Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer Reading Suggestions!

Explore the Grandeur of America Through Stories and Picture Books

Whether your summer travels are local or far, far away, take some time to experience the magic of America's National Parks in the pages of engaging books that take young readers deep into the redwood forest and up high in the mountains of Yellowstone. For a list of recommendations, check out the Books About Our National Parks list on

For a list of recommended picture books and early readers that feature adventures in the great outdoors, check out "Summer Fun for Little Ones" by Katie Bircher on the Horn Book website. And for a list of books that include engaging summertime escapades for middle-grade kids, take a look at "Great Escapes (some quite literal) for Middle-Grade Summer Reading" by Martha V. Parravano, also on Horn Book.

To learn about President Theodore Roosevelt's role in preserving America's wilderness, read the article "Executive Order for Nature" by Jean Craighead George in the NCBLA's extensive art and literature anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out. And be sure to take a look at the coordinating illustration "America's Wilderness" by David Slonim.  

Our White House
is available in both hardcover and paperback. Ask for it at a bookstore and library near you!

To learn more about America's national parks, visit, where you can use the search tool to discover which national parks are near you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Presidential Trivia of the Week

Help Your Kids Learn About American History
by Playing Presidential Trivia

Are YOU playing presidential trivia?! In honor of this year's presidential campaign, the NCBLA is posting regular presidential trivia questions here on our blog. Check out this week's questions and have fun sharing the questions and answers with the kids in your life!
If you are traveling or always on the go, you can print the questions and answers before you leave or use a smartphone, tablet computer, or laptop to read them on the spot. You can quickly find all our previously posted questions by typing Presidential Trivia in the search box at the top of this blog.

This Week's Trivia Questions
  1. Which president declared an "unconditional war on poverty" and also promised to end racism, asserting that “This is not merely an economic issue or a social, political, or international issue. It is a moral issue.”?
  2. Which president, who had served as a soldier for forty years,  said, "My life has been devoted to arms, yet I look upon war at all times, and under all circumstances, as a national calamity to be avoided if compatible with national honor?"
  3. Which presidential couple were the only ones to be married in the White House?
The go-to resource for discovering more about America's presidents is the NCBLA's interdisciplinary anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, and it's coordinating educational website! 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.

Answers and Information for Learning MORE!
  1. Lyndon Baines Johnson. The tragic shooting of President Kennedy elevated Johnson into the presidency. Johnson promised to not only continue Kennedy's work, but to also implement his own vision for America, which he called "The Great Society." To realize this dream, he declared an "unconditional war on poverty" and also promised to end racism. Johnson wasted no time. He soon signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended segregation in schools, work sites, and public places. He also signed the Economic Opportunity Act, which created the Office of Economic Opportunity--an umbrella agency designed to provide job training, adult education, and loans to small businesses. The EOA also implemented such programs as Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA), the Job Corps, Head Start, and Family Planning centers, all conceived to confront unemployment and poverty directly. Almost a year later he signed legislation that instituted government-funded healthcare for the elderly and disadvantaged in Medicare and Medicaid. Johnson is also credited with signing environmental legislation to guarantee clean air and water. Many Americans prospered under Johnson's programs, and he won the 1964 election overwhelmingly.  Learn more about Lyndon Johnson n in the Presidential Fact Files on
  2. Zachary Taylor. Taylor had been a soldier for forty years before he became president, having served in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War in Illinois (1832), the Seminole War in Florida (1836-37), and the Mexican War (1846-48). He managed a stunning victory at Buena Vista in February 1847 when he defeated a Mexican force of 20,000 men with American troops that numbered only 5,000.  Learn more about Zachary Taylor in the Presidential Fact Files on
  3. Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom Cleveland. At the very young age of 21, Frances Folsom became first lady when she married President Grover Cleveland in what has become the only presidential wedding in the White House. They married in an intimate candlelit ceremony in the Blue Room on June 2, 1886, during the second year of Cleveland's first term. Frances subsequently served as first lady for the remainder of Cleveland's first term through 1889 and then the entirety of his second term. Learn more about Frances Cleveland and the other first ladies in the First Lady Fact Files on And, be sure to read "Mrs. Cleveland, White House Bride" by Jennifer Armstrong in Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out!
Our White House is available
in both hardcover and paperback from Candlewick Press.
Ask for it at a library or bookstore near you!

