Dr. Dawn Menge Makes Book Reviews a Classroom Project

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“I want to go to the 13th floor!” Mariah exclaimed as we began reading, There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor. My students listened intently as I read the children’s book that was sent to me by Story Monsters Ink magazine to review. “The man was sleepy. He slept in a big room with a dinosaur,” Ryder answered as he wrote his book report. “The dinosaur did not like Mr. Snores on the 13th floor.”

Several years ago I began writing reviews for Story Monster Ink. This is a great opportunity for me as I am able to branch out on my author journey to see the other side of the publishing world. I am the author of an educational series titled, Queen Vernita’s Visitors. My series has won 31 awards; including seven Purple Dragonfly and seven Story Monsters Approved awards. I have a PH.D in Curriculum and Instruction and use many forms of literacy in my classroom that educates students with moderate to severe disabilities ages 12 to 22. During my over 20 years as an educator for students with disabilities, we have provided many forms of academic opportunities including functional reading and recreational reading.

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“Eww, something is dripping on his head!” Jesse notes, “What do you think it is?” I asked, “An ocean or an aquarium?” As an educator, it is heartwarming to hear the animated responses I receive from my students as we read the various books we are given by Story Monsters to review.

As a direct result of these opportunities, I and those around me have been exposed to many quality children’s books that we might not otherwise have had the opportunity to read. “It’s great to participate in reviewing the books, so that we can recommend them to others or buy for gifts.

I am also an active member of the United States Board on Books for Young People (USSBBY). I sit on the committee that creates the International List for the Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities. These books are written either for or about people with disabilities. I have been able to recommend several of the books I have reviewed for recommendation for this list.

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The books presented to me by Story Monsters vary in publishing formats from self-published to traditionally published. Allowing a wide range of exposure to gauge the many components required to judge the quality of the literature. Having been connected to Story Monsters throughout many years, I have been able to watch it grow and expand to an amazing publication that now includes bestselling author James Patterson and Judy Newman, president of Scholastic Book Clubs, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

  

 To submit your book for review, email cristy@storymonsters.com for submission guidelines.

Subscribe to Story Monsters Ink magazine! Get the best news in books for just $5 a year!

 

 



Conrad's Classroom: The Skin We're In

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I’ve conducted hundreds of writing workshops over the years with students and adults of all ages. Young or older, students all have questions about the writing process. One of the first questions asked in every session is: Where do you get your ideas?

My answer is always the same. Ideas are everywhere. You just need to open your eyes and look around; open your ears and listen. It works for me.

My annual visit to the dermatologist was the spark for this month’s column. Sitting in the exam room got me thinking about just how amazing human skin is as a protective covering. It’s tough, yet flexible. It keeps harmful irritants out, but is porous enough to let off excess body heat and moisture in the form of sweat.

If cut or scraped or roughed up, skin has the ability to heal quickly, often in just a matter of days. These facts I knew already. But with curiosity piqued, I asked some questions to learn more.

Skin is actually the largest organ of the human body. Most people know a bit about human organs. The heart pumps blood through a miles-long network of arteries, veins, and capillaries. With every breath, our lungs take in oxygen from the air and expel carbon dioxide and water as waste products. Our liver and kidneys rid the body of harmful toxins.

All of those organs are connected inside our body. On the outside, our skin is the perfect covering for everything. That includes all of our organs, muscles, bones, nerves and brain.

An average-sized person has between 16 and 22 square feet of skin. Spread across a flat surface, that is enough to cover a single bed. Or, consider that a standard doorway opening is about 21 square feet. All of that skin weighs between 9 and 11 pounds. Skin accounts for about for 15 percent of our total body weight.

Our skin is the body’s protective barrier against the outside world. It’s not as tough as a turtle’s shell or a suit of armor. Still, it protects our bones, muscles, and internal organs from disease. Our skin is filled with nerve endings, the sensors that allow us to feel and touch and react to heat and cold.

Human skin is made of three separate layers and each layer has a specific purpose. The outside layer is called the epidermis. It is thickest on the palms of our hands and soles of our feet. It is thinnest on our eyelids. The epidermis also contains the pigments that give our skin its color.

