Saturday, November 23, 2013

Random Acts of Reading

Perhaps you've heard of Random Acts of Kindness. This is a wonderful concept. Basically, people are encouraged to be kind for no reason at all, just because it feels right and spreads kindness into the world. I would like to introduce an new twist on this idea. Let's practice Random Acts of Reading. I challenge everyone to show the world that you value reading and read for no other reason than because it is fun and interesting and spreads reading into the world. To do this, I challenge you to be a reading mentor.

Perhaps some of you remember being a reading mentor in elementary school. Maybe as a 5th grader you were paired with a kindergartener and you read together. As the older student, you enjoyed the experience because the younger student looked up to you. You got to be the expert. And unbeknownst to you, you became a better reader. For it is true, the best way to master a skill is to teach that skill. Your young partner benefited because he/she felt good that you, an older student, wanted to spend time reading together. The student learned more because he/she enjoyed the experience. This was a very positive reading mentor experience.

I would also like to share a negative reading mentor experience. As a librarian I have facilitated thirteen summer reading programs. At my library, the children are invited to read for thirty days and earn a free book. The adults read one book and earn a free book. It is very simple; a log is taken home, completed, and returned for the earned prize. Parents bring their children to the library to sign up for summer reading. This is excellent, as they are involving their children in the community, exposing them to the benefits of a library, and helping to create library patrons. But what is not excellent is what I often hear when the parent is invited to join the summer reading program: "I don't have time to read."  

I am amazed every time I hear those words uttered by a parent - I don't have time to read. Perhaps some parents have forgotten that they are their child's first teacher; that their reading habits will become their child's reading habits; that if they don't value reading, their child will not value reading. I agree that life is busy. I have three kids of my own. But reading is important! Children must see their parents reading. They need to know that their parents value reading. They need to see their parents choose reading over TV, sports, talking on the phone, or using the computer.  

If you are not sure when you can squeeze in some reading time, try reading when your children are in the pool. Or maybe the children are doing homework and you are reading. Maybe everyone reads after dinner, then shares something they enjoyed from the book. If a parent is unsure what to read, my suggestion is - read something you like. If it is a romance - totally fine. A thriller - excellent. A cookbook - absolutely. A self-help book on yoga - good choice. A newspaper or magazine - perfect. Don't be snobby in your reading choices for you or your children. Let you children know that reading is fun and enjoyable, not something that is forced on them by their school teacher. Recreate the positive elementary reading mentor experience, only instead of a younger and older student, it is the parent and the child.  

Read together while you are waiting for pizza! Read together while waiting at the dentist! Read together while waiting for cookies to bake. Read jokes to each other. Read to your child. Begin in the womb and don't stop! When your child is old enough to read for her or himself, share the reading. Take turns, let her/him read to you but also read to her/him! Your child needs to hear you read. She/he needs to listen to words, as well as see and read them.

But it is not only parents who are responsible for being reading mentors. We can all be reading mentors! Sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors (you get the idea), read in random places alone or with your nephew, cousin, friend, sister (you get the idea). Show the world that you value reading! If people look at you while your are reading, meet their gaze, smile and ask what they are reading or have read recently. Tell them about your book. Don't be shy, be a proud reader! 

Choose to commit Random Acts of Reading!

Friday, October 18, 2013

We're Growing!

Hello! We recently put some numbers to paper and realized...

The Literacy Alliance was blessed to have 44 volunteers this past year contributing over 2,700 hours and providing programs for almost 6,000 children and teens!

WOW! To think it used to be just me. And we are just getting started. Recently we welcomed new volunteers and new programs!

You may have noticed the increased activity with our twitter and Facebook accounts. Our new volunteer Kayleigh is helping us have fun with social media!

We also have a new volunteer, Christine H., who is looking into grant applications!

We have new volunteers for the hospital and homeless shelter puppet shows, a new group of Book Buster volunteers with a full schedule, we have added a script writing element to the Eugene production program, Marcy continues to provide engaging storytimes for preschoolers, and we will soon be providing a Fairy Tale program for Give Kids the World!

