Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Clearest Me is Very Sweet!

My Clearest Me by Claudine Gueh Yanting is a sweet book about Wynn, an adorable, quiet, and very shy six-year-old boy who carries his teddy bear everywhere he goes.  He knows he’s different from his classmates.  On this day, he overhears his teacher telling his mother that she worries he will have few friends, “Or worse!  That he will let Dreams pass,” if he doesn’t change.  Wynn wonders what he’s supposed to be. 

As his mother tucks him in that night, she assures him that she loves him no matter what.

“You are a breathing wind,
A bout that flies and flows at night.
Be quiet, be loud, between,
You’ll always be my King of Bright.”

But, still, in his dreams he wonders.  Should he be loud, like a crowd or like the bang of a drum?  Is that his “clearest me?”   Or can a shy and quiet boy, one who is like the soft music of a flute, fit in with the other children?    

This softly rhyming story is beautifully written and illustrated.  Very young children may need some help understanding the rhymes but it’s a great opportunity to spend extra time snuggled in a comfy chair with an attentive little reader talking about the meaning of the words. 

It is wonderful to follow Wynn as he discovers his “clearest me” in his dreams.  The illustrations by Sarah Quek Rui Zhen are wispy and calming, like a sweet dream and, at the same time, bright and bold like children playing and laughing.  The details of the illustrations dance beautifully with the descriptive words and the silly scenes will put a smile on your face.

It is clearly a sweet book!

My Clearest Me is available on iTunes.  Coming soon to Kindle, Nook and Sony.  To purchase a copy or for more information please visit the Carry Us Off Books website.

Watch the book trailer on YouTube.

Follow on Twitter: @carryusoffbooks

Like the Carry Us Off Books Facebook page


DISCLOSURE:  I would like to thank Claudine Gueh Yanting for sending me a review copy of the book in PDF format.  NOTE:  In the e-book, the words are separate from the illustrations for text-to-speech application convenience.

Monday, November 14, 2011

He's My Baby Brother!

My little brother was born today.  He woke Mommy up at three o’clock in the morning because he wanted to come out of her tummy.  I was asleep so I didn’t know he was going to be born today.  When I woke up, Grandma said, “Good morning,” and told me I was a big brother.  She made my favorite breakfast, yummy waffles with syrup and chocolate milk.  How did she know that was my favorite?

I’m excited to meet Danny.  That’s his name.  Well, his name is really Daniel but we’re going to call him Danny because Daniel is a big name for a baby.  That’s what Mom says. 

After breakfast, I run upstairs with Grandma so I can get dressed.  It’s really cold outside and there’s a lot of snow on the ground.  When I squish my face on the window, my nose gets really cold and I have to rub it to make it warm again. 

I can get dressed by myself because I’m almost three and a half years old.  I like my soft pants.  Dad says they are called sweat pants but I like to call them soft pants because they are really, really soft.  They are warm, too.  Grandma says I have to put on a t-shirt, then my sweatshirt so my belly button won’t get cold.  I can tie my own shoes but she says she wants to help.  She makes perfect bows and always makes double knots.  I love my grandma.

We’re ready to go visit Mom and Danny in the hospital but we have to wait for Dad to pick us up.  It’s so hard to wait.  I play with my cars for a little while and then I hear Dad’s car outside.  I get on my tippy toes so I can look out the window.  “Grandma, dad’s here!” I yell.

I say, “Hi, Dad!”  He says, “Hi big brother.”  That’s funny.  I ask Dad if we can go see Mom and Danny now.  He says, “Yes.”  I jump up in the air and yell, "YES!" 

It’s still cold outside so I have to put on my coat and my hat and my gloves.  Now I can’t really move that much and it’s getting hot in here.   We get in the car and drive to the hospital.  It takes a long time to get there.  I like watching the snow plows making snow mountains.  I see a snowman and some kids playing in a snow fort. 

We get to the hospital and Dad tries to find a parking space.  Grandma is looking one way and Dad is looking the other way.  Grandma points to her side. “There’s one!” she says.  Dad parks the car and we get out.  We walk into the hospital.  There are a lot of grown-ups inside.  There’s a lady at the desk.  She asks us who we are here to visit.  I yell out, “Mom and Danny!”  She laughs and asks me who Danny is.  I tell her he’s my baby brother.  She gives us stickers that say we are allowed to go on the elevator. 

Dad lets me push the button on the elevator and we start going up to the sixth floor.  When the doors open, I see nurses holding babies.  “Is that Danny?” I ask Dad.  “No,” he says.  “How about that one?” I ask.  He says no again.  “Where is he, Dad?”  Dad tells me that Danny is in the room with Mom.  He tells me the room number is 613.  I look at all the numbers on the doors.  610, 611, 612… 613!  This is the room!  The door is closed.  It’s big and heavy so Dad helps me push it open.  The room has two beds.  Mom and Danny are in the first bed. I run over to hug Mom and give her a kiss.  Then I see my baby brother.

