Friday, December 31, 2010

Discover the real Gulliver—read the book.

Nothing like a movie? I think not! Unless, of course, it drives moviegoers to the books to see what they're missing. Gulliver’s Travels, rich in adventure and philosophy, transports readers into unknown worlds. Movies come rated and so should books—best time to read Gulliver’s Travels—7th grade through adulthood. Need an excuse to stay home for the New Year’s Weekend? —Pick up a copy of the Gulliver’s Travels at the library or your neighborhood independent bookstore.

It is astounding how Gulliver’s Travels, written by Jonathan Swift in 1726, continues to be relevant. I think that is one of the best criteria that defines a classic. The book describes the four fantastic voyages of Lemuel Gulliver, a ship's surgeon. His travels take him to Lilliput where he is a giant observing tiny people. In Brobdingnag, the tables are reversed and he is the tiny person in a land of giants where he is exhibited as a curiosity at markets and fairs. The flying island of Laputa is the scene of his next voyage. The people plan and plot as their country lies in ruins. It is a world of illusion and distorted values. The fourth and final voyage takes him to the home of the Houyhnhnms, gentle horses who rule the land and it is here that he meets the Yahoos, filthy bestial creatures who resemble humans on his fourth voyage. Live and learn.

Happy New Year 2011.

Wishing you a year filled with health, wonders and happiness—in the words of one of my favorite Jewish philosophers—Abraham Heschel~
 "I prayed for wonders instead of happiness and you gave them to me."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Pooh Bear and Christmas Eve

Eighty-five years ago this Christmas Eve (2010) The London Evening News published a short story about a boy and a bear written by an assistant editor at Punch named A.A. Milne. December 25-December 31 mark the high point of the holiday season. Enjoy and celebrate the spirit of the season with friends and family and good meals. And of course, a wonderful meal is about the cuisine, the company and the conversation. Do heed Winnie the Pooh’s advice on conversation: “It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like ‘What about lunch?’”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Turn children into lovers of reading—meeting characters worth knowing.

Emerson once said “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.”  so just imagine what biographies can show us. I would like to pay tribute to Paul Revere’s Ride by Longfellow, written 150 years ago today. Truth be told, I was never a fan of the poem but I found Paul Revere a fascinating character.

Who doesn’t like to eavesdrop on the lives of others? Who doesn’t like to travel to new places? Who doesn’t like to learn about the past? A series of biographies, written for children grades 2-5+ by Jean Fritz, offer the thrill of a behind the scenes glimpse along with the idiosyncratic personality traits that make these characters come to life.

And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? is just one of her fine biographies for young children.  Reading the book, I learned of his narrow escapes on his big ride to Lexington, and that he was forgetful— he forgot his spurs on his famous ride— and that he whittled false teeth to make extra money. Details like these make Paul Revere a real person.  Fritz once said that she only chooses people to write about whom she was curious about. A very good thing for readers!

There is truly something for everybody in the biographies by Jean Fritz. I believe a book is never an answer but always a question. In keeping with that philosophy, many of the titles of Fritz’s biographies are questions.  A few personalities she writes about:
Will you Sign Here, John Hancock?
You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton?
What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?
Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George?
Where was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May?
Where Do you Think You are Going, Christopher Columbus?

The list goes on and on—enjoy becoming acquainted with these colorful and very real people—and realize they have more to them than a page or two in a book of history reveals.

Illustrated biographies tap into a child’s inquisitiveness by cultivating their curiosity. Give your child the gift of meeting biographies that are compelling and insightful.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A very sad day for intellectual freedom

Liu Xiaobo, serving an 11-year prison sentence, was not permitted to travel and accept his Nobel Peace Prize. It was the first time in 74 years the prestigious $1.2 million Nobel Peace Prize was not handed over.

A quote from Kahill Gibran (Lebanese poet and novelist 1883-1931) eloquently captures the gravity when voices are silenced.

“You can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing?” 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Diane Frankenstein along with other notable educators presented at the European Council of Independent Schools in Nice France, November 2010

Be a part of the dynamic world of educators from around the world who presented at the ECIS conference in Nice France November 2010. Diane's handouts along with the handout of other key speakers can be found   read more>>

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Diane shares some best practices for increasing a child's reading comprehension with educators from Modi'in Israel

Conventional wisdom has become so focused on the importance of reading to children that it has, to a large extent, ignored the critical component of the importance of talking with children about what they read. As important as it is to read aloud to children—a child’s desire to read comes from being read to— many of the benefits of the read aloud experience are lost when there is no verbal interaction. Reading to a child does not by itself automatically lead to literacy. Talking with children has an even stronger effect on literacy learning than reading aloud to them.

Diane gives new moms tips and strategies to promote early literacy, in Rochester New York

Conversational Reading, talking with children about the stories they read, teaches children the concept of making connections—knowing how to connect books, experiences and ideas. A common assumption is that children understand everything they read, but this is not the reality. Children who talk about stories and the subjects a story explores are involved readers who better understand what they read. Children who better understand stories become more confident readers, and this confidence directly impacts the pleasure children find in the stories they read. Let there be no doubt, children who read what they love, love to read. read more>>

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Nobel Laureate and his love for children’s literature

One of my favorite images is I.B Singer, along with other writers at the Garden Cafeteria in NYC, discussing the purpose of literature while eating mountains of rice pudding and countless cups of coffee.

