Sunday, October 18, 2020

Children's Authors with Dyslexia - Patricia Polacco

Continuing with my theme of honoring children's authors with dyslexia for Dyslexia Awareness Month, this week I'm excited to discuss author/illustrator Patricia Polacco. Thank You Mr. Falker is her picture book about a girl (the author) who struggles with reading.

See the Classroom Resource Guide for the book published by the International Literacy Association.

The author, Patricia Polacco, did a video interview with Reading Rockets where she discusses her reading challenges and the Teacher Who Changed Everything. Mr. Falker was the first one to realize she had dyslexia and he even paid for her reading therapy out of his own pocket. This short (under two minutes) video is definitely worth sharing with your students.

She created another video discussing her learning challenges and the terrible bullying she endured in school. Her book, Bully, is for children ages 7-10 (grades 2-5). For younger children, ages Prek-3rd grade, she has a brand new book out just this month entitled Sticks and Stones (Simon & Schuster).



Sticks and Stones is about a year in the life of Patricia when she and two friends were bullied in elementary school. It depicts how they found strength in their friendship and in discovering their special talents.

See the video on  Patricia Polacco and Bullying. She talks about her struggles at greater length, the devastating effects of being bullied, and the importance of kindness and acceptance. She states that children with learning disabilities are geniuses. I wondered about that comment at first. Certainly, we can't all be geniuses, but she clarifies this by saying, "We as humans are all gifted, but we don't open our gifts at the same time."

Temple Grandin, the famous animal science professor with autism puts it another way, "The world needs all kinds of minds." Perhaps we all have our own type of genius. 

With that in mind, I will leave you with this thought.

Perhaps our most important job as educators is to help young people discover their unique genius.

See my blog posts on other authors with dyslexia:

Friday, October 9, 2020

Children's Authors with Dyslexia - Laurie Halse Anderson


I have always admired the work of Laurie Halse Anderson. I met her in person at the American Library Association conference a few years back and discovered that she was warm and personable as well as supremely talented. Her young adult novel, Speak, was groundbreaking in both its content and its style. Her teen novels cover tough topics like sexual assault and eating disorders (see Wintergirls).


In addition to her books for teens grades 7-12, Anderson has also written several well-researched historical books for younger students in grades 5-9 such as her Seeds of America trilogy.


For even younger children, grades 3-7, she created the Vet Volunteer series with a number of books about children saving animals from abuse. The series focuses on five kids who volunteer at a veterinary clinic. Anderson describes the series as Babysitters Club + Animal ER




Anderson actually began by writing picture books. Her first title was Ndito Runs. Her 2008 picture book, Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution involved so much research that in one interview that it took her nearly as long to write the picture book as it takes her to write a novel.



The scope and diversity of her books are impressive, but what is even more intriguing is that Anderson struggled to learn to read. This month on my blog I'm highlighting children's authors with dyslexia in celebration of Dyslexia Awareness Month, so I naturally wanted to include Anderson and her work. 

In a video for Reading Rockets, Anderson talks about receiving extra help early on for reading as well as for speech. In the interview, she tells how she cracked the reading code and became an avid reader but still struggled with grammar and spelling. Her first positive experience with writing was when her second-grade teacher introduced her to haiku. She could choose words for the short-form poem that she knew how to spell and after that experience, she was on a roll. 

I often use haiku with struggling writers. It is a simple, short form that his highly engaging and fun for kids of all ages. Watch for my fall haiku activity coming in November. In the meantime, watch Anderson's interview on Reading Rockets, explore her books, and check out last week's post about Henry Winkler and his Hank Zipzer series.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Children's Authors with Dyslexia - Henry Winkler

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and I'm raising awareness about children's authors with dyslexia. They are a tremendous inspiration to struggling young writers. My students love reading their stories and watching YouTube interviews with the authors talking about their learning challenges. This week I'm sharing two series by Henry Winkler co-written with Lin Oliver, Executive Director of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. 


Hank Zipzer: The World's Greatest Underachiever, is a series of middle-grade novels based on Winkler's own experiences with dyslexia. Hank is smart, resourceful, funny, and creative, but he struggles with the many ways dyslexia can impact everyday life. The series is for grades 3-7, ages 8-12 with a reading Lexile of 610. The Here's Hank series is based on a younger version of the same boy in second grade and is written for ages 6-9 with a Lexile of 540-660. 

In a 2019 NPR Article, Henry Winkler talked about his experiences with dyslexia. The comedian/actor didn't find out that he had dyslexia until he was 31. Like many adults, he discovered that he had a learning disability when he took his son to be tested.

Winkler spent most of his youth being treated like he was stupid or lazy and he felt like an underachiever. He was grounded through much of high school because of his poor school performance. When he discovered that he had a talent for acting, he had difficulty reading scripts impromptu. He used memorization, improvisation, and humor to make it as an actor on the hit TV show Happy Days. One of the hardest challenges for him was the emotional impact of having a learning difference and facing what he described as feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment. He says that he had "no sense of self."

Reading Rockets has a video interview with Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver on their website. They also have a video hosted by Henry Winkler called Reading and the Brain about the neuroscience of reading. 

Although Winkler reported feeling stupid for most of his early life and adulthood, he was actually quite intelligent. He earned a Master of Fine Arts from Yale University. 

His work reminds me of another author with dyslexia, DAV PILKEY, author of the Dog Man and Captain Underpants series. See my August POST about Dav and his books. Dav's stories are also filled with humor.

On a separate but related note, the International Dyslexia Association will be featuring a 24-hour virtual event on October 17, 2020, called Go Red (Reimagining Education for Dyslexia.) Go to their website for more information.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

WEBINAR FATIGUE - 5 TIPS FOR COPING



If you are experiencing the following symptoms, you may be suffering from webinar fatigue. 
  1. Do you feel an irrational need to sign up for more webinars than you can reasonably fit into your schedule (or your brain) because they are FREE?
  2. Do you experience a strong (or slight) feeling of nausea when another FREE webinar pops up in your email queue or during your online browsing?
  3. Do you suffer from headaches or blurred vision induced by too much screen time?
  4. Do you contemplate your ability to catch up on webinars now that summer is here, followed by a wave of anxiety and sense of inferiority because you will never be able to watch them all, and you may miss that important gem of information that would have helped you improve your online teaching skills, boost your immune system,  or avoid economic disaster? Or perhaps all three at once!

Please know you are not alone. Webinar fatigue is a growing epidemic. I began suffering these symptoms early in the Covid-19 pandemic quarantine. I had a sense that I should have more time since I couldn’t go anywhere, yet I was continually double booking webinars over Zoom coffee dates with friends while having difficulty fitting in all the online shopping induced by the numerous sales and special offers that would in expire in 24 hours if I didn’t act immediately. 

Everyone is adjusting to dealing with the economic ups and downs as well as working from home, schooling from home, cooking more and dining out less, and turning our garages into mini gyms. Innumerable webinars have appeared to help us navigate these challenging times, but they can become overwhelming and leave us with a feeling of never catching up. For that reason, I have created Five Tips for Coping with Webinar Fatigue.

5 TIPS FOR COPING WITH WEBINAR FATIGUE


  1. Just Say No - Press delete and don’t look back.
  2. Procrastinate - Many webinars are live which can cause the added stress of needing to rearrange your schedule to accommodate them; however, many of these information sessions also offer a recorded option after you sign up or sometimes even prior to signing up. Take the recorded option if one is presented and then wait a week. If the need to watch the webinar has passed by then, follow tip #1 and delete it.
  3. Multi-Task - Watch the webinar from that mini gym in your garage while you lift weights or do your lunges. That way if the online information turns out to be a recap of every other webinar you have watched, you haven’t wasted an hour. If you find that the information is redundant or not helpful, follow tip #1 and press EXIT.
  4. Remember that Nothing is Truly Free - Put a price tag on your time and ask yourself if the hour you would give up is worth it.
  5. Pay the Price and Get What You Really Want - Rather than focusing on free webinars, consider attending that big national or international conference you’ve always wanted to go to, but couldn’t afford because it’s usually $500 plus airfare plus lodging. Many of these conferences are now available at a fraction of the cost. Because they are online, the travel expense is eliminated. A few of my favorites are below.


