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    Learning and Building a Partnership Through Activities and Home Visits

    By Anasthasie Liberiste-Osirus
     | Feb 19, 2019

    honoring-diversityIn recent years, there has been a shift in diversity within our classrooms in the United States. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that the number of English learners (ELs) in public schools has increase between 3–10% since the fall of 2000, with the greatest influx in states such as California, Texas, Kansas, and Nevada.

    This shift in population required a shift in my personal communication strategy with parents and caregivers.

    Teaching high school reading and English skills to EL students came with its set of challenges. By the third month of the school year, I understood that I needed to think outside the box if I wanted family engagement and student success. With the growth of 6% in Georgia’s EL student population from 2000 to 2015—and most home languages consisting of Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Arabic—it was clear that certain efforts of communication with parents and caregivers were just not successful. Namely, sending long, complex documents home in English; emailing parents; making phone calls without an interpreter; and expecting parents and caregivers to show up to teacher conferences without language support.

    The ineffectiveness of my past efforts to connect provided me with a unique opportunity to develop a plan of action that was feasible and sustainable.

    The snapshot

    Taking time to learn about my EL population was essential. Becoming familiar with a student’s culture, specific traditions, language, and religious holidays not only helped me get a better understanding of students overall, but it gave context to responses and some acquisition confusion.

    Learning about your students’ culture also provides you, the teacher, with a foundation to build practical lessons that build on their background knowledge as well as improve communication between you and the student. Though most of my students spent over six months at refugee camps and had zero documentation of academic gaps or progress, they all came into my classroom with real-world experiences that enriched our daily activities.

    I took it upon myself to validate the richness of their home language and culture with lessons that supported both our district’s language and literacy curriculum and their home language—for example, finding literature from home cultures that mirrored literature classics or providing opportunity for students to develop a class dictionary with essential words for each language spoken.

    I started other activities to bolster home–school connections such as a yearly cultural showcase featuring native dances, music, and poetry where families and students were active in putting it together. Connecting with local organizations that supported many of my refugee and displaced students to assist with translations, provide tutoring, or other community resources was also vital. These interventions were done to understand and support students in the classroom.

    But was this enough to connect with parents and caregivers and their students?

    Developing deeper connections

    Though there was an obvious language and cultural gap, the navigation of learning about my students’ background beyond their enrollment record gave me a better global sense of my students and their emotional load when they enter my classroom each morning. As I learned more about my students, I realized that relationship building could be emphasized through face to face interactions.

    In Georgia, about 30% of EL students live in urban regions. One way that I made further efforts to build trust was to visit students’ homes, soliciting a native speaker to assist during visits when possible, and attending cultural events within their community.

    It became my priority not just to visit the students who were clearly unsupported and falling through the cracks but also the students who were succeeding. Weekday evening and weekend morning visits became routine. It took a bit of planning to navigate routes, coordinate with a translating volunteer, and speak to students to work out a schedule. I also worked with other teachers who shared the same students and we collaborated to make our presence known among the EL population. An average student received at least one visit within the school year, but all families received some type of written or verbal communication several times throughout the year.

    The takeaway

    A few things I learned through taking the time to learn about my students and making an effort to build relationships through home visits were that

    • Many parents and caregivers are unable to interpret the academic plans and additional programs set up to bolster their child’s educational experience. Though interested in learning, many felt overwhelmed.
    • Due to external variables (e.g., parents and caregivers working multiple jobs, unable to find child care for meeting, or anxiety surrounding lack of communication), many parents are unable to attend parent teacher conferences.
    • Poverty was a common factor that affected a parent or caregiver’s lack of availability.
    • Students are weighted down by the pressure of navigating government assistance forms, job applications, and communicating for their families.

    With classrooms averaging four different languages and cultures, connecting with families helped build a partnership that became reflective in my approach to teaching and communication between home and school.

    Understanding each student’s culture and home life allows us to vary our teaching and build on their background knowledge. Taking the time to learn about each student affirms to the student that we respect and value the wealth of experiences and knowledge they bring to our classroom.