"He’s so little, Mom," I say.  "Look, his nails are tiny next to mine.  Can I give him a kiss?  Is he asleep?  Is he going to open his eyes?  How come he makes all those little noises?  Can I hold him, Mom?  Please!  Why is he crying?  Is he hungry?  Was I this little when I was born?"

Danny is cute.  His skin is soft and white.  He has black hair.  He doesn’t open his eyes a lot.  He’s very wiggly.  He doesn’t have any teeth.  His lips are really pink.  His toes and his nose are really small.  He cries a little.  He sleeps a lot.  When I put my finger close to his hand, he grabs it really hard.  He peed in the air when Dad changed his diaper.  It was so funny! 

Mom lets me sit on the bed and hold Danny.  He’s warm and he smells like baby soap.  He opens his eyes and looks at me.  He yawns and closes his eyes.  I give him a little kiss on his head.  “Hi, Danny,” I whisper to him.  “You're going to love yummy waffles with syrup and chocolate milk.”



Copyright 2011 Martha Rodriguez
Happy Birthday, Danny!  We love you more than you will ever know!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Walking and Writing: One Hundred Steps at a Time

I spent a few minutes on-line this morning trying to find out how many steps the average person takes in a day.  I knew it was a big mistake the minute I typed the words into the search bar, but I thought it would be a fun fact to know.  Well, I was right: it was a big mistake.  How can anyone really know?  Who goes around counting their steps and posting the number on the internet, anyway?  No one, but  that doesn’t stop people from giving their opinion so, aside from finding out that it’s anywhere from zero to infinity, I found quite a few sites that told me how many steps I “should” take if I want to be healthy.  That was not my question!  I love you internet, but sometimes I wonder why I even invite you into my home!

You’re probably wondering what all this silliness is about… assuming you’ve gotten this far.  Well, it’s about my latest writing project, a children’s book of short stories about the details we often miss as we take our few or many steps throughout the day.  Each story is about taking one hundred steps.  Where will they take me?  What will I see, hear, or smell?  Will I be surprised or bored?  Will I meet people and their look-alike pets?  Will a beat-up, old-fashioned car bring back memories from my childhood?  I hope to share the answers to all these questions soon.  In the meantime, here is a sneak peek at part of the first story.  I hope you enjoy it. 


The First One Hundred Steps

I’m standing in the hallway just outside the front door to my apartment on the nineteenth floor.  My back is against the door.  It’s chilly in the hallway but warm right where I’m standing because the hot Hawaiian sun is streaming in through the window opposite my door.  I haven’t taken the first step in my silly experiment yet but I will in the next few seconds.  Standing here I can see a small portion of Koko Head, a tuff cone made of volcanic ash, in the distance and many buildings between Koko Head and mine.  It’s a sunny day but there are a few puffy, white clouds in the sky.  I can tell it’s windy because the palm trees are swaying softly back and forth.  I’m anxious to see what else is waiting for me outside as I start my one-hundred-step walk.  Will I even make it outside the building?  What will I see?  Will it be super exciting or super boring? I guess I’ll never know if I don’t take that first step.  Here goes!

Wait!  I don’t want to waste too many steps just to get on the elevator.  I should plan a strategy.  There’s no one else in the hallway so I can be as silly as I like.  Well, even if there was someone in the hallway, I’d probably be silly anyway.  I’m going to take giant steps until I get to the elevator button.  One… two… three!  Not bad, only three steps.  I push the “down” button and wait.  I’m not moving a muscle.  Don’t want to use up anymore steps. 

I realize I may have a slight problem.  There are three elevator doors in the hallway.  I’m standing between the two closest to my apartment.  The “down” button is between these two doors.  I’m close enough to both of them that it will probably only take me one or two steps to get inside either of the elevators when one arrives.  But there’s a third elevator, further down the hallway.  If that’s the elevator that comes first, I’m going to have to waste a few extra steps or wait for the next one.  I cross my fingers and wait.  Five seconds go by before I hear a familiar dinging sound, like a doorbell.  It’s just the elevator telling me it’s on the way.  I still don’t know which one it will be but it sounds like it will be the second one.  Suddenly, the door to the second elevator begins to open.  Nice!  Only one giant step will get me inside.

Problem!  There’s a video camera inside the elevator.  If someone at the front desk in the lobby is watching the computer screen, they will see me taking that giant step.  They’ll probably wonder if I’m crazy.  It won't be the first time someone has thought that.  I can’t worry about it right now because I have to save my steps.  I take a big step, my fourth one, as the automated lady’s voice says, “Going down.”  My body is just inside the elevator door.  If I’m too close to the door, it won’t close so I tuck my behind in, just in case.  Success!  The door closes.  I’m standing right beside the panel of buttons, from “L,” for Lobby, to 39.  I won’t need to take any extra steps to choose.  I press the “L” button and wait to start moving down. 

