Thursday, May 28, 2009

Summer Opportunity for K-12 Teachers

American Antiquarian Society Sponsors Defining Freedom:
A Professional Development Project

The Defining Freedom summer professional project will examine how Americans conceived and promoted both individual and communal liberties and responsibilities from 1763 through 1863. The project seeks to create a series of professional development experiences in which participating teachers will examine the imperial crisis, the American Revolution, the Early Republic, the antebellum period, and the Civil War.

Defining Freedom is a collaborative professional development project presented by the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS), and the Worcester Public Schools (WPS). PDPs and graduate credit available.
An important component of Defining Freedom will be to familiarize teachers with the online resources available and to encourage the development of media literacy among their students. Teachers will not only explore the materials available on the AAS sponsored website Teach U.S. History ( and those developed by the MHS, including The Coming of the American Revolution (; they will also play a role in making suggestions for adding materials to both websites. Teacher’s curriculum units and assessment strategies may also be added and/or linked to these sites so that additional teachers in other districts can access them as well.

Dates: July 22, 23 & 28, 29, 30, 2009

Place: The American Antiquarian Society (Worcester) &
The Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston)

To register, please contact:

Amy Sopcak-Joseph
Education Coordinator, American Antiquarian Society
Phone: 508-471-2129

Visit the Defining Freedom website to learn more.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Literacy Programs Thrive Across the Nation

Brooke Jackman Foundation Giving Books to Kids in Need

The Brooke Jackman Foundation, a non-profit children's literacy organization in New York, is working to provide 5,000 books in 50 days to needy kids for the summer so they can maintain their reading while they are away from school. To learn more about this ambitious and worthy fundraising campaign entitled “$10&Change,” please visit the Foundation's website. The Brooke Jackman Foundation was created in October 2001 in response to the September 11 World Trade Center attack that claimed the life of Brooke Jackman, age 23. The Foundation honors Brooke’s legacy: a deep love of reading and a profound interest in helping children by funding extensive literacy programs in the NY area.

Teenager Launches Nonprofit to Donate Books

Adele's Literacy Library seeks to empower people of all ages through the world of reading by donating millions of brand new books and bookmarks to various schools, libraries, and charitable organizations. Quite simply, founder Adele Taylor would like to "make a difference" in the lives of others through a book! Learn more on the ALL website.

RIF Reading Challenge Continues

Reading Is Fundamental's exciting 2009 Read with Kids Challenge continues, with almost three million minutes spent reading so far! You can join the challenge, which continues until June 30. Not only will you be entered for a chance to win a family vacation, but you will also help discover the joy of reading! Visit the RIF website to learn more and join the challenge! The website also provides helpful advice and booklists for educators, as well as tips and activity suggestions for parents and other adult caretakers.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Voices from Our White House: Gigi Amateau

Contributor answers questions about "Wanted: Magnanimous, Exquisite Woman!"

Welcome back to the NCBLA blog's weekly feature, Voices from Our White House, a series of interviews with some of the talented contributors to the art and literary anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, conducted by NCBLA high school intern Colleen Damerell.

Our White House was created by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. A collaborative effort by over 100 authors and illustrators, the book is the product of a desire to encourage young people to learn and read about American heritage. For more information, please visit and

This week we feature Gigi Amateau, author of Chancey of the Maury River and Claiming Georgia Tate. She shares authorship of her Our White House piece with her daughter Judith; it is a conversation between them about the need for a female president. Here's an excerpt:
Judith: A woman just needs to step up and do it, no matter what anyone else says. She needs to not let anyone talk her out of it and not listen to anyone who says "You can't" or "You shouldn't." She should just say, "I'm going to run for president," and be mag-mag-magnanimous! See? I remembered that word. Mom: Magnanimous, good word. What does it mean? Judith: To be bigger than the negativity.
We asked Ms. Amateau a few questions about her piece:

NCBLA: You wrote "Wanted" as a conversation with your daughter, Judith. Did you base the piece on a conversation that actually happened? Did Judith contribute personally to this piece and its concluding poem?
GA: "Wanted" came out of a big discussion about women in the White House at the dinner table between Judith, my mom, my husband, and me. We enjoy a lot of political, or issue-based, talks at our table, and we occasionally bend the rules of civility. No subject is off limits for us!
I think I typed the first draft of our piece while Judith and I talked through how we wanted it to flow on paper. We played Exquisite Corpse at the dinning room table together, using words and images from the family discussion about women in the White House.

