Category Archives: Uncategorized

2019 Picture Book Previews Part Ten

With the holidays just around the corner, perhaps it’s a good idea to add some of these to your wish lists!

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High Quality Literacy Instruction Never Went Anywhere

Normally, I use this space for featuring children’s literature and their creators. Today, I have to take a moment to pause that in order to reflect on a few things.

Let me start out by saying that a quote from Hillary Clinton’s concession speech has been driving my thoughts. When she was defeated in 2016, she said this, “Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

I left the elementary classroom in May of 2015. Since then, I have had opportunities to work with undergraduate students who are studying to be teachers, and I have visited as many classrooms as I have been able in order to not grow stale on best practice. I am also a year and a half into my PhD program. I am by no means an expert in the literacy field, but I am sincerely trying to learn all I can to be the best I can in my position.

When I joined Twitter several years ago, it was a wonderful place to connect with other like-minded educators. When I sometimes felt I was on an “island” in my building and had no one to talk best practices with, I could go on Twitter and talk and find new ideas. It was so refreshing and it gave me a breath of renewal when I felt discouraged.

However, in the last few months, I, along with many literacy leaders whom I respect and admire, have come under attack by those who disagree with our beliefs and practices in regards to appropriate reading instruction. Of course, I will always believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but the way we have been treated on Twitter is sad. We have been called names, challenged by one individual in particular time and time again with outrageous and outlandish claims about time for independent reading in the classroom; and when we provided evidence, it was dismissed as not “quality research.”

Recently, two opinion pieces have been published in the NYT by a journalist. Not a teacher. Not a researcher. A journalist. These opinion pieces make the most absurd claims about how classrooms and teachers are failing students (particularly students who are striving). The journalist has been hailed as a hero for shedding light on the problems in the classrooms.

I’ll be the first to admit, there is a lot of garbage happening in classrooms. I don’t know where it comes from- perhaps the desire to be “cute” or “thematic” drives some purposeless activities using up time that could be used so much more meaningfully. Some classrooms are filled with worksheets and other scripted curriculum that really does not accomplish much for readers.

But at the same time, there are many classrooms- and many teachers- who are striving day by day to do the very best for their children. All of their children. In a recent YouTube interview, children’s author/illustrator Tomie dePaola said, “Only the very best is good enough for children.” I believe that with my whole heart, and I know there are so many teachers across the country who believe that as well, and they spend hours preparing meaningful lessons and differentiating material so that all students have a chance to learn and to succeed. Those teachers should be very proud of the work they are doing, and they do not get enough pay or recognition. That’s another topic.

The pieces in the NYT would lead you to believe otherwise. They would lead you to believe that we are somehow failing a majority of the nation’s children. They would lead you to believe some claims that made my jaw drop. The practices they are calling for are outdated and frankly, ridiculous.

The notion that reading is somehow a scientific process is so strange to me. The notion that classrooms have totally done away with deliberate Phonics instruction is so confusing to me.

Reading is not scientific- Reading is an art. Learning to read is not formulaic. Educators welcome such a rich, diverse population of students in their classroom. Students have so many learning styles and abilities. I know so many educators who embrace them, and provide appropriate differentiation and scaffolding in order for these children to succeed. To somehow suggest that there is a formulaic, scientific way to teach reading is so baffling to me. Frankly, if I was in the elementary classroom, and I was forced to teach in a way that is suggested by the NYT pieces, I would quit. It would zap me of my joy and energy, and would suck the pleasure right out of reading. Educators face battles of engaging and motivating readers regularly- there is no right answer, but we are moving closer to uncovering the wonderful ways of ensuring that we are not only sending students who know how to read, but are READERS into the world. It is so refreshing and encouraging to see evidence of this happening across social media.

Phonics never left. Sure, some classrooms no longer isolate instruction with the plaid workbooks. They integrate it across practices like mini lessons, shared reading, guided reading, and conferring- right where it should be. In its natural environment.

I am afraid to put a label on what I (and many of the individuals I respect and admire) would consider to be high quality literacy instruction. I guess, maybe, that label is good enough- High Quality Literacy Instruction. It’s happening in so many places, and we have so many wonderful leaders in our field who are out there traveling across the country working with teachers and classrooms to make sure it happens in even more places. We have teachers who are willing to attend workshops and professional development to shift their thinking in a way that will lead to powerful instruction for all students.

I spoke at a teacher’s conference in Des Moines last week, and I left feeling so hopeful and encouraged. I spoke to two groups who were furiously writing down ideas, book titles, and more that I and their colleagues were sharing.

