Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Voices from Our White House: Gregory Maguire

NCBLA Board Member answers questions about "Looking In, Looking Out"

Welcome back to the NCBLA blog's new 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 ourwhitehouse.org and thencbla.org.

This week we feature NCBLA Board Member Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and his series of books for older elementary school children, The Hamlet Chronicles. Mr. Maguire wrote the opening piece for Our White House whose title, "Looking In, Looking Out," is the subtitle of the anthology. He writes about the House itself, how it has changed over the years, and the many people who shape its history. Here's an excerpt:

However, as for the trees, gardens, the world around the house—just think of the tendency of vines to trail, of hedges to poke and seethe in new growth. Of lawns to go to seed, given half a chance. The world outside the windows of any house has a habit of breaking free. One might as well try to govern the shape and spacing of the clouds in the sky.
We asked Mr. Maguire some questions about his piece:

NCBLA: I like that the piece begins as a scientific approach to the House itself, and later moves into the history surrounding it. What motivated you to structure the piece this way?
GM: To be frank, I have always loved making houses--from building blocks when I was five to renovations of my family's homes as a father. Since history is a kind of house of events in which we all live--and exploring history is like finding secret rooms in your house that are true, but rooms you never looked at closely before--I thought using the house as a concrete item and as a metaphor would be a usefully poetic way to approach the topic. Also, by taking a larger approach (the entire history of the house as a metaphor for our country) I could avoid writing about anything too specifically and then be accused, probably justifiably, for having failed to do accurate research and gotten my facts and interpretations wrong....

NCBLA: Did you learn anything about the White House that you did not know before writing "Looking In, Looking Out"?
GM: I did not know anything about the White House before I began except its address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and its color, and the general look of it on a postcard or the TV news, and the job you have to have in order to be able to count it as your private home. Beyond that, it was all a mystery to me, a deep dark secret. Well, except that it has a Rose Garden. That wasn't a secret. Also that it sometimes has an egg hunt. That wasn't a secret. But if anyone ever hid eggs in the rose garden and visiting children became horribly scratched by thorns, that is still unknown to me.

NCBLA: At one point you comment on the many physical changes that have been made to the White House over the years. President Obama has famously declared his intentions to install a basketball court, possibly replacing Richard Nixon's bowling alley. What would you add to the White House that's not already there?
GM: For President Obama to add a basketball court, well, that is mighty fine. If I happened to be President, which is not a job to which I aspire, I might add a private chapel, because the country would need a whole lot of prayers if they accidentally elected me President, and I would be the first one to start praying.

NCBLA: Who is your favorite president and why?
GM: I like President Lincoln but perhaps not for the same reasons that others do. I like him because he was (let's say this politely) somewhat unfortunate looking. He wasn't a glamour puss. He wasn't a media star. He didn't have the profile of a Roman god or a Greek triathlete or a Hollywood movie star. His very ordinariness of mien is in itself an example, and a reminder to us, that looks are superficial--on the surface--and what counts is what is behind the face, however handsome or ugly it might be. And what a beautiful, glamorous, gorgeous, attractive mind he had, and still has for us, if we take the time to read what he left us in writing.

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Keep School Librarians in Schools!

School Librarians are often the First Casualties of School Budget Cuts!

The NCBLA urges you to contact your local school board and school department, your state legislators and education department, and your representatives to the United State Congress to ask for level funding for school and public libraries, and to keep state certified librarians employed in school and public libraries!

In times of economic crisis school and local libraries are needed more than ever and are usually the first casualties of local, state, and federal budget cuts.

The following is from a recent article in the New York Times:

"Ms. Rosalia, 54, is part of a growing cadre of 21st-century multimedia specialists who help guide students through the digital ocean of information that confronts them on a daily basis. These new librarians believe that literacy includes, but also exceeds, books.

“The days of just reshelving a book are over,” said Ms. Rosalia, who came to P.S. 225 nearly six years ago after graduating at the top of her class at the Queens College Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. “Now it is the information age, and that technology has brought out a whole new generation of practices.”

