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[GatheringReaders] Virtual Discussion of Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7s

Myra here.

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Welcome GatheringReaders! I am excited to engage my book club participants with an online discussion about our Book of the Month this April – Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

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This is definitely one of my greatest book discoveries this year. I love the voice of Willow Chance. I love her spunk, her brilliance, everything about her.

I only have a few questions here for you. Please feel free to just jump in and share your thoughts if you have read, or are currently reading the book, regardless of whether you’re in GatheringReaders or not. Do write your responses in the Comments Section.

  1. What part of the book are you in now?

  2. Share a few of your favourite quotes from the book.

  3. Name seven things you like about Counting by 7s.

That’s it! Easy-peasy right! Looking forward to reading your responses. For GatheringReaders participants, see you all next week, 27 April at the Jurong West Public Library, 11-12 nn.

If you’ve read the book and would like to be part of our discussion, please feel free to write your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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[GatheringReaders] Virtual Discussion of Raina Telgemeier’s Drama

http://gatheringbooks.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/gatheringreaders-schedule-for-january-june-2014-and-book-list/

Myra here.

Welcome GatheringReaders. This is a much delayed Virtual Blog Post for my book club for young readers. This month we are reading Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel Drama.

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What I especially loved about the book is how each one was accepted without judgments and without reservations. No one was ‘bullied’ for who they are. And while there were struggles, there was also joy in self-discovery.

 I only have a few questions here for you. Please feel free to just jump in and share your thoughts if you have read, or are currently reading the book, regardless of whether you’re in GatheringReaders or not. Do write your responses in the Comments Section.

  1. Which part of the book are you in now? 

  2. Who was the most interesting and colorful character for you?

  3. Talk about Callie’s love for theater. Do you share the same passion?

  4. Have you read any of Raina Telgemeier’s other books? If yes, share with us the titles and how you found them.

That’s it! Easy-peasy right! Looking forward to reading your responses.

If you’ve read the book and would like to be part of our discussion, please feel free to write your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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[GatheringReaders] Schedule for January-June 2014 and Book List

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Myra here.

I just met up with my GatheringReaders book club participants at the Jurong West Public Library last Sunday, 26th of January. Usually our first meeting for the first half of the year has to do with book nominations and a great deal of booktalk as we consider which titles would be great for us to read in the coming months. As I prepared my slides for that discussion, I realize how dependent I am now on book trailers. See a snapshot of my gallery of slides:

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I am also very glad to note that some of the kids brought bags filled with recommended book titles. I also gave them a few tips on how to do their book talk: no spoilers, limit to three or four sentences, talk about why you found the book special, and how the book made you feel. And so this is what the first half of the year looks like for us.

February: Award-Winning Book

I booktalked and shared book trailers from Cynthia Kadohata’s The Thing About Luck, Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away, and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. One participant brought Michael Morpurgo’s Of Lions and Unicorns: A Lifetime of Tales. And the kids’ choice:

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Virtual Meeting: 16 February, GatheringBooks

Face-to-Face Meeting: 23 February, Jurong West Public Library (JWPL), 11-12

March: Graphic Novel

I booktalked and showed trailers from the following: Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang (which was seconded by another book club participant who read this), A Wrinkle in Time by Hope Larson, and A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return by Zeina Abirached. My daugher recommended Raina Tegelmeier’s Drama. And so this is the children’s choice:

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Virtual Meeting: 23 March

Face-to-Face Meeting: 30 March, JWPL, 11-12

April: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Choices include One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, Jane, the Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews. For this one I make a facilitator-call and include this one in as our book for April instead at the last minute.

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Virtual Meeting: 20 April

Face-to-Face Meeting: 27 April, JWPL, 11-12

Fantasy/Science Fiction

I booktalked and shared book trailers from the following titles: Ulysses and Flora by Kate DiCamillo (which incidentally won the Newbery Medal!), Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente. One participant brought Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories, another brought The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones. There were a few more titles shared but I could not recall all of them any longer. This was a tough one for the kids to decide with so many great titles. Eventually more hands were raised for this title:

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland

Virtual Discussion: 11 May

Face-to-Face Discussion: 18 May, JWPL, 11-12 noon

June: Nonfiction

It is the first time that we’re considering nonfiction. The titles I nominated include The Great American Dustbowl by Don Brown, Bluffton by Matt Phelan, and Bomb by Steve Sheinkin. One boy recommended Roald Dahl’s Going Solo. And the young people’s choice:

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Virtual Discussion: 25 May

Face-to-Face Discussion: 1 June, JWPL, 11-12nn

If you have read any of these books, dear friends, please feel free to join us during our virtual discussions.

Looking forward to our upcoming sessions in GatheringReaders.

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Check Off your Reading List Challenge 2014 – CORL 2014

Myra here.

A Blessed and Bountiful New Year to one and all! We are hosting another reading challenge here in GatheringBooks, one that we thought would undoubtedly appeal to most bibliophiles and fellow book lovers. Instead of doing our usual award-winning-books reading challenge which we have hosted for the past two years, we thought of expanding it a little bit: Check Off your Reading List Challenge 2014 or CORL 2014. This would run from January until December 2014.

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We thought that 2014 would be the perfect year to finally get those book spines cracking and to curl up with the book that you’ve been meaning to read for the longest time but always keep postponing for some unforeseeable moment in the distant future.

Now is the time to get serious and check off that reading list that has been languishing in a forgotten drawer somewhere. This is it!

Here are the detailed guidelines for your participation:

  1. The Check Off your Reading List Challenge (CORL 2014) would run from January to December 2014. Sign-ups are open until 30 November 2014. It is never too late to have your bookish resolutions.
  2. There are three levels of participation:
    • Level 1 (10 books or less) – Bonafide Bookworm
    • Level 2 (11-25 books) – Book Savant
    • Level 3 (over 25 Books) – Rabid Bibliophile 
  3. You can come up with your own reading list. It can be as imaginative or as prosaic as you wish it to be.
  4. The list does not have to consist of actual book titles. It can belong to books coming from a specific genre (e.g. read more picture books this year), from a specific era (e.g. classic children literature from 1800-1950s, best 2013 children’s books), or theme (e.g. award-winning-titles, LGBT issues). Think of it as your bookish resolution for 2014.
  5. We know that you must be participating in a number of reading challenges, so you’re more than welcome to have your reviewed books overlap with other reading challenges you will be joining for 2014 (we’d probably do the same thing).
  6. You would have to write your reviews of what you have read for this challenge. The reviews do not have to be long. It could just be one-liners or your starred rating in Goodreads. We would be creating a page where you can put the links up for your reviews (watch out for this).

    *** You can now link your reviews for the months of January-March for #CORL2014 here. ***

    It would be good to check out other people’s reading lists and perhaps add a few to our own.

  7. No, you do not need a blog to participate. Goodreads, Shelfari members are welcome to join – a weblink that leads us to your post should be enough. Or leave a comment in this blog post about your progress.
  8. How do you sign up? Sign up here if you wish to join in our challenge and include the url/link of your post (not your website) which announces your intention to join in this Reading Challenge – and the level you are aiming for. Feel free to grab these cutesie buttons that Iphigene and I have created for our challenge and post it in your blog.

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Our Own Reading List

  1. The reason we have bimonthly themes here in GatheringBooks is for us to be led to more books and authors we would not otherwise have known. And so we resolve to read more books in connection with our upcoming bimonthly themes.
    • January – February: Game of Thrones – Blue Bloods, Queenship, Aristocracy
    • March – April: Celebration of Diversity
    • May – June: Makan! Buffet of Asian Literature
    • July – August: War and Peace
    • September – October: Aliens, Scifi, Steampunk Extraordinaire
    • November – December: Fantasy Overload
  2. I personally plan to read more of my YA series that I haven’t started reading yet (either the Gormenghast Trilogy or the Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix).
  3. I also plan to read more poetry collections/compilations.
  4. Iphigene and Fats plan to read more “grown-up” books (Bradbury, Pamuk, Byatt).
  5. We are going for LEVEL 3: Rabid Bibliophile! I’m sure we’d finish off more than 25 books from our reading list.