    Anasthasie N. Liberiste-Osirus is the associate director of the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education in Haiti program.

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    Meet Some Memorable Characters

    By Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
     | Feb 18, 2019

    Getting into the mind of a character is one of the greatest parts of reading, whether you’re finding a new one or rediscovering an old favorite. From a dinosaur who’s on a quest to improve his hug to a 13-year-old elephant driver who lives on the edge of the jungle in the borderlands of 1970s Nepal, the books in this week’s column introduce readers to compelling characters having exciting experiences in interesting places.  

    Ages 4–8

    Carl and the Meaning of Life. Deborah Freedman. 2019. Viking/Penguin.

    Carl and the Meaning of LifeAfter a field mouse asks why he tunnels underground day after day, Carl the earthworm realizes he doesn’t know why. He asks a rabbit, fox, and squirrel, “Why do I do what I do?” but none has a satisfying answer for him although they know why they do what they do. However, when a ground beetle laments that he can’t find any grubs, Carl discovers the dirt has turned hard as rock. He finally has his answer and gets busy turning the hard dirt back into fluffy, fertile soil, which sprouts seeds for the mouse who asked him the question in the first place and triggers a chain of events that benefits everyone. Freedman’s colorful mixed-media illustrations add depth to her engaging story with an important child-friendly message. The author’s note “Everything is connected” along with a challenge for readers to identify how they help the earth and a relevant quote from Charles Darwin about the important role of the earthworm in our world.

    Cyril and Pat. Emily Gravett. 2019. Simon & Schuster.

    Cyril and PatCyril, the only squirrel in Lake Park, is lonely until he meets Pat. Cyril happily shouts that his new friend is a big gray squirrel, but Pat is actually a rat. The other animals try to point out his error. “Oh, Cyril, can’t you see that your friend Pat / is not like you. Your friend’s a . . .” but before they can say rat, Cyril jumps in with “Real joker!” or “Brilliant sharer!” or “CLEVER SQUIRREL.” After Pat’s true identity is revealed by a young boy and all the animals reinforce that squirrels can’t be friends with rats, Cyril is sad—until a scary misadventure leaves him recognizing that two individuals can be friends in spite of differences. Follow the reading of Kate Greenaway Medalist Emily Gravett’s colorful rhyming picture book by introducing young children to some of her other delightful stories about interesting animal characters.

    Fear the Bunny. Richard T. Morris. Ill. Priscilla Burris. 2019. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    Fear the Bunny“Bunnies, bunnies, burning bright, in the forest of the night—.” When Tiger comes across a hedgehog reading an altered version of William Blake’s “The Tyger” to a group of animals, he attempts a correction. “The poem is about . . . ME! The most feared animal in the forest.” Insisting that in their forest they fear bunnies, the animals hide as a bunny approaches in the dark, and Tiger pokes fun at their fright—until he pursued by a stampede of bunnies. In the final double-page spread, Tiger is shown reading “Bunnies, bunnies, burning bright . . .” to a gathering of animals including two tigers. Pricilla Burris’ mixed-media illustrations featuring Tiger and a host of cute animals against a dark forest background make this a good scary-but-not-too-scary read aloud. Blake’s “The Tyger” is included on the back endpaper.

    Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug. Jonathan Stutzman. Ill. Jay Fleck. 2019. Chronicle.

    Tiny T. RexTiny T. Rex tries to cheer up his sad pal Pointy with a hug but can’t wrap his short, stubby arms around his large dinosaur friend. After asking for advice from his father, aunt, and mother, whose responses are not helpful (“mathematics might be the answer,” “balance and freshly squeezed cucumber juice,” and “it’s okay if you can’t hug”), his siblings suggest that he practice. A lot. Hugging a purple tree trunk that turns out to be the leg of a dinosaur that flies through the air with him clinging to it, Tiny lets go and plops right down onto the head of his friend Pointy, who exclaims, “That was the biggest hug ever.” Bright, digitally colored pencil illustrations demonstrate size comparisons nicely as Tiny learns not to give up because tiny hugs come from big hearts.

