Welcome to the first issue of SPELLBINDERS, a monthly newsletter designed to help educators create lifelong readers. We are very honored to have the amazing Jane Yolen with us as our featured author for the first edition of SPELLBINDERS. To find out more about us, please connect to our website links in our columns below. NOTE: Please feel free to reprint any of the articles you find in SPELLBINDERS, but do give credit to the author(s) and include a reference to our blog by giving the following information – written by (author) and reprinted with permission from SPELLBINDERS, Helping Librarians and Educators Create Lifelong Readers www.spellbindersbooknews.blogspot.com.
Feature Article An Interview with Jane Yolen
Jane Yolen has written over 300 books for kids of all ages--from the gorgeous picture book Owl Moon to the harrowing YA novel, The Devil's Arithmetic. Her books have been awarded the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, and two Christopher Awards to name a few. To read more about Jane and find out about her books visit www.janeyolen.com.
Carolee: Jane, in addition to writing award winning books for kids of all ages, you've also travelled across the country talking to students about books. From these experiences could you share with us suggestions on how educators can encourage reluctant readers, especially boys?
Jane: I wish I could just say: get rid of all those tests and simply read to your students, though I know it's not as simple as that.
Now--I truly believe that all children love Story, though not all love it in the written form. Just as they love poetry, when it comes as street rhymes or hip hop or rhyming ads or pop songs. Have those poems memorized in a moment. So the problem is how to turn that love towards actual books.
I'm not a classroom teacher but I do know that some of the answers are in daily reading aloud (and stopping at exciting places!); getting the children to tell stories the way storytellers do, practicing until it becomes a performance; having them read favorite poems to younger grades; and the graphic novel. It has to do with letting their "bands" make up songs as back drop for books; getting them to draw or paint new covers for favorite books; and making a book trailer to go on YouTube.
In my family of three children, my oldest two were--and are today--great readers. Their houses are simply a-tumble with books. But my youngest never read for pleasure, always for information. Though he loved to HEAR stories, he was a late and even a reluctant reader. Today, he reads children's books to his twin daughters, he reads the poems I write for his astonishing nature photographs, but otherwise he and his beautiful and well-educated and adorable wife have no fiction books in the house for the kind of every day reading I feel essential to my own life. I did everything I could when he was growing up, including reading to him, surrounding him with his own bookcases and books, book-talking, and the like. And while he is in some ways the best adjusted of my children, he is who he is. I say this with great love and with the final realization that as much as I wanted him to be a reader, he never was warmed by the reading fire. It's true in every classroom, as I know you all are painfully aware.
Kimberley: That was an amazing and packed answer, Jane. I think the love of story is built into our psyches as humans and I don't think we can underestimate the power of reading in a classroom or family for those kids who are more into sports or their iPods or the mall. If nothing else, it at least introduces them to the written word and begins to activate those imagination brain cells in a very different way than math or science or movies or games do. Can you tell us about any exceptional literacy programs that you've run across as a visiting author?
Jane: What I have started—and seems to be working amazingly—for both writing and reading, is an annual writing contest for the children in my local elementary school. And that has gone on for 20 years now. They write all year and we hold the actual contest in May. Some kids even write on their summer vacations because now everyone wants to write—boys as well as girls. The parents are excited, too.
I choose up to 20 winners, all of whom get autographed books by me, and the top winners get checks for $15 ($10 for runners up). I read every single piece submitted. I choose the winners without reading who they are or what class they are in. I run the assembly where the awards are given and the teachers do everything else. I have had top winners from 1st and 2nd grade as well as 5th and 6th grade. I have chosen winners who have never won anything in their lives as well as winners who the teachers would have bet money on winning. I don't look for spelling or proper grammar. I look for something original, a spark, a love of language, a line that makes me laugh, a thought that makes me tear up, a character that leaps off the page, a poem that makes some of my poems look labored. And over the years, I think the teachers and I--despite all the obligatory testing--have made readers and writers out of these kids.
I actually don't know why more authors don't do this with their
local schools. We have hundreds--no THOUSANDS--of children's book authors across the country. Think how many schools we could be touching.
Lois: Jane, holding a local writing contest is a fantastic idea. You have discussed the human need for story. Why is reading—specifically why are books—important in this age when story is as close as a TV screen or movie theater?
Jane: Ah—that’s a tougher question because it is one I rarely examine. To me reading is as important as breathing. I read at the table and on the sofa and in bed. I read on trains and planes and during parties.
The author of a book and I have a kind of contract. I can read it as slowly or as quickly as I want to. I can linger over a perfect phrase and gallop through a plot to get to the other side. I can go back and reread the clues of a mystery or a character. I can stay up all night just to finish or put the book aside to think about it a while. And I am not reading it (usually) in a room filled with other folks reading the same book at the same pace as I am, lingering over the same phrases and sighing over the same characters.
