Wednesday, October 6, 2010

October 2010 Issue - Welcome Back to the New School Year!

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October, 2010
Feature Column - The Gift of Reading Book Drive
Carolee Dean

Alamosa Books, where you can drop off your donations (Paseo del Norte & Ventura)
On Saturday, September 25th, Carolee Dean, Kimberley Little, and Lois Ruby participated in a book drive and author fair along with eight other children's authors/ illustrators at Alamosa Books, a new, independent bookstore in Albuquerque, NM. We chatted with teachers, ate barbecue along with a wonderful Cajun yam-pecan bread made by Kimberley, listened to music and talked about books.

Authors Kimberley Griffiths Little and Carolee Dean at the 12-author event to kick off the book drive (all the authors donated their own books as well).
Kimberley and Carolee

The purpose of the book drive, The Gift of Reading, which will run through December 6th, is to collect new and slightly used books for youth at risk who are serviced through a variety of community programs. Books collected for the Metro Detention Center will be given to children of all ages who come to visit parents in the jail. Books donated to Peanut Butter and Jelly Therapeutic Programs will be distributed through their various programs, some of which provide support to children with incarcerated parents. Books donated to the Barrett Foundation will go to a local shelter for victims of domestic violence.
Book Donation Box! Please help us fill it up by December 6th!
Donation Box

Please help us make a positive impact on kids of all ages by donating books at Alamosa or by starting a similar book drive in your area. Get involved! It only takes one book to ignite the reading fire and change the life of a child at risk.

October, 2010
Chris Eboch
Chris Eboch
Guest Column - Reach Readers with Series
Chris Eboch

How many of you grew up on Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys? Or perhaps the Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, or even the Magic Tree House, Sweet Valley High or Goosebumps? Adults may argue about the literary value of some of these series (and have been doing so since Nancy Drew debuted in the 1930s). But many of us know from our own experiences the excitement of discovering a series we love, and then devouring one book after another.

Series can appeal to all readers-who doesn't love to return to favorite characters and settings?-but have special value for reluctant readers. Once a young reader gets through the first book, he or she knows what to expect from the rest of them. That makes the sequels less intimidating than other standalone books, since the reader is rejoining old friends in a safe situation. The characters, setting and premise are familiar, so understanding those aspects requires less effort. The young reader can focus on making sense of the language and understanding the plot. With each book read, the process gets easier and more fun. Perhaps without even knowing it, the child becomes a reader. For kids intimidated by the length or difficulty of the first book, hearing it read aloud may provide the confidence to tackle other books in the series.

Even series that are not designed as reluctant reader books can appeal to hesitant readers. When I wrote my Haunted series for ages 8 to 12, I wanted fun, fast-paced books with lots of action and dialogue. Since the series features a 13-year-old boy narrator and his 11-year-old sister, I hoped that both boys and girls would read the book-girls at perhaps a younger age, since they tend to be stronger readers. My editor suggested that our primary market was reluctant reader boys. There's no reason strong readers couldn't enjoy it, but the manga-inspired cover may draw in boys who don't typically turn to novels, and hopefully the fast pace will keep them reading.

Some publishers focus on books for children learning to read, sometimes identified as leveled readers. Typically these series divide books into four or five reading levels, each one slightly harder and introducing specific new concepts, such as compound sentences or chapters. These early readers are not specifically geared toward reluctant readers, but can be used with them, perhaps at a reading level lower than their grade level. Nor are they all series books, but series are popular, especially at the higher reading levels, for the reasons mentioned above.

Young readers will find just about every genre they could want in series books: contemporary everyday or school stories (Junie B. Jones, Riverside Kids), fantasy (The Unicorn's Secret), historical fiction (Little House Chapter Books), animal stories (Sneaky Pony Series, Martha Speaks), horror (Fear Street), adventure (Andrew Lost), and lots of mysteries, with detectives both animal (The Buddy Files, Fribble Mouse Library Mystery) and human (Nate the Great, Cam Jansen). They'll find humor in series such as Captain Underpants, Amelia Bedelia and The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids. Young readers will even find characters familiar from TV and movies, such as the Disney princesses, Spongebob Squarepants, and Barbie. Interest level and reading level span the spectrum. For example, The Walker High Mysteries by Saddleback Educational Publishing have a young adult interest level but a 2.0 reading level.

