All things literacy — Authors, Books, Connections . . .

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Challenge for Writers - Inspired by The Inventor's Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford

The Inventor's Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford

 Suzanne Slade and illustrator Jennifer Black Reinhardt created a book that emerged in September 2015 -- The Inventor's Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford. (Charlesbridge, 2015).  Here's some interesting background about the book -
And a YouTube booktrailer at

Now the challenge -- we need to think about inclusion of diverse subjects.  This book fits nicely into an inventor's focus but so often the only inventors included are those that came as European white men.  In response to this book  share a collaborative read about inventors that feature an inventor that is not white or not male.

For example do you know of Granville T. Woods (if there is not a book about him -- are there alternative ways to share information about him?)  Do you know who invented the potato chip? Or how abotu Elijah McCoy, Benjamin Banneker, Garrett Morgan, and Chester Greenwood (earmuffs), Earl Dickson (band-aids®), Clarence Crane (life savers®), William Russell Frisbie (guess what he invented?), Igor Sikorsky (helicopter), Catherine Greene (ideas provided Eli Whitney with refinements making his cotton gin a success), Margaret Knight (safety mechanism on loom & the paper bag- and 26 patents), Sarah Breedlove Walker (hair products), Bette Graham (white-out), Ann Moore (SNUGLI - a baby carrier, and later a carrier for oxygen tanks), Stephanie Kwolek (strong fiber - Kevlar), Gertrude B. Elion (drugs for leukemia and popular organ rejection drugs), Mary Anderson (windshield wipers), Josephine Cochrane (dishwasher), Marion Donovan (disposable diaper), Melitta Benz (automatic drip coffee maker), & George Washington Carver (over 300 different producs, many using peanuts [but not peanut butter]). What other inventors are out there?
Books about these non-white or non-male inventors are often difficult to find.  How can information be shared -- or can you find books/articles about any of these inventors?
Share your findings in the comments section below... .

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Day with Thomas (the Tank Engine)

Riding the Rails with Thomas -- Was it Worth it?

The long awaited day came - September 26, 2015... we were headed 2 hours away to ride the rails pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine.  The event would take place in Boone, Iowa - Boone  & Scenic Valley Railroad.

We, my friend Karon and I, and the little one headed out at 9:45 a.m. since our tickets were for 1 p.m. and we were advised to arrive an hour early.

The little one slept on the way down so was refreshed and ready for some fun.  The advertising said, "Take a ride with Thomas, meet the railway controller Sir Topham Hatt, have fun in the Imagination Station, see authentic engines and enjoy tons of other activities in a city near you! This year some events featuring Thomas's best friend Percy! All Aboard!"  We had purchased our tickets in advance and had them at the ready.

The imagination station was a large tent filled with tables of play tables and train sets.
There was a train-shaped blowup bounce house but there were too many big kids in there for a 2-year-old to go in unaccompanied.  Not appropriate for grown-ups to be in there and without a "bigger kid" the bounce house was not the experience that was non-threatening for a 2 year old.  One station with a the IPTV guy showed films from IPTV - pretty much what we have seen a million times.  We were able to take a picture of the IPTV guy who exudes excitement about Thomas, IPTV, and Reading -- and both of us gave a thumbs up.  Pryor was able to chase bubbles being produced by a bubble machine at the end of a large red caboose.  Chasing them and climbing onto the platform at the back of the caboose was entertaining.  Just right for a two year old.

Then here comes Thomas down the track.  Whistle was very underplayed and one might have missed his arrival if one hadn't been right there.  Once he moved into the stopping spot pictures would not have been possible as he was beyond the area where passengers were allowed.

 The wheels were VERY big... and then we moved down the path to board the train.  Our tickets were punched and we climbed on.

The ride was short - 15 minutes by houses and through the countryside.  Five minutes standing still and then pulled back into the station.  Only action on the train was the conductor coming by to high-five the youngest passengers, and a photographer offering to take family pictures (to be purchased at an inflated price - we declined).  When we disembarked there were plenty of gifts to purchase in the train station, and the Thomas gift tent, a lot of food vendors -- although we were told Sir Topham Hatt was around -- we could not find him.  But surely he was there somewhere as the photographer on the train quoted a price for a combination package with Sir Topham Hatt and the train pictures.  But once we were near the gift tent we did get a Thomas the Tank Engine balloon ($12.00) and a mechanized James the engine train set ($33.00)

Now to answer the question:  Was it worth it?  Not really, it could have been done so much better.  But you know a 2 year old has little or no concept of too many food vendors, very little variety in the imagination tent, and too little "Thomas" on the train ride.  The delight in his eyes was worth every penny.  However, he did repeatedly comment, " We couldn't find Sir Topham Hatt."  But once putting on his new t-shirts (from our friend) and helping Grandpa put together the train track - he forgot all about missing Sir Topham Hatt.

