Tuesday, March 31, 2009

White House News: Kitchen Garden Dug on South Lawn

The Kitchen Garden Returns to the White House

Last week First Lady Michelle Obama organized a digging party at the White House--the first step in planting a kitchen garden. A crew of twenty-six enthusiastic school children helped dig up sod so that crops such as spinach, broccoli, raspberries, and various herbs can be planted on the South Lawn. The garden's harvest will not only help feed the first family and White House guests, but also visitors to the nearby soup kitchen, Miriam's Kitchen. Not since Eleanor Roosevelt lived in the White House has a kitchen garden contributed to the daily meals of the first family.

In an interview with the New York Times, Mrs. Obama stated her purpose in planting the garden, “My hope is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.”

Young people can learn more about the delicious history of White House kitchen gardens by reading Stephanie Loer's essay "White House Colonial Kitchen Gardens" in the NCBLA's art and literature anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out. Our White House is available in libraries and bookstores throughout the country.

Also be sure to read A Taste of the Past: White House Kitchens, Menus, and Recipes
by Mary Brigid Barrett, which is available exclusively on ourwhitehouse.org. A Taste of the Past provides a tasty sampler of White House kitchen stories, recipes, menus, and activities for young people. You can discover what Abraham Lincoln ate at his Inaugural Luncheon and decide whether you might be tempted by President Eisenhower's personal recipe for Green Turtle Soup. (Squeamish minds BEWARE! The recipe begins, "Cut off the head from a live green turtle and drain the blood.")

For more information about Mrs. Obama's ground-breaking ceremony for the garden, visit "Ground is broken for White House 'kitchen garden'."

To learn more about Our White House, visit ourwhitehouse.org.

Our White House Named Teachers' Choices Selection

Our White House Recognized as Enjoyable for Kids

Teachers’ Choices is an annual project of the International Reading Association. Each year, teachers, reading specialists, and librarians from different regions of the United States select books for readers ages 5 to 14 to include on an annotated reading list of new books that will encourage young people to read. The Teachers' Choices project aims to select books "that kids will enjoy—and that contribute to learning across the curriculum." Books are selected from new publications donated by North American publishers. At least six teachers or librarians in each region read each book; some books are read by as many as 200 people in a single region.

The NCBLA is thrilled that Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out has been selected as one of this year's Teachers' Choices!

The complete Teachers’ Choices list of 30 titles will be announced at the IRA Conference this May and then published in the November issue of The Reading Teacher. The list will also be made available online on the IRA website, where you can also find lists of winning titles from previous years.

The Awards for Our White House Keep Coming!

Our White House has been making headlines since it was published in September 2008. An incomparable collection of essays, personal accounts, historical fiction, poetry, and a stunning array of original art, Our White House offers a multifaceted look at America's history through the prism of the White House. In addition to being named a Teachers' Choice selection, Our White House has also been awarded the following:

2009-2010 National Endowment for the Humanities We the People “Picturing America” Bookshelf Award

2009 American Library Association Notable Children’s Book for All Ages, Nonfiction

2009 National Council for Social Studies and the Children’s Book Council Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People

2009 International Reading Association Teachers’ Choices Booklist Selection

Amazon.com Best Books of 2008 Top 10 Editors’ Pick for Middle Readers

Parents’ Choice Foundation Recommended Book Award, Fall 2008

School Library Journal Best Books of the Year 2008

The Horn Book Fanfare, Best Books of 2008

Publisher’s Weekly 2008 Best Books of the Year, Children’s Nonfiction

Publishers Weekly 2008 Cuffie Award, Best Nonfiction Treatment of a Subject, Honorable Mention

Scripps-Howard News Service Favorite Children's Book of 2008

Learn more at ourwhitehouse.org and thencbla.org.

Friday, March 27, 2009

In Tribute to an Esteemed Scholar of American History-

John Hope Franklin, 1915-2009

I was first introduced to John Hope Franklin by NCBLA Board Member Patricia McKissack ten years ago when the NCBLA Board of authors and illustrators panel discussion was the launch event for the Library of Congress's first National Book Festival. Pat and I were walking outside the Madison building crossing the street to get to the Jefferson, when Pat let out what can only be described as a delighted squeal, not unlike a teen's reaction to spotting a pop artist or a major league sports star--except that Pat had not spied Tiger Woods or Beyonce, she had seen John Hope Franklin walking down the street, one of our nation's most honored historians. Pat went right up to Mr. Franklin, reintroducing herself, and introduced me, too. We had a lovely chat with Pat sharing with Mr. Franklin how much his work had influenced her own historical research and notable writing. The phrase "scholar and gentleman" only begins to describe the impression made by Professor Franklin on one not so well versed in his work, and that fascinating encounter inspired me to read much more of John Hope Franklin's writing.