The middle layer is called dermis. It contains billions of nerve endings and is home to blood vessels and the roots of every bit of hair.

The subcutaneous layer is the deepest layer of our skin. It contains fat cells. It serves as a shock absorber to help protect our internal organs.

According to scientists, our skin is constantly changing and produces new skin cells as dead cells are shed. We shed between 30,000 and 40,000 dead skin cells every minute!

Our skin totally renews itself about once every 28 to 35 days. Consider it this way: By the time you reach age 20, you’ve already cycled through a new covering of skin almost 200 times.

We need to be aware of and take care of our skin each and every day. It’s our perfect covering.

 

Facts to get under your skin:

  • Your skin is home to billions of bacteria. More than a 1,000 different kinds.

  • Much of the dust in your home is actually made of dead skin cells.

  • Damaged skin heals itself by forming a scar. Scar tissue does not have hair follicles or sweat glands.

  • Tough, thick skin often forms over an area that experiences repeated pressure or friction. This tough, thick patch of skin is called a callus.


Resources to learn more:

Books:

My Amazing Skin Can Heal: A Book about Boo-Boos, Bandages and Band Aids by A. D. Largie

Skin: The Largest Organ in the Body by Baby Professor


Websites:

Science Kids – Human Body Facts

How Stuff Works – How Your Skin Works

KidsHealth – Your Skin

YouTube – How Your Skin Works


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The award-winning author and editor of more than 50 science and nature books for children and young adults, Conrad J. Storad expertly draws young readers into his imaginative and entertaining “classroom” to help them better understand and appreciate the natural world. (photo by Linda F. Radke)

Time to Shine


by Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz                    

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During the next several months, high school students across the country will perform in their annual musicals. Auditions play a major role in high school musical productions, but they can be scary and intimidating. Students, here are some tips to help you survive your upcoming auditions, and yes, even have some fun.

The musical is announced. The audition dates are set. For months, you’ve been singing show tunes with your peeps. You secretly wonder what it would be like walking across that stage with the spotlight on you. Congratulations, the theater bug has bitten you. This is it. This is the year! You’re going to take part in your high school musical. Go for it!

I can’t tell you it will be easy. I can’t tell you that you won’t have to put a ton of work or hours into the production. I can tell you that you will be in for one of the best, and most fun rides ever, guaranteed. If you’re a theater newbie, there are a few tips that can make your first high school musical experience a little easier, and a lot less scary. Because after all, theater and performing is fun, but admittedly … sometimes a little scary.

I’ve learned, talking to students over the years, that the audition process is probably the scariest. But there is a way to get through that too, and make it fun. Yes, I did say fun.

Once the show‘s decided and audition dates set, your director will post a list of songs from the musical that you will be asked to perform at auditions—one for male leads and one for female leads. They will also provide a handout with a short dialogue from the musical, as well. This is to judge your acting ability.

Get the handouts as soon as possible when you sign up for auditions, and immediately get familiar with the music and the show. Let’s say, for instance, that your show is The Sound of Music. Watch the movie, or better yet, check the numerous high school productions posted on YouTube. Also, familiarize yourself with the show’s score.

Listen to the soundtrack. Always make sure it is the stage version, not the film. Film versions of musicals tend to be a little different, with different songs. Especially, get comfortable with the audition song or songs.

Occasionally, a director will have you sing a given selection from the show with no advanced warning what the song is. For instance, if your show is Mary Poppins, he may have everyone sing a few bars of “Chim Chim Cheree.” That’s why it’s important to know the show’s score, so you’ll be familiar with the songs.

I've worked in the sport of figure skating for over 20 years. One thing that always amazed me about our skaters is how they can easily skate a program on National, International, or Olympic ice and manage to pull it off ... most of the time. Nerves are there, but the skaters who have the best success are the ones who know their programs backwards, forwards, and upside down. Many will say they can pretty much see their performance from beginning to end, or can even "walk" through it off ice. So when they hit the ice, the muscle memory kicks in and they can skate a decent program.

The same is true for high school musical auditions. The better prepared you are, the more you know your song, your dialogue, and anything and everything you can about your upcoming musical and soundtrack, the better off you will be, and the better you will be to handle the nerves.