Some of these new librarians teach children how to develop PowerPoint presentations or create online videos. Others get students to use social networking sites to debate topics from history or comment on classmates’ creative writing. Yet as school librarians increasingly teach students crucial skills needed not only in school, but also on the job and in daily life, they are often the first casualties of school budget crunches"

To read more in the New York Times, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/16/books/16libr.html?em

To read more about how you can become a literacy-library advocate, go to:



Monday, February 16, 2009

Usage of Public Libraries Is Soaring Across the Country

Americans Enjoy Respite from Recession Woes at Local Libraries

Any devoted library patron could easily list the exciting range of resources and services offered by our public libraries—from printed books to audio books, movie classics to video games, and preschool story time to the tutoring of adults learning English as a second language. With our economy sinking even deeper into recession, book lovers and job seekers are hanging out at the local library, perusing the stacks and surfing the internet. The increased traffic is in fact breaking all kinds of records around the country.

The Boston Globe reported in January that usage of the Newark Public Library in New Jersey is up 17 %; new library card requests have increased 61 % at the Boise Public Library; and in Brantley County, Georgia, library computer usage was up 26 % in the last quarter. Computer usage is critical as the American Library Association notes that 73 % of all libraries nationwide offer the only free Internet access in their communities. The continuation of free computer and Internet access at our nation’s libraries is essential to millions of Americans who rely on these resources for getting jobs.

Despite the increased traffic at America’s public libraries, funding is being slashed and branches are in danger of being closed. Recognizing the tragic irony of the fiscal crisis, Emily Sheketoff, Executive Director of the ALA Washington Office, has stated that “Public libraries stand ready to help communities recover from this economic tailspin. Governors and mayors need to make sure that the funding for these multi-purpose economic engines is in place.”

What can be done to support funding for our local libraries?

The ALA website offers an action list, “Two Minutes Can Make a Difference,” that explains how you can advocate for public library funding. The action list includes not only ways to contact your congressman, but also means for staying informed and spreading the word about this critical issue.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Voices from Our White House: M.T. Anderson

NCBLA Board Member talks about "The House Haunts"

to the second installment of the NCBLA blog's new 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. This feature is 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 ourwhitehouse.org.

This week we feature M.T. Anderson, whose books for children and young adults include Feed; Handel, Who Knew What He Liked; and the Octavian Nothing series. For his piece in Our White House, entitled "The House Haunts," Mr. Anderson wrote about the ghosts that some believe haunt the White House to this day. Here's an excerpt:

Some say that a British soldier killed on the White House grounds during the War of 1812 still walks the lawns with a torch in his hand. Others say that a dead doorman still welcomes visitors and that a dutiful servant, though deceased, still shuts off lights at night. Some say that Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, bustles toward the East Room, carrying a load of laundry to be dried. When gardeners tried to dig up Dolley Madison's rose garden, she returned from the grave to tell them off--so they fled, and the garden remained. Roosevelt, Truman, and Hoover all heard Lincoln knock on their bedroom door; and when Lincoln himself was alive and well, Mrs. Lincoln heard the dead Andrew Jackson tramp up and down the corridors, swearing.
We asked Mr. Anderson a few questions about his piece:

NCBLA: How did you first learn about the supposed White House ghosts? Why did you choose to write about "The House Haunts" for Our White House? Have you always had an interest in ghosts and the supernatural?
MTA: I have always been fascinated by ghosts, even though I don't believe in them. I have a whole bookshelf next to my bed filled with ghost stories from around the country (and around the world). I knew that as a kid, the first question I would have about a historical place like the White House would have been, "Is it haunted?"

NCBLA: If you could meet one of the White House ghosts, whom would you like to meet—a famous past president like Lincoln or an unknown like the British soldier who walks the grounds? What would you ask a ghost if you met one?
MTA: Excellent question! I have to admit that I really would rather not meet any ghosts at all. But if I had to meet one, I might as well meet Lincoln. At least there'd be a good story in it -- and I could say that I'd had a brush with history!

