Friday, October 29, 2010

Winner of PictureIt Contest

Thank you to everyone who entered our contest for free PictureIt books.

We have a winner! We put all of the names in a (virtual) hat and randomly chose a winner. Congratulations to Maria Butcher, who should be receiving the books right... about... now.

Maria mentioned in her comment that her son has Asperger's - these books, in which the child draws his own illustrations, may be an excellent resource for him. I hope Maria will let us know if he enjoys the books (or not - either way, we wanna know!).

Now, for all of you who entered but didn't win
I can't bear to see anyone walk away empty-handed! So I went back to PictureIt and asked if they could offer some small discount to anyone who entered but didn't win.

They're not set up to offer discounts, but here's what they generously offered to do: If you entered the contest, they will give you free shipping if you purchase the books through their website directly.

So if you entered the contest and want to buy the books and take advantage of this offer, you'll need to e-mail Alicia and Leanne (the creators) directly and mention Getting Kids Reading. They can be reached at creators at pictureitpicturebooks dot com.

Thank you to PictureIt for supplying the six free books. And congratulations on having recently been picked up by Chapters/Indigo!

If you don't know what I'm talking about, here are the links to our contest (which, as I say, is now over). Thanks everyone!
PictureIt book giveaway
Win free PictureIt books

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mother-Son bookclub part II

Our mother-son book club met again this week.

It’s a great example of parents taking their children’s literacy into their own hands. And anyone can do it – you can do it.

The boys drew, read, wrote, ate,
chatted, answered quiz questions
and had an amazing time.
Once again, the evening was total chaos… and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. There were boys writing, boys reading, boys drawing maps of faerie sightings in their neighbourhood, boys eating cupcakes, boys talking (in very loud voices—ok, shouting) about books, boys presenting at the front of the room, boys running around and overall, boys enjoying and sharing their experiences with books.

There were about half a dozen moms wondering what the heck was going on. (The one dad remained very calm, taking it all in stride.) The moms all had the same expression on our faces. It said: “This is chaos!”

Yes, it was chaos. It was wonderful chaos.

It was the way boys often need to learn, to connect, to delve into books, to share. Touching things and doing things and running around occasionally and eating snacks—while they were learning.

Every boy there walked away knowing that for a month, while they were living in “The Spiderwick” world—there were a dozen other boys in exactly the same world. And that’s the whole point of the bookclub.

Our itinerary:
Amongst the chaos, quite a lot was accomplished.

The book this month was The Spiderwick Chronicles (Book I), about three siblings who move into an old house and discover a secret world of faeries and goblins.

Two families hosted; their boys created a quiz about the book and its characters. They called out questions and the audience members answered.

They also gave out hand-outs: one asked kids to draw a map of their neighbourhood, showing where faeries and goblins could be found; another had kids draw their own “field guide” book cover; another gave the first three lines of a poem and had the child create the final line; still another taught “deductive reasoning.” So there was something at both ends of the spectrum, for kids who prefer drawing and kids who prefer writing.

Joulie handed out our special shrinky-dink I.D. badges that we’d created last month. They looked fantastic and the kids were excited to see their creations turn out so well.

And then Joulie created special I.D. cards for each child, which she’s brought home to laminate. (Yes, Joulie is our neighbourhood supermom who not only has a shrinky-dink machine, but apparently a laminator as well!) Each card has a photo of the child, which Joulie must have taken last month, wearing a fake moustache. I completely missed that she did that – when does she do these things?!

We read out a couple of the stories the kids started last month. Remember the envelopes, on which each child wrote the beginning of a story – we each took one home to continue the story. They were handed out yet again, for the kids to develop the story a bit further at home.

There was a lot going on, all the time. The boys could draw or read or write or eat or answer trivia questions—sometimes all at once. It was so great, I can’t even tell you.

You’ve got to start up a kids’ book club in your neighbourhood. (Just don’t ask to borrow Joulie, ’cause you can’t have her.)

