Friday, May 30, 2014

A Tribute to Dr. Maya Angelou

Photo courtesy of the Maya Angelo website.
My Morning with Maya

Nervous and expectant, I stood outside the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in the rain waiting for Maya Angelou’s car to arrive. I had been corresponding by mail and phone with Professor Angelou’s assistant for months making sure everything was in order for this speaking engagement. Ms. Angelou would need a private room with fresh fruit and bottled still water where she could wait alone before she spoke, and retreat to later, for there was to be no interaction with the audience before or after her speech. Each week’s phone call with Professor Angelou’s assistant outlined new criteria and demands for the visit. I had begun wondering, and worrying, that one of my life heroes was a high maintenance prima donna.

—Later, I was to learn why her assistant had wanted a private room for her after her speech. The crowd that gathered in the lobby, awaiting her after her presentation, was like my Uncle Mike who when overjoyed, grabbed you, crushing you in a huge bear hug, completely unaware that his embrace was so tight you couldn’t breath. I had grown up around a lot of politicians and was used to crowds, but I had never seen anything like this. I knew I had to get Dr. Angelou out to her car fast. I nabbed my friend and assistant Sally Truslow and told Ms. Angelou I wanted to get her to her car swiftly and safely. She was trembling, the emotion from the crowd was that intense. Sally and I put one arm around each side of her, a wonderful security guard held an umbrella aloft, and we pushed through the crowd out to the car for her get-a-away. It was my first experience with crowd crush, I gained a whole new respect for those who work to protect notable people and dignitaries.—

The event being held was The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance’s first major production, a national symposium entitled “Children and Books at Crossroads," Friday, October 9, 1998. I had worked hard to get a high quality venue—the Kennedy Presidential Library— and worked even harder to get First Lady Hilary Clinton on board as the Honorary Chair of our event. I knew I needed a major presence, a person of depth, quality, and experience to anchor our roster of speakers, a person who knew and understood the power of the written word, a person who understood the transformational power of story and books in young people’s lives. I had long admired Maya Angelou and when I first mentioned to our board that I wanted to go after her as the morning keynote for our symposium, they were enthusiastic, but doubtful of her availability. But I knew if I could “get” Professor Angelou, she would be the solid cornerstone upon which I could then build the whole day’s quality content.

Thankfully, miraculously, Maya Angleou said yes. And because she said yes, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough said yes. And education activist and author of the powerfully moving book, “Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun,” Geoffrey Canada said yes. And CBS “Sunday Morning” host Charles Osgood said yes. And Harvard astrophysicist and literacy advocate Margaret Geller said yes. As did author Sven Birkerts, and Harvard professors Catherine Snow and Jeanne Chall, publisher Lisa Quiroz, and literacy advocates Dr. Perri Klass, William Truehart, and Elizabeth Segal. And Mrs. Teresa Heinz-Kerry honored us by personally chairing our symposium. They all joined the party because Maya Angelou was the first to say, yes, I will come.

A big black sedan pulled up in front of the library’s main entrance. I opened the door for Professor Angelou, introducing myself, welcoming her, helping her from the car, reaching high to hold an umbrella over her head. She immediately engaged me in conversation as we walked into the library and up the elevator to her private room, asking me in-depth questions about our organization and our goals. I get rather passionate when I talk about kids and books and reading, and as I shared information not covered in my correspondence, my nervousness disappeared. It was only later that I realized her interest and considerate questions were meant to put me at ease. The room the Kennedy Library had provided for her was lovely and quiet. She asked where everyone else was, and I explained our board members, with family and guests, were in a large, communal “Green Room” downstairs. She asked me to take her there, to meet everyone, and suggested we bring the bowl of fruit along with us. Before we stepped back onto the elevator, she stopped, placing her hand on my shoulder—even though her posture was curling forward and she leaned on a cane, she was so very tall. Why, you’re passionate believers, she said, a grassroots group reaching up, reaching out.

She entered the Green Room quietly, without fanfare or drama, but everyone riveted toward her anyway. She chose to sit at the table’s end, between a charming young intern from the Kennedy Library and my two daughters Elizabeth and Emily. Introducing herself, she engaged all three young women in conversation, asking them about themselves, their interests, their schools. They were entranced, and my mother heart overflowed with emotion, my mind and eyes making a mental snapshot of the moment for a life memory. CBS’s Charles Osgood was good-humouredly helping my husband Dick and our son Patrick hand-letter panelist name plates—a last minute rescue of an overlooked detail. The room was filled with board members and their spouses—Katherine and John Paterson, Patty and Bob MacLachlan, Sally and Bob Truslow, Natalie and Sam Babbitt and their daughter Lucy, David Macaulay, and Stephanie Loer, and dear friends and supporters Libby Rock and Grant Oliphant. Our organization, the NCBLA, has always been a family affair. Everyone mixed and mingled, introducing themselves and each other to Margaret Geller and Geoffrey Canada and other panelists as they joined us. Maya Angelou was just one of the NCBLA gang.

