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    • Book Reviews

    Get Active: Books About Sports, Athletes

    by Karen Hildebrand
     | Jul 27, 2015

    Staying active can be healthy as well as entertaining. Sports can provide both exercise and entertainment in many cases. The following books are about competition, rivalries, physical abilities or the lack of ability, friendship and sportsmanship. Enjoy these new titles that range from swimming to roller derby to the latest sports statistics.

    Ages 4–8

    Clothesline CluesClothesline Clues to Sports People Play. Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook. 2015. Charlesbridge.

    Through rhymed verse and clues hanging from clothespins, various sports are described for young readers to guess. Sports equipment, uniforms, clothing, and balls are just a few examples of the items dangling from the clothesline.

    Henry Holton Takes the Ice. Sandra Bradley. 2015. Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Group.

    Henry is from a “hockey mad” family, but Henry is just not interested in hockey though he loves ice skating. When he discovers his real passion is ice dancing, his grandmother, who was once a figure skater, offers support.

    Mustache Baby Meets His Match. Bridget Heos. 2015. Clarion /HMH Group.

    Mustache Baby Billy has a play date with Baby Javier. As the two seem to compete in every activity they choose to do like teddy-bear rassling, hobbyhorse riding, magic, and many other supposed-to-be-fun things, play time turns into a competition and Mustache Baby finds himself on the losing side. He discovers one thing he can be first in, however, and friendship triumphs over rivalry.

    Ages 9­–11

    BaseballogyBaseballogy: Supercool Facts You Never Knew. Kevin Sylvester. Annick.

    Baseball trivia fans will enjoy the vast miscellany of information from bats, balls, and gloves to player information, salaries, tickets, and concessions. Though many baseball tidbits are not covered, the cartoon-like illustrations will give young baseball enthusiasts hours of entertainment while adding to their background knowledge of the U.S. national pastime.

    Game Time, Mallory! Laurie  Friedman. 2015. Darby Creek.

    Part of the Mallory series from Darby Creek publishers, this first-person narration is told from Mallory’s experience being part of her fourth-grade basketball team. Hesitating and making mistakes when she first gets into play, her anxiety starts to take over. Through good advice from her coach and friends and family, she starts to improve. Of course, there are those players who love to harass and make fun but eventually Mallory proves her worth on the team.

    Growing Up Pedro. Matt Tavares. 2015. Candlewick.

    Though the title refers to Pedro Martínez, this story is really about Pedro and his older brother Ramón, as they work hard to become Major League baseball players, leaving their home in Manoguayabo, Dominican Republic. The L.A. Dodgers draft Ramón first, and a few years later Pedro gets his chance. The book continues to discuss their rise to fame even when having to face each other on the pitcher’s mound from opposing teams. Today, the brothers have returned to their homeland and built a new life helping schools and neighborhoods in the Dominican Republic. The watercolor and gouache illustrations create expressive warmth to represent the family bond between these successful brothers.

    Legends: The Best Players, Games, and Teams in Baseball. Howard Bryant. 2015. Philomel/Penguin Group.

    From ESPN and the world of sports writing and information, author Howard Bryant has collected baseball information that will give every baseball fan the thrill of having all this noted baseball history in one volume. More than just trivia, but actual background information on baseball legends and history, this chronology provides facts on statistics to comebacks to drug-related issues and so much more. Illustrated with photographs and highlights from many seasons, this volume will be enjoyed by sports fans as it precedes the fall publication of the football edition.

    A Whole New Ballgame. Phil Bildner. 2015. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    Former classroom teacher, author Phil Bildner has written a story about fifth graders and their differences and the labels and stereotypes that often inhabit their world. Rip and his best friend Red, who readers will recognize quickly is on the autism spectrum, are starting school with Mr. Acevedo, a new teacher who is different from any teacher they have had before, with his tattoos and body piercings. Mr. Acevedo loves basketball, as do Rip and Red. When the fifth-grade team gets going, lots of team dynamics are at play. Though Red isn’t much good at the overall game, he is dead-on at the free-throw line. Place Avery, the girl in the wheelchair, on the court, and a whole new set of teamwork issues confronts the team. Enjoy more about this author and his books at his website and blog.

    Ages 12–14

    Lost in the SunLost in the Sun. Lisa Graff. 2015. Philomel/Penguin Group.