What could the organizers done differently?
  • Perhaps playologists in the imagination tent to supervise and manage when a larger child takes trains away from littler children (parents should not have to manage other people's children) -- Pryor managed on his own but several other children and parents had difficulties.  No assistance was available in the craft area (which wasn't really too exciting anyway).
  • Something, anything, on the train to make it speak "Thomas."  If one had not seen the engine - and that is quite possible, one would not have a clue that they were on the Thomas train.  How about:  some music from some of the Thomas shows, could Sir Topham Hatt come through the train?  Perhaps a baseball card type of souvenir rather than the b/w hand out.  
  • There was no welcome (at least that we could hear in our car), and nothing that made the train ride anything but an ordinary train ride.  So perhaps a more energizing welcome with a special whistle as we moved out.
  • Some type of organization to the grounds -- seemed very disorganized and no "map" of what was where (such as where was Sir Topham Hatt?).  Staff was around but mostly for selling things  ... few had any answers about where something or somebody was, or who was responsible for a beverage machine that took money but delivered nothing. 
Will this make any difference to organizers?  I doubt it but for those who are contemplating buying tickets for the 2016 rides (too late for the 2015 season at least here in Iowa) perhaps this might be of some help.  Remembering that you (the adult) are probably not going to appreciate much about the situation (although I got to spend a day with a good friend who was a BIG help in keeping track of a little one), but the experience is really for the little ones -- and they do not care what you pay, they just want to have fun.  And I think the little one we took did have fun... because he had nothing to compare it too (including no expectations).

Books about Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends are written by the Rev. Wilbert Awdry, and later his son Christopher.  The books were part of the series The Railroad Series.  Thomas is a steam engine with the #1 painted on its side. He emerged as the most popular of the characters and is now the star of a television spin-off called Thomas & Friends.  The books were originally published by the Golden Press (Little Golden Books) which is now owned by Random House Books for Young Readers.  There are many versions and many stories. Thomas made his first appearance in 1945.  So this year 2015 Thomas is 70 years old.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate

George Moses Horton - POET

Don Tate, a talented author and illustrator, has recently had a new book released by Peachtree (2015).
It is the story of  George Moses Horton.  Horton was born on a tobacco plantation, in Chatham County, North Carolina, approximately 1798.  His master who enslaved him from birth, was William Horton. George Moses Horton taught himself to read and during his teen years, around 1815 he began to compose poems.  He recited them aloud and sold them to people who crowded around him at the Chapel Hill farmers market.  Those attending the University of North Carolina encouraged him by purchasing his love poems and giving him books.  A professor's wife and novelist, Caroline Lee Whiting Hentz helped him publish his poems in the local newspaper.  She was instrumental in helping him publish his first collection of poetry, The Hope of Liberty (1829).  He became the first African American man to publish a book in the South.  He was also one of the first to protest slavery with his poetry.  His efforts to earn enough money to buy his freedom were blocked but he did manage to use his income from his poetry to buy his time and he became a full-time poet and handyman at the university.  This continued for over 30 years while he was gathering his poems to publish The Poetical Works in 1845, and Naked Genius in 1865.  Finally after 68 years enslaved in the south, he was freed by the Civil War and settled in Philadelphia where he lived the last 17 years or so, in freedom.  He died in approximately 1883.  Chatham County, North Carolina has honored him by naming a middle school in his honor, and in 1978, June 28 was declared George Moses Horton Day.  Horton has received several awards and accolades.

Photo by Don Tate - Circle City Books and Music
Pittsboro, N.C.
Don Tate wrote and illustrated a picture book about Horton, and while on a trip to North Carolina, he took this picture, without noting the location or the particulars about the picture - noticing only the name of George Moses Horton, the subject of his just released book.

