Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

What Do Kids Need?

With summer reading programs upon us, many people are discussing the pros and cons of such programs. But most people agree that reading is a good habit to have. So, what do kids need? Mostly, kids need to be presented with books they will read.

  • Books they’re interested in. What are they interested in? Well, pretty much everything, but here’s a short list: babies, backpacks, bacon, badminton, baggy clothes, balloon animals, balloons, Band-Aids, basketball, bathroom humor. And that’s just the ones that start with “ba.” Okay, I totally stole this from Tara Lazar’s blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) (http://taralazar.com/2007/11/04/199-things-that-kids-like/). Books don’t need to have explosions. They just need to use an interesting approach. Easier said than done, eh?
  • Books with characters they can identify with. This does not mean that all books need to be about minorities or disabled or disenfranchised in some other way. What it does mean is that SOME books need to be about girls or African-Americans or children struggling with gender identity. After all, isn’t that the world the kids live in? A good story does more to show how we’re all alike than how we’re all different.
  • Books that challenge but don’t leave kids frustrated. Many of the books I’ve reviewed contained wonderful stories and information for children of a certain age, but I felt there were way too many new words and concepts for that age. In those cases, I suggest that parents and teachers read the book with the kids, at least on the first go-through. Nothing wrong with that. Try it. You’ll like it.
  • Subtle books that don’t hit them over the head with the theme or subject matter. Nobody wants to be preached at. And kids are more in tune to this than adults. Partly because they’re told what to do all day long. It gets tiring. They need something where they can find the clues and come to their own conclusions. Something that stimulates learning.
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Why Should We Read?

Where else can the reader get the benefits provided by a book?reading

  • You can learn a lot from reading. Of course, even reading is not perfect. I shamelessly laugh when contestants on Jeopardy! mispronounce words, making it obvious they’ve only read about the subject. But combined with discussion, etc., you can’t beat the level of knowledge.
  • On the other hand, reading brings to light vocabulary the reader might not learn from everyday use. And the readers learn the words in context.
  • Reading helps develop memory. To follow a book, you have to remember details about the characters and plot. Each new detail forms new synapses in the brain.
  • Trying to figure out what the characters do next develops analytical tools.
  • The need to concentrate helps concentration and focus.
  • Better reading leads to better writing.
  • Reading is generally good for the brain. Many studies have shown that the type of stimulation reading provides helps prevent or delay diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
  • Reading can relieve stress.
  • Reading free entertainment. Unless you want to wait and pay $15 for the movie. I guarantee the book is better. And, by the way, not every story has been made into a movie.

And these don’t even take pure enjoyment into account.

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What I Did During My Summer “Vacation”

Who knew July could be this busy? Trying to keep my head above water while giving in to my natural laziness is a fine art. Hey, I might have to use that line again.

Joe and I spent a week driving to Iowa and back. Total of about 2500 miles. There was no specific reason other than sometimes you have to see your mom. At 84, Mom has her problems, but she gets around pretty well despite those problems. She lives in section 202 housing and regularly takes the paratransit bus to the senior center. I’m forever thankful my brother Tom is close enough to check on her, and his wife Renee is a perfect gem.  Aunt Mary, at 98 (that’s nine decades plus eight years), is a marvel. My other Iowa sister-in-law, Ellen, is also well.

The day after we got back, I drove to Charleston, West Virginia (about 700 miles round trip), to meet with the far-flung members of our SCBWI region. Fourteen of us spent four hours sharing our work and getting to know each other better.  What a wonderful day! I can’t say enough nice things about West Virginians.

On July 19, we opened the registration for our annual regional two-day conference (September 21 and 22: see our website, http://www.mddewvscbwi.org). Our planning committee spent the day before my Iowa trip labeling and stamping post cards, designed by our illustrator coordinator, Susan Detwiler. Since the 19th, I’ve spent a lot of time answering questions and trying to organize.

Add to that a dental cleaning, problems with the car returning from Iowa, and getting ready for the Los Angeles conference next week and you have some idea what I’ve been up to. I do manage to sleep through some pretty spiffy movies on television in the evenings.

I just found out change is in the air for gradereading.net, for which I have been writing reviews for the last year, so I may be including more reviews in the blog. In other words, the reviews will belong to me now. Can’t stop reading and commenting.

This is a book I received from gradereading.net before I was told not to send any more reviews. It’s worth getting it right out there, since bullying is very topical.

BystanderBystander Power

Full of positive and useful information, this volume tackles the all-too-relevant subject of bullying and what kids can do about it. The approach is fun, the example are real, and the advice is valuable. Kids are given many mnemonics and other ways to remember information. For example, a hero is one who Helps Everyone and Respects Others. Those who want power should Play with and include everyone, Object to bullying, Walk away bravely, Escape, and Request help. The authors point out the many ways bullying harms everyone from the bully and the target to outsiders, assistants, and reinforcers. Near the end, they give a list of ten areas in which kids can take action, such as following the Golden Rule and getting involved. The illustrations also impart a lot of information. Kids are invited to spot bullying activities in a classroom scene. Written at a fourth grade reading level, this is part of the “Laugh and Learn” series, which features a wide range of topics about getting along in the world. Reading activities appear throughout the text, with games, quizzes, an concrete doable tasks for the reader to perform. The reader is given tips on how to stay safe in face of bullying. Even adults are given specific actions that they can do to lessen the bullying around them. Adults are given ten ways to join the upstander team.

References cover a vast range, and the authors include a table of contents and index to help. The publisher’s website, www.freespirit.com, has even more information for educators and parents.

TITLE: Bystander Power

AUTHORS: Phyllis Kaufman Goodstein and Elizabeth Verdick

ILLUSTRATOR: Steve Mark

PUBLISHER: Free Spirit Publisher

REVIEWER: Sue Poduska

EDITION: 2012

ISBN: 978-1-57542-411-8

GENRE: Paperback, Bullying

LEXILE: 900

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Remembering Moore

I promised myself to get more regular with these posts. Maybe next time.

I was writing a whole different post yesterday before the tornadoes hit Moore, OK, but I find I can’t ignore that now. For days, I burst into tears now just from having the news on. There have been a few other times in my life when that was also the case, but this is especially bad, coming as it does so close on the heels of Sandy Hook, Hurricane Sandy, and the Boston Marathon bombing.

Over the years, I’ve heard various people say that they wanted to “see” a tornado. I’ve tried to convince them that no, they don’t. The fact is, you don’t see a tornado. You are INVOLVED with a tornado. You are affected by a tornado. You are endangered by a tornado. The closest I’ve ever been to one was about five miles from my husband’s family farm in Iowa when we lived there.  We knew how to read the clouds very well. One time, the clouds overhead started moving in a circular pattern. I ran for our dingy, dirty basement. It hit a town very near us. I don’t care to do that again. There were a few other instances, but the memory of that circular motion stuck with me.

The new reports always try to show the devastation from tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc., but nothing compares with experiencing the devastation first-hand. It’s not something I’m recommending. Just saying photographs can never show it. You can’t imagine it if you’ve never experienced it. Even adults with all their faculties and good control cannot help but be affected.

Imagine being a child in the midst of the destruction. The world doesn’t make much sense to begin with. Now you’re being told you have nowhere to sleep. No snacks. Not even any water to drink. Some of your friends are gone. Your parents are at a loss to help you put things into perspective.

These children need comfort – in a hundred different forms. Listen to them and help where you can.

I took time this week to read Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Peña. Matt is one of the speakers at the Los Angeles conference I will attend in Mexican WhiteboyAugust. I can hardly wait to hear him in person now. I’ve always been fascinated by ethnic and racial identity as an issue. I took African American history at my nearly 100% white high school back when that was a new thing. Anyway, this book has a lot to do with what it means to be white or Mexican or black or all of the above.  Of course, nothing is ever simple. The book is also about finding a place in the world and learning to be happy with what you are. The main characters also learn to accept their parents as imperfect human beings who need love and acceptance. In this society where races and ethnic backgrounds are mixing, it’s more important than ever to celebrate those backgrounds. Highly recommend this book.  Of course, all the baseball references don’t hurt.

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Wanderings – Good News and Bad News

This is an incredibly personal post, so unless you want to hear about my life, you can skip this one.

One of the great things about having a blog is that you can neglect it and no one notices. Of course, that’s also one of the bad things about it.

The last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy, which is also both good and bad. It gives me lots of material, but I have no time to write it down coherently.

I did write one entry that was, in fact, another rant – this one about grammar. I really want to keep this blog as positive as possible, so I filed that one away. It included some of my pet peeves, such as the confusion of similar words (it’s and its plus there, they’re, and their) and other misuses of the apostrophe. (One does NOT form a plural with ‘s.)

I may have mentioned before that I currently coordinate registration for our local (MD/DE/WV) region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Our 20th anniversary conference is scheduled for March 23, and the registrations are coming in hot and heavy. Our faculty is super fantastic. Details at: http://mddewvscbwi.weebly.com/events.html Good news, it’s going to be great. Bad news, lots of headaches.

I’m following the challenges leading up to the conference as posted on the region’s blog: http://aseraserburns.wordpress.com/ I’m involved with the 12 X 12 picture book challenge of Julie Hedlund. I’m attempting to dust off a middle grade novel that’s been in the drawer and needs a serious re-write. I submitted a picture book for critique at the March conference. Good news, I’m getting a lot done. Bad news, it’s overwhelming.

After the March conference, Sue Peters and I will be assuming duties as Co-Regional Advisors, which means we’re already hard at work planning our fall conference for September. So many details!

In the meantime, my husband and I spent a few days in sunny Florida. He was there to cover two conferences in his own area, journalism related to housing.  Between conferences, we spent a few days just soaking up the warmth in Naples. Lunch with friends and a trip to the Naples Botanical Gardens were the highlights. I rarely listen to audio books other than during trips, but I bought an audio version of In Cold Blood for on the plane. I’m still working on it, but I’m fascinated by Capote’s style. Nonfiction novel, indeed. In Cold Blood

I will be posting some more reviews soon. I also review for a friend’s website, so she gets first crack at those reviews. Darcy Pattison (www.darcypattison.com) has excellent sites geared toward grade levels. (http://2ndgradereading.net, http://3rdgradereading.net, etc.) So, check out Darcy’s projects and stay tuned for more reviews from yours truly both on her sites and here.

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Harriet Tubman review

Harriet TubmanI Am Harriet Tubman
By Grace Norwich
Illustrated by Ute Simon
Far more the usual one sentence in a history book, Harriet Tubman was an interesting person who lived an exciting life. Born a slave, Harriet had to be strong despite her slight build and incidents where she was sick or injured. The author gives a realistic account of what it must have been like for Harriet. The reader learns why she was so determined to help so many people and how this translated into freedom and rights for others. She fought for anyone who was not getting what they deserved, including women. The vivid drawings add to the feel of being with Harriet in her journey through life. In the wrap up, the author not only summarizes the salient points, but she lists places to visit and resources to use for finding out more.
Reviewed by Sue Poduska
Scholastic Inc., January 2013 release
Early reader, History.
E-book, 128 pages
ISBN: 978-0-545-52044-7

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NaNoWriMo or PiBoIdMo?

As you probably know, November is the month that everyone and her sister attempt to complete a novel via a challenge known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month — http://www.nanowrimo.org/). There are many reasons to applaud this effort, but the pitfalls are many also. This year, I plan to participate in PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month — http://taralazar.com/piboidmo/) instead.

I participated in NaNoWriMo in 2009. I even completed my 50,000 words. (Yay, me!) So I know what I’m talking about.  The only goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. No rules on whether there needs to be a plot or whether the end product needs to be coherent. There may be something about not typing the same word 50,000 times, though. This is all on an honor system, so any cheating only hurts the cheater.

PiBoIdMo is about coming up with 30 ideas for picture books. This is the one and only rule for this challenge. Beginnings of a manuscript are a plus, and it would be really great if the ideas were workable. Let me tell you, this is not as easy as it sounds.

Both challenges provide attainable goals. Goals are good. Goals teach us about deadlines, something that warms the hearts of editors and publishers everywhere.

Both challenges provide structure.  Or at least implied structure. There is no way I could meet either challenge without working on it every single day of the month.  And that’s really the point. I need to learn to work on my writing every single day.

But, especially toward the end of NaNo month, I found myself obsessing about the word count and caring less and less about what words I was putting on paper. I started inserting dream sequences. I went back and gave all the characters middle and last names. I sent all the characters on a road trip. Since PiBo is more about ideas and less about production, I’m hoping I can focus more about quality.

So I’m going to do PiBo this year. Wish me luck.

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Banned Books Week

This week, the American Library Association marks the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week. I was going to say “celebrates,” but it’s too sad to call a celebration.