    Trent Zimmerman is wracked with guilt from the freak accident last year when he knocked a hockey puck into the chest of Jared Richards, killing him. Jared had an undiagnosed heart ailment, and the impact from the hockey puck proved fatal. Now Trent must live with Jared’s death, and in his child’s mind he is a horrible person, certain that everyone hates him, including his friends, family, and teachers. His divorced parents don’t make life any easier. He lashes out at everyone, his grades are falling, he gets in fights, and he won’t go out for any sport that had once been the highlight of his life. Things start to change when he meets Fallon Little, a girl with a scar whose vitality for life gives Trent a new way of looking at life.

    Roller Girl. Victoria Jamieson. 2015. Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin.

    Written by a real derby girl herself, Victoria Jamieson has created a graphic novel about girls, roller derby, and middle school. When 12-year-old Astrid discovers she loves roller derby and signs up for summer derby camp , her best friend Nicole parts ways with her when she decides to go to dance camp. Astrid proceeds with her plan to become a great derby queen but quickly discovers she might not be as talented as she hoped to be. The hip checks and elbow digs come flying faster than she imagined. She starts to doubt her talent and her entry into middle school in the fall as well as friendships that are shifting in new directions.

    The Sixth Man. John Feinstein. 2015. Knopf Books for Young Readers.

    This is book two in the Triple Threat series from popular sports author John Feinstein. Basketball season is here, and there is a new kid at school who is going out for the team. Triple threat Alex Myers watches as this new kid, Max Bellotti, brings a whole new level of talent to the basketball team. The upperclassmen players aren’t happy about letting a freshman steal the show while they sit on the bench. When word gets out that Max is gay, the controversy begins. Knowing Max can lead the Lions to a championship, the community response to Max’s sexuality becomes not only an issue for the school board but also an acceptance within the team.

    Yard War. Taylor Kitchings. 2015. Wendy Lamb/Penguin Random House.

    Set in Jackson, MS, in 1964 just after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, this story is more about the segregated South than about sports, though a football game provides the backdrop for the story. Twelve-year-old Trip lives with his family and his beloved maid, Willie Jane, who is like his second mother. When Trip invites Dee, Willie Jane’s son, to join a game of football at their house, the neighborhood bigotry comes out in a blast of racist remarks and actions. The language is true to the time period of the 1960s and will make readers cringe at this historic look at segregation and prejudice.

    Ages 15+

    BiggieBiggie. Derek E. Sullivan. 2015. Albert Whitman.

    Henry “Biggie” Abbott is a high school junior in Finch, IA. Biggie has earned his nickname because he weighs over 300 pounds. Finding ways to stay below the radar of ridicule, especially as he lives in the shadow of his professional baseball player father, Biggie creates an online presence to avoid his loneliness in real time. When the fake passes that excuse him from gym class are discovered, he is forced to participate in wiffle ball—where he pitches a perfect game. Now he considers a metamorphosis for himself and develops a goal to earn a spot on the school’s baseball team, pitch a perfect game, and win the heart of the girl he loves.

    Hit Count. Chris Lynch. 2015. Algonquin.

    Arlo has set goals for his football career from an early age. Through hard and incessant training, he becomes an outstanding football player by his sophomore year. Earning the nickname Starlo, he continues through high school hard hitting, receiving and taking tackles and blows to maintain the football stardom that he so desires. Divided into four sections representing his four years in high school, this book reveals changes in Arlo that readers, as well as his coaches, parents, and girlfriend, will start to see. Taking all those blows to his head is starting to take a toll, and Arlo’s cognitive and emotional abilities are being questioned, suggesting that he is heading down a path to self-destruction.

    A Matter of Heart. Amy Fellner Dominy. 2015. Delacorte/Random House.

    Sixteen-year-old Abby Lipman is a champion swimmer for her high school swim team and is hopeful for qualifying for the Olympics Trials in the 100-freestyle event. However, Abby has a fainting spell after one of her meets, and after a visit to her doctor, finds out that she has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that has been known to kill top-performing high school athletes. Abby’s whole life, including her best friend Jen and her boyfriend Connor, has been centered on the swimming pool. The author delves into the reactions of all the people in Abby’s life as they respond to this life-altering medical condition. Abby’s decision is her own as she digs to find out who she is without a championship swimming career. Beyond just a sports book, this is a look at self-awareness and projecting toward a future.