And be sure to check out the companion educational website,, which provides expanded book content that includes additional articles, resources, activities, and discussion questions related to book topics as well exclusive resources and articles regarding the presidency, presidential campaigns, and presidential elections.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer Travels: Visiting Presidential Birthplaces, Houses, and Libraries

The NCBLA's Field Trip Guides
Provide Helpful Hints for Planning and
Making the Most of Your Visit

George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate
When planning your summer outings and travels this summer, you can help your kids connect with American history by visiting a presidential site. More than twenty states boast presidential birthplaces, historic homes, libraries, and museums. The NCBLA's educational website offers a comprehensive guide to finding these fabulous places, listed by state in "Field Trip Guide: Presidential Birthplaces, Houses, and Libraries."

If you are planning a trip to DC this summer or sometime this fall, then a visit to the White House just might be at the top of your list. Keep in mind that although the general public is welcome to tour the White House, your visit must be planned a month in advance. Find all the information you need in "Field Trip Guide: Visiting the White House" on

Read, Think, Act!
Help young people dig deeper into America's past and think critically about the future using the NCBLA's art and literature anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out. 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 is available in both hardcover and paperback. The paperback edition features a NEW poem by Nikki Grimes about President Obama’s inauguration! 

Complementing the book is the NCBLA's educational website, which hosts a vast array of exclusive articles, primary sources, activities and discussion questions, and research resources. In addition to the field trip guides, be sure to check out "The Eloquence of 'Silent Cal'" by Katherine Paterson, "I Pledge Allegiance: Classroom Kit on Becoming an American Citizen" by Helen Kampion, "Presidents Are People Too" by Heather Lang, "A Taste of the Past: White House Kitchens, Menus, and Recipes" by Mary Brigid Barrett, and  "From White House Hostess to American Powerhouse: The Evolution of the First Lady's Title and Role" by Geri Zabela Eddins.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Two-Day Schedule for National Book Festival Announced

Book Lovers of All Ages Are Invited to Attend
the 12th Annual Library of Congress
National Book Festival

Festival poster by Rafael Lopez.
The 12th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival will be held September 22-23, 2012 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are honorary chairs for the event. 

The festival is free and open to the public. 

This year's festival will feature authors, poets and illustrators in several pavilions, including two Sunday-only pavilions: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Graphic Novels and Special Presentations. Festival-goers can meet and hear firsthand from their favorite poets and authors, get books signed, hear special entertainment, have photos taken with storybook characters and participate in a variety of activities.

Discover more information about this year's National Book Festival at LOC.GOV/bookfest.
  • To see the two-day schedule, click here.
  • To see the list of participating authors, poets, and illustrators, click here
  • To watch webcasts of past author and illustrator presentations, click here

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New League of Women Voters Website Provides Critical Voter Information

Local Library Websites Offer Direct Link to

Voters across the nation will want to check out the latest online tool offered by the League of Women Voters, Vote 411, which helps people register to vote and offers information on voting requirements and state deadlines. 

The Vote 411 tool allows users to build an online voter's guide, view political races, compare candidate positions side by side, and print out "ballots" that can be used to remind them to vote on Election Day. The tool also provides visitors with helpful voting information, candidate statements, and details on current issues.

The American Library Association is supporting Vote 411 in the wake of the ALA Council's unanimous passing of the resolution opposing voter suppression at the recent 2012 ALA Annual Conference. "Librarians recognize the crucial connection between citizens' voting and democracy. We want to make this terrific tool available to every librarian in the country," said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association's Washington office.  To increase access to the Vote411 site, local libraries across the country are adding a direct link from their own sites to provide library patrons with direct access to Vote411.

To visit the website, click here.