We are building new relationships with UCF and hope to have interns in the near future.

Thank you to all who help support our programs that spread smiles and change lives!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Books of the Week

I have always been a big reader, ever since I was little. I used to read three or four books from the school library at a time. And with reading so many books, I have found that there are a lot of great ones, from picture books for kids to chapter books for teens and adults. Whether you are a fast reader, or a slow reader like me, check out these books of the week!

My first book of the week is for younger kids, and one that I am sure many have read or have had read to them: Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. I love Dr. Seuss books and have since I was a toddler, having my mom re-read The Cat in the Hat never too many times.  Green Eggs in Ham is my all-time favorite Dr. Seuss book, for no particular reason though. I just love it. It, like many Dr. Seuss books, rhymes, which is catchy and fun to listen to for children. It also has a pretty good meaning, as well. Although I don't think that in the real world you should try eggs or ham that is green (unless purposely dyed), you should try new things, whether it be a food you have not had or a new activity. And if it's on a train or in the rain, it just adds to the experience!

My second book of the week is for teens and adults. It is called The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. It is based on The Odyssey, but is not as old and from a different side of the story, Odysseus' wife, Penelope. I read most of The Odyssey for class in high school, and although it was neither my favorite or least favorite school book, I didn't like Penelope's character. I felt like she slept and cried too much, and didn't have an important part in the story. However, The Penelopiad, as the title suggests, is more about Penelope. It also makes her sound much more intelligent and, although not completely making Odysseus a villain, it does take away most of the heroism. It is also a much newer book than The Odyssey, so it is a lot easier to read than a book written so long ago. This is another one of my favorite books. It made me finally think of Penelope as more than just a helpless female secondary character. I am also a big fan of Greek and Roman mythologies, so if you are too, whether you have read The Odyssey or not, I definitely suggest you read this book.

Are there any books that you really enjoyed and think should be a book of the week? Comment on this post!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Flash Mob

The term flash mob is defined as a group of people mobilized by social media to meet in a public place for the purpose of doing an unusual or entertaining activity of short duration.

How about a library flash mob?! Check one out at the link below. The participants were library and book enthusiasts consisting of teens and library staff. The teens froze for one whole minute randomly in the library. One whole minute is a long time! Then there was music, dancing, and a poem:

Read, read, read a book.
Travel anywhere.
Worldwide, you decide.
A book will take you there.

Read, read, read a book.
From beginning to the end.
What a gift to give yourself.
A book a special friend.

This flash mob may meet again someday in the near future. But the poem is too short. They need a longer poem. If you would like to add a verse, please comment. Who knows, it may be used in a library flash mob near you.

Three cheers to the brave and daring flash mob participants - you are awesome!

View the flash mob on YouTube - Flash mob at East Library (

Friday, July 5, 2013

Libraries = Freedom!

Happy 4th of July!  

As I celebrate this great day, I am grateful for many things. One of those things is the library - all libraries. As a librarian, I am often asked if I think libraries will last. My answer is always yes. Libraries are the great equalizer. All citizens need to be informed and educated, to have the opportunity to improve their lives, to reflect on their past. Libraries ensure that each and every one of us enjoys those needs and opportunities. This image is a document with ten reasons why we have a right to Libraries!
Our Right to Libraries

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Summer Reading Fun!

Summer reading! Yes, it is often mandated by schools, but I encourage you to allow your child to read for FUN as well! But my kid doesn't like to read - you say? I hear you, I empathize, and I'm here to help. In the two articles below you will find tips to help your children enjoy words and literature and a wake up call regarding our older children. Check them out! You may find them helpful and interesting:

1) A few months ago, I received a call and found myself in an interview being questioned about reading and story times. I found myself discussing strategies for helping young readers enjoy reading. Read my answers in Raising Readers by Christy Taylor from Florida Crossroads Magazine, page 16. Also please note the side article on Special Needs story times which I helped develop in Seminole County.