Over the course of eight years researching the NCBLA's recent publication, Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, I ran into Professor Franklin a couple of times. He expressed interest in the progress of Our White House, offered fascinating perspectives on the American Presidency, and helped me to visualize what the city of Washington would have looked like 200 years ago, the new capital of democracy, where slave pens and auction blocks were literally steps away from the President's House.

To be in the company of a great scholar, even for a few short moments, is such a privilege and an honor. John Hope Franklin vastly enriched our nation with his work. All of our children's lives are better because he walked on this planet. -- Mary Brigid Barrett, President and Executive Director, NCBLA

To read the New York Times obituary of and editorial tribute to Professor Franklin, go to:

For a three hour interview of John Hope Franklin, go to:

The John Hope Franklin Collection for African and African American Documentation:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

RIF and US Airways Partner in Reading Challenge

Reading Challenge to Award Winners with a Disney Vacation

For a second year, Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) and US Airways are working together to help children nationwide discover the joy of reading.
Starting April 1, adults are invited to join the 2009 Read with Kids Challenge and help collectively log 5 million minutes spent reading with kids. You’ll have the chance of winning a family vacation to the Walt Disney World Resort® and more great prizes.
Get on board! Visit the Read with Kids Challenge website today.
Learn more about RIF at www.rif.org.

Legislation Proposal May Protect Children's Books

ALA Supports Amendment to Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act

Concern continues to mount regarding the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act's (CPSIA) potential to remove books from children's hands.

To prevent such a drastic result, Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry recently introduced a bill that would amend the CPSIA by exempting books from the lead regulation. Fortenberry’s bill, H.R. 1692, officially states that CPSIA was not intended to apply to ordinary books – those books that are published on paper or cardboard, printed by conventional publishing methods, intended to be read, and lacking inherent play value. H.R. 1692 also states that testing has shown that finished books and their component materials contain total lead content at levels considered non-detectable, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that there is little risk to children from lead in ordinary books.

The American Library Association (ALA) issued a press release supporting the legislation. ALA President Jim Rettig stated about the bill, “We are grateful for this bill since it supports what the ALA, libraries, teachers and parents know to be true – books are safe and should not be regulated by this law.”

You can read more information on the ALA's website.

Friday, March 20, 2009

New Consumer Legislation Causes Concern and Confusion

Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act May Reduce Children’s Access to Books

Librarians, booksellers, and publishers around the country have been grappling with how to interpret and act on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which is aimed at protecting kids by reducing their exposure to lead and other harmful chemicals in children’s products.

The problem for book handlers is that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) believes the law applies to children’s books and is particularly concerned about books printed before 1985. Previously, books have generally been considered safe and have not been subject to the same regulations as toys and other consumer products.

To comply with the CPSI Act as it stands, libraries and bookstores must test all their older books that are used by or sold to children. Testing is very expensive—about $300 per book according to Emily Sheketoff, Executive Director of the American Library Association’s Washington office. All books whose lead content exceeds the minimum must be removed, destroyed, or relocated so that children cannot access them.

The CPSI Act was designed to keep dangerous toys and consumer products out of our children’s hands and was signed into law (P.L. 110-314) August 14, 2008 by former President George Bush. The legislative bill, known as HR 4040, was sponsored by Congressman Bobby Rush (Democrat, Illinois). The Act went into effect February 10, 2009 and imposes strict safety measures on products made for children. Specifically, the CPSI Act requires that toys and products made for children under 12 be tested for lead content by independent labs and labeled with their material contents. Materials include paper, ink, covers, and glues. All products must meet new standards for lower lead content—no more than 600 parts per million in any part accessible to a child. Even stricter standards will become effective in August 2009.

Current Status: One Year Stay of Enforcement
Thanks to the lobbying efforts of groups such as the ALA and the Association of American Publishers, the CPSC voted on February 6 to issue a one-year stay of enforcement for implementation of the CPSI Act until February 10, 2010. The stay has provided a reprieve for now, but the ALA is continuing to work with members of Congress and the CPSC to exempt libraries from regulation under this law. The CPSC has, however, asked book stores to stop selling older children’s books that remain untested.