Mysteries (or unanswered questions) always interest me. So I went on a search to figure out where and what this picture was part of.  Thanks to Angela Burt, Branch Manager of the Chatham County Library in Pittsboro, NC - I now know the location of this picture. A call to the library, and sharing the picture yielded this information.  This is a mural on the side of the Circle City Books & Music. The store is located in Pittsboro, NC at 121 Hillsboro Street.

Ms. Burt also told me that Doris Betts was a local writer as well. Maya Angelou was not from Chatham County but a little research tells me that Angelou visited Bennett College (Greensboro, N.C.) and the Horton Middle School students who had been immersing themselves in the writing of Angelou were able to hear her speak there in 2007. Tantalus in Love by Alan Shapiro was an acclaimed book of poetry from 2005 - which tells me this painting was executed sometime after 2005, and since Angelou is mentioned I'm betting after her visit to NC in 2007. Shapiro's connection to NC is that he is an American poet and professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Charles Frazier whose name is shown on the corner of this photo is an American historical novelist. ... Frazier was born in Asheville, North Carolina. He won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction for Cold Mountain (1997) which I am guessing is the book represented here as the cover was blue -- his other many books are other colors.

A visit to the store's Facebook page indicates that as of August 16, 2015 when Circle City Books & Music updated their cover photo to use the photograph below, the mural was indicated, by a comment posted, as being a beautiful addition to downtown Pittsboro (mural and shop!)."
And further, Tate's photograph was just a snippet of the entire mural long the side of the building.  Kudos to Circle City Books & Music, to Don Tate for making me aware of George Moses Horton, and to Angela Burt at the Chatham County Library for responding to a patron -- even if that patron was nearly 1000 miles and 16 hours away from her library.
After reading Don Tate's book Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton some older readers may wish to explore Horton's life and writing by reading:

Sherman, Joan R. (1997) The Black Bard of South Carolina: George Moses Horton and His Poetry. Chapel Hill Books: University of North Carolina Press.  ISBN  978-0-8078-4648-3.

Horton, George Moses.  (2012) Poems By a Slave. (Classic Reprint Series) Charleston, S.C.: Forgotten Books.  ASIN: B008XDI74C

Horton, George Moses. (2010) The Poetical Works of George M. horton: The Colored Bard of North-Carolina, to which is prefixed the Life of the Author, written by himself.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN-13: 978-1456323240

Sunday, August 09, 2015

"A proper tea party" --

A Proper Tea is much nicer than a Very Nearly Tea, 

which is one you forget about afterwards. 

~ A.A. Milne

A hat filled with flowers is very much needed for attending a proper tea! Pearls, scarfs, and lacy gloves.

There are teacups in every floral design.

Plan a proper tea and share a few "tea" books:

-- For young readers:
  • My Very First Tea Party by Michal Sparks (Harvest House, 2000)
  • Fancy Nancy: Tea for Two by Jane O'Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (Harper Festival, 2012)
  • Madeline's Tea Party by John Bemelmans Marciano (Penguin Young Readers, 2012)
-- For the Tea Party Planner:
  • Vintage Tea Party by Carolyn Caldicott, photographs by Chris Caldicott (Frances Lincoln, 2012)
  • Traditional Afternoon Tea by Martha Day (Lorenz Books, 2012)
  • Tea Party: 20 Themed Tea Parties with Recipes for Every Occasion, from Fabulous Showers to Intimate Gatherings by Tracy Stern (Clarkson Potter, 2007)

Need a hat for your own tea party -- try this DIY project.  -- visit the Make a Hat page on the Green Frog Gifts Blog

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Catcher in the Rye - How it started Farrar Straus Giroux

The Catcher in the Rye  -- Farrar Straus Giroux
Most will view this entry as a page from the life of J.D. Salinger - the author of The Catcher in the Rye (Little Brown, 1951).  But if you engage in a close reading you will see where the beginnings of expansion of the mega publishing firm that became Farrar Straus Giroux.

