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 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.
About The 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!
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?
Rebecca: 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?
Jake: 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: 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: 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!”