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August 2018

    children's books, family fun, literary road trip series

    Literary Road Trip Series: A Night with Author Jacqueline Woodson at the Mark Twain House

    I recently had the honor of listening to Jacqueline Woodson, the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature speak at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT.  The event was sponsored by RJ Julia Booksellers and The Mark Twain House and was the first stop on Woodson’s current book tour to promote her latest books.

    Woodson received the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and 2018 Children’s Literature Legacy Award. She is the 2014 National Book Award Winner for her New York Times bestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which was also a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor, the NAACP Image Award and a Sibert Honor.  Woodson’s new picture book, created along with two-time Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winner Rafael López, is The Day You Begin, a poignant, yet heartening book about finding courage to connect, even when you feel scared and alone.  Her new chapter book is entitled Harbor Me which celebrates the healing that can occur when a group of students share their stories.

    The night started off with Woodson reading passages from her popular middle grade book Brown Girl Dreaming.  As she read, she told us different things that were going on during her life that inspired her to write the passage.  She also talked about parts of her childhood and how she migrated from the South before eventually ending up in New York City.

    Next, she read aloud the book The Day You Begin followed by reading a few pages from Harbor Me.  You could hear a pin drop as she read in a “sing songy” type of tone which was completely captivating.  After she finished reading, audience members had the opportunity to ask questions before heading out to get our books personalized and signed.

    A few things I loved most about the event:

    • Jacqueline was everything I thought she’d be and more!  I loved her added bits of humor and the amount of thought/detail she put into answering each question from the audience.
    • She challenged educators and parents in the room to have classrooms/home libraries that reflect “windows”, “mirrors” and “sliding doors” in order for all children to be able to see themselves, understand others and slide into different experiences.
    • Learning more about the inspiration behind writing her books.  Fun fact: The picture book The Other Side was intended to be a story about a present day experience in Jacqueline’s life, not an experience from the past.  It was the illustrator who set the book in the past (1950’s), not her.  Since authors and illustrators aren’t allowed to have any contact with each other during the book writing process, she had no idea what the illustrations would look like until they were completed.

    Overall, it was an amazing event and I’m so thrilled to have had the opportunity to meet her in person, shake her hand and receive a signed copy of her book.  Thanks to RJ Julia Bookstore and The Mark Twain House for putting on such a fantastic event.  Now I need to take my kids on a literary road trip to visit the Mark Twain House so we can explore the entire museum.  It looks like an incredible place!


    This amazing Mark Twain Lego statue greets you at the door as soon as you walk in the Mark Twain House Museum.

    Your turn: Are you planning to attend one of Jacqueline Woodson’s upcoming book tour events?  Which one of her books is your favorite?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    adult books, children's books, children's literacy, young adult books

    Celebrate National Read a Book Day with PBS the Great American Read

    National Read A Book Day is observed annually on September 6th.  It’s a day that invites us ALL to grab a book we might enjoy and spend the day reading (as many hours of reading you can spare).  National Read a Book Day is the perfect time to revisit your favorite novel or maybe finish that book you started, but put down months ago.  So mark your calendars now you don’t miss out on all the bookish fun!

    Today I partnered with PBS to remind you about National Read a Book Day (September 6th) and the return of the hit show The Great American Read (September 11th).

    Throughout the summer, the multi-platform PBS initiative THE GREAT AMERICAN READ has been encouraging people across America to read as many books as possible from its list of America’s 100 Favorite Novels and to vote for their favorites. While many readers find great joy in becoming immersed in a beloved book, busy schedules can prove a challenge for making time for pleasure reading. To assist those who need help making the most of their reading time, PBS’ THE GREAT AMERICAN READ has partnered with the Library of Congress to offer tips on how to make reading an essential and beloved part of a daily routine.

    THE GREAT AMERICAN READ aims to provide a place for all Americans to discuss the books that they love; books that have inspired, moved and shaped them in one way or another,” said Bill Gardner, Vice President of Programming & Development for PBS. “Through this eight-part series and associated events and activities taking place in communities throughout the country, we hope to help readers fall in love with the act of reading all over again whether that’s through discovering new titles or revisiting favorites from the past.”

    “We all have busy lives, and while many people want to read more for pleasure, they feel like they just don’t have time for it,” said Becky Brasington Clark, Director of Publishing at the Library of Congress. “The fact that we have such hectic schedules is even more reason why we need to make time for reading; it’s one of the most effective ways to detach your mind from the stresses of daily life.”

