Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Storytelling Ideas

The Holidays Provide a Perfect Time
to Share Stories!

Story is a tie that binds us to one another. Escape the rush of the holiday season and turn off the television and the video games. Do what has become an increasingly rare occurrence in a stress filled world; sit down with your children, parents and stepparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbors and talk to one another. Sing songs. Play silly games. Recite poetry and verse. Read traditional stories aloud. Share secrets. Tell each other the stories of your lives. Read on for specific ideas from Mary Brigid Barrett, President and Executive Director of the NCBLA:

  • If you have young children and grandparents are visiting for the holidays, don’t worry about the noise level. Grandparents, especially if they live alone, rarely hear the hustle and bustle of family life, and, for the most part, cherish the sounds of simple family living.
  • Instead of, or in addition to exchanging gifts with each other, ask each family member to write a short story or anecdote about their favorite family holiday memory to exchange with a gift partner.
  • Host a special family breakfast or brunch. It’s a treat to see extended family in the morning. People sometimes display entirely different, and fascinating, aspects of their personalities than at evening gatherings and conversations may reflect those changes.
  • We all have piles of family photographs which we rarely look at. This year create a special family photo exhibit. Ask your guests to bring an amusing family photo to post on a special bulletin board, or tape the pictures to a foam core board that you have decorated. Display the board in an area where everyone can see and admire it, and make time during the day to share the stories surrounding the photographs.
  • Before sitting down for your holiday dinner, set an old family photo next to each place setting. Ask each family member to tell the story about the photograph sometime during dinner.
  • Have a CD player and a familiar movie or Broadway musical CD’s, like the “Sound of Music” at the ready when you find that gazillions of small cousins are getting under foot while their elders are organizing the holiday meal. Pick out a reliable boss among the kids and send them off to the rec room, basement, attic, or family room with the CD player. Ask them to produce a “musical” for family’s entertainment after dinner. The kids can be kept busy casting the parts and rehearsing, either lip sinking the tunes or singing themselves. Shyer cousins can make programs and act as ushers, seating family members when it is time for the post-dinner entertainment.
  • If your kids are in high school or college, get out the old home movies and videos, especially if they are bringing dates or fiancĂ©es home for the holidays. It is a parent’s duty to embarrass the offspring in front of their dates during the holidays. And their friends, especially the dates, will love it! Old films and videos will surely trigger everyone’s memories.
  • Set an old card table up in your living room and put an old fashioned 575 piece puzzle out in the table. Make sure a part of the puzzle is already started when your guests arrive. Set a comfortable chair or two around the table. The puzzle will draw family members together in surprising ways.
  • Have some board games ready that can be played by teams. Board games not only provide entertainment, but they can help generations connect. Board games are ice breakers. And, interacting while playing a game will act as a catalyst for conversation.
  • Your local library has many carol and song books. Photocopy a few songs and lyrics from those books and staple the pages together to make your own family song books. Later, you can add to the books and use them over and over again. If one of your family members plays an instrument, ask them if they will perform at your family get together so you can all sing-along. Get a very brave and gregarious cousin with a not-so–perfect voice to lead the singing. With the words in front of them, few people will be able to resist joining in.
  • In the evening, get out the afghans and pillows and encourage everyone to gather ‘round the fireplace. If you don’t have a fireplace, light candles and turn out the lights. Give the kids hot chocolate, and the grownups, wine or coffee. Ask someone with a good strong voice to read a favorite holiday story aloud. Or, ask each person, from the oldest to the youngest, to tell everyone about the very first holiday celebration they can remember. Ask them about what they saw and smelled that day, what they ate, what they did, who they visited, what they sang, where they went, and what the weather was like. Ask them about a person they remember with love on that day, and when they are through with their story; tell them how much they are loved by you.
From the NCBLA family to yours, have a joyous and peaceful Holiday Season!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

White House Holiday TV Special Connects Americans to White House Life

"A White House Christmas: First Families Remember" Airs on NBC Tomorrow and Friday