    Karen Hildebrand is a retired library media specialist and library director for Delaware City Schools in Delaware, OH. She is currently an adjunct professor at Ashland University in Ohio, a reading consultant, and a Holocaust Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. She also chairs the Education Curriculum Committee for the Delaware County Historical Society. The review contributions are provided by members of the International Literacy Association’s Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group.

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    • Teaching With Tech

    Think Deeply, Be in the World With Technology

    by Denise H. Stuart
     | Jul 24, 2015

    Denise Stuart 072415bTo be fully engaged citizens in a world of local, national, and global events, our students need to be informed and to be able to critically sort through the ubiquitous flow of news and information. As someone whose father, grandfather and uncle were a part of the newspaper business and having grown up in Washington, D.C., the news, particularly in print, largely influenced my perspective of the world.  Remember “News Fridays” when we were challenged to find, cut out, and bring a newspaper article to class to be shared? Things were so simple then!

    I write this article in the midst of a flurry of news events that come to me not only in the newspaper but also as alerts on my phone, iPad, laptop, and digital reader. News about Supreme Court decisions on the affordable care act and marriage equality, news of tragedy and human triumph in Charleston, of a manhunt in New York, attacks in Paris, Tunisia, and Kuwait stream in with discussion and commentary online and on air. We need to equip our students to critically evaluate the flood of information, to make sense of the range of viewpoints, and to gather knowledge to build and support their own perspectives.  Of the many resources featuring current events there are two websites that offer classrooms tools to continue to do the critical thinking necessary to comprehend multiple perspectives.

    Newsela offers non-fiction daily news across disciplines. High interest topics are organized in categories: war and peace, science, kids, money, law, health, arts, and sports with most recent articles featured on the home page. Each article is available at five lexile reading levels (third–12th) to differentiate learning while having the whole class work on the same content.  Articles are updated each day, have no advertisements, and can be accessed for free as a teacher “creates a class” for which a code is given that students can use to access articles. In this open online version students can annotate articles, take quizzes and view their progress. The subscriber version, Newsela Pro, allows teachers to see who read the story, made notes and took the quiz, tracking individual and class results aligning with Common Core Standards organized in an electronic binder. With Newsela Pro the teacher can customize and review writing prompts.

    Other resources include the Newsela Learning and Support section to answer questions about the site, provide resources and teaching ideas. A section “For Teachers, By Teachers” offers lesson plans and related materials submitted by teachers using Newsela. A Write Toolkit and a Text Set Toolkit extend the possibilities of using Newsela articles. The text set is a collection of articles about a theme, topic or related standard that teachers can use or create. Included are teacher submitted lessons sand connections to larger units. A “Pro/Con” text set offers articles that present multiple viewpoints where students could annotate and make comments in gathering notes to compare and contrast perspectives.  The Write Toolkit guides teachers to insert writing prompts offering rubrics and examples. is an independent non-profit organization founded to “promote critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship—and to educate without bias” as noted in their mission statement. Founder Steven Markoff provides extensive background information on the about us page. Varying perspectives on 53 controversial issues are presented in readings across content headings including education, elections and presidents, health and medicine, and media and entertainment. Each issue begins with a core question, background information and then specific pro and con arguments. The exploration of issues is student-oriented presenting text along with video, infographics and political cartoons. The pro and con arguments include excerpts from major newspapers and quotes from experts and politicians. One issue raises the core question “Are Cell Phones Safe?” then offers “Did You Know?” facts from medical and science sources before presenting the pro-con arguments, the evolution of the cellphone science and some popular culture related videos. Sources are cited with links, often pdf full text documents.

    Teachers can introduce students to the site’s approach to evaluating credibility of sources with their one–five star “theoretical expertise ranking.” A “Teacher’s Corner” offers lesson plans with related handouts and suggestions to make the activity easier or harder. Lessons are connected to Common Core, NCTE/IRA and NCSS standards. Multiple resources are provided that address teaching critical thinking. A collection of 50 illustrated quotes from Aristotle to Howard Zinn, offer insights on critical thinking to be used to inspire students to continue to think deeply.