Learn More!
Read all 62 pages of the CPSI Act on the Library of Congress website at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:h.r.04040.

Read detailed information about the CPSI Act on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website at: http://www.cpsc.gov/ABOUT/Cpsia/cpsia.HTML.

Read CNN’s article, “Libraries in suspense over lead regulations,” which describes the problems in the new legislation and includes commentary from consumer advocates and librarians at:

Review the ALA’s commentary about the CPSI Act on their website at:

Read the Association of American Publisher’s letter to CPSC titled “CPSI Act Applicability to Books and Other Paper-Based Printed Materials” at: http://www.rrd.com/wwwCPSIA/Docs/LetterToTheCPSC.pdf.

"What's New in Children's Books?" at Boston Athenaeum

The Foundation for Children's Books Sponsors Half-Day Conference

Lovers of children's literature take note! The Foundation for Children's Books is hosting a half-day conference titled "What's New in Children's Books?" on Saturday, April 4 from 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM at the Boston Athenaeum.

Featured speakers include: Sara Pennypacker, author of the award-winning Clementine books; E.B. Lewis, whose books have won the Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; Author/illustrator Carlyn Beccia, whose latest picture book is The Raucous Royals; and Terri Schmitz, owner of the Children's Book Shop in Brookline, who will present her picks for Best New Books for Spring. This event includes refreshments, book sales, and signing.

Visit The Foundation for Children's Books for more details about this conference.

Congrats to Eric Carle!!!


Today is "Very Hungry Caterpillar Day" throughout the United States and thousands of kids, teachers, and families are joining in the celebration honoring not only that amazing caterpillar but its creator Eric Carle, a genius writer and artist, who has introduced millions of children to books and reading throughout the world. The world is a better place because of the gifts of Eric Carle.

For more information go to:

Be sure to take your children to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in western Massachusetts, info at:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Voices from Our White House: Patricia MacLachlan

NCBLA Board Member answers questions about "Hands"

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 ourwhitehouse.org and thencbla.org.

This week we feature NCBLA Board Member Patricia MacLachlan, award-winning author of Sarah, Plain and Tall; Caleb's Story; and Arthur. Her Our White House story "Hands" is about a young girl, Ellie, whose cat brings her to an encounter with Eleanor Roosevelt during a visit to the White House. Here's an excerpt:
"Wait, child," a woman's soft voice says. "I think I can reach your friend."
Ellie nods, not speaking. She watches the woman's hands, the fingers long and graceful.
The policeman runs up, and the woman holds out her hand to stop him.
"There," she says, gently taking Bitty down from the tree. She holds Bitty against her chest. "There. Had a little run, did you? This is your cat?"
Ellie nods, not speaking. She watches the woman's hands as they stroke Bitty.
The policeman comes closer.
"It's all right, Charles. Where are you parents, dear?"
"In line, waiting to see the people's house. Waiting to see Mrs. Roosevelt. She's a hero, you know."
NCBLA: Why did you choose to write about Eleanor Roosevelt, focusing particularly on her hands? What do you most admire about her?
PM: Eleanor Roosevelt has always been a hero to my family and to me. I admire her intelligence, independence, and bravery. I was captivated by the Chandor painting of her in the White House; a charming picture of her and her busy and expressive hands. They almost seem to speak for her, though she is expressive all on her own!

NCBLA: Why did you choose to write about a child's encounter with Mrs. Roosevelt?
PM: I knew that Eleanor Roosevelt would be impressed by the child in the story of HANDS...the child is independent, too, and could have been Eleanor as a child. And, of course, the two of them have the same name. Often the relationship between the old and the young is what my father used to call "authentic."

NCBLA: Eleanor Roosevelt is one of the most famous First Ladies. Which of the other First Ladies stand out to you?
PM: I've always been interested in Abigail Adams as well as others.
I think it is a difficult task to be first lady. Believe me, Michelle Obama has to attend to state affairs as well as raise two children. It is no small task, and I am prepared to be impressed by her!

NCBLA: What are your hopes for President Obama? Do you think Michelle Obama will join Eleanor Roosevelt as a strong and influential First Lady?
PM: My hopes for the present first family are for them to be as honest, straightforward and creative as they can be. It is lovely again to have children in the people's house.