The NYT pieces would lead you to believe that High Quality Literacy Instruction has been removed from classrooms across America, and that teachers know nothing and are uneducated about what is best for their students. They would lead you to believe that classrooms are wasting precious time and failing our students with special needs. Perhaps such classrooms exist. Perhaps some teachers do need some encouragement and guidance to do better. But an article with blanket statements that made the American education system seem so inadequate is not helpful. Instead, it is harmful.

I did retweet and share some thoughts on Twitter, and was saddened that individuals lowered themselves to name-calling. The number of tweets directed at me this morning was heartbreaking. I was accused of being reckless, being jealous of the journalist, and also being accused of filling prisons and graveyards with illiteracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is evident that there are a lot of people are very passionate about this subject. Passion is not a bad thing, but when you use your voice to scream about something so loud and result to name-calling and attacking someone who wants the same thing as you do— the very best– for our children, you’ve gone wrong somewhere.

The NYT opinion pieces have not swayed me or anyone I respect to think any differently. Instead, it has ignited a lot of fiery discussion, and sadly, attacks on leaders who work harder than anyone I know and are on the road, missing their families for much of the year so that they can promote best practices. To send vile tweets to me is one thing, but when you step on the front lines and insinuate these leaders and professionals are wrong and do not want the best for children is inexcusable.

I hope that if you’re still reading, you believe that high quality literacy instruction is not gone, and is not going anywhere. Please proceed with hope that there are so many teachers out there who love children of all types and abilities- and work tirelessly behind the scenes for their success. There are some places where there is some work and encouragement and guidance to be done. But ultimately, we all have a deep desire in our hearts to turn our children into successful, capable, motivated, and empathetic readers. That will never change, no matter how many pieces are written in the NYT.

 

Saving Winslow: Interview with the one and only Sharon Creech!

I never know who to expect publicists will ask if I want to interview for my blog. When HarperCollins asked if I was interested in interviewing Sharon Creech, YOU BET I WAS!

Enjoy…..

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Hi Sharon! Thanks for joining me here to talk about your newest book, Saving Winslow!

My pleasure. Thank you for celebrating this book birthday with me.

Tell us a little bit about Saving Winslow.

Saving Winslow follows a young boy, Louie, in his determination to save an orphaned donkey that he names Winslow. The growing bond between Louie and Winslow parallels the growing bond between Louie and Nora, a quirky girl who usually expects the worst. The story also traces the bond that exists between Louie and his brother Gus, who is now in the army.  Like most (all?) of my stories, humor balances seriousness.

What gave you the idea to write Saving Winslow?  

Witnessing my grandchildren’s dedication and care in rescuing orphaned lambs inspired me. The lambs, like young children, were so vulnerable, so dependent on their caregivers. There were tense times (Will the lambs make it?) and humorous times (As the lambs gained strength, they gamboled through the house and yard.)  Those combinations of vulnerability and strength and of the serious and humorous appeal to me. Instead of writing about a lamb, though, I chose a donkey, suspecting that my daughter and granddaughter might want to write their own lamb story one day.

Can you tell us about your writing process?

I usually begin with only a vague idea (child rescues orphaned animal) or voice, and then I jump in, writing rapidly to see what emerges. Part of the thrill of writing is discovering what emerges from that original, vague cloud. Once underway, I try to write 2-5 pages a day.  I edit lightly as I go and then more intensively midway through and again after completing a first –and second – and third draft.

Have you always been into writing?

I have experimented with writing stories, plays and poems for as long as I can remember, in part because I recognized early on that you could cheer people up by writing something for or about them. Later, I learned that you could also explore ideas and make sense of the world around you through writing.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

The most exciting part is taking a blank page and creating, word by word, something that did not exist before.

What inspires your creativity?

Life. The world. Children. Nature. Animals.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

Hmmmm. I do not know. I feel as if my whole self is out there, bits and pieces in each book. If you read all my books, you will know me.

If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?

I might be teaching or renovating houses or painting.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I’m working on the next book—a stubborn thing that is veering off in so many directions that I am dizzy. I will have to rein it in.   Soon! After that, I assume I will keep exploring whatever comes up . . .