    Ages 9–11

    Freya & Zoose. Emily Butler. Ill. Jennifer Thermes. 2019. Crown/Penguin.

    Freya & ZooseInspired by Hints to Lady Travellers at Home and Abroad, a guidebook for Victorian adventurers, Freya, a Scandinavian rockhopper penguin, stows away on Captain Salomon August Andrée’s hot air balloon expedition to the North Pole. Once aloft she discovers that there is another stowaway, a cocky, ill-mannered London-born mouse named Zoose, who wants to become famous as the first mouse to explore the North Pole. When the ill-fated expedition is forced to land in the Arctic, Freya and Zoose must learn how to work together if they are to survive. Jennifer Thermes’ black-and-white drawings extend the humor of Emily Butler’s captivating animal fantasy. In an author’s note, Butler provides background information about Captain Andrée, Nils Strindberg, and Knut Faenkels, who attempted the flight by hot-air balloon to the North Pole in 1897 and perished; rockhopper penguins; the Artic region; and Lillias Campbell Davidson, the author of Hints to Lady Travellers.

    Mr. Penguin and the Lost Treasure. Alex T. Smith. 2019. Peachtree.

    Mr. PenguinHaving placed an ad in the newspaper offering his services, Mr. Penguin is eagerly awaiting his first adventure as a Professional Adventurer, and it comes with a call from Boudicca Bones, owner of the Museum of Extraordinary Objects. To save the very old museum in need of restoration, she and her brother are desperate to locate the treasure buried by their great-great-great-grandfather somewhere in the museum. With his sidekick, a resourceful spider named Colin, Mr. Penguin rushes to the museum and soon discovers that the job is going to be more difficult, more dangerous, and definitely more adventurous than he anticipated. Will he find the lost treasure? How will he survive his first proper Adventuring job? Readers who enjoy this humorous action-packed tale will be eager to join Mr. Penguin on another exciting Adventure.

    Rabbit’s Bad Habits (Rabbit & Bear #1). Julian Gough. Ill. Jim Field. 2019. Silver Dolphin/Printers Row.

    Rabbit's Bad HabitsBear awakens mid-hibernation to find her store of food (honey, salmon, and beetles’ eggs) gone. While building a snowman, she accidentally rolls a big ball of snow over the entrance to a rabbit’s hole and encounters grumpy and unfriendly Rabbit. Rejecting kind and friendly Bear’s invitation to help build a snowman, Rabbit decides to make an even better snowman, but first, for energy he eats lots and lots of honey, salmon, and beetle’s eggs. “Then he did a little poo, and ate it.” (Yes, rabbits do that, as Rabbit explains in a funny and informative sequence.) After Bear saves Rabbit from pursuit by a hungry Wolf with a well-tossed snowball “as big as an avalanche, and as fast as a train,” they enjoy a celebratory winter picnic of honey, salmon, and beetle’s eggs and go to sleep in the cave. This series opener with a giggle-inducing text and illustrations on every page is perfect for newly independent readers.

    Straw into Gold: Fairy Tales Re-spun. Hilary McKay. Ill. Sarah Gibb. 2019. Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster.

    Straw Into GoldHilary McKay spins different perspectives into her retellings of the ten traditional fairy tales in this collection: “Rapunzel,” “Cinderella,” “The Princess and the Pea,” “Rumpelstiltskin,” “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” “The Swan Brothers,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” “Red Riding Hood,” “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” and “Hansel and Gretel.” In “Straw into Gold,” Petal, the miller’s daughter, manipulates Rumpelstiltskin, a hob who yearns for a child, into spinning a barnful of barley straw into gold thread (so the King will marry her) in exchange for her first child, and then tricks him with a guessing game about his name to go back on her promise. In a twist at the end, after Petal’s death, her son delivers an apology from her to Rumpelstiltskin, and they enjoy time together. Sarah Gibb’s black-and-white, delicately detailed painted scenes and silhouettes are exquisite additions to these “re-spun” tales. A bibliography is included.

    Ages 12–14

    A Circle of Elephants. Eric Dinerstein. 2019. Disney-Hyperion.