NCBLA: Judith states that "A woman just needs to step up and do it." Are there any women in particular that you and Judith would like to see run for president in the next election? Perhaps someone you see as being "magnanimous?"

GA: You know, before the next election, I look forward to a magnanimous, exquisite woman joining the Supreme Court!
The Green Party 2008 Presidential Candidate, Cynthia McKinney, is someone who I think is brave, visionary, and often, right. She consistently raises important issues that we'd rather not think about--such as contemporary slavery and human trafficking in the world. Her voice is important for us.

NCBLA: Why do you think no woman has been elected president yet? Were you rooting for Hillary Clinton?

GA: A political analyst could offer a way better answer to be sure, but I would say one reason why no woman has been elected president yet is because it takes a big, old boat load of money to elect our presidents and most political donors are men. I think men still tend to give their money to men. Without a well-funded campaign, even the very best candidates will have to work that much harder for voters to even know them. I also believe that, in America, we still tend to judge the same action differently based on whether it's taken by a man or a woman. I have to correct myself, even, from falling into patterns such as thinking a woman is being overly aggressive, whereas I might just think of a man as acting strong or with conviction.
I go through the campaign season rooting for everybody! I like it when any candidate has a breakthrough moment of vision, honesty, and humanity. And, yes, absolutely, I rooted for Hillary Clinton. During the primaries, we were a split household, then we unified behind Barack Obama.

NCBLA: Though no woman has ever been president, many first ladies such as Eleanor Roosevelt, who was mentioned in your piece, have been influential figures in Washington. How do you think Michelle Obama can contribute to that legacy?

GA: Michelle Obama is exquisite and magnanimous! I think she already influences millions of kids by making them want to be super-smart like she is. Her example helps me to be a better mother and to give priority to my family and our health. Maybe we'll all be healthier, smarter, and happier if we take the First Lady's lead!

NCBLA: Who is your favorite past president? Why?

GA: Well, I do love John Adams. BUT, I remember how when I was a girl, President Jimmy Carter taught us to conserve energy, turn off the lights we weren't using, and be gentle with the earth. He is my favorite because he made me care about my country and the world when I was young. One day, I'd like to visit Plains, Georgia and sit in on his Sunday School class. (Is that even still possible?) Or even better, maybe one day I'll get the chance to build a Habitat house with him and Rosalynn.

Amateau's most recent book, A Certain Strain of Peculiar, is now available
in bookstores and libraries. For more information about Gigi Amateau and her work, please read her OWH bio, her website, and blog.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In the Backyard of Massachusetts

A New Library Will Rise!
Public Invited to Bring Their Shovels to Groundbreaking Ceremony

The Town of Westhampton, MA is inviting everyone who supports public libraries and loves reading to join their groundbreaking ceremony in Westhampton's town center on Saturday, June 6 at 1:00 PM--rain or shine!

Library building committee chair, Phil Dowling, noted about this novel event, "Libraries bring communities together and build community. We couldn't think of a better way to hold a groundbreaking event than to have everyone get involved and help dig the first ceremonial shovelfuls.” Free, colorful sand shovels will be given to the first 50 children.

The ceremony is being organized by the Friends of the Westhampton Memorial Library. For more information, please contact Laurie Sanders (413-527-5903), Phil Dowling (413-527-8574), Bill Tracy (413-527-1731), or Euthecia Hancewicz (527-6498).

