Sunday, July 29, 2012

Reading is Not Optional

Walter Dean Myers, author of 104 children's and young adult books, knows that reading is not optional. He knows this from personal experience. He grew up as a foster child in New York City, watched his family disintegrate when an uncle was murdered, and dropped out of high school at age 17. But as Myers tried to deal with his troubles, he found hope in books. The books he read moved him away from his problems because he connected with the characters and their problems. Books allowed him to see situations resolved when life was presenting him with many unresolved issues. Reading helped him see that he could be okay.  

Now, as an author, Myers strives to create characters that young adults can identify with. He wants his stories to reflect their lives, validate their lives and give them hope. This often means that his books are gritty or harsh. In other words, they are real. He has written about teens in jail, in juvenile detention centers, in war. His 1988 award winning novel Fallen Angels, inspired by the death of his younger brother in the Vietnam War, has been banned in some schools because of its language and vivid portrayal of war. But just as Myers looked for hope in books as a teen, he wants his readers to find hope in his characters and in his books.

But regardless of the book (fantasy, science fiction, humor, a Walter Dean Myers book), Myers knows that children and young adults must read. He knows that more and more kids, especially those from poor and minority families, can't read. In fact, 85% of unwed mothers are illiterate,  60% of America's prison inmates are illiterate, and 85% of all juvenile offenders have reading problems. So as the 2012 Library of Congress National Ambassador for young people's literature, Myers is promoting literacy and starting candid conversations about what he describes as "a real crisis." He is encouraging all of us to read and to become reading mentors; reading to children, neighbors, ourselves, pets, and friends. 

The Literacy Alliance also believes in hope for America's teens. Almost of our programs involve teens making a meaningful and fun connection with literature. This past Monday one of our volunteers visited the Seminole County Juvenile Detention Center to engage in a lively discussion of the value of reading aloud to children. The juvenile inmates were interested and opinionated on the subject. The program concluded with booktalks by the Literacy Alliance volunteer encouraging the teens to read an assortment of books which were donated to the detention center. Help us continue our work by participating in our September 8th fundraiser at Barnes & Noble.  Go to our website for more information. And by the way, who have your read to today?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Puppets are Star Motivators!

There are those who have asked, "Puppets!?! What are they good for?" Goodness, so, so much. Let's focus on motivation. Children of all ages who get excited about books and stories are motivated to read. Research shows that motivation is absolutely essential because learning is hard work. The motivation has to be there. Puppets are star motivators. Whenever they are on the scene, it's pure fun and children want more.

Here's an example. Several months ago, in a middle school program, I booktalked Flying Blind by Anna Myers. It was moderately successful. However I reworked the booktalk and added a puppet - Murphy, a macaw and central character in the book. I was thrilled with the reaction to the new booktalk. When I brought Murphy out with a loud, "caw, caw," the students definitely noticed. They smiled, laughed and paid attention. And, in the thank you letters I received after the booktalk, many students mentioned that they were excited to read the bird book.

So dust off those puppets. Retrieve them from storage. Have puppet time in your classroom or home, visit your library and bookstore storytimes, encourage  children to use puppets in their book reviews or booktalks. Bottom line - let puppets help you motivate children to read. Share your favorite puppet story with us!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

It's good to be good!

Teen puppeteers provide storytmes!
Are you interested in a sense of purpose that leads to greater life satisfaction, reduced stress, less depression, living longer, higher levels of health and higher cognitive function? Of course you are! Well, according to a December 2011 Consumer Report article, studies show that being involved in the altruistic nature of volunteering will lead to all of the above! Awesome! So much good from being good. Who knew! And then there are the smiles of those you help, their gratitude and laughter, and the warm glow in your heart. Where can you sign up, you say? Look around, you may know someone who currently volunteers, ask them how to get involved. Or check out these online sources - Heart of Florida United Way and Hands on Orlando Or help us!

Playing with science!
At the Literacy Alliance we love helping others. Sharing the joy of reading and a curiosity for learning is our pleasure and our passion. You love to read and learn too? Excellent. Join us September 8th at Barnes & Noble Book Stores and we will read and learn together. Your purchase on that day in any Barnes & Noble will help us with funds for needed program supplies. Come to the Barnes & Noble in the Oviedo Mall on September 8th for puppet shows, a puppet read-a-thon and fun science experiment demonstrations. More information will soon be posted on our website, facebook and twitter accounts.