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children's literacy

Literacy Expert Spotlight: Sophie Helenek

This month’s literacy expert is Sophie Helenek.  Sophie is an elite athlete, award-winning author, former banker, Everest summiteer, runway model, and mother.  Also, her daughter happens to go to the same preschool as my son – how cool is that?
sophiehelenek

Please tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I was born in Guyancourt, France.  I’ve always had a passion for music, education, and sports.  At the age of 22, I obtained my Master’s degree at La Sorbonne Business School.  In 2013, I became a new mom and embarked on the journey of writing a baby book series which includes four delightful board books Fruits, Sky Wonders, Shapes and Musical Instruments.  I am also a motivational speaker and panelist at different events around the world.  I am currently embracing my new career as executive coach and keynote speaker.

Please provide some insight on what it’s like to be a children’s book author.
As per my experience, it is not easy to be a children’s book author mainly because everyone thinks they can do it. But it is far from easy. Writing a children’s book is a tedious and challenging process which requires lots of research, great attention to details, and a mental made of steel! You are working on complex concepts that are expressed in “simplistic” ways. Such discrepancy often undermines your hard work and it can be very discouraging.

My inspiration
My inspiration was my daughter. When she was a small baby, I showed her an M.C. Escher book. She seemed to like the black and white spiral drawings. When I say “like,” I understand you don’t really know what is going on in an infant’s head, but I could tell that something happened. I was surprised and started reading about how babies’ eyes work, what they see, and why.

At birth, babies are very nearsighted; that is why they are interested in bold black and white shapes and high contrast patterns. Eager to learn more, I read bunch of studies on speech development, child temperament, and babies’ milestones. Gathering all this information, I developed and designed My First Books series from a baby’s perspective. I wanted to write an engaging book that promotes bonding and supports an infant’s developmental growth milestones: vision, memory, speech, and social skills.

They are not just picture books or bedtime stories but rather activity books conceived to stimulate a baby’s senses.

SophieHelenekCollage

Here how My First Book series works:

  • At first, a baby will enjoy simple illustrations with black-and-white and high-contrast patterns designed especially for the very young to focus on.
  • As babies gets older, their brains learn to distinguish bright primary colors and will start identifying the illustrations with the words you read, which triggers their memory process.
  • Each picture is accompanied by a simple word that babies will love repeating and which helps their speech development.
  • The last pages show all the illustrations together, which also helps the baby’s memory process.
  • My First Book series offers a special feature for toddlers, as they can write on the book with a white board pen, wipe it, and write again!

What tips and advice would you give to others who may be considering writing a children’s book?
First you need an idea. Then, do your research and see if your idea makes sense, and if it could target an audience niche. Once you are getting ready to start writing, step back and ask yourself : Why am I doing it? And What do I really want to achieve with my book? Write down your answer, and keep it handy. It will be a good motivation boost going forward!  Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need advice.

What are some activities that you’ve done with your child to promote literacy?
I placed books everywhere, among toys, on shelves at her eye sight, on the dining table, in the car…. Books are part of her daily life. It is a bonding time, as well as a self-exploratory medium for her. She discovered she can turn pages, choose her books, “read” at her own pace, etc.

What are some of your must-have children’s books for a home library?
I always encourage people to think out of the box and be open minded to your child interests and affinities. Some unknown authors wrote wonderful books which are not promoted by big publishing companies and therefore are stuck under the radar of the “must-have” children books.

Nevertheless, I personally love board books by Karen Katz, Where’s Spot flap books, and Mother Goose.

Do you have any literacy rituals that you practice in your family?
I read her books every morning before or after breakfast, and every night before going to bed. I always give her a book to look at when she is in her car seat.

I also incorporate several types of books into my parenting: nighttime stories, which are mainly soft pastel drawing books that are calming; nursery rhyme books, which are more wordy and playful; and activity baby board books like My First Book series which are placed with all other toys.

Besides reading, what are some other things parents can do to set their children up for literacy success?
Don’t hesitate to read in front of your child – before you know it he/she will mimic you reading.

If you could give parents one piece of advice about reading with children, what would it be?
It is never too early (or too late) to read to baby.