Book lovers everywhere should check out the newly updated and expanded website, a project of the American Library Association, which features news about libraries from around the country, with a focus on particular services and collections from all types of libraries. Read a book review or learn how you can advocate for your public library on!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

In case you missed it-


Reading a book or story aloud to family members, friends, students, colleagues, or fellow writers is a very different experience, for the reader and the listener, than the experience of listening to an audio book. An op/ed in today's New Y0rk Times by Verylyn Klinkenbord, a member of the editorial board of The New York Times and the author of The Rural Life, Making Hay, The Last Fine Time and Timothy, states:

". . . listening aloud, valuable as it is, isn’t the same as reading aloud. Both require a great deal of attention. Both are good ways to learn something important about the rhythms of language. But one of the most basic tests of comprehension is to ask someone to read aloud from a book. It reveals far more than whether the reader understands the words. It reveals how far into the words — and the pattern of the words — the reader really sees.

Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body, which is why there is always a curious tenderness, almost an erotic quality, in those 18th- and 19th-century literary scenes where a book is being read aloud in mixed company. The words are not mere words. They are the breath and mind, perhaps even the soul, of the person who is reading.

No one understood this better than Jane Austen. One of the late turning points in “Mansfield Park” comes when Henry Crawford picks up a volume of Shakespeare, “which had the air of being very recently closed,” and begins to read aloud to the young Bertrams and their cousin, Fanny Price. Fanny discovers in Crawford’s reading “a variety of excellence beyond what she had ever met with.” And yet his ability to do every part “with equal beauty” is a clear sign to us, if not entirely to Fanny, of his superficiality."

Read more at:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Voices from Our White House: PJ Lynch

Contributor answers questions about "Hands" illustration

Welcome back to the NCBLA blog's weekly feature, Voices from Our White House, a series of interviews with some of the talented contributors to the art and literary anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, conducted by NCBLA high school intern Colleen Damerell.

Our White House
was created by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. A collaborative effort by over 100 authors and illustrators, the book is the product of a desire to encourage young people to learn and read about American heritage. For more information, please visit and

This week we feature PJ Lynch, a resident of Dublin, Ireland, who has illustrated Susan Wojciechowski's "The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey" and O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi." He has also created posters for Opera Ireland and the Abbey Theatre, as well as stamps for the Irish postal service. His illustration in Our White House accompanies a story by Patricia MacLachlan about a young girl meeting Eleanor Roosevelt during the depression.

We asked Mr. Lynch a few questions about his piece:

NCBLA: You created your Our White House image to accompany Patricia MacLachlan's story "Hands." When you illustrate another person's written work, how much do you draw from the text? Are there occasions when your artistic interpretation can be more or less restricted?

PJL: For me the process begins with the text. If the story doesn't hold my interest, or make me laugh, or move me in some way then I just don't do the project. "Hands," by Patricia MacLaclan, did all three. I know and love Patricia's work, and I was lucky enough to spend a little time with her in New Hampshire once, so I was thrilled to be asked to illustrate her story. Once I have decided to illustrate a story, I proceed with full respect for the text, but that is not to say that I simply put the words into pictures. It's much more interesting to try to contribute something more to the storytelling process. A good author will leave plenty of space in a story for the illustrator to move around in.

NCBLA: The story does not tell us anything about the ethnicity of Ellie and her family, yet your painting portrays the young girl as dark skinned--she could be Native American, Hispanic, African American, or of Middle Eastern descent. What made you decide to paint Ellie this way? Did you use a model?

PJL: I always do a lot of research for any project I'm working on. And so for this illustration, I read up all about the life of Eleanor Roosevelt. My reading and photo research kept bringing me back to the image of Eleanor Roosevelt reaching out to the African American community in a way that no one in her position had done before. I felt a really strong need to try to reflect that in my painting. I knew that I was taking a considerable liberty with the story, but the longer I lived with it, the more I felt that Eleanor's stronger, older, bigger, pale hands, should be touching Ellie's soft little dark hands.

The publishers and Patricia had a good think about it, but in the end they agreed it was a good idea. I did use a model. A little friend called Chitra. And I like the fact that her ethnicity is not immediately obvious.

NCBLA: I read on your website that you live in Dublin. How did you become interested in a book about American history?

PJL: Some years ago when I was researching for a book called "The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey" by Susan Wojchiechowski, I travelled to the Shelbourne Museum in Vermont to view the old American buildings and workshops that are preserved there. That book became a major success for me, and next I was asked to illustrate "When Jessie Came Across the Sea" by Amy Hest, which dealt with one young girl's experience of emigrating from Europe to New York in the early 1900's. Lots more research.

