August LILbooKtalk: “Back to School: Instilling a Love of Reading in Students” with Rebecca Donnelly and Jake Burt + Two GIVEAWAYS!

Hi guys! By this time, most schools should be starting school, which inspired the theme for this month’s LILbooKtalk about instilling a love of reading in students. Today’s guests include a middle school teacher and a librarian who not only frequently work with children but also write for them! Please welcome the amazing Rebecca Donnelly and Jake Burt as we discuss turning students into big readers!


About How to Stage a CatastropheHow to Stage a Catastrophe

Sidney plans to be the director of the Juicebox Theater when he grows up. For now, he handles the props, his best friend Folly works the concession stand, and his sister May hangs out in the spotlight. But the theater is in danger of closing, and the kids know they need a plan to save it and fast. When they join a local commerce club to earn money, Sid and Folly uncover some immoral business practices, and it gives them a great idea for saving the theater. That is, if you can call extortion a great idea. Hilarious and heartwarming, the mission to save a failing community theater unites a riotous cast of characters in this offbeat middle-grade novel.

Goodreads

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About The Right Hook of Devin VelmaThe Right Hook of Devin Velma

From the author of Greetings from Witness Protection! comes another unforgettable middle-grade novel about friendship and family.

Devin wants to hit it big on the internet by pulling a stunt at an NBA game–one the entire nation will be watching. Addison can’t turn Devin down, but he can barely manage talking to his teachers without freezing up. How’s he supposed to handle the possibility of being a viral sensation?

Addi’s not sure why Devin is bent on pulling off this almost-impossible feat. Maybe it has something to do with Devin’s dad’s hospital bills. Maybe it all goes back to the Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Doom. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. No matter what, though, it’s risky for both of them, and when the big day finally comes, Devin’s plan threatens more than just their friendship.

With memorable protagonists and a wonderful supporting cast, The Right Hook of Devin Velma is a one-of-kind knockout in middle-grade fiction.

The Right Hook of Devin Velma releases from Feiwel & Friends on September 25th! Pre-order it today!

Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Book Depository


August LILbooKtalk

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is Rebecca Donnelly, author of the MG contemporary novel How to Stage a Catastrophe and her upcoming book The Friendship Lie. She also works at a public library in northern New York. Could you describe to us a little about you and your books?

How to Stage a CatastropheRebecca: Sure! I’ve worked in public libraries for about 12 years now in different roles, but being a children’s librarian is my favorite. It’s been great training for being a writer, since reading in your field is such an important part of both jobs. How to Stage a Catastrophe published in April 2017, and it was inspired by the time I spent as a middle schooler doing community theater. It’s about a group of kids who try, fail, and try again to save their community theater from closing down, going to great and scheming lengths to do so. The Friendship Lie is a quieter story about fifth grade friends who have fallen out with each other and are trying to find their way back to friendship, with the help of an old diary one of them finds. The Friendship Lie is set to publish August 2019. Both are with Capstone.

Kester: Both of your books sound awesome!!! I hope I’ll be able to read them one day! 🙂

Alongside Rebecca, we have Jake Burt, author of MG contemporary debut Greetings from Witness Protection! and The Right Hook of Devin Velma, which will release in just a few weeks. He is a fifth-grade teacher from Connecticut. Would you also like to tell us a bit about yourself and your novels?

The Right Hook of Devin VelmaJake: Absolutely, Kester, and thanks for having us! Greetings From Witness Protection! debuted last October. It’s the story of Nicki Demere, a 13-year-old girl in foster care who gets recruited by the US marshals to join witness protection; their notion is that she’ll help hide a family by changing up their dynamic. The Right Hook of Devin Velma, out on September 4th, is about one boy’s quest to find out why his best friend punched him in the face. Both are MG contemporary, both are set in middle schools, and there are no vampires in either one. I’ve been told that’s an important distinction to make.

Kester: Thank you, Jake! It’s definitely my pleasure! And haha, that’s good to know about the vampires, especially since I’m about to start on Devin Velma soon!

Jake: Awesome. Can’t wait to hear what you think!

Kester: Thank you! Here’s my first question: Since both of you work frequently with young children and books, how do you promote reading and writing among your students? What do you when you encounter reluctant readers, and how do you turn them into avid bibliophiles?

Jake: Want me to take a swipe at this one first, Rebecca?

Rebecca: Sure, since our roles are a little different!