I hope these tips have helped you deal with the symptoms of webinar fatigue, or put it into perspective, or at least has given you the opportunity to laugh at the experience. After all, laughter is the best medicine.

SOME EVENTS YOU MAY WANT TO CONSIDER

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is offering their summer conference as an Online Summer Spectacular from July 31 - August 4 with recordings available through the month of August. The cost of the SCBWI conference is $100 for members and $175 for nonmembers. Membership is only $80 and anyone can join. SCBWI has also been offering several free webinars only for members. Children’s authors speaking at the online summer event include Kwame Alexander, Philip Pullman, Laurie Halse Anderson, Judy Blume, Grace Lin, Jane Yolen, and Jacqueline Woodson to name a few. A host of editors and agents will also be presenting.  To find out more GO HERE.

The International Dyslexia Association will host their annual conference - Reading, Literacy, and Learning online November 13-14. The cost is $179 for professionals (access to 56 sessions) and $79 for parents (access to 11 sessions). Session recording will be available for 72 hours after the conference. Networking and a virtual exhibit hall will also be available. To find out more GO HERE. Visit the IDA website to find out about the many free webinars they have made available recently at dyslexiaida.org.

Recordings for these types of events usually come at an additional fee. They are extremely valuable because they allow you to listen to the information at your own pace and to catch sessions you were not able to see in person. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

I WILL BE PRESENTING AT NCTE



I am excited to announce that I will be leading a panel at the 2020 Annual Convention for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) in Denver in November at the Colorado Convention Center.

SING A SONG OF SIX PIX
Sunday, November 22, 2020, 9:00am-10:15am
Colorado Convention Center

Program Description: Six narrative non-fiction picture books, four authors, two educators, eight different strategies to teach a confluence of skills to a diversity of learners… and one silly song to help remember them all! Join us for a session filled with fun, music, and practical suggestions for the classroom.
The other members of the panel include Dow Phumirik, Andrea Wang, and Beth Anderson. I will be talking more about these talented women and their stories in the months to come. Each of them has a story featured in my upcoming educational book, Story Frames (Brookes Publishing, November 2020). Here are a few of their titles:





Avoiding Zoombombing

Zoobombing is a phenomenon that occurs when someone gets into a Zoom meeting and posts pornography to the attendees and/or starts making inappropriate comments to the group that can include racial slurs, threats, or sexual content. See the post from the New York Times about Zoombombing. This type of intrusion can happen easily if a host has posted a meeting link on Facebook or other social media. This is happening to classrooms on Zoom as well as conferences and even smaller meetings. I am by no means a Zoom expert and I would love to know what more people have to say about this topic, but here are a few things you can do that might help:

1.  Don't post meeting links on social media or public platforms if it can be avoided. You never know who might join the meeting.

2. Make it mandatory that people join the meeting with a password.

3. To prevent other people from sharing inappropriate images during a meeting, click on the arrow next to Share Screen and go to Advanced Sharing Options.




Then select Only Host so that only the host can share his/her screen.

4. To prevent unwanted visitors from making inappropriate comments, go to Manage Participants. Mute EVERYONE. This is also helpful in large meetings when people forget to mute themselves. Then you can decide if you want to allow people to unmute themselves to speak to the group or not. If everyone is muted, they may need to raise their hand to share.





5. Zoom lists other precautions such as using the Waiting Room, Lock Meeting and Disable Private Chat features HERE.

I'm sure other people will have more to share on this topic as well as more advanced advice.


Saturday, February 8, 2020

Interview with Author Lois Ruby



Some authors consider themselves Plotters, some Pantsers, and others say they are something in between. Plotters spend a lot of time setting up a story before they ever start writing. Pantsers tend to jump into a story and fly by the seat of their pants. Over the next few months, I will be interviewing several authors about their writing process. These authors all have books featured in my upcoming educational resource, Story Frames: Using Narratives to Improve Reading, Writing, and Executive  Function Skills in Struggling Readers (Coming November 2020, Brookes Publishing).