On July 16, 1951, J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye was published by Little, Brown.  Although the book is about a confused teenager, Holden Caulfield, who has found only disillusionment in the adult world, Salinger never intended the book to be a novel for teens. 
The opening lines of the book do manage to catch the reader right from the start: "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
Salinger had thought about Holden Caulfield since his early twenties.  While carrying the stories of Caulfield with him Salinger went off to fight in World War II.  He still was thinking about the stories (now six of them) when he was on Normandy Beach, and in Nazi concentration camps, and when he spent hours with Ernest Hemingway while both were in Paris.  Eventually there were nine stories about Caulfield and he compiled them into a manuscript and sent the manuscript off to a publisher at Harcourt, Brace; an editor named Robert Giroux.  Giroux was very interested in the book and sent it off to his boss Eugene Reynal.  Reynal could only focus on the fact that the chief protagonist was a prep-school boy in New York, so Reynal sent the manuscript off to a text book editor.  That editor didn’t like the novel either so Harcourt Brace declined to publish it.  But that was not the end of the book, a rival publisher, Little, Brown quickly accepted the book and published it.  Robert Giroux quit his job and moved to Farrar, Strauss, a firm that Roger W. Straus and John C. Farrar had founded in 1946. In 1964 Robert Giroux's name was added to the roster and the company became Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The Catcher in the Rye became an almost immediate hit and went on to become one of the most taught titles in high school classes.  It became a Book of the Month Club selection – but it’s popularity pushed Salinger away from the public to a hilltop cabin in Cornish, New Hampshire. 
Salinger was just 31 years of age when his book hit the book stores.  The following year he married and although he did not ever publish another novel he did continue to write short stories, and in 1963 Franny and Zooey was published; a combination of two earlier New Yorker stories.  However, by 1965, when he was just 44, Salinger was divorced and had stopped publishing work altogether. The publication of “Hapworth 16, 1924,” a 25,000-word story that appeared in the June 19, 1965, issue of The New Yorker effectively ended his writing career.  He lived out the rest of his life as a recluse and at the time of his death on January 27, 2010 (age 91) he was still living in his hilltop cabin in New Hampshire, in the midst of 90 acres that continued to isolate him from the public, and where he had lived in seclusion for the past five decades.   

References for this article include the Writer’s Almanac and Salinger’s New York Times obituary which appeared in the Books section on January 28, 2010.
McGrath, Charles. (28 January 2010) J.D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, dies at 91.  New York: Books.  (WEB)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Titanic Strategy for Motivating Informational Reading

Several years ago I was introduced to this strategy and have used it hundreds of time since.  Every time I repeated the strategy the students responded enthusiastic and had a great deal of interest (at all age levels) in close reading and discovery.  I titled this strategy THE TITANIC STRATEGY only because that is the topic used during the first time that I was introduced to the strategy.

Titanic Strategy
  • PRE-LESSON DAY -- If the topic is one that the students would normally have some first hand knowledge about this step may not be necessary. But if it is an event in history, or a topic not normally in their background provide them with the topic, and say, "Tomorrow we will be discussing the Titanic." (or whatever the topic, spiders [a topic such as WWII is probably too broad as is a topic such as jungle animals] -- keep the topic narrow to the focus on the book that you all will be reading).  "If you know anything about the Titanic make a mental list in your head; and tonight you might want to see what others in your household know about the Titanic." (I'm always careful NOT to say parents as many of my students do not have parents in the household - grandparents maybe, step parents, foster, etc.)  "Don't tell me now but be ready for our discussion tomorrow."
  • FIRST DAY OF LESSON - FIRST STEP: --Put up a large (very large) sheet of butcher paper (white board doesn't work well because this is something you want up over the next several days ALL the time).  Have fat magic markers available and write large enough that the writing can be seen from the back of the room.  Good idea to number the facts as you go and to keep them in a linear fashion [columns perhaps] rather than a hodge podge web type presentation) NOTE: if you have a picture of your FACT Chart I'd love to use it on a revision of this blog post.
"Today we are going to list everything we know about the Titanic.  Does anyone know anything about this topic?"
(As students contribute -- condense their sentence into a phrase such as "The book sunk in the Atlantic Ocean" becomes "Sank-Atlantic Ocean."  We are not teaching sentence writing here.  We are gathering facts.)
You will be surprised at the multitude of facts that the students give you and eventually someone will say "no, that's not right."  To which you respond.  "Right now we are only gathering what we think are facts.  Do you have a different idea of what the fact is?"  (They might say something like "it sank in the Pacific Ocean" so now you put up "Sank-Pacific Ocean.")  Gather as many facts as possible and exhaust every possibility. 