    Summer is a perfect time to develop better reading habits, since people often have vacations planned that result in more leisure time. It’s important, however, that these habits carry over into daily routines when vacation is over and fall rolls around. Here are some reading tips from Clark and the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress to build reading into your daily life throughout the year:

    • Make the most of spare minutes sprinkled through your day. Keep a book with you so you can read it whenever you have an extra minute or two. They really add up.
    • If you have trouble putting down your phone, put a book on it. Read a few pages instead of checking social media.
    • If the weather is amenable, read outdoors! In the yard, at the bus station, under a tree, or at a museum, reading outdoors engages all of your senses and helps improve your mood.
    • Try downloading free apps from your public library so you can borrow e-books and audio books.

    Reading on the move:

    • Whether you’re going on an end of summer vacation or staying in town, make sure a visit to a bookstore or library is on your itinerary. Pick up a book. Read the jacket copy. Flip through the pages. If it grabs your interest – grab it!
    • If your phone is in “airplane” mode, that’s a sure sign that you should be reading a book. Put a book in your carry on – your time in the air and in the airport will be much more rewarding.
    • Family time in the car, whether that’s commuting to school or going to an activity, is also a great time to listen to an audio book.

    Choosing what to read:

    • Can’t find something new you want to read? Re-read a favorite. You’ll be surprised by the new discoveries found in an old favorite.
    • Embrace your not-so-guilty pleasures. It doesn’t have to be Tolstoy or Joyce – reading for enjoyment should be, well, enjoyable! Grab what you like and dig in. Sci-Fi? Check. Comic books? Yep. Graphic novels? Roger that.
    • Join reading challenges, such as Reading Without Walls by Gene Luen Yang, the former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Also, peruse lists of award-winning books on topics and perspectives that interest you.

    Reading with the kids:

    • Pick a book to read out loud together as a family activity. Take turns reading. Act out the parts. Use funny voices. Have some fun playing, reading, writing, talking and singing with the young members of your family.
    • Read your favorite childhood novel to your kids! Your child is never too young or too old to enjoy listening to a book being read out loud.
    • It’s all about choice. The more formats and books your child can choose from, the more likely they are to develop a lifelong love of reading. Show that reading is a part of life by your example, and always give them opportunities to self-select. Respect their choices and, together, enjoy what they enjoy.

    THE GREAT AMERICAN READ launched on April 20 with the release of America’s list of 100 favorite novels as chosen by a demographically and statistically representative survey (the full list is available at pbs.org/greatamericanread). A two-hour launch special hosted by Meredith Vieira premiered on PBS stations on May 22. The series will return this fall on Tuesday, September 11 at 8:00 p.m. (check local listings) to continue its search for “America’s Best-Loved Novel.”

    The initiative is supported by an extensive multi-platform digital and social media campaign designed to inspire Americans to read, vote and share their personal connections to titles on the top 100 list and beyond over the course of the summer. Since voting began during the two-hour launch episode, avid readers across the country have cast more than two million votes for their favorite books. For more information on how to vote, visit https://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/vote/.

    As part of the campaign, more than two dozen local public television stations across the country have planned over 125 community engagement activities, including book clubs, author appearances and readings, screening events, book-themed family activities and more. The Library of Congress will host the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 1, and attendees will be able to engage with THE GREAT AMERICAN READ.

    About PBS

    PBS, with nearly 350 member stations, offers all Americans the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and digital content. Each month, PBS reaches over 90 million people through television and 30 million people online, inviting them to experience the worlds of science, history, nature and public affairs; to hear diverse viewpoints; and to take front row seats to world-class drama and performances. PBS’ broad array of programs has been consistently honored by the industry’s most coveted award competitions. Teachers of children from pre-K through 12th grade turn to PBS for digital content and services that help bring classroom lessons to life. Decades of research confirms that PBS’ premier children’s media service, PBS KIDS, helps children build critical literacy, math and social-emotional skills, enabling them to find success in school and life. Delivered through member stations, PBS KIDS offers high-quality educational content on TV – including a 24/7 channel, online at pbskids.org, via an array of mobile apps and in communities across America. More information about PBS is available at www.pbs.org, one of the leading dot-org websites on the internet, or by following PBS on TwitterFacebook or through our apps for mobile and connected devices. Specific program information and updates for press are available at pbs.org/pressroom or by following PBS Pressroom on Twitter.