NCBLA: Who is your favorite president and why?
MTA: That's a difficult one, because I think that the compromises that come with power (and that are necessary for one to remain in power) almost always modify a president's ideals. For example, one of my favorite presidents in terms of his beliefs is Jimmy Carter -- but he was not one of our most effective presidents, because of the complications of holding office and operating in a system that demands certain compromises.

NCBLA: If you could pick any job in the White House, what would it be?
MTA: Presidential cat.

NCBLA: How do you think President Obama will change the story of the presidency? What do you think or hope people will write about him in the future? Do you think he will be visited by a White House ghost?
MTA: Well, I hope, of course, that his ideals are not compromised in the course of his presidency -- and that he takes the current crisis and uses it as an opportunity to rehaul a system which is in peril of complete collapse. What I would hope is that in the future, people write about our generation as we do about those who lived in the thirties and forties -- that this was a period of suffering where we came together. This was the moment when we went from believing that the common good will somehow, mysteriously, arise from self-interest -- to believing that if we work together to make the nation prosper, we can all reap the benefits and the security. As for a ghost to meet Obama, I think we could all use a glimpse of Warren G. Harding to keep us on the straight and narrow. ... "Theeeeese are the chaains I forrrrrged in liiiiife..."

For more information on this author, please read his NCBLA bio.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wheelock Family Theatre Events

The Theatre's upcoming season features literature-based shows

The Wheelock Family Theatre, associated with Wheelock College in Boston, will perform Seussical, Charlotte's Web, and Ben's Trumpet for their 2009 season. The Theatre supports local families and encourages children to become involved in theatre.

Seussical is based on the works of Dr. Seuss, who wrote many memorable children's books, including The Cat In The Hat, Horton Hears a Who, and Green Eggs and Ham. The Seussical characters are pulled from several Dr. Seuss books.

Charlotte's Web is based on the children's book of the same name by E.B. White. The book follows the story of Wilbur the pig and his friendship with a spider named Charlotte.

Ben's Trumpet is based on the Caldecott-winning book by Rachel Isadora about a young boy who wishes to become a jazz musician.

February Literary Events Around the Country

Celebrate Children's Literature Throughout February

Chase away the winter blahs by celebrating Valentine's Day with a wonderful book. Check out the following recommendations of love stories to savour and events to share with your entire family!

Why Buy Candy When You Can Share a Story?
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Horn Book has published an online list of riveting love stories readers in grades 7 and up will enjoy. Check out the Horn Book’s list of suggestions and find a book or two to thrill your favorite Valentine!

Kids Y Authors
Families all over New England are invited to visit their local bookstore this Valentine’s Day to meet a diverse group of fabulous authors and illustrators who are anxious to meet young readers of all ages! Authors and illustrators will appear at bookstores from 10:00 AM to noon.

You can join author, illustrator, and NCBLA President Mary Brigid Barrett, along with Grace Lin, Laya Steinberg, and Nancy Viau at CURIOUS GEORGE & FRIENDS, at 1 JFK Street in Cambridge, MA. Barrett will be signing copies of Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out and assisting visiting youngsters in writing postcards to President Obama.

Please visit Kids Y Authors for a complete list of participating authors, illustrators, and booksellers.

Small Graces: A Painting a Month to Benefit the FCB
Author and illustrator Grace Lin’s painting for February is currently being auctioned on eBay to benefit the Foundation for Children’s Books in Boston. This month's painting (right) is painted in gouache on watercolor paper and features the Chinese proverb: "Kissing is like drinking salted water--you drink and your thirst increases." The auction ends Friday, February 13. Visit gracenotes to learn more about Grace’s artwork and auction, or visit eBay to make a bid!

Artwalk with the Artist
The National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Texas is hosting several events featuring artist and writer Ashley Bryan beginning Thursday, February 12. Ashley Bryan's numerous awards and honors include the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration, six Coretta Scott King Honors, the Arbuthnot Prize, and a Fulbright Scholarship.