    Consider ways to integrate these two sites into your efforts to support students in thinking deeply and developing an informed voice. I have used both sites as resources for a class activity building perspectives on cell phone use in the classroom. We start with a discussion web: “Should cell phones be allowed in the classroom?” We generate our own ideas, then jigsaw several articles including those from these two sites that further inform on the issue, and then revisit the discussion web. This leads to further discussion and then more group work as we simulate a school board meeting with each of six groups using what they have read and learned to perhaps step into the shoes of an opinion they may or may not hold and create a speech for or against cell phones in the classroom from the student, teacher and parent perspective. By thinking critically, reading, discussing and evaluating ideas in text and beyond, students have improved their argument as informed citizens in the world.

    Denise H. Stuart is from The University of Akron, Ohio. This article is part of a series from the Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    • Teaching Tips

    Inspired by Fiction, Convinced by Fact

    by Justin Stygles
     | Jul 23, 2015

    shutterstock_92821339_x600Few books affect my professional life, but Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper, changed my thoughts on inclusive reading and teaching. In the story, Melody is a wheelchair-bound student frustrated by her inability to express herself. When the “world” discovers what Melody is thinking, through an electronic device, the “world” changes. Draper tells the story from Melody’s point of view challenging (or reminding) every reader to look at life through a different lens.

    I did—as did a paraprofessional I work with, Nicole—after she read the book. Nicole works in our school’s version of room “H5.” She worked in my class supporting an autistic student in the afternoon.  During the morning Nicole worked with Diane in H5, also wheelchair-bound with no speaking capacity. She’s a fifth grader by age, but a preschooler in size. She communicates through a few hand gestures to signal emotions, such as “I’m happy” or “that’s funny,” when not sticking her tongue at people or untying shoes for attention.

    Once, on my regular visits to H5, I noticed Diane sitting on the floor, part of her physical therapy routine. I wondered, if she has to sit up for physical therapy, why couldn’t she sit with our class during a read-aloud so she could have, at least, exposure to reading and interaction with mainstream peers?

    Nicole and I put our heads together, “What prevents Diane from listening to and thinking about a story?” After a discussion with our H5 staff, Nicole began bringing Diane into class for read-alouds, a modest inclusionary step.

    When Diane began reading with us she remained in her wheelchair, which we thought would be inconspicuous. Diane proved us wrong, immediately! Right in the middle of a humorous part, some of the kids giggled, but Diane broke out in a deep laugh. Perhaps she laughed because of the content, perhaps she laughed at the way I read. Neither Nicole, nor me, nor the class, realized she had the capacity to show such expression, let alone over reading a book! (At the time we were reading Rump by Liesl Shurtliff.) We were awestruck. Reading and listening had that much power?!?! As she enjoyed the reading more, the whole class seemed to take deeper interest in the read-aloud.

    In time, we started integrating Diane’s physical therapy into our read-aloud by having her join us on the carpet in our reading area. The class sat along the perimeter; Diane sat in the center with a few kiddos around to embrace her as part of the class. This took time and more books (cue Lester Laminack). Diane slapped legs, untied shoes, and “blurted out.” None of us could contain our laughs! Then Diane would laugh and repeat her actions. She would rub her belly or tap her shoulders, an indication of her pleasure. (Of course she was, she’d become the center of attention!)

    Nothing humbled me, Nicole, or the students more, than Diane’s expression of thanks. Normally, Nicole picked up Diane and placed her back in her wheelchair. However, one day, assisting Nicole due to her pregnancy, I picked Diane up. I placed her on my hip, like a toddler. Diane threw her arms around my shoulders and laid her head on my shoulder. This startled me. Then, suddenly, she picked her head up and kissed me on the cheek. After I placed Diane in her wheel chair and put on her seatbelt, Diane again gestured how happy she was. I didn’t think a read-aloud would make that much of a difference. Instead, our read-aloud gave Diane a reason to be happy.

    Nicole and I knew we made the right choice.

    The coup de grace came to pass during the waning days of school on RIF (Reading is Fundamental) Day. I strolled Diane out of H5 and assigned a student to read with her. The student tentatively read aloud, as two others scooched in to share the limelight. Nicole wound up reading, with Diane’s eyes transfixed, intensely listening. Within moments, more kids migrated towards Diane with RIF books. Soon, the entire class enveloped Diane as Nicole read aloud without prompting. Total participation. Total acceptance. Staff from H5, the RIF volunteers, and I observed this magnificent phenomenon unfold.