When Mrs. Heinz-Kerry arrived; it was game time. I escorted both Dr. Angelou and Mrs. Heinz up to stage left, where they could have a bit of privacy before their presentations. I got them some comfortable chairs, then headed to the podium. My job was to welcome attendees, set the tone for day, hopefully providing a bit of humor and inspiration, then introduce Mrs. Heinz-Kerry. Beyond teaching in front of my class at RISD, or giving a presentation at an SCBWI conference, I had very little public speaking experience. There I was, the girl from Cleveland’s West Side, standing at the podium in the Kennedy Presidential Library, in front of Congressional aides, literacy activists, children and family television producers and executives, professional educators, academics, major magazine editors, reporters, and one of my heroes, Maya Angelou—and I was terrified. Without a typed copy of my speech, I would never have remembered later what I said. I only remember that when I finished, after greeting Mrs. Heinz as she walked to podium, Maya Angelou was waiting in the wings. She cupped my face with both her hands, soft and warm, and told me, nicely done little chicken. Always, always follow your heart. We stood there together, her very tall, me very short. She held my hand tight as she waited to go onstage for her speech. And of course, she soared, the tempo and beat of her words and wisdom creating a song of inspiration and hope.

Thank you Maya Angelou for your courage and the many gifts you shared with the world. You were an incandescent flame of hope in weary world. Thank you for a morning of lovely memories.
Mary Brigid Barrett
President and Executive Director
The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance

Thursday, May 22, 2014

In Search of Wonder: Common Core & More to be Held October 17

Educators, Librarians, Parents, and Students of Education and Library Science!
Have You Registered for the NCBLA's Professional Development Day
In Search of Wonder:
Common Core and More?

YOU are invited to attend a very special event with five renowned authors to learn about new and classic fiction and nonfiction literature that can be used in the classroom across a variety of academic disciplines.  We will discuss ideas, voice concerns, inspire each other, and work together to demonstrate the power and magic of books and how outstanding literature can be used with and beyond Common Core

In Search of Wonder will take place Friday, October 17 in Perry, Ohio and will include not only presentations by our featured authors, but also an expert panel discussion titled Great Books for Classroom Use, Common Core tie-in instructions, book sales, autographing, book raffles, and MORE! For details and to register, click here.

Five Featured Authors!

KATHERINE PATERSON, United States National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Emeritus and author of Bridge to Terabithia, Jacob Have I Loved, and The Great Gilly Hopkins.

STEVEN KELLOGG, a recipient of the prestigious Regina Medal for his lifetime contribution to children’s literature, the author and illustrator of Johnny Appleseed: A Tall Tale and Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett, and the illustrator of Is Your Mama a Llama? and Snowflakes Fall.

NIKKI GRIMES, recipient of the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children and author of What is Goodbye?, Coretta Scott King Award winner Bronx Masquerade, and Coretta Scott King Author Honor books Jazmin's Notebook, Talkin' About Bessie, Dark Sons, The Road to Paris, and Words with Wings.

TANYA LEE STONE is the award-winning author of the the young adult novel, A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl; picture books Elizabeth Leads the Way and Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors?; and narrative nonfiction Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream; The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie, and Courage Has No Color

CHRIS CRUTCHER is a recipient of the American Library Association’s Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award and two Intellectual Freedom awards, one from the National Council for Teachers of English and the other from the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the author of young adult fiction including Period 8, Angry Management, Deadline, and The Sledding Hill

The First 100 Registrants Will Receive a Copy of
Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out

Through the generosity of Candlewick Press, the first 100 people who register will receive a free hardcover copy of the NCBLA's award-winning anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out at the end of the conference. A $30.00 value! Our White House is the perfect book for Common Core highlighting American history, literature, science, and art!

To read all the details of the day, click here.