    Your turn: Do you plan to celebrate National Read a Book Day?  Will you be tuning in for the return of The Great American Read?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Turning Pages: My Life Story (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Turning Pages: My Life Story by by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Lulu Delacre

    Publisher: Philomel Books
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 4 – 8
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3

    Synopsis
    As the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor has inspired young people around the world to reach for their dreams. But what inspired her? For young Sonia, the answer was books! They were her mirrors, her maps, her friends, and her teachers. They helped her to connect with her family in New York and in Puerto Rico, to deal with her diabetes diagnosis, to cope with her father’s death, to uncover the secrets of the world, and to dream of a future for herself in which anything was possible.

    In Turning Pages, Justice Sotomayor shares that love of books with a new generation of readers, and inspires them to read and puzzle and dream for themselves.

    Reflection
    From the very first sentence right to the very end, this story captured my full attention.  Not only did I learn so much about Justice Sonia Sotomayor and her background, but I also read some of the most poetic and beautiful phrases about books and reading.  It was such a treat to learn how much books played such an important part in her life.

    My story is a story about books – of poems and comics, of law and mystery, of science and science fiction.

    Reading was like lighting candles, each book a flame that lit up the world around me.

    Written words, I discovered, were electrical currents that jolted feelings to life.

    Books, it seemed, were magic potions that could fuel me with the bravery of superheroes.

    Books were my loyal friends.  They made it so I never felt lonely.

    Books were mirrors of my very own universe.

    Throughout Sonia’s life, books brought her comfort in the darkest periods. She talks about being diagnosed with diabetes when she was seven years old and how she found courage by reading comic books.  The illustrations showing her injecting herself with needles are powerful.  Instead of insulin, she imagines injecting herself with a “magic potion” and being a brave superhero.  When she was nine years old her father passed away.  At the time, Sonia found comfort and escape at the nearby Parkchester Library.  Books helped her escape her reality and allowed her precious opportunities to experience wonder.

    Almost every illustration in the book features books or reading in some way.  Sonia is seen reading at home, at the library and in college.  The back matter has a timeline of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s life and there are actual photographs in the end papers.  The thing I love most about this book is that Sonia wrote it on her own and she’s still alive to tell her own story – her own truth.  A delightful and informative book that is sure to inspire a new generation of readers, leaders, aspiring lawyers and social justice activists.

    Your turn: Which book(s) from your childhood played an important part in your life?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    children's books, diverse books

    The Ultimate List of African-American Baby Boy Names Inspired by Children’s Books from Alfonso to Ziggy

    There are so many wonderful picture books that feature strong, Black males as the main protagonist. Little boys (or girls) can read about heroes from the past and present who have emerged as role models for all children. They can explore nonfiction books about famous male inventors who have contributed to society. Or they can enjoy stories about everyday kids just being kids. Whatever they’re in the mood to read, either on their own or with a grown-up assisting, the one thing I can bet is they’ll be able to find a book to fit!

    Below I’ve rounded up a list of picture books that feature African-American boy protagonists with first names from A to Z.  Some are popular names that you see often and others are unique like my name.  Is your name or your son’s name listed here?  What other books would you add to this list?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    To see the ultimate list of girl names click HERE!

    A

    AlfonsoArt
    Arturo

    B

    BarackBen
    BobBud

    C

    CastleCharlie
    ClaytonClive
    Cornelius Charles
    Cole

    D

    DaveDavid
    DevonDominic
    Deshawn

    E

    ElijahEmmanuel
    Ernie

    F

    Frank

    G

    GeorgeGordon
    Gregory

    H

    HenryHorace

    J

    JabariJacobJackson
    JadenJamesJameson
    JeremyJeromeJohn

    K

    Kevin

    L

    LennyLeoLewis
    LindenLonnieLuke

    M

    MalcolmMalusiMarcus
    MaxMichaelMiles
    MatthewMuhammad

    N

    NeilNelson

    O

    Olu

    P

    Peter

    R

    RayReginaldRichard
    RodneyRomareRon
    RileyRufus

    S

    Sam

    T

    ToniehToshTravis
    TreyTyrell

    W

    WilliamWillie

    Y

    Yosef

    Z

    Ziggy

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    adult books, book reviews, STEM, technology

    Coding for Parents: Everything You Need to Know to Confidently Help With Coding Homework

    Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own and have not been influenced in any way.

    Coding for Parents: Everything You Need to Know to Confidently Help With Homework by Frazer Wilson

    Publisher: Sterling Publishing
    Pages: 208
    Format: Paperback

    Synopsis
    Facing the daunting prospect of helping your children with their coding homework?  Coding for Parents teaches you what you need to know . . . so you can teach your kids!

    Unlock the mysteries of coding with this easy-to-follow and well-illustrated guide—and help your kids ace their coding homework! Organized by age and grade, It takes you by the hand and leads you through the basics, building your knowledge of key concepts, terminology, and techniques, and giving you the language you’ll need to explain it all to your child. Instructional diagrams and compelling illustrations appear throughout to enhance your understanding, and the book covers the most popular software, including Scratch, Python, and Java.

    Reflection
    The introduction of the computer has changed the world forever, for better or for worse.  The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs in computer science.  President Barack Obama said it best when he said, “In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill – it’s a basic skill.”

    In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill – it’s a basic skill.” – Barack Obama

    And yet, computer science is not part of the required curriculum in many US public schools.  That means it’s up to adults to help their children get more familiar with computers, technology and coding when it’s not offered to them in their school.  With the help of great books like Coding for Parents: Everything You Need to Know to Confidently Help With Homework adults can cultivate a child’s interest in computing, even if they’ve never written a line of code on their own a day in their life.

    I like that this book is organized by age and grade level for different software like: Java, Scratch and Python.  It’s a compact and comprehensive introduction to all things coding broken down into digestible bites that are easy to comprehend.  There are also helpful diagrams with some added humor to help take a bit of the edge off if you’re new to the world of coding.  The book also contains a helpful glossary and index making it easy to find and reference information throughout.

    Coding is all about learning by doing.  And the more kids feel like they can “do” computers, the more likely they are to pursue technical careers.  An added bonus is having a parent or adult who understands coding and can help a child easily understand it too.  That’s where  Coding for Parents: Everything You Need to Know to Confidently Help With Homework comes into play.  Check it out if you want to be able to confidently help the special kiddo in your life with their coding homework.  Makes a great back to school gift idea for parents!

    Your turn: Is Computer Science a part of the curriculum at your child’s school?  What other books would you recommend for adults to help children with coding homework?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    book reviews, children's books

    Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse: Book Review

    Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken

    Synopsis
    Adrian Simcox tells anyone who will listen that he has a horse–the best and most beautiful horse anywhere.  But Chloe does NOT believe him. Adrian Simcox lives in a tiny house. Where would he keep a horse? He has holes in his shoes. How would he pay for a horse?

    The more Adrian talks about his horse, the angrier Chloe gets. But when she calls him out at school and even complains about him to her mom, Chloe doesn’t get the vindication she craves. She gets something far more important.

    Written with tenderness and poignancy and gorgeously illustrated, this book will show readers that kindness is always rewarding, understanding is sweeter than judgment, and friendship is the best gift one can give.

    Reflection
    At first glance, one might think this is just a book about a boy and his horse.  But once you open it up and start reading, you are introduced to so much more!

    First, little readers are introduced to Adrian Simcox sitting all by himself (probably daydreaming again) at the lunch table in the school cafeteria.  Off to the side you see a crowd of other diverse kids all sitting together having their own group conversations.  Right off the bat, you can tell Adrian is a loner who probably doesn’t have many friends.

    Next, you find out Adrian has a horse that he loves dearly and will tell just about anyone who will listen how beautiful his horse is.  “It has a white coat and golden mane and the biggest, brownest eyes of any horse, anywhere…”

    Everyone at school is convinced Adrian has a horse EXCEPT for Chloe.  She’s not buying Adrian’s story for one minute.  She know’s her friend Kelsey’s cousin has a horse and that horses are super expensive to take care of.  Besides, Adrian lives in small house, he gets free lunch at school and he has holes in his shoes so there’s NO WAY he could possibly have a horse, right?

    After being sick and tired of hearing Adrian brag about his horse, Chloe can’t take it anymore.  One day at recess she yells out loud so everyone can hear, “He’s lying! Adrian Simcox does NOT have a horse!”

    Shortly after, little readers meet the real star of this book, Chloe’s mother.  It’s through her subtle, yet powerful action of showing her daughter Chloe to stop being so judgmental that finally makes Chloe start to see Adrian in a different light.  Chloe’s mothers’ simple action at the end of the book tie in beautifully with a quote from Chloe’s teacher mentioned earlier in the book:

    We must try to be understanding.  We have to be patient.

    I love this book for so many reasons:

    • The gorgeous illustrations by illustrator Corinna Luyken will take your breath away!  (Look closely so you won’t miss the sightings of Adrian’s horse!)
    • The contrasts between Chloe and Adrian (Adrian’s messy desk, his run down neighborhood, holey shoes)
    • It has some wonderful messages of kindness, empathy, feelings, and friendship woven into it
    • It teaches children not to judge others based on things they have or don’t have
    • Adrian’s vivid imagination and his creative ability to see things in a different way
    • The way Chloe’s mom subtly shows her daughter about true kindness, respect and acceptance without saying a word.  It’s so beautiful to see how Chloe figured everything out on her own and realized her mistakes.

    I think this is such a great book to read during the back to school season (or anytime of the year).  Messages of kindness ring out loud and clear.  Don’t miss this one!

    About the Author


    Marcy Campbell lives in Ohio with her family and menagerie of rescued pets. Her writing for adults has been published widely in journals and magazines, including Salon. She grew up on a farm filled with cows, chickens, cats, and dogs, but she never had a horse. Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse is her debut picture book. You can visit her at www.marcycampbell.com.

    About the Illustrator
    Corinna Luyken grew up in different cities along the West Coast, and after studying at Middlebury College, she settled in Washington State, where she draws inspiration from nature, her family, and the human form. Her debut picture book, The Book of Mistakes, received four starred reviews and has been praised by Entertainment WeeklyThe Wall Street Journal, Nerdy Book Club, and more.

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    book reviews, children's books, giveaways

    Fiona the Hippo Review+ A Giveaway!

    Disclaimer: We’re thrilled to partner with Zonderkidz for this adorable giveaway based on the true life story of internet sensation Fiona the Hippo from the Cincinnati Zoo!  Enter for your chance to win a copy of the picture book Fiona the Hippo, a Team Fiona plush and sippy cup.

    About Fiona the Hippo
    Fiona the Hippo, by New York Times bestselling artist Richard Cowdrey of Bad Dog, Marley fame, tells the story of Fiona, the adorable internet sensation from the Cincinnati Zoo who captured hearts around the world with her inspiring story and plucky personality.

    Born prematurely, at 29 pounds, Fiona was not expected to live. But her spunk and determination helped her thrive and become a happy, healthy hippopotamus. With every challenge she faced, Fiona let out a snort, wiggled her ears, and said “I’ve \got this.” And she did! In this delightful story, inspired by the real adventure of this heroic hippo, join Fiona and her lovable animal friends at the zoo as she is introduced to the world in this whimsical and inspiring tale of perseverance and friendship.

    Reflection
    I remember hearing about Fiona the Hippo last year and seeing her photo all over the Internet.  She’s the lovable little hippo who made her grand entrance to the world at the Cincinnati Zoo.  Born prematurely, and cared for with the assistance of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Fiona is the first Nile hippo born at the zoo in 75 years!  No wonder why she’s so irresistible to people of all ages.

    I was surprised at how valuable lessons of determination, grit, overcoming challenges and family came through in this book.  I was expecting to just read about Fiona’s background and journey, so the lessons sprinkled throughout the book was an added bonus!  It definitely helped me come up with a few discussion questions to talk to the kids about after the story ended which was great!

     

    About the Author

    Richard Cowdrey’s favorite things to draw and paint are the common things seen everywhere in nature. He especially enjoys capturing the expressions, eyes, and gestures of both humans and animals. Drawing and painting Fiona was challenging as the hippopotamus is a very unique yet beautiful creature! Richard’s bestselling children’s books include Legend of the Candy CaneBad DogMarley, and A Very Marley Christmas.

    The Giveaway!

    One (1) US-based resident (age 18 and over) winner will receive:

    Fiona the Hippo Prize Pack Sponsored by ZonderKidz

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