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If you’re in for some bookish resolution and curling up with the book you’ve always wanted to read, join us! We would love to cheer you on as we all gradually check off that reading list in 2014.

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Does the Accelerated Reader Program help develop Lifelong Readers?

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My daughter attends an International School here in Singapore. It follows an American curriculum. She has been attending the school since first grade (she’s now in middle school, 6th grade), and she feels a warm sense of community and perceives it as a second home.

Quite recently, I attended an orientation about the school’s Accelerated Reader programme which started last year, but is said to be in greater effect this year now that they have ironed out quite a number of technological kinks in the system. I am familiar with the programme as my eleven year old daughter has walked me through the website, and I did have quite a few queries.

First Thoughts

I was initially excited to find out that my daughter’s out-of-school reading would be earning ‘points’ through this system. I remembered being such a voracious reader when I was also her age – I devoured the entire Sweet Valley High series, Sweet Dreams series, and a few classics too (Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Mark Twain’s novels), whenever I get my hands on them from relatives. My daughter and I started typing down a few titles that she has read over the summer just to check whether AR has them:

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is a novel that we read for our book club of 9-12 year olds (GatheringReaders) at the Jurong West Public Library in August this year. Not on the list. I begin to realize that perhaps the recently published books (2013) may not be in the catalog as yet.

And so, I tried a well-known classic, one that has been published in the year 1918 in Australia and has been reprinted by the NYRB Children’s Collection: The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay.

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Again, not on the list. A few warning bells start ringing in my ears. This is also one of the books we have discussed in our book club at the library for the month of September. Hmm.. Does this mean that only American titles can be found on the AR list? Yet, this celebrated Australian children’s book classic has been reprinted by the NYRB in 2004. Still, doesn’t matter. The title could not be found on the list. And so my daughter automatically “loses points” for these books. The minute I started thinking that way, the more I begin to feel, something’s not right here.

Orientation Proper

When I attended the orientation a few weeks back, I was in the thick of reading Penny Kittle’s Book Love, and I already finished reading Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and what you can do about it.

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These are only some of the books that I am reading in preparation for a new course that I hope to teach in January next year: The Use of Multicultural Children’s Books to Promote Socio-emotional Learning. This will be opened to higher degree students, teachers who are taking their Masters of Education by Research, those who are pursuing their PhDs, and even teachers who are taking their Masters by Coursework. So I am pretty excited about this. Hence, I was just reeling from the information I have just gained from these two beautiful books when I attended the orientation, which may have prompted me to write this overly-long piece.

I have also shared this piece before I published it today to our Librarian, Middle School and High School Principal. Our MS Principal very kindly told me that the AR only functions as a supplementary program and that it is not meant to replace their Literature class where the students can still be exposed to a variety of titles and that it is meant to encourage reading outside the classroom.

During the orientation, the parents who attended were walked through the website – some are more familiar with it than others. It was also noted that different teachers make use of the AR program in a variety of ways in their own classrooms. I could see that our librarian feels very passionate about the programme and that she is devoted to motivating kids to become readers. She even gives out little rewards and prizes to kids who have met or exceeded their reading goals. My daughter has received quite a few of those and she does get extremely excited by it.

Then the discussion about the AR reading levels ensued. This is where most of my issues lie.

A few concerns about AR

Concern #1: How to deal with already-motivated students, the avid readers?

My field of specialization is in gifted and talented education. While the children from this group belong to the other extreme of the “bell curve,” and are relatively fewer compared to the larger number of children, I believe that they should be fed as many quality books as they wish. And so where I am coming from, I see nothing wrong with precocious first graders checking out fourth-grade level books (something which is not recommended by the AR programme) if the titles speak to them and they have the requisite scaffolding to guide them through the text either through a helpful mentor-teacher or a parent and emotional readiness to understand some of the bigger themes covered in the book which is largely contingent on what the family considers to be valuable or important. I tend to regard children’s recommended reading range as such – just mere recommendations.

I am well aware of Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, one of the foundational theories I teach at the university. I am deeply aware that as a child’s mind develops and matures, they move beyond concrete ideations to abstractions, and that there are stages to this. Yet, these stages are never etched in stone – some may soar and fly, while others may be slower to warm up, others may not even fall neatly in the pre-established categories.

How does AR deal with students who are already motivated to read? How would the incentives for them be differentiated? Do they get penalized for reading books that are not included in the list? While they don’t get clear ‘penalties,’ they are not given points as well, which is essentially withholding reinforcement, something that may be perceived as a penalty by others. Would the same token system of reinforcement work for them in the first place? And what about first graders who do read third or fourth grade novels? Or fifth graders who read Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (I know of one in particular who is part of my book club)? They can’t take the test because they shouldn’t be reading those novels in the first place?

And so I tentatively raised a question during the orientation. While my heart was full and my head was brimming with so many ideas I longed to write down, I also did not want to appear negative or unsupportive of the programme, because on the one hand, I could also clearly see its value. Perhaps, it is made for a different purpose, and so I asked the question: what is the objective behind the programme? Apparently it is meant to motivate students to read more, for them to enjoy reading. For other children, they need a ‘carrot’ dangled in front of their noses to get them to read, which I agree is true enough for most.

However, this made me ask even more questions in my mind, and I invite fellow teachers, librarians, other friends to share their thoughts about this, because I truly want to know. This is not meant to disparage or belittle a programme which I am sure has received a great deal of research and support. I even debated with myself whether I should blog about my thoughts, but I know that I feel very passionately about reading and books and teaching to not raise a few issues that concern me, and that they are being shared here in the spirit of a more dynamic conversation about our children’s appreciation of literary texts.

Concern #2: On Recommended Reading Range/ Leveled-Readers

In the book that I co-edited and published quite recently (Beyond Folktales, Legends and Myths: A Rediscovery of Children’s Literature in Asia),

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the first chapter of the book is my conversation/interview with children’s literature expert and historian, Leonard Marcus from New York. One of the questions I asked him had to do with this:

(Myra Garces-Bacsal): What are your thoughts about the labels that indicate the age– appropriate level at the back of most children’s books? We discussed earlier that board books are important because developmentally that is how children would engage with the actual book itself. Do you ascribe to the recommended age-range often found at the back of the books? What are the pros and cons of using such age-specific labels for books?

(Leonard Marcus): Well the principal con is that a label of that kind contradicts the fact that a book can be used in different ways by children of different ages. And a parent who does not know that already might be led to believe otherwise. The labels can promote overly-rigid thinking about the uses of children’s books. That is the primary con. Take Goodnight Moon as an example.

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It is a book that you can read to a newborn for the sake of the rhythm. Read it with a two year old who is just learning his or her first words and it becomes a great chance for the child to practice pointing–and–naming different words and things. At five years old, a child who is learning to read independently can feel the satisfaction of reading a book with a short text from beginning to end. At seven, a child can read the book to a younger brother or sister. So, there are several different ways of using Goodnight Moon.

I have taught at various colleges over the last many years, and I once had an art student come up to me after class with a question she was too embarrassed to ask in front of her peers. She said she had a 12 year old sister who still looked at picture books. Did I think there was something wrong with her? I said, “Well, no. It could be that she is interested in becoming an artist. Maybe, maybe not. But either way, if it interests her, why not? What could possibly be bad about that?” Of course there is an answer that people have given, which is that reading books that are below one’s supposed age-level may indicate some kind of intellectual laziness or failure in development. In fact, a lot of people would say that. Sadly, here and maybe in other countries too, there are many ambitious parents who want their children to go to good colleges, and begin thinking from the start how to accelerate their children’s education in order to give them the best chance at breaking through the competition for acceptance by Harvard or Yale. One of the principal ways in which a parent tries to do that is by pushing their child to read books that are more and more advanced, at an earlier and earlier age. To me, that is sad because the most likely consequence of forcing a child to read a book that he or she is not ready for is that it will eventually turn that child off to reading altogether.

Now, the pro of reading age–level indicators on books is simply that they give otherwise uninformed adults, parents or others, some guidelines to start from. But it needs to be understood that these are not hard–and– fast rules. (pp. 24-25)

Concern #3: Titles that are not included on the AR list

How about books written in a foreign language? Does this mean that if you read a book written in your first language (e.g. Spanish, Chinese, Filipino) or are written in English but are not published in the US or the UK, that it does not count as ‘legitimate’ reading as well, as defined by the AR programme? I searched for Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, classic novels and required reading in Philippine literature, and was not surprised to not find them on the list.

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My fear is that parents might even start restricting their children’s reading materials and to “read smart” so that they earn points for their recreational reading, which would be a serious tragedy as there are wonderful titles out there that are not even included in the AR list, as you’d see more below.

Concern #4: Bias Against Graphic Novels and Novels-in-Verse?

My eleven year old daughter is crazy over graphic novels. Much to my chagrin, I see that she could not even take the test for some of the graphic novels we have discussed in our book club sessions at the public library – because they fall way far below her recommended reading range. Take for instance, the multi-award-winning graphic novel American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang - is only deemed to be in the 3rd grade level.

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 9.27.47 AMAmerican Born Chinese: Finalist for the 2006 National Book Awards in the category of Young People’s Literature, won the 2007 Michael L. Printz Award, the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album, the San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year, the 2006/2007 Best Book Award from The Chinese American Librarians Association

Even if my sixth grader takes a multiple-choice quiz that is supposed to magically demonstrate her full understanding and ‘comprehension’ of the material, she would only earn 1 point for it.

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I remembered discussing this novel with my book club kids (aged 9-12) – we talked about issues such as finding home in a foreign land (something that most of them are struggling with, being children of expatriates in Singapore; even local kids shared issues about contending with the changing landscape of their community).

GatheringReaders, my book club for young readers, after discussing Gene Luen Yang's "American Born Chinese"

GatheringReaders, my book club for young readers, after discussing Gene Luen Yang’s “American Born Chinese”

We also talked about self-loathing, how language shapes thought, and how one finds self-acceptance. Our book club discussion marked one of the most beautiful conversations I’ve had with young children: so heartfelt, authentic, and true. But a multiple-choice type of assessment would only give this book a measly 1 point. Then I typed a few more graphic novels that I enjoyed, and here were the results:

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A Wrinkle in Time: CCBC Choice (Univ. of WI), Eisner Award Nominee, Eisner Award Winner, California Library Association – Best Graphic Novels, Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award Maser List

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Anya’s Ghost: American Library Association Notable Children’s Books, American Library Association Popular Paperbacks for Young Readers, American Library Association Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adults, YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens, BCCB Best Book of the Year, CYBIL Award, Eisner Award Winner, Graphic Novel Reporter Best GN of the Year, Jezebel.com Best Female Creator of the Year, Amazon.com Best of the Year So Far, Booklist Editors’ Choice, Booklist Top Ten First Novels for Youth, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Award, Horn Book Magazine Fanfare List, Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year, Library Media Connection Best of the Best, School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, Bram Stoker Awards – Nominee, Indiana Young Hoosier Award Master List, New Jersey Garden State Teen Book Award Master List, North Carolina Children’s Book Award Master List, Virginia Readers’ Choice

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2 points for Maus II, 3 points for Maus I. Evidently, graphic novels are perceived to be lacking in literary merit to even deserve precious points, never mind that they won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature like Maus.

And it appears like novels-in-verse suffer the same fate as could be seen below – see the points allocated to these award-winning-books:

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Inside Out & Back Again: Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, 2012 Newbery Honor Book

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The Surrender Tree is a 2009 Newbery Honor Book, the winner of the 2009 Pura Belpre Medal for Narrative and the 2009 Bank Street – Claudia Lewis Award, and a 2009 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.

On a lark, I typed The Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney - a novel which, by the way, my daughter is crazy about:

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I find it a trifle odd that taking the test for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, perceived to be at the fifth grade level (middle grade) would earn a child even more points than a Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel (with Maus II being given only two points, this being classified under upper grade level). Granted that my daughter and I read Maus when she was in the fourth grade – but clearly its themes and the conversations that Spiegelman’s stories engender are of a different world altogether – in fact, the two stories are not even comparable, to be fair. Yet, AR does make such a comparison, however subtly, despite one novel being in the UG and the other in the MG level, by reducing both to seemingly-arbitrary points that tackle widely different themes for the sake of convenience.

I also typed in Raymond Briggs’ graphic novel Ethel and Ernest which won the “Best Illustrated Book Of The Year” at the 1999 British Book Award and tells the story of Briggs’ parents’ lives and is a truly remarkable piece of work:

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No surprises, it’s not on the list. Which brings me to my next point:

Concern #5: On Visual Literacy and the Value of Picture Books

Does the AR not consider visual literacy as an important component in a child’s journey to literature? There seems to be an expectation that as kids become older, they must outgrow picture books. An indicator that they are progressing in literacy is evidenced by the thick pages they read with neither pictures nor dialogue. The more information packed in the thick book, the better it is perceived to be. I am reminded of the first few lines found in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversation?”

There is such a thing as visual literacy, the appreciation of intertextuality, the synergistic interaction between images and narrative, the multiple layerings of artwork and text. These are important elements that are totally lost in the entire world wrapped around the point-system-ranges of AR. My heart constricts and I find myself hyperventilating each time someone claims with absolute certainty that picture books are only for babies, or picture books are not for advanced readers, and that the market for picture books should only be for kids nine years old and below.

How about the picture book British classic which has an almost cult-like following Raymond Briggs’ Fungus the Bogeymana book that talks about the existential crisis faced by a bogeyman who contemplates about a life different from the one that is set out for him by virtue of his birth?

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No surprises: not on the AR list.

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I searched for Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, a cinematic visual and wordless masterpiece which incidentally made it to the top 100 Great Children’s Books as selected by children’s librarians at The New York Public Library and won all of these other major awards: 

New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award
2006 Cybils Award
Bologna Ragazzi Award, Special Mention
Spectrum Award
Junior Library Guild Selection
World Fantasy Artist of the Year
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2007
A New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2007
Amazon.com’s Best Teen Book of 2007
2007 Parents’ Choice Gold Award
A Book Sense Winter 2007-2008 Top Ten Children’s Pick
A New York Public Library Best Book for Reading and Sharing
A New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2007
Rocky Mountain News, A Top Ten Book of the Year
The Columbus Dispatch, A Best Book of 2007 
Booklist Editors’ Choice 2007
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2007
A Washington Post Best Book for Young People for 2007
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon for Fiction
ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2008
ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, 2008
ALA Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens, 2008
Horn Book Fanfare Book 2007
Metropolitan Home Magazine’s Design 100, 2008
An IRA Notable Book for a Global Society, 2008
2008 Locus Award, Best Art Book
2008 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, special citation for excellence in graphic storytelling
CCBC Choices 2008
Nominated for an International Horror Guild Award, Illustrated Narrative

Not on the AR list.