With this huge selection of books available, even the most reluctant reader should be able to find something to enjoy. Teachers, librarians and parents can help by encouraging struggling readers to read anything that appeals to them, from nonfiction and sports stories to graphic novels, pop culture and potty humor. Reading tastes can mature over time. The first goal is to help the child becomes a reader. Series can help.

Resources for Reaching Reluctant Readers

Children's literature specialist Esmé Codell offers booklets, activities and advice in How to Get Your Child to Love Reading: For Ravenous and Reluctant Readers Alike.

Rip-Roaring Reads for Reluctant Teen Readers and More Rip-Roaring Reads for Reluctant Teen Readers are aimed at teachers and librarians but may also be helpful to parents.

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), releases annual list of Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. The lists feature dozens of books, both nonfiction and fiction, geared toward teenagers who don't like to read.

Jon Scieszka's Guys Read has an extensive list of boy-friendly books.

Several of the large publishers produce leveled readers. HarperCollins publishes the I Can Read Books, Random House has its Step into Reading line, Viking publishes an Easy to Read line, and Simon and Schuster has the Ready-to-Read and slightly older Ready-for-Chapters books. Scholastic's Little Apple paperbacks contain both books with a reading level identified and unleveled books. Smaller publishers that focus on reluctant readers include Capstone Press, Tea Leaf Press, Orca Book Publishers, and Lobster Press.

An Amazon search for "Children's Books for Reluctant Readers" will turn up more suggestions, along with Listmania lists of recommended books from teachers, librarians and readers.

Education World has articles on strategies for motivating reluctant readers.

Scholastic Press offers advice on reaching reluctant readers, with book suggestions from their own list.

Chris Eboch is the author of 12 books for young people. Her Haunted series for ages 8-12 follows a brother and sister who travel with their parents' ghost hunter TV show. Her other books include The Well of Sacrifice, a middle grade Mayan adventure, used in many schools, and two inspirational biographies, Jesse Owens: Young Record Breaker and Milton Hershey: Young Chocolatier, written under the name M.M. Eboch. See her website at

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Kimberley LittleKimberley's Book Buzz

Kimberley Griffiths Little
In keeping with our theme of literacy and The Gift of Reading and our quest to encourage kids in that 8-18 age range who are struggling to LEARN to read, struggling to read BETTER, or struggling to ENJOY reading, here are some titles with high interest and lower grade level readability. (These books would also be great for adults who are trying to improve literacy and their reading skills but want more sophisticated books than picture books or Step-into-Reading Level books.)

Books in Verse are becoming very popular the last few years. One reason is due to shorter paragraphs and sentences, lots of white space, fewer words per page, and fast action and plotting. A couple of examples here:

I Heart You - You Haunt MeI Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder

What My Mother Doesn't KnowWhat my Mother doesn't Know by Sonja Sones.

Puffin Books (Simon & Schuster) has been publishing some of the old classics with a whole new twist! As a GRAPHIC NOVEL. The word count is very low, lots of dialogue, illustrations and artwork to lure those new and reluctant readers. These Classic Graphic Novels are a great way to expose kids to classic books they would never read on their own.

Here are a few titles to whet your appetite:

Red Badge of CourageFrankenstein

The Red Badge of Courage

Call of the Wild

Call of the Wild


Treasure Island

Edgar Allen Poe

Black Beauty

Mark Twain

And many more exciting titles!

Puffin has also published award-winning books in an illustrated format called Great Illustrated Classics, for those kids whose attention span is short or need help with reading. They can be found through Amazon or Barnes & Noble or ordered from any bookstore. Many public libraries are acquiring them for their collections as well. Here are a few titles to get you excited:

Popular Fiction:

Redwall by Brian Jacques

War of the WorldsScience Fiction:

The War of the Worlds H.G. Wells

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Sherlock Holmes

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

The Three Musketeers

Newbery Winning titles:

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate diCamillo

Grimm Fairy Tales, Volumes 1-10


Gettysburg by C. M. Butzer

Rapunzel's RevengeFairy Tales:

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon & Dean Hale

And then there is fast-paced Young Adult fiction with drama and cliff-hangers like these to entice kids who are good readers, but easily distracted by television and computers!