2) Recently this article came to my attention. In the article, the author and college professor Danny Heitman, looks at college students and draws some conclusions regarding the connection between reading and writing and the importance of reading for fun. The Young and the Bookless by Danny Heitman from the Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, June 25, 2013.

Have fun reading!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

It Does Matter

Jillian sharing stories!
It does matter. And in the past few weeks I have learned just how much it matters. I’ve struggled with writing this post because I’m not comfortable patting myself on the back. But my heart is so full, it is spilling over with gratitude. So here goes.

I will begin with a summary. I’ve been a wife for 31 years, a mom for 26 years, a librarian for 14 years, a mentor for 11 years, and a president of a nonprofit for 5 years. All of these parts of my life have brought me wonderful people, joy, love and happiness. But I have also been frustrated, I’ve wondered if what I was doing was meaningful or useful or if I was making good decisions. Did all these things mean anything? Did they matter? A question I think we all ask. Maybe you’ve thought this about your relationships or professions or volunteer work. And although it is a question often asked in frustration, it is also a helpful question. By asking it we move forward, we reexamine and correct and appreciate. But it is also a question that will not always be answered. In fact, it is often not answered. We do something nice but receive no appreciation, no thank you. Is it still worth doing? Of course, we say yes. But it can be hard doing something with no feedback. It can be frustrating not knowing if your kindness was helpful. 
Sydney & Trent sharing stories!

Boys Town students sharing stories!
Well, trust me when I say, it is! Know that; know it deep in your heart. Feel good about your kind efforts with or without feedback. This is trite but very true – doing something kind will change the world. I say this because I am confident that one day you will be able to answer that question – does it matter? For me this happened in the last few weeks. First was Mother’s Day. Then I was surprised to be named Mentor of the Year for Seminole County. Then I received some particularly meaningful compliments at the library. Then my husband and I celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary. And then The Literacy Alliance was picked to be featured in Huffington Post as a top nonprofit for helping children! So much wonderfulness! The comments and gifts on all of these occasions from my children, mentees, their parents, friends, my husband, relatives, colleagues and others have filled my heart! I have been refueled for another 10 years or so!

Does it matter? I say yes!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Raised on Nature

On this last day of Earth month, I have a confession - my dad's an Earth nut. He loves nature! As far as I know, he always has. Growing up with him meant spending time trailing behind him attending Audubon monthly meetings, visiting the Audubon lot, marking trails, checking bird boxes and more nature-ry stuff. On a family vacation, we canoed down a river and collected trash, wrote an article and it was published in the local newspaper.

He also had a vegetable garden. We were forced to eat beets (never really liked these but I could get them down), okra (I actually loved these) and cauliflower (these I hated so much I would cry to get out of eating them). But he also built us a dock on a very mucky pond. We had a club and the initiation meant slogging through knee high mud. He built a tree house that gave us an excellent advantage in neighborhood acorn wars. 

However, at some point in my young years I became aware of something called a television. Everyone I knew had one. So naturally, I wanted one. I asked my dad, no pleaded with my dad, for a TV. He pointed to the electric outlet and invited me to stare at it until something interesting happened. (I’m not kidding, he really said that). Well, nothing interesting happened. So I went outside, and like any good Florida girl, amused myself by catching lizards. Well, their tails anyway. Lizards are really quite fast. So if anyone is to blame for the many lizards that lost their tails near my house, it would be my dad’s stance on TV.

But other than some remorse for the many tailless lizards (I’m so glad those tails grow back), I have no regrets for being raised on nature. Nature is, after all, pretty awesome. So, with a nod to my dad and in honor of nature, The Literacy Alliance worked with two organizations to create two Earth friendly videos. The Eugene Gregory Memorial Youth Academy students created a video based on the children’s book, Where Once There Was a Wood by Denise Fleming. The students from the Boys Town of Central Florida created a video under the direction of John Kennedy called Earth Day. Check them out and enjoy! Earth Day Song and Where Once There Was a Wood. Now go outside!!! My dad will be happy you did.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

How and why we do what we do!

