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October 06, 2014

Bullying Prevention with Jodie Cohen and David Levithan

David Levithan is the author of many books for teens including Every Day and Two Boys Kissing, which was a Lambda Literary Award Winner and a Stonewall Honor Book.

In addition to being a bestselling author, David is also a senior editor at Scholastic, and founder of the PUSH imprint, devoted to finding new voices in teen literature.

Fun fact: David also narrated his audiobook, Two Boys Kissing.

David Levithan is a master at connecting with today’s teen audience. And, because he creates such thought-provoking titles that touch on gender, romance, and the complexities of life, his audiobooks are the perfect entry way for both parents and educators to open up a dialogue with students and listeners. David has also been instrumental in bringing LGBTQ stories to the forefront of YA literature

Have you ever been bullied or witnessed something that you incorporated into your writing?

Like most kids I certainly had bullied experiences, especially in junior high school. There were a couple of kids who liked to spit upon me, yell at me, call me different names, etc, etc, etc. I certainly took some solace in being the smart kid but that wasn’t enough to stop them from picking on me. And certainly I saw my friends go through this as well and that informs what I write about and what the characters I write about go through. But I think really the important thing to realize and something that came up a lot when I was asked to write about bullying for an Anthology called The Letter Q, is the fact that it’s not really an either/or. As many times as I can think that I was bullied, I can also think of times where I was a bully—where I picked on somebody or came up with a snide name for somebody else or liked to just sort of push the button that I knew the person didn’t want to be pushed. So I think that it’s important for me when writing characters and thinking about bullying to think that everybody has the potential to be both the bully and the bullied and that you really are making choices in different situations for different roles.

I believe in the power of books and audiobooks as a positive force in kids’ lives. Do you think your books help kids and if so, how?

Well certainly I hear a lot from readers and so I can have a sense of what books can do—not just my books but the books that all of my fellow authors write. I think one of the worst things about bullying is how isolating it is. That when you’re picked upon, you don’t want to talk about it with other people, you think you’re the only one being picked upon and it just feels like there’s nobody you can really relate to and nobody really relating to you. You feel that the bully is really the one with the power and the one that everybody is going to relate to. And I think the power of books is that they can make you feel less isolated. That reading a book that has something you’re going through can really make you realize that other people go through it. And if this adult you’ve never met, in this place you’ve never been, is writing about this in a way that you relate to then you know that it’s not just you. And if you read about kids who are going through other things that aren’t the things that you’re going through you also get a sense of what everybody else is up against. And know that even if you’re the only one facing your particular thing in your particular place, that there are other kids going through other things and you have to really team up with them and not feel quite so isolated.

I’m sure you receive lots of fan mail, have you received letters from teens who are being bullied? If so, how do you respond to them?

Yeah. Sometimes I do hear from kids who are being bullied—mostly for being gay or lesbian or bisexual, transgender. And it’s a really, really, tough thing to go through and I think it’s really caught up in all of these identity issues in feeling alone and feeling unsupported and being picked upon while you’re feeling alone and unsupported. So the first thing I always tell these kids is to talk to somebody. That the odds are very good in their life that there is somebody who will understand what they’re going through. And if they’ve tried talking to somebody, whether a parent or a teacher or a guidance counselor or a friend, and it hasn’t felt or they don’t feel that it’s gone the right way, then they should talk to somebody else. And try to look for other people. A lot of the times they feel very safe talking to an author at a remove by an email because we’re not in their lives. But because we’re not in their lives we really can’t tell them what to do in the way that a responsible person who knows them or knows their life can do. Another thing I keep telling them is to keep perspective that a lot of us went through bullying and a lot of us were picked upon and a lot of us questioned our identity when we’re younger and we got through it. And that the most important thing sometimes is just to hold on. That if you think your situation is just not changeable and that your life will never, ever change—there are millions of us who’s lives didn’t seem like they would change and then they changed. So sometimes when you are being bullied you don’t have that perspective but eventually you get to grow up and you get to leave. And the world is a better place.

Gay, lesbian, and transgender students are five times more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe after being bullied due to their sexual orientation. One of the reasons the main characters in Two Boys Kissing decide to break the world record for longest continuous kiss is a reaction to a homophobic attack against their friend Tariq. Can you talk about how this feeling of a lack of safety comes into the book?

