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    Celebrating the Freedom to Read

    By Barbara A. Ward
     | Sep 18, 2017

    For more than 30 years, book lovers, librarians, teachers, publishers, book lovers, and supporters of intellectual freedom have celebrated the freedom to read through Banned Books Week. Librarians and teachers are all too aware of the threats to a free exchange of ideas that arise when a member of the community demands that a book be removed from the shelves.

    The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF) maintains records of books that have been challenged, restricted, removed, or banned during the year. Typically, challenges are filed because someone considers the book or material to be "sexually explicit," to contain "offensive language," or to be "unsuited to any age group." The ALA OIF reported 323 challenges in 2016.

    This year, Banned Book Week is celebrated from September 2430. The reviews in this week’s column take a look at the eight children’s and young adult books that appear on the ALA's Top Ten Most Challenged Books list for 2016. In support of intellectual freedom, consider reading all of these books and discussing them with friends and colleagues.

    Ages 4–8

    I Am Jazz. Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings. Ill. Shelagh McNicholas. 2014. Dial/Penguin.

    I Am JazzEven at age two, Jazz Jennings knew that she had the brain of a girl but the body of a boy. This picture book provides insight into her feelings and the journey she and her parents took toward acceptance, understanding, and advocacy for those who experience gender dysphoria. Issues such as Jazz’s struggles for acceptance on sports teams and in school bathrooms are highlighted here. The simple text, complemented with cheerful watercolor illustrations, offers reassurance and hope and a place to begin conversations about gender roles and identity. The picture book memoir has been challenged because it portrays a transgender child and because of “language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints.”

    Little Bill Series. Bill Cosby. Various years since 1997. Cartwheel/Scholastic.

    Little BillIntended for young readers, each of the thirteen titles in this series explores an emotion and traces the protagonist’s development. As Little Bill faces changes and choices related to loss, death, wealth, bullying, and honesty, readers have the chance to explore the same issues in their own lives. The series was challenged because of sexual assault allegations surrounding Bill Cosby, the author.

    Ages 9–11

    George. Alex Gino. 2015. Scholastic.

    GeorgeFourth grader George has felt that something wasn’t quite
    right for a long time. As she grows up, she becomes convinced that she’s a girl born into a boy’s body. When she auditions for the role of Charlotte in the class’s production of Charlotte’s Web, her teacher reacts negatively. But with the help of her best friend, Kelly, who understands George’s feelings, George ends up right where she wanted to be. Readers gain insight into the struggles faced by George when even her mother and teacher fail to understand or to act as her allies. Eventually, George’s mother realizes her mistakes, and George finds support in a surprising form—the school principal. This book was deemed inappropriate for young readers because it features a transgender child and sexuality “not appropriate at elementary levels.”

    Ages 12–14

    Drama. Raina Telgemeier. 2012. Graphix/Scholastic.

    DramaSeventh grader Callie is a theater geek with no musical talent. Instead, she channels her passion into set design for the drama department. Not only must she contend with an almost nonexistent budget, but there is as much drama off the stage as there is on it. As Callie gains confidence in her abilities to create a great set, she also deals with an unrequited crush on a classmate’s older sibling and another crush on one of the actors. Although she doesn’t find love, she does develop confidence and a sense of accomplishment. This graphic novel was challenged because it “includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint.”

    This One Summer.  Mariko Tamaki. Ill. Jillian Tamaki. 2014. First Second/Roaring Brook.

    The One SummerRose and her family always look forward to spending their summers at Awago Beach. Rose loves to hang out with Windy, a younger friend who is there as well. But this particular summer seems different from previous ones. Rose’s parents are constantly at each other’s throats, and her mother seems mired in some unnamed depression. With too much free time on her hands, Rose spends much of it watching horror films while Windy consumes unhealthy foods. On the cusp of her own physical maturity, Rose is fascinated by the relationship dramas unfolding among the local teens. This graphic novel was challenged because it “includes LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes.”

