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  • What a year you have had! Tell us about your recent life experiences since publishing your first picture book, ONE FROZEN LAKE. What have been some of the highlights as a first-time children’s author?
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    5 Questions With…Deborah Jo Larson (ONE FROZEN LAKE)

     | Feb 03, 2014

    Deb Larson, author of ONE FROZEN LAKE, the 2013 IRA Children’s and Young Author’s Book Award for Primary Fiction, recently shared some thoughts about her writing career with Amy Vessel of the IRA Children’s & Young Adult’s Book Award Committee.

    What a year you have had! Tell us about your recent life experiences since publishing your first picture book, ONE FROZEN LAKE. What have been some of the highlights as a first-time children’s author?                     

    5 Questions With…Deborah Jo Larson (ONE FROZEN LAKE)It’s been amazing! It seemed like overnight I went from an aspiring author to my dream of being a published children’s book author. Some of the many highlights include discovering the emotional connection people have with ice-fishing. Of course, I have my memories of fishing with my dad—that is why I wrote the book—but the heart-warming stories people have relayed to me have truly surprised and humbled me. Ice fishing to many people in our area of the country obviously created lasting childhood memories.

    Second, I have enjoyed sharing ONE FROZEN LAKE with children during my school author visits. I have had so much fun reading this book to children and hearing their insightful feedback as well as unexpected questions! It’s invigorating to be around children of all ages and knowing that perhaps I played a tiny part in their educational journey.

    Finally, receiving this honor from IRA has been very meaningful to me. My favorite game to play as a child was “school,” and I was ALWAYS teacher. Educators are very dear to my heart, especially my third grade teacher, Mrs. Bleckinridge, who truly embodied the JOY of teaching.

    You obviously have very personal connections to ice fishing, and ONE FROZEN LAKE provides such a vivid glimpse into this experience for those of us not familiar. Is there a favorite part of the book that truly captures your favorite memories from your own childhood?

    The scene in the book where they are playing cards in the shack is my favorite! Unlike the boy in this book, for me, catching fish was never important. What truly mattered was being in a warm, cozy shack with my dad playing cards, drinking cocoa, and eating Snickers bars.

    What impact did creative writing classes have on your career?

    I’ve always wanted to write fiction. Minneapolis, Minnesota has a writing organization that provides classes for all genres of writing at many levels (i.e., beginning, advanced) called The Loft. I gave myself a writing class for a milestone birthday, and to be honest, I was quite nervous; however, the class was so inspiring that I continued to pursue more advanced writing courses, and many connections in the writing community led me to my incredible writing group.

    When did you start writing stories for children?          

    5 Questions With…Deborah Jo Larson (ONE FROZEN LAKE)I started writing when my own children were small. My first story was about a baby turtle that my son caught and later released. I actually wrote the story as a poem in my very first writing class. I took a class on picture book writing and immediately fell in love with the genre. I believe a good picture book is poetic, and I love the combination of rhythmical words and moving artwork. At that time, I wanted to capture his childhood memory. That same boy is now a high school senior, but even if it is never published, I will always cherish that baby turtle story.

    Do you have suggestions for teachers to encourage their students to become better writers?

    I can still remember being told as a young student in elementary school that I had writing talent by several of my teachers. That praise from my teachers filled me with immense pride and encouraged me to follow my dreams. I have no doubt that the encouragement from my teachers is one of the reasons that I am a writer today.

    My strongest suggestion to all educators is to never underestimate the impact you can have on children through praise. You never know—you may have the next generation’s great author sitting right in the middle of your classroom.

    To learn more about Deborah Jo Larson, visit her website, www.deborahjolarson.com. There you can access educational resources for ONE FROZEN LAKE and information for schools looking to schedule an author visit.