I looked for Anthony Browne’s exquisitely detailed picture books layered with multiple meanings and visual metaphors. I found a few and are rated as such:

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Voices in the Park won the 1998 Kurt Maschler Award and was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal.

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Gorilla won the 1983 Kurt Maschler Award and 1983 Kate Greenaway Medal

I also looked for other picture books that deal with big themes such as The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan which is an allegorical tale that confronts highly sensitive issues about colonization from the point of view of the colonized; or Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti that talks about the devastation of war.

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 6.01.30 PM Picture Book of the Year by the Children’s Book Council in Australia

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Winner of the Batchelder Award, 1996

The AR list does not include Armin Greder’s disturbing picture books such as the one that I reviewed a year ago:

Click on the image to be taken to my review of the book.

Click on the image to be taken to my review of the book.

My fear is that parents who may not be familiar with these picture books and poetry books, and who may simply be relying on the point-system allocated in the AR may even go as far as dissuade their children from reading these wonderful titles as they would not earn as many “points” as other books and would not help them in reaching their ‘reading goals’ much faster.

Increasingly, there are more picture books that tackle sensitive issues and themes that are worth discussing at a middle school or even upper grade level and would work as a great companion text to a few of the social issues being discussed in class or even in some of the historical details covered in the curriculum – something which is not captured in the point system used in the AR programme. I teach graduate school and I read picture books aloud in class. Never fails, always works.

Once again, let me quote from the interview that I have with Leonard Marcus:

(Myra Garces-Bacsal): Most people do not seem to realize that there are a lot of picture books for older readers, and it is something that is often not explored.

(Leonard Marcus): That is becoming more and more common, to have picture books that trend upward in sophistication. And it seems fair to say that the picture book is merging with the graphic novel to some extent. We are moving into a period when the stigma that was once attached to the heavily illustrated book is probably going to disappear. In other words, it used to be that people started with books with pictures, then graduated to books without pictures and that was considered an advance. Now, I think people understand that complicated, sophisticated books for older readers can have lots of pictures too—that there is nothing babyish about that. (p. 25)

Concern #6: What does research have to say about AR?

As an academic, I can not help but ask this question. For this, let me quote from a passage that I’ve read in Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide:

… it has become increasingly popular in school districts across the country to stick struggling or reluctant readers into packaged programs that reward students with points for reading books. Accelerated Reader (AR) is one such program. In AR, students are given mindless multiple-choice quizzes after they finish each book, and if they pass these quizzes, they are awarded points. Earn enough points and they progress to higher-level books in the program. In AR, the good news is that students read a lot of books. The bad news?

  • Students can only read books found on the AR list. If a good book is not on the list, students are not allowed to read it.
  • Students choose books for high point value, rather than for their level of interest.
  • The reward system sends the message that the reason students should read is not to enjoy reading but to earn points. Students are taught to read for the wrong reasons.
  • Chenowith (2001) found that although students did a significant amount of reading in the program, their reading dropped lower than nonparticipants within one month of exiting AR. Without the points, their motivation significantly decreased.
  • Pavonetti, Brimmer, and Cipielewski (2002/2003) found that once students left AR they read on average ten hours a week less than nonparticipants. The program had short-term success but actually set young readers back in the long run.

Many teachers like Accelerated Reader and similar incentive-laden programs because they see students do a significant amount of reading. What they don’t see is that programs such as AR and others that offer extrinsic rewards often lead to demotivating students after they have left the classroom. (Gallagher, 2009, pp. 74-75)

I also welcome other academics, teachers, librarians, programme coordinators to share with me other research studies that might show otherwise, or demonstrate different research results, or even just a different experience in their schools altogether.

Recommendations/ Suggestions

I understand that it may not be the objective of the AR programme to develop “lifelong readers” but merely to encourage and entice children to read, particularly the reluctant readers. I am not disputing that. We need to ask ourselves, though, why do we encourage them to read? What is it about reading that makes it so important? And if we are indeed successful in encouraging even the most reluctant reader to pick up a book and read, what next? Where to go from there?

I see that the Accelerated Reader programme is well-intentioned, and that it provides the much-needed incentive for a lot of children to read. However, it is only one facet in a child’s reading life, and it is disastrous to perceive it as the entire picture. If our intention as educators, as parents, as book enthusiasts – is to develop lifelong readers, then we need to move past multiple-choice assessment tools, honor the children’s choices of reading materials (irrespective of recommended reading levels), and encourage the reading of more multicultural titles that are not only exclusive to those published in the US or the UK. As such, I have a few recommendations on how the programme may be enriched.

Recommendation #1: Reading Notebooks and a Reading List

Children could be encouraged to keep their own reading notebooks where they could make a list of titles that they have read. Here, they can jot down and include some of the titles that are not found on the AR reading list. Their teachers may or may not choose to reward them for this, but it would make for good conversations with other students who may want to consider the titles in their own reading list, despite their not earning points for them, especially if they are outstanding reading materials. It also serves to demonstrate the variety and the diversity of a child’s reading life that goes beyond the Accelerated Reader Programme. Their list may even include National Geographic titles (which by the way are not found in AR), Horrible Histories or Horrible Science titles by Terry Deary (also not included on the AR list), interesting newspaper articles that they may have read over the past weeks, Charlie Brown’s encyclopedia (again, not on the AR list), graphic novels, or even picture books that caught their eye. We are also doing this here in GatheringBooks with our Annual Reading Calendar. Erik Weibel from This Kid Reviews Books has his own reading list that you can see here.

Recommendation #2: Reading Journals

In Penny Kittle’s Book Love, she made mention of notebooks where students can write down their unstructured thoughts about the novels that they are reading. If we truly want to develop lifelong readers and want to see how much they have understood their reading materials, then their capacity to engage with the characters of the book is one of the best ways to go about it. Recall that these are not full-length graded essays or even book summaries; this is the student’s private space to reflect on specific lines that moved them, to wonder about a character’s growth in the novel, their frustration with the narrative or the plot.

As a teacher, I would like to see my students argue with the characters in the book, I’d love for them to discern their motivations, their strengths, commiserate with them over their losses – I want them to tear the pages apart and see the pieces there that resonate with them, the aspects of the book that reflect their own truths, their own inner journeying and deep-seated questions about who they are and their place in the world. I want them to follow a specific author and see how much the author may have grown in his or her writing style over the years and discuss the finer points of one book over the other and perhaps cull out similar themes from the novels.

I want them to extract pages from the book and turn these over in their hands, rolling the words over with their tongue, poking the pages in multiple ways, and having them wear the words to see if they make a good fit. I want them to bring who they are to the pages and listen to the book’s voice, despite its being an unfamiliar tongue – coming perhaps from a different world, or a different dimension altogether, yet honoring its truth nonetheless.

Recommendation #3: Book talks with Kids

This is predicated upon knowing each child and seeing which book would work best for them. It is more than just looking at the AR program and typing down their recommended reading range and seeing the titles that they should check out to make the most number of points. There are kids who are  into trucks, what books might engage them? There are kids who are deeply into fairies, enchantment, and magic – perhaps the Warriors series, the classic Wizard of Oz, or Neverending Story by Michael Ende might work for them. Are they into poetry, then share with them a few novels-in-verse.

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Are they into war and fighting and revolution, then it would be good to share the website of the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children with them. Are they suffering from a recent loss, then perhaps Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls might speak to them. Are they into horror novels and are already reading Goosebumps or Darren Shan? Perhaps Mary Downing Hahn may challenge them to think a little more differently, then gradually moving towards, say, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.

so ladies, what's the plan?

Recommendation #4: Book talks with Parents

I believe that it is important for parents to have a more informed knowledge about the different facets of the Accelerated Reader programme and to regard this as only one aspect of their children’s reading life. During the orientation, I could see that there are a lot of parents who are hungry for titles that they could share with their own children. Organizing book talks with them would be wonderful. They could also be linked to so many fabulous websites that exist out there that look into multicultural children’s book titles.