When you sign up for auditions, the director may ask you what part of parts you would like to audition. If you are a newbie, here is my first piece of advice: You can mention a particular role if you have one in mind, but also note that you would be open to playing other roles. I mention this because a lot of high school students limit themselves and think, if I don’t get that part I don’t want to be in it. Nothing is further from the truth and if you really want to enjoy and embrace your high school musical experience, you will take and embrace any role given to you, including ensemble. But for now, it’s ok to dream big and shoot for a lead or supporting lead.

Practice, practice, and practice that song leading up to auditions. If you study voice, have your teacher work with you on your number. If you are working through this on your own, you may want to have someone accompany you on the piano, as it gets closer to auditions day. A friend who plays, someone in your music department at school or local college students are often willing to work with you. I mention this because you will probably be singing with piano accompaniment at the audition.

You can also search online for musical theater piano accompaniments, used for audition purposes. YouTube is a good place to start. Some directors may have you sing a cappella (no accompaniment). Word to the wise, make sure you know the accompaniment the director will use so you will be as prepared as you possibly can.

For dialogue, you may or may not have to memorize your piece, but again, this is worth clarifying, too. I know of a couple directors who require memorization (this clues them in on to how well you would be able to handle pages of dialogue for the final show). Want to stand out in your audition? Memorize the scene. It shows you really want a role in this musical.

Study the character that you would like to play. Here again is where a movie or watching a stage production comes in handy. No doubt, you’re familiar with the musical, but if you’re not, you’ll want to learn a little more about it and the possible characters that speak to you.

Again, using The Sound of Music as an example, if you’re auditioning for Maria you want to understand her from beginning to end, a shy, postulant who had a zest for life at the beginning to a strong woman who put her family first at the very end. Understanding your character will help you deliver your best audition ever and it will show your director that this role is you, and that you can act.

Another acting tip, make sure to have someone listen to your dialogue and make sure you speak clearly and enunciate. No mumbling and please, please, no looking down. It’s a nerves thing but it will look awful, and when you are looking down and talking it’s hard to hear you.

Weeks before auditions, start taking care of yourself. Rest that voice. Do not get overtired or overdue the extracurricular activities. Eat well and go to bed early. You don’t need a cold, flu, or upper respiratory infection to trash your audition. Don’t chance it. The better you feel, the better you’ll perform. 

The big day is here…

Fast forward to audition day. You've been practicing for weeks. You know every monologue line, and everyone in your household including the family dog can sing your audition song. That's how many times you've been practicing. You are now ready to show your high school musical director what you've got. 

The day of auditions is usually after school or sometimes early on a school night. Make sure you’re on time and dress neatly and comfortably. Bring a pair of shoes or sneakers you can move in. Often, the choreographer is present and will put you through some small dance steps to see how well you move.

Don’t panic if you’re not the world’s best dancer. Again, directors take into account the entire package and you will learn dancing and moves along the way. Don’t believe me? I judged a high school production of 42nd Street a few years back and up until musical, none of these kids knew what a pair of character shoes looked like. They tap danced their hearts out and got a production number nomination.

When you arrive at auditions, fill out your paperwork and list all theater or performing experience. Even if it’s just piano or voice lessons, dance lessons, recitals or maybe you volunteered for a community theater production. Even if you’re a first timer, you can find things to list for theater experience.

You will also list the part or parts you’re auditioning. Your director may also ask what role or roles interest you. Go for the role you want, but be open. What may look like an obvious role to you may look differently to your director. They have been doing this a long time and may see something in you that thoroughly fits another character. Case in point, during my high school production of The Sound of Music, a friend wanted the part of Maria. She got the Mother Abbess. Why? She could hit an amazing high C. Think “Climb Every Mountain.” Always, always be open.

Act your heart out. Many of the dialogue snippets the director chooses are very emotional scenes. Take the scene and run with it. Also, I know this is hard, but look right at your director when you’re reciting. Again, many students memorize the dialogue so they can enhance their acting experience and impress the director that they can memorize lines.

Try not to be nervous. I know, easier said than done. If you are active in your high school music department through chorus or band, you probably already know your musical director or directors. It’s just Mr. Johnson. It’s just Mrs. Smith. A familiar face. During auditions you will come in, sing, and read for the director, music director, and choreographer.