    © 2014 Amy Vessel. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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  • Edcamp is participant-driven professional development following the unconference model. Instead of the traditional top-down model where somebody organizing the PD determines which things people can learn about, the agenda at an Edcamp is designed by the participants at the beginning of the event.
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    5 Questions With... Edcamp Foundation's Dan Callahan

    Dan Callahan
     | Nov 22, 2013

    Dan Callahan, Co-Founder of Edcamps, on EngageDan Callahan currently teaches for Burlington Public Schools as an Instructional Technology Specialist focused on implementing a K-5 1:1 iPad program in a combined Library & Technology program. In 2010, he helped launch the Edcamp movement by organizing Edcamp Philly, an event which has lead to hundreds of unconference events around the world. He currently serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the non-profit Edcamp Foundation. He teaches in the Next Generation Learning Master's Program for Experienced Educators at Antioch University New England. He has presented at many international and regional conferences. In 2013, Dan received an Impact Award from the Association of Education Arts and Sciences for his work on Edcamp.

    For the uninitiated, can you give us a nutshell explanation of Edcamps and your role within the movement?

    Edcamp is participant-driven professional development following the unconference model. Instead of the traditional top-down model where somebody organizing the PD determines which things people can learn about, the agenda at an Edcamp is designed by the participants at the beginning of the event. Throughout the day, participants are encouraged to engage in meaningful conversations and to move between sessions to find the best fit for them.

    I co-founded the Edcamp movement in 2010 by helping to organize the first Edcamp in Philadelphia. Since that time there have been more than 350 Edcamps in countries all around the world. I currently serve as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Edcamp Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to building and supporting a community of empowered learners.

    Much of the conversation around Edcamps focuses on the failures of traditional PD. What are the glaring holes that Edcamps are able to fill?

    Teachers traditionally have very limited choice in their in-school professional development. The entire school/department/grade level is all going to learn about something, regardless of whether it has any relevance to your own professional practice.

    Edcamp KC. p: LauraGilchrist4 via photopin cc

    Edcamps, since their agenda is designed by the participants, is based entirely on their passions, interests, and questions. They make it automatically relevant and useful. Outside of school, teachers have little if any professional development and travel funding that will allow them to attend conferences that might have more relevance. Edcamps are all free to attend, and happening in an increasing number of communities, making it possible for almost anybody to get to one. If your community hasn’t hosted an Edcamp yet, we at the Edcamp Foundation will be glad to help you get started with resources and ideas.

    Because teachers don’t have a choice in what professional development they receive, they will often end up in undifferentiated settings. Everybody gets the same lecture on a specific topic, and there’s no distinction made for the person who’s completely new to it, the person who’s tried it out and is looking for more advanced knowledge, and the person who is already an expert.

    What do you say to those who are skeptical of Edcamps lack of formal organization and pre-planning?

    Why do you assume that formality is a necessity for quality professional development? Even at a conference where I’m allowed to choose where to go, I still find that I get at least as much if not more benefit out of the opportunity to talk to other people in between the sessions than from just the sessions themselves.

    Also, don’t mistake a lack of formal agenda for a lack of planning. A lot of effort goes into planning a day that will maximize opportunities for people to have meaningful interactions with each other. Many people come to Edcamp with a very solid idea for what they would like to talk about and how they want to run the session they choose to facilitate.

    Theres a video on the Edcamp blog entitled, Dan Callahan is Ruining Professional Development. Want to help? Its obviously a bit tongue in cheek, but whats the story behind that message?

    After the very first Edcamp, one of the participants had to go to an in-district professional development the following Monday. He tweeted out that Edcamp had ruined professional development for him, as he now felt trapped in an undifferentiated lecture that had little to do with his classroom.

    What advice would you give to a teacher who is attending her/his first Edcamp event?

    Come in with lots of ideas and questions. Be prepared to participate, whether that’s facilitating a session or simply engaging in the conversations you go to. If a session isn’t working for you, get up and leave to go to another one. Nobody will be offended. Do your best to maximize your learning throughout the day. Talk to everybody you can. Have fun.