Parents play a key role in their child development by supporting their healthy physical, emotional, and developmental growth. Being a first-time mom my motherhood instincts were to love, bond, and nurture my child as well as to feed her active brain. I played and read a lot to her and she loved it since day one. It is never too early to read to your baby, despite their seemingly passive demeanor their brain is constantly at work absorbing information and generating new connections among brain cells.  Reading to babies appears to be an excellent nourishment to complete their brain development, a “brain food” as mentioned in Baby Read-Aloud Basics book.

Hardcover, Paperback, or e-book (when reading a book on your own)?
I love hardcover books. I don’t like e-books, I love turning the pages and writing notes.

Fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi, romance, or some other genre (when reading a book on your own)?
I am scared very easily, so it is impossible for me to read a suspense or thriller book. I enjoy reading fiction and business/reference books.

Name an adult book that:
You really enjoy:
Gabriel Garcia Marquez author of the marvelous book “One hundred years of solitude”.  I also like more light hearted authors like Natalie Nothomb or Anna Galvalda.

You would recommend to others: The book series by Katherine Pancol
“ Les yeux jaunes des crocodiles”, “La valse lente des tortues” and “Les ecureuils de Central Park sont tristes le lundi”

What books are on your nightstand right now?
I did not realize how many books I read at the same time. I have two magazines on my nightstand, the Times, and the Atlantic ; a financial book: “The New Advisor for Life” by Gresham and two books in French “au revoir la-haut” by Pierre Lemaitre and “Un secret” by Philippe Grimbert.

Are you working on any special projects that you want to share with others?
I am working on a new board book series “Baby Babble” dedicated to promote speech development by introducing fun and engaging age appropriate sounds. The first book of the series will be released in spring 2016 “Baby Babble Ooo”, which includes vocalization such as Ghosts say Boo, Cows say Moo, Owls say Ooo, as well familiar words and functional objects such as spoon and balloon.  Some videos will be added on the publisher website to guide parents in helping their child in the production of the sound Ooo.

How can people get in touch with you on social media or on your website?

Website: www.nurserybooks.net
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nurserybooks
Twitter:  @nurserybooks
Books available on :

Your turn:  Did you enjoy this post?  Are you interested in being featured?  Do you know someone who might want to be featured?  Feel free to let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail.

children's literacy

Literacy Expert Spotlight: Colette Marie Bennett

Our literacy expert in the spotlight for the month of September is Colette Marie Bennett.  Colette is the Coordinator for Language Arts, Social Studies, Library Media, and Testing for the West Haven School District in Connecticut.  She is also a certified Literacy Specialist (K-12).  Colette has over 23 years of experience in the classroom grades 6-12.

colettemariebennett

Colette, please tell us a little about yourself.
Oldest of nine; mother of two Marine Corps Officers (both Annapolis grads); blogger; talker; teacher in rural/urban/suburban classrooms teaching AP, Drama, Journalism, and seven grade levels of English Language Arts for over 23 years; and now an curriculum coordinator who has retired the red pen.

I am now the English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Library Media Curriculum Coordinator in the West Haven Public School System in Connecticut.

What are some activities that you’ve done with your children to promote literacy?
I made sure that our house was filled with all kinds of books.  I read to my two boys when they were young, and I read with them when they were older. We shopped together in bookstores.  I did not censor their choices. I recommended books when they were young, and they now recommend books for me. I read for pleasure and helped them to understand that reading is an engaging activity….which meant reading should not be casually interrupted to ask if there is milk in the refrigerator.

What were some of the favorite children’s board, picture, or chapter books you’ve read or come across this year?
I just bought Meet the Dullards (written by Sara Pennypacker; illustrated by Daniel Salmieri) for my nephew Max. I laughed so hard in the bookstore that people moved away from me. The illustrations and text are very witty …and kids will understand what a dullard is! Max loved the book.

I also just bought A House Held Up By Trees by Jon Klaussen  and Ted Kooser. I attended the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival at Hill-Stead Farm in Farmington, CT in June this year where Kooser (United States Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006), read several of his poems. Afterward, I stopped to get one of his poetry collections, and I noticed this collaboration between this remarkable poet and one of my favorite illustrators. I read it as I stood in line waiting to have my new copy signed, my eyes filled with tears. This house, personified as we all personify our houses, gains the reader’s sympathy –once loved, then abandoned, then rescued.  I asked Kooser to inscribe it for my friend Catherine, who is a literacy specialist in Sherman, CT. That night, she tweeted:

“Moved beyond words by Ted Kooser’s House Held Up By Trees. Thank you for this beautiful book.”