Don’t get flustered when you see them sitting at a table, taking notes. Again, they are looking at you for several roles—not just the one you are reading for. Lots of writing doesn’t mean they hate you. I learned this during a community theater audition for Gypsy. I was in my mid 20s and looked 16. The director was writing tons of notes on my page. I thought for sure they hated me. When I finally saw my sheet, he wrote, “Wow, she could play any of the teen girls. Great face.” You never know.

I will also tell you that your director is glad to see you. They want you to do well. They want people involved in their shows each year and love when new people join the musical production because the high school musical career is a short one—four to six years if you begin in 7th grade. As seniors and last year’s leads graduate, there is always the need for new performers. So they will be rooting for you. You need to root for yourself.

My best audition advice? Know your director’s drill, the song or songs they want to hear, the dialogue and how they conduct auditions. The more prepared you are, the better. So, do your very best and show them what you’ve got.

 

Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz is a writer with U.S. Figure Skating and author of the Skating Forward book series, a collection of inspirational figure skating stories for young adults. She is also a current high school musical awards adjudicator and author of My First High School Musical: From Auditions to Opening Night and Everything in Between.

Photos of Oneida, NY students performing South Pacific and Madison, NY students performing State Fair
courtesy of Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz. 




A Letter to My Younger, Nervous Self


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Dear little Ben,

I heard that you’re taking a test in school this week and that you’re very worried about it. You’re worried that you’ll forget everything you memorized. You’re worried that you’ll end up with a bad grade. I also heard that you have to play in a piano recital and that you’re freaked out. You’re scared that you’ll play the wrong notes. You’re afraid that your parents and teacher will be disappointed and angry.

Everything’s so hard when you have to do something important and you get worried. Believe me, I know. I remember how I felt when I was your age. When I took a test my stomach hurt, and my head ached, and it was hard to come up with the right answers. And when I had to play the piano in front of an audience my hands shook and it was so hard to get my fingers on the right notes. I remember my piano teacher saying, “You play so beautifully, why are you so nervous?” I remember my parents telling me, “You’re smart, you shouldn’t worry. You’ll do fine on the test!” This made me very frustrated and angry. I felt like they just didn’t understand. And I know you feel that way, too. You’re suffering and no one understands you. You feel alone.

But I have news for you. You are not alone! Many kids your age feel these things. And no one’s really helping them, either. So here’s the really good news: I can show you how to feel calm when you take a test and you play the piano in a recital. You don’t have to be scared and nervous. You can feel calm and confident.

I can hear you asking, “How can I do that?” Well, right now you’re focusing on how nervous and scared you are. How about if you learned to focus on being calm instead? “Focus” means what you’re thinking about and where you’re putting your attention. In a basketball game, the players are focused on the net and getting the ball into it. Then they score points and win the game. Right now, when you take a test and play in a piano recital you are focused on how nervous and scared you are. Your attention is going to your tight stomach and your throbbing head. So of course you can’t “score.” Of course you feel like you are failing. Learning how to be calm is not hard. In fact, it’s easy. You just have to learn to focus on something else. Let me show you how.

Being calm takes two steps: 

Step 1: Breathing. Of course you’re breathing all the time, but there’s a special way to breathe that will help you calm down. To do this, first you place both hands on your belly. Next, when you breathe in, you feel your belly filling up with air. You don’t have to push your belly out. Just send the breath down to your belly and feel it gently expand. This is called deep breathing. Your body and brain enjoy this. They want to be calmed down.

Step 2: Grounding. This is also easy, and fun. To do it, put both feet flat on the floor. Now feel the floor under your feet. Next, feel the chair you’re sitting on against your legs and bottom and back. Once you’ve done that,  now feel the floor and chair supporting you. Feel them holding you up. And don’t forget to breathe!

When you breathe and ground, you are focusing on calming down, not on how nervous you are. In fact, breathing and grounding are the best ways to calm yourself down.

Let’s practice. Right now, close your eyes and imagine you are taking a test or playing in a recital. If you start to feel a little nervous, use the tools right away! Breathe and ground. Do it again. And do it one more time. You’ll feel better and better.