NCBLA: If you could have any job in the White House, what would you do?
PM: I would like to be the White House story teller or the White House dog; either would be fabulous.

For more information on MacLachlan, please read her Our White House bio.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Voices from Our White House: Linda Sue Park

NCBLA Board Member answers questions about "A Perfect Image"

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 ourwhitehouse.org and thencbla.org.

This week we feature NCBLA Board Member Linda Sue Park, author of Seesaw Girls, When My Name Was Keoko, and the Newbery Medal-winning A Single Shard. Ms. Park's piece in Our White House, titled "A Perfect Image," is about her experience at the White House during the National Book Festival; she invited her parents, who recalled from their teenagehood in Korea the story of President Truman's piano breaking through the floor of a study. Here's an excerpt:

My parents were delighted to see a grand piano in the Entrance Hall. It was not the Truman Steinway...but it seemed to have been plucked straight from their childhood memories of the White House.

I went to get coffee. From across the room, I saw my parents talking with Mrs. Putin.

My parents do not speak Russian. To my knowledge, Mrs. Putin does not speak Korean. How I wish I could have heard that conversation, the English flavored heavily with the spice and salt of their native languages.

We asked Ms. Park a few questions about her piece:

NCBLA: Did you know the story of the Truman piano before going to the National Book Festival?
LSP: No. I didn't know the story until I set about writing the piece for the book. I had been asked to write something set during the time of the Korean War, so I called my parents and interviewed them.

NCBLA: What did your parents say about the experience afterward? Do you know what they said to Mrs. Putin?
LSP: My parents are my biggest fans--they're always very supportive and enthusiastic about my work. One of the nicest things about my career is that I'm sometimes able to take them along for the ride. This was one of those occasions: Now they can (and do) brag that they've had breakfast at the White House! And no, I don't know what they said to Mrs. Putin; I'm guessing it was probably small talk. But just the idea of my parents being able to talk to the First Lady of Russia--that was a thrill for me.

NCBLA: If you could have a tea party with a few past presidents, whom would you choose and why? What kind of food would you eat?
LSP: Bill Clinton and Teddy Roosevelt, because I think they would be a lot of fun and interesting to talk to. But for those two, I'd suggest a barbecue rather than a tea party. And it would be classic: ribs, corn on the cob, watermelon, iced tea and beer, maybe some pie. Food that you have to eat with your hands is almost always conducive to good conversation. And messy food is a great equalizer: When everyone has barbecue sauce on their hands and faces, things are just plain friendlier. Could we invite Mr. Obama too?

NCBLA: If you could pick any job in the White House, what would it be?
LSP: Menu planner. And Presidential Family Librarian. I'd love to talk books with the President and Mrs. Obama, and especially Malia and Sasha!

NCBLA: Your story reflects upon the cultural diversity of the United States; President Obama himself is a symbol of the same. 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?
LSP: Of course like millions of other Americans, I have great hopes for Mr. Obama's presidency. But I'm feeling cautious and concerned, too, because I know he can't do everything, and he can't do it alone. He'll need help...from every last one of us. Will people step up and do what they can to help? Or will they sit back and wait for him to produce miracles? Because that wouldn't be fair to him or anyone else. But whatever he accomplishes in the next four or--hopefully!--eight years, the symbolism of his presidency is quite simply awesome. I get teary thinking about it: I find it deeply inspiring that I got to witness and participate in the election of the first American president of color. May there be many more. And now, if I can just hang around long enough to see the first woman elected president...

For more information about Ms. Park, please read her NCBLA bio or visit her website.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Reading Connection Celebrates Its Twentieth Anniversary

Support The Reading Connection at Its Upcoming Event

Literacy supporters who reside in the Virginia area may want to add The Reading Connection’s upcoming fundraising event, “Of Wine and Words,” to their calendars. “Of Wine and Words” will be held Thursday, March 12 from 6:30 to 9:30 PM at the Hilton Arlington in Arlington, Virginia. Attendees to this event will be treated to a wine tasting, silent auction, and an art exhibit titled “Imagination Blooms,” which will feature work by children who participate in The Reading Connection’s programs.

The Reading Connection is dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk children and families by helping them create and sustain literacy-rich environments and motivation for reading. Based in Arlington, Virginia, the nonprofit literacy organization will soon be celebrating its twentieth anniversary.

Please visit The Reading Connection to learn more.

Additional information about encouraging literacy, motivating reluctant readers, and establishing good writing habits is available on the NCBLA website. Here you can find valuable information and articles for parents, teachers, and others who value literacy, such as "Motivate Your Students to Write," "Great Books for Boys," and "Teachers! Set the Stage for Great Writing."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Celebrate Read Across America Day...All Week Long!

Grab Your Hat and Read with the Cat!

Today, March 2nd, is Read Across America Day, the nation's biggest read-in! Celebrated each year in honor of Dr. Seuss's birthday, it's a chance for families, schools, libraries, and communities to join together and celebrate reading.

The National Education Association annually sponsors Read Across America. Now in its twelfth year, the program focuses on motivating children to read, in addition to helping them master basic skills.

How can you join the fun?! Plan a reading event, and make it as simple or elaborate as time and inclination allow. Whether you choose to scale up or down, keep in mind the basic premise and it's almost sure to be a success. Find a good book and a cozy spot and read with your child!

For activities, book suggestions, and other resources to make reading special, please visit the National Education Association and Reading Rockets.
You may also want to check out the NCBLA's website, which provides additional treasure troves of articles and resources about reading and literacy, such as "Kids See, Kids Do: Become a Literacy Role Model" by children's author Mary Brigid Barrett and "Find the Right Book that Fits You: A guide for you to print and give children to help them find great books by themselves" by children's lit expert Stephanie Loer.

Voices from Our White House: Susan Cooper

NCBLA Board Member answers questions about "The Burning of the White House"

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 Susan Cooper, author of King of Shadows, The Boggart, and The Dark is Rising series. Ms. Cooper's piece, titled "The Burning of the White House," is written from the perspective of a British soldier present at the burning in 1814. Here's an excerpt:
We marched up that great wide street in two columns, with two men in each column carrying a dark lanthorn. General Ross and Admiral Cockburn rode at our head. The President's House was a handsome broad building with stone walls and splendidly furnished rooms. The people had run away so fast that a banquet table was still heaped with food and drink for forty or more. We were all half-dead from hunger and thirst, and it was like heaven when General Ross cried, "Very well lads—fall to!"
We asked Ms. Cooper a few questions about her piece:

NCBLA: It is interesting that you chose to write from the perspective of a British soldier burning the White House. Why did you choose to tell the story that way?
SC: I thought it would be more interesting to show one of the British soldiers not as a stereotypical bad guy but as a real young man, with opinions of his own – right or wrong - about the reasons for the job he was doing. No doubt this is related to the fact that I grew up in Britain, though I’ve lived in the United States since 1963.

NCBLA: Who is your favorite president and why?
SC: I don’t know enough about all the presidents to have a favorite, but I have a very soft spot for Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was a brave man, a crafty politician and an idealistic reformer, and without his secret help the land of my birth would probably have been invaded by the Nazis in 1940.

NCBLA: The letter does not reflect well upon President James Madison. Who is your least favorite president and why?
SC: By the argument above, I suppose I can’t have a least favorite either, but since you ask, George W. Bush would be high (or should it be low?) on the list, particularly for the false justification of the ill-conceived invasion of Iraq.

NCBLA: If you could have lived during any period of American history, which would you choose? I'm guessing you wouldn't care for the War of 1812.
SC: I’ve always been fascinated by the thought of the Americas that existed before the Europeans came greedily colonizing both continents and changed them forever. I think I’d choose to have been born sometime around 1400 as a member of Dine, ”The People”, known to us now as the Navajo Nation. If they’d have me.

NCBLA: If you could have a tea party with a few past presidents, whom would you choose and why? What questions would you ask?
SC: I’d sit Thomas Jefferson next to Abraham Lincoln and ask them to discuss slave ownership. Herbert Hoover would sit next to Bill Clinton to discuss economic policy, and I’d put Warren Harding next to Richard Nixon to share views on ethics. Then I’d ask Barack Obama to sit at the head of the table, because it would take his calm wisdom to keep them all from thumping each other.

Ms. Cooper also wrote an essay about her personal experiences visiting the White House entitled "Memory of the White House," which can be found here exclusively on ourwhitehouse.org.

For more information about Susan Cooper, please read her NCBLA bio and visit her website.