I.B.Singer (Nov 21-1902- July 24, 1991) was the recipient of the 1978 Nobel Laureate in Literature. His acceptance was delivered in Yiddish and English and part of his Nobel Lectures was titled “ Why I Write for Children”.”  In honor of the Novel Laureate Award ceremony and banquet on December 10, I would like to share that piece.

…Ladies and Gentlemen: There are five hundred reasons why I began to write for children, but to save time I will mention only ten of them.

Number 1) Children read books, not reviews. They don't give a hoot about the critics. Number 2) Children don't read to find their identity.
Number 3) They don't read to free themselves of guilt, to quench the thirst for rebellion, or to get rid of alienation.
Number 4) They have no use for psychology.
Number 5) They detest sociology.
Number 6) They don't try to understand Kafka or Finnegans Wake.
Number 7) They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff.
Number 8) They love interesting stories, not commentary, guides, or footnotes.
Number 9) When a book is boring, they yawn openly, without any shame or fear of authority.
Number 10) They don't expect their beloved writer to redeem humanity. Young as they are, they know that it is not in his power. Only the adults have such childish illusions.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The author of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes will be missed.

Eleanor Coerr, author of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, died on November 22, at the age of 88. During a writing career that spanned 25 years, Coerr published several books for children, but is best known for Sadako. First published by Puffin in 1977, the novel is based on the life of Sadako Sasaki, who was a two-year-old resident of Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city during WWII. Sasaki developed leukemia and worked to create 1,000 paper cranes while in the hospital, but died before reaching her goal. Visit School Library Journal  for an extensive tribute to Coerr and the impact of Sadako.

Reading books with children to build bridges and break down borders

Being in the company of educators from around the world at the ECIS conference in Nice, France  gave me renewed energy and faith in the ability of language—specifically literature, to bridge the cultural divide. Those of us who work in education have an amazing opportunity and responsibility to offer children all forms of literature that build bridges and break down borders.

Locked In, a poem by the Swedish poet Ingemar Leckius humorously mocks those who shut themselves off from other worlds.

All my life I lived in a coconut.
It was cramped and dark,
especially in the morning when I had to shave.
But what pained me most was that I had no way
to get in touch with the outside world.
If no one out there happened to find the coconut,
if not one cracked it, then I was doomed
to live all my life in the nut, and maybe even die there…
A person who chooses to live in a coconut!
Such a person is one in a million!
But I have a bother-in-law who
lives in an

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Diane at Central Middle School, San Carlos CA

Diane speaking to a group of educators, parents and grandparents about Reading Together

The most important outcome is not how many books children read, but how many conversations they have about them.

The (brilliant) pedagogy of Grandmothers/Grandparents

Having just returned from presenting at the European Council of Independent Schools in Nice France, I want to share with you some thoughts from the conference keynote speaker, Professor Sugata Mitra. Professor Mitra’s work is in the field of Cognitive Science, Information Science, and Educational Technology.

Early in the morning as I sat alongside bleary eyed, jet lagged educators in a warm, packed-to-the-gills auditorium, I wondered what my “take away” would be.

I am keenly interested in Professor Mitra’s general topic, technology, specifically how it affects the way we learn, think, express ourselves, and of course how technology affects what we read and how we read. There is not a day that goes by that does not touch on how technology is changing the way children learn, as well as the impact of technology on their social and personal lives.

Professor Mitra’s seminal work “hole in the wall” experiments were the inspiration behind ‘Slumgdog Millionaire’- the Oscar winning film of 2009. I do not want to simplify his findings, but for the purposes of brevity, he found that children, the Internet and computers are literally made for each other. By looking at how children best learn, his goal is to find ways to close the digital divide.  He emphasized how curiosity and interest drive learning.  He also found that the best teachers were ones that did not teach as a “sage on the stage”, but rather they were the ones who stayed at a distance, which allowed and forced the children to learn on their own, using collaboration and ingenuity.

I was fascinated by his experiences with kids who are the “have nots” in the world, but my “take away” was when he talked about discovering the importance of grandmothers—what I am calling the grandmother pedagogy. In keeping with his findings that kids learn best when left to their own resources, he found that a crucial component was for there to be grandmothers present—praising and encouraging the kids to be persistent and striving to learn. In short, grandmothers cheering kids on was an important element to their success.

If I had to make a simple equation of Professor Mitra’s talk it would look something like this: Relevance + aspiration + resources + high expectations from the grandmothers + teachers in the background + collaboration and ingenuity = learning is unstoppable.

His conclusion was that the learning every child needs, to close the resource divide that exists in the world, is a child’s ability to search and find information and be able to comprehend.  Without comprehension, learning is meaningless.