    Ages 15+

    Eleanor & Park. Rainbow Rowell. 2013. St. Martin.

    Eleanor and ParkAt first glance, Eleanor and Park couldn’t have less in common, but as they get to know each other, it is clear that they are both misfits, just in different ways. Eleanor tries to stay beneath the radar because her size and fashion choices make her the object of ridicule, while Park rebels through his choices of music and the makeup he wears. The story is set in 1986 in Nebraska and contains just enough cultural references to make its setting believable. When the two teens happen to sit together on the school bus, they find commonalities while Park shares his music and comic books with Eleanor. This unlikely friendship blossoms into an even more unlikely love with little chance of lasting. Since the story is told from the dual perspectives of Eleanor and Park, readers gain insight into the thoughts and feelings of both characters, which only adds to the book’s heart-wrenching impact. The book was challenged for “offensive language.”

    Looking for Alaska. John Green. 2005. Dutton/Penguin.

    Looking for AlaskaLooking for something beyond the safe and predictable life he has been living, Miles (Pudge) Halter heads to Culver Creek Boarding School, where he meets classmates and makes friends who share a very different perspective on life than his own. If risk-taking is what Miles is looking for, he certainly finds it in his new surroundings while romancing one girl and falling in love with another one. Not only does Chip, Miles’ roommate, help him spread his wings, but Alaska, the mysterious girl who is clearly haunted by the past, awakens him to life’s possibilities while also crushing his spirit. Life can never be the same after meeting Alaska. This book was challenged for a “sexually explicit scene.”

    Two Boys Kissing. David Levithan. 2013. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

    Two Boys KissingSeventeen-year-old Harry and Craig are out to set a world record for kissing, but while they’re locked in an embrace, the former couple must sort out their feelings for one another as their parents and the world look on. As the competition continues, it garners media attention, and the boys become exhausted, thirsty, hungry, yet determined to press on. The fact that one teen’s family already knows about his sexual identity while the other boy’s does not adds to the drama, as does the use of commentary of individuals from an older generation in which many died of AIDS. This book was challenged for its cover featuring two boys kissing and for “ sexually explicit LGBT content.”

    Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's in Communications, a master's in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

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    In Memory of Phylliss Joy Adams

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 15, 2017

    Phylliss AdamsWith great sadness we announce the passing of Phylliss Joy Adams (1987–88), past president of the International Reading Association (IRA, now the International Literacy Association), the Colorado Council of the International Reading Association (CCIRA), and the Denver local council of IRA. We offer our deepest condolences to her family along with our sincerest gratitude for all that she accomplished.

    Adams dedicated her life to improving literacy instruction.  After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Northwest Missouri State University, and master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Denver,  she began a long career of teaching at public schools and universities in the fields of reading and literacy.

    An internationally known speaker and consultant, she presented in over 30 states, as well as for international council in more than 10 countries. Still she found time to author more than 40 books for young readers as well as professional development materials for educators.

    When Adams wasn’t reading, writing, or traveling for work, she was doing so for fun. She and her husband of 65 years, Keith, visited all 50 states and over 100 countries. After retiring she was active in three different book clubs and volunteered as an ambassador at the Denver International Airport for over eight years.

    “She was an extremely hard worker for IRA, for her state association, and for literacy in general,” said past president Jack Cassidy (1982–83).

    Past president Carl Braun (1990–91) served on the Board during Adams’ presidency and remained friends with her since. He described her as an always-prepared, highly organized, fiercely ethical leader and “an open and friendly” person.

    During her tenure, Adams worked hard to raise the visibility of IRA councils, traveling across the U.S. and internationally to help them attract members, survey regional needs, and define their goals. She also promoted the value of children’s literature in the teaching of reading—a progressive approach to instruction at the time.

    “She always preached that whatever the [teaching] method, children’s literature has to be the centerpiece. That was the kind of belief that certainly raised eyebrows in the late 80s,” Braun said.