Connect Kids with This Year's Elections!
Two very special resources you can use to help the young people in your life engage with this year's elections are the interdisciplinary anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out and its companion website,

Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out was created by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance as a collaborative effort by over one hundred award-winning authors and illustrators. Our White House overflows with fascinating essays, stories, letters, illustrations, comics, and more.

The companion educational website,, expands the book content with additional stories and articles and also provides activities and discussion questions related to book topics. The Our White House Presidential Campaign and Election Kit for Kids is the most recent addition to this site, which has been named a Great Web Site for Kids by the American Library Association!

Both Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out and are projects created by the NCBLA to not only promote literacy, but to also excite people of all ages about our nation’s rich history. Learn more about how parents, teachers, and librarians can inspire young people using the Our White House resources in the online article "For Educators: Using Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out and in the Classroom."
Our White House is available
in both hardcover and paperback from Candlewick Press.
Ask for it at a library or bookstore near you!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Great Summer Reads for Kids Abound!

Queen of the Track:
Alice Coachman
Olympic High-Jump Champion
Written by Heather Lang and
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Named a Great Summer Read for Kids by People Magazine

The NCBLA congratulates our volunteer writer Heather Lang on the publication of her book Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman Olympic High-Jump Champion, now available in a library or bookstore near you!
In its annual list of summer reads for kids, People magazine  recommended Queen of the Track as one of four great books for kids. With the Olympics starting in less than two weeks, you will want to share this inspiring story with the young people in your life. 

Queen of the Track tells the story of Alice Coachman, an athlete who never took her eyes off the prize. When Alice Coachman was a girl, most white people wouldn't shake her hand. Yet when the King of England placed an Olympic medal around her neck, he extended his hand to Alice in congratulations. Standing on a podium in London's Wembley Stadium, Alice was a long way from the fields of Georgia where she ran barefoot as a child. With a record-breaking leap, she had become the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal.
A portion of the author's royalties will be donated to the Alice Coachman Foundation, which helps deserving and proven amateur athletes reach their full potential. 

Author Heather Lang remembers winning a blue ribbon in the high jump in sixth grade, clearing the bar at 3½ feet and landing on a cushy blue mat. A former attorney, she now loves to write about people who fought for their dreams, usually without the benefits of a cushy mat. She lives in Lexington, Massachusetts. Visit her at And be sure to check out her articles "Presidents Are People Too!," "Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! Wild Animals at the White House," and "From Peas to Paper to IPads: The Evolution of the Ballot in America"on the NCBLA's educational website

Illustrator Floyd Cooper had a short-lived track-and-field career as a junior-high school student in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He can still hear the voice of his coach yelling, “Go! Push! Push!” as he trained in the southern heat. Today he is the acclaimed illustrator of more than seventy-five books for children. He is the recipient of the 2009 Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration as well as three Coretta Scott King Honors, ten ALA Notables, and an NAACP Image Award, among others. He lives in Easton, Pennsylvania. Learn more about Floyd Cooper and his books on his website.

MORE Resources for GREAT Summer Reads for Kids!
 Happy Reading Adventures!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

RIF Offers Summer Reading Resources

Prevent the Summer Slide!
Check Out Articles and Activities from RIF

Children who do not read over the summer will lose more than two months of reading achievement. Summer reading loss is cumulative. By the end of 6th grade, children who lose reading skills over the summer will be 2 years behind their classmates. 

Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) provides resources for parents and teachers to keep kids reading throughout the summer and beyond. On, you can find such articles as "Primer on Summer Learning Loss" and "Keeping Kids Off the Summer Slide," as well as ideas and activities for keeping kids reading this summer. Click here to check it all out!
Support RIF at Your Local Macy's Store!

You can help Reading Is Fundamental distribute ONE MILLION books to kids when you visit Macy's and donate $3 through July 31! In return, you will receive a $10 coupon off an in-store purchase of $50 or more.

Macy's will give every penny of your $3 donation to RIF!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Great Websites to Share with Kids

AASL Announces
2012 Best Websites for Teaching and Learning

At the recently held American Library Association’s (ALA) 2012 Annual Conference in Anaheim, California, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) announced the 2012 Top 25 Websites for Teaching and Learning. In its fourth year, the list of websites honors the top 25 Internet sites for enhancing learning and curriculum development for school librarians and their teacher collaborators. The list is considered the "best of the best" by AASL.

