Monday, September 17, 2007


For Everyone Who Cares About
Young People,Literacy, and Libraries!


Parents, Teachers, Librarians,
Community Leaders, Literacy and Library Activists!!!

We need your help to ensure the inclusion of the Strengthening Kids’ Interest in Learning and Libraries (SKILLs) Act in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This is the single most important piece of legislation concerning school libraries that will come before Congress this year. Reauthorization of this bill is critical to the future of school libraries.

Urgent Action Needed: This legislation is critical to the future of school library media specialists and the bill will be marked up by the week of September 24. Please contact your Representative immediately and ask him/her to co-sponsor the SKILLs Act.

When contacting your Representative prepare yourself to state why this issue is of critical importance:

The SKILLs Act
  • Requires school districts, to the extent feasible, to ensure that every school within the district employs at least one highly qualified school library media specialist in each school library;
  • Defines highly qualified school library media specialists as those who have a bachelor’s degree and have obtained full state certification as a school library media specialist or passed the state teacher licensing examination, with state certification in library media in such state;
  • Establishes as a state goal that there be at least one highly qualified school library media specialist in every public school no later than the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year;
  • Broadens the focus of training, professional development, and recruitment activities to include school library media specialists;
  • Ensures that funds will serve elementary, middle, and high school students;
  • Requires books and materials to be appropriate for and engage the interest of students in all grade levels and students with special learning needs, including English language learners.
Talking Points
  • Multiple studies have affirmed that there is a clear link between school library media programs that are staffed by a school library media specialist and student academic achievement. Across the United States, research has shown that students in schools with good school libraries learn more, get better grades, and score higher on standardized test scores than their peers in schools without libraries.
  • Academic Librarians: School libraries are KEY to ensuring college readiness.
  • Public Librarians: School library media specialists give students the skills they need to utilize your library to its fullest extent.
  • Long regarded as the cornerstone of the school community, school libraries are no longer just for books. Instead, they have become sophisticated 21st century learning environments offering a full range of print and electronic resources that provide equal learning opportunities to all students, regardless of the socio-economic or education levels of the community – but only when they are staffed by school library media specialists trained to collaborate with teachers and engage students meaningfully with information that matters to them both in the classroom and in the real world.
  • Only about 60 percent of our school libraries have a full-time, state-certified school library media specialist on staff.
  • With limited funding and an increased focus on school performance, administrators are trying to stretch dollars and cut funds across various programs to ensure that maximum resources are dedicated to improving student academic achievement.
  • Because NCLB does not highlight the direct correlation between school library media specialists and increased student academic achievement, library resource budgets are increasingly being used to mitigate the effects of budgetary shortfalls.
On September 24, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor will be considering reauthorization of the NCLB. In order for the SKILLs Act to be included in NCLB – that is, to place a highly qualified school library media specialist in every school – each member of the House must co-sponsor the SKILLS Act.

There is little more than two weeks to accomplish this goal and the name of your Representative must appear on this bill. If your Representative’s name does not appear as a co-sponsor, please call his/her office immediately and request that he/she support the SKILLs Act. If your Representative’s name DOES appear on this bill, contact his/her office and thank him/her for the continued support of school libraries and school library media specialists.

Raul Grijalva (AZ-7)
Vernon Ehlers (MI-3)

Bart Gordon (TN-6)
Tim Holden (PA-17)
Steve Cohen (TN-9)
James McGovern (MA-3)

1. Fax or call your State Representative to tell him or her to support the
2. To find out the name, fax, and email address of your congressional representatives, go to:
3. Be sure to write or speak respectfully, be direct, state your support of the SKILLS act and the reasons why you support its enactment.

For more information go to:

The Writing of Fantasy Roundtable Discussion
With Susan Cooper and Gregory Maguire-
NCBLA Board Members!-
at MIT!

Join Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book Magazine, as he leads
Susan Cooper (The Dark Is Rising) and Gregory Maguire (Wicked,
What-the-Dickens) in a discussion about the possibilities and problems in
writing--and reading--fantasy for young people and adults.
Reception to follow.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007, 7:00 P.M.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Stata Center, 32 Vassar Street (corner of Main Street).

Books will be available for purchase and autographing.

Auditorium seating is limited. Overflow seating is plentiful with live video
feed on large screen. No assigned seating: first come, first served.

Tickets are free but required for this event. Please send a SASE, including
the number of tickets you are requesting (limit of 4) to Susan Cooper Event,
Cambridge Public Library, 359 Broadway, Cambridge, MA, 02139. Tickets are
available beginning October 15th.

Field Trip:

Take the Kids to See the William Steig Exhibit at The National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Texas

William Steig

Called the “King of Cartoons” by Newsweek, William Steig is notably known for his work as a highly respected and entertaining cartoonist and an award-winning, best-selling author of children’s picture books and novels. During his life Steig produced more than sixteen hundred drawings and one hundred and seventeen covers for The New Yorker, and author and illustrated over twenty books for children. Of his children’s books Steig received a Caldecott Medal for Sylvester and the Magic PebbleThe Amazing Bone. More recently, Steig’s book Shrek has been adapted into three animated films. An exhibit featuring original art from his children’s books will be on display at the NCCIL beginning in September and will commemorate what would have been Steig’s 100 yr birthday.

For information about the exhibit email:; or call: 325-4586

For information about the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature at:

In Case You Missed This:

Interview with
Jonathan Kozol in Salon.Com

Teachers: Be subversive

Jonathan Kozol, author of "Letters to a Young Teacher," talks with Salon about why No Child Left Behind squelches learning and about reading Rilke's sonnets to first graders.

By Matthew Fishbane

Aug. 30, 2007 | School days, writes Jonathan Kozol, should be full of "aesthetic merriment." But instead, too many of America's 93,000 public schools, particularly those in the inner cities, are what the poet Gwendolyn Brooks once called "uglifying," brimming with demoralizing indignities. Those indignities -- and also the acts of "stalwart celebration" that surface in classrooms across the country -- are the topic of Kozol's latest book, "Letters to a Young Teacher."

Kozol, who will turn 71 this year, has written about race and class in the classroom before, most recently in 2005's "The Shame of the Nation" -- and in his latest work, an undercurrent of anger still simmers. But rather than descend into polemic, Kozol returns in "Letters" to his teaching roots, using a correspondence with a teacher he calls Francesca as a chance to pay tribute to the men and women who devote their lives to children every day.