The elevator is on the outside of the building and has a big window through which I can see the same things I saw from the window in the hallway.  My stomach feels a little funny as the elevator begins to go down all nineteen floors.  I lift my left foot off the ground a little and pivot my body around on my right foot as we get closer to the lobby.  Now, I’m facing the door.  It's very shiny, like a mirror, and I can see myself in it.  I can also see the reflection of what’s outside the window.   The palm trees are still swaying.  I can’t hear it yet, but I know they are making a beautiful, peaceful sound.  I’ve heard it many times. 

As the elevator door opens onto the open-air lobby, and the automated lady’s voice says, “Lobby,” I finally hear the “Shhhhhhhh, shaaaaaaaa, shhhhhhhh, shaaaaaaaa,” as the wind blows the palm fronds from side to side and tosses my hair all around my face.  Step number five takes me out of the elevator where another camera is looking at me.  By the time I reach the front desk and greet the men working there, I’m on step number twenty-five.

I pretend that I hadn’t taken a giant step when getting on the elevator and cross my fingers that the men hadn't seen me on their computer screen.  The nice men say, “Hello,” and ask how I am.  “Fine, thank you.  How are you?” I reply.  Turns out they are fine, too.  That’s nice.  They are smiling big side-to-side smiles.  I think they saw my giant step.  I don’t mind.  This is fun.

The lobby is beautiful.  Some of the walls have pretty wood panels on them and the floor is made of tiles; some big and some small but all shiny and sparkling clean.  The furniture is comfortable.  I need to remember to come down and sit here more often, but today I’m on a one-hundred-step walking mission.  I can’t stop now.  I say goodbye to the men at the desk and walk toward the twelve-foot-tall doorway that leads to the outside of the building.  The doors are made of iron.  They are black.  No, they are green.  Actually, they are both.  They look very heavy but they aren’t.  They make a soft, creaking sound when I push them open to step outside the building with my forty-fifth step.

I could hear them before I could see them; the construction workers and their trucks fixing the road just to the left of my building.  This is usually a quiet street.  I often sit on a bench here to listen to the birds chirping, smell the lovely aroma of the Plumeria flowers, and people-watch as folks go walking by.  Today the sounds, smells and sights are different.  The street has a big hole in it and there are men here to fill it, like a dentist fills a cavity or a scab forms over a cut.


There’s more to the story and I look forward to sharing it soon.  Oh, and to answer my own question, “Who goes around counting their steps and posting the number on the internet, anyway?”  I do, and it’s great fun!  I hope you’ll read this sneak peek to your children and students and encourage them to observe the world around them and to write in detail about their one hundred steps.

Until next time… stay cool!

Martha

The First One Hundred Steps
Copyright 2011 Martha Rodriguez

Friday, October 28, 2011

This Short Story Goes a Long Way!

Toonopolis Short: Anchihiiroo
by Jeremy Rodden

I recently read Jeremy Rodden’s book, Toonopolis: Gemini and loved it (read my review here), so I was very excited to learn that Jeremy had written a novella about one of the characters in that book.  What a great way to meet this interesting character, to learn his back-story and to see how he fits into Toonopolis: Gemini.   

Toonopolis Short: Anchihiiroo is the story of Yoshi, later known as Anchihiiroo and even later known as Han’Eiyuu.  The novella introduces us to five-year-old Yoshi at the moment he becomes an orphan and we follow him until he becomes a man.  Throughout his life, Yoshi suffers at the hands of evil men and is cared for by gentle ones.  There’s an underlying tug-of-war in his heart between good and evil.  He wants to protect his town from evil so the townsfolk won’t have to suffer as he has.  He trains for years to be the hero they need.  But, he also feels a need to avenge the death of his parents and the training he receives at the hands of his sensei will prepare him for battle. 

Will he ultimately be a hero or an anti-hero?  Will he use his mind, body and spirit strength for good or evil? 

As in Toonopolis: Gemini, the characters in this novella are extremely well structured.  They are so real that you forget that you’re reading about cartoon characters… well, until one of them says something wildly sarcastic and you quickly remember that you’re in a toon world!  That’s the great thing about Jeremy’s writing, just when you think something is very serious, he gets all goofy on you.  The comic relief is perfectly placed and always welcome.  And just as quickly, you’re back in the action and loving it.

The story stands steadily on its own but, trust me, you’re going to want to know what happens next and what happens next is in Toonopolis: Gemini.  Read separately or together, these are two great stories that everyone will enjoy. 