Movies and theater rush you along at the director's pace and the actor's pace. Sure I can pause on a T.V. screen or computer, but how often do I do that? And when it's on the stage or in a big movie theater, I have NO control at all. Even listening to a storyteller, it is the teller who does the pacing. We don't have a contract except I am supposed to be quiet while I watch. I am not to talk back, rewind endlessly, get up and go to the bathroom (often I do this with a book, bringing the book with me.)
And the pictures, the characters, are part of the contract with the author. I get to see them in my head. On screen or in the theater, someone else is interpreting them for me. Someone else's face and body become the character's face and body. I have been left out of the equation. I am not so much a co-creator with the story, but am simply a paying customer struggling to keep up, catch up, suck it up.
In the end, I think I trust writers/authors more. And I trust me, the reader.
I like movies and theater. But they are very different animals, really, though they all start with The Word.
Lois: Jane, you have beautifully described the interaction between the author and the reader from your perspective as a reader. Would you tell us a little bit about the author/reader relationship from the author perspective? When you are writing a book do you have a certain type of reader or age group or audience in mind?
Jane: I would be disingenuous in saying that I am unaware of audience when I write. Clearly when I write the HOW DO DINOSAURS . . books I know they are for the picture book child. Or if I write THE DEVIL'S ARITHMETIC I am certain it is not for the pre-school set.
But honestly, I am writing for the child inside me, the one hungry for story.
Carolee: Jane your answers have been fascinating and thought-provoking! We wish that we could ask you another dozen, but for now, let’s wrap up with a lightning round of short Q & A. I’ll start off. What is your favorite place to write?
Jane: Laptop on. . .um. . .lap. Anywhere.
Kim: What is your favorite food while writing?
Carolee:What are your favorite books read last year:
Jane: Can I have 3? THE UNDERNEATH by Kathi Appelt. THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman.
Lois: Do you outline or wing it?
Jane: No outlines. I call it FLYING INTO THE MIST.
Kim: In closing, would you please list your upcoming Fall/Winter 2009-2010 Titles?
Jane: HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY I LOVE YOU? (Scholastic)
COME TO THE FAIRIES' BALL (Boyds Mills)
PUMPKIN BABY (Key-Porter)
UNDER THE STAR (Key-Porter)
THE SCARECROW'S DANCE (Simon & Schuster)
newly reillustrated THE SEEING STICK (Running Press)
ON THE SLANT (Richard Owens)
Carolee: Thank you so much for joining us here at Spellbinders. It’s been a great honor to have you as our featured author. We hope you will visit us again.
Over the coming months we'll look at how to survive book challenges without losing your sanity or your job. The not-so-secret remedy is a clear written policy, both for selecting books and for resolving challenges. But even with a fool-proof policy, you could still tear your hair out before the issue settles. And here's why ...
Everybody has rights, right? And yours come to a crashing halt where mine begin, especially when we're selecting and promoting books, videos, magazines, and Websites. Each may seem perfectly innocent to you, while raising the eyebrow of your principal, library director, or a cautious parent.
HERE'S A SAMPLING OF THE RIGHTS IN HEAD-TO-HEAD COMBAT:
Constitutional Privilege - The First Amendment guarantees the right to freedom of speech. While there are obvious limitations (treasonous statements, threats against the President, etc.), basically the government can't interfere with what the writer writes or the artist draws, even if we think it's trash.
Academic Freedom - Teachers and librarians have the right to teach and recommend the best materials. These are, of course, subjective decisions, and that's where the trouble flares. I think Pete Hautman's Godless is a brilliant YA novel, but you might think it's sacrilegious.
Community Standards - Neighborhoods differ politically, racially, and economically. What if the school or library board tends to be more conservative or more liberal than the community? Sparks fly when the rights are in conflict. But wait. Some books, such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, have been roundly challenged from both ends of the political spectrum, though for different reasons.
School/Library Standards - Schools and libraries have the right to set standards for selection and withdrawal of materials. Sit in on a board meeting during a book challenge, and you'll wonder how civilized people can be so snarky in their disagreement!
Parental Standards - Parents have the right to determine what's suitable for their children to read, but NOT the right to determine what every other child in the class or community may read.
A Student's Freedom to Learn - Each learner has the right to access materials for his/her own edification. This can be sticky if, for example, a young teen needs info on sex, but adults deny access for their own reasons.
See how complicated it is? Whose right, and who's right? Tune in next month!
Would you like to host an author but you're not sure how to find one, and money's hopelessly scarce? Go to America Writes for Kids, http://usawrites4kids.drury.edu/, and click on your state to find an author near you. Most children's writers have Websites with contact info, also. Then check with your state library, school district, PTO/PTA, or local foundation to learn about grants for Artist-in-Residence Programs. More about this subject in future issues. Go for it!