Francesca herself is "semi-fictionalized," a stand-in for the young educators -- almost all women -- who have been writing in remarkable volume to Kozol over the years. Still, Kozol insists that Francesca "is a very real person," "marvelously well-educated" and certified as a teacher. Written for an audience that is just becoming politically engaged, their exchange gives Kozol a forum in which to address No Child Left Behind, high-stakes testing, vouchers and other privatizing forces in public schools -- while at the same time leaving ample room to praise and celebrate the inspiring, human qualities he encounters in teachers, "empathetic principals" and, of course, kids.

From page to page, the focus of Kozol's "Letters" shuttles from the mundane to the profound -- from loose teeth to the democratic aims of education -- in a thoughtful first-person that echoes another "buoyant spirit" of New England: Henry David Thoreau, who wrote in "Civil Disobedience," "as for supporting schools, I am doing my part to educate my fellow countrymen now." And in fact, Kozol's goals -- in calling for "a sweeping, intellectually sophisticated political upheaval" -- are no less lofty.

Salon spoke to Kozol from his home in Byfield, Mass., about the fun of first graders, the trouble with "utilitarian" teaching, and why No Child Left Behind is "the worst education legislation" in 40 years.

Unlike some of your previous books, "Letters" strikes me as being more about teachers than students.

Yes, that's true, although the students -- especially because they're young and so delightfully impertinent -- force their way into the story repeatedly. Like most teachers, Francesca talks about the children all the time.

But it's true, the main purpose of the book is to describe what it's like to be a young teacher just beginning in an inner-city school at a time when there are unprecedented pressures, in part because of No Child Left Behind. It records a year of correspondence and visits with an irreverent young woman who also happens to be an excellent teacher. I think of the book as an invitation to a beautiful profession.

Can you really call it an "invitation" when a huge part of your work is describing the many challenges teachers face in urban schools?

Well, teachers have been profoundly demoralized in recent years and are often treated with contempt by politicians. There's a great deal of reckless rhetoric in Washington about the mediocrity of the teaching profession -- and I don't find that to be true at all. We are attracting better teachers and better-educated teachers today than at any time since I started out in 1964.

I emphasize teachers because they are largely left out of the debate. None of the bombastic reports that come from Washington and think tanks telling us what needs to be "fixed" -- I hate such a mechanistic word, as if our schools were automobile engines -- ever asks the opinions of teachers. By far the most important factor in the success or failure of any school, far more important than tests or standards or business-model methods of accountability, is simply attracting the best-educated, most exciting young people into urban schools and keeping them there.

In your letters, you spend a lot of time reassuring Francesca that it's OK to follow her instincts, or even encouraging her to be subversive, to disregard school policies if they don't make sense to her.

I would say pleasantly subversive. In part that is Francesca's character anyway -- but I do recommend an attitude of irreverence on the part of teachers who are having tests and standards shoved down their throats from Washington. We try so hard to recruit exciting teachers into these schools, but nearly 50 percent of them quit within three years. In order to survive, they need to keep their individuality, their personalities, intact, and they need to fight to defend a sense of joyfulness that brought them to this profession in the first place.

In most suburban schools, teachers know their kids are going to pass the required tests anyway -- so No Child Left Behind is an irritant in a good school system, but it doesn't distort the curriculum. It doesn't transform the nature of the school day. But in inner-city schools, testing anxiety not only consumes about a third of the year, but it also requires every minute of the school day in many of these inner-city schools to be directed to a specifically stated test-related skill. Very little art is allowed into these classrooms. Little social studies, really none of the humanities.

In some embattled school systems these high-stakes tests start in first grade, or even kindergarten, in order to get the kids used to the protocol of test taking -- yet a vast majority of low-income kids have no preschool before they enter kindergarten. According to Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund, less than 50 percent of eligible children are provided with Head Start nowadays, and it's even worse in the poorest inner-city districts. Meanwhile, the children of my affluent Harvard classmates, or their grandchildren, typically have three years of developmental pre-K education. Then a few years later, they all have to take the same exam -- presuming the affluent kids go to public schools -- and so some are being tested on three or four years of education and some on twice as many years.

Is that what you said recently when you went to speak to the Democrats on the Senate education committee?

Yes. I think the tests in their present form are useless, because although President Bush promoted them by saying, "All we want to do is help these teachers see where their students need more help," the results typically don't come back before the end of June. What is the teacher supposed to do when she finally sees the test scores in the middle of the summer, send a postcard to little Shaniqua, saying, you know, "If I knew last winter what I know now, I would have put more emphasis on the those skills"?

I recommended to the Democrats that they replace these tests with diagnostic tests, which are given individually by the teacher to her students. They are anxiety-free and you don't have to wait six months for McGraw-Hill or Harcourt to mis-score them, as they often do. The teacher gets results immediately. And it's not time stolen from education because she actually learns while she's giving this test.

After the Supreme Court decision last June on segregation in Seattle's school districts, you wrote a critical Op-Ed in the New York Times about a transfer provision in No Child Left Behind that says that if a student is in a perennially failing school, that child must be permitted to transfer to a high-performing school. Can you explain your argument?

The idea of the provision is that a child's parents should be able to transfer the child to a successful school in their district if the child's school has proven to be a hopeless failure. The trouble is, there aren't enough schools in overwhelmingly poor and minority inner-city districts to which a child can transfer. So less than 3 percent of eligible kids have transferred during the years since No Child Left Behind came into effect.

I proposed that the transfer provision be amended not only to permit but to require states to make cross-district transfers possible -- so that a student in the South Bronx could be transferred to Bronxville, which is, I have tested in my car, only about a 12-minute drive. It would be a very simple amendment to add and it would drive a mighty blow against the deepening re-segregation of our urban schools, without making any reference to race. Justice Kennedy, in his partial concurrence, pointed out that strategies like these, which are race-neutral, would certainly be constitutional.

How would those changes help to retain the wonderful young teachers you write about?

First of all, it would immediately relieve that sense that there's always a sword above their heads, and that sword is empirically measurable testing. It would relieve the sense that every minute of the day has to be allocated to a predesignated skill. It would free them from the absurdity of posting numbers and the language of standards on their blackboards, which are of absolutely no benefit to a child. As Francesca once pointed out to me, no child's going to come back 10 years later and say, "I'm so grateful to you for teaching me proficiency 56b."

It would free the teachers from all of that, and it would allow these young teachers, most of whom have majored in liberal arts, and who love literature and poetry, to flood the classroom with all those treasures that they themselves enjoyed when they were children, most of them in very good suburban school districts.