The Top 25 Websites for Teaching and Learning were named so because they foster the qualities of innovation, creativity, active participation and collaboration. The websites honored include: Projeqt, Gamestar Mechanic, Vialogues, Popplet, Jux, Comic Master, My Storymaker, Inanimate Alice, Quicklyst, Spidercribe, Stixy, Remember the Milk, Celly, Wiggio, Collaborize Classroom, Study Ladder, Historypin, Learn it in 5, ARKive, DocsTeach, IWitness, How to Smile, StudyBlue, NASA Kids Club and Springnote.

Updated annually, the Top 25 Websites list is based on feedback and nominations from AASL members. School librarians can nominate their most used websites here.  

For descriptions and direct links to each of the top 25 websites, click here

Friday, July 6, 2012

Reflections on David Brooks' New York Times "Honor Code" Column

We Are Not Doing Enough for Boys in
Young People’s Publishing

The wondrous Grand Pooh-Ba, author extraordinaire Jon Scieszka and I met almost fifteen years ago, becoming friends and compatriots-in-arms. In addition to being writers, we were both experienced classroom teachers. What initially brought us together was a shared concern that the literacy opportunities that we had as young people were shrinking in schools and classrooms across the country—ready access to books, libraries, and information sources, as well as access to remarkable teachers and librarians who could show us how to think critically about those sources and guide us to literature and art that would enhance our own creativity. Sharing our observations, we also worried that many boys’ literacy and literature needs were not being addressed educationally. Boys of all socioeconomic groups were falling behind girls in every literacy skills assessment. Those boys’ literacy concerns inspired Jon to create the amazing GUYS READ website ( Those concerns, and much more, inspired me to create THE NATIONAL CHILDREN’S BOOK AND LITERACY ALLIANCE (, a literacy not-for-profit that educates about, and advocates for, literacy, literature, libraries, the arts, and humanities.

Around that time, the then head of the Children’s Book Council Paula Quint asked me to come to a CBC meeting in New York to discuss my classroom observations with publishers, as well as to describe the goals of the NCBLA. I shared that the younger generation was much more visual oriented than previous pre-screen generations and I encouraged publishers to once again include illustrations and pictures in middle grade fiction and nonfiction to encourage those visually oriented kids to read more. I shared my observations that boys were reading less and less, and that they rarely read fiction that was not a classroom assignment. I was concerned that there were not enough books for boys, and girls, interested in sports and real life adventures. I was met mainly with skepticism. One male editor challenged me, saying that he read, his friends read, his son and nephews read, and they all read fiction—I did not know what I was talking about. I had not met this editor before, but took a guess, asking him if he lived on the upper West Side of NYC. His answer was, unsurprisingly, yes.  

And therein is the problem. Many people who read, especially people who read literary fiction, hang out with people professionally and socially who read a lot, reading both fiction and nonfiction. And quite naturally, our perspective on the world and its challenges often reflects the bubbles within which we operate; the smaller and more insular the bubbles, the more limited our experiences and vision. Literary readers, critics, and publishing communities often live and operate and socialize with others who share their values and personal reading habits. But that kind of reading culture barely exists within many larger groups of people in our nation. One of the major reasons we are losing readers on all levels is because the literary world of fiction, and sometimes nonfiction, reflects a very limited world and economic view. We don't need to dumb things down, we just need to publish stories and information that reflect a broader landscape of human experience and interests. 

For fifteen years as a writer, teacher, and as head of a national children’s literacy organization, I have been in hundreds of classrooms in many states teaching creative writing to kids in elementary, middle, and high schools. At this point, I have seen, read, and critiqued THOUSANDS of young peoples’ stories and creative writing samples. If you want to know what kids are reading, and if they are reading at all, look at what and how they write. Hand me a pile of kids’ writing and I can pick out, within minutes, the kids who read books on a regular basis—because most people learn how to write the same way they learn initial language skills as babies, they learn by “osmosis.” To put it simply, the more you read, the more works of quality that you read, the better writer you become. 