You’ve done it again, Jeremy!  I can’t wait to read more about your great characters.  Keep the stories coming because we want to keep reading them!

Until next time... stay cool!

Martha

Visit Jeremy Rodden here.

Purchase Toonopolis Short: Anchihiiroo here.  For pre-teens to 100+

Jeremy on Twitter: @toonopolis

Toonopolis Facebook Page here.

DISCLOSURE: I want to sincerely thank Jeremy Rodden for sending me a complimentary copy of this book to read and review.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Aaaaah, That New Book Smell

A comforting, calming feeling came over me the day Joey and I picked up the copies of A Reel Cool Summer from the printing house.  We had been working on our little book for about nine months.  Being separated by 5,000 miles and who knows how many time zones wasn’t easy but we made it work.  We spoke almost every day and emails flew back and forth by the minute.  Many times we emailed each other while on the phone.  I think we said, “I’m emailing it to you right now,” and, “Okay, I just got it, let me look at it,” a million times… at least it seemed that way.

It was an amazingly stressful and joyful time.  We worried a lot and we laughed a lot.  We made fun of each other and of ourselves.  One of us would ask, “Who writes and illustrates a book and publishes it themselves?”  The other would answer, “Apparently, crazy people like us!” 

Throughout those nine months we worked hard to move things forward with the hope of getting the book “there.”  We were thrilled when the “there” day came and after a few changes to the proof, we were ready to give the printer final approval – or were we?  That meant no more wondering if an illustration could be improved or if the story was lacking somehow and no more chances to proofread or make one last change to the cover.  It was hard to let go but the final proof did look great.  The colors were amazing and the illustrations were detailed and clear.  The cover was perfect, the pages were in the correct order, and the text had been proofread to death.  We hoped so, anyway!  It was time to click the send button on the email and give the order to print.  Wait for it.  Wait for it.  Click! It’s done.

The wait was only about ten days but it seemed like ten eternities.  On the one hand, I wanted it to be over, but on the other, I didn’t.  Thank God I didn’t have another hand!  Then, the call came from the printer.  The books were ready.  Joey and I jumped in the car and headed over there.  Nerves, excitement, nerves, excitement… why is this light red?!

Finally, I held in my hands the first copy of the book.  I smelled it.  Doesn’t everyone do that?  Aaaaah, that new book smell.  Every doubt and worry melted away.  The months of hard work and nervous jokes seemed like they had never existed.  I was calm and excited.  I didn’t cry, but it was close.  That new book smell defined our journey.  All our stinky blood, sweat and tears came out smelling like roses.  Here was our little book, ready to jump into the hands of little ones eager to read it.  Our hope is that the kiddos will enjoy reading it so much that the new book smell will soon be gone and replaced with whatever that smell is that brings back memories about reading a good book.

Until next time… stay cool!

Martha

We'd like to share more of our writing and illustrating journey with you on the GoodReads website.  We're having a Q&A session through December 31st.  Please stop by and join the conversation with me and Joey at Q&A with Martha Rodriguez. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

First Interview... Ever... And other Interviews, too!

I want to sincerely thank Bob Brooks for being the first to interview me about my book!  He has graciously shared his blog space.

To read the interview, please visit Be A Child Again.  While you’re there, be sure to read Bob’s short stories based on his upcoming book Tales From The Glades Of Ballymore.  You’ll love them!

Thanks a million Bob!



I also want to thank Cindy Meyers-Hanson for featuring me on her blog in November 2011.  She’s dedicating the entire month to children’s book authors and I am delighted to be in such great company.  Please stop by Cindy's blog to read the interview.

Until next time... stay cool!

Martha

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Resources For Self-Published or Indie Authors

As many of you know from reading this blog or following me on Twitter or Facebook, I’m new to the writing and publishing business.  I created my indie publishing company, Read To Me Publishing, LLC in April of 2011 in order to publish my first picture book, A Reel Cool Summer, which was released on June 21, 2011.

I’ve spent the last six months or so preparing for the release of my book and trying to get the word out on a limited budget.  I’m sure most self-published or indie authors are in the same boat.  So, I just wanted to share a few websites that I think will be helpful to you in one way or another.  I’ll continue to add to the list as I come across others.  Of course, not every website is a perfect fit so go exploring and see what you like.