When I was writing Two Boys Kissing, I knew that the central event of the book would be based on a true story which is that two boys in New Jersey beat the world record for longest continuous kiss by kissing for over 32 hours as a way of protesting inequality in my home state of New Jersey. So when thinking about turning this into a fictional event, the question kept coming up of “Why would they do this? What would be the inciting incident?” And what I kept coming back to and thinking about what gay kids are up against today was the idea of being bullied or being attacked. And that while certainly it gets better and certainly it is better now than it’s ever been in America, there are still times where you are picked upon and you are called names or you are actually physically attacked and I certainly have friends who’ve been through that. But I think, partially from having friends who’ve been through that and partially witnessing other people, I see how the lowest of the lows can lead to the bravest of the heights. That often when something really awful happens to us, we don’t react in fear or weakness, we actually find a strength that we didn’t know we had. And I think for the main characters of Two Boys Kissing, they see the strength that Tariq has after being attacked and they want to share that strength with the world and really find that strength for themselves and find a way to show it to everybody else. And that is why they kissed for as long as they do. And it does have the reaction that they want to get.

How do you research your characters—for example, “A” embodied 41 different people. Was that a challenge?

It’s one of these really interesting things that should have seemed obvious when I was writing the book but only seemed obvious after I wrote the book. What “A “does in Every Day, waking up every day in a different body in a different life and really having to navigate that life for a very short time before moving on is a lot like what authors do. We write books to create these fictional people, live in their lives for a little bit, see the world through their eyes, and then we leave. And I think it was a challenge certainly in Every Day to have “A” be in so many different lives and so many different bodies but at the same time it was just a variation of what I usually do as an author. I think the most successful writing is about empathy. We can’t just write about what we know—we have to write about what we see, what we feel and the commonality we feel with other people. So I think that the way that “A” navigates is really the way authors navigate. And the things that “A” discovers are the things that authors discover by trying on different people’s shoes and walking in them for a little bit and realizing the similarities we really have even though we seem different at first.

Every Day is a great book to use in the classroom or for a family with teenagers to listen to together. It offers the opportunity to start a dialogue about bullying since “A” inhabits the bodies of many different individuals and personalities. Entertainment Weekly raved Every Day has the power to teach a bully empathy by answering an essential question: What’s it like to be you and not me—even if it’s just for one day.

Please discuss this facet of the story.

One of the things that surprised me while writing Every Day is that, when I first approached the character of “A” I thought, “Oh, ‘A’ is going to navigate by just realizing all the differences between people and is going to be shocked every day by how different people are.” But while I started writing the book I realized that this was actually the opposite of the truth. That the way that “A” could navigate through all of these different lives and all these different bodies and have an understanding of who these people were was by finding the commonality, was by saying, you know, even though this person looks very different or seems to have a very different life, 98% of the time we have very similar emotions, we have very similar fears, we have very similar desires. And thus, “A” really does navigate the world. And I think that’s the beautiful thing about the book and the reaction to the book is that people do read it and they do realize that even if they were in another body, even if they were in somebody else’s shoes that they have enough in common with that person that they would understand it and they would be able to in some way feel what that person feels. And I think that is a powerful statement that we do think of bullies as being an “other” and as being somebody who isn’t like us just as the bullies look at somebody who they are bullying and think, oh, this person is somehow less or somehow different in a bad way. But if we really focus on the things we have in common and we don’t emphasize all of the differences and use the differences for divisiveness instead of community, then really we do lead to empathy and we do have an understanding that hopefully makes the world easier to navigate for everybody involved.

In Every Day, “A” enters the body of a bully, Vanessa. What inspired you to write that character? And, what did you hope the reader would take away from that section?

