit with us. I was lucky enough to see you speak at Mazza, and know that any school would be lucky to have you visit!

Check out Ed's website at:

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Universal Preschool and Publishing

Does anyone know where Obama's Universal pre-K plan stands? Thoughts of it and its potential impact on publishing have been rumbling through my brain for some time now. According to the Washington Post last February, only 3 out of 10 four year olds currently attend preschool. To narrow the achievement gap, Obama wants to institute a program that would provide funding for preschool to all families 200% and lower than the poverty rate. These preschools would have strict academic standards with teachers trained and paid at the same levels as current k-12 teachers. I'm not saying this would eliminate the achievement gap, but as a teacher, I have no doubt that this would make a significant difference in the achievement of these students.

From the New America Foundation:
The president’s budget proposes $1.3 billion for 2014 and anticipates making awards to just 12 to 18 states. Recognizing that many states have a lot of work to do, the administration is also proposing a second, $750 million, pre-K grant program called Preschool Development Grants. These would be smaller, competitive grants and would help states build necessary infrastructure, such as workforce and facility development, to support the creation or expansion of pre-K programs.
As an author and illustrator, I'm thinking of the picture book market which has been in a slump for more than a decade. Let's pretend we doubled the preschool programs in the U.S. These classrooms need what?

Books! Picture books.

I hope publishers are thinking about this already and are gearing up to bring more young literature to the market. Because CORE standards are emphasizing nonfiction like never before, I would also expect publishers to be looking to acquire child-friendly NF, though children certainly need to be exposed to broad range of engaging text. (And as much as many publishers claim to be "not interested" in rhyming text, rhyming is hugely important to children as a pre-reading skill, which is why librarians include so much of it in their "storytimes" in public library programs. Hint, hint, publishers.)

What are your thoughts on the Obama initiative regarding preschool, and do you think this will affect the picture book market? Publishers, are you looking at this and planning for it, or do you expect to take a wait-and-see-attitude before increasing your PB offerings?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Back to School!

As a visiting Author/Illustrator it's that time of year again. Like all the other teachers out there, we're going over our teaching materials, updating anything that needs to be updated, and rethinking our teaching strategies--what worked well last year? What could be improved upon? What could be done to make my visit more impactful to the students?

Ed Young at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference
I'm up to my eyeballs in documents, creating more streamlined files, and marking upcoming author visits on the calendar. And that's what's taking me away from my blog. But life is just that way--we have a lull where everything seems to fall into place, and then there's a rush where there's not enough time in the day.

I hearken to what Ed Young said about creating a predictable life. It really is the unexpected, or the extreme (even extreme busyness) that gives us something to look back upon and said "Wow, what a ride!"

What are your preparations like for the new school year? What's your ride like out there, and what has you busy right now?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

10-for-10 Picture Book Event 2013

This is my first year to participate in the 10-for-10 event. My list consists of the 10 picture books I, as a teacher, author, and illustrator, can't live without. Here goes:

1.  Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey--I had to begin my list with this because when I was a child and was taken to the library every week, though I searched and searched, I could not find a better book than this, so I checked it out each week. My parents then made a new rule: I had to check out two books, one of which could not be Make Way for Ducklings. Problem solved.

2.  In a Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming. --Here is a great example of writing about a "small moment" and it's a great mentor text for that. Couple that with Fleming's brilliant and innovative paper pulp illustrations and you have pure genius.

3.   The True Story Of The Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka  --Here is a great example of Point of View and could be a great mentor text for kids of all ages to write a familiar story from an alternative character's POV.

4.  Hook by Ed Young --I think that everything Ed Young does is brilliant, but I love this book for its sparseness. Sparse text, sparse illustration = less is more. For students who get hung up on trying to make their artwork look as realistic as possible, here's a great lesson in illustration that "gives the impression of," which is what illustration is meant to do. (If the publisher wanted the illustrations to look totally realistic, they'd use photos.) It's a freeing lesson for children.

5.  This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen  --What I love, love, love about this book is that the text does not match the illustration, and kids know it. Great for examining inference! Several years ago I took a novel writing class where the teacher posed this question: "If the majority of communication is nonverbal, what are you doing in your writing about this?" This is the question in illustration, and Klassen handles it in the blink of an eye.

6.  Olivia by Ian Falconer--Olivia epitomizes the character-driven picture book, and no one, young or old, can tell me they don't like this little pig.

7.  The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney --There are many awesome wordless picture books out there, but I challenge you to find one more beautiful than this one. I love the strength of wordless PBs in building vocabulary and blogged about it here.

8.  Country Crossing by Jim Aylesworth --This obscure little book stole my son's heart when he was young. I love it for a couple reasons. First, I think it's a great example of the "speed" of a text. This story begins slowly and quietly, becomes fast and loud in the middle, and returns to slow and quiet in the end. The other reason I love this book is the way the illustrations become the text--a beautiful meshing of text and image.

9.  Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh--The first reason to love this book is because the mice are so darn cute. The second is because it teaches an art lesson and it's fun to duplicate that. Finally, I love this book as an example of character motivation--why the mice decide to become white again in the end.

10. The Reader by Amy Hest--I'll admit it--I have a love affair with quiet books, and they rarely make it through the publication process these days, but this one did. This quiet tale is of two friends who share a great and important experience together--reading! Couple this with some of the best work illustrator Lauren Castillo has done and you have beautiful book through and through that celebrates--what else?--reading!

Thank you to Cathy, at Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community, and Mandy, at Enjoy and Embrace Learning for sponsoring this 10 for 10 Picture Book event!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Preparing for the 10-for-10 Picture Book Event

I have been busy, busy, busy this summer, but I keep thinking I'm seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I had a wonderful 4-week visit from my sister and adorable three-year-old niece, followed by the week-long illustration conference I blogged about, followed by helping my son pack and move from campus housing to my place, followed by another wonderful visit from another adorable niece--this one twenty-years-old. This week I'm trying to catch up on the home front and preparing to be a part of the 10-for-10 Picture Books Event (more about the 10-for-10 Picture Books event here) when I will post about 10 picture books I can't live without. I will post my list on Saturday, August 10th. If you're a picture book lover, (and who isn't?) think about joining the event. There are opportunities for those with blogs and those without!