Visit the special events listing on the NCCIL's website to learn more.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Presidents’ Day Is February 16

Celebrate PresidentsDay Throughout the Month!

Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is February 12 and George Washington’s birthday is February 22, but we officially celebrate both on Presidents’ Day, February 16. This month provides a perfect opportunity to take a closer look at all our presidents.

How can we share stories of the American presidency with our children?

Visit a Presidential Historic Site or Library
More than twenty states boast presidential birthplaces, historic homes, libraries, and museums. The website ourwhitehouse.org offers a comprehensive guide to finding these fabulous places, listed by state: Field Trip Guide! Presidential Birthplaces, Houses, and Libraries.

Check Out Special Activities at Local Museums
Many presidential libraries and museums are offering child-friendly and family-oriented activities to commemorate Presidents’ Day. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston is hosting a week-long celebration beginning Thursday, February 12, with its exhibit “Presidential Letters: A Selection from JFK's Historic Collection.” Among the items featured in this display will be four archival replicas of letters written by former presidents, including letters by George Washington, John Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln.

On Tuesday, February 17, the JFK Library is offering special children’s programming titled "Fire on the Mountain" by Flying Ship Productions. The one-hour performance invites children to journey with Alemayu, a young shepherd boy, through the vast mountains as he searches for his sister and learns life's lessons of character, honesty, courage, and love. This uplifting musical brings to life a classic African folktale with music, costumes, and scenery inspired by the cultural heritage of Ethiopia. The program is free, but reservations are required. To make a reservation, please call 617.514.1644 or e-mail JFKcelebrate@nara.gov.

Learn more by visiting the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Read, Research, Question, Learn!
Check out Maria Salvadore’s extensive list of book and website recommendations online at: Presidents, the President’s House, and More: A Select List of Books (and a Few Web Sources) for Children and Young Adults.

Play a Game of Presidential Trivia!

Do you know which president was the first to live in the White House? (Hint: It wasn’t George Washington!) Do you know which president served the shortest term? (Hint: He was president for 31 days in 1841.) Which presidents have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

Make up your own presidential trivia game by digging into amazing Presidential Facts. Find the answers to these questions and make up even more questions using the essays about presidential job requirements, campaigns, and PETS—all on ourwhitehouse.org!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Voices from Our White House: Katherine Paterson

NCBLA Vice President answers questions on "The Eyes and Ears of the Public."

Welcome the NCBLA blog's new 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 ourwhitehouse.org.

This week we feature NCBLA Vice President Katherine Paterson (
Bridge to Terabithia, Jacob Have I Loved, The Great Gilly Hopkins). For her piece in Our White House, entitled "The Eyes and Ears of the Public," Ms. Paterson wrote about the White House press corps, the group of journalists who cover the goings-on in the president's home.
Here's an excerpt:

In the beginning, reporters stood outside the gates in all weather, trying to buttonhole people going in and out to get news of what was happening inside. By 1900, President McKinley realized that there were so many reporters hanging around the gates that he sent an aide out to give them a daily briefing. When Theodore Roosevelt became president, after McKinley's assassination, he liked to talk to reporters himself, chatting with those he liked and snubbing those he thought had written or might write an unfavorable story.
We asked Ms. Paterson some questions about her piece:

NCBLA: What influenced you to write about the White House press corps? Did you read or see something that sparked your interest in this group of people, especially reporter Helen Thomas?
KP: I believe the press corps are the eyes and ears of us all in the White House. It seems to me that when the press corps fail to ask the hard questions and keep the President and his press secretary on their toes, the whole world suffers. We could always count on Helen Thomas to ask the hard questions on our behalf. She epitomizes the best in the press corps tradition. Unfortunately, her questions were too uncomfortable during the previous administration so she was sent to the back row and seldom called upon.

NCBLA: Who is your favorite president and why?
KP: Right now, Barack Obama is my favorite president. I like and/or dislike his forty-three predecessors in varying degrees and for different qualities.