To register now, click here

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Chris Crutcher to Speak at IN SEARCH OF WONDER

YA Author CHRIS CRUTCHER to Speak at
In Search of Wonder: Common Core and More
October 17th in Perry, Ohio

The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance is thrilled to announce that esteemed author for young adults Chris Crutcher will be joining Katherine Paterson, Nikki Grimes, Steven Kellogg, and Tanya Lee Stone as a keynote speaker for In Search of Wonder: Common Core and More, an interdisciplinary, professional development day designed for educators, librarians, parents, and students of education and library science to be held October 17 in Perry, Ohio. Together we will share information about new and classic fiction and nonfiction literature that can be used in the classroom across a variety of academic disciplines ~ a semester’s worth of information in one day! 

Chris Crutcher was raised in Cascade, Idaho, a lumber and cattle ranch town located in the central Idaho Rockies, a two hour drive over treacherous two-lane from the nearest movie theater and a good forty minutes from the nearest bowling alley. In high school he played football, basketball and ran track, not because he was a stellar athlete, but because in a place so isolated, every able bodied male was heavily recruited. “If you didn’t show up on the first day of football practice your freshman year,” he says, “they just came to your house and got you. And your parents let them in.” His early interest in stories came principally from reading Jean Shepherd and other fine authors in the Playboy Magazine delivered monthly to his house because, as he overheard his father saying to his mother, “Some of the very finest contemporary American literature graces the pages of that magazine.” Full disclosure, there is justified suspicion that he may have perused some of the photography before settling down to serious reading. 

Crutcher’s years as teacher, then director, of a K-12 alternative school in Oakland, California through the nineteen-seventies, and his subsequent twenty-odd years as a therapist specializing in child abuse and neglect, inform his thirteen novels and two collections of short stories. “I have forever been intrigued by the extremes of the human condition,” he says, “the remarkable juxtaposition of the ghastly and the glorious. As Eric ‘Moby’ Calhoun tells us at the conclusion of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, ‘Ain’t it a trip where heroes come from’.” He has also written what he calls an ill-advised autobiography titled King of the Mild Frontier, which was designated by “Publisher’s Weekly” as “the YA book most adults would have read if they knew it existed.” 

Chris has received a number of coveted awards, from his high school designation as “Most Likely to Plagiarize” to the American Library Association’s Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award. His favorites are his two Intellectual Freedom awards, one from the National Council for Teachers of English and the other from the National Coalition Against Censorship. Five of Crutcher’s books appeared on an American Library Association list of the 100 Best Books for Teens of the Twentieth Century (1999 to 2000). A recent NPR list of the Best 100 YA and Children’s books included none of those titles. Time flies. Crutcher no longer listens to, nor contributes to, NPR. 

Learn more about Crutcher and his books on his website  

To learn more about In Search of Wonder and to register, click here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Getting Young People to WRITE!

Creating A Home Atmosphere
That Supports Great Writing
The following article, written by NCBLA Executive Director Mary Brigid Barrett, comes from the NCBLA's Parent and Guardian Handbook:
Some tweens and teens have a natural compulsion to write, but many kids would rather clean their room, the kitchen, and the garage than complete a writing assignment. Providing your kids with a comfortable, supportive atmosphere is one of the best things you can do to help them become strong writers.
  • Writing is hard work, consequently, many kids put off writing assignments to the last possible moment. If your tweens or teens dread writing, encourage them to do their writing assignments first, before they do their other homework. Writing with a tired, fried brain only compounds the challenge. If your kids are given an assignment that spans a length of time, encourage them to address it early on to avoid the last minute "all nighter" syndrome.
  • Writing is an activity that is done alone. If your teens do not have a room to call their own, provide a space that they can claim as their own. It should have a comfortable chair to sit in and a surface on which to write. Some teens will write better while sitting on the floor or sprawled across their beds. What is important is that they have their own space.
  • Make sure you have ample writing materials on hand. Keep pencils, pens, erasers, lined writing paper, and computer paper in an accessible place in your home.
  • If you do not have a personal computer your neighborhood public library will have computers that your kids can use free of charge. Call your library and ask what times the computers are likely to be open without a long wait.
  • Turn off the television. Writing involves a great deal of concentration, and when writing informational essays and reports, a great deal of research reading, too. Television is a distraction your kids can do without.
  • Some kids write better in total silence and some kids write better with music playing lightly in the background. If your teens insist that music be playing while they write, suggest that they experiment with different kinds of background music. Make your kids aware that writing is both an internal and an external auditory experience, and the rhythm of their written words may be influenced by the music they play while they write.
  • Make sure that you have a dictionary and thesaurus in your home that is readily accessible. Encourage your teen to use them daily.
  • Great readers make great writers. Encourage your kids to read great books and magazines. And make sure you let them see you reading! Your example will be more powerful than anything you say.

Check out more helpful information to make literacy a priority in your home in the NCBLA's Parent and Guardian Handbook.