    Afterwards, beyond excited, several students eagerly demonstrated a new hand gesture Diane taught them to indicate she wanted a book read to her (rubbing her hands together and opening them, like releasing a dove). The kids felt the blessing of speaking their peers’ enchanting language—communicating with one another about reading.

    This year our reading workshop will be revolutionized by Diane’s full inclusion! Like last year, Diane will join us for read-aloud. In our sharing circles, classmates will be responsible for her well-being and “on-task behavior.” (This means Diane can’t take her shoes off to entertain the class.) Every day, Diane will be assigned a new partner for independent reading. The pair will read picture books (fairytales and myths) that allow the reader to explain to Diane what the text means and how pictures relate to text. After all, even Diane is entitled to the gift and pleasure of reading.

    Diane will never know the same freedom we have or hope for all of our readers; it’s unlikely she will ever be able to take on reading alone. Instead, Diane and her peers can share in the gift of reading and the emotional and spiritual gift of sharing time and space together. She enhances our class all together, not because of her disability, but because we learn to enjoy her membership in class and experience the value of reading. This year, we shared in her joy and passion for reading, one that we desire for all readers.

    Reading provides a lens to see the world in color. Diane may not speak, but she can think. Through reading, she gets to learn about struggles characters face, compassion, ethical decisions, and love. Diane is able to be a part of a reading community. What we learned about Diane is that she sees the world in color and she learns just like you and I.

    I encourage you to consider who you can invite into your daily read-alouds. If books bring the world to us or allow us to escape to another world, shouldn’t every child be allowed this opportunity? Nicole and I will never know what the reading does biologically for Diane. What we do know is how immensely happy she is to be in our classrooms listening, laughing, and learning with her peers and fellow readers.

    Justin Stygles is a sixth grade language arts teacher and ILA Advisory Committee of Teachers (ACT) committee member based in Norway, ME. He also serves as the state’s Maine Reading Association coordinator. Visit his blog here.

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    • In Other Words

    Five Shifts of Practice: Multimodal Literacies in Instruction

    by Jennifer Williams
     | Jul 22, 2015

    shutterstock_142998043_x600Students communicate and acquire information in new and complex ways. With extraordinary advances in technology and a growing emphasis on creation and innovation, the educational needs of 21st century learners are constantly evolving. As a result, traditional definitions of reading, writing, and communication are being redefined to include new multimodal literacies. Pedagogical practices are not only being reinvented, but also reimagined to best support the rapidly changing needs of students. Teacher education programs play a critical role in preparing pre-service teachers with the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to integrate these new literacies and digital technologies into instruction.

    In order to support the literacy needs of the future, it is essential that teacher educator programs create contexts and learning spaces that enable pre-service teachers to examine their beliefs regarding use of technology in teaching. Though programs often strive to connect technology and curricular content in practice, they are often challenged to develop instructional pedagogies that engage new literacies that can adapt as quickly as technology changes. Programs face numerous barriers to effective preparation in the area of multimodal literacy.

    Many pre-service teachers enter education programs with deeply held belief systems regarding uses of technology in literacy instruction following their many years as students of conventional teaching practices. Often viewing literacy as a print-bound process, pre-service teachers exhibit reluctance in using technology for educational purposes and formal teaching practices. Understanding the predictive powers of self-efficacy and positive attitudes toward technology, programs commonly create standalone technology integration courses that model utilization of multimodal formats and authentic, hands-on learning experiences. Though these courses are designed to show construction of knowledge in the area of technology integration, they are often presented in isolation, unable to demonstrate the importance of incorporation of practice across the curriculum and throughout content areas.

    Programs can work to bridge the gap between knowledge and instruction in the area of multimodal literacy and integration of digital technologies. By infusing innovative practices that prioritize exploration of an increasingly textual world across all areas of coursework, teacher education programs can prepare pre-service teachers to inspire inquiry and transform learning in their future classrooms.
    The following ideas are offered as shifts of practice that teacher education programs can consider in preparing pre-service teachers to integrate multimodal literacies into instruction.