You use a lot of military language like "combat," "assaults" and "capitulation" and return again and again to the idea that the administrative brass doesn't know what the grunts are living through. Are our schools really war zones?

Yes, they are. You rightly called teachers "grunts," in that they are the ones who are doing the actual work. In the inner-city schools these classrooms are not simply the front lines of education: They're the front lines of democracy. No matter what happens in a child's home, no matter what other social and economic factors may impede a child, there's no question in my mind that a first-rate school can transform almost everything. So long as the teacher is energized and highly skilled and her personal sense of exhilaration in the company of children is not decapitated by a Dickensian agenda.

I've received at least 30,000 letters, calls and e-mails or written notes handed to me from young teachers in the past two years alone: These teachers by and large are very well-educated and they are highly idealistic. And they know something that the testing and standards experts don't seem to know: namely, that the main reason for learning to read is for the pleasure it brings us, not for the utilitarian payoff of being able to read your orders.

So you take issue with the argument that children need to be prepared for the realities of the marketplace. But isn't that what they will face?

Yes, children do have to be prepared for the economic world -- but the invasion of the public schools by mercantile values has deeply demoralized teachers. I've been in classrooms where the teacher has to write a so-called mission statement that says, "The mission of this school is to sharpen the competitive edge of America in the global marketplace."

Francesca once said to me, "I'm damned if I'm going to" -- I don't think she said "damned," because she's too polite; maybe "darned" -- "treat these little babies as commodities or products. Why should they care about global markets? They care about bellybuttons, and wobbly teeth, and beautiful books about caterpillars." I think we have to protect those qualities.

Most of the teachers we're trying so hard to recruit into these schools, then driving out, tend to be the children of the 1960s generation, and they are steeped in civil rights values, and those who have gone to good colleges and universities come into these schools with what I would call almost a preferential option for minority children of the poor. But no matter what they've read beforehand, they're generally stunned at the profound class and racial segregation they encounter. It's not as if they didn't know that this was the case, but when they're suddenly in a class, as Francesca was, with not a single white child and only three white kids in the entire building, it hits them hard.

Is that how Francesca experienced it?

Francesca and I once had a long talk. I tend to say that we've basically ripped apart the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education, but it was she who first pointed out to me that we haven't even lived up to the mandate of Plessy v. Ferguson, because our schools are obviously separate but they're certainly not equal.

Now, especially with the recent Supreme Court decision [on segregation], there's a sense of profound anger among these teachers. A sense that everything they grew up to believe is good and right is being discarded by our society. They also note that despite all the fatuous claims from the secretary of education, the achievement gap between the races has not closed. And even worse, the cultural gap has actually widened because of the narrowing of the curriculum in these schools.

Francesca, despite the fact that she refused to teach to the test, managed to be very effective in teaching skills, and her children did well. Apparently you don't need to hire Princeton Review to come into your school and use scarce education funds to pay them to create artificial test-score gains.

You're an advocate now. Have you ever considered going back to the classroom yourself?

All the time. When I was visiting Francesca's class, I was jealous of her. When I give lectures what usually happens is some teacher or principal in the audience will grab me at the end and say, "Do you have four hours tomorrow morning before you leave? Would you visit my school?" and I always try to do it. And then I don't want to leave because it really brings my spirits back. I love the unpredictable. I love the whimsical in children. I love it when a child asks me what you might think is a funny question, like, "Do you feel sad because you're old?" Or, "Is it lonesome to write?" It's a wonderful question, don't you think?

I'm still very healthy and I sometimes think I would love to go back and teach first grade or second grade. First grade, under the best conditions, is what I call the miracle year, because that's the year when -- if you're in a reasonably good situation, and if your children have a little pre-K, and if they've had a good kindergarten year -- it's in first grade that you see the children go from knowing letters only as images, the shapes of the letters, to suddenly writing and reading. Writing real sentences and reading real books. That's a miracle to me. To me that's more dramatic than anything that happened to me at my four years at Harvard.

This book revisits some of the topics -- like dealing with unsupportive administrators -- from your 1981 book, "On Being a Teacher." Why did you feel the need to return to those subjects?

Well, I've spent more time with other teachers since then and spent so much time in classrooms that -- I can't quite explain why. I know this book has a political cutting edge and it's going to make me a lot of enemies in Washington from the right-wing think-tank types. I'm sure they won't be sending me any bouquets from the Heritage Foundation, or the Manhattan Institute. But it's the first book I've ever written where I actually enjoyed it every day, and it's because there's enough in it, and because I think of it sort of as an invitation to the dance. I think the book, in a strange way, is kind of a cheerful book. Wouldn't you say so?

Somewhere between naive romance and sophisticated idealism.

I hope it's not naive. It's not a theoretical book, like, wouldn't this be wonderful? or something. It's based on being there. Francesca's kids did well. At the same time, she did not stick to the standards. I don't think there's anything in No Child Left Behind about reading the sonnets of Rilke to first graders.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Guest Blogger:


The Child and the Book-

Right now, I am in the middle of changing my life. This short sentence sounds so simple, but is loaded with personal hope. I have decided, at the age of 41 that I need a change in career after spending nigh on twenty years working for a great corporate beast. With the kids almost safely through university, I get a refreshing opportunity to scratch a huge itch that has been there for years. As such, I am currently studying for an MA in English Literature at Sheffield University (as well as working full-time!) as a stepping stone to my PhD which I shall start in about 18 months.

During my first two semesters, my studies have led to me to two Children’s Literature conferences – each amazingly different, and each fulfilling for different reasons. The first of these, in November last year, was the British IBBY conference held at Froebel College, University of Surrey at Roehampton; home also to the [British] National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature or NCRCL. The conference theme was time in children’s books, and the author list was impressive: Theresa Breslin (Remembrance), Joanna Gavin (Coram Boy), Philip Reeve (Dark Engines). The conference also provided the opportunity to announce that London will host 2012 world IBBY conference -
I hope to see some of you there!

Guest of honour for the 2006 conference was Philippa Pearce, and Puffin Books laid on a special reception for her; which included a great big cake! Their gift and the celebration were timely. Sadly, as many of you know, Philippa Pearce died in December last year. It is a lasting and fitting memorial to her seminal work ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’ that it has been included in the Carnegie Medal all-time top ten, a public vote initiated to celebrate 75 years of the honour. Visit the Carnegie Medal site here to learn more (and to find out who won). While there, you will see some of the wonderful books that, over the years, have won the honour. For whom would you have voted?

The 2007 Carnegie Medal shortlist was extremely diverse. The list included Kevin Brooks’ ‘The Road of the Dead’, which I had just started reading when I last wrote my last blog for NCBLA. It is not an easy read, violent in places, and is a sort of thriller for teens; a progression of the theme he started with ‘Candy’ where one of the main protagonists is a teenage prostitute. Some of the British librarians (who vote for the Carnegie Medal) are not happy, calling it a ‘nasty’ book. I am not so sure it is nasty, difficult yes, and I cannot say I loved it. But, I think that Kevin Brooks’ short listing is probably in recognition of his impressive body of work, which he has produced in an amazingly short time.

By the way, to allay any fears you may have over the pond… to my knowledge none any other of the short-listed books has the word ‘scrotum’ in it at all – so I think you may be safe from this potential corrupting influence should you wish to read any of them.

The winner of the 2007 CILIP Carnegie Medal was Meg Rosoff for ‘Just in Case’. I’m not sure what I think about that to be honest. I am not a great fan of MR and simply didn’t get the hype over ‘How I Live Now’ but hey, that’s the wonder of books – we all like different things….

The second conference I attended, early in 2007, was ‘The Child and the Book’ held over two days at Bogazici University in Istanbul. The conference is primarily for research students and research groups specialising in books for children. But, more than this, it aims to bring together researchers from all over the world, rather than just from English speaking countries. It works! Indeed, I spent the first coffee break speaking to an academic who specialised in children’s books from the Basque Country, and then had a short chit-chat with Harry Potter’s Hebrew translator. The University sits on a steep hillside above the glittering Bosphorous, in the most beautiful location. Istanbul, the city that sits astride the confluence of Europe and Asia, is amazing, and the juxtaposition of these two influences provided a suitable backdrop to this eclectic conference whose theme was ‘Lost in Translation’.

I listened to papers on German science fiction novels, identity in British immigrant literature, the concept of time, female stereotyping in Pullman’s His Dark Materials (a very good paper delivered by a fiery student from the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia) and so on. One paper struck a chord with me, and I have thought about it ever since. Presented by an American scholar, her argument (and this is my paraphrasing) was that a child’s unfamiliarity with place and culture is an inhibitor to the reception of ‘foreign’ children’s books, and this is particularly the case for American children. This worried me somewhat. I wonder whether, indeed, this is the case?

By now, I guess you have all seen the film adaptation of Katherine’s ‘Bridge to Terabithia’. My first exposure to this was in of all places, India – a country I visit regularly as part of my [corporate] day job. Flicking through the local paper, I happened upon an advert for the film, in either Hindi or Marathi (I can’t speak either with any fluency, so I’m not sure.) In the midst of my hectic schedule, I could not find the time to go. How I would have loved to see this move playing in India, in a cinema filled with devout followers of Bollywood! And my mind wandered back to that paper I heard in Istanbul: how would these people in such a different country, with such different experiences, respond to Katherine’s story? And as I thought about it more, I concluded that - within this magical, vibrant land, home to millions of smiling, beautiful people, and the ultimate symbol of love, the Taj Mahal - they would probably love it. After all, the common themes we share through stories are those of family, friendship, imagination, love, joy and loss. These universal bonds connect us all in our world of children’s books and join us across our physical world.

Once, on a Nile cruise boat many years ago, a large colourful man, an archaeologist, stood up and thanked us all for visiting his beautiful country. “Remember,” he said (paraphrasing someone famous he had once heard, I think), “the reason we travel the world is not because of how different we are, but for how similar we are.” I like that.
With this in mind, I will end with a final scene from Istanbul.

My partner Steve and I sit having dinner in an old print works. A fire is burning in a small fireplace warming the chattering diners. A Turkish boy in his early teens comes in from the cold night. He is poorly dressed, his face stern; he clutches a large bunch of roses and walks amongst the tables offering them for sale to the seated couples. As he passes our table, our waiter reaches out, strokes the boy’s red cheek with the back of his hand, and looks directly at him. It is a simple and beautiful gesture, loaded with meaning. As clearly as if he were speaking out loud he is saying: “How are you? Are you okay?” The boy smiles and, barely perceptible in the darkened restaurant, nods his head.

The boy heads to the staircase that leads to another dining room, and rushes to help a waiter with a large tray and who is struggling with a closing door. The waiter thanks him with his own smile and the boy disappears upstairs. A few minutes later, he appears once more. As he passes, the boy briefly slips his arm around our waiter’s waist and nods. It is a gesture of parting; a reciprocated gesture of love and caring. In this world of ours, where crass assumptions run so deep, these two people have communicated so much without speaking a word. This boy, who probably has so little, finds friendship and kinship in this place. He is safe, he is known and he is cared about.

And as this trip draws to a close, in this building that once produced words; in a city that bridges Europe and Asia, modern and ancient: I am drawn back to the title of this piece. The child and the book, the book and the child – a place of trust, kinship and love – an image reflected in this scene. We all recognise this place; it is one we all wish for.
Harry Potter Roundup

Harry Potter books have been delivered to many books stores, stored away in boxes in deep security lest someone leak any tidbit prior to the official sale date next weekend. If you are feeling the pangs of Pottermania the media is awash in with information from Potterville, frivolous and serious:

Harry Potter and Young People's Literacy: Has Pottermania created lifelong readers?

An interesting article on Harry Potter's American Editor Arthur Levine and a follow-up online interview go to:

For the ultimate Pottermania experience check out The Guardian's Speical Report at:,,520918,00.html

What will be the next mega hit Potter-like book?,,2101080,00.html

Saw the movie last night at midnight with my 18 year old son and a lively audience of high school and college students at out neighborhood cinema. It's dark and moody and all thought the screen writer had done good with the longest book of the series. Parents take note; it is not a movie for young children or even young elementary children.

Movie reviews:

Monday, June 25, 2007

American Library Association Washington DC Conference 2007:The BUZZ

To get a taste of the atmosphere at ALA’s annual conference, dip into this pool of bloggers representing a wide range of viewpoints and experiences!
If you know of others blogging at ALA please feel free to add to the list.

Blogging ALA:
Great Family Field Trip!
David Macaulay:
The Art of Drawing Architecture
at the National Building Museum
in Washington DC

Author, illustrator and NCBLA Board Member David Macaulay's illustration exhibits are as innovate, witty, and as educational as his books. His new exhibit in Washington DC at the National Building Museum features finished illustrations from his many publications, and also includes preliminary sketches and drawings that reveal his thinking and work process. The exhibit is laced with Macaulay's humor: hand drawn rats pop up on walls, tables are covered with fresh Macaulay drawings, and exhibited work also includes illustrations from Great Moments in Architecture and Motel of Mysteries, early books which use visual humor provocatively to ask larger cultural questions.

The exhibit is interactive for both kids and adults inviting participation, delighting the eye. And as all Macaulay books do, the exhibit challenges the viewer to look at the world from a variety of new perspectives.

The Art of Drawing Architecture
National Building Museum: June 23, 2007- January 21, 2008
Washington DC
For hours and directions and more information about the
National Building Museum go to:
Sick Leave Apologies

Apologies to all: this blogger has been absent due to battling pneumonia.
Am on the mend so look for new postings!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Lloyd Chudley Alexander
January 30, 1924-May 17, 2007

Lloyd Alexander words on the importance of writing and reading fantasy:

When asked how to develop intelligence in young people, Einstein answered: "Read fairy tales. Then read more fairy tales." I can only add: Yes, and the sooner the better. Fairy tales and fantasies nourish the imagination. And imagination supports our whole intellectual and psychological economy. Not only in literature, music, and painting spring from the seedbed of imagination; but, as well, all the sciences, mathematics, philosophies, cosmologies. Without imagination, how could we have invented the wheel or the computer? Or toothpaste? Or nuclear weapons? Or speculate "What if—?" Or have any compassionate sense what it's like to live in another person's skin?

For me, writing fantasy for young people has surely been the most creative and liberating experience of my life. As a literary form, fantasy has let me express my own deepest feelings and attitudes about the world we're all obliged to live in.

A paradox? Creating worlds that never existed as a way to gain some kind of insight into a world that is very real indeed? The paradox is easily resolved. Whatever its surface ornamentation, fantasy that strives to reach the level of durable art deals with the bedrock of human emotions, conflicts, dilemmas, relationships. That is to say: the realities of life.

As adults, we know that life is a tough piece of business. Sometimes the most heroic thing we can do is get out of bed in the morning. I think it's just as tough for young people. On an emotional level, a child's anguish and a child's joy are as intense as our own. Young people recognize their own inner lives while they journey through a world completely imaginary.

I don't mean to imply that works of realism haven't the same profound effect on young readers. Of course they do. More often than not, however, realism tends to deal with material of immediate, current interest; with, to use a word much overused, what is relevant. All well and good. But there's a difference between what is relevant and what is merely topical. The topical goes away after a while, to be replaced by the next fashionable subject; the newest literary disease of the month, as it were. The best fantasy it seems to me, is permanently relevant. Because it deals metaphorically with basic human situations, it always has something to say to us. Also, I think that fantasy offers a certain vividness and high spiritedness unique to itself. We shouldn't underestimate the value of sheer fun, delight, and excitement. In any art, boredom is not a virtue.

Dealing with the impossible, fantasy can show us what may be really possible. If there is grief, there is the possibility of consolation; if hurt, the possibility of healing; and above all, the curative power of hope. If fantasy speaks to us as we are, it also speaks to us as we might be.

From the Children's Book Council Magazine archives:

Read more about Lloyd Alexander's life and work, at:

Teachers and parent resources for Lloyd Alexander
and his many wonderful books:
Hurrah for Al Roker- Literacy Hero!

Al Roker,of NBC's Today Show has started a on-air book club for young readers that will continue through the summer. Young people's books rarely receive media coverage; educational issues in general have fallen of the nation's media screen. We applaud NBC and Roker and hope the book club continues past summer. Watch Roker's kid's club when it airs ---watch it with the kids in your life. And take notice of Roker's selections. It will be interesting to see if all the books suggestions are Scholastic publications for it appears that Scholastic is sponsoring the book club segment. We hope that the book club exceeds the commercial interests of Scholastic publications and promotes kids reading many great books this summer not just the great books from Scholastic.

Newsweek Magazine also features kid's book clubs in an article of interest: Key quote:
“The more cool reading is, the better,” says Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted. "Reading starts to fall off in middle school and in high school. If you can find a means to keep those kids reading, to rope them back in, to make reading part of their social world, then a book club has really done something fabulous.”

Actually reading starts to fall off by age 8-9. Parents stop reading aloud to kids when they perceive that their kids have become independent readers---about the ages 8-9.
Hhhhmmmm, could there be a connection?

Read more:
Al Roker Book Club:

Newsweek book club article:

Help your kids start their own book club this summer! Need help? Go to:

Friday, April 27, 2007



Last week Candlewick Press invited the NCBLA Board to its Cambridge, Massachusetts headquarters to get a sneak preview of the design and layout of the NCBLA's upcoming anthology on American History-
Through White House Windows: Looking In, Looking Out.

The Board's reaction,"WOW!"

The Candlewick Looking In, Looking Out editorial team- Karen Lotz, Hilary Van Dusen, Kate Fletcher, and art director Chris Paul presented beautiful color layouts and initial illustrations for the book that are warmly elegant, attractive to both child and adult alike.

Through White House Windows: Looking In, Looking Out will give families a delicious taste of American History. It is the NCBLA deepest wish that our anthology of history, historical fiction, poetry, and original art will inspire both children and adults to read more about the White House, its occupants, and the major events that have shaped our nation since the late 1700's when slaves dug the White House foundation, and immigrants carved its stone walls.

Through White House Windows: Looking In, Looking Out will be available in stores and libraries in Fall of 2008- just in time for the 2008 Presidential Election! All proceeds from the book will go to support the educational website, and educational and advocacy projects of the NCBLA, a 501-c3 not-for-profit.

For information about the NCBLA and the NCBLA Board go to:
a Tete-a-tete!

Had an interesting conversation with Leonard Marcus this week. It is, of course impossible not to have an interesting conversation with Leonard! We first talked Red Sox vs. Yankees. He and his son Jacob are intense Yankee fans, but have to know in their heart of hearts that the Yankees are going down this year; the Red Sox are going to kill them, every time, no question.

Leonard, who will be receiving an honorary doctorate of letters from Bank Street College of Education this May, is contributing a piece on Teddy Roosevelt’s boisterous gang of children to the NCBLA’s upcoming Fall 2008 book, Through White House Windows; Looking In, Looking Out.

When I need some out-of-the-box thinking relating children’s books and needs to the broader world, Leonard is one of my go-to guys. The NCBLA’s is working with ALA and The Center for the Book at the Library of Congress to create a summit, Democracy @ Risk, on informed citizenship linking literacy, critical thinking, and free unfettered information access to responsible citizenship in a democracy. Leonard suggested that I find the editorials of Frederic Melcher, an editor at Publisher Weekly’s in the 1950's and 60's. Melcher not only created the Caldecott and Newbery Awards, he originated Children’s Book Week- that’s major league advocacy!

Leonard said Melcher strongly believed that literacy was the key to preserving democracy; that children’s books were the key to fostering literacy. And what is more, these expressed beliefs and actions had all the more impact at the time because Melcher was: A. male; and B. a professional from the world of adult publishing.

Melcher sounds like a marketing genius. He was able to grab national attention because his children’s book advocacy and public relations campaign was highly coordinated bringing many factions of the children’s book and publishing world together in a united force. It brings to mind the superb campaign of the environmental community who, working together in an orchestrated effort have not only captured our attention and educated our nation, but have inspired people to action. The children’s book and literacy community does not do that. Events and celebrations of children’s books and literacy happen sporadically all over the calendar, garnering little national attention. The NCBLA has long advocated that the children’s book and literacy community work together sharing ideas, resources, and yes, revenue, to build an impressive national education and advocacy campaign for children, books, and reading. It will take a huge sustained effort to grab the nation’s attention. And with literacy rates dropping, and reading rates dropping, too, we are in desperate need of an united educational effort.

Off the soapbox and back to Leonard! Leonard has a number of books out of interest to parents, teachers, and children’s literature aficionados including his latest: Pass It Down: Five Picture-Book Families Make Their Mark was just published by Walker Books for Young Readers. This is a book for middle-grade children, their teachers, librarians. The creative families profiled include: the Pinkneys, Hurds, Rockwells, Myerses, and Crewses.

His illustrated history of Golden Books is called Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children's Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way. It will be published by Random House in October. A companion illustration exhibition, also called Golden Legacy, featuring original art from classic Golden books by Garth Williams, the Provensens, Tibor Gergely, Feodor Rojankovsky, Gustaf Tenggren, Mary Blair, Richard Scarry, and others, will open at the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature in Abilene, TX in early November and then go out on tour nationally.

And last, but not least, Children Should Be Seen: The Image of the Child in American Picture-Book Art, of which Leonard is the lead curator, will be The Eric Carle Museum's (Northhampton , MA) fifth-anniversary exhibition. It is co-sponsored by The Katonah Museum of Art (Katonah, NY), where it will open (first) on July 1, 2007, before traveling to the Carle Museum, on November 15, and then continuing on to The Getty Gallery of the Los Angeles Public Library in 2008.

Learn more about:
Leonard Marcus and his work-

The National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature in Abilene, TX-

The Eric Carle Museum in Northhampton, MA-

The Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, NY-

The Getty Gallery, the Los Angeles Public Library in Los Angeles, CA-
Parents &Teachers
of Young Children!

Check Out Maria Salvadore’s Excellent Children’s Book Blog!

Maria Salvadore, children’s librarian and experienced mom, and NCBLA advisor, writes an enlightening, informative, and entertaining blog---Page by Page---- chock full of reading ideas and great book recommendations for the Reading Rockets website. After you’ve checked Maria’s blog, take some time and explore the entire Reading Rockets site for gobs of helpful information to help you connect your children to great books.

And see what you think of Chris Raschka's colorful portrait of Maria, Queen of the Page by Page Blog!

Go to:

Monday, April 23, 2007

David Halberstam
(April 10, 1934- April 23, 2007)

From His University of MichiganSpring Commencement
Main Address April 29, 2000:

"I would like you to think of this great university and the degree you receive today as representing a hope in the as yet unborn. And I hope you will remember this when you become older and are faced with questions of education and public policy and validating for others a comparably great education as the one you have received, an education which will perhaps be bestowed on the children of people whom you do not know and who are perhaps newer to America than you, and whose immigrant parents come from places that seem terribly alien to you. By saying a hope in the unborn, that I refer to the decisions of which you are the beneficiaries, decisions made much earlier in this century by the part of the architects of this school and others, that it should have a faculty second to none, and that it should be open for the children of people whom they would never know. They were quite practical men—they assumed that there would be an immense economic benefit to educating as many people as high a level as possible--and they believed as well, for there is an idealism built into their concept, that it elevated every one in the process—in fact that it ennobled those who were a part of it. And that it does. Just look around you.

For it is critical to something which we now almost take for granted, the ascent to the good life in this country, and it critical to something that I believe still sets apart from other societies, a belief that for all our flaws and failures, and myriad short comings, that we in America more than any other society, give ordinary citizens a chance to reach their fullest potential."
Family Field Trip:
Plan a Visit to the Eric Carle Museum This Summer

Great picture books introduce children of all ages to world of art. The Eric Carle Museum, a warm welcoming building looking out over an orchard in western Massachusetts, allows kids and adults to take a closer look at children's book art- an create art themselves!

The current exhibits showcase great African-American illustrators. Upcoming exhibits feature the work of Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, and Allen Say.

Richard Yarde: Stompin at the Savoy.
December 22, 2006 - April 29, 2007

Picture Stories: A Celebration of African American Illustrators.
March 24 - June 17, 2007

Birds of a Feather: The Art of Eric Carle and Leo Lionni.
May 11 - December 9, 2007

The Art of Allen Say: A Sense of Place.
July 3 - October 28, 2007

For directions to the museum and other information go to:
In Case You Missed It:
Joanna Rudge Long Book Review in
Last Sunday's New York Times Book Review

I am still thinking, a week later, about Joanna Rudge Long's book review in the April 15, 2007 New York Times Book Review, and not because of the books she reviewed.

As a literacy advocate I constantly encounter parents and teachers looking for great books for kids, and the majority of parents and teachers I work with have very little knowledge of children's books, or of the history of children's literature. And these parents and teachers are not only from our neediest neighborhoods and schools but are also from middle class communities where the vast majority of adults are college educated.

In a few paragraphs Joanna Rudge Long introduced quality new books for children, giving those books a context historically, educating the reader about children's literature. She posed questions that all of us who care about children should ponder, especially young parents:

Do children still know how to play?
If imagination transforms, how do we nurture imagination?
What kind of story draws children back again and again, serving as a magical catalyst to imaginative play and thought?

And who can resist a review that quotes Dylan Thomas?
The Children of Húrin-
"New" Work of Tolkien Fiction

The Children of Hurin was pieced together by J.R's son Christopher Tolkien from his fahter's old manuscripts. Reportedly it is a darker Tolkien, in a pre-Frodo world. For the most part it is getting good reviews. Read more:,8599,1611448,00.html
Great Expectations or Bleak House:
Should Dickens Disney-fied?

A Charles Dickens inspired theme park is opening Kent, England in mid-May complete with pickpockets and saucy wenches.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

NCBLA Board Member Natalie Babbitt interviewed in Publisher's Weekly!

Check out the interview at:

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech-
Winter Will Give Way to Spring

There's A Certain Slant of Light
Emily Dickinson

There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
‘Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, ‘t is like the distance
On the look of death.

Love Lives Beyond the Tomb
John Clare
Love lives beyond
The tomb, the earth, which fades like dew-
I love the fond,
The faithful, and the true.

Love lies in sleep,
The happiness of healthy dreams,
Eve's dews may weep,
But love delightful seems.

'Tis seen in flowers,
And in the even's pearly dew
In earth's green hours,
And in the heaven's eternal blue.

'Tis heard in spring
When light and sunbeams, warm and kind,
On angel's wing
Bring love and music to the wind.

And where is voice,
So young, so beautiful, and sweet
As nature's choice,
Where spring and lovers meet?

Love lives beyond
The tomb,the earth, which fades like dew.
I love the fond,
The faithful, young, and true.

Once More,the Round
Theodore Roethke

What's greater, Pebble or Pond?
What can be known? The Unknown.
My true self runs toward a Hill
More! O More! visible.

Now I adore my life
With the Bird, the abiding Leaf,
With the Fish, the questing Snail,
And the Eye altering all;
And I dance with William Blake
For love, for Love's sake;

And everything comes to One,
As we dance on, dance on, dance on.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Five Big Ways to Help Kids Love Books

NCBLA president and executive director Mary Brigid Barrett was recently interviewed by Amy Maclin of Wondertime Magazine for its website at You can access the article on parenting advise -“Five Big Ways to Help to Help Kids Love Books!” at:
Are Teachers Undervalued?

The NCBLA would say yes- undervalued by our society, undervalued in salary compensation.
Daily Kos has an interesting open thread discussing this question with some intriguing ideas and provocative observations.
Check it out at:
Rich nations failing to deliver education aid
'The world's richest nations are failing to deliver promised aid to educate children in war-torn countries such as Somalia and the Congo, a charity claimed today."
Read more at:,,2055520,00.html
Jane Dyer Exhibit:
Family Field Trip to the Danforth Museum in Framingham, MA!

The works of talented children's book illustrators Jane Dyer and her daughter Brooke Dyer, are currently on exhibit at the Danforth Art Museum in Framingham, Massachusetts now until April 29th.
For information and directions go to:

Esperanto Long Gone: The New York Times Reporting English as Language of Global Education

"In the shifting universe of global academia, English is becoming as commonplace as creeping ivy and mortarboards. In the last five years, the world’s top business schools and universities have been pushing to make English the teaching tongue in a calculated strategy to raise revenues by attracting more international students and as a way to respond to globalization."
Read more at:
Quotes of Note....

"Will we learn from our past? Are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes? Not if we begin telling all the children the truth about this big house—this building we all live in, called the United States of America. Tell them about the climate, the atmosphere, the environment it was built on—who it was taken away from. Tell them about the true conditions those great documents of freedom were created under. Tell them the truth about the men who wrote them. Tell them all of it.
Tom Feelings"
Children's Literature New England 1990

It takes more courage to disturb the neighborhood than it takes to disturb the universe. And the price is often higher.
E. L. Konigsburg
The Center for the Study of Children's Literature 1983

So in our little, humble, simple ways, in publishing and otherwise, I think we almost become soldiers in a new war, which is to take on the salvation of the children. That sounds grandiose, but it’s how I felt when I did this book.
[We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy]
Maurice Sendak
Children's Literature New England 1994

Monday, April 2, 2007

A Poem is Gift
April is National Poetry Month...

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
April is National Poetry Month!

When is the last time you read or listened to a poem? Take some time this month and sink into a poem or two. Let a poem's rhythm, its notes wash over you.

Web sources for National Poetry Month:
Jane Austen, Was She a Babe?

Jane Austen- "Was she attractive or not? What if, to put it bluntly, she became a writer in part because she didn’t have the looks to land a husband along the lines of a Mr. Darcy or a Mr. Knightley?" Take a gander of old Jane at:
Interested in what young people think
about the world and their generation?

The New York Times began a blog written by talented, bright graduating college seniors that is fascinating to read. Unfortunately it is available only through Times Select. If you get Select service it is well worth reading this blog on their website.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Quotes of Note:
Barbara Harrison, Betty Levin, Katherine Paterson

By the very act of writing, some children’s authors make a political statement. Children cannot be written off. Children are not an undifferentiated mass; they are not nonpersons.
They have names and dreams.
Barbara Harrison
Children's Literature New England 1994

Children who find a single important life in the ordinary, unimportant, and unheroic are less likely to succumb to the human fallacy of
Us versus Them. They will be less likely to accept the notion that thousands of terrified refugees of war do not feel as we do, or that millions crammed into cattle cars on journeys they could not escape belong to a subhuman horde.
Betty Levin
Children's Literature New England 1995

Perhaps the most troubling phrase
to come out of the Gulf War
was the oft repeated sentence of our leaders:
"Thank God there was so little loss of life.”
And yet we know that 100,000 men, women, and
children died in that war.
A woman in Ohio has made
a mural with 100,000 faces on it.
It takes a long time, my friends, to walk past 100,000 faces.

Katherine Paterson
Children's Literature New England 1993
Activist Alert!

The Leave No Child Behind Act
is up for Reauthorization

The United States Congress needs to hear from individuals, not just professional organizations, concerning the Leave No Child Behind reauthorization, and about other issues related to K-12 education, teacher education, preschool education, school libraries, higher education, student loans, etc.

Whatever your concerns, questions, opinions, and feelings the NCBLA urges you to be an responsible citizen!

Go to the NCBLA website to find out how to contact your national representatives to Congress:

Information and a variety of opinions that may be of interest to you related to the
Leave No Child Behind Legislation:

In case you missed it...
New York Times Magazine features article on NCBLA Board Member Author Gregory Maguire!

A great article, "Mr. Wicked," on Gregory Maguire and his beautiful family appeared in a past New York Times Sunday Magazine, you can still read and enjoy at:
Jacket Covers for Last Harry Potter Book Unveiled!

Three covers, a UK version, an American version, and an “adult” cover have been released to promote the final adventure of Harry Potter and company, as if the book needed promotion. Go to:,,2044781,00.html

Monday, March 26, 2007

Apologies to All!

This blogger has been very ill, on doctor ordered bed rest for two weeks and is now finally getting back into the swing of things. I will be posting new information and news later this week!

Thank you!

Friday, March 2, 2007

Great event for New Englanders!
Come Hear
Riveting Jacqueline Woodson Speak!

Free and Open to the Public

Noted children's and teen author Jacqueline Woodson will be speaking at the Boston Public Library's Connolly Branch in Jamaica Plain on Monday, March 12 at 6:30 p.m. Ms. Woodson is the author of many award-winning books, including Newbery Honor picture book Show Way; middle-grade novel Locomotion; and teen novels I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This and Miracle's Boys. Her new novel is Feathers. She is a two-time winner of the Coretta Scott King award and received the 2006 Margaret A. Edwards Award, which honors an author's lifetime contributions to young people's literature. Ms. Woodson will speak about her books, take questions, and sign books, including books for sale that evening from Jamaicaway Books. Children over 5 are welcome to attend.

This event is co-sponsored by the Foundation for Children's Books
and the Boston Public Library.

When & Where
Monday, March 12, 6:30-8 p.m.
Connolly Branch, Boston Public Library
433 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain
For directions and more information:Call the library at 617-522-1960
by Barbara Bader!

"For the McKissacks, Black Is Boundless- — stories of struggle, stories with a lineage, stories that are plain entertaining. Any of them might come with the McKissack name."
Check it out at:
From Science Magazine:
American Workers
are Getting Less Literate

Literacy in the U.S. workforce is eroding and will continue to do so at least through 2030, according to the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in a gloomy report issued last month. The economy is becoming more knowledge-intensive--only about 10% is now manufacturing-based compared with one-third in 1950. But workers are getting less literate--defined by the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS), in part, as "using [English] printed and written information to function in society."

The uneducated immigrant population is growing: Hispanics, who have the lowest high school graduation rate (50%) of any group, will go from 14% of the population to 20% in 2030. And according to U.S. Census projections, 60% of the Hispanic working population is expected to remain foreign-born, says ETS's Kentaro Yamamoto.

Hopeful trends are hard to find, says the report. High school graduation rates for both Hispanics and African Americans peaked in 1969. And college attendance among these minorities has been "stagnant" for more than a decade. ETS labels the confluence of economic and demographic factors "a perfect storm [which] continues to gain strength with no end in sight."

Thursday, March 1, 2007

David Brooks on Education,
Government, and Family

In The New York Times today David Brooks writes about the impact that family and home life have on each child's educational journey. Unfortunately, the column is sequestered under Times Select, in case the posted link does not work, this blog offers some excerpts:

All the presidential candidates this year will talk about education. The conventional ones will talk about improving the schools. The creative ones will talk about improving the lives of students.

The conventional ones, though they don’t know it, are prisoners of the dead husk of behaviorism. They will speak of education as if children were blank slates waiting to have ideas inputted into their brains with some efficient delivery mechanism.
The creative ones will finally absorb the truth found in decades of research: the relationships children have outside school shape their performance inside the school.

The creative ones will give speeches like the one David Cameron, who is reviving the British Tory party, gave last month. They will talk, as Cameron did, about the mushy things, like love and attachment, and will say, as Cameron did, “Family relationships matter more than anything else.” They will understand that schools filled with students who can’t control their impulses, who can’t focus their attention and who can’t regulate their emotions will not succeed, no matter how many reforms are made by governors, superintendents or presidents.

These candidates will emphasize that education is a cumulative process that begins at the dawn of life and builds early in life as children learn how to learn. These candidates will point out that powerful social trends — the doubling of single-parent families over the past generation, the rise of divorce rates — mean that government has to rethink its role. They’ll note that if we want to have successful human capital policies, we have to get over the definition of education as something that takes place in schools between the hours of 8 and 3, between the months of September and June, and between the ages of 5 and 18.

As Bob Marvin of the University of Virginia points out, there is a mountain of evidence demonstrating that early childhood attachments shape lifelong learning competence.
Children do have inborn temperaments and intelligence. Nevertheless, students make the most of their natural dispositions when they have a secure emotional base from which to explore, and even the brightest children stumble when there is chaos inside.
Research over the past few decades impressively shows that children who emerge from attentive, attuned parental relationships do better in school and beyond. They tend to choose friends wisely. They handle frustration better. They’re more resilient in the face of setbacks. They grow up to become more productive workers.

On the other hand, as Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania has found, students who do not feel emotionally safe tend not to develop good memories (which is consistent with cortisol experiments in animals). Students from less stimulating environments have worse language skills.

The question, of course, is, What can government do about any of this? The answer is that there are programs that do work to help young and stressed mothers establish healthier attachments. These programs usually involve having nurses or mature women make a series of home visits to give young mothers the sort of cajoling and practical wisdom that in other times would have been delivered by grandmothers or elders.

The Circle of Security program has measurably improved attachments and enhanced social skills. The Nurse-Family Partnerships program, founded by David Olds, has produced rigorously examined, impressive results. Children who have been in this program had 59 percent fewer arrests at age 15. (Presidential candidates are commanded to read Katherine Boo’s Feb. 6, 2006, New Yorker article to get a feel for how these programs work.)
It’s important not to get carried away. “Enhancing Early Attachments,” a review of the literature edited by Lisa Berlin and others, is filled with phrases like “marginal success” and “modest but significant benefits.” But these programs can be expanded.

And one thing is clear: It’s crazy to have educational policies that, in effect, chop up children’s brains into the rational cortex, which the government ministers to in schools, and the emotional limbic system, which the government ignores. In nature there is no neat division. Emotional engagement is the essence of information processing and learning.

In Britain, where both David Cameron and Gordon Brown have grappled with this reality, policy is catching up with the research. In the United States, we are forever behind. But that won’t last. This year, some smart presidential candidate will help us catch up.