Aside from Newbery Medal and Honor titles, there are so many other award-giving bodies out there that parents may want to familiarize themselves and their kids from various parts of the globe. In fact, we made a list of this as we are currently hosting the Award-Winning-Books Reading Challenge here in GatheringBooks for two years now. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but it would make for a good start. Here is an extract from my blog post:

If you want to have a complete list of children’s and YA book awards from different parts of the globe, click here to be taken to a comprehensive list prepared by the UCalgary. Library Quine from Loons and Quines has also provided us an updated version from the web site of the Book Trust (UK) which provides links to newer UK awards. For the Carnegie and Kate Greenway Awards, you may want to check out this website for a more updated archive. The Scottish Book Trust lists Scottish awards here. Many thanks to Library Quine for all these links.

Other examples would include the Newbery and Caldecott Honor/Medal from the United States, the Pura Belpre, Coretta Scott King Award, Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, Michael J. Printz Award, The Stonewall Award, Cybils Awards among others.

Recommendation #5: Reading Levels as only one pathway to book selection for children.

Just a few days ago, one of our book blogging friends, Amy Broadmoore has just shared her own thoughts about this issue entitled Leveled Early Readers: Valuable Tool or Marketing PloyIn her post which I read quite avidly she shared how some of the ‘early readers’ books may contain difficult words that may discourage a lot of kids from reading through the entire book. And she has provided very clear and incisive suggestions on what a high quality reader book must have including a vocabulary that matches the developmental level of each child, short sentences, repetition, and the value of illustrations. She also has an amazing list of excellent early reader books that parents should check out.

I have my own personal reservations about leveled-readers. I understand their significance and their overall function in the larger scheme of things, and if done correctly could prove to be a valuable and indispensable tool for a lot of parents out there, as was likewise pointed out by Amy. I personally do not use it as an indicator of whether or not I would pick up a book. I strongly believe that there are multiple ways of using a book.

For a child who may be too impatient to hear you read the words aloud, it’s a perfect opportunity to allow them to “read” the book to you. Not in the words or the language that the author uses, but their own interpretation of the story based on the illustrations and what they can deduce from what is going on in the pages. I tend to see reading beyond the proper enunciation or articulation of the words on paper, I see it as a personal and transformative experience between a child and the page. I see it as a journey – a way for a child to bring fragments from their own experience to what a frightened white mouse with an empty space, a bear who has a story to tell, a lost little girl in the forest – have to say about the world around them. I see it as an opportunity for a child to ask questions about words that confuse them. I see it as a shared wonderful experience between parent and child – the gift of storytelling. I see it as conduits to conversations a parent and a child might not even dream of having if not for what they read in a book that came to them at the perfect time. I see it as a chance for children to not only make sense of the letters and the words in the literal sense, but to also feel what the words mean.

Recommendation #6: Make Books More Accessible to Children

One of the sure-fire ways to get children interested in books is exposing them to a variety of titles that may speak to them or whisper its secrets in their ears. I am aware that there may be some limitations when it comes to availability of titles here in Singapore, or even budgetary restrictions across schools. It would be worthwhile then to organize book drives or even request for gently-used books from fresh graduates/parents who may want to share their beloved titles. There are also quite a number of discounted bookstores here in Singapore, ongoing book fairs and book sales that teachers or librarians could explore. I do blog about this during my Book Hunting Expeditions on Sundays.

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Recommendation #7: Parents and Teachers Must READ.

As Jim Trelease (2006) says, “You can’t catch a cold or a love of books from someone who has neither” (101).

Reading teachers read. (p. 158, Penny Kittle, Book Love)

Students/children need to catch their teachers/parents reading. You can’t preach what you don’t practice. I feel very strongly that teachers and parents themselves must be readers so that they would be able to discern which book might be perfect for a child at a specific juncture or point in their lives. They need to be constantly updated by new titles that are out there and are available in our amazing public libraries here in Singapore. My fear is that the AR program may be used as a convenient cop-out for teachers or even parents who would rather refer children to the AR list to get their students/kids to read (and to select books on the basis of points rather than interest), instead of exploring new titles themselves.

Recommendation #8: Organize Book Clubs

If we truly want to develop readers, they need to be able to interact with likeminded individuals who share their passion with the written word. It would be lovely to hear them argue about a plot, reflect on a character’s folly, laugh about the same series that they are reading, and challenge themselves by reading more complex materials as they gain greater confidence and perceive themselves as readers.

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Let me end this longwinded post by an extract from Penny Kittle’s Book Love:

It’s hard to write about love. There are a lot of cynics out there. They’ll tell you love is lots of things love isn’t. Not just book love, which really makes the cynics snicker, but any love. You cannot manufacture love. Love is something that does not respond to “must,” or force, but love is deeply rich, hopeful, and lasting. We leap – we follow – we rest in its peace. When we know love, it owns us. I believe once we love books, it lasts. And once we know love, we pass it on… (p. 93)

I will be seeking that first-love experience for some of the students I’ll meet this fall; they don’t know yet what books can do. I’ll be trying to charm others back to books that once captivated them. And I’ll work to keep others burning with passion and interest- across genre, over time, from what is easy to what will compel them to struggle and grow. 

But with every one of them, it is love that I’m after.

Book love is what we need. (p. 95)

Are you using the Accelerated Reader Programme in your schools? What is your experience with it so far? What do you believe to be its strengths and weaknesses? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.

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Raising Awareness: Books That Have Been Banned, From Picture Books to YA Novels

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

In celebration of Banned Books Week, we are providing you with a list of picture books, middle grade fiction books, and YA novels that have been banned from schools and libraries. The pool was generated from various online sources that have been integrated to give a more comprehensive list of these banned books. The books are alphabetically arranged. Please note that not all books in this list are provided with the year that it was banned.

Picture Books

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Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (2010)
Written by: Bill Martin, Jr.
This book was banned because: The Texas State Board of Education confused its author with Bill Martin, author of Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation. (Oops.)

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Five Chinese Brothers, The
Written by: Claire Hutchet Bishop
This book was banned because: It was deemed too violent.

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Fragile Flag, The
Written by: Jane Langton
This book was banned because: It “portrays the U.S. government as lacking in intelligence and responsibility.”

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Giving Tree, The (1988)
Written by: Shel Silverstein
This book was banned because: It was considered “sexist” by a Colorado public library, and several schools claimed that it “criminalized the foresting agency.”

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Green Eggs and Ham (1965-1991)
Written by: Dr. Seuss
This book was banned because: It was banned in California on accounts of “homosexual seduction.” It was also banned in China for “early Marxism” from 1965 until Dr. Seuss’ death in 1991.

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In the Night Kitchen
Written by: Maurice Sendak
This book was banned because: The little boy did not have any clothes on and it pictured his private area.

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James and the Giant Peach (1999)
Written by: Roald Dahl
This book was banned because: It included the word “ass.”

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Light in the Attic, A
Written by: Shel Silverstein
This book was banned because: It “encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.”

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Lorax, The (1989)
Written by: Dr. Seuss
This book was banned because: A California school district claimed that it “criminalized the foresting industry” and would thus persuade children against logging.

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Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
Written by: William Steig
This book was banned because: The depiction of the characters as animals, particularly the police as pigs, apparently upset a lot of people.

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Where the Sidewalk Ends
Written by: Shel Silverstein
This book was banned because: It “promotes cannibalism.”

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Where the Wild Things Are (1963)
Written by: Maurice Sendak
This book was banned because: It “promotes witchcraft and supernatural events,” according to some institutions. It was banned in most southern states in America immediately after the book was published. (Harsh.)