Feel free to leave a comment or ask a question below.  If you’re willing to share other sites, I’ll be happy to check them out and add them to the list.  So, in no particular order…

LIST YOUR BOOK TRAILER (aside from YouTube):
Vimeo
KidLit BookTrailers (children’s, MG and YA books)
Trailer Spy

MEET OTHER AUTHORS:
Nurture Your Books
Jacket Flap
She Writes (so does “he”)
WoMen’s Literary CafĂ©
The Independent Author Network

FIGURING OUT SOCIAL MEDIA & PUBLISHING:
DuoLit
Marketing Tips Blog

REVIEWERS OF SELF-PUB/INDIE BOOKS:
Ahgoo Review (children’s, MG & YA)
Janette Fuller
Reader Views Kids (children’s, MG & YA)
Review The Book
Readers Favorite

LIST YOUR BOOK AND GET AN AUTHOR PAGE
GoodReads

MAKE A SNEAK PREVIEW OF YOUR BOOK:
BookBuzzr

FOR AUTHORS WHO GIVE BACK:
Read A Book, Make A Difference

MEET BOOK BLOGGERS:
Book Blogs

Oh, sure, I do all the hard work and you just get to come over and click away!  Just kidding.  I’m glad to share with fellow authors and to promote some great sites (and in many cases, the people behind those sites) that have helped me get started.

Until next time… stay cool!

Martha


Friday, September 16, 2011

TOONOPOLIS: GEMINI is Freezing Cold... I mean FIVE STARS!

In the first line of the acknowledgements page of Toonopolis: Gemini author Jeremy Rodden thanks his family and “especially” his mother.  I would also like to thank Jeremy’s mother.  I have a feeling she's a pretty cool lady.  I think she probably let Jeremy watch cartoons and movies, let him play video games, and encouraged him to read anything he could get his hands on.  I suspect he still does all of those.
 
Jeremy is a scholar of imaginary worlds and he knows that in those worlds anything goes.  He's filtered that scholarly knowledge through his crazy (I don't mean that in a bad way) brain and given us this great book.

Jeremy's cartoon world is meticulously detailed and terrifically humorous.  From the moment you enter Toonopolis with the book’s protagonist, Gemini, you begin a journey like no other.  Every character you meet will remind you of someone in a movie, book, cartoon, comic book, video game, or even a family member or friend, but they will also have a unique quality that only Jeremy can assign to them.

A young man, Gemini, is unsure of who he is and what he’s doing in a strange place called Toonopolis.  His memories are lost.  He can’t remember anything that happened before this moment but he knows something just isn’t quite right.  The book follows Gemini on his quest to find out who he is and what he’s doing there.  Along the way he makes many great friends and a few enemies.  What’s a great adventure without enemies, right?

Toonopolis is indeed a strange place full of fascinating characters. By "characters” I mean, cartoon characters. Gemini realizes he’s a cartoon character himself, but he has a feeling there’s a real Gemini in the real world.  He needs to find a way to make sense of all this while living in a very non-sensical world.  

As the quest unfolds, the characters travel from one section of Toonopolis to another; each as unique as the characters in the book.  A description of Supercity, a comic book section, is spot on:

“Supercity looked like the drawings in a comic book.  All the building lines were very sharp and outlined in black.  It also seemed to him if he focused on one building or one vehicle in the street that it would become more brightly colored while the scenery in the background became duller.”

The action, the comedy, the quest, the characters themselves, and the unique sections of Toonopolis make this a terrific book.  But wait!  There’s more.  Jeremy has an intimate understanding of how the cartoon world works and he's happy to share the details with you.  Want to find out how cartoon characters can just pull random items out of thin air?  Want to know why they don’t fall to a horrible death when they run off a cliff?  All will be revealed as you read this book.

Toonopolis: Gemini is a classic tale of adventure, friendship, determination and honor told in a Bugs Bunny, Roger Rabbit, Groucho Marx sort of way!  You’ll love it!

Before I go, I want to acknowledge the terrific illustrations by Cami Woodruff.  You'll find it hard not to skip ahead to the next chapter just to see what Cami's done next!

Until next time... stay cool!

Martha

Visit Jeremy Rodden here.

Purchase Toonopolis: Gemini hereFor pre-teens to 100+

Jeremy on Twitter:  @toonopolis

Toonopolis Facebook Page is here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In Defense of SpongeBob SquarePants

I’m going to make the assumption that anyone who is reading this blog post is an adult.  If that is true, and you are 21 years of age or older, you probably watched the original Looney Tunes and other cartoons as a child.  If you have children, you probably allowed them to watch as well. 

I was born in 1963 - do the math already, I don’t even care anymore!  On Saturday mornings my siblings and I would literally make a beeline from our beds to the front of the television set where we would watch, on a very small black and white set, all the Saturday morning cartoons.  We were not picky.  If it was on, we watched it.  Later, when our parents had enough money for a color set, it got even better. 

Maybe our parents were terrible people for allowing us to watch these shows and maybe, as parents ourselves, we continued the terribly tradition.  If that’s the case, then I know many other terrible parents who, by the way, have smart, well-adjusted, funny kids.