And remember ... just keep doing it. I did, and now, when I have to take a test or play the piano, I remember to breathe and ground, I don’t get all upset and scared. I stay calm. You can do it, too. I know.

Your bigger self,
Ben (but now people call me “Dr. B”!) 

Ben Bernstein, Ph.D., is an author, educator, and performance psychologist. Trained as a teacher in inner city schools in New York and London, he was a prominent figure in the progressive education movement in the early 70s, and has since gone on to teach at every level of the educational system.

Over the last 50 years he has coached thousands of clients, from high school students to business executives to Pulitzer Prize, Tony and Academy Award winners. He has received numerous awards and grants from the U.S. and Canadian governments, and has been a speaker at national and international conferences. He was the first director of improvisation at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute in Utah.


For more information, visit drbperformancecoach.com.

Author Spotlight: Carole P. Roman and J. Robin Albertson-Wren


Homework horrors, chores, and not-so-friendly friends … that’s enough to stress out any child. The secret to staying cool is easy: it’s called mindfulness―and authors Carole P. Roman and J. Robin Albertson-Wren have written a #1 bestseller that gives kids fun activities to practice it on their own.

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Where did you grow up?

Carol: I was born in Brooklyn, New York, but moved to Rosedale, Queens when I was three years old.

Robin: New England – in Concord Massachusetts, outside of Boston.

Did you read a lot as a child?

Carol: I read a lot as a child. I began reading Nancy Drew with my best friend when I was six. We used to go to Woolworths and buy different books in the series, then trade them when we were finished reading. I soon began reading books my mother left around the house and ended up discussing them with my mother and grandmother. I read anything that was on the Times Bestseller List, I suppose. She only bought popular fiction.

Robin: As much as possible. I used to love reading up in trees near our home.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?

Carol: I remember loving Exodus, by Leon Uris, The Godfather by Mario Puzo, but as I got older my genres would change. When I was in my late teens I read only espionage books, Ian Fleming being my favorite. That kicked off a British year when I read everything by Orwell. I gravitated to science fiction by the end of my teens and read a lot of Asimov, Blish, and other science-fiction authors.

Robin: I loved the Bill Peet books, especially The Wump World and The Little House on the Prairie series, especially when Laura Ingalls was especially rascally.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Carol: I wanted to be an actress, but knew that was unlikely. I put all my energies into being a teacher.

Robin: An architect – I loved building forts and tree houses when I was little.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.  

Carol: I worked in various retail stores that included jewelry, hardware, paint, clothing, and electronics. I babysat. I tutored other kids in my high school. I now run a global transportation company with my family.

Robin: I’ve been an elementary school teacher for over 25 years, and a mindfulness instructor for the past 5 years. When I was younger, I loved working as a camp counselor and lifeguard in the summer.

How did you get started writing?

Carol: My kids asked me to bring in a story for a family competition and then helped me publish it.

Robin: I had a marvelous teacher in 2nd grade who encouraged us to write books of poetry. That is when I first started. As an adult, I wrote my first manuscript when my daughter was an infant and I was a stay-at-home mom for 5 years.

Why do you write books?

Carol: When I completed my first book, I realized it wouldn’t sell without creating a brand. I then built my brand by trying different genres ranging from picture books, to fiction and nonfiction, as well as early reader chapter books and adult fiction under another pen name. Mindfulness for Kids is the first book I was actually asked to write.

Robin: I love sharing ideas and stories!

What do you like best about writing?

Carol: I love every aspect of writing, from creation to watching the reviews come in. It is emotionally satisfying and as exciting as having a new baby come home. I love it so much, I wrote a book on how to get published that ended up spawning three different blog radio shows and a magazine called Indie Author’s Monthly.

Robin: I love the freedom to get my thoughts and ideas created into the written word.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?

Carol: Making sure the books go out as mistake-free as possible. I do at least three edits, but pesky errors come up every now and then.

Robin: Finding the time to write, uninterrupted.

What do you think makes a good story?

Carol: Good stories are different for everyone. I think the most important element is making it universal enough that people can identify with the characters and feel what they are going through.