Holiday Special Will Feature Former First Ladies and Their Children

Watch with Your Kids and Learn About
Christmas Traditions Past and Present
in the White House
NBC celebrates the holidays with unprecedented access to the most famous home in America in “A White House Christmas: First Families Remember,” on Thursday, December 20 (8-9 p.m. ET). An encore presentation of the special will air Friday, December 21 (9-10 p.m. ET).
Hosted by multiple Emmy Award winner Meredith Vieira, the special takes a look at Christmases past and present with 10 presidential families over the last 50 years, featuring interviews with First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Ladies Laura Bush, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barbara Bush and Rosalynn Carter. Several First Children also share their holiday memories, including Barbara Bush, Jenna Bush Hager, Chelsea Clinton, Dorothy Bush Koch, Michael Reagan, Amy Carter, Susan Ford Bales, Tricia Nixon Cox, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson.

Before Mrs. Obama announced this year’s holiday theme, “Joy to All,” Vieira went behind the scenes with staff and volunteers to find out what it takes to prepare for the 2012 holiday season and thousands of visitors each day. The plans include the decoration of over 50 trees inside the White House, and helping the White House pastry kitchen to unveil their elaborate gingerbread house creations.

“Christmas at the White House is much more than adding lights to a tree,” said host Vieira. “Long-standing traditions are revived each year to pay tribute to seasons past, and messages of joy and hope encourage everyone, regardless of party or position, to share with family and friends all the blessings of the season.” 

For more information on “A White House Christmas: First Families Remember,” please visit’s “Movies & Specials” site.

You can read about President Carter's holiday experiences in his piece "From Christmas in Plains: Memories" in the NCBLA's anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out. And be sure to share more White House Christmas stories with the young people in your life from

"Our National Christmas Tree" by Cheli Mennella

"Grand Champions of the White House" by Renee Critcher Lyons

May your family's holiday season be filled with stories!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Helping Kids Cope With Tragic National News

Comforting and Reassuring Your Children in the Wake of the Tragic Events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT

The heart wrenching news from Newtown, Connecticut of violence that took the lives of so many innocents will continue to dominate the news in the forthcoming days. The NCBLA has been receiving inquiries from parents and concerned adults across the country seeking suggestions as to how they can comfort their children, help their children understand what has happened, and move forward with hope. 

Children of all ages will be hearing about this week’s tragic event not only because of saturated media coverage, but because kids and adults will be talking about it everywhere, in their classrooms and schools, at the supermarket, at after school activities.

In the wake of September 11th, the Association of Library Services for Children, a division of the American Library Association, compiled a list of websites that contained very helpful information for adults to help children cope in the aftermath of that great national tragedy, much of which, in general terms, is pertinent to this current situation. To read the list, click here.

The ALSC list includes, for example, from James Garbarino, professor of human development and co-director of the Family Life Development Center at Cornell University, advice to parents on how they can help their children cope with the news of tragic attacks.  He is a nationally recognized expert on child development and youth violence.  