Thank you Professor Mirta—your combination of common sense, humility, sound and thorough research and humor made for a memorable morning.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thank goodness Mark Twain failed as a newspaper reporter…

If you are a fan of Mark Twain ( 11.20.1835- 4.21.1910)— 2010 being the centennial of Mark Twain’s death—you will find yourself in your heyday.  The centennial of his death brings more events than one can keep track of.

Living in San Francisco makes me proud to know that the city played a significant role in Mark Twain’s life as a writer.  It was here that he hit rock bottom as a newspaper reporter to finally find his true calling as a writer of literature. After his humiliating departure from the world of newspaper reporting, he headed off to Jackass Hill, near the Gold Rush hill of Angels Camp. After hearing a tall tale about a jumping frog, he returned to San Francisco and wrote  “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog”, later  retitled, “ The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” which became an instant success. The success of Jumping Frog convinced Twain of his true gift as a writer. Near the end of his stay in San Francisco, he wrote to his brother Oion: “I have had a ‘call” to literature, of a low order—i.e. humorous.’ It is nothing to be proud of, but it is my strongest suit…”

Most people have their favorite piece of Twain writing and hands down, mine is, The Diaries of Adam and Eve ,(circa 1905)  The Diaries has all the fundamentals we expect from Twain—humor, wisdom, and irreverence and also delivers a love story of a most unusual ilk—honest, poignant, and heartfelt.

Thank goodness Twain failed as a newspaperman. As an aside: failure, what I like to refer to as mistakes, is an interesting subject for parents to talk about with their children. For conversation starters on mistakes, refer to  ”Musings”, October 8, Boys & Reading.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A holiday menu that includes reading and talking makes for a memorable feast

Reading and talking with children about what matters is a habit parents want to nurture and putting those conversations on a holiday menu is an opportunity not to be missed. The conversation can take many forms, the usual being a list of what, in our lives, we are thankful.  The conversation can also take a less conventional route of noting those aspects of our lives that don’t go as smooth as we would hope, best captured in the poem: Be Thankful, Author Unknown, posted November 23,2009 in Musings. I continue to think about the ideas found in that poem—

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire…
e thankful for the difficult times…Be thankful for your mistakes…It’s easy to be thankful for the good things. A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who 
are also thankful for the setbacks.

Take Time For 8 Matters of the Heart by Ed Young is my holiday thought for this year. It is less a list of what I am thankful for and more an ode to what constitutes a meaningful life.

Take time for reposeit is the germ of creation.
Take time to readit is the source of wisdom
Take time to thinkit is the source of strength
Take time to workit is the path or patience and success
Take time to playit is the secret of youth and constancy
Take time to be cheerfulit is the appreciation of life that brings happiness
Take time to shareit is in fellowship and sound relationships one finds meaning
Take time to rejoicefor joy is the music of the soul

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Be part of the solution and not part of the problem: Make sure children enter school, ready to be successful learners

In my work in schools all over the country I hear teachers complain that kids are often showing up unfit to learn. Parents need to be part of the solution and not part of the problem by making sure children enter school ready to be successful learners. Reading aloud and talking to children helps them get ready to learn to read and sets the stage for their becoming emergent readers. Vocabulary is the lynchpin to literacy and language learned in conversation is where a child acquires the words needed to learn to read.  Children who come to school with well-developed “finding meaning in books” skills are clearly at an advantage. Someone in the home read to the children, answered their questions, and encouraged them to read.  Problems with reading are always more difficult to fix—lets work at preventing the problem and make sure children enter school ready to learn to read.

Read the original article on CNN - click here

Monday, November 15, 2010

Words that haunt: “For those left behind, a world of could-haves and should-haves.”

The Washington Post carried a story “A birthday party in VA. for a teen whose torment has ended.” 

The line that haunts me most in the recent story “A birthday party in VA. for a teen whose torment has ended” is “For those left behind, a world of could-haves and should-haves.” I am always looking for books with bullies, because bullies are part of growing up. As the author Mary Stolz once wrote: “The essential thing with a bully is they’re unhappy.” Parents reading to children and talking with them about the issues through a book is an integral part of the solution to a most disturbing and growing phenomenon. We need to have those conversations before a child becomes a bully, a bystander that allows bullying, or the victim of bullying. I suggest you have those conversations before you “need them.”

Some conversation starters:
• Are you born a bully?
• Do boys and girls bully in the same way?
• Why does a person become a bully?
• Where do you learn to be a bully?
• Did you ever meet a happy bully?
• Do bullies have genuine friends?

Click here for the Washington Post story

Radical School Reform Law You’ve Never Heard Of

In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal David Feith shines a light on a California law,  “parent trigger” which sanctions parents to either invite a charter school to operate a school that is failing or take steps to force the school to close, if 51% of parents sign a petition. I am all in favor of empowering parents, but only if they help make their child’s school successful. A parent has responsibility for their children to enter school ready to be successful learners. Reading aloud and talking to children help children get ready to learn to read and sets the stage for them becoming emergent readers. Vocabulary is the lynchpin to literacy and language learned in conversation is where a child acquires the words needed to learn to read.  Children who come to school with well-developed “finding meaning in books” skills are clearly at an advantage. Someone in the home read to the children, answered their questions, and encouraged them to read.

Read David Feith's complete article - click here