    © 2013 International Reading Association. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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  • Susan Kelley, my colleague, and I decided that surveying the reading habits of adults who read avidly would give teachers an accurate, robust portrait of how lifelong readers behave and offer insight into how these habits could be fostered and supported in young readers.
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    5 Questions With… Donalyn Miller

    Donalyn Miller
     | Nov 15, 2013

    5 Questions With... Donalyn MillerDonalyn Miller has worked with a variety of upper elementary and middle school students and currently teaches fifth grade at O.A. Peterson Elementary in Forth Worth, Texas. In her popular book, THE BOOK WHISPERER, Donalyn reflects on her journey to become a reading teacher and describes how she inspires and motivates her middle school students to read 40 or more books a year. In her latest book, READING IN THE WILD, Donalyn collects responses from 900 adult readers and uses this information to teach lifelong reading habits to her students. Donalyn currently facilitates the community blog, The Nerdy Book Club and co-writes a regular column for Scholastic's Principal-to-Principal Newsletter. Her articles about teaching and reading have appeared in publications such as THE READING TEACHER, EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP, and THE WASHINGTON POST.

    Your research for READING IN THE WILD began with adult lifelong readers and sought to work backwards to discover their positive habits. How did you decide on this strategy?

    Susan Kelley, my colleague, and I decided that surveying the reading habits of adults who read avidly would give teachers an accurate, robust portrait of how lifelong readers behave and offer insight into how these habits could be fostered and supported in young readers.

    You said, “We give a lot of lip service to the idea that we’re creating lifelong readers in the classroom, but we aren’t being intentional about it.” How can teachers be more intentional in their practice?

    In TEACHING WITH INTENTION, Debbie Miller charges all teachers to consider how our beliefs about teaching reading align with our practices, saying, “I'm convinced that success in the classroom depends less on which beliefs we hold and more simply on having a set of beliefs that guides us in our day-to-day work with children. Once we know who we are and what we're about in the classroom, we become intentional in our teaching; we do what we do on purpose, with good reason.”

    If we truly believe that fostering avid reading behaviors in our students matters, what are we doing about it on a school-wide basis? Does the schedule ensure daily independent reading time? Does the school have a quality library staffed by a degreed librarian? Do the teachers have well-stocked classroom libraries? Are students reading self-selected texts at some point during the school day? Does everyone at the school model the importance of reading for both academic and personal goals?

    Creating lifelong readers isn’t a wish. We have extensive research that tells us what conditions foster reading engagement and motivation. Unfortunately, the long term goal of creating lifelong readers often falls by the wayside in favor of short term goals like getting report card grades that don’t reflect authentic reading activities or preparing for standardized tests, which crowds out meaningful reading instruction and practice. 

    When asking lifelong readers to identify the activities and events that led them to enjoy and appreciate reading, no one mentioned reading logs, book reports, or comprehension packets.

    Each chapter of READING IN THE WILD contains “Community Conversations.” Why is it important to practice reading communally?

    Cultural norms powerfully influence our behavior. We want to be successful and accepted in our group. It stands to reason that if reading becomes part of the value system in a group, more people will read. Developing peer-to-peer reading relationships sends positive messages about reading from other kids—not just teachers and parents—and provides children with other readers their age who can share and discuss books.

    In a book about inspiring lifelong readers, it’s interesting that you touch on the topic of abandoning books. How does the freedom to quit on a book factor into a reader’s life?

    Most avid readers feel comfortable abandoning books if they are not working for them. There is always another book waiting! Abandoning a book shows confidence and empowerment. You control your reading life when you can choose to abandon a book.

    It was enlightening to learn that many of our survey respondents were less likely to abandon a book or stuck with a book longer if a friend recommended the book. If a reader you trust suggests a book, we give a book more of a chance.

    As an active tweeter, blogger, and overall digital force, can you provide some tips for teachers who are looking to plug in to digital PD opportunities?

    The best online PD tool is the one you will use. It doesn’t do you any good to have Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts if you aren’t willing to update all of them on a regular basis. Few of us have time for that! Select the tool that you like the best and cultivate it—that’s how you will build connections with other educators. You must contribute to online PD in order to garner the most benefit.

