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March 18, 2016

National Social Work Month is celebrated every March.  Some children and young adults may have encountered social workers, but many may not understand what social workers actually do.  Try some of the following activities to help them understand the focus of social services and why social workers are needed in our communities.

  • Tell readers that Frances Perkins was the pioneer of social work.  Ask them to find out about Perkins and why the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 caused her to become dedicated to social work. (http://www.history.com/topics/triangle-shirtwaist-fire); (http://www.biography.com/people/frances-perkins-9437840).  Suggest that readers write a tribute to her for the school or library website.
  • Have readers read about the Orphan Trains (http://www.kancoll.org/articles/orphans/or_hist.htm) and discuss why The Children’s Aid Society is classed a social service organization.  How was this movement the beginning of the foster care system in the United States
  • Suggest that readers find out the many duties of social workers (https://www.socialworkers.org/pressroom/swmonth/2016/documents/SWM2016ThemeLogo.pdf).  Then have children ages 9-up to write a job description for a social worker in their city or county.
  • Ask a social worker to speak to readers and tell them the specifics of their job.  Why do school districts and hospital employ social workers? Have readers prepare questions to ask the guest speaker.
  • “Forging Solutions Out of Challenges” is the theme for 2016 National Social Work Month.  Display books about children and families may benefit from the help of a social worker. For example, how could a social worker have helped Zachary in When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt. Then have them share the book they select.  Suggestions from Random House include:

Dealing with the Poor

A Chance to Shine (picture book) by Steve Seskin

Something Beautiful (picture book) by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

The Mighty Miss Malone (middle grade) by Christopher Paul Curtis

Bucking the Sarge (young adult) by Christopher Paul Curtis


Foster Care

Carolina Harmony (middle grade) by Marilyn Taylor McDowell

But, Not Buddy (middle grade) by Christopher Paul curtis

Grover G. Graham and Me (middle grade) by Mary Quattlebaum

Pictures of Hollis Woods (middle grade) by Patricia Reilly Giff

Balls Don’t Lie (young adult) by Matt De La Peêa

Shifty (young adult) by Lynn e. Hazen

The Story of Tracy Beaker (young adult) by Jacquline Wilson


Adopted Children

Ten Days and Nine Nights (picture book) by Yumi Heo

All the Way Home (middle grade) by Patricia Reilly Giff

Finding Miracles (young adult) by JJulia Alvarez

Invisible Threads (young adult) by Annie Dalton and Maria Dalton


Troubled Families

Holes (middle grade) by Louis Sachar

Liar and Spy (middle grade) by Rebecca Stead

Nest (middle grade) by Esther Ehrlich

A Piece of Heaven (middle grade) by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

Black Box (young adult) by Julie Schumacher

Grief Girl (young adult) by Erin Vincent

Life is Fine (young adult) by Allison Whittenbert

Prizefighter en Mi Casa (young adult by e. E. Charlton-Trujillo


Aide to Immigrants

Return to Sender (middle grade) by Julia Alvarez

Enrique’s Journey (young adult) by Sonia Nazario

Red Glass (young adult) by Laura Resau

February 02, 2016

From Reluctant Reader to Reader: One Author’s Story

Written by Matthew Cody

The Secrets of the Pied Piper 1: The Peddler's RoadWhen visiting with readers, I always begin the same way. First, I ask, by a show of hands, how many kids out there like to read for fun. It’s always less than half, and usually a lot less.

Next, I ask how many kids have older brothers or sisters, which as you can imagine is a pretty good percentage. Then I ask my follow-up – how many of those older brothers or sisters are total jerks?

I swear the number of hands raised actually increases! It’s like the kids without older brothers or sisters just want to get in on the sibling bashing for the fun of it.

I empathize. I really do. As the youngest of four, I endured name-calling, snow-baths (in nothing but my pajamas), and that thing where they tie your socks together and your feet sweat so much you can’t get the socks off and they tickle you while you try to crawl away while making fun of your sweaty feet which is totally not something you can control and . . . well, suffice it to say I suffered.

What do sweaty feet and siblings have to do with books? The sweaty feet, not much, but the sibling thing, that’s the story I tell my would-be readers:

My big brother Brendan was an avid reader. Loved science fiction and fantasy especially, and he loved to haunt used bookstores.  His bedroom bookshelf was jam packed with DAW paperbacks with the cracked spines. Pages yellowed and smelling of mildew. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, I was not a reader. Books were boring. Books were for sitting still, and everyone knows that if you sit still for too long they’ll grab you by the socks and . . . you get the idea.

So, not a reader, me.

Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, Brendan tired of the torture. Maybe my cries for mercy were disturbing his reading time, I don’t know. What I do know is that one evening he asked me to come into his room and to choose a single book from his bookshelf. Hands trembling, feet sweating, I did. I choose the book by its cover of course – a boy in the woods facing down a man on horseback who had a skull for a face and horns. Horns!