Those cartoons were funny.  The characters could do things that humans couldn’t.  A certain little hunter with a speech impediment was always chasing a smart-alecky wabbit around and somehow that wabbit always managed to get away.  A certain spitting, lispy duck was always getting his bill blown to the other side of his face, only to be back to normal in the next frame. 

Kids and adults enjoyed every minute.  We couldn’t get enough.  Some would say that the cartoons were violent.  Sure, I can see that now, but I could not see that as a child and my children could not see it either.  Millions of children watched those cartoons and I think it’s probably safe to say most of them turned out just fine.

Fast forward to 2011 where yesterday I read an article* that said that researchers have concluded that watching a few minutes of SpongeBob SquarePants, as little as nine minutes, could cause “short-term attention and learning problems in 4-year-olds;” that kids should not watch these programs if they are expected to have to pay attention shortly after watching.  This is a joke, right? 

I’ll disclose the already obvious fact that I’m not a researcher, scientist or doctor just so there’s no confusion, but as a human, a parent, and a former kid I have to say that this sounds ridiculous.  When did we become such weenies?  When did we go from children watching a funny show (that also happened to be violent) and then going about their day normally, to children watching a funny show and having problems with concentration and learning?  What is the difference between then and now?  I say nothing.  And I would argue that the SpongeBob cartoons are much less violent than anything I watched as a child.

SpongeBob is one of the sweetest characters on television today.  He’s funny, silly, caring and sometimes “not all there” when it comes to understanding the world around him - just like real kids.  To say that watching just nine minutes of this show will somehow cause our children to experience problems with attention makes these researchers sound like a bunch of Krabby Patties. 

Let’s allow our kids to be kids for the love of God, before it’s too late.  Let’s remember that even a four-year-old child can learn something from SpongeBob.  His friendship with Patrick is one of the great television friendships of all time.  He loves everyone, even Squidward.  He doesn’t give up, even after all these years of trying to get his boating license and failing.  He’s a hard worker and is always happy to go above and beyond no matter what the situation.

I don’t know what the normal attention span of a child is but I can tell you that I’ve spent enough time in my children’s classrooms over the years to notice that children, especially 4-year-olds, are easily distracted by just about anything.  I have a feeling that’s normal… just look at adults with cell phones.  I’m just sayin’.

SpongeBob, you're okay in my book.  I've got to go see which episode is on next.  You should do the same and be a kid again or a few minutes.

Th, th, th, th, th, that’s  all folks!

Until next time… stay cool!

Martha   
*Article on the Fox News website is from Associated Press.  Or just Google “SpongeBob SquarePants and attention and learning" for countless other articles.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

National Literacy Month – Share Your Time, Talent and Treasure

What are you doing to celebrate National Literacy Month?  Yes, everyone is “for” literacy but just simply being “for” literacy isn’t enough.  There is more to be done and many ways in which to help improve literacy in our communities.

SHARE YOUR TIME
Help a friend, family member or neighbor find a literacy program in his or her community.  Community-based, non-profit literacy programs are free-of-charge to learners.  Trained volunteers tutor children and adults to help them improve their literacy and English speaking skills. 

·         Adult literacy tutoring is usually conducted one-to-one.  This allows the tutor to mold the program to fit the needs of the learner.  This also protects the privacy of the adult learner who may be shy and not yet ready to talk to others about his or her literacy skills.

·         ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) programs help newcomers find a community of their peers where they can learn English together in a relaxed, fun group setting.  Field trips and other fun activities allow learners to test their new language skills in the real world.

·         Services for children and families my include after school homework help and tutoring, summer programs that combine reading with math, science, crafting and even acting, and Family Literacy Workshops where parents and children can attend together to learn about the advantages and fun of reading together as a family. 

Gather with others to start a small book club for adults or children.  Have a buddy system where readers with higher literacy skills can read with, and mentor, those with lower literacy skills.  Make it fun by choosing different genres and don’t forget that putting on an play can be fun!  Increase the fun by asking group members to bring snacks related to the theme of the book you’re reading!

Assist an adult with low literacy skills to complete an employment application, put together a resume, complete medical forms, or read medical or prescription instructions.   These may seem like simple, everyday tasks to you and me, but they can be frustrating to adults with low literacy skills.

Set a reading challenge for your family and when the challenge is met, celebrate by doing something everyone likes to do together!

Volunteer to read to your child’s class once a week or recycle your old magazines and books by donating them to schools, nursing homes or hospitals.

SHARE YOUR TALENT

Literacy programs are always looking for volunteer tutors.  I can tell you from experience that you will be rewarded a million times over for giving one or two hours a week to help someone learn to read or speak English.  Tutor training usually takes a day or two and is conducted in a relaxed setting.  You’ll even make new friends.