    I would look for a few key people to follow or friend and look at how they blog, tweet, or collect and share resources. I find that some of the best literacy people to follow online are librarians, who understand resource collection and evaluation, as well as technology use.

    © 2013 International Reading Association. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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  • Good writing is essential for any text, fiction or nonfiction. Too often we expect nonfiction to be “the player to be named later” in terms of quality. We expect good fiction to be “good” because of the excellence of the way a story is told; why shouldn’t we expect the same with nonfiction?
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    5 Questions With... Seymour Simon

    Seymour Simon
     | Nov 04, 2013

    Seymour Simon, whom the NEW YORK TIMES called "the dean of [children's science] writers," is the author of more than 270 highly acclaimed science books. He has received the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Lifetime Achievement Award for his lasting contribution to children's science literature, among many other awards. Seymour Simon is also a founding partner in StarWalk Kids Media (www.StarWalkKids.com), a streaming e-book platform designed to provide high-quality digital literature from top quality authors to schools and libraries. More than 50 of Seymour Simon’s popular books are now available in this digital format. Follow him on Twitter: @seymoursimon. 

    #IRAchat with Seymour SimonFrom your unique perspective as a teacher, author, and publisher, what are the elements that make a nonfiction text riveting for a young reader?

    Good writing is essential for any text, fiction or nonfiction. Too often we expect nonfiction to be “the player to be named later” in terms of quality. We expect good fiction to be “good” because of the excellence of the way a story is told; why shouldn’t we expect the same with nonfiction?

    Good nonfiction is not just a list of facts that you can find anywhere, particularly in these days of the Internet. But good nonfiction tells an amazing story of real events that engages a reader completely. I strive to make my nonfiction books as absorbing as possible, setting the stage with an interesting beginning, full of fascinating facts and comparisons, lively language and a real point of view from the author and a conclusion that raises other questions so that the reader will be interested in finding out more.

    With the authority that comes with being the “dean of [children’s science] writers,” can you describe your vision for the perfect utilization of scientific stories in today’s classroom?

    I can tell you what I’m not interested in: Having my books become text books so that kids can be tested on lists of facts. Instead, I want to inspire kids to become interested in a subject not just for now but for the rest of their lives. I want to arouse a sense of fascination with the real world around them, the world of plants and animals, weather and seasons, starry night skies, volcanoes and earthquakes, and the poetry of life and the beauty of nature.

    In an Engage blog post, you said, “Far too often, we've been asking our children…to unplug when they walk through the front doors of a school building.” Why is it important for children to interact with texts in digital formats in a school setting?

    Children are digital natives, while most of us older folks are digital immigrants. Digital natives are not afraid to touch and explore devices such as tablets and computers. Give a kid a tablet and he/she will learn how to manipulate it faster and more easily than we digital immigrants will ever be able to.

    To ask a kid to unplug when he walks into a school building is like asking a kid to use a feather pen to write on goatskin. Don’t be afraid that eBooks will stifle a love of reading. On the contrary, a digital library of good books that each kid can access from home and school is like a dream come true to me, a kid who grew up in a poor household that could not afford many books.

    You’re co-hosting the next #IRAchat (11/7 at 8pm EST) with Jennifer Altieri on the topic of informational reading and writing. What are your goals for the night’s discussion?

    My goals are two-fold. First, I want to show that nonfiction can be every bit as literary and artistic as fiction for young readers. And second, to show that reading good literature itself is what counts, not whether the reading is done with printed books or with eBooks. At this point in my life, I read both on a tablet and with printed books with equal enjoyment. There are many considerations about which one I’ll chose but it has more to do with convenience and type of book than it does with literary choices.

    As a Twitter chat veteran, what advice do you have for participants that will help them get the most out of this new style of professional knowledge sharing?