  • Children in general will need reassurance that they and their loved ones are safe. Young children particularly will need words and actions to communicate calm and safety rather than anxiety and fear. The evidence is clear that children cope best when adults avoid being incapacitated by fear and anxiety. Trying to restore regular routines is important to reassure children that normal life will resume.
  • Children already coping with loss and fear will need special reassurance. Who are these children? They are children who have parents away from home, who are involved in a divorce, who are hospitalized, who have lost a loved one recently, or who in some other way are specially worried about issues of safety, stability and security. Everyone connected with these "at risk" children must make special efforts to offer physical, emotional and intellectual nurturing and support.
  • Children will need a chance to ask their questions and get factual information to dispel misperceptions and rumors that will arise due to their immature reasoning and knowledge. Adults should make themselves available to children to listen and then respond rather than just lecturing them on what adults think is important. Hear and see the world through the ears and eyes of children to know what to do to help them.
  • Parents and other adults will naturally tend to become preoccupied, anxious, and sad by the disaster, but they must guard against this where children are concerned. If adults are "psychologically unavailable," children will suffer. This is a major issue. The message to parents is clear: Don't become glued to the television and unavailable to your children when they need you most. 
HELPFUL HINTS from the late Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood:
  • Do your best to keep the television off, or at least limit how much your child sees of any news event.
  • Try to keep yourself calm. Your presence can help your child feel more secure.
  • Give your child extra comfort and physical affection, like hugs or snuggling up together with a favorite book. Physical comfort goes a long way towards providing security. That closeness can nourish you, too.
  • Try to keep regular routines as normal as possible. Children and adults count on familiar patterns of everyday life.
  • Plan something that you and your child can enjoy together, like taking a walk or going on a picnic, having some quiet time together or doing something silly. It can help to know there are simple things in life that can help us feel better, both in good times and in bad.
  • Even if children don't mention what they've seen or heard in the news, it can help to ask what they think has happened. If parents don't bring up the subject, children can be left with their misinterpretations. You may be surprised at how much your child has heard from others.
  • Focus attention on the helpers, like the police, firemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics and volunteers. It's reassuring to know there are many caring people who are doing all they can to help in this world.
  • Let your child know if you're making a donation or going to a meeting, writing a letter or e-mail of support, or taking some other action. It can help children know that adults take many different active roles...and that we don't give in to helplessness in time of crisis.
Sometimes, in the midst of coping with tragic news themselves, adults cannot find the words they need to reassure and comfort their children and teens.  Taking a moment to read a book together and discussing that book can often help both children and caring adults find the words they need to talk about difficult things. Those books may deal specifically with tragedy and grief; but they may not. Often times, a story that appears to be totally unrelated to events at hand is the one that provides sustenance and comfort to a child.  For example, the classic story Charlotte's Web, is a book that can provide a grieving grade school age child with a cathartic experience, allowing that child to express his or her own feelings and emotions about death and dying.

In addition to the website previously suggested, we offer additional websites below where adults will find lists of books and information that will provide help in initiating loving and caring conversations with your children related to dealing with tragic events. 

We express our most heartfelt sympathies to the families, friends, and colleagues of all the victims of this act of violence in Connecticut, and will keep them, and all those injured, in our hearts and prayers.  

Mary Brigid Barrett
President of The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance

Websites that may provide further help for parents, guardians, educators, and professionals are listed below. Although dealing with previous national tragedies, much of this information is pertinent to this past weekend's event. When  possible we have provided direct links. If they do not link directly, please copy and paste:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Linking Books to Movies

"The Hobbit" Hits Theaters Tomorrow
Read the NCBLA's Tips for
Enhancing Kids' Reading Pleasure

The highly anticipated movie version of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy classic "The Hobbit" opens in theaters tomorrow. Before buying tickets, check out our suggestions in "Books to Movies: A Literacy Link" by Mary Brigid Barrett that will help ensure your kids' experience with the movie enhances their reading pleasure:  
  • Read the book first. Read picture books and novels aloud to your kids whenever possible. Encourage older kids to read a novel on which a movie is based before they see the movie or video with their friends. Why? Books are generally much better written than movies. Your child will meet inspiring characters and gain a rich vocabulary when reading a story in a book.
  • A book is the most interactive medium your kids will ever encounter. It makes them think. It stimulates their imaginations. Give your kids the opportunity to see a story in their mind first, before a movie production company dictates a visualization of that story.
  • Suggested Activity: After your kids have read a book, and before they see the movie, have some family fun with scrap paper and markers by having them create their own visual interpretation of the story. Give each child a scene from the book to illustrate. Encourage them to draw the characters, setting, and action in great detail and full color. Then, tape all the drawings up on a wall in the order the scenes appear in the book. As a family, read each corresponding scene aloud from the book, making your own visual experience come alive.
  • Make sure that books and movies are age appropriate for your children. A story in a book only half belongs to an author. The other half belongs to the reader. When reading a book, your child controls the visual interpretation of a story, unconsciously limiting or expanding aspects of the book that please, amuse, or scare him. When a parent reads a story aloud, security is ever present and assured. That is why parents can read books to their children that are a couple of years beyond their grade level. Not so with movies and television. In a movie, an adult who does not know your child is feeding him or her predetermined visual images that may be far more violent than anything your child has imagined. Do not assume that your younger child's comfort level with a book automatically carries over to a movie interpretation of that book. Make sure you read responsible reviews and get an impression of the movie from trusted friends before you take your child to the theater. But you know your child's personality and needs best, so use your best judgment.
  • After your children have seen the movie, have a conversation with them about the movie and the book. Talk about what they like and do not like about the movie in comparison with the book. Help them to understand that a movie is a different "medium" than a book, that a direct translation of the story is impossible given the time requirements. Ask them if the characters, scenes, and action in the movie are the same or different from their visualization of the story. Ask them which interpretation of the story they like best.
  • If you and your child should see a movie before reading the book it is based on, run to your nearest library, get the book, and read it together. I'm betting you will enjoy the book more!
 To read the complete article, click here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Holiday Shopping Made Easy...Try Your Local Bookstore!