Jake: Cool. On it! I’ve found that the key to developing confident, invested readers is empowerment. Kids most frequently encounter books (at least, in the school setting) via gatekeepers, whether that’s me, our fantastic school librarians, or someone similar. While that can be a great way to introduce new books to a kid, there’s not a lot of efficacy on the part of the reader there, so students often come to me without a strong sense of how to find and, more importantly, enjoy their own books. So early in the year we work on developing an understanding of how to read for pleasure…it seems strange, but that’s actually a modelable and learnable skill. We talk about being able to quit a book if it’s not grabbing you, about comparing books, about discussing books with friends, and about the value of rereading old favorites. We talk about skipping ahead and watching the movie first and reading more than one book at a time – all the ways adults who have learned to love reading come at their TBR piles.

Rebecca Donnelly
Rebecca Donnelly

Rebecca: I love everything you’re saying here, Jake! I work in a public library, not in a school, so my work with kids is almost entirely around helping them find things they want to read. The piece I’m missing is having the ability to work with them in depth, the way a classroom teacher or school librarian is able to. When I visit schools, or when classes visit me in the library, I try to emphasize the importance of choice, and that browsing is a skill–modelable and learnable, as you say. It’s great to get recommendations from friends, but I love seeing a kid who has the time to browse the shelves and find something new on their own. That’s genuine empowerment! One of my goals is to work with my local school to help them build their community of readers, too!

Jake: That’s vital – the teamwork component. A network of adults, all of whom love books and reading, surrounding a child can do wonders, particularly as far as access is concerned. That’s often one of the first hurdles to developing a love for reading: just not having enough books to promote true choice. It helps so much when librarians can work with teachers and families to fill in gaps and expand availability.

Rebecca: Yes! I got a massive donation from Scholastic this last spring (1300 books) that I gave out to every kid 3-6 grade in three different local schools. I scoured my giveaway books to get enough to be able to give something to every kid pre-k to 2nd grade, as well. One thing we really strive for in public libraries is giving kids access to books over the summer, since their regular school library visits aren’t happening. I give away books as prizes for playing my summer reading Bingo game, when I do outreach visits, and every time I visit the local Head Start. Simply getting books to kids is a huge part of developing readers.

Kester: That’s so awesome to hear!!  The work you’ve done is definitely commendable!!

I’m very curious about this, so what’s your stance on Accelerated Reader? I personally did not like it as an elementary student, but I would love to know your thoughts.

Rebecca: I’ve worked in a library where the local school district used AR, and it was incredibly frustrating to have to help kids find a book at “their level” that a) we owned and b) they were interested in. It seemed to be difficult for everyone, parents and children included.

Jake Burt
Jake Burt

Jake: We don’t use it in our classrooms, but I’ve taught at schools that did. Personally, I’ve never found much use for the data it provides…and that’s what it is, a data aggregation tool. It’s not designed to deepen understanding or enjoyment of reading. If a teacher or school was considering adopting it, I’d challenge them to ask themselves what they’re truly hoping to learn by collecting that data. Is it something they couldn’t get by having a meaningful 5-10 minute reader’s conference with a student?

Rebecca: Jake, you might know this better than I do, but isn’t there a quote from Fountas & Pinnell, who developed another leveling system, saying that reading levels have no place in reading assignments, book choice, or kids’ expectations of themselves?

Jake: Yes; we use the Fountas and Pinnell continuum for literacy instruction in our Lower School. They stress a genre-based approach (heavy on mentor texts and book discussions) rather than levels. It strikes me as a more authentic system, moreso now that I’ve seen things from the author side, too. I don’t write novels with any notion of what “level” it might be. If my character is the type of girl who would use the word “runcible,” she’s gonna say “runcible.” I’m not changing it to “spoon” so that it can fit cozily into a level. And I’ve certainly never gone to the library or bookstore as an adult thinking, “I’m fixing to snag me something at my level.”

Rebecca: Ha! Good point–we put all kinds of pressure & restrictions on kids that we would never put on ourselves, including what makes a “good” book.

Kester: I remember as an elementary student I felt very forced to read at a level higher than my grade… which knocked out many novels that I would have loved. There were so few books I could read that I eventually stopped reading a lot in middle school.

Rebecca: I’m so sorry! But obviously you were able to be a reader on your own terms, which gives every kid hope!

Jake: Yes, so glad you came back around to reading, Kester!

Kester: Thank you!

Rebecca: I was just tweeting with a couple of writer friends today about we all read comics (comic strips, even, not graphic novels) well into middle school. Whatever makes you a reader, makes you a reader!
Continue reading “August LILbooKtalk: “Back to School: Instilling a Love of Reading in Students” with Rebecca Donnelly and Jake Burt + Two GIVEAWAYS!”