    Above all, he said she will be remembered as an indefatigable advocate for teachers.

    “Of the many people I’ve known in literacy education, she was one of the most avid advocates. A completely unabashed advocate for teachers everywhere. I think that’s one thing that a lot of people will remember her for, and certainly hundreds of thousands of teachers,” he said.

    In lieu of flowers, it is requested that a donation be made to CCIRA in honor of Phylliss J. Adams. The donations collected will provide scholarships to CCIRA’s annual conference held in February in Denver, CO. Checks should be made out to Cathy Lynsky, CCIRA Treasurer, 161 Quakie Way, Bailey, CO 80421.

    Alina O'Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily. 
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    30 Under 30: As Told by Former Honorees

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 15, 2017

    30 Under 30 HonoreesThrough our 30 Under 30 list, ILA recognizes young innovators, disruptors, and visionaries who are leading efforts to overcome the challenges of today’s education field and to advance our vision of a literate world for all. Beyond visibility, 30 Under 30 honorees gain confidence, professional development opportunities, and new and expanded networks. Here’s what some of our former honorees have to say about the experience, in their own words:

    “The ILA 30 Under 30 award is more than a global tag/title or recognition. It has provided me a platform upon which a lot of contemporary programs and reforms can be replicated to Liberia. As ILA members, we now have a pool of resources to ensure our programs are meeting the evolving literacy needs of the people we serve. Our participation as the only exhibitor from Africa at the ILA 2016 Conference & Exhibits in Boston, MA, provided us with important contacts that we continue to leverage as we seek to expand our scale and impact in Liberia.” 

    Benjamin Freeman, 2015 30 Under 30 honoree and executive director of the Liberia Institute for the Promotion of Academic Excellence (LIPACE)

    “For the first time, I attended and presented at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits in Orlando, FL, where I had the opportunity to meet some of my 30 Under 30 colleagues and other ILA leaders. Being able to meet the people behind so many of ILA’s impactful initiatives was empowering. Another life-changing moment occurred for me when Katie Wood Ray reached out to me about visiting my school! She had read the 30 Under 30 article, and she wanted to see our work with English learners and family engagement in action. As a literacy coach, sharing an opportunity with my staff to talk with one of the giants in elementary literacy was a truly incredible experience.

    Being a 30 Under 30 honoree reminded me that age does not define our contributions to community and society. We all have something to share and learn from each other—no matter our ages, our geographic locations, or the nature of our careers in education. We all have something to contribute. We can all be literacy leaders, if we take the time to listen and to act.”

    Melissa Wells, 2016 30 Under 30 honoree and assistant professor for the College of Education at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia

    “After receiving the award, I was asked to be one of the keynote speakers at the Closing General Session [at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits] and spent the subsequent months in a constant state of panic as I prepared to speak in front of a room of highly respected literacy advocates. The entire ILA team was extremely supportive and encouraging to me on the days that led to my speaking. They were so encouraging, in fact, that I felt confident enough to overcome my fear of public speaking. After I finished my session and returned backstage I was met with hugs and cheers.

    There’s a sense of family at the conference. Imagine a convention center full of individuals who share your same heart for empowering students through literacy. The feeling is indescribable and truly inspiring. I was able to connect with other 30 Under 30 honorees and hear their literacy success stories. It’s calming to know that the world is filled with other teachers whose life passion is the same as mine: literacy for all. I am still in contact with my fellow honorees and love seeing what they’re doing in their classrooms. I left conference feeling empowered and truly inspired to continue my work.”

    Katie Lett, 2016 30 Under 30 honoree and elementary teacher of English learners at Kentwood Public Schools in Michigan

    If you know someone who is under the age of 30 (as of March 1, 2019) and who has shown extraordinary dedication to ILA’s mission, we invite you to complete a short nomination form here. All nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. ET on June 1, 2018.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Resources for Talking and Teaching About School Violence

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 14, 2017

    Freeman Reflections When traumatic events happen in schools, such as the shooting that took place yesterday at Freeman High School in Rockford, WA, it can be difficult for educators to know how to start a dialogue with students. The resources below prepare educators to provide the support and guidance students need to process the event and confront their questions and feelings.