I spent a lot of time in the US promoting those books right across the country. It was a very great pleasure to me to meet so many wonderful people and to find out more and more about your history.

I still keep getting offered great stories with themes that lead me to continue doing more and more historical research in the US. My most recent book was a prime example. "Lincoln and his Boys" by Rosemary Wells. This book called for me to visit Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield, Illinois with the author, just to be sure I got all the details right.

I suspect a lot of people think I'm an American illustrator, but I'm not, I'm an Irish impostor.

NCBLA: How much did you know about Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt before illustrating this story?

PJL: Not a lot really. One of the good things for me is that I learned very little American history at school so that now it's all nice and fresh when I read about it.

NCBLA: All the trouble in "Hands" is caused by a little orange cat. Do you have any pets? What are their names?

PJL: We have been holding off getting a pet until our kids are a little bit older. Our little girl is just coming out of nappies (diapers) so the time might be right to think about getting a puppy.

NCBLA: Who or what are your greatest artistic influences?

PJL: As a student I was very fond of the work of British illustrators like Arthur Rackham, but then I discovered the work of the American illustrators of the Golden Age of Illustration: people like NC Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, and of course Norman Rockwell. I think their influence still shows strongly in my work.

For more information about this author, please read his OWH bio or visit his website or blog.


Our White House Hosts First Ever Poetry Slam!

President and Mrs. Obama are hosting an evening of poetry and jazz music at the White House! Hurrah! You can share the wonderful original poetry and art in the NCBLA's award-winning publication Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out with the young people in your life and host your own poetry reading at home, in school, and in your neighborhood library!

In Our White House you will find poems by Jack Prelutsky, Lee Bennet Hopkins, Jane Yolen, Paul B. Janeczko, Kate Di Camillo, Nancy Willard, and more! Find Our White House at you local library or bookstore and enjoy!

Sidebar! -- James Earl Jones will be participating in the White House Poetry Slam. Mary Brigid Barrett, NCBLA president and executive director, often joined James Earl Jones on the road giving presentations at educational outreach literacy rallies hosted by Verizon offices across the country, raising awareness of literacy challenges and recruiting literacy volunteers. The rallies were a great success. Mr. Jones is a passionate champion of universal literacy. He shared that as a boy he had a pronounced stutter, and it was his mother- reading poetry aloud, and encouraging him to read and recite poetry-- who helped him to overcome his stutter. He was not only a huge draw at the rallies, but an inspiration.

To read more about the White House poetry slam go to:

Friday, May 8, 2009

Official White House Photostream Available to All

White House Photographer Posts Pictures Daily on Flickr

Would you like a more intimate glimpse of what happens in the White House?

Official White House photographer Pete Souza is now posting many of his presidential photos on the photography website Flickr. Here you can see a bit beyond what is published in the mainstream and witness President Obama's meetings with Afghan President Karzai and Pakistan President Zardari in the Oval Office, discussions with Homeland Security about swine flu in the Cabinet Room, and even the First Family watching Super Bowl 43 in the family theater of the White House with friends and colleagues!

For more information about the presidency and the White House, please check out the art and literature anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, as well as its supplemental website,
On, you can learn what it takes to write a political speech in the exclusive interview with Thomas LaFauci, former speech writer to Senator and Vice President Joseph Biden. You can also discover what recreational opportunities are available to First Families in the White House, beyond the theater, as well as the history of the Oval Office. (Did you know that for 100 years presidents did not have official office space in the White House? Our first presidents worked in the Lincoln bedroom!)
Our White House and were both created by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. Please visit the NCBLA's website to learn more.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Voices from Our White House: Leonard S. Marcus

Marcus Answers Questions About "Theodore Roosevelt's Letters to His Children"