Beyond the ethical considerations of telling people what they can or cannot read, just think of what would have been lost (and why) if book banning were easy. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was banned by Island Trees, New York School Board in 1976 for being “just plain filthy.” It is widely regarded as Vonnegut’s most influential work and beloved by millions. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, her powerful and revealing autobiography was cited as “deviant” by the Alabama Textbook Committee. Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, winner of the Caldecott Medal was removed from a Beloit, Wisconsin elementary school in 1985 for displaying nudity. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, a Newbery Medal winner and darn good book, was cited in Lincoln, Nebraska for use of profanity because one character uses “Oh, Lord!” as an expletive. Judy Blume’s Forever… was banned for “profanity, sexual situations, and themes that allegedly encourage disrespectful behavior.” Judy Blume, an author credited with tackling numerous difficult issues and helping kids with those issues, is also one of the most challenged authors in history. Leading the crowd on tackling bullying, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier was challenged in West Hernando, Florida for being “inappropriate.” In 1995, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was challenged in two school districts because it dealt with racial themes. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series, another help for many children dealing with large issues, was cited as “inappropriate.” Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, still in publication after sixty years, has been called a “filthy, filthy book.” The Harry Potter series, which has encouraged literally millions to read was challenged for “witchcraft and sorcery.” Lois Lowry’s dystopian opus, The Giver, another Newbery Medal winner, was called “lewd” and “twisted.” Maybe they need to look up “dystopian.” arry HAnd the list goes on and on.

I admit there are gray areas with book banning. If a book is abusive and/or invasive to a living person, it may not warrant protection. (Think: your right to make a fist ends where my nose begins.) Along the same lines, a volume that is obviously inflammatory in a politically-charged atmosphere is at least irresponsible. Obvious pornography should not be available to children.

But, in general, the dangers of censorship outweigh the benefits. I, for one, can’t imagine the world without any of these books. Might as well ban learning. I’m sure there are those who would endorse this idea.

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Specific Nonsense

My mother visited this past week. She’ll make it to 84 later this year. She has one sister who will reach 97 this week and another sister who is 85 since January. Hopefully, that leaves me a lot of time to keep reading.

How can you even think of your mother without being reminded of your childhood? I mentioned in an earlier entry that I read a lot as a child. I can’t begin to remember all the books.

My SCBWI chapter has a blog (http://aseraserburns.wordpress.com) in which the bloggers are issuing writing challenges leading up to the annual summer conference. This week’s challenge was to list what you read as a child and why.

All of this has caused me to think some more about that very subject.

My Grandma had an ABC book that was well worn. We used to give her a hard time when she’d try to skip pages.  The rhythm and rhyme drew me in. Mom got very tired of The Little Red Hen and much of Mother Goose, including “The House that Jack Built.” Same type of repetitive rhythms.

I never, ever missed Captain Kangaroo when I was a kid. I was fascinated by the books he introduced, including Curious George and Mike and the Steam Shovel. I suppose the presentation was some of the fascination.

Dr. Seuss was new to the world when I was in grade school. I just missed being born in the same year as Horton Hears a Who! I don’t remember having his books at home much, but the school always had them around. The silliness and word play were evident even to a very young child.

By the time I could read more than a couple of words, I was heavily into horsey books. My third grade teacher read us chapters of Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry, who also wrote Misty of Chincoteague. It wasn’t long before a re-read occurred. Animals were a big draw for me.

I ordered as many books from the Scholastic list as my meager budget could handle. Of course, in those days there were many titles for twenty-five cents. I’m not sure of the exact title, but there was another book about horses I know I read at least four times.

Disney’s television shows were another way I got interested in stories. (Television was a big deal in my childhood.) I love adventure, but only if there are good characters involved. Upon seeing The Fighting Prince of Donegal, I immediately had to read the book by Robert T. Reilley. I can never get enough of a good character. In junior high, I was reading Leon Uris novels and Gone with the Wind for the characters. The fact that they were long only made the characters stay around longer. This bloomed into reading a lot of classics. Hardy, Dickens, even Shakespeare. Love them all. Again, I love adventure, but what I love most is a good character.

When my own kids were little, we got to know Berenstain Bears and Richard Scarry very well.

As an adult, I went through stages with Agatha Christie, Dick Francis (still love those horses), Mary Higgins Clark, Susan Howatch, and John Grisham. I’ve read Lord of the Rings multiple times, loving Treebeard  more with each reading. Now, I read a lot of children’s books and do reviews. Many of the books are nonfiction, which I forgot to say I also enjoy. Every once in a while, I still need to read those long epics or re-read an old friend.

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