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

I was fortunate to encounter many great teachers when I was young, so I would like to pause and celebrate those teachers and librarians. I’ve also been fortunate to encounter thousands of readers and hundreds of teachers and librarians in my writing life, and they all inspire me. Here’s to them and to you—

Xx Sharon Creech

GALÁPAGOS GIRL Blog Tour: Interview with Marsha Diane Arnold and Angela Dominguez

Today I’m honored to have both Marsha Diane Arnold (author) and Angela Dominguez (illustrator) of GALÁPAGOS GIRL (Sept. 18, Lee & Low) here for some interview questions!

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First, let’s hear from Marsha…

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Marsha, what inspired you to write this book?

The enchanting Galápagos Islands! Who wouldn’t want to write about this beautiful volcanic archipelago filled with unique flora and fauna? When I visited in 2007, I met Valentina Cruz, our naturalist guide, who was born and raised on the islands. That’s when the idea came to me of writing about Galápagos wildlife through the eyes of a young girl who grew up there.

Tell us about the book from your perspective.

 Galápagos Girl/Galapagueña is a celebration of a way of life that revolves around nature. That was the life lived by Valentina Cruz, her parents, and her eleven brothers and sisters. The book is also a salute to the amazing creatures that inhabit the islands. Many are threatened. Many are found nowhere else on earth. I wanted to say a prayer for them before the world – “We will not forget you. And we will help to keep you safe.”

Here are a few of the Galápagos animals I met on my visit:

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Sea lion and Nazca booby look you straight in the eyes in the Galápagos.

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I love hanging out with marine iguanas and sea lions.

What were your thoughts when you first saw Angela’s illustrations?

Angela’s illustrations are so bright and cheerful. They portray the delight Valentina felt growing up in the Galápagos. I felt Angela’s images would draw young readers into our book. She was the perfect choice to illustrate Galápagos Girl/Galapagueña.

Anything else you’d like to tell readers?

Have fun exploring nature each day, whether it’s examing a seedling popping through a sidewalk crack, studying a bird building a nest, listening to a coyote’s howl, or watching the moon at night. You can also have fun reading about nature. Learn about a rare or unusual animal, like the babirusa or the pink fairy armadillo. They are fascinating!

What’s coming next for you?

Next spring is an exciting time for me. Badger’s Perfect Garden, illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki, comes out from Sleeping Bear Press in March. Mine. Yours., illustrated by Qin Leng, follows in April from Kids Can Press.

I just discovered who the illustrator for my 2020 book will be and got permission to share it here! Lights Out!, to be illustrated by Susan Reagan, is about another subject I’m passionate about – light pollution.

Thanks so much, Dylan, for having Angela and me to your site to celebrate our book!

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And now, a word from Angela!

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Tell us a little bit about your new book, Galápagos Girl!  

Thank you for having me, Dylan! I’m very excited about this new book. Galapagos Girl is about a young girl named Valentina who grows up on the island of Florena in the Galapagos. Valentina’s exploration of the island inspire her to become a biologist and share her love of the Galapagos with others. This book, at its heart, is about conservation and showcasing the rich diversity of life on the Galápagos. These concepts are what attracted me to this project along with Marsha Diane Arnold’s beautifully written text.

 Tell us a little bit about your illustration process.

For every book, I do some research, but for this book it was important to get everything just right. Especially since there is a glossary for the kids in the back of the book, and it’s also based on a real person. I spent a good part of this project just researching and watching documentaries before even starting sketches. When it came to the final art, I did tight pencil sketches, tighter than usual, and colored it digitally.

Have you always been into writing/illustrating?

I’ve always loved both. I used to make my own books at home or at my mom’s work on the weekends. I would work on an old typewriter that no one used anymore at her office while she caught up on work. When it came to college, I choose illustration as a major. I’ve been lucky to being doing this professionally for 11 years.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

I love telling stories in any form. So conceiving a story as either a picture book or now as a middle grade novel is the always the most exciting part. The conferences and school visits though are almost just as fun. Illustration is a mostly solitary job so whenever you get the opportunity to hang out with your book people, it’s the best.

What inspires your creativity?

Can I say everything??  Truly it’s experiences, art, music, and film which to me, is almost everything!  I do find that being outdoors in nature especially inspiring. It gives my mind the space to relax and to conjure ideas.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

Oooooh, that’s a fun one. I’m a little afraid of riding bikes. I can ride, but only with hesitation. I think that is one probably one of my biggest goals. It’s also why I included the bike riding scene in Stella Diaz Has Something To Say. Stella is such an extension of me and what I aspire to be.

If you weren’t writing/illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?