Robin: When people write about something they are passionate about, something that involves a variety of perspectives, emotions, and deep thought, it often makes for a good story.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Carol: I got the inspiration for The Treasure at Snake Island from a beautiful sunrise I witnessed on my way to the office. I wrote Oh Susannah based on a busy blogger’s response in a note. My kids and grandchildren always inspire me.

Robin: From my students (ages 3 to 21), and my own children.

Tell us about your latest book/project.

Carol: We collaborated to create Mindfulness for Kids. We had a wonderful time creating relatable situations for children to identify when they are having an issue, and then supplying them with tools to help themselves. I think it’s a wonderful book and I am thrilled with it.

Robin: It’s a collection of short stories, in which children experience a variety of emotions. Each story is followed by two mindfulness activities that could help in handling stress, managing anger, building resiliency…etc. I was thrilled to be the mindfulness expert on this project and work closely with Carol to create this engaging, fun, and useful book!

What’s next for you?

Carol: I think I want to try my hand at something YA.

Robin: I will continue to teach mindfulness techniques to people of all ages, and would love to create Mindfulness for Teens next!


For more information about Carol P. Roman and her books, visit caroleproman.com.

For more information about J. Robin Albertson-Wren or to join her online mindfulness course for elementary school students, visit mind-awake.com.

To learn more about Mindfulness for Kids or to purchase, visit Amazon.com.

Closing the Gap: A Student Project

by Keith Brayman
AP Macroeconomics, River Bluff High School

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In March 2017, I sat down with my principal, Dr. Luke Clamp and said, “I want my kids to write a book and I want them to present their findings to the United Nations.” His reply is what all educators pray for. “Let’s make it happen. Let me know what I can do to help you get there.” That conversation was exactly what I needed and gave me the energy to embark on a journey with my students that would span a calendar year and include a nearly 400-page publication.

I assigned the first of many tasks to be completed over the summer break. I really wanted my students to select a country that they had personal ties to because that would give them ownership over their work, as this would be a long process. In fact, one piece of feedback that I got from a student was that they wished they had chosen a country more dear to them. Having that connection would also make this case study a labor of love and not merely labor. 

Once they had chosen their country of interest, they were to visit the United Nations site regarding developing nations and the Human Development Index. I chose this index as our starting place so that students would not only have a basis of comparison against other developing nations, but also to have sound data that they could refer back to over time. I had them compile their country’s data onto a spreadsheet, which we aggregated on the first day of school. It was very important to me that they realized the gap between industrialized nations and the developing world. Needless to say, it didn’t take long.

After that stage, it became a process of “we,” and not “I.” I thought that I had planned for every contingency possible, but I was wrong. Like, really, really wrong. The stage between compiling data and writing the first part of their research had some significant speed bumps. My students began to show that they had taken ownership of their research and were quickly becoming more knowledgeable about their specific countries than I was and I was constantly playing catch-up. Honestly, this was a great problem to have. 

Their first piece of writing was due just before the Christmas break—the history of the government and economic system for each country. I was blown away. The writing was fantastic. There was a definite realization from me that moving forward was going to be challenging. But, I feel the need to back up a bit. Closing in on the due date for their research, students began to come to me to express concerns about the clarity of what I wanted in their writing. I was taken aback. Hadn’t I explained it well? It was written clearly, or so I thought. 

What I had excluded from my planning was to ensure that there were enough checkpoints for my students to ask questions and gain the clarity that they needed. So we talked, a lot. Again, my students surprised me with their maturity and their ability to approach me with questions and concerns. There was even a point that I considered ending the case study with the research papers. Another testament to the level of students is that they shot that idea down nearly before I finished explaining my reasoning. They wanted to continue. I am so happy that they did. We worked together to ensure that they had all of the information that they needed to move forward and we were set for, in my opinion, one of the most meaningful semesters of their school careers.

Once back from the break, we shifted our focus to finding ways for our countries to move forward, to enhance the standard of living, and/or to generally make life more manageable for business to be successful. To be clear, my students were tasked with developing economic plans to move their countries further toward development. I had hoped that we would follow the rules and laws that are in my curriculum for our AP Macroeconomics class. We quickly outgrew them. The entry-level Economics formulas that we planned on using weren’t equipped to handle the data that my students wanted to adjust in their plans. This was the ninth or tenth time that I found myself on the struggle bus. Luckily, my students are brilliant and we were able to work together to ensure that we were using the correct formulas and that their calculations were correct. Difficulty came in situations where a country was in financial crisis and the news and data were changing by the minute. It truly was amazing to watch them work within very specific parameters while still thinking outside the box. 