    A Circle of ElephantsThirteen-year-old Nandu works for the head of the king of Nepal’s elephant stable as an elephant driver at the Royal Elephant Breeding Center in the borderlands between Nepal and India. As Nandu protects his “elephant brother” (Hira Prasad, a powerful bull elephant) as well as other elephants and endangered animals from danger in nature (drought, earthquakes, predators) and man (poachers and corrupt government officials), help comes from old and new friends and allies, and he learns that “we are all connected and stronger together than apart.” Back matter includes a glossary and an informative author’s note from conservationist Eric Dinerstein. Readers interested in the backstory of Nandu’s abandonment in the jungle 10 years earlier will want to read the earlier companion book, What Elephants Know (2016).

    Ages 15+

    Lovely War. Julie Berry. 2019. Viking/Penguin.

    Lovely WarOn the eve of World War II in a New York hotel, Aphrodite (goddess of love) and her brother-in-law Ares (god of war) are caught in the act of adultery by her husband, Hephaestus (god of fire and forges), who agrees to preside over their private trial as judge, jury, and executioner. Presented in the format of a court trial, complete with witnesses, Aphrodite offers her orchestrationof the love stories of two mortal couples (Hazel, a classical pianist from London, and James, a British soldier with dreams of becoming an architect; and Aubrey, a Harlem jazz pianist in the U.S. Army, and Colette, a Belgium orphan and singer) from the World War I era. Pronouncing acquittal, Hephaestus realizes that not only has Aphrodite demonstrated the transcendent power of love, she also identified him as the only one capable of loving her before sealing the deal with a “kiss for the ages.”

    Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English, Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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    Critical Media Literacy for Helping

    By Alexandra Panos
     | Feb 15, 2019

    critical-media-literacy-helpingMaking sense of today’s complex media sources has been the topic of many blog posts on Literacy Daily and is addressed in the National Association for Media Literacy Education's list of core principles of media literacy education. Thoughtful scholars and educators have emphasized the need to include media in the classroom, to learning to critically evaluate complex representations and engage civic media literacy practices in a post-truth society, and to consider the range of questions we might pose to scaffold student understanding and sensemaking about digital texts and media.

    Less often addressed, however, is the immediacy of a maelstrom of media reporting about complicated news that might directly deal with violence, politics, and inequities. In fact, a new genre of media and online text might be understood as “disaster media,” or media produced in response to intense global disasters (man-made or natural).

    While doing research in a small town in the rural Midwest, I worked alongside elementary teachers who joined Global Read Aloud in the fall of 2015. Classes around the world read books and participated in social media and video conversations with other classes. In fall 2015, one of the books, Fish by L.S. Mathews (Yearling), dealt with migration caused by war and climate change. That fall also saw intense and pervasive media reporting about refugee migration from northern Africa to the shores of southern Europe. Media stories shared gruesome details about the trek people took across the Mediterranean; the uneven, and at times violent, welcomes received in Europe; and the extraordinary loss of life by people, including many children, making this journey.

    It was impossible to avoid this media as we read a book about migration with fourth- and fifth-grade students. As one teacher put it, “no one could have planned for the events going on in the news.” Together, I worked with other teachers and students to collect and share numerous news reports about this global disaster. We discussed the news, explored historical migration and refugee experience, defined key terms, and continued to read children’s literature. In addition, we spoke with classrooms around the world about their reactions to the book Fish and to the horrific images and events being reported. Across these conversations, every child expressed a strong desire to help the individuals seeking safety. One classroom in Chicago, Illinois, described sponsoring refugee families in their city. Another classroom in Buenos Aires, Argentina, described examining the political response to welcoming refugees to their country.

    In the small town in which I worked, students did not have access to refugee services to sponsor a family in town. Their community is very politically conservative, and teachers were wary of diving straight into politics. Instead, together we devised a series of questions for students to critically interrogate just how to help refugees. We did this by identifying texts that might come up in a typical Google search. For example, recent sources about supporting or helping refugees include a listicle from TED (the popular lecture video series) and the UN Refugee Agency's guide. We used an online reading platform to allow students the time to examine a series of these online texts in pairs, using the following research-supported questions to scaffold textual critique and reader reflexivity.