Barnes & Noble Puppet Show
This past week I have been reflecting on my experiences with teenagers and puppets. This was caused by several new friends who, when they discovered what I do in my spare time (provide literary puppet programs for children and teenagers), asked, "Teenagers and puppets?  How and why?" I know how and why I do what I do, but it is not always easy to articulate. So, I decided I would put it down on paper. Admittedly, teenagers are a tough crowd. And, since 2005, when I started providing puppet programs for the adolescent crowd, I have worked with a variety of teens. Some excel in school and are headed for college. But others struggle with school, make serious mistakes or have had ugly experiences which landed them in various institutions. Working with those who excel in school is easy. They want to be in the program. They are motivated and energetic. They are the Book Busters and their live programs are wonderful.

But the institutions are a more difficult endeavor. When I first approached several institutions in Seminole County with my puppets and stories, I was met with raised eyebrows and curious looks. I couldn't blame them for thinking that the tough teenagers they housed would not go anywhere near a puppet. But due to a handful of wonderful teachers, the institutions gave me shot. The institutions included the Seminole Regional Juvenile Detention Center, the Eugene Gregory Memorial Youth Academy, Midway Safe Harbor, Boys Town of Oviedo. So, armed with my books, puppets, and a faith that beneath the hardened teen exterior beat the heart of a creative, energetic, and good child, I stepped to the front of the room. Was I received with smiles by my audiences of 2 to 40 teenagers? Well, I might get a few smiles, but the rest? The rest looked at me with blank, bored, disinterested faces. Some kept their heads down. Some looked at me with distrust, caution, even hostility. But regardless, I took a deep breath and launched into my presentation.  

Why in the world did I take that deep breath and begin? Well, what really helps me is that I am convinced I have something to offer. But, I am realistic. I know that the value of my program is not immediately apparent to most teenagers. I accept that it is my job to shock them into becoming interested. So, that is what I do. I look them in the eyes, smile, and read a poem with the voice of a passioned African-American evangelist expecting a huge "Amen" in response. I rap a children's book to music, sing a children's book with an exaggerated voice, demonstrate principles of flight by blowing toilet paper over my audience, tell a story with my best Irish accent, or include a talking dragon puppet. Frankly, the more I am willing to shed my middle class, white, female exterior, the more ridiculous I am willing to be, the more honest my delivery, the more passion I have for the story I am telling, the more my audience will pay attention, the more they will trust that I am actually there to bring them something they might enjoy. Don't get me wrong, with a large crowd, there will be those who continue to sleep or stare at the ceiling. But I'm okay with that. I don't get offended. Things have been rough for them lately and I can't really understand what they have gone through. I am willing to give them a pass.  

But in small groups, I expect and get more. In small groups I offer puppet shows, puppet movies, and poetry jams depending on the institution. It is always my goal to have each teenager participate before I leave. It is tricky, but the key is to keep their options open. If a teenager doesn't participate at first, I don't take offense. I am not a disciplinarian. I simply ask another to participate and later come back to the reluctant one. I give everyone gentle nudges, compliments, applause, anticipate the best, try to find their interests. I'm not afraid to say "pretty please." I leave the door open to participate and this allows the reluctant ones to come around. What a joy it is to hear, "Can I be a sheep?" or "Yes, I will read this poem for you."

By the end, the teenagers and I have accomplished something worthwhile and they know it. We have produced a puppet show and presented it to an enthusiastic audience of preschoolers. We have written and illustrated a wonderful original poem. We have enjoyed listening to poetry read aloud. We have produced a puppet movie that teaches antonyms, synonyms, the value of jokes, or the cruelty of bullies.  

So, how do I do what I do? Well, I think there are a few reasons. One, I have some skills; two, I have passion; three, I believe in these teens; and four, I can. So I do.  