Dead Girls Don't Write LettersDead Girls Don't Write Letters by Gail Giles (and *any* title by Gail Giles is a gripping, dramatic story so definitely check her out.)

Enjoy a whole new way to read with your child or reluctant reader or student to get them excited about books!


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Lois Ruby
A Farewell from Lois
Lois Ruby
Hello, and welcome back to Spellbinders, and happy new school year! Carolee and Kimberley are carrying on the Spellbinders tradition of sharing trends and new books and ideas on literacy that you can use to your heart's content.

I will not be a regular columnist this year, as I'm up to my flaring nostrils in other projects, and I'm not getting any younger. But I'm told I may be invited to be a guest contributor now and then, and I'll look forward to chatting with you at those times. Meanwhile, as Garrison Keillor says, be well, do good work, and keep in touch. (Gee, sounds good. Why didn't I think of that?)


Carolee Dean
The Secret Language of Stories
Carolee Dean

In keeping with this month's theme of literacy, I would like to share the following observations about illiteracy and juvenile incarceration from the Handbook of Language Literacy: Development and Disorders by C. Addison Stone et al. (2004, Guilford Press).

-85% of incarcerated juveniles are marginally literate or illiterate.

-Most incarcerated youth lag 2 or more years behind their same age peers in academic skills.

-Poor literacy may lead to emotional difficulties such as low self-esteem and a sense of hopelessness. These difficulties may then lead to criminal behavior.

-Teens with poor literacy skills are not prepared to enter the workforce.

In addition, the January, 2010 issue of the National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center: for the Education of Children and Youth Who Are Neglected, Delinquent, or At Risk reports the following:

-Children with learning difficulties or simply poor academic achievement are over three times more likely to join gangs.

- An estimated 35% of academically low-performing children become delinquent.

-A disproportionate number of youths in detention and correctional institutions have not acquired adequate literacy skills.

One of the themes in my new novel TAKE ME THERE (Simon Pulse, 2010) is the correlation between illiteracy and incarceration.

Take Me ThereExperts argue about whether illiteracy is the cause of crime or simply a coexisting factor, but a correlation definitely exists. In my work as a speech-language pathologist in the public schools, I witness, on a daily basis, the frustration and despair of students who cannot read. Without a strong foundation in literacy, it is an uphill struggle to understand any other subject. A sense of failure permeates the school experience of children who cannot read. Most of these students have average intelligence, but they have not yet learned how to break the written code and use it to navigate the treacherous terrain of academics.

One of the reasons I developed my twelve step story method, which I call THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF STORIES (SLOS), is because I wanted to give these students a simple language they could use to talk about stories. Children typically enter school with a great love of story. Unfortunately, by the time they reach middle school and high school, this love has been replaced with a sense of futility. We often don't talk about stories in a way that makes sense to them, and the questions we ask them seem far removed from what they experience in terms of how they connect with characters. The details over which they are quizzed often lack context and aren't the details they find important. It gets much worse when we ask them to write, because that's when their inability to spell becomes glaringly obvious. While they struggle with how to spell, they stall out on words and forget the ideas they wanted to convey in the first place.

One of the first benefits I see when I start to talk with students about the structure of stories as described in SLOS, is that reluctant readers easily recognize the patterns in movies they've seen or stories they've heard. They actually become eager to volunteer examples because they understand the concepts and for once they can contribute something meaningful to a class discussion. Abstract ideas such as the affect of setting on character development become much more tangible when we talk about a character starting out in an Ordinary World and then traveling to strange and dangerous New World. It is then much easier to see how the obstacles faced on this exciting journey impact how the character grows and changes.

Though it is true that many students with reading difficulties also have difficulty with oral expression, their ability to talk about ideas is still typically much stronger than their ability to write them down, especially when a structure is provided for the conversation.

We all have stories inside of us, and one of the most exciting things we get to do as educators is to help students find the stories they long to tell.

For a fun activity on how to generate interesting conversations about story settings, visit the blog on my website at

If you have missed any of my previous articles explaining the twelve steps of SLOS, please refer to the previous issues of Spellbinders which may be found at http//

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