Tips for Finding the PERFECT Gift Books!

Finding the perfect book or two for the young people in your life can be a daunting experience. Bookstore shelves are overflowing with tall books and tiny books, books that tell tales of faraway princesses and books about animals both cute and exotic, even books that sing, talk, and sparkle!
How does one choose?

In the article “A Holiday Gift Book Buying Guide for Your Family” on the NCBLA website, librarian Natacha Luzzi offers these tips:
  • Find out what the child or teen has read already. Ask them what authors they like to read.
  • Discover the subjects and topics that interest them.
  • Find out if they prefer fiction or nonfiction, fantasy or reality.
  • Don't be afraid to ask your neighborhood children's librarian or children's books seller for suggestions and advice.
  • Read your local newspaper's book section. Many newspapers and magazines feature book suggestions this time of year.
  • Be consumer savvy. The books with biggest marketing budgets are not necessarily the best books for your child or teen. And conversely, a book you've never heard of may contain the story that changes your child’s or teen's life. Natacha says, "Just because a book jacket may look promising does not mean the story is going to live up to it. We all fall victim at one time or another to 'judging a book by its cover.'"
  • Take into consideration the content and age recommendation. Great care needs to be taken, especially if a young reader is at a higher reading level. Even though the child can read the material the content is not always appropriate.
  • No one is ever too old for a picture book!!
  • Consider all possibilities: great literature and fun, entertaining books. Says Natacha, "Think of books in terms of chocolate mousse and a Hershey kiss. There are moments for both!"
  • Click here to read the complete article on the NCBLA website here.

Reading Rockets Buying Guide Makes Recommendations for Kids 4 Through 9

If you prefer to walk into the bookstore with a list in hand, be sure to check out
Reading Rockets’ fabulous annual Books as Gifts Buying Guide! This year’s buying guide includes a carefully selected collection of books so engaging the TV is happily turned off and the iPod and other electronic games are put away.

Reading Lists for Older Kids

If you are looking for a book to treat an older child, be sure to check out the Young Adult Library Services Association's list of the 2012 Best of the Best Books for Young Adults, which includes dozens of fiction and nonfiction titles. You may also want to peruse's expert list of Great Books for Teens, which includes themed lists with categories such as Baseball Books, Fantasy, Multicultural Stories, Poetry, and Romance & Relationships.

One Additional Recommendation

Consider Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, an award-winning anthology that includes original poetry, historical fiction, nonfiction, and primary source materials about American history using the White House as a unifying theme. It's a perfect book for kids of all ages, families, teachers, classrooms---anyone who loves art and history and literature!

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 is available in a paperback edition and includes a poem by Nikki Grimes and coordinating illustration by A. G. Ford about President Obama's 2009 inauguration. Look for the hardcover and paperback editions at a bookstore new you!