What are some of your must-have children’s books for a home library?
I have a special spot for Tomi Ungerer’s illustrations picture books (The Three Robbers, Flat Stanley), The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne (but only if the text is illustrated with Ernest Shepard drawings); P.D.Eastman’s Sam and the Firefly and Put Me in the Zoo;  any book by David Weisner (but Tuesday is my favorite); D’AulairesBook of Greek Myths; Eric Carle books (choose…any one will do): Fredrick by Leo Lionni ; Don and Audrey Woods’s The Mouse, The Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear and King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub (hilarious!); Nancy Drew (but only if the child wants them); Maurice Sendak’s  Where the Wild Things Are;  Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal; E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web; Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time; and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I became a reader because of Little Women.

Do you have any literacy rituals that you practice in your family?
Read. Often.

Besides reading, what are some other things parents can do to set their children up for literacy success?
Watch movies together, listen to audio-books, go see theater….and talk about these experiences. These are all story-centered activities and stories improve vocabulary. Stories develop empathy. The world needs to have people who view others with kindness and compassion…stories do that.

If you could give parents one piece of advice about reading with children, what would it be?
Read. Often. (see advice above!)

That is because any reading practice helps everyone read better, parents included. Many of my teachers at the middle school level have told me they notice they are becoming better readers because they read with their students during silent sustained reading.

Here is another interesting fact: We ran a “How Do I Feel About Reading” survey for grades 7 & 8 in West Haven, and well over 50% of students said they share what they read with members of their family…that’s amazing! That means 11-14 year olds admit they share what they are reading with their parents!  That percentage was almost as high a percentage as sharing what they read with friends.

We could conclude that parents are the under-appreciated part of the reading equation!

Hardcover, Paperback or e-book (when reading a book on your own)?
I am omnivorous. Whatever way the material is available at the time. I like the efficiency of an e-reader, but I do have some problems finding my way back through a text for a quote or fact …I just do not have the hang of the digital marker yet.

Fiction, non-fiction or some other genre (when reading a book on your own)?
Again, I am an omnivore. I have been reading more non-fiction lately, but I think that is because the quality of non-fiction is so much better. There is a narrative style like in Erik Larson’s Dead Wake or or Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk that makes for good storytelling. Like Nora Ephron said, “Why write fiction when what actually happens is so amazing?”

Name an adult book that:

a) Inspired you: Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide. The premise is that English teachers have killed reading by limiting choice and over-teaching. I agree. I am working hard to correct that practice.

b) Made you laugh out loud:  Roz Chast’s  Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Roz Chast’s mother had dementia. My mother has dementia. She shares the same funny observations and heartbreaking moments that I am now experiencing.

c) You recommend to others often: I have recommended The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt-2,000 years on the history of writing and Epicurian philosophy makes you feel smarter. I just read Joseph Ellis’s The Quartet. Right now, I have a mad crush on George Washington…he was dignified, poised, well-spoken, and self-effacing. Dreading the upcoming political election season …. I long for George Washington.

What books are on your nightstand or e-reader right now?
James McBride The Good Lord Bird; just added Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea  to the Kindle to re-read (I wrote about her commencement address in ’83 to Mills College…amazing!) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein…it came highly recommended.

Are you working on any special projects that you want to share with others?
I am creating a book flood in the West Haven schools, grades 5-12.

The book flood idea came from Readicide where students are flooded with titles they might like to read. I began the practice in July of 2010 for Regional School District #6 (Litchfield, CT) Wamogo and continued through June 2014. I added gently used books that I purchased (.50-$2.00) to Middle/High School classrooms. That first year (June 2010-2011) I added well over 2,500 books for less than $2,000.00 by shopping at thrift stores or at seasonal public library book sales!

Expanding classroom libraries allows students at each grade the opportunity to choose the books they want to read. So, examples of titles I look for at book sales are Dork Diaries; Captain Underpants; Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging; Hatchet; or The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The titles students want to read can still build vocabulary and fluency for the classic literature they are assigned in school.

Independent reading builds vocabulary.