Learners who enroll in literacy programs are eager students.  Make a commitment to those eager students and rewards will come to both of you as you reach each new milestone together.   Their confidence and your pride in them will grow with each passing week.

If tutoring is not for you there are other ways to help.  Often, funds are not available to non-profits for advertising.  Spread the word about what the literacy program in your community is doing by posting fliers, sending an email or just telling two friends.  Become a member of the Board of Directors of your literacy initiative.  Fresh new faces and ideas are always welcome.  Volunteer to help with fundraisers.  It can take up to six months to plan and execute a fundraiser.  Remember, many hands make light work.

SHARE YOUR TREASURE

There are many great causes to which we can donate our treasure.  Non-profits help people in the United States and around the world in ways that we can’t even begin to imagine.  Everyone has his or her favorite. 

I’m not lecturing you about why you should give to a literacy initiative, I'm just listing some examples of what your money can buy to help improve literacy skills in your community which in turn can raise the standard of living for everyone in that community.

$2.00    
Snack for a child in a Family Literacy Center workshop

$3.00    
Craft materials for a child in a workshop or at a Fair

$5.00    
A free book given to a child attending an educational fair

$7.00    
A Reader for a basic reading student

$13.00  
A pocket dictionary and 2 children’s books given to a family in a Reading workshop

$10.00  
A Phonics workbook, a dictionary, two children’s books, GED study materials or a spelling book for a new reader

$15.00  
A Volunteer Tutor Instructor Manual or an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) student workbook

$20.00  
Tutor training and materials for one volunteer

$45.00  
A full set of materials and books for one year for a basic reading student

I share here.  Where do you share?  Feel free to leave a link to your literacy initiative’s website in a comment below.

Until next time… stay cool!

Martha






Thursday, September 1, 2011

I was a Reluctant Reader. There, I said it!

I’ve been hearing and reading quite a bit about reluctant readers lately.  I've found that some of the folks talking or writing about the subject weren’t reluctant readers themselves, but have children or know others who are.  I was a reluctant reader as a child so I thought I would address the topic from my perspective.

Come to think of it, I’m probably still a reluctant reader.  When I buy or borrow a book you can be sure that I have researched it thoroughly before taking the plunge.  I won’t just pick something up and give it a try because I know that I probably won’t get past the first few pages.  This has been true for a long time.

I remember reading the Dick and Jane books as a child, but I’m not sure those books count because they were required reading in my first few years of school.  And, yes, I read Dr. Seuss books and some of the other books that were popular, like Caps for Sale and the Curious George books.  If my memory serves me correctly, I remember that those books were just “okay.”  You’re probably upset with me right now and I’ll probably get some interesting comments for writing that.

I read those books because they were familiar and easy to read, not because I couldn’t put them down.  I read them because they were always easily available in my elementary school classroom, not because I always had to have a book in hand.  I read them because they were the books that the librarians propped up on the shelves, not because it was a read or die situation.  I’m not saying that they weren’t and aren’t wonderful books.  They have stood the test of time and are terrific books loved by all.  What I’m saying is that I was not a reader.  There were a few rare occasions when I picked up a book, like Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl or Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life, and read it cover to cover in one or two sittings but that was quite rare. 

What was wrong with me?  Nothing.  Who was to blame?  Not a single person.

I just preferred to play hopscotch outside with friends, play with Barbie Dolls, or watch television.  Some of you will recall that we used to do those things back in the dinosaur age… I mean in the 70’s.  I’m sure that my parents, teachers and librarians tried everything they could to spark a love of reading in me, but it just wasn’t happening.  The only time I ever thought about reading was when there was a reading assignment and a subsequent report due.  My thoughts were mostly of how horrible the whole ordeal would be.  What could I do about it?  Nothing, just read the book and do the assignment.  I disliked (we weren’t allowed to say “hated” in my family) every minute of it.
Does everyone like peas and carrots or jumping out of an airplane?  No.  So, is it possible that not everyone likes reading?  I know, it seems weird that I’m asking that, especially because I just wrote a children’s book!
Well, the truth is that we would all be very happy if everyone liked to read but the reality is that not everyone does.  Yes, reading plays a critical role in expanding vocabulary and comprehension, in unleashing imagination and creativity, and in growing curiosity in children.  The problem is that it can’t be forced on someone any more than you can force a person to eat their peas and carrots (believe me, my parents tried and somehow I always found a little hiding place for them) or to jump out of an airplane (my husband would like to try to convince me but knows better). 
So, what do we do?  We keep trying just like my parents, teachers, and librarians did because we want to give our kids the best we can.  It takes a bit of patience and some imagination to find the right fit for each child but if you can get that spark, it’s all worth it.
I’m not a teacher or a librarian and I certainly don’t play one on TV, but as a reluctant reader and the mom of a somewhat reluctant reader, let me give you some ideas that I’ve used successfully. 