  • FIRST DAY OF LESSON - SECOND STEP:  Take out a different colored marker and say, "Now we are going to go back through this list and see if we can figure out which ones are actual facts or which statements may be questionable."   One by one go through the facts asking:
  1. Is this a fact that we all agree is actually a fact?  (If it is mark with a star, if not put a ? in front of the statement.)
  2. If there is a fact that YOU think is questionable, press for a total commitment, and ask, "Do you think you could prove to me that this is a fact?"
  3. Any student who is especially adamant about a fact being right or wrong put his/her initials at the end of the statement.
  4. Be careful not to let one student dominate ... you know your students best.
  • FIRST DAY OF LESSON - THIRD STEP:  Observe and comment regarding the facts that all accept, and those statements that are in question.  Divide the class into groups - giving each member in the group a copy of the text you want them to read.  Everyone could be given the same book; or each member of group 1 given the same book and the members of group 2 could be given another title on the same topic.  Ask each group to read their books carefully - together, out-loud, independently -- however  they wish.  But in their reading they should be looking for information that proves or disproves one of the questionable facts.  Give each group a pad of post-it notes so that students can mark their pages for later discussion.  This is where the numbered facts come in -- student can just put the number of the fact on the post-it and use it as a book mark for the page where the information is located. 
    If you are not able to complete this entire lesson in one block of time - call a halt to the reading after giving enough time for the students to read/but not enough time that they have finished.  Leave them eager to find out other facts.  Make a transition to another activity or subject and promise more time tomorrow.
  • SECOND DAY OF LESSON - FIRST STEP:  Ask groups to reconvene and to reveal what they had discovered yesterday and give them 10-15 minutes more.  At this point call the group back together for the discussion phase of the exercise.
  • SECOND DAY OF LESSON - SECOND STEP: During this phase the total group will read each questionable statement and either disprove the fact or prove the fact by citing (and reading) convincing evidence from their book.  Passages should be read from their source, passages that prove or disprove the statement.  Make revisions to the statement as necessary and when it is finally accurate mark it appropriately.
    As you go through the list, if the class is satisfied that the fact is correct a star (different color than from the original stars) should be added to the front of the fact.  In the end you will have some statements that have not been proved or disproved.  At this time, each group can choose facts for further reading and research.  Using the library and credible sources on the internet (may be a good time to slip in a "What is a credible internet site?" lesson.) each group will research their statements in order to prove, disprove, or modify so the statement is accurate.
  • THIRD DAY OF LESSON - FIRST STEP:  Reconvene groups - research time.  Students will need access to the library, computers for research in the library's databases etc.
  • FOURTH DAY OF LESSON - FIRST STEP:  Culminate by finishing up with the found facts.  Make a new chart paper list of all the facts we know -- as you re-list the facts you might want to categorize them into groups/columns. 
  • FOURTH DAY OF LESSON - SECOND STEP:  Recap and discuss what students found out about reading -- Did they find it helpful to use the index? table of contents? Did the section and chapter headings help them?  Did they read the book from front to back?
     Using the chart of information ask students to write an essay about the Titanic (perhaps with the goal of publishing the article in a periodical of historical events).  Incorporate whatever lesson might be appropriate at the particular stage your students are at in terms of writing paragraphs, writing a hook (a sentence that interests others in the writing), and so forth.  The categories you created with the list  of facts should be able to help the writers group information together in their writing.  Encourage members of the smaller groups to share particular elements of their writing -- perhaps sharing their hook sentences, their best paragraph, or their conclusion.

The Titanic Strategy for Motivating Informational Reading

This strategy works with every level of learner -- just adapt the topic, with appropriate books, for the specific group of learners you are working with.  The technique can accommodate a class read, or small group reads.  This could also be used as a read aloud / listening activity -- teacher read aloud the material (say the page number of each page before reading).  As the listener hears something that might prove or disprove a statement they jot down the page number that the teacher is reading (I often just jot the page number I am reading on the white board -- changing it as I turn pages) and add the number of the fact that I think the page proves or disproves.  A discussion is carried out much as it is done on the second day with listeners sharing the fact that they think they have been able to prove or disprove.  The teacher then rereads the particular page identified by the student.  Class listens for the appropriate information.

Use this technique with any topic as long as the topic is not too broad.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Book Binding

This video is so fascinating.  Imagine how long it took to create a library of books in years gone past -- and how long it takes machines to accomplish a similar task today.