Here is an interesting set of statistics: a student who reads  67 minutes a day is exposed to 4,733,000 words per year; a student who reads  17 minutes a day reads 1,168,000 words; a student who reads  1 minute a day reads 51,000 words.  Independent reading is also a predictor of student success.

How can people get in touch with you on social media or on your website?

Twitter:  @Teachcmb56
Blog: usedbooksinclass.com

Your turn:  Did you enjoy this post?  Are you interested in being featured?  Do you know someone who might want to be featured?  Feel free to let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail.

children's literacy

Literacy Expert Spotlight: Saroj Ghoting

Our literacy expert for the month of August is Saroj Ghoting.  Saroj Ghoting is an Early Childhood Literacy Consultant and national trainer on early literacy. She presents early literacy training and information sessions at national, regional, and state conferences, and training for library staff and their partners.  Her newest book is STEP into Storytime: Using StoryTime Effective Practice to Strengthen the Development of Newborns to Five-Year-Olds and includes information on presenting storytimes for mixed-age groups, when newborn to five-year-olds are in the same storytime.

sarojghoting

Saroj, please tell us a little about yourself.
I am a children’s librarian by profession and after working in Montgomery County (MD) Public Libraries for 25 years, I became a consultant. I travel around the country presenting workshops on early literacy to public library staff so that they will, in turn, go out into their communities and help families help their children enter school ready to learn to read.

What are some activities that promote literacy?
Well, the most obvious is reading books with children from the time they are born (or even while you are pregnant). Equally important though is talking with your young children. HOW we talk and read with children is as important as that we talk and read with them.

When talking with babies, for instance, we should use that “parentese” voice, higher pitch, elongated vowels, clearer speech slowing down language, not baby talk, but using regular adult words in this higher pitch. Studies show that until about nine months of age babies listen longer when we speak this way and actually have a larger vocabulary than those who are not spoken to in parentese. And, we want to use all kinds of words, not just nouns like bottle, blanket, applesauce, dog.

It is important to use rich language—use adjectives, talk about things they cannot see—we are going to visit grandma on Saturday even though they don’t see grandma in front of them. For older children, asking questions that cannot be answered with yes or no to encourage their language is key for later literacy.

When reading, don’t worry if you can’t get through the whole book. Don’t turn reading into a power struggle. Have a few enjoyable minutes and the more enjoyable it is, the more your child will want to do it. Set aside the phone, turn off the tv, enjoy your few minutes together. Children who have enjoyable experiences around books and reading are more likely to stick with learning to read in school even if it is hard to learn at first.

What were some of the favorite children’s picture books you’ve read this year?
Mama’s Day with Little Gray by Aimee Reid
I’m Not Reading! By Jonathan Allen
The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland
Where’s Walrus by Stephen Savage
Hooray for Hat by Brian Won

What are some other books you like to share with young children?
I like the Llama Llama books by Anna Dewdney, the If You Give . . . books by Laura Numeroff, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star by Jane Cabrera, Over in the Meadow and other titles by Marianne Berkes, Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Rosenthal, A Splendid Friend Indeed by Suzanne Bloom, A Mother for Choco and Wolf’s Chicken Stew by Keiko Kasza, Thank You Bear by Greg Foley, Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman, Angel Baby by Pat Cummings, Leo Loves Baby Time by Anna McQuinn, Nothing Like a Puffin by Sue Soltis, The Cow Loves Cookies by Karma Wilson, Mouse Shapes by Ellen Walsh, Blue Sea by Robert Kalan, Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler.

Besides reading, what are some other things parents can do to set their children up for literacy success?
I mentioned talking already. Remember talking TO your child is not the same as talking WITH your child and talking WITH your child elicits more language. And how about singing! Even if you can’t sing, sing with your child. There is a distinct note for each syllable which helps them hear the smaller sounds in words which will later help them sound out words when they learn to read.

As you play with your children, follow their lead. You can add print to what they are doing. Playing restaurant, how about a sign with the name of the restaurant? Playing doctor, how about a sign in sheet, a prescription pad?

If you could give parents one piece of advice about reading with children, what would it be?
Whether parents can read well or not, share books with your children in enjoyable ways, relating what is in the book to the child’s experience. This is the basis for comprehension which is so crucial to later reading.  Remember to use factual books as well. Your public library is a great place to go for books and for advice on books you and your children can enjoy together.