The Secret Language of Stories
In addition to writing books for children and young adults, I also work full-time in the public schools as a speech-language pathologist. I have observed that young children typically have a great love of story; however, after years of failure and frustration, adolescents who struggle with reading and writing often give up trying to understand the structure of stories or create tales of their own. I looked at the way that I taught children to analyze stories as an educator and how that compared to how I, as an author, analyzed and created my own novels. What resulted was a twelve step story method called THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF STORIES (SLOS).
The twelve story stages I teach students are as follows: The Old World, The Call, The Refusal, The Crossing, The New World, Plans & Preparations, The Midpoint Challenge, The Escape, The Tunnel of Transformation, The New Person, The Climax, and The Reward. Each of these will be defined and discussed through the next few months. I use SLOS with students of all ages to explore the stages of plot development and when I introduce these concepts I always start by discussing the idea of an Old World and a New World.
Nearly all stories show a main character growing and changing as a result of exposure to a New World. He or she starts out in their everyday world, but either something about that world changes to turn it upside down, or else the hero is propelled on an adventure to an entirely New World. Dorothy starts out on a farm in Kansas but ends up in the colorful world of Oz. Luke Skywalker leaves the dry, dusty planet of Tatooine to join the rebel forces trying to destroy the Death Star. In the movie, Transformers, Sam Witwicky's world is overtaken by cars that transform into monstrous killing machines. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry leaves Privett Drive to journey to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In Twilight, Bella leaves Arizona to go live with her father in Forks, Washington, only to enter an even more unique world of vampires.
In many stories for children and young adults, a new person who becomes a friend, enemy or a love interest, arrives in the Old World and nothing is ever the same again. In The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, Jess Aarons world is forever changed by Leslie Burke, the girl who moves in next door and helps him build a secret world in the woods called Terabithia.
Each of these stories shows a character growing and changing as a result of a setting transformation. Anyone who has undergone a major change in their living situation understands the impact this can have on a person. When I discuss the concept of Old World vs. New World with students, they easily come up with numerous examples of their own from movies and books. Boys who may have struggled with story analysis join in for the first time on discussions about plot, character and setting. It isn't that they don't understand these concepts; it is simply that they haven't had a language to use to describe what they know. My hope is that through THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF STORIES all students will grow in their appreciation of story.
For the September Creative Writing Activity please visit the blog on my website at www.caroleedean.com.
Are you still using Charlotte's Web or Tuck Everlasting for your class's yearly novel reading and discussion? Do you want something new and fresh for reading aloud or to launch a new class project?
My column will bring you juicy gossip about the new books launching into the world. Focus will be on brand new authors, new books by your favorite authors, Newbery and Caldecott "buzz" as well as book reviews in fiction and non-fiction titles. So let's dish about some of the books that are making the Newbery Buzz RIGHT NOW!
Anything But Typical
by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Simon & Schuster
Jason, a 12-year-old autistic boy who wants to become a writer.
All the Broken Pieces
by Ann E. Burg
Two years after being airlifted out of Vietnam in 1975, Matt Pin is haunted by the terrible secret he left behind and, now, in a loving adoptive home in the United States, a series of profound events forces him to confront his past.
by Clay Carmichael
Front Street Books
Stubborn, self-reliant 11-year old Zoe, recently orphaned, moves to the country to live with her prickly uncle, a famous sculptor and doctor, and together they learn about trust and the strength of family.
Girl Who Threw Butterflies
by Mick Cochrane
Alfred A. Knopf
Eight-grader Molly's ability to throw knuckleballs earns her a spot on the baseball team, which not only helps her feel connected to her recently deceased father, who loved baseball, but helps her in other aspects of her life as well.
The Year the Swallows Came Early
by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
After her father is sent to jail, 11 year old Groovy Robinson must decide if she can forgive the failings of someone she loves.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
by Jacqueline Kelly
Henry B. Holt
In Central Texas in 1899, 11 year old Callie Vee Tate, is instructed by her mother to be a lady, learns about love from the older three of her six brothers, and studies the natural world with her grandfather, the latter of which leads to an important discovery.
Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg
by Rodman Philbrick
Blue Sky Press
12 year old Homer, a poor but clever orphan, has extraordinary adventures after running away from his evil uncle to rescue his brother who has been sold into service in the Civil War.
When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books
As her mother prepares to be a contestant on the 1980s television game show, "The $20,000 Pyramid", a 12 year old girl New York City girl tries to make sense of a series of mysterious notes sent by an anonymous source that seems to defy the laws of time and space.
You can find these new titles in your local Independent bookstores, your favorite school distributor, Amazon, B&N.com and national chains. Now go relax and read a great book!