Today I'm talking with author, Lois Ruby, who has a new book that was released just this week - Red Menace for ages 11 and up. Set in 1953, the story is told from the perspective of thirteen-year-old Marty Rafner whose parents are investigated by the FBI for suspicion of being communist sympathizers. As the date approaches for the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Marty sees just how serious the stakes really are and that it may be up to him save his family (Carolrhoda Books, February 2020). And now for the interview with Lois Ruby...


1. Thanks for joining us today, Lois. You tend to write books that require a lot of research and follow the unfolding of historical events. I know you are meticulous in your research. When it comes to plotting, how structured are you? Do you consider yourself a Plotter, a Pantser, or Something Else?

Lois: I fall into the "something else" category. Occasionally I'm required to pound out an outline before a book is accepted and written, and that's like chewing nails, so I make up something that sounds plausible. Then I feel little obligation to follow that outline when I start the writing. The plotting part? Meh. Secondary at best. Character always comes first, and that determines the time and place for the story and gives me a vague idea of where the story is going, which plunges me into interminable research until I'm exhausted and admit it's time to start writing. Then it goes quickly, zooming toward the ending. I prefer to be surprised by the ending when I get there, so I guess that's the "pantser" part.

2. What has been your most interesting research experience so far?

Lois: My most interesting research experience was interviewing three Skinhead teens at a Taco Bell in Kansas -- two guys in full skinhead regalia and a girl with the back of her head shaved, and her long hair starting mid-scalp and hanging over her eyes. I looked around the crowded Taco Bell, and all I could think was, I hope people don't think these are my children. I told those sad kids that I'd buy all the burritos and tacos and Cokes they wanted, and all they had to do was talk to me about their lives. Oh, man, what an eye-opener! Out of that enlightening and horrifying interview emerged my book, SKIN DEEP.



3. What is your favorite children's book?

Lois: My favorite children's book is the incredible forever-classic novel, THE GIVER, by Lois Lowry. Of course, I like the fact that the author shares my first name, which has led to some memorable experiences, including my twice accepting her awards in her absence. I'm told she's asked, "Who is this Lois Ruby person who always seems to be in the right place when I can't be?" Impostor? No, it's only coincidence. THE GIVER is, in my estimation, the most significant and thought-provoking children's book of our generation, worthy of reading numerous times, by kids and adults, in search of new nuggets of truth.

4) Do you have any advice for young writers?

Lois: I have lots of advice for young writers since I'm quite bossy when I encounter them during school visits and in my email.  Three words: read, read, read

Read everything from toothpaste tubes and cereal boxes to kiddie books and adult novels, to scientific treatises, non-fiction works, and commercial ads. Read to younger brothers and sisters and to grandparents, in order to savor the texture and flavor of words, their
underlying meanings, and how they meld together. 

Then write, write, write. Write quickly to get the words down without censoring them, and then revise until you feel excited and proud about what's on the page or screen. Finally, find a trusted person (not your mother, who has to love everything you do!) but a kindly, objective reader to offer suggestions on what does and doesn't work in your writing. Revise again. Above all, enjoy!



What is most interesting to me about Lois and her writing process is that when it came time for me to choose books to analyze for strong plot structure while writing Story Frames, I instantly thought of Lois's book Steal Away Home which will be featured in Story Frames. It's about a girl who finds a skeleton in a hidden closet of a home her family is renovating only to discover that the bones belonged to a woman from the Underground Railroad. Read about it on Amazon. As I have said before, I believe that many authors have such a strong sense of plot that they don't have to think of it overtly the way many of us do.

To receive information about publications and events and to catch all of the author interviews, sign up for my newsletter HERE or simply follow this blog. To read more about the plotting structure outlined in Story Frames, visit my page for The Secret Language of Stories. To read the interview with author Caroline Starr Rose, go HERE.