Next month:
Our book selection for next month is Big Nate: In a Class by Himself.

In December, we're doing The Red Pyramid, which is a really big book so we're giving two months' notice. We're also suggesting that parents check the audio version of the book out of the library (you can get the CDs or download an MP3) because the book will be a bit too ambitious for some kids to read.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Teen says reading helped save him

Haille Bailey-Harris is an amazing teenager.
His mom helped him get on the right path,
in part by nurturing his love of reading.
An incredible success story

In the Globe and Mail's coverage of "boys and education" this week, a very moving column by a boy named Haille Bailey-Harris caught my attention.

He's a 16-year-old high school student, and he's determined not to become one of the statistics the Globe has been writing about - boys who don't do well in school and don't go on to university.

He's an amazing kid. Just Googling him for this article uncovers a whole series of articles he's had published in major newspapers. Clearly, he has brains, initiative and goals (including arguing a case before the Supreme Court and publishing a book). I have no doubt he will achieve his goals.

However, it wasn't always like that. The deck was stacked against him from day one. He hasn't seen his father in 10 years - he's being raised by his mother alone; he's an avid video gamer; and he's dark-skinned. He was bullied in school, full of anger and got into lots of trouble.

As he says in his column, "according to the research, I should be failing in school, a non-reader and basically a loser... hell, I should just throw in the towel!"

Instead, his mother intervened. She developed a plan with his school's principal, and it worked.

I'll direct you to his beautifully written Globe column for the whole story, but basically, here's the plan that worked for him:

1) Find other role models. Teachers, relatives - both male and female.

2) Create a community family. For instance, Big Brothers and Big Sisters provided him with a mentor.

3) Nurture a love of reading. "Instead of banning me from video games, my mom got me games that also required me to read (like Pokemon) and encouraged me to get books (even comics) that interested me. Gradually, I wanted to read books and, eventually, I wanted to read everything, all the time."

4) Do community service. He and his mom volunteer at the public library and a homeless shelter.

His "battle plan," as he calls it, helped him realize that he had potential, "as do all children, no matter what the circumstances." He tried harder in school, found better friends and, "suddenly, before I realized it, my life was right-side up."

Now that's a great success story.

The column Haille wrote touches on a couple of themes that I've been espousing for a long time. First, that parents can offset poor schooling, bad teachers, lack of resources and just about any obstacle that stands between a kid and the love of reading. Parents can accomplish just about anything. And second, that no matter what a boy wants to read - embrace it! Haille was reading Pokemon video games, for crying out loud. He says he's now "a happy, well-adjusted 16-year-old who really loves to read." Lots of people say that boys need to choose their literature carefully and shouldn't read "just anything." Haille and I disagree.

I couldn't find a copyright-free picture of Haille Bailey-Harris and I wanted to show you what he looks like, because this is his story. Haille, if you object to me using this photo (which I found on then let me know and I'll take it down. But I hope you don't - because people need to know you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Series on "how school is failing boys"

The Globe and Mail is beginning a new series tomorrow, taking a look at “why school is failing boys.”

They say that boys earn lower grades overall than girls in elementary school and high school. They do more poorly than girls in reading and writing and they are more likely to have to repeat a grade or to drop out of school.

Girls are also more likely to go to university: they make up 60 per cent of undergraduates.

Boys are more likely to say they feel disengaged with school, they spend less time studying (or none at all) and to report that neither they nor their friends plan to go to university.

The Globe plans to examine reasons for these statistics including:
  • Textbooks, long criticized for being sexist, have been revised but the pendulum may have swung too far. Most of the “smart” pictures of happy and productive kids are girls and the “bad” pictures are of boys doing destructive or ill-advised activities.
  • Parental expectations for boys are too low. Only 60 per cent of parents said they expect their son to get a degree. (Ten per cent lower than for daughters.)
An article by Carolyn Abraham which will be published in tomorrow’s Globe and Mail, notes that a recent wide-ranging study of youths found that the top four predictors of which teenager will go to university are, in order:
1) Overall marks
2) Reading ability
3) Study habits
4) Parental expectations.