The book, which some of you might have guessed, was The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. Now here’s where the story gets weird, because Brendan sat me down on his bed and started reading to me. It was like enemy forces on opposite sides of the battlefield pausing to sing Christmas carols or something. It was miraculous! Never mind that I didn’t like it and I was bored out of my skull – my socks were safely untied and I wasn’t bathing in snow! He read a chapter or two and then I scurried safely off to bed.

The next evening, he read a few more chapters. These ones weren’t so bad. The fortune-telling pig was funny and the Horned King was downright terrifying!  This went on for about a week, night after night, chapter by chapter until we came to the climax of the book, which by definition was the most exciting part. By then I was on the edge of the bed listening with rapt attention when Brendan asked, “Do you want to find out how this all ends?” and I’m like, “Yeah! Yeah, course!”

Then he closed the book, handed it to me and said, “Go find out for yourself.”

The jerk.

Or maybe not. Was this just another more elaborate form of torture? An escalation in psychological warfare? Or was he, just maybe, extending a small olive branch and sharing the hobby he loved most in the world with his only kid brother?

Heck, I don’t really know the answer. I’ll tell you this, though – the next day I crept into his room, uninvited and took a new book down from his shelf. It began a years-long habit of pilfering his bookshelves at odd hours of the day and night. Brendan had to have known what I was up to, but he never complained. Not once.

So for books, thank you Brendan.

For the socks-thing, not so much.

About the Author:

Matthew Cody is the author of several popular books, including the Supers of Noble’s Green trilogy:PowerlessSuper, and Villainous. He is also the author of Will in Scarlet and The Dead Gentleman. Originally from the Midwest, he now lives with his wife and son in Manhattan. You can visit him on the Web at matthewcody.com.

February 02, 2016

Love & Friendship in the Air

There are many special occasions to celebrate the month of February.  Almost all schools find creative ways to connect Presidents Day to the curriculum, and many school and public libraries include a way to commemorate Valentine’s Day.  When I was in elementary school, and even into junior high school we had a class Valentine’s box.  There was usually a committee of students charged with decorating it.  Then everyone put valentines addressed to their friends in the box.  Sometimes we made our valentines; other times we bought a variety package of cards with the idea that there would be a card appropriate for each special friend.  I seem to remember that the number of cards we received was far more important than the sentiment inside.  Then in high school everything changed –the sentiment meant everything to you.  I don’t think that I, or any of my classmates ever understood the history of Valentine’s Day; it was simply a time to have a class party or display love and friendship.

There are so many resources available about all holidays that it’s easy to develop curriculum and library programming around this special day.  Here are some ideas:

  • Readers may enjoy finding images of vintage Valentines. A book that may be used with all ages is Vintage Valentines by Golden Books. Encourage them to explore the Vintage Valentine Museum on the following website: http://www.vintagevalentinemuseum.com. Then have them create a vintage Valentine for someone in their family.
  • Have older readers research the history of Valentine’s Day and create Valentine’s trivia. The following websites are helpful:





Then have them divide the trivia into five categories.  Ask for volunteers to compete in a Jeopardy style game with the clues taken from the research.

  • Allow older readers to create a Valentine maze for younger readers where a card is delivered from a postal worker to a recipient.  Or, consider a Valentine’s Day hidden picture.
  • Have readers draw various sizes of hearts and cut them in puzzle pieces.  Then mix up the pieces and take them to another class or group and see how long it takes them to fit the pieces together.
  • Finally, introduce readers to books that celebrate love.  The youngest readers may want to make a Valentine card for a character in a book.  Older readers may enjoy writing a special love poem from one character to another.  Suggested titles from Random House include:

Picture Books

Donovan’s Big Day by Leslea Newman & illus. by Mike Dutton

Everything I Need to Know about Love I Learned from a Golden Book by Diane Muldrow

How to Mend a heart by Sara Gillingham

Love Always Everywhere by Sarah Massini

Three Little Words by Clemency Pearce & illus. by Rosalind Beardshaw

Tweet Hearts by Susan Reagan


Easy to Read

Honey Bunny’s Honey Bear by Marilyn Sadler & illus. by Roger Bollen

Junie B. My Valentime by Barbara Park & illus. by Denise Brunkus

Princess hearts (Disney Princess) by Jennifer Liberts Weinbert & illus. by Francesco Legramandi


Middle Grade

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

Crush by Gary Paulsen

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

With Love from Spain, Melanie Martin by Carol Weston


Young Adult

Another Day by David Levithan

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

Hollywood and Maine by Allison Whittenbert

Mismatch by Lensey Namioka

January 26, 2016


Random House Children’s Books is happy to announce this year’s winners, from the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Boston.