The way I wrote Every Day was really just: every day “A” wakes up in a different body and encounters a different thing. And for me as a writer, every chapter I would go, “OK. Who’s body is ‘A’ going to be in next?” And the morning “A” wakes up as Vanessa, I was like, “OK. Who is this girl?” And I realized that that one type of person that I had not talked about was somebody who really enjoys the power she has over other people. And that “A” being in that life for a day would see that the way that everybody else reacted to this girl was really, really nervous and wary. And that while through her eyes she might think she was getting their respect and think that they were her followers and think that she was adored. Really, “A” through her eyes realizes that no—these people are really afraid of her. They’re afraid of the next word that will come out of her mouth. They are afraid she’s going to attack them. They are afraid that the power she uses is always used against them and not for them. And I think it’s a really important thing to sort of step back and see. That even if you are the popular one and even if you are the bully or if you are somebody who has a large amount of power, you have to ask yourself, “Well, why do I have this power? What is making these people want to listen to me?” And that, if they’re listening to you because you’re their friend and you’re a good friend and you’re supportive of them and you’re fighting on their behalf—that’s one thing. And you’ll get a really great feeling from that. But if they’re following you because they are afraid not to follow you, that’s quite a different thing and that’s going to turn against you. So “A” feels very uncomfortable that day—almost one of the most uncomfortable days “A” has—because everything is under the surface. And “A” knows that Vanessa when she’s in her body doesn’t see these things because she is so caught up in herself. But when “A” is in her body looking out “A” realizes all these things and sees how wrong this power dynamic is.

To find out more visit thebullyconversation.com


October 01, 2014

Maximilian Starling, Curriculum Vitae

Objective: Seeks employment in order to independently maintain current lifestyle until parents are found.
Secondary objective: find parents.

Work Experience

Self-Employed—Solutioneer

●   finder of lost things

●   problem-solver

●   engineer of favorable outcomes

Starling Theatrical Company

●   prompts actors during performances

●   keeps track of props

●   appears as extra onstage


 

When Max arrives at the docks to meet his parents aboard the Flower of Kashmir, there’s no such ship, and even more bizarre, there are no parents. Now Max is finding his way until he can find his parents by playing the role of artist, spy, gardener, traveling salesman, and ordinary schoolboy to solve his cases as Mister Max, Solutioneer.

With lively dialogue, characters with distinct personalities, and lots of action, Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things provides excellent opportunities for student-created readers’ theater experiences. Download the Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things Educators’ Guide with a readers’ theater activity kit. The adventure continues with Mister Max: The Book of Secrets.

Cynthia Voigt is the acclaimed author of many books, including Dicey’s Song, winner of the Newbery Medal; A Solitary Blue, winner of a Newbery Honor; and Homecoming. For her body of work, Cynthia Voigt was honored with the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Outstanding Literature for Young Adults.


October 01, 2014

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s….

Who would you like to see flying through the sky to save the day? In ways big and small we all have someone in our life that is a superhero. To young readers, you yourself may be a hero—a teacher who protects a group of students during a tornado, a librarian who helps you find the perfect book that to turn you a reader…

Have your students and readers tell us about their real-life hero in 500 words or less and they could win a SUPER cool prize: Matthew Cody, the author of Super, Powerless and Villainous will write the winner of this contest into a short story as a SUPER.

Submit real-life superhero stories by December 20th, 2014 to:

Email: STrombetta@penguinrandomhouse.com
Snail Mail: Sadie Trombetta
1745 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

Matthew, along with four fantastic ace readers from Knopf Books for Young Readers, will select the winners. The grand prize is the short story and a full set of signed copies of Matthew’s books. Five others will receive signed copies of all of Matthew’s books. As a bonus, any teacher who submits stories from her entire class will be eligible to win a class set of Matt’s books, as well as some select additional titles from Random House. The winner will be selected by January 15th, 2015.


September 17, 2014

Q&A with Author of the Month: John Feinstein


You write both nonfiction and fiction. What are the differences other than the obvious? Do you prepare differently? Do you prefer one over the other? Why?

I’m very lucky at this point in my life to be able to write both fiction and nonfiction. I think going back and forth between the two genres helps keep me fresh and motivated. Of course the kids’ fiction I’ve written—this is my eighth kids’ mystery in all—is based on a lot of the reporting I’ve done through the years. I’ve always believed the best fiction reads like nonfiction. When it’s believable, the readers thinks, “This could happen.” I enjoy creating a story line and characters and, at the same time, trying to make that story feel real.

Why do you think reading is important for an athlete?

I think reading is important for everybody regardless of age, sex, or whether they are an athlete. I do think it is important for anyone interested in playing a sport to have an understanding of what might be ahead in terms of being recruited; in terms of coaching and—maybe most important—understanding when their parents are too involved. That’s the biggest danger we have for kids who are gifted athletes, and the more a kid can understand that, the better

Were you for or against last year’s changes to