My Birthday Blog Post: My Reading Journey!

Hi guys! Guess what day it is? My birthday! Woo hoo! And that means a birthday book haul and the end of school… Oh my! As a special post for today, I’m going to tell you a little story about my love for reading. I’ll also give a special announcement at the end.

As an elementary school student, I was a big reader. I remember reading almost every single Magic Tree House and Hardy Boys book I could get my hands on. I kept on reading and reading and taking those AR tests to accumulate points.

AR stands for Accelerated Reading. It is a program where kids have to read books and later take quizzes on them. I read the entire Harry Potter series in 3rd to 5th grade and I could get 250 total points for all the books. Yes, the longer the book the more AR points you can get. That’s why The Order of the Phoenix would be like 50 points.

But as 4th and 5th grade progressed, I was pushed more to read higher level books. I couldn’t read books like the Hunger Games because they were so low level. I could only read 5th grade or higher, and there weren’t that many books that interested me. I couldn’t find myself reading Young Adult because nothing piqued my interest.

And that kind of ruined reading for me. It was like I was restricted with what I could read. The lowest books I could choose were Encyclopedia Brown and that was pretty much it. In middle school, I dropped the act. From reading 30 or 40 books a year, I only touched 5 to 10. Instead of reading, I would be playing video games or watching TV. (Now video games feel like a waste of time for me.)

I was stuck trying to read The Diary of Anne Frank (which I honestly didn’t like… I’m sorry for my unpopular opinion!) and being restricted to only the first book in the Among the Hidden series. I also tried to read during the summer, but it took me almost a month and a half to finish the entire 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which could now take me a week or two.

In 8th grade, I started finding books I liked. I’m going to tell you about Mr. Harris, who is a great teacher. One of the best English teachers you’ll ever find! He introduced me to The Giver (an amazing book but I don’t plan on finishing the Quartet) and Night by Elie Wiesel (very chilling). The books we read in his class were the first sticks in the fire. I also got to read 1984 on my own and I loved it so much that I even turned it into a speech team prose piece. (Sadly, I didn’t break…)

But I attribute the first “turning point” in my reading career to be the Infinity Ring series. Time travel and history? I had to read it. It was the first series that I finished, and it took me only a month to get through all the books. Yes, I admit they were short, but I couldn’t put them down. I remember traveling to World War II in a furniture store with Jennifer A. Nielsen’s Behind Enemy Lines. I did not want it to end.

I gave myself the challenge of reading the entire Maze Runner series, which took me the entire summer but it was worth. At that time, it was hard for me to read fast. Books would take me months at a time.

Soon, as I got to high school, my librarian Mrs. Mason introduced me to reading. After finishing the Kill Order I asked her some recommendations because I wanted to try reading out. The first book that made me go “Hey reading different books is fun” was Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich. Ever since, I always had a book with me.

The books that got me into Young Adult were The Islands at the End of the World duology by Austin Aslan. I remember looking at it and going “It looks so interesting but it looks too long!” At that time, I just wanted to read short books. I decided to try it out, and boy, I was blown away! I could not stop reading and reading. (Now Austin and I are friends, and you can check out his interview here!)

I finally reached the peak of my reading struggles and everything was downhill from there! In Winter of 2016, I went through a memoir phase. In Spring 2016, I got more into YA with These Gentle Wounds, Mosquitoland, and Between Shades of Gray (sadly I didn’t go to SE-YA that year and meet Ruta Sepetys… I will meet her one day!). Then I made my blog with my friend Lilly and launched our first post on May 28th, which is our blog-aversary! Then I surprised myself with reading a total of 64 books last year, which was unprecedented for me.

Now I read mainly YA with the occasional adult book. I’m super thankful for my love of reading because it has helped me connect more with the world around me, fellow readers and bloggers, and amazing authors! Books have opened up opportunities I never thought would be possible, such as this book or book festivals. 

 

The special announcement is the Summer of Authors! Throughout the summer, we will have over a dozen authors come onto the blog with amazing interviews, giveaways, and guest posts you don’t want to miss! I’m going to explain more in my blogoversary post on the 28th, but I won’t give away any secrets…

But it starts off this Monday with J. M. Sullivan, author of Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles, which just released yesterday! Go grab it if you have the chance!

So that’s it for my birthday post. I might post my haul soon, so be on the lookout! 😉


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

(P.S. And I will be doing my best to do a quote of the week! It’s just been really hard lately, but I will try to get to one! 😉 )