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Where’s Waldo? (1987)
Written by: Martin Handford
This book was banned because: It originally showcased a topless beachgoer in one of its pages. (The book was later reprinted.)

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Winnie-the-Pooh (2006)
Written by: A.A. Milne
This book was banned because: Talking animals are generally considered an “insult to god.” Some institutions in Turkey and the UK claimed that the character of Piglet was offensive to the Muslims; others claimed that the book revolves around Nazism.

Middle Grade Fiction 

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Alice in Wonderland (1900)
Written by: Lewis Carroll
This book was banned because: Some classrooms in New Hampshire claimed that there were references to sexual fantasies and masturbation. In the 1960s, thousands of institutions feared that it would promote drug use to children.

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Bridge to Terabithia (1996)
Written by: Katherine Paterson
This book was banned because: It uses the phrases “Oh Lord” and “Lord.” Several classrooms in Pennsylvania banned it because of “profanity, disrespect for adults, and an elaborate fantasy world that might lead to confusion.” (Oh Lord, indeed.)

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Captain Underpants
Written by: Dav Pilkey
This book was banned because: The book contained diaper and poo themed superheroes. (It was more ‘challenged’ than banned.)

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1988)
Written by: Roald Dahl
This book was banned because: It embraced a “poor philosophy of life,” according to a Colorado library. Additionally, since its publication in 1964, the book was under fire for comparing the Oompa Loompas to Africans. The characters’ descriptions were later changed in an edited version in 1988.

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Charlotte’s Web (2006)
Written by: E.B. White
This book was banned because: Talking animals are an “insult to god,” and so it was banned in Kansas. (Sounds familiar? That’s because it was banned in the same year as Winnie-the-Pooh.)

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Harriet the Spy (1983)
Written by: Louise Fitzhugh
This book was banned because: Several schools claimed it to be a “bad example for children” and for “teaching children to lie, spy, talk back, and curse.”

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Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The (1928)
Written by: L. Frank Baum
This book was banned because: According to all public libraries in Chicago, the book has “ungodly” influence for “depicting women in strong leadership roles.” In 1957, the Detroit Public Library banned the book for having “no value for children of today.”

Young Adult Novels

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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The (1885)
Written by: Mark Twain
This book was banned because: The book frequently uses the word “nigger,” has been judged as being “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and that it “perpetuates racism.”

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Catcher in the Rye, The
Written by: J.D. Salinger
This book was banned because: Holden, the character in the book, engages in immoral behavior and for curse words used in the book. It was frequently removed from classrooms and school libraries because it is “unacceptable,” “obscene,” “blasphemous,” “negative,” “foul,” “filthy,” and “undermines morality.” (Ironically, in the story, Holden always thought “people never notice anything.”)

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Diary of a Young Girl, The (2010)
Written by: Anne Frank
This book was banned because: It was “too depressing,” claimed by several schools in the United States. A school in Virginia banned the 50th Anniversary Definitive Edition because of its “sexual content and homosexual themes.” Most recently, in May 2013, a Michigan mom tried to get the book banned due to its “pornographic tendencies.”

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Giver, The
Written by: Lois Lowry
This book was banned because: It depicts “the degradation of motherhood and adolescence.”

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Hatchet
Written by: Gary Paulsen
This book was banned because: “The descriptions of injuries and trauma were too well written,” according to naysayers.

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Lord of the Flies
Written by: William Golding
This book was banned because: It contains violence and supposed racism.

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Speak
Written by: Laurie Halse Anderson
This book was banned because: The book contains “sexuality, situations of suicidal thoughts, and gritty teenage situations.”

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Watership Down
Written by: Richard Adams
This book was banned because: The conflict of the story and brutal realism of the book are among the reasons why it has been banned time and time again.

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Wrinkle in Time, A
Written by: Madeleine L’Engle
This book was banned because: Many religious individuals felt that L’Engle was too passive in her inclusion of Christian imagery. A foundation in Iowa claimed that the book had satanic themes.

Did You Know That…

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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Tenth Edition, was banned in 2010 in several classrooms in California because it included the definition for “oral sex.”

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

You may also visit these websites for additional book titles that have been banned and/or challenged over the years:

  1. American Library Association (ALA)
  2. Banned Books Week
  3. Wikipedia listing
Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

 

Online Sources:

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

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Random Video Ads and WordPress

We at GatheringBooks would just like to make an announcement that the Video Ads other readers may find at the bottom of our blog posts are not endorsed by GatheringBooks but are randomly included by WordPress to maintain their site.

Unless we specify it in our posts, these ads are not connected to us in any way.

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[AFCC 2013] Launch of Project Splash! Asia and an Invitation for more Water-themed books

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One of our projects for the Asian Festival of Children Content this year was the launching of a bibliography of water-themed stories from and about Asia. This is in keeping with 2013 being the International Year of Water. For several months now, our Committee has been very busy collecting titles and sifting through a vast collection to ensure that we do a good representation and mix of stories across different genre from various parts of the world.

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And since we were loathe to turn away any book that features water in it, we also included transnational themes that celebrate the significance of water in our lives – books that transcend cultural and regional boundaries.

Here are some of the photographs from the launching of Project Splash! Asia – a truly inspired concept.

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Claire Chiang, the Chairman of the AFCC Board of Advisors was unfortunately unable to make it during the Launch. The amazing, quick-witted, funny-without-even-trying Nury Vittachi read through Claire’s Welcome Remarks and added his own commentary about this project.

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The panel was moderated by the beautiful and articulate Corinne Robson from Paper Tigers who is also one of the highly-involved members of our Committee. Beside me is Evelyn Wong who made certain, in her own gentle way, that we are continually on schedule and that we keep track of the little details that we should be made aware of for our project.

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I am very privileged to be working with such a hard working team committed in ensuring that we gather as much books as we can connected with our theme. I was unfortunately still recovering from coughs and colds during our presentation so was unable to give my hundred percent effervescent self during my short spiel. Still heavily medicated, my powers of articulation were sadly affected making it difficult for me to speak in most parts. It was very fortunate that our panel was filled with lovely ladies bursting with so much excitement and energy.

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We were joined by amazing authors Naomi Kojima (our featured Storyteller this month and author of Singing Shijimi Clams – farthest right) and Holly Thompson author of Wakame Gatherers.

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Singaporean author Emily Lim also joined us. She is the writer of the beautiful picture books Little Otter Goes Fishing and A Very Big Storm.

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Naomi Kojima holding up her lovely picture book Singing Shijimi Clams, which we will be featuring here in GatheringBooks very soon.

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And here is the team of Project Splash! Asia. From L-R: Corinne Robson from PaperTigers; Noor Aini binte Mohamed – Senior Librarian, Public Libraries Singapore; myself from GatheringBooks; our illustrators from Singapore Polytechnic - Karen Mei Jia Qi and Nursyafiqah Binte Jusman; and Evelyn Wong, Partnership Director of AFCC.

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Too bad Kenneth Quek, our Festival Director was not able to make it for the photo-op. He was also with us throughout the conceptualization of this little booklet that we are holding in our hands. Ken also did the amazing layout of the book and the posters and last-minute edits and changes that needed to be made. The annotations found inside the booklet were done by the National Library Board.

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With all the authors too, this time around.

To know more about Project Splash! Asia, click here to be taken to the AFCC Official Site.

Here are some of the PaperTigers posts about Project Splash! Asia:

2013 Asian Festival of Children’s Content Project Splash Asia!

WaterBridge Outreach, Water in Multicultural Children’s Books and Project Splash Asia!

2013 is the International Year of Water

Project Splash! Asia to be unveiled next month at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore!

Part 2 ~ Project Splash! Asia to be unveiled next month at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore!

