Saturday, July 20, 2019

My New Favorite Children's Bookstore and My New Favorite Illustrator

Last week several children's authors from the Rocky Mountain Branch of The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (RMC-SCBWI) met at Second Star to the Right Children's Books to mingle, socialize, and learn about the store's community outreach programs. This little bookstore does a lot of big work to promote literacy including arranging book drives and author visits for low-income schools. They will be expanding the size of their space over the course of the next year and want to become a community hub by providing room for everything from art classes to birthday parties. They are located on Pearl Street in Denver where my favorite farmer's market happens every Sunday.

I ordered a picture book, Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team, to pick up while I was at the store and was surprised and delighted to discover that one of the illustrators at the gathering, Dow Phurmiruk, was the illustrator for the book! Titan was written by Susan Hood and Pathana Sornhiran, one of the reporters on-site during the eighteen-day ordeal. Titan is the true story of the heroic rescue of the boy's soccer team that got stuck inside a cave in Thailand for over two weeks in the summer of 2018 when a storm came up unexpectedly and flooded the area they were exploring. It took a team of international divers, Navy Seals, and scientists to devise a plan to get them out.

Dow was kind enough to pose with me above. She is also the illustrator for Counting On Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 which I used with my elementary school students for several weeks last spring. It is based on the life of Katherine Johnson, one of the women from the movie Hidden Figures, who helped to bring Apollo 13 home after an explosion in space. Dow does a brilliant job of simplifying abstract concepts related to calculus, physics, and aerodynamics through her artful and insightful illustrations. I wondered how an artist had developed such a deep understanding and appreciation of science. Then I found out that Dow is also a pediatrician and teaches at a medical school part-time.

I plan to highlight both of these books in my upcoming title with Brookes Publishing - Story Frames: Using Narratives to Improve Reading Comprehension, Writing, Executive Function Skills and More coming October 2020. Stay tuned for more details and sign up for my newsletter HERE.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Pseudoscience, Fringe Theories and MESMERIZED

The July 2019 issue of the ASHA Leader, a publication of the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association, has a very insightful article by Nancy Volkers about why pseudoscience is often more popular than statistics and real evidence. The article is entitled, “Does Truth Have A Future?” It looks at why fringe theories are so popular and what to do about their growing influence. 

Volkers points out that one of the reasons for the popularity of fringe theories is that blogs seem as credible to the unknowing reader as peer-reviewed research articles. Blogs are certainly easier to digest. As someone with a master's degree in science, I still find it a challenge to plod my way through research articles, even in my field. They are filled with statistics and jargon I can't always decipher. 

Blogs, on the other hand, can present ideas that make sense on a gut level, even when there is absolutely no science backing their claims, which means that we must all exercise caution when determining their value.

To counteract the effect of pseudoscience in social media, Volkers suggests that researchers (and the rest of us who appreciate real science) should be more visible on social media, which is the reason I'm exploring this topic on my blog. It’s also important to admit that science can be full of bias. Even deciding which hypotheses to test is a form of bias. 

Another article in the July issue of the ASHA Leader, “The Research Translation Problem: A Modest Proposal,” by Meredith Harold, suggests that clinicians (SLPs and audiologists), scientists, business owners, and leaders should use “Empathy-Rooted Problem-Solving” to bridge the gap between research and its practical application. Dr. Harold points out that the expected audience of a typical research article is other scientists, NOT therapists or teachers and certainly not the general public. She suggests that spreading the information in these articles in a way that others can understand could be done much more effectively than it is happening now. Also, more research should focus on the needs of the people in the trenches - the therapists, teachers, administrators, and publishers of educational resources who are responsible for putting research to practical use.

I recommend that anyone who has access to the ASHA Leader articles look these over closely. It is available to SLPs and audiologists who are members of ASHA. 

On this topic, I believe it's crucial to teach children from a young age how to understand the scientific process and how to recognize bias so that they will grow up to be wise consumers of the growing sea of information coursing through the internet.

One book that does this brilliantly but simply in a fun but compelling non-fiction narrative is Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France written by Mara Rockliff with illustrations by Iacopo Bruno. 

Benjamin Franklin travels to France to ask King Louis for financial assistance with the revolutionary war. While Franklin is in Paris, Dr. Mesmer creates quite a stir by claiming to have discovered a mysterious, new, invisible force with the power to cure any kind of illness. Benjamin Franklin exposes Mesmer for the fraud that he is by running experiments using the scientific method. The author and illustrator do an excellent job of explaining terms like hypothesis and placebo effect in a way that is both humorous and accessible.

I will be discussing Mesmerized at length along with several other non-fiction narrative picture books in my upcoming educational book, Story Frames: Using Narratives to Improve Reading Comprehension, Writing, Executive Function Skills and More (Brookes Publishing, October 2020).

For updates, articles, and free offers sign up for my monthly newsletter CLICK HERE.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Special Announcement: STORY FRAMES Coming October 2020!

I'm excited to announce that Brookes Publishing has offered a contract for my educational book, Story Frames: Using Narratives to Improve Reading Comprehension, Writing, Executive Function Skills and More. Publication is scheduled for October of 2020. Even more exciting, they have agreed to use the illustrations created by my very talented brother, Chris Jochens. Here's a sample of his artwork:
In Story Frames, I combine my understanding of story structure (from my perspective as a young adult author) with my years of experience using narratives with struggling students in the public schools working as a speech-language pathologist. I have been fine-tuning this approach for years. A detailed description of the twelve story elements along with examples of stories I have analyzed using this method may be found on this blog at the tab for  The Secret Language of Stories.

Free activities may be found on my Teachers Pay Teachers Page HERE.

If you want to keep up with news and other free offers, sign up for my free newsletter on my CONTACT PAGE.

Thanks to everyone who has offered support and encouragement for this project. It has been quite a labor of love. I couldn't have done it without you!