    Twitter is amazing for the great quality of the teachers/librarians that are using social media to learn more about education and books. I am delighted and happily surprised to find such good ideas coming out of a Twitter chat. Participants in these education chats not only get good ideas that they can use with kids, but have the pleasure of meeting other professionals from around the country who become good friends and colleagues. I consider myself lucky to be able to interact with teachers who use my books with their students.

    © 2013 International Reading Association. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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  • Can you tell us about its path from draft to published picture book?

    The real-life story of the blizzard on Linden Square rattled around in my head for almost 20 years. It wasn’t until I enrolled in the ‘How to Create a Picture Book Dummy’ course...
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    5 Questions With… Kate Sullivan (ON LINDEN SQUARE)

    by Kate Sullivan
     | Oct 18, 2013

    Kate Sullivan likes to play around with words, music, and pictures. She is a storyteller who uses a multimedia approach to touch audiences. A linguist by training (B.A. in French and Latin), she is also an award-winning composer and performer. Kate has also been painting for many years, everything from portraits and landscapes to cartoons. Her writings include a travel memoir, a screenplay, short stories, and poetry. Kate lives with her husband in Newburyport, Massachusetts, a little city on the ocean, where they enjoy a country mouse–city mouse life. ON LINDEN SQUARE is her first picture book for children.

    5 Questions With... Kate Sullivan (ON LINDEN SQUARE)ON LINDEN SQUARE began as a manuscript in a course at the Rhode Island School of Design. Can you tell us about its path from draft to published picture book? 

    The real-life story of the blizzard on Linden Square rattled around in my head for almost 20 years. It wasn’t until I enrolled in the ‘How to Create a Picture Book Dummy’ course at Rhode Island School of Design that I made the leap of putting it to paper.

    The course was a revelation about so many things, first and foremost about writing a story in a compelling yet concise way, with intriguing characters, plenty of detail and vivid description that crackles with life. I learned about paring down a story, about pacing, where to place text, how illustrations can sometimes enhance the written word and sometimes eliminate the need for them!

    First drafts are often long-winded. Mine was! I wanted to get in every detail of that magical day on Linden Square. Slowly, slowly, with the helpful feedback of colleagues, I was able to merge details, eliminate repetition and leave what became the essence of the finished story—the way in which the snow transformed the neighborhood and turned strangers into friends.
     
    In ON LINDEN SQUARE, Stella Mae Culpepper, unites her adult neighbors in a task. How does it benefit children to read about people their age in leadership roles? 

    Children love stories where they are in charge, where they are making decisions on their own, without the grownups hovering over them, telling them how it should go. When given the space, children can experiment, learn about themselves and grow in the process. I have four grown children and I know how scary it is to give a child a bit of freedom (varying bits for varying kids!) to figure things out on their own.

    The first draft of ON LINDEN SQUARE featured Stella Mae’s mother as the great facilitator—based on, who else—me! My classmates wondered out loud if it might not be better to have the child be the one who thinks up the idea of a snow sculpture. And of course, they were right!

    I began to think of all the stories I loved as a child. (They DO stay with you, don’t they!) They often feature hapless grownups who can’t figure out what to do until a child innocently offers a solution to the problem at hand.

    In MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL, the classic tale by Virginia Lee Burton, the townsfolk are totally flummoxed until a little boy steps forward to suggest that Mike Mulligan stay with his beloved Mary Anne in the hole they dug and become the heating source for the new town hall. In THE DUTCHESS BAKES A CAKE by Virginia Kahl, it is the youngest child Gunhilde who comes up with a happy solution to the fact that her mother is stranded at the top of a cake that she baked with entirely too much yeast! And of course, Dr. Seuss was famous for imbuing his smallest characters with the most wisdom!

    I had these strong little wise children in mind when I put Stella Mae in charge.
     
    The antagonist in your story doesn’t seem to be a single person, but the “mind my own business” attitude of Stella Mae’s neighbors. What made you choose to take on this mindset in your book? 