Not to be missed book launches at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content ~ May 25 – 30th, Singapore

We are also inviting everyone to share their favorite water-themed stories from and about Asia in the Comments Section of this post. PaperTigers will also be doing a similar call and shout-out. We will continually update our list and we look forward to gathering more titles connected to Project Splash! Asia.

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[Monday Reading] Doña Flor and Abuelita

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Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

We’re also inviting everyone to join our Check Off your Reading List Challenge 2014.

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Click here to sign up. If you have already signed up, here is the April-June linky where you can link up your reviews or updates from your reading list. We are also very excited to share that Pansing Books will be giving away two copies of Julian Sedgwick’s Mysterium: The Palace of Memory to two lucky CORL participants from April-June. So link up your posts now!

Carrie Gelson of There is a Book for That is also hosting #mustreadin2014.

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IMG_2594My Abuelita

Written by: Tony Johnston  Illustration by: Yuyi Morales
Published by: Harcourt Children’s Books, 2009
Borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.

This is a fascinating story about a young boy who lives with his grandmother. The entire narrative revolves around one single day in the life of Abuelita as she prepares to go to her work with the indispensable help of her grandson who makes sure that she has changed to her work clothes and that she has brought all her accoutrements that are invaluable to her line of work.

There is the easy companionship evident in the way that they take their baths separately but at the same time, how Abuelita prepares the warm tortillas by hand and huevos estrellados for breakfast in her fuzzy pink bedroom slippers.

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There are clues that point to what Abuelita’s work is. Definitely it requires a booming voice that makes even Frida Kahlo, their cat, scamper and hide under the bed covers. Abuelita also stretches her voice and yodels:

She always says the words should be as round as dimes and as wild as blossoms blooming.

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What Abuelita’s work is, I shall leave for you to discover. I love the bold bright colors here of Yuyi Morales and Tony Johnston’s poetic prose. For teachers who wish to use this in the classroom, here is a downloadable PDF file created by TeachingBooks.net that provides a few resources and a helpful activity guide.

Doña Flor: A Tall Tale about a Giant Woman with a Great Big HeartIMG_2588

Written by: Pat Mora Illustrated by: Raul Colón
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005
Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

I love the collaboration between Pat Mora and Raul Colon – Tomas and the Library Lady is one of my favourite picture book biographies. In Doña Flor, they come together once more to tell the story of this gigantic beautiful woman who lives in a small barrio in the American southwest.

The villagers do not fear her presence, in fact they look forward to her giant steps, and the songs that she sings allowing birds to come and build nests in her hair.

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One of my favourite pages though is how she sits outside the library to rest. Apparently, she has a prodigious capacity to devour books in just one sitting, as she is able to read an entire encyclopedia in five minutes – how awesome is that.

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Then one spring day, the neighbors asked for Doña Flor’s help as a giant mountain lion seem to be circling the village, and so everyone just remains home afraid that they will be hurt by this evidently-hungry beast. Doña Flor is very concerned about the townsfolk and went on a hunt to find this scary puma. How the story ends I shall leave for you to discover. The story actually reminded me a little bit of the Filipino story Alamat ng Butanding (Legend of the Whale Shark), the gigantic John Henry, and the legendary Annie Christmas in African American stories. I was also especially taken by Raul Colon’s beautiful artwork here, just gorgeous. I would have wanted more back story though about Doña Flor and how important she is in the Latino culture.

For teachers who wish to make use of this in the classroom, here is a downloadable .doc file created by the UIUC Graduate School of Library and Information Science that provides curriculum connections and possible discussion questions across different subject areas such as Math and Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts.

Currently Reading…

I finished reading only one book last week - Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. I am halfway through The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen…

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… and I am also reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Finally!

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Reading Challenge Update: 72, 73 (25)

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[BHE 102] Modest Book Loot from Malacca, Random Buy, and Library Finds

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Myra here.

As we celebrated our 100th Book Hunting Expedition Sundays, we are inviting you, our fellow book hunters to share with us photographs of your favorite bookstores (be it indie, discounted book stores, book cafes, big retail bookshops) and a few of your amazing book finds. While we try as much as we can to find out-of-the-way bookstores in the many cities that we get to visit, we know that we won’t be able to discover so many faraway places in our lifetime. And so we welcome guest posts from anyone who would wish to share their latest bookplace discoveries. Even library finds and pictures of your libraries would be most welcome. Please send your BHE post to gatheringbooks (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Here are the books that found me the past few weeks or so.

Modest Book Loot from Malacca

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During my daughter’s spring break from school, my family and I had an overnight trip to Malacca, which is around four hours away from Singapore by bus. Naturally, we had to visit at least one of the bookstores that we found in the mall: MPH Bookstore.

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My daughter beelined her way into the YA/MG section right away. We decided to come back the next day if we still felt strongly about the books we saw while browsing during our first visit.

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My 12 year old girl, a fellow book hunter.

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While she is currently reading the fourth book of Harry Potter, Goblet of Fire and our GatheringReaders book of the month, Counting by 7s, she finds comfort in a few of her favorite middle-grade series. I realized that the likes of Big Nate: In the Zone by Lincoln Peirce is her ‘reading snack’ in between the various main course that she devours. She finished reading this novel in less than two hours’ time and she rated it a 3 out of 5. She noted that the plot is predictable and that it becomes routine for her, but she still finds it entertaining, and she likes that it’s such a quick read which she finished reading while on the bus going back to Singapore.

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And this is my book find - KL Noir: Every City has a dark side edited by Amir Muhammad.

Random Book Buy

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Iphigene’s review of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz inspired me to purchase the book for my own library. I was dismayed to discover that this multi-award-winning book is not found in our public library and so I bought it the first opportunity I got. I am also excited to share that Iphigene, Fats, and myself are resurrecting our GatheringBooks Virtual Discussion. We decided to meet once every two months and this will be our first book. Let us know if you want to join our Virtual Gathering and we’d add you up in our Facebook Page.

Library Finds

I visit the public library religiously every Sunday. And as always, I have a few treasures I usually discover.

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I am excited to finally read Brian Floca’s Locomotive.

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I’ve been reading so much about this novel from fellow book bloggers: Scowler by Daniel Kraus. While I have a feeling I won’t be able to finish the book on time, it’s the good intention that counts, I thought.

How about you, dear friends, what books found their way into your hands this week?

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[Saturday Reads] A GatheringBooks Tribute to Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just booklove miscellany in general.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

When we found out yesterday that one of our literary heroes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away, all three of us (Fats, Iphigene, and myself) were heartbroken. We have fallen in love with his words even before we began our romantic dalliance with children’s literature (that evolved into an actual commitment through this website). As a personal tribute, I immediately took out all four of Gabo’s books which I own from my bookshelves to pay some kind of homage to his works. I took a random photo of any page that caught my eye and edited it using an iPhone app. I know that any page I land would bring me to convoluted nuggets of wisdom, labyrinthine truths, or meandering awakenings. Paalam, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Mahal ka namin.

From One Hundred Years of Solitude, p. 152

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Love in the Time of Cholera, p. 206

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Of Love and Other Demons, p. 53

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Collected Novellas: from Leaf Storm, p. 101

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Fats’ favourite lines from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novels

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Image taken from: http://digitaljournal.com/article/342129 Text editing via Fotor app.

Image taken from: http://digitaljournal.com/article/342129
Text editing via Fotor app.

Image taken from: http://shwalin.deviantart.com/art/Feel-the-Freedom-208025081 Text editing via Fotor.

Image taken from: http://shwalin.deviantart.com/art/Feel-the-Freedom-208025081
Text editing via Fotor.

How about you, dear friends, what is your favourite Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel?

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[Poetry Friday] Let there be Light on a Good Friday

Myra here.

poetry friday

I am happy to be joining the Poetry Friday community hosted this week by the Haiku Queen, Robyn Hood Black of Life on the Deckle Edge. Thank you so much, Robyn, for hosting on a Good Friday.

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When I discovered this book by accident in the public library, I knew it would be the perfect Good Friday offering, plus the fact that it fits our current reading theme on celebrating multicultural titles quite nicely. With poetic verse, the timeless story of creation was retold by Nobel Peace Prize Winning Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the breathtakingly beautiful artwork of Nancy Tillman.

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In the very beginning, God’s love bubbled over when there was nothing else – no trees, no birds, no animals, no sky, no sea – only darkness. Out of this love, God spoke. 

“Let there be light.”

Each day is marked by artwork spreads that bleed onto the next page. I love the fourth day:

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On the fourth day, God said, 

“Let the sky be filled with

the sun and the moon.”

And God scattered stars

across the sky like

sparkling diamonds.

How beautiful is that. This story of Creation, so deeply ingrained in most people’s sensibilities, highly disputed, widely debated, universally fretted about; yet on this Lenten season, I hope these images find you and give you a quiet sense of peace.

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Then God said,

“I will make people, and

I’ll make them like me so

they can enjoy the earth

and take care of it.”

He did just as he had 

said, and it was all so

very, very good.

Here’s wishing you a day of silence and reflection, and the comforting knowledge that Archbishop Desmond Tutu so beautifully reminds us in this picturebook: “You are loved.”

Let there be Light written by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and illustrated by Nancy Tillman. Published by Zonderkidz, 2013. Book borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.

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The Unseen Child in Our Classroom in Trudy Ludwig’s and Patrice Barton’s The Invisible Boy

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Myra here.

I am glad to have been led to this book through fellow Monday reading enthusiasts. The first time I heard of this book, I knew it would be perfect for our current theme.

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There is a Brian in every class. For the most part, they are conveniently forgotten by most teachers, an afterthought. Greater attention is given to the loud, difficult-to-manage ones like Nathan who has a problem with “volume control” or who frequently finds something to complain about like Sophie.

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The Brians, on the other hand, fade into the background, largely ignored, because the teacher is way too busy admonishing the naughty ones or helping the others catch up with the lessons.

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As the reader flips the pages of this gorgeously-illustrated book, one cannot help but feel for Brian who is evidently unhappy, unable to fit in with his peers, not really belonging anywhere. Except when he is doing his artwork quietly on his desk, lost in his own world:

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Then a new student joined the class, a Korean boy named Justin who eats with chopsticks and has bulgogi for lunch. As the other kids make fun of Brian and his odd ways, Brian begins to wonder “which is worse – being laughed at or feeling invisible.”

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While deceptively-simple,  the book shows self-agency in the part of Brian, as well as resilience and sensitivity brought about more by his distinctive character rather than any kind of intervention or help by the teachers. At the end of the book, there are a few questions for discussion which teachers can make use of in the classroom with students. There is also a list of recommended reading for both adults and kids regarding invisible kids in the classroom.

As an educator, I find that this book is a perfect reminder to frenzied teachers everywhere about the importance of creating an inclusive environment in the classroom. This has been such a catch-all phrase, it is virtually meaningless to most teachers caught up with marking, committee work, and various administrative duties – that we forget one of the most important things teachers should do beyond just getting through the curriculum: making students feel a sense of safety and belonging in our classroom.

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and Illustrated by Patrice Barton. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. Book borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

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[Nonfiction Wednesday] Women’s Dreams, Battles, and Triumphs – Razia Jan’s and Louisa May’s Journeys ‪#‎nfpb2014‬

Myra here.

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We are excited to join Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. Our reading goal this 2014 is 25 books!

As we continue to celebrate “voices of the silenced” until end of April, these two picturebook biographies called out to me from the library shelves. Both deal with courageous women who know their minds and who did not allow their circumstances to be in the way of their dreams and their eventual triumphs.

IMG_2539Louisa May’s Battle: How the Civil War Led to Little Women

Written by: Kathleen Krull Illustration by: Carlyn Beccia
Published by: Walker Books for Young Readers: An imprint of Bloomsbury, 2013.
Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

I read Little Men and Little Women when I was a young girl, around 12 years old or so; and I am forever grateful to Louisa May Alcott for making my early experience with classic literature so painless and enjoyable.

The book begins with a very loaded and political statement:

“I long to be a man,” Louisa May Alcott scribbled one day, “but as I can’t fight, I will content myself with working for those who can.”

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She came from a progressive family who was part of the Underground Railroad to provide assistance and shelter to slaves who have ran away, and Louisa May wanted to be in on the thick of things. By the end of 1862, she traveled on a fairly-complicated route from her hometown Concord to where the action is: Washington DC.

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Her work as an Army Nurse proved to be invaluable as she has such a gentle air around her and such a compassionate spirit that she would even read to her “boys” from Dickens and would always find a way to cheer them up and make them laugh, while at the same time being highly efficient and competent in her work.

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She wrote long letters back home about how she felt and the horrors and joys of her experiences. These letters were eventually collected and published in a slender book entitled Hospital Sketches. After numerous rejections from publishers with most of the fiction work she submitted, she realized that she has now found her voice and her style through her experience as an Army Nurse. How she eventually came to write the timeless classic Little Women I shall leave for you to discover.

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In this picturebook biography, Kathleen Krull has once again done an amazing job in making Louisa May’s early experiences as a fearless Civil War Army Nurse and a struggling writer so real and keenly-felt by the reader. Krull juxtaposed it with what was going on in society at the time, continually highlighting world events and Louisa’s place in it. I love how she is able to skilfully navigate her writing from a macrosocial world view to a remarkable focus on the life of one woman.

For teachers who wish to discuss Louisa May’s life in the classroom, here is an additional downloadable pdf resource on Louisa May Alcott’s Hospital Sketches researched and written by historian Douglas Aumack and Executive Director Anna Aschkenes of the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission.

Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an EducationIMG_2533

Written by: Elizabeth Suneby Illustrated by: Suana Verelst
Published by: Citizen Kid, 2013
Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

I learned about this book through the Monday reading community and I am so glad to find it in our public library.

This book tells the story of young Razia who was so excited to discover that a new school for girls was being built near their home. The minute she found out from her grandfather (Baba Gi) about this new building, she begged him to convince her father (Baba) and older brother (Aziz) to allow her to attend school.

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She is envious of her two brothers Jamil and Karim who attend the boys’ school in the next village. She does not let them know that she has actually taught herself to memorize the Dari alphabet, spell her name, and read a few words. And each day, as the school building starts to take shape, with the school doors painted the bright flames of the tandoor, Razia becomes even more anxious as to whether she would be given permission to attend school.

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Then one evening, her Baba Gi called for a family meeting (called a jerga) and gave a compelling argument to the men of the household about the need for girls to be educated, and what life had been during his time when women in Afghanistan were educated and held important positions in society. Razia’s eldest brother and Uncle though, feel that Razia should stay at home to help out in the orchards, and so it was decided: “Razia is not going.”

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How Razia was able to convince her family to attend school I shall leave for you to discover. This picturebook is based on the real life account of Razia Jan who was born in Afghanistan and moved to the United States when she was a young woman. The biographical note found at the end of the book showed that after September 11, 2001, Razia Jan felt the need to connect people from her homeland to her new home in America and she started Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation which aims “to improve the lives of women and children in Afghanistan through education.”

Here is a short video clip of Razia Jan’s amazing journey that I found on Youtube. Truly very inspiring. Shows how undaunted women can be in changing the face of society. Fearless, phenomenal women, Razia Jan and Louisa May.

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Nonfiction PictureBook Challenge: 1-2 of 25

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