Nearing the conclusion of the school term, it was a mad dash to finalize ideas and calculations. I became clear that the students weren’t procrastinating, but that they wanted their best work published. They owned their writing. They owned their work. They want you to read their best piece. Hopefully you will have the opportunity to read their findings and their plans for development. It is an amazing piece of student writing.

A message to any teachers who are contemplating publishing their students’ work: Do it! It will be one of the most meaningful pieces of work they will ever complete. 

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New Author Enjoys the Challenge of Large Group School Visit

by Carol Hageman

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I am a first-time author of a children’s book entitled Bubby’s Puddle Pond: A Tortuga’s Tale of the Desert. My book has been in publication for less than a year and I have had several book signings and school visits, but recently, I was invited by a school to read my book and do a presentation on the artwork before 800 students in grades K-3.  

The academic coach wanted the students to become more aware of the arts. I accepted the challenge, but after I hung up the phone, I realized what I had just agreed to. Up until now, my presentations were typically in the range of 50 students. However, I reminded myself of the years of experience I had acquired as a volunteer in my daughter’s elementary school and library. I thoroughly enjoyed working with children, tutoring them in reading, and being involved with the Art Masterpiece Program. That’s when I realized, I could take on a project of this size, too.

Just a month earlier, I had the opportunity to purchase all of the artwork from the book. It included pencil and ink sketches, a small draft of the book and all of the watercolors. I thought the children might be interested in learning how a book is produced. I would tie that in with the art that made the book special.

When I arrived at the school, I was led to the auditorium to set up. I was told there would be two sessions. The kindergarten and first-graders would be together for a slightly simplified version of the presentation, followed by the second- and third-graders for a more advanced version. I prepared the tables by laying out the pencil sketches, ink sketches, and the watercolors in succession, as they appeared in the book.

After introducing myself, I asked the students how many of them liked to draw, how many liked to read, how many liked to write. After all the little hands went down, I told them there are many new authors and artists in the audience. I told them art comes in many different forms from paintings to sculptors to crafts and drawings. Just like in my book. All of the artwork was done in watercolors.

I shared a story of my experience years ago, when I volunteered in the classroom helping children produce their own book. The students would hand-write their story and I would type them and make a cover out of construction paper. The students would then illustrate the pages and cover. After everyone completed their book, they would read it to the class.

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I then proceeded to explain what it took to produce my own book. I started with the front cover, the copyright page, the dedication page, content of the story, fact pages, glossary, curriculum page, and the creative team pages. Finally, the back cover. I explained how many professionals are involved in the production process. Starting with the author, followed by the illustrator, editor, graphic designer, curriculum writer, proofreaders, project manager, production staff, and printers.

The academic coach had scanned the book in order to project it on a large screen as I read it to the students. After the story was finished, pre-selected students came up on stage to ask a question, using the microphone before the student assembly. I answered their questions, and followed up by encouraging them to follow their dreams. If they enjoy reading, writing, and drawing, someday they might be an author, or work on a professional team to produce a book.

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Finally, the children were invited to walk by the table to view the artwork. I was so pleased with their responses of enthusiasm! They shared with me who their favorite character was in the story, had positive comments about the watercolors, and thanked me for visiting their school. Needless to say, I left feeling very gratified. I felt very comfortable before 800 children and would love the opportunity to do it again.

 

Fathers Incorporated Partners with Little Free Library

by Melissa Fales

Real Dads Read Barbershop partner Freddie Johnson, III reading with Kenneth Braswell Jr. at Anytime Cutz in Atlanta.

Real Dads Read Barbershop partner Freddie Johnson, III reading with Kenneth Braswell Jr. at Anytime Cutz in Atlanta.

Having established 51 children’s libraries inside metro Atlanta barbershops through its Real Dads Read program, Fathers Incorporated is now joining forces with Little Free Library to get even more books into the hands of low-income children. This joint venture will result in an additional 50 Little Free Libraries installed at various Atlanta elementary schools, making books available to children even after school hours and on weekends.