The article says that parents and schools don’t take boys’ interests seriously enough, understand what motivates them, or pay enough attention to their needs or aspirations.

The societal factors may all be true, but I think one should never underestimate the power of parents to change the course of their kids' lives, to encourage boys to do better in school and to help make it a place where he feels engaged.

Never underestimate the power of parents.

Related links
We’ve covered many of these issues in GKR before. Here are some links to previous articles. Also, click on “Boys” in the Labels to get ideas to help get your video-loving or active boy reading, as well as great books for boys:
Boys don’t like school
Boys' and girls' brains develop differently
Getting boys reading: start in the middle

Friday, October 8, 2010

Halo by Alexandra Adornetto

I’m not so sure it’s a great book… but I can’t seem to put it down.

Halo hits all the right buttons for today’s modern tween girl: the main characters are supernatural (angels); there’s a romance; cute and enigmatic boy characters; a spunky yet conflicted girl protagonist.

Halo tells the story of three angels who have been sent to earth to set things right. Apparently evil is overtaking us, and enough is enough for the Guy upstairs. One of the angels is 17-year-old Beth, who is more susceptible to her new human form than her two older and wiser siblings. She succumbs to the temptations of human emotion and falls in love with a human boy. This sets up a conflict, since she finds herself too busy dating to pay attention to the more charitable pursuits she has been put on earth to fulfill. The whole thing comes to a climax when a sexy male devil character sets his sights on her.

Kinda like Twilight
Whereas Twilight, the hugely popular teen-girl-fantasy novel against which all others must now be measured, had vampires, Halo has angels. Twilight is set in a quiet, nondescript town in the U.S.; so is Halo. Both have strong female lead characters. Both books feature gentle (yet strong) male love interests. In both books, the female lead characters must battle supernatural forces. And in both books the main character is quickly swept off her feet by a boy with whom she falls irrevocably in love, a love she puts beyond all else – including common sense and her responsibilities.

If your teen or tween girl liked Twilight, I’m going to bet that she’ll enjoy Halo.

It’s a gentle love story, an easy read, with just enough action to keep the pages turning. And it's clean. Angel-clean.

However, I would have liked the book to have been edited a bit more carefully. Not only are there occasional grammatical errors, but some of the dialogue is stilted, especially when the kids are tryin’ to talk hip-like. That’s the writer’s fault but also the editor’s, who should have pointed it out and asked for rewrites.

I once had an editor who talked about an author who “worries every word.” Halo feels like it was written a bit hastily, without the words having been sufficiently “worried” by this young author (Alexandra Adornetto is 19.)

But it doesn’t really matter, because the kids are reading the book in droves and loving it, with or without clunky dialogue.

Adornetto is already working on the second book in what will be a trilogy: Hades, due out next year. The third book will be entitled Heaven.

She is also working on a website for young aspiring authors which will offer writing tips. Now, that is something to really look forward to, and something that will undoubtedly help to get kids writing. Good for her.

Related Links
Here's the video trailer for Halo.
And here's a nice video interview (1:30) with author Alexandra Adornetto.

Previous articles posted on Getting Kids Reading
The Twilight Series.
New Twilight Book.
Newest Twilight Book - Free.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Contest: Win free Picture It books

We've only had two contest entries so far.

And while it's great that two people have entered (thank you, M and K!)... I ask myself, "why haven't more people entered?"

I figure it could be for two reasons (both of which have to do with the fact that I'm a neophyte at offering contests):

1) You don't want to have to worry about picking the books up or paying for postage. Fair enough - I get that. Can't change it, though.

2) You don't want to have to put your e-mail address (as asked in my original post) on the Internet. This one I can fix.

So now if you want to enter the contest, just e-mail me your information at joycegrant at sympatico dot ca and I'll enter you!

3) Don't know what contest I'm talking about? Read this. And then enter, please.