    • Who created this source?
    • Why was this source created?
    • What story does this tell us about refugees?
    • What does this source want you to feel, think, or do?
    • What ideas does this source give you to help refugees?
    • What would you need to help the refugees based on this source's ideas?
    • Would these ideas be possible for you (and your classmates or family or community) to do? Why or why not?

    Students came away from these discussions with concrete next steps that matched their local experiences and context. Teachers and I hoped these critical media literacy practices would support thoughtful ways of taking action. After brainstorming, discussion, and planning, students lead several actions. They created a letter about the need to support refugees and were then given time to read their letter at a local school board meeting. They started a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization selected from their critical reading and donated money they had raised. They led read alouds on migrant and refugee experiences in lower grades classrooms at their school. The students, and their efforts, were, frankly, remarkable.

    As a result, teachers and I learned that the media of the moment, often media that is not deemed appropriate for children, cannot be avoided in any classroom—regardless of the age of its students or the content or the local context of education. We now recognize the need to integrate media thoughtfully, to look for opportunities to support critical media literacy, and to allow students the time and space to act on their desires for a more just future world.

    Alexandra Panos is an assistant professor of elementary literacy at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Her research focuses on the literacies needed to address complex spatial and environmental challenges. She seeks, along with the children she writes about in this blog post, a multitude of ways to contribute to a more just future world.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    Choice: A Key Motivator for Teen Readers

    By Kristen Bruck
     | Feb 13, 2019

    As a child, I loved to read, but I never enjoyed English class. I read books that were assigned, but trying to remember details to earn points on a quiz just didn’t seem relevant to me. Now, as a parent, I dread the summer reading assignments that my kids bring home. Like most students, they don’t want to read a book that doesn’t interest them or complete an assignment so that their school can check a box to say they “read” over the summer. Even worse are the computer programs that limit students to specific books, answering questions to earn points. These may be easy ways for schools to track “reading,” but these assignments are not reading; they are chores!

    Throughout my life—as a reader, a parent, and an educator—I have found that restricting choice almost always backfires, making kids less likely to want to read.  Right no. 3 of the International Literacy Association’s Children’s Rights to Read—a new initiative aimed at ensuring every child has access to the education, opportunities, and resources needed to read—states that  “Children have the right to choose what they read.” From my experience, however, this right is rarely realized. 

    As an English teacher, I know that reading is more than just the answers on a test; it’s a way for all of us to find reflections of ourselves and connect with others. That is why I have changed my classroom in the past year. I still teach skills, standards, and texts that are part of the curriculum, but now I also incorporate time for students to use these skills to make meaningful connections in books of their choice.

    To start, I allowed my students to choose their summer reading—with no limitations. I provided suggestions, but told them they could read anything that interested them. At first, students were confused—they couldn’t believe they could choose what to read. I gave them time to look through books that I had checked out from the public library, I showed video recommendations from their teachers, and they began to get excited about the idea of reading for pleasure. We created a website for students to share book recommendations, and when we came back to school in August, students continued to share their favorites through book talks. Most important, I gave students time in class to read the books they had chosen.

    Allowing and encouraging choice has been no easy feat in a school that does not have a library. How could students choose books without any to choose from? So, I went online and researched popular books for teens (particularly ones that featured diverse protagonists), talked to my students about books they loved, and even used social media to find titles of books. Then, I bought books, asked friends and local community partners to donate used books, and started an Amazon Wishlist and several successful crowdfunding projects. My classroom library, which started out with just 20 books, has grown to several hundred books—and it keeps growing. Just this past week, a student said to me, “Mrs. Bruck, what are you doing? I actually like to read now!” She told me that she never liked to read anything before this year, but now she finds herself unable to put books down and is even engaged in reading assignments from other classes.

    Too often, we hear about teenagers who “just won’t read,” but if we do it right—allowing choice, creating time and space to read, and providing high-interest books—then we can foster a lifelong love of reading, even in students who never imagined they would be readers.