1.      Books you enjoyed as a child:  Read to your child the books you enjoyed as a child or young adult.  Tell them why you liked the books, where you read them (in a fort you built in your room, for example), how you came upon the books, and who read them with you (mom, dad, grandma, grandpa).  

2.      Books that interest your child:  Always be ready to read books that interest them, even if they don’t necessarily interest you.  This one can be tough.  Remember it’s not about you; it’s about your child and that spark you want to create.

3.      Picture books and books with pictures:  When children are very young, picture books are wonderful because, while the child may not yet be able to read, the pictures are fun for little ones to look at.  They will probably memorize the story before they can read the words.  Once they are able to read the story, they will enjoy the book in a completely different way.  In a funny twist, small children may also like books that are not necessarily meant for children but that have colorful pictures.  You can relay the information in the text by tailoring it to their comprehension level.  Make up stories for the pictures until they are old enough to understand the actual text.

4.      Different genre:  Read all types of books with your child to find out which ones he or she likes best.  If one genre isn’t appealing, try something new as long as it is age and reading level appropriate.  Historical fiction, current events (even newspapers, magazines and on-line blogs or articles) and biographies may interest him or her.

5.      Sports and animals:  Children’s sports magazines with interviews of favorite athletes may encourage a child to read more about a particular sport or her favorite team member.  Likewise, animal magazines usually feature unusual creatures and their unusual lives.  It’s a fun peek into another world and a reason to find more reading material of the cool animals featured.

6.      School topics:  Find books or fun workbooks about topics your child likes in school like math or science.  Even fun workbooks require reading comprehension, writing and focus.  When the problems are fun to solve, they will most likely look for harder ones to challenge themselves.  Even young children like to peek under secret flaps or follow a winding road to find their favorite characters.

7.      Magic or science kits:  Magic and science experiment kits are a great way to get your hands on reading and a great way to show what you can do with a magic wand or a test tube.

8.      Comic books:  Age appropriate comic books are fun.  The pictures are detailed and engaging and allow children to escape to different worlds.  It’s fun to imagine living in a strange world of superheroes with superpowers.  Children may even be encouraged to write their own adventures.

9.      Mad Libs:  Fill-in-the-blank books like Mad Libs and others are a fun way to be silly and giggly.  They won’t even know they’re reading and… added bonus, writing.  They can even try to write their own fill-in-the-blank stories.

10.  Board games:  Play board games with age appropriate trivia questions.  If your child doesn’t know the answer, it can be fun to explore on-line or at your local library for the answer or to learn more about the topic.

11.  Cooking, crafting, exploring:  Find cooking or craft activities to do together or go exploring in your back yard with a bug book and magnifying glass or a telescope and astronomy book.

12.  Plays and movies:  Buy or borrow books of plays and help the kids put on a production for family and friends or make a movie.  Sometimes getting into costume can make reading fun.

13.  Scavenger Hunts:  Pick a theme, like movies, books, or video games, and hide items related to the theme.  Then write up some silly (and long-winded) clues or hints to where the items may be hidden and let the hunt begin.  Another great way to do a scavenger hunt is to give the kiddos a list of items and ask them to take pictures of the items (a mall, a park, and the beach are great places to do it this way).  Then, ask them to write a story about the pictures. You mean they'll be writing, too?  Now that's cool!  Another fun idea for a scavenger hunt/writing prompt all rolled up into one is here

Don’t stop there.  Ask your child’s teacher or librarian for more ideas, be a good example by reading books for pleasure, listen carefully to your child when he tells you why he likes or dislikes certain books, and relax and let him or her take the lead from time to time.  You never know… she may write a book some day! 
Until next time… stay cool!
Martha
Safety first!  Parents should always supervise children when working with science kits, cooking and crafting, or when going on-line.
Here are some resources you may want to check out:
Sports Illustrated Kids:  http://www.sikids.com/

Zoo Books:  http://www.zoobooks.com/

Highlights:  http://www.highlights.com/highlights-magazines-for-kids?ccid=KNC-1042-1000605&source=google_magazine

Mad Libs:  http://www.madlibs.com/

Comic book list by Imagination Soup Blog:  http://imaginationsoup.net/2011/09/great-kid-comics-and-graphic-novels-for-kids-of-all-ages/comment-page-1/#comment-51555

Show Me How! by Vivian Kirkfield.  With one hundred picture books, crafts and cooking ideas for young children.  http://www.positiveparentalparticipation.com  Read my review here: http://areelcoolsummer.blogspot.com/2011/08/five-gold-stars-for-show-me-how.html

Free movie script for elementary school children:  Mama Mia Can't Believe Her Ears

Free plays at http://www.freedrama.net/index.html.


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