NCBLA: Would you prefer to be Press Secretary or a member of the press corps? Which end of the president-press relationship would you rather be on?
KP: I think I'd rather be a member of the press. It's easier to ask hard, uncomfortable questions than to answer them.

NCBLA: How do you think President Obama will change the story of the presidency? What do you think or hope people will write about him in the future?
KP: Everyone mentions the fact that America has finally grown to the point that we can elect an African-American as president. I think it's even more significant that America seems glad to elect and support a person of obvious intelligence, self-control, and emotional maturity. No one knows what the future will bring, but it is reassuring to watch this calm, thoughtful man facing the enormous challenges of the present. He seems truly to want what is best for the people as a whole without having to kowtow to any sector of the population.

NCBLA: President Obama enters office at a time of great technological innovation; he is famously attached to his Blackberry PDA. How do you think the use of technologies like cell phones and the internet has changed public and press opinion on the presidency?
KP: I'm from Vermont and know personally folks who were involved in Howard Dean's 2004 campaign. I knew during that campaign that politics was going to be a different ballgame from then on. No longer would only the very rich or huge corporations or lobbying blocs be able to control what comes out of the White House. Since I was very involved in the Obama campaign, I have truly enjoyed and am still enjoying frequent updates on what's going on via my computer. I'm too old to learn text messaging, but, that too, will mean that the President can keep in touch with ordinary people and not be sealed off by security and insiders.

You can also read "The Eloquence of Silent Cal," Ms. Paterson's piece about Calvin Coolidge, on ourwhitehouse.org: click here.

For more information on this author, please see her NCBLA bio or visit her website.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

America SCORES Hosts National Poetry Slam

National Poetry SLAM to be Held at the New York Stock Exchange

Each spring America SCORES celebrates the achievements of students across the country with a National Poetry Slam. Two student-poets from each of America SCORES' fifteen affiliate cities will be selected from among 6,000 America SCORES kids to perform their original poetry at the New York Stock Exchange on April 20 in front of an audience of 300 attendees.

America SCORES is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to bring soccer and literacy to kids in urban communities across the country. Resources provided by America SCORES include: Soccer and Creative Writing Curricula, Professional Development, Technical Assistance, National Publications by kids and for kids, and Challenge Grants.

You can read poems written by last year's contestants and learn more about America SCORES and the National Poetry Slam on the America SCORES website.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Author and Illustrator Blair Lent Has Died

Caldecott Medal Winner Blair Lent Dies

Children’s book lovers around the world are mourning the loss of children’s book author and award-winning artist Blair Lent, who died recently at age 79 in Medford, Massachusetts of pneumonia.

Lent authored and illustrated a number of books, including Pistachio, Bayberry Bluff, Molasses Flood, and the more recent Ruby and Fred. He created his illustrations using a diverse range of techniques and media, such as cardboard cutout prints, colored pencils, and acrylic paints. Lent was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1973 for his illustrations in The Funny Little Woman, a Japanese folktale retold by Arlene Mosel.

Read more about Lent’s accomplishments online in The New York Times and School Library Journal.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Grace Lin Initiates Monthly Art Auction to Benefit FCB

Original Paintings Auctioned to Support the Foundation of Children’s Books

In search of a creative means of "giving back to schools and the community," children’s book author and illustrator Grace Lin has initiated a monthly art auction of her own paintings to benefit the Foundation of Children's Books. The vibrantly colored original paintings feature Chinese proverbs and are approximately 5
inches square. You can view her paintings and learn more about the auction on her blog atSmall Graces: A Painting a Month for the FCB.” February's painting appears here. You can help assist in this literacy cause by bidding on one of Grace's paintings on eBay!

The Foundation of Children's Books is a nonprofit, educational organization located in Boston. The mission of FCB is to "help teachers, librarians, and parents select and use quality children's literature in order to instill in children the joy of reading as a prerequisite for literacy and lifelong learning."