That’s hard to say. I think I’d have to be doing something creative either working as an art director in publishing company or creating concept art for film. I’d want to be working on stories some way. Although I wouldn’t mind working in a bakery either.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I’m happy to announce I’m working on a follow up for Stella Diaz Has Something To Say! It’s still very early, but it will be coming out January 2020. I’m also working on the final art for a picture book with Candlewick entitled Kaia and The Bees.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

If you’d like to find out more about me please visit: www.angeladominguezbooks.com or follow me on @andominguez on twitter.

Snow Pony And The Seven Miniature Ponies Release Day! Interview with Jessie Sima

It’s a big day! Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies has made its way into the world, and illustrator Jessie Sima is here to visit with me!

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Hi Jessie! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Hi, Dylan! Thanks for having me.

Tell us a little bit about your new book,Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies. 

Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies is a very loose retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs where, as the title implies, almost everyone is ponies. It was written by the amazing Christian Trimmer, and as soon as I read it I knew that I wanted to be the one to draw all of these totally ridiculous and utterly charming ponies.

Tell us a little bit about your illustration process.

All of my picture book artwork is done digitally using Photoshop and Wacom drawing tablets.

If I’m illustrating a story I wrote, I start by sketching while writing. If I’m illustrating someone else’s text, as was the case with Snow Pony, I go through and do rough sketches and character studies to get a feeling for the flow and personality of the story.

After the first sketches, there are many, many rounds of revisions with my critique partners, agent, editor, and art director. We try different paginations, compositions, and color palettes until it starts to feel right.

Once I have tight sketches and a final art sample or two, I move onto final art. I usually start final art by going through and doing all of the line art. It’s kind of like drawing a coloring book for myself and then going back to fill it in.

Have you always been into writing/illustrating?

As a kid, drawing was a thing I was always doing without thinking too much about it. It was something I did mostly for myself, to relax and to keep my mind busy, and for a long time I didn’t like to share my drawings with anyone other than close family and friends. That began to shift a little bit during high school, but it wasn’t until after college (where I completed a totally unrelated degree) that I ever considered illustration as a possible career path.

My interest in writing came a little later, and it was never as reflexive a thing as drawing. I felt confident enough in my writing when I was young, but I didn’t do it recreationally until junior high when I started writing poems. It was your typical melodramatic teen poetry, but I really enjoyed it. I think that form taught me a lot about using an economy of words that has been helpful when writing picture books.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Jessie: For me, the most exciting parts of making a book are when a seed of an idea begins to take the form of a story, and when I’m doing tight sketches and final art samples that begin to resemble an actual book.

The most exciting part of my job as a whole is getting to meet and talk to readers. It’s easy for me to forget that a book I’m working on is going to have a life of its own out in the world. I love hearing theories about what is “really” happening in my books, or what might have happened before or after. It’s all great.

What inspires your creativity?

Jessie: Inspiration can come from anywhere. I’m inspired by the books I read, the shows and movies I watch, the music and podcasts I listen to, and the games I play. My creativity is often sparked while walking my dog, people watching, or traveling to a new place. I’m always taking things in, and then I let it all simmer in my subconscious. I think some people call this “refilling the creative well.” I try to keep that well full, and as long as it is, the most important thing for coming up with new ideas is letting my mind wander. I think that’s true for a lot of people, which is why we come up with our best ideas when we’re in the shower or as we’re falling asleep.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

You wouldn’t know it from the books I’ve put out into the world so far, but I’m really into horror and dark supernatural things. I’m excited for Autumn and the upcoming Halloween season when everything feels spookier all the time.

If you weren’t writing/illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?

Before breaking into the publishing world I was designing graphics for a company that created women’s sci-fi and fantasy licensed apparel. So like, making the images on Star Wars t-shirts or designing patterns for Marvel dresses that you might find in places like Hot Topic. At one point I thought about trying to start my own graphic t-shirt brand, so maybe I would have done that.

I also really like animals, so maybe I would have started a rehabilitation center for mythological creatures. I’ll save that one for retirement, I guess.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

Jessie: 2018 has been a busy year for me, and there’s still more to come! Love, Z, my next picture book as both author and illustrator, comes out December 18, 2018. If you are a fan of robots, or cats who captain ships, or messages in bottles, Love, Z is for you.

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I’m also working on some unannounced picture books that will be coming out over the next few years.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

Jessie: I want to say thank you to everyone who has been reading my books. I’m so glad that I get to continue sharing stories with you. If you’re interested in learning more about me, my books, or my upcoming events, check out www.jessiesima.com.