    • "The Best Resources On Talking With Children About Tragedies”: Education blogger Larry Ferlazzo’s collection of recommended resources on talking with children about tragedies. 
    • Helping Kids During Crisis: Assembled by the American School Counselor Association, the webinars, websites, and publications on this exhaustive list aid in emotional recovery after a crisis.
    • How to Talk to Children About Shootings: The Today Show’s age-by-age guides help educators and parents in addressing tragedies with children.
    • "Resources: Talking and Teaching About the Shooting in Newtown, Conn.": Published by The New York Times, this article, written in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, outlines classroom activities to help educators empower students to discuss the event, write about their reactions, and take action.
    • Responding to Tragedy: Resources for Educators and Parents: Edutopia offers a compilation of useful, informative, and thoughtful resources for helping children through traumatic situations.
    • School Crisis Guide: Created by the National Education Association, this step-by-step guide makes it easier for education professionals to implement effective leadership, crisis management, and long-term mental health support—before, during, and after a crisis.
    • School Violence Prevention: Tips for Parents & Educators: Produced by the National Association of School Psychologists, this toolkit offers advice on how to restore students’ comfort and empower them to play a role in their own safety.
    • Taking Aim at Violence in Schools”: Originally published by The New York Times in 1999 after the school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, these lesson plans encourage students to share, through discussion and writing, their feelings about violence in schools, as well as about ways in which such events could be prevented.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Tips for Increasing Rapid Naming Ability in Struggling Readers

    By Jenny Nordman
     | Sep 13, 2017

    Rapid Naming AbilityWhile rapid naming ability may not be the first thing one thinks of when listing the characteristics of an effective reader, the impact of this cognitive skill should not be underestimated. In fact, children with reading issues often demonstrate significant difficulty when asked to quickly name familiar objects or symbols. Conversely, more advanced readers tend to perform strongly on rapid naming tasks.

    Rapid naming involves processing information and responding swiftly. Within the context of reading, it is needed for word retrieval, sound–symbol correspondence, automaticity, and oral reading fluency. For a student to be able to respond and integrate information, a variety of neural systems must work together quickly and seamlessly. However, when instructing struggling readers or those with documented reading disabilities, achieving rapid naming may require additional practice.

    Here are some practical tips that can be used to increase rapid naming ability when working with readers who have difficulty with this important cognitive skill:

    • Play “Search and Say” with the classroom word wall and a flashlight. The teacher (or a selected student) points to words on the word wall using a flashlight, and the students must quickly respond. This activity builds rapid sight word recall.
    • Have the student complete timed, repeated readings of a passage in order to build automaticity. It is recommended that the passage be no more than 100 words. The student can make a game of it by trying to beat their time, and this activity can be used as a literacy center with premade, leveled passages and stopwatches.
    • Play games that require quick word retrieval, such as Pictionary, Scattergories, or charades. Connect these activities to a text selection by incorporating vocabulary words or scenes from a story.
    • Use flash cards for letters, sight words, sounds, phonograms, etc. Flash card activities require fast processing, but they should not be competitive if being used for remediation.
    • Sing short songs or recite poems and quicken the pace as you repeat. This activity gradually increases the demand on processing speed, and is especially enjoyable for young children. Please note that those with speech issues may find this activity difficult.

    With these practical activities, you can help to build rapid naming ability in your students. Be sure to also send a few of these suggestions home to parents for even more practice. 

    Jenny NordmanDr. Jenny Nordman is an assistant professor of reading and literacy at Regis University in Denver, where she coordinates of the Master of Education in Reading program. Her areas of expertise include reading assessment and intervention, cognitive skills associated with reading success, neurocognition, and evidence-based best practices.

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