As to why? The answer is simple - it benefits all. My parents raised me in a climate of volunteerism, my husband supports my volunteer efforts, my children and extended family join in and help when I need them. I started these programs eight years ago and through their success and the support of my family and friends, the Literacy Alliance was born in 2009. Since then, we have grown. I have a supportive, hard-working board of directors. New storyteller volunteers are in daycares providing excellent free storytimes. And, although in the past I entered institutions by myself, now I am joined by wonderful new volunteers. I am no longer alone when I step in front of a teen audience and those standing by my side see what I see. They see creative, energetic, and good teens. They see a beginning, not an ending. They see teens learning about the value of children's literature and how to read to children - thus increasing the chance that the teens will read to their children who will have better educational experiences. They see teens gaining confidence in themselves and their ability to work with a group, speak before a crowd, direct children in a fun activity. They see teens being reading mentors, being creative, looking for solutions, supporting each other. 

Check out our website, See the programs we do, read the thank you letters we receive. Support us in any way you can - volunteer, donate, like our Facebook page, comment on our pictures or YouTube movies, watch the videos. The teens are looking at the site. Let them know you approve of their efforts. Let them know they have made something good and worthwhile!  

And that is how and why WE do what WE do.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Books: A Spark to Dialogue

When I first became a mother I began to imagine the kinds of situations I would eventually come across as my child became older. I thought about the times when I would have to answer all kinds of tough questions. I had no doubt that I would be the kind of mom who could talk about any sensitive subject whether it was sex, death, drugs, race conflicts, etc. with the same ease as I would talk about the weather. I was ready for my child’s curiosity and investigation of the world. Only later would I realize that things were not so simple, that I would need allies on this quest and I would find them on the shelves of my local library.
Reality sank in when I realized that my oldest child was not one to ask questions. She is observant, but quiet. She does not go on and on about her school day, opening the doors for a conversation about bullying or kindness or hurt feelings. Suddenly I realized that “answering” is not so simple when there are no voiced questions.

How am I to approach hot topics if I don’t really know whether she is ready for them? Will the time ever be right? And when the “right time” approaches, will I recognize it? Are there questions already swimming all over her head that are being left unanswered? My questions to her are most commonly met with one-word sentences. I search for clues of her doubts or fears, but I find that those too are sometimes hard to read.

Recently we were at our local library and I saw a book I thought she would enjoy. The book seemed intriguing enough that I myself was curious. I asked her what she thought of a mother-daughter book club. She liked the idea and we decided we would read it and when we were both done we would have our “meeting”. Each of us was to come up with four questions for the other so we would have a lead into the conversation. For me it was a great chance to strike a lengthier conversation with her, and for her it was an opportunity to have one-on-one time with me (a rare occasion when you have three sisters younger than you).

Our first book was So B. It by Sarah Weeks. A beautiful book in its message, and unknown to me, one that approached a series of difficult as well as morally challenging topics such as mental disability, perseverance, lies and truth, and finally the death of a loved one. We had our book club meeting, and although it still felt like most of the conversation came from me, I felt at ease approaching the hard subjects. The book gave me that “freedom to discuss” because I knew the topics we were talking about did not pop out of thin air. We were discussing them with a purpose and the best part is that I knew she had them in mind.

That first book was enlightening. I began to see our book-club choices as well as the books I read in general as great allies in my quest to approaching tough situations. Now when I come across certain topics in my books I think about relating them to my husband and girls at the dinner table and asking what they think about it. What would THEY do in that situation? Was the character right or wrong in doing so? I can actively search for books that touch on certain topics I would like to talk about, and start the conversation in a casual manner. The books can be my “prompts”, very much like I thought her questions would have been.

In other situations, the deterrent for conversations might not necessarily be a quiet child, but our own fears, embarrassment of, or hang-ups on a certain subject. Using a book plot and characters as the starting point for the conversation can help us distance ourselves just enough from the topic to make it more approachable, less frightening. The book might also show us sides of the topic we as parents had not thought about yet.

You might ask, if that is the case why not just hand the child a book on a specific topic? That is the key though, the books should be used as a vehicle to making the start of a conversation easier, not avoiding it. Nothing can substitute the actual dialogue between you and your children.

Parenting is not easy, and in the quest of doing the best we can to raise knowledgeable, caring and strong beings, an ally or two (or better yet, shelves full of them) can be a very welcomed asset.