In my experience, on average, in a class of thirty kids only five kids will be eager readers, with most of those kids being girls. Why?—first, because we have undergone a radical social change in our nation.  Intellectual male accomplishments used to be prized as being equal to or beyond athletic achievements—now we applaud ignorance.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s we honored men who were athletes, but we also honored men who were scientists, astronauts, engineers, painters, writers of fiction and nonfiction, statesmen, labor leaders, activists—men who were educated, men who read and read widely, men who were not hesitant to share that they read, men who were proud that they had worked hard to gain a substantive education. Those role models are rare in our current culture. Young men today desperately need role models who are men of honor, intelligence, and accomplishment. 

In terms of creating lifelong male readers, we need a far greater variety of books, both fiction and nonfiction, that reflect boys’ interests. In every elementary classroom I visit, the majority social experience of boys and girls is now some kind of sports activity. One of the most frequently asked questions from family members and teachers is—tell me, what is a great sports book for my kid? Outside of the departed Matt Christopher series of books which are mainly ghost written, as well as books by Mike Lupica and Tim Green, there are not that many sports books.  (Jon’s got the best sports list on his Guys Read site.)  

And where are books like Henry Huggins, The Enormous Egg, Homer Price, Rascal—books that entertain, books with great storytelling? We need many more male writers, more voices like Jack Gantos, Jon Scieszka, Christopher Paul Curtis, Walter Dean Myers. And if there are books like that out there, more teachers and parents need to know about them. We need to hook boys into reading early with great books that reflect the wide variety of their life experiences so that they will become lifelong readers. 

I recently attended the Yale University Writers Conference for the adult publishing industry. In one major way it was very different from any writing conference I have attended for the young people’s publishing community. On every level—faculty, guest speakers, attendees—there were far more men. And there was a far greater variety of life experiences amongst those attending. Fully a third to half of everyone present at the conference were talented male writers—straight, gay, old, young, middle aged, blue collar, white collar, academics, physicians, construction workers, government employees, lawyers, teachers—and those voices greatly enhanced every aspect of the conference from the presentations to the workshop critiques. Yet, one of the big topics of conversationsbesides the fact that there are huge increases in the number of people writing, while at the same time there are major decreases in the number of people reading (a topic for another time)—was that the main buyers of all adult books, both fiction and nonfiction, are women. And the vast majority of people who read adult literary fiction are women. Women book purchasers also dominate the young people’s book market. Obviously, there are great young people’s novels out there that interest many girls and turn them into lifelong readers of fiction.  And just as obviously, we need many more vibrant works of fiction and nonfiction that will turn boys into lifelong readers and book purchasers. 

Avery in Charlotte's Webb. Illustration by Garth Williams.
When I teach kids how to become better writers, I use examples from young people’s literature to illustrate points I am trying to communicate about great writing and storytelling. One book I used to use quite often was Charlotte’s Web, not only because it is beautifully written, but because it was the only book in America that most kids would have read by fourth grade—sadly that is no longer the case. In terms of describing how story is driven by character, I showed the kids Garth Williams’ telling illustrations of Fern cradling baby Wilbur and also the picture of her brother Avery holding his pop gun. I then read the first page of Charlotte’s Web and posed this question: what would have happened if Avery had been the first one awake the morning that Wilbur was set to be killed because he was a runt pig? 

You can imagine the reaction that question inspires in a class, and the ensuing discussion.  But now I wonder in our uber politically correct young people’s literature world if that pop gun illustration of Avery—a character our parents would have described as being “all boy”—would be allowed in a new children’s book?  I hope that it would because I have met thousands of boys like Avery who need to see more boys like themselves depicted in stories of fact and fiction. We need more books that reflect a wide variety of boys’ life experiences as well as a wider variety of girls’ life experiences, too. 

Now, what can we do about it? 

To read David Brooks' op-ed column "Honor Code" in The New York Times, click here.

Mary Brigid Barrett
President and Executive Director 

The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance