Sunday, October 31, 2010


Vote for 
Our Children 
and Their Future!

This Tuesday, November 2, 
Show Your Kids by Example 
How a Democracy Works.

Take Your Kids and Teens With Your When Your Vote Tuesday!

  • Be informed.
  • Take Your Kids and Teens With You When You Vote.
  • Let Your Kids Know That Every Vote Counts.
  • Teach Them How to Participate in Our Democracy by Being a Role Model!

Find More Information for Kids about Elections and 
Civic Engagement 
at the NCBLA's 
Our White Website! 


Monday, October 25, 2010

Watch the Exquisite Corpse Adventure Readers' Theatre Video

Now LIVE on LOC.Gov!
Video of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure 
Readers Theatre Presentation

At this year's National Book Festival held on the Mall in Washington D.C., five members of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure's exceptionally talented crew of authors and illustrators joined NCBLA President and Executive Director Mary Brigid Barrett for a dramatic Readers' Theatre production of the final episode of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure. Written and directed by our National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Katherine Paterson, the production featured the dramatic personalities of:

M. T. Anderson
Timothy Basil Ering
Linda Sue Park
Katherine Paterson

What Is The Exquisite Corpse Adventure?
The Exquisite Corpse Adventure is a national reading and writing outreach project created by the NCBLA and the Library of Congress.  The Exquisite Corpse Adventure is a progressive story game just like the one many families play on road trips, at camps, at parties, at home when there is a power outage. It is a game where one person begins a story, stops at a cliffhanging moment, and the next person picks it up, continuing on until everyone in the group has the opportunity to contribute. And just like in those games, in The Exquisite Corpse, characters spontaneously erupt out of our authors’ imaginations; plots lines tumble forth, some realized, some lost; and we are often poised at the edge of a cliff with no logical solution in sight!
All 27 episodes are available free on Read.Gov!
Read it now!
Coordinating Educational Materials Available 
Teachers, librarians, parents, and guardians, discover the coordinating educational enrichment activities on the NCBLA Educational Resource Center for annotated booklists, classroom activities, art appreciation activities, discussion questions, and more!
Just for fun! Here are a few episode teasers for Exquisite Corpse novices:
Episode 1: Will our heroes Nancy and Joe prevent a deadly explosion?
Episode 2: Will Nancy and Joe find the lost clue?
Episode 3: Can the twins outwit a narcoleptic clown?
Episode 4: Can a roller-skating baby help our heroes find their parents?
Episode 5: What intimate secrets are revealed to Nancy and Joe?
Episode 6: Can a talking pig explain everything before Boppo wakes up?
Episode 7: Will Nancy, Joe, Genius Kelly, and Baby Max escape death?
Episode 8: What does the misfortune teller learn from her crystal ball?
Episode 9: What vital clue is illuminated when lightning strikes? 
Episode 10: Can the twins solve the riddle posed by the disembodied voice?
Episode 11: What challenge awaits Joe in the bottom of the sea?
Episode 12: Will the twins solve the mystery of the Cradle of Time?
Episode 13: What mysterious object is discovered in Joe and Nancy’s past?
Episode 14: Can Nancy and Joe escape the Monster Wolf’s jaws?
Episode 15: Will the twins ignore their hunger to search for Roberta’s parts?
Episode 16: Do Boppo’s meatballs poison Nancy?
Episode 17: How do Roberta’s new brain and heart transform her?    
Episode 18: What do our heroes learn by eavesdropping on the aliens?
Episode 19: Can Nancy keep Monster Wolf from ripping Roberta into pieces?
Episode 20: Will an elephant, pig, and misfortune teller stall an alien attack?
Episode 21: When will our famished heroes finally get something to eat?!
Episode 22: Will Pirandello’s life be transformed by a bag of gummy bears?
Episode 23: Can the twins find Roberta’s head before all her circuits blow?
Episode 24: What do the twins discover in a store in the woods?
Episode 25: Will Joe and Nancy save themselves . . . or their parents?
Episode 26: Will the Sloppy family ever be reunited?
Episode 27: Will the Sick and Tired Circus combust in a train crash?  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

White House on the Waterfront Event to Feature Steven Kellogg, Patricia MacLachlan, and Katherine Paterson

National Children's Museum to Celebrate Children's Literature with The White House on the Waterfront Event
The National Children's Museum will host A Celebration of Children's Literature: The White House on the Waterfront at the Launch Zone to promote literacy and education among children and families in the Washington, DC region. During this weekend-long event, children’s book authors will present readings from the anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out and facilitate discussion and activities related to our government and the White House, past and present.

NCM is pleased to welcome three Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out contributors and National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA) board members:

Steven Kellogg, Regina Medal recipient, author, and illustrator of over 100 children’s books.

Katherine Paterson, National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and Newbery Medal award winner for Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved.

Patricia MacLachlan, Newbery Medal award winner for Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Participating authors will engage families with an interactive discussion, a Q&A session, and a book signing. The Launch Zone will further involve children by offering a make-and-take craft.

Paperback copies of Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out will be available for sale both days of the event. Hooray for Books (Alexandria, Va.) will facilitate book sales. NCM will also offer its Family Literacy Projects on a Budget® Trainers’ Toolkit for sale. This NCM publication provides educators, family childcare providers, and parents with affordable and creative techniques to engage adults and children in conversation and learning using children’s literature.

Advance registration is required. Families must register for individual authors’ sessions online through the Launch Zone online events calendar. More details and a full schedule of each author’s activities can be found  at The White House on the Waterfront is free to attend and most appropriate for ages 6 to 12.

Saturday, November 13
11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Steven Kellogg
2:30 – 4:30 p.m. Katherine Paterson

Sunday, November 14
1 – 3 p.m. Patricia MacLachlan

The NCM Launch Zone
112 Waterfront St.
National Harbor, MD 20745 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Family Historical Literacy Field Trip!

Visit the Homes of Two Presidents!
Founding Father John Adams 
and his son 
John Quincy Adams in Quincy, Massachusetts!

Adams National Historical Park tells the story of four generations of the Adams family (from 1720 to 1927). The park has two main sites: the Birthplaces of 2nd U.S. President John Adams and 6th U.S. President John Quincy Adams, and Peacefield including the “Old House,” home to four generations of the Adams family, and the Stone Library which contains more than 14,000 historic volumes. 

Taking your kids to a presidential birthplace, home, library, or museum will make history real and tangible.  In the home of presidents John Adams and his son, President John Quincy Adams, your hands and your children's hands will run along the same banister that both presidents and their wives, General LaFayette, George Washington, John Hancock-- and all who came to visit the Adams family in Massachusetts--grasped as they walked up the steps to their bedrooms and President Adams' study.  They will hear the the same tick-tock of the grandfather clock that Abigail Adams listened to waiting for her husband to return home from his many journeys serving the new nation.  They will smell the same lilac and rose bushes that Abigail planted in her garden and walk the same garden paths that the presidents walked.  They will begin to understand that our nations leaders were real, imperfect, totally  human beings who believed in the values of democracy and public service. And they may be inspired to give service to their country themselves.

The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance believes there is a direct growing link between literacy, historical literacy,  and civic engagement. Acting on that belief, in partnership with 108 award-winning young people's book authors and illustrators, the NCBLA has created an multiple award winning book, Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out (now in a new family affordable paperback edition) that promotes historical literacy.  This amazing anthology of American and presidential history is full of stunning art, poetry, nonfiction, historical fiction, and historical primary source information. We have created Our White House for adults to share with the young people in their lives-- truly a book for the whole family. And all proceeds from the book go toward future NCBLA programs and projects. 

The NCBLA has also created,with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a companion educational website for Our White -- where you will find a plethora of vital information that will help you plan a family outing to a presidential historical site, including the White House!

If you would like to plan a presidetial family field trip but do not know what presidetial historical site is closest to you, you can discover those great places near your home state at:

To prepare your kids for the field, check out our guide to taking your family on a historical field trip at:

and discover other helpful parent resources, including president and first lady facts, important web links, and great suggestions for family reading  at: 

If you would like to take your kids to the White House, go here to find the information you will need to plan your trip:

And the get a copy of Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out at your favorite bookstore or neighborhood library and read about your favorite president before you and your family embark on a visit to a presidential historical site!

Find all the information you need to visit the Adams National Presidential Park at: 

Friday, October 8, 2010

The New York Times Gets It Wrong!

Picture Books are not losing sales because parents are reading inappropriate age level chapter books to preschool children. 

Picture books sales are down because many parents are not reading aloud to their children at all.

I live in Franklin, Massachusetts, a former dairy farm and mill town that in the past two decades has grown into a major suburb of Boston. Right now there are no librarians in our school's libraries and our public library-- the first public library in the United States-- has reduced hours of operation and reduced staff. So, like many towns across the county, Franklin has only a handful of professionals who can educate parents, especially preschool parents, of this basic fact:

The best way to prepare your child for school, the best way to help your child to succeed in school, is to read aloud age-appropriate books to your child, and to create a language enriched environment for your child from the day he or she is born. 

As the president and executive director of the NCBLA, and also because I am a children's book writer and illustrator and teach writing workshops to elementary and middle school children, I spend a great deal of time in schools working with kids, teachers, and parents. For the past ten years literacy statistics have shown that across all socioeconomic levels approximately 49-51% of all parents read aloud to their children. Based on the interaction I have had working with kids and parents for three decades, I believe those numbers to be inflated.  I also believe that the statistics related to parents' reports of their children's TV hours and screen time to be vastly underestimated. From what I hear and see working with experienced talented professionals, reading aloud to kids is becoming an "endangered" activity.

As a teacher of writing working with primary students, there is one sure way I can tell if kids spend time reading and if their parents have read aloud to them.  I ask them to write a story. Kids whose parents read aloud to them automatically include dialogue in stories. They try to use punctuation even when the use of periods, commas, and questions marks has not been formally explained to them. They loosely organize a story with a beginning, middle, and ending. They have broad vocabularies, though words may be misspelled. They have been exposed to books outside the classroom; they have been read to by a family member outside the classroom. They have a huge jump on every other kid in the class. And in the course of over twenty years offering writing workshops in mainly middle-class communities ( because those are the communities that have either the funding or the grant finding skills to bring in a children's author for an author visit), I find that that the number of kids with these skills is becoming devastatingly smaller.

Reading families tend to hang out with reading families. For example-
Over ten years ago I attended a meeting at the Children's Book Council not only to introduce members to the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance but also to share some disturbing observations with them. One of those disturbing observations was that, out in "the field" I had noted that boys were increasingly becoming disinterested in books. Many boys were drawn to interesting nonfiction but most only read fiction with strong male lead characters. (Girls avidly read books with either male or female main characters.)
I suggested that  the publishing world might consider publishing  more adventure stories with male main characters, more great nonfiction, and also that publishers recruit more quality male writers (at that time female writers, and editors, far outnumbered male writers and editors)-- in an effort to induce more boys to read.  I also suggested that publishers think about creating a reading campaign targeting boys and dads because quite simply, the most powerful inducement to getting kids to read, is positive role modeling. Kids read books, newspaper, online materials, if their parents read books, newspapers, online materials. Kids go to libraries if their parents go to libraries. Kids find time to read if their parents find time to read. 

A male editor/writer from a major children's publisher was seated to my left at this CBC meeting. He scoffed at my observation, belittling it, stating that boys read, men read. I was dead wrong. All his friends read. All his friends' sons read. Every male he knew read fiction. I had never met this editor before and had no idea where he lived, but hazarded a guess asking him, "Do you live on the upper west side of Manhattan?"

He did. Reading families tend to hang out with reading families and have no idea that probably half, if not the majority, of our nation's families have not bought even one new book in the past year, have not visited a library or even read a new book in the past year.

WHY? Because in reality, as a nation we do not value education. In a capitalistic society two things show you what that society really values-- what a society spends its money on, and how people in the society spend their time. We do not spend real money on education. As parents and family members, for many reasons, we do not spend a great deal of time with our kids without an electronic screen shining its weird light somewhere in the foreground or background.

There has not been a major united national literacy public education campaign since the 1960's. There has been no national parenting education figure since Dr. Barry Brazelton retired from the public view. Television screens are everywhere-- in subway and bus stations and plane terminals; in subways, buses and planes; in restuarants and stores; in cars and mini-vans. What happened to families singing, telling stories, reading, listing to music, on those long and short family car trips. We had three small highly active, imperfect, and often whiny children and traveled from Massachusetts to Ohio two and sometimes three times a year for extended family events. Those car ride activities-- reading books aloud, playing games, telling stories, singing songs, listening to music and books on tape, are some of our now grown kids' favorite memories. I doubt if the kids who are now watching endless videos in the car on short and long car trips, are going to have fond memories of  falling asleep to Nickelodeon and Disney programs. Kids want their parents' time and attention, not a screen.

Just this past month, interactions with people in my own town shed light onto the reality of reading in America. At the local hair salon, the young mom cutting my hair told me she had tried to read to her child-- an 11 month old, but she would not sit still for a reading of Green Eggs and Ham. The young mom had fond memories of reading Green Eggs and Ham as a kid.  What she did not remember until I asked her, was that she had read Green Eggs and Ham as a primary grade student. She not only did not realize that Early Reader books were inappropriate for an 11 month old baby, she had never really thought about the concept of age appropriate books.

A few weeks ago, I ran into one of the best teachers in town. It still amazes me that everyone in a town, especially the kids, knows who those great teachers are. Mrs. "D" has been teaching for over 25 years and loves her kids, loves being a teacher, but admitted that in the last five years she has been prone to despair. She is not only overwhelmed with the avalanche of testing that she has to deal with, but she is also worried about the current generation of parents, many of whom send their kids to school totally unprepared to learn.

Franklin is a middle class town where the majority of parents have college degrees or experience. Last year Mrs. "D" had twenty eight second graders. Only six of those second graders knew who Curious George was. Curious George is one of the most popular and commercialized children's book characters. In the first weeks of school, when Mrs. "D" suggested that her kids explore her vast classroom library, only a half of her students settled in comfortably to read. The other half, easily distracted, had no idea what to do. A few children had no idea how a book worked as an object. Equally disturbing, Mrs. "D" found that many of her kids were preoccupied with the subject of vampires, so much so that she individually interviewed each child informally over the course of a few days and discovered that out of 28 second graders only 3 understood that vampires were not real, that they were fictional characters.

When she shared this experience with me, I had a twenty-three year flashback to my first parent volunteer experience in our eldest daughter's kindergarten class. It occurred in late October and the kids were all sharing what they would be for Halloween. The number of kids dressing up as Freddy Krueger stunned me. The number of kindergartners who had seen Freddy Krueger and Texas Chain Saw Massacre movies stunned me.

As with the horror movie popularity in my daughters' class, kids today are obliviously watching a whole lot of things on television and at the movies that are not appropriate for their age level. This may be with their parents' blessing, but they are probably watching a lot of things that their parents have no idea that they are watching-- like crazy vampire movies and television shows. And remember we are not talking about teens, we are discussing the viewing habits of primary grade age kids. And apparently, no one in these second graders' lives, with the exception of their teacher, is explaining to these kids that vampires are not real, that there is a big difference between fantasy and reality.

What needs to be done?
Obviously we need a huge national parent education campaign to teach parents that they need to spend time with their kids no matter how tired they are. Parents need to know the best way to prepare their kids for school is to read aloud age-appropriate materials to their kids and expose them to age-appropriate media. They need to know what that term "age-appropriate" means and why reading a chapter book to a 4 year old may, in actuality, discourage that child from further reading. Parents need to know that their neighborhood library has all the books and media they need to enhance their child's life and prepare them for school. They need well funded libraries, they needed professionals in those libraries to help them find interesting, exciting, appropriate books for their kids, and they need to be encouraged to take their children to their library.

They need to know how  important picture books are to a child's development. They need to know how much thought and care creators and publishers of picture books put into producing books that not only ignite a young child's imagination and curiosity, but inspire them to read more.

Mary Brigid Barrett

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Classroom Kit on Becoming an American Citizen NOW AVAILABLE on

New Content Available in Our White House Paperback and Companion Educational Website

The award-winning art and literature anthology, Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, is now available in paperback at a teacher and family friendly price. This new edition features a NEW poem by Nikki Grimes about President Obama's Inauguration, as well as a coordinating illustration by A. G. Ford.

Nikki Grimes
is the New York Times best-selling author of the picture book Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope (illustrated by Bryan Collier), as well as the Dyamonde Daniel series. Her latest book is A Girl Named Mister.