“With this partnership, we’ll not only be increasing access to books for low-income children, we’ll also be increasing the engagement and involvement of fathers in their children’s education,” says Kenneth Braswell, executive director of Fathers Incorporated.

In 2004, Braswell founded the non-profit organization to encourage men to be more involved in their children’s lives. He says the move was in response to his experience growing up and his initial experience as a father himself. “I know personally what it means to not have a father in your life,” says Braswell, who regrets not being a more active participant in his eldest child’s life. “I was young and dumb,” he says. “I didn’t recognize the role I needed to play. When my second daughter was born, it crystallized for me the importance of my presence in my children’s lives.”

The Real Dads Read initiative that places children’s books in barbershops has been an overwhelming success for Fathers Incorporated. “Research shows that literacy in high-poverty areas isn’t due to a lack of interest in reading, it’s the lack of access to books,” says Braswell. Since children are allowed to take the books from the barbershop home and keep them, Real
Dads Read is constantly replenishing its stock, to the tune of roughly 250 books each month. “That’s exactly what we want,” says Braswell. “We want these kids to have books. We’re trying to reduce the number of book deserts, particularly in low-income communities where the majority of children do not have any books to read in their homes.”

The barbershop library project earned Real Dads Read a reputation for making a difference. Schools started calling Braswell for advice on how to get more fathers engaged in their classrooms. Last September, Braswell was at a school in Decatur when he had a big idea. “I thought that a Little Free Library would fit in perfectly with the outside of the school,” he
says.

Little Free Library is a non-profit organization that facilitates free book exchanges and sells
simple, attractive wooden boxes to house the books, or shares the blueprints to build one. Typically hung on a post, a Little Free Library often resembles a bird house and operates much like the “need a penny, take a penny” dish next to a cash register. “The idea is to let the library become part of the streetscape and part of the neighborhood,” says Braswell.

Braswell installed Little Free Libraries at three elementary schools in Decatur, posting photos of
the events on social media. When Little Free Library CEO Todd Bol happened to see them, he decided he wanted to learn more about Real Dads Read and contacted Braswell. “The rest is history,” Braswell says. “We’ve been pretty much joined at the hip ever since. Real Dads Read will be establishing reading clubs in each of the 50 schools that will receive a Little Free Library. “We want to engage fathers with some literary activities,” says Braswell. “We’re a father agency, not a literacy agency, but one thing we do know is that when fathers read with their children, good things happen.”

Little Free Library will also be partnering with Real Dads Read on a mobile unit project that places crates of children’s books in the back of specially-marked police cruisers. “The police car becomes a mobile library,” says Braswell. “The kids know that these officers have books. It helps to create a conversation between law enforcement and the children in their community. It builds connections.”

The project is set to start in Atlanta soon. In addition to its Real Dads Read efforts, Fathers Incorporated is launching a new campaign in June called Drive to Five. “With this program, we’re narrowing our focus to fathers who are raising children ages infant to 5 years old,” says Braswell. “We believe that this cohort is where we can make the largest impact on children.” According to Braswell, non-resident dads are far more likely to totally disconnect from their children by the time the children are age five than resident dads. “Forming lasting bonds during those first five years is absolutely crucial,” says Braswell. “I’ve seen the impact that
fatherlessness has on communities, especially low-income communities. It’s devastating. This work we do is to ensure that the dads we work with are as intimately connected as early as possible.”

One aspect of Drive to Five will be to provide educational materials about responsible parenting to new fathers and fathers-to-be. The branding for Drive to Five features a superhero cartoon character named Adam, and Braswell says he wants regular, everyday dads to learn to see themselves this way. “He’s not Super Dad,” says Braswell. “Yes, he’s standing there with a cape, but he can’t stop bullets in his teeth. He doesn’t have x-ray vision. What he does have is Daddy
power. When a father reads with his child, that’s a power. When he has a positive interaction with the mother of his child, that’s another power. I want every father to understand how much daddy power he has. Each father has to activate his own powers, but he has to be aware of them first. That’s where we come in.” •

Check out more great articles like this in the June issue of Story Monsters Ink!