    Provide distributed practice

    Programs that extend learning past stand-alone technology courses can demonstrate the transformative power of new literacies in learning. By offering meaningful practice with digital technologies throughout all courses of study, teacher education programs provide authentic modeling of multimodal literacy integration across the curriculum. Pre-service teachers can be empowered to explore and design their own paths to understanding across contexts and connected experiences. Offered as standards of practice, these infused methodologies have the potential to extend and enhance the learning of pre-service teachers and also can serve as frameworks for instruction in their classrooms of the future.

    Design collaborative learning spaces

    Learning space design can act as a catalyst to support sustainable change in teaching and learning. By re-examining the landscape of the classroom and methods of instruction, teachers education programs can promote engagement and afford opportunities of networked collaboration. New pedagogies focused on student-centered practices and active participation evolve the role of the teacher from distant lecturer to facilitator of learning. Shifting roles of teachers and students can allow everyone to be a part of the exchange of ideas and sharing of knowledge. Together in a technology-supported learning space, everyone can explore as curators and composers of multimodal literacies.

    Place focus on the verbs

    Teacher education programs seeking to prepare pre-service teachers for classrooms of the future can positively impact practice by shifting focus from the ever-changing “nouns” of education to an emphasis on the actionable “verbs” of discovery. Empowering students to engage and create and connect and explore can guide real-time instructional decision making in selection of materials and methodologies. Interest-driven projects that prioritize student-voice, creativity, and choice of delivery can allow pre-service teachers to connect theory to practice in powerful and personalized ways.

    Encourage inquiry and investigate the world

    By asking students to seek solutions to problems of global significance, teacher education programs can encourage pre-service teaches to engage in deep learning through a process of inquiry and investigation. Meaningful topics with profound disciplinary and interdisciplinary basis can provide opportunities for students to think critically. Pre-service teachers can utilize multimodal literacies to examine problems, gather information, and communicate decisions. Through this process of inquiry, pre-service teachers can utilize digital technologies and move meaningfully along a continuum of technology integration. The creation of digital artifacts can offer transparency of perspectives and sharing of solutions, and the learning can inspire change that is relevant and significant.

    Support self-efficacy through reflection

    Dedication of time and thought for discussion can place focus on metacognitive thinking and reflection. Teacher education programs can promote self-efficacy of pre-service teachers by encouraging innovation, inspiring curiosity, and providing safe opportunities for taking risks through exploration of ideas. Pre-service teachers can be invited to together explore deeply held belief systems and discover ways to weave multimodal literacies into practice to enhance learning and expression of perspectives. Together, teacher education programs and pre-service teachers can redefine instructional practices to inspire collective change on their quests to together make a difference in classrooms of today and of the future.

    jennifer willliams headshotJennifer Williams is the co-founder and lead program developer for Calliope Global. Calliope Global works with schools, universities, and organizations from around the world.

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    • Blog Posts
    • Conferences & Events

    Another Conference for the Books

    by April Hall
     | Jul 21, 2015

    IMG_5143The International Literacy Association 2015 Conference in St. Louis, MO, is now a piece of history. A whirlwind of sessions, networking, meetings, and learning was crammed into the three days of July 18-21 (plus the bonus preconference institutes on Friday).

    Curious what you missed? Get a small taste of what conference was all about here to start planning for next year in Boston (July 8-11) or make note of what your schedule didn’t allow this time around.

    Some events are linked to full-length stories already published on Literacy Daily.


    Preconference Institutes: America’s Convention Center was abuzz with the earlybirds who spent a full day in deep-dive sessions on some of the hottest topics in literacy. The ILA Central Friday Sale was a hit, and new items, including ILA T-shirts, went like hotcakes. Only a handful of the newly designed T-shirts were left when lines started to form for the Opening General Session Saturday morning and were gone by lunchtime.


    First-Timers Coffee: About 150 first-time conference-goers gathered on the second floor atrium prior to Opening General Session to talk to fellow newbies and ILA staffers about topics ranging from St. Louis attractions to the basics of ILA Membership.

    Opening General Session: In addition to ILA leaders welcoming thousands of literacy advocates to St. Louis, the city welcomed the conference by declaring July 18 Literacy Day. Social entrepreneur and activist Shiza Shahid was the first inspiring keynote speaker, encouraging the audience to find one cause to dive deeply into and make a difference in. Retired basketball star and businessman Shaquille O’Neal gave the second keynote, praising the work of teachers and touting the importance of dreaming big, whether as a child or adult. The conference launch ended as it began with energetic tunes.