A. G. Ford
is the illustrator of Barack (written by Jonah Winter), which is a New York Times bestseller. His latest book is Goal!, written by Mina Javaherbin.

Classroom Kit on Becoming an American Citizen Now Available on Companion Educational Website
Supporting the educational outreach of Our White House is the NCBLA's companion educational website,, which expands the book content and presents additional ideas, activities, and discussion questions related to book topics.  

JUST ADDED to the website is "I Pledge Allegiance: Classroom Kit on Becoming an American Citizen." Written by staff writer Helen Kampion, the classroom kit provides everything teachers, librarians, and parents need to discuss and help young people learn about the steps involved in becoming an American citizen---from the application process to the test and Oath of Allegiance ceremony. The classroom kit also includes several classroom activities, two sample citizenship tests (with answer keys), the complete text of the Oath of Allegiance, and resources for additional information.

Also included on is an American history resource and literacy center, a guide to presidential field trip destinations, an extensive young people’s bibliography, and information on civic education. This substantive educational website has been named one of the American Library Association's Great Web Sites for Kids.

More About Our White House
Conceived and co-created by The National Children’s Book and Literary Alliance, this outstanding collection of essays, personal accounts, historical fiction, and poetry melds with an equally stunning array of original art to offer a look at America’s history through the prism of the White House. Starting with a 1792 call for designers and continuing through the present day, these highly engaging writings and illustrations, expressing varied viewpoints and interwoven with key historical events, are a vital resource for family and classroom sharing -- and a stirring reminder that the story of the White House is the story of every American.

Building on the logical links between literacy, historical literacy, and civic engagement, the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance created Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out to encourage young people to read more about America’s rich history and culture; to think more about America’s future; to talk more about our nation’s leadership; and to act on their own beliefs and convictions, ensuring this great democratic experiment will survive and thrive.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough introduces this creative tour de force, in which 108 renowned authors and illustrators have donated their poetry, prose, and art to help advance the cause of young people’s literacy and historical literacy. The illustrations, essays, short stories, presidential letters, personal reflections, and historical accounts in Our White House inform and entertain, offering a window on more than 200 years of American history.

Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out continues to be available in hardcover at libraries and bookstores.

AWARDS for Our White House Best Book of the Year
Horn Book Fanfare Selection
American Library Association Notable Children’s Book for All Ages
International Reading Association Teachers’ Choice
National Council for Social Studies and the Children’s Book Council Notable
Social Studies Trade Book for Young People 
Publisher's Weekly Best Book of the Year for Children's Nonfiction
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Learn more at and 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Congratulations to Young Writers and Filmakers Inspired by Exquisite Corpse Adventure Authors and Illustrators

Winners of The Exquisite Prompt Write It, Film It Video Contest Announced

Young people across the country chose writing and filming over TV reruns and bedroom boredom this past summer by writing imaginative scripts and filming their own videos for the Write It! Film It! summer video contest. Asked to take inspiration from a number of Exquisite Corpse Adventure authors and illustrators, young people from age 7 to 18 rose to the challenge and submitted scripts and videos in the following categories:

Silent Movie  (inspired by Lemony Snicket)
Science Fiction  (inspired by Susan Cooper)
Animation  (inspired by Steven Kellogg)
Superhero Action  (inspired by Natalie Babbitt)
Family Story  (inspired by Jon Scieszka)
Video Diary  (inspired by Katherine Paterson) 
Cooking Show  (inspired by Kate DiCamillo)

The NCBLA congratulates the creative efforts of all these young people and invites you to watch the fabulous winning videos on!

Don't miss out on The Exquisite Corpse Adventure! The Exquisite Corpse Adventure is a progressive story game just like the one many families play on road trips, at camps, at parties, at home when there is a power outage. And just like in those games, characters spontaneously erupt out of one’s imagination; plots lines tumble forth, some realized, some lost; and we are often poised at the edge of a cliff with no logical solution in sight! All 27 episodes of this wacky progressive story game are now available in print and audio FREE to all on Read.Gov.

We invite readers of all ages to be inspired by the story and its fabulous illustrations and to create your own exquisite corpse.

Be sure to check out the NCBLA's educational resource center for coordinating reading, writing, and learning activities.