Name a book that:
a) Inspired you: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
b) Made you laugh out loud: Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
c) You recommend to others often: Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager by Anthony Wolf

What books are on your nightstand or e-reader right now?
Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim

How can people get in touch with you on social media or on your website?
Website: www.earlylit.net
Twitter: @sghoting
Facebook: Saroj Ghoting, Early Childhood Literacy Consultant

Your Turn:  Did you enjoy this post?  Are you interested in being featured?  Do you know someone who might want to be featured?  Feel free to let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail.

children's literacy

Literacy Expert Spotlight: Kathleen Odean

Starting this month, I will be featuring a literacy expert on the blog each month!  Exciting, right?  This is one of the “secrets” I’ve been working on behind the scenes in an effort to keep bringing you fresh content and new literacy ideas.

For now, these posts will only last through the end of this year.  If they prove to be popular and if I’m able to feature more people I’ll keep it going.

This month’s literacy expert is Kathleen Odean, an expert on children’s and adults books.   Kathleen has spent the last thirty years steeped in books for young people as a librarian, workshop presenter, reviewer, university instructor, and author of four guides to children’s books. All her work is aimed at helping young people connect with books that will enrich their lives and add to their happiness.

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Q: Kathleen, please tell us a little about yourself.
A: I spent seventeen years as a children’s librarian in public and school libraries. Now I give workshops to educators on new books for young people and do a lot of reviewing. My mission is to connect kids and teens with good books, whether I’m doing it directly or through their teachers and parents. I’ve written four guides to children’s books, published by Random House: Great Books for Girls, Great Books for Boys, Great Books About Things Kids Love, and Great Books for Babies and Toddlers. I also had the wonderful privilege of chairing the 2002 Newbery Award Committee.

Q: Do you have any literacy rituals that you practice in your family?
A: Growing up, I was lucky enough to have a mother who read to me and took us five kids to the library a lot. My husband reads to me now when we have time, mostly nonfiction. He and I have been in a nonfiction book group with other adults for about 7 years, which is sheer pleasure.

Q: If you could give parents one piece of advice about reading with children, what would it be?
A: Make it fun. You don’t have to teach your children to read, because that’s what schools do. You need to give them positive associations with reading, which means having a good time together around reading and choosing books you both enjoy. Let them see you read for pleasure, too—that makes a big difference.

Q: What were some of the favorite children’s board, picture, or chapter books you’ve read or come across this year?
A: A picture book I like a lot is A Poem in Your Pocket by Margaret McNamara with pictures by G. Brian Karas. I love Jerry Pinkney’s new version of The Grasshopper and the Ants. I’m a big fan of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books, the latest of which is I Will Take a Nap! All three are 2015 publications.

Q: What are some of your must-have children’s books for a home library?
A: Two categories come to mind.  One is your children’s favorite books that they will want to re-read and cherish. Another is poetry anthologies like The Random House Book of Poetry for Children selected by Jack Prelutsky, with pictures by Arnold Lobel. A love of poetry is a gift parents can give to their children, and having anthologies at home is a large part of that.

Q: Hardcover or e-book (when reading a book on your own)?
A: Actually, paperback is my favorite but I use e-books when I’m traveling.

Q: Fiction, non-fiction or some other genre (when reading a book on your own)?
A: Everything. I love fiction including literary fiction and mysteries, narrative non-fiction, and poetry.

Name an adult book that:

a) Inspired you: I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick (a young adult memoir)
b) Made you laugh out loud: Anything by Terry Pratchett.
c) You recommend to others often: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

Q: What books are on your nightstand or e-reader right now?
A:
I give workshops to educators on new young adult books, so I’m busy reading the newest ones.

Q: How can people get in touch with you on social media or on your website?
I blog about YA (Young Adult) nonfiction at greatcommoncorenonfiction.com. I can also be reached through my website, kathleenodean.com.

Check out Kathleen’s Books!

Great Books for Girls
Great Books for Boys
Great Books for Babies and Toddlers
Great Books about Things Kids Love

Your Turn:  Did you enjoy this post?  Are you interested in being featured?  Do you know someone who might want to be featured?  Feel free to let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail.

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