    Exhibit Hall Opening: As is tradition, a huge queue formed before Opening General Session even began. When the floodgates opened, thousands poured into the Exhibit Hall to learn about new programs and collect books and swag. “It’s huge,” Monica Hogue from Tuscaloosa County, AL, said of the hall. “I really didn’t think it was going to be this big when I signed up.”

    William Joyce: The founder of Moonbot Studios, who has earned an Emmy, an Oscar, and numerous accolades for writing, shared during the conference’s first Author Luncheon how he came to be an author and how his first book written some 45 years ago has found a new life in an updated version.

    Author Meetup: The inaugural offering of the Author Meetup sold-out quickly before the roster of authors were even announced. Crowds lined up to chat with some of their favorite authors (including T.A. Barron, Candace Fleming, Jenny Han, Christian Robinson, Cindy L. Rodriguez, Ruta Sepetys, Andrew Smith, and Mark Teague), and collect a bag full of books and autographs.

    Teacher Preparation Panel: ILA convened a panel of experts to take on the topic of teacher preparation. Keynote speakers and panelists reviewed recent research and how to proceed in improving not only educator training, but how teachers are certified across the country.

    Literacy Night at the Ballpark: Hundreds of ILA attendees made their way to  Busch Stadium to see the St. Louis Cardinals take on the New York Mets. ILA’s Associate Executive Director Stephen Sye threw out the first pitch before the Cardinals trounced the Mets 12–2.

    Notable Sessions and Speakers: Nell Duke and Lynn Bigelman offered a Teaching Edge session on project-based learning; authors Ruth Culham, Lester Laminack, and Kate Messner taught educators how to be writing thieves. Feature speakers included Meenoo Rami, Stephanie Harvey, and Steven Layne.


    Meg Cabot: The wildly popular author of The Princess Diaries series was the guest of honor at Sunday’s Author Luncheon. She shared her advice for how to “embrace your inner princess.”

    Meet the Editors: The editors of every ILA publishing platform met with lots of hungry writers to give advice on the best venue for their ideas and run down requirements, whether for Literacy Daily or Reading Research Quarterly.

    Book Awards: The 2015 Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards were presented to some of the best work published in 2014. Vince Vawter and Liesl Shurtliff were also on hand to share their personal stories of how they overcame the challenges of writing and getting published.

    ILA Awards: Steven Layne hosted ILA’s annual awards program with a host of guest presenters. This year the ceremony also included some Council awards.

    Notable Sessions and Speakers: (Newly) Past President Jill Lewis-Spector and Julie Ramsay held an informal session at the Age of Literacy exhibit about advocacy. Lori Oczkus and Timothy Rasinski paired up for a Teaching Edge session on close reading workouts. Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle presented a Teaching Edge on how to foster “readerly” lives. In addition, Chris Lehman, Jennifer Serravallo, and Pam Allyn were featured on Sunday.


    Closing General Session: School turnaround leader and author Stephen G. Peters delivered the first of the session’s keynotes by talking to attendees about the challenges that face today’s teachers and how to combat them. In a change of format, Academy Award-winning actress and author Octavia Spencer spent her time being interviewed by ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post and local incoming ninth-grade students Dale Chesson and Kiara Crawford. The actress then stayed on stage nearly an hour signing books for eager fans.

    Nick Bruel: The author of the Bad Kitty series shared some turning points in his life, from the time he was first encouraged to draw as a child, to the moment he saw an autistic child smile widely for the first time reading a book he coauthored with Bruel.

    Farewell: In the early afternoon, attendees made their way out of the convention center, many with their luggage ready to head home with all the knowledge they collected over the long weekend as exhibitors packed up their booths.

    Reflecting upon ILA 2015, Natalie Stephenson, a teacher from Maryland, said teachers normally have very little time in the day-to-day to network or learn from peers, making the ILA Conference an especially valuable experience

    “I’m really loving ILA,” Stephenson said. “I feel renewed, re-energized and excited. You feel empowered. I feel more support than ever coming to ILA.”

    See you at the ILA 2016 Conference in Boston!

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for about 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

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