    Kristen Bruck is a high school English teacher and reading specialist. This is her 18th year teaching. She previously taught middle and high school social studies as well as English courses at a local community college. She is the mom of two kids, a son in eighth grade and a daughter in fifth grade.

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    Five Questions With Jacqueline Prata

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Feb 12, 2019

    jackie-prataJacqueline Prata is an author, activist, and high school student. When tasked to write an essay in middle school, she had no idea she was planting the seeds for her first publication. At 15 years old, she wrote and illustrated the children’s book Fortune Cookie Surprise! and was involved in every aspect of development. Fortune Cookie Surprise! is the story of a young girl who realizes she is much like a fortune cookie, unique with a special gift inside. The book sends the message that we can all make a positive impact on our world.

    How did you come up with the idea for Fortune Cookie Surprise!?

    “In the seventh grade, my middle school teacher assigned an ‘I Believe’ essay. It required a belief in an unexpected object, and I chose fortune cookies. I compared fortune cookies to people and my role in our family. I worked hard and was proud of the outcome. I sent my essay in to Teen Ink Magazine, a monthly online and print magazine that features teen writers. It was published online and given the Editor’s Choice Award!

    “I always wanted to write a book, and the recognition inspired me to take it to the next level. I decided to make a children’s picture book targeting the 4–8-year-old age group because that was the age that I became interested in reading.”

    Fortune Cookie Surprise! sends the message that all children hold unique and extraordinary gifts worth sharing. Tell us why this message is so important.

    “The biggest lesson that I hope children take away is that each of us is unique with special gifts inside, just like a message inside a fortune cookie. All children complete their families like fortune cookies complete the meal. They can truly impact our world no matter their age, race, gender, or family structure. After going through the publishing process, I hope to inspire children and young readers [to know] that they too can do unexpected and great things—like writing, illustrating, and publishing a children’s book.”

    You volunteer for several local charities. How do you think teachers and educators can empower young people to galvanize their strengths to make a difference? 

    “There are so many ways for young people to get involved and make a difference. Teachers and educators can act as role models by setting a good example. Teens look to them for guidance and advice. They can expose us to new and different experiences and areas where we can make the biggest impact. Many of my teachers, ranging from my lower school art teacher to my middle school English teacher to my high school advisor, were instrumental in the creation of my book. They volunteered their time and expertise and, even more important, they gave me the confidence to pursue my goal.

    “In terms of my volunteering, I was lucky to have found our local Special Olympics chapter from my figure skating coach at a young age. In middle school, I started coaching athletes with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics is more than an organization—it is a family—and one that provides unconditional caring. They cheer each other on in competition and support each other in times of need. My experience with them has given me an added perspective of how fortunate I have been in my life and how we can all be more aware and appreciate our differences. The font style I chose to use in Fortune Cookie Surprise! was one that was ideal not only for early readers, but for those with disabilities.

    “I attended Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation Student Leadership Academy in 10th grade and learned how important it is to raise awareness for childhood cancer and how students could make a difference. I rallied interest at school, started a Lemon Club, and held a lemonade stand raising money for research. I made a documentary film, titled BitterSweet, in my broadcast journalism class that was so impactful it was shown at film festivals around the country and was featured as the lead story on Teen Kid News, an Emmy award–winning, nationally syndicated television show. It has been seen on over 200 stations and educational channels, bringing awareness to over nine million students.

    “Working together with my teachers, coaches, the media, and even local organizations and politicians has taught me that you can do so much more partnering with others than alone. I think Helen Keller said it best: ‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.’”

    What are your future plans?

    “Going through the complete publishing process, from writing and illustrating to printing and marketing, has been so rewarding. I have learned to really appreciate the time and effort authors go through when creating a book and how many revisions and proofs it takes before a final product is produced. I want to continue writing and to learn more about related fields like journalism and public policy to help make an impact in our world. I really just want to make a difference and make the world a better place.”

    What advice do you have for other young, aspiring authors?

    “If you can dream it, you can achieve it! You can do anything you set your mind to.”

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily. 

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