    The world is a busy place full of people going about their busy lives. We’ve lost a bit of that old-fashioned sense of community, of listening, of noticing, of helping one another.
    A child (or a puppy!) can break through that ‘busy-barrier’ like a warm knife through butter! A child will say what he thinks, not what he’s supposed to think. The walls come tumbling down and connections are made.

    And of course, there’s nothing like a snowstorm to force everyone out of their normal routines—to stop and experience the simple pleasures.

    ON LINDEN SQUARE is a book about the quiet bonds  in a neighborhood. We need to nurture the connections we have with our neighbors—everything from a friendly hello to helping out in times of trouble. Our cyber world is threatening these face-to-face connections. Technology is not going away but I do feel very strongly that we need to pay close attention to our physical surroundings and offer our time and our help to enrich our own lives and the lives of our neighbors.

    When I spend time talking with children about the characters in ON LINDEN SQUARE, I encourage them to think about their own neighbors. Who are they? What do they look like? Are they old? Young? What kinds of things do they do? This becomes a great creative writing exercise for the classroom, and gives students an opportunity to illustrate their own descriptions.

    The ON LINDEN SQUARE Facebook page will feature a “Who’s Your Neighbor?” section where teachers can contribute students’ drawings and descriptions. How wonderful for kids to get a glimpse of other kids’ lives around the country and the world!  

    With Stella in the lead, the townspeople agree on “Ferdinand Ganesh, the Jazzy Dancing Baba Feng Shui Elephant-Mouse” as the very unique name for the snowman they’ve made. What made you interested in packing such diverse cultural elements into one name?  

    As I wrote ON LINDEN SQUARE, I realized how important it would be to create a neighborhood full of diverse and quirky people, to reflect the reality of the world around us. They include Fernando, who likes to sing Spanish love songs with his karaoke machine, the Chatterjees, the Indian couple who want to move to Mexico, Mr. Rubenstein, a wobbly old man who likes to read and do magic tricks, the fancily dressed couple who take tango lessons, Mouse Lady who wanders through the streets singing to herself, and the man in the pork pie hat who rides his bike around the neighborhood, collecting bottles and cans for the nickel deposits. 

    Each person has a different vision of what the world is like and so it makes perfect sense that when they all get together to build a giant snow sculpture, they would a invent a creature according to their own imaginations. It is only when The Chatterjees happen by and ask, “What is it?” that they realize they don’t really know. And of course, it’s Stella Mae who comes up with the name that pleases them all!  

     Musical references abound in ON LINDEN SQUARE. How else does your background as a musician influence your writing? 

     Music is in my bones. I grew up in a family of singers in a time when every house had a piano and most kids took piano lessons. Music was a constant in the house.

    We were also a family of words. My father played with words. Never satisfied with an existing word, he would invent and twist them into clever new shapes and meanings. My mother loved children’s poetry and we all could recite many of our favorites. We were weaned on music and words, on the likes of Ogden Nash, Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Rogers and Hammerstein.

    5 Questions With Kate Sullivan (ON LINDEN SQUARE)This powerful combination of music and words has been my steady companion throughout my life as both a musician and a writer.

    It’s inescapable. Everything has a rhythm and a timbre and a song. I notice the ding of the toaster and the buzz of the razor, the clank of a hammer, the sing-song of the voice of the train conductor.

    When I write words, I’m always looking for that rhythmic, effortless flow—trying to avoid words or combination of words that will thump and bump the listener off the imagination wagon!

    Children are naturals at this. They feel the cadences, are transported by song. And I don’t mean listening, I mean singing! You don’t feel the spirit until you sing out loud! Singing is transformative, a transcendent combination of using our bodies to combine music and words. That’s why Fernando sings “Ay ay ay ay, Canta y no llores” along with his karaoke machine and why the magical day on Linden Square ends with a tango.

    Some families make music a part of their lives, others may not have the time or interest. I’m hoping that some of the terms used in the book and explored further in the glossary can serve as an introduction to the world of music whether at home or in the classroom.

    © 2013 International Reading Association. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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