For picture books

EMMANUEL’S DREAM: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah
illustrated by Sean Qualls, written by Laurie Ann Thompson

Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people-but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.


For teen

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B
by Teresa Toten

The instant Adam Spencer Ross meets Robyn Plummer in his Young Adult OCD Support Group, he is hopelessly, desperately drawn to her. Robyn has an hypnotic voice, blue eyes the shade of an angry sky, and ravishing beauty that makes Adam’s insides ache. She’s also just been released from a residential psychiatric program-the kind for the worst, most difficult-to-cure cases; the kind that Adam and his fellow support group members will do anything to avoid joining. Adam immediately knows that he has to save Robyn, must save Robyn, or die trying. But is it really Robyn who needs rescuing? And is it possible to have a normal relationship when your life is anything but?




Wonders of the Invisible World
by Christopher Barzak

Seventeen-year-old Aidan Lockwood lives in the sleepy farming community of Temperance, Ohio-known for its cattle ranches and not much else. That is, until Jarrod, a friend he hasn’t seen in five years, moves back to town and opens Aidan’s eyes in startling ways: to Aidan’s ability to see the spirit world; to the red-bearded specter of Death; to a family curse that has claimed the lives of the Lockwood men one by one . . . and to the new feelings he has developed for Jarrod.Seventeen-year-old Aidan Lockwood lives in the sleepy farming community of Temperance, Ohio-known for its cattle ranches and not much else. That is, until Jarrod, a friend he hasn’t seen in five years, moves back to town and opens Aidan’s eyes in startling ways: to Aidan’s ability to see the spirit world; to the red-bearded specter of Death; to a family curse that has claimed the lives of the Lockwood men one by one . . . and to the new feelings he has developed for Jarrod.

November 10, 2015


By Philip Earle, author of The Bubble Wrap Boy

The Bubble Wrap Boy









You’re probably looking at these five words and thinking one of them shouldn’t sit with the other four. But to me they all fit together perfectly.

In fact, I’d argue that you can’t become a true hero unless you’ve been either a dork, a wimp, a loser, an outcast, or even all four.

You want proof? I can give you plenty, from history and from life today, but most importantly, from books aimed at young people. It was books, you see, that first pricked my interest in underdogs, that made me (to be honest) obsessed with them. I can’t imagine I’ll ever write a novel that doesn’t have an underdog at its heart—the kid you meet who has NOBODY tattooed across their forehead.

I can tell you exactly when this fascination started. It started the second I met Stanley Yelnats.

I came to Louis Sachar’s Holes late, at the age of twenty-six, but as soon as I met Stanley? Well, the fire was lit. Nobody likes Yelnats Junior. He’s branded a thief and said to be bad luck. Even the other cons at Camp Green Lake, a ragtag troupe of vandals and crooks, want nothing to do with him, and that’s what makes Stanley’s journey truly special. Yes, he may hit rock bottom time and again, but he never gives up, and it’s this determination to fight the odds that makes his eventual rise all the more special. It makes us wish as readers that we could be him, despite his flaws.

There’s another Stanley who’s special to me, this time with the surname Lambchop—the one who first appeared in Jeff Brown’s classic Flat Stanley.

Now, the hero in this story may have been squashed flatter than a slice of salami by his brother’s notice board, but does it stop him from becoming a legend? Not a chance. Instead, he’s slid inside an envelope with a carton of juice and a sandwich and posted on holiday, is flown as a kite on a windy day, and even foils a flipping bank robbery!

Not bad for a boy who’s laughed out of town by other kids in his school.

Kids can be cruel, especially to those who are different. In my work as a career and drama therapist, I witnessed it over and over again.

Jack Gantos saw it too, on many school visits. In fact, he met so many children with bees buzzing in their brains that he felt compelled to create one of the finest underdog heroes in popular culture, Joey Pigza. It’s impossible not to love Joey. His home life is a train wreck, his medication regime a disaster; he courts controversy and carnage with every step, but his heart is huge, and it’s the integrity of his intentions that win us over within a handful of pages.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I owe to Louis Sachar, Stanley Yelnats, Jeff Brown, Stanley Lambchop, Jack Gantos, and Joey Pigza. I created The Bubble Wrap Boy’s Charlie Han and Sinus Sedgely in all their flawed glory because of them, and because it’s the flawed things in life that are always the most interesting, surprising and . . . heroic.


Phil Earle’s first job was as a care worker in a children’s home, an experience that influenced the ideas behind Being Billy. He then trained as a drama therapist and worked in south London, caring for traumatized and abused adolescents. After a couple of years in the care sector, Phil chose the more sedate lifestyle of a bookseller, and now works in children’s publishing.