Welcome back to the NCBLA blog's weekly feature, Voices from Our White House, a series of interviews with some of the talented contributors to the art and literature anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, conducted by NCBLA high school intern Colleen Damerell. Our White House was created by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. A collaborative effort by over 100 authors and illustrators, the book is the product of a desire to encourage young people to learn and read about American heritage. For more information, please visit and
This week we feature children's book historian, author, and critic Leonard S. Marcus. Marcus is the author of Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children's Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way and A Caldecott Celebration: Seven Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal. His piece in Our White House, entitled "Theodore Roosevelt's Letters to His Children," is about our 26th president and what the contents of his personal letters reveal about his presidency and life in the White House. Here's an excerpt:
Roosevelt approached reading and writing as forms of action. He had
devoured books as a housebound child. As president he still often read a book a
day. The more than thirty-five books that he himself wrote--the most by far of
any American president--span a breathtaking range from biography, natural
history, and memoir to politics, literary criticism, and philosophy. Somehow, he
also found the time to write more than 150,000 letters, including scores of
letters to his six children. Some of these last he enlivened with his own
comical drawings.

We asked Mr. Marcus a few questions about his piece:

NCBLA: Theodore Roosevelt stands out for many Americans as one of the most fascinating presidents we have ever had. He lived life to the fullest and also accomplished a great deal
as president, both of which you touch upon in your story. Is Roosevelt your favorite president? If so, is that why you chose to write about him?

LSM: Not my absolute favorite: who could stand before Lincoln as a wise and courageous leader and deeply human soul? What I like about TR is that he was a government leader who cared about books, and who was himself a writer. And I was drawn to him by the sheer verve of his personality, and by the fact that he was never too busy to spend time with his children.

NCBLA: Your piece is about Roosevelt's letters to his children. I read on your website that you have a son. Do you write letters to him? If so, do you save the letters?
LSM: My son, Jacob, and I have never been apart long enough for us to need communication by letter. But I do keep in touch by e-mail with friends all around the world. And I once edited a book of letters--Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. Nordstrom was the visionary editor who published Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, Charlotte's Web, and many more of the classic children's books of the last half century.

NCBLA: Many believe that letter-writing has become a lost art. Do you prefer to use email or another form of electronic communication rather than hand write a letter?
LSM: It depends. I put a lot of care into some of the e-mail I write, and I print out and save the e-mail messages I receive that are special to me. So, to that extent, I regard e-mail as no different from standard mail, only faster. All in all, I'm very grateful for it. For certain occasions, however--a birthday wish for a dear friend, a message of condolence--there is still no substitute for a hand-written message. And I still check my own mail box every day with great anticipation, just as I did when I was very young.

NCBLA: You end the story with a quote from Roosevelt that indicates the importance of his letters to him and his legacy. Do you believe we will learn as much about our presidents' thoughts and personal lives from their electronic communication as we have from the personal letters of Roosevelt, John Adams, and other political figures?
LSM: Not having studied recent presidents' e-mail records, I don't have a direct basis for comparison, but I would guess that a president who happens to be highly literate would write e-mail worth reading by historians of the future. It's important to remember that when John Adams was president the means of long-distance communication available to him was limited almost entirely to letter-writing. So, we can't expect contemporary presidents to devote quite as much time and attention to their e-mail as Adams did to his correspondence.

NCBLA: What are your hopes for President Barack Obama? For his children?
LSM: I hope that President Obama continues to do what he has already begun:
to lead the country in a thoughtful, principled, and responsible way, and to continue to challenge everyone--children and adults--to do their best. I hope his children get to live normal lives and that they have the chance to realize their potential, whatever it may be.

Marcus' most recent book, Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature, is available in bookstores and libraries. For more information on Leonard Marcus and his work, please read his OWH bio and visit his website.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Letters from the White House Winners Announced

Over 1,500 American Students Participated!

On Inauguration Day of this year, Adlit, Reading Rockets, and the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance launched a creative writing contest open to students across America in celebration of the publication of Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out. We asked students to imagine what it would be like to live and work in the Executive Mansion and to write about that experience in the form of letters and journal entries.
Students were truly inspired and wrote about Séances in the Red Room, a ladybug in the punch, and a ticklish rug in the Oval Office, as well as a Rough Rider's description of a trip out West.
The NCBLA congratulates all our young writers and winners!

Visit the Our White House book's supplemental website ( to learn more about this compelling art and literature anthology and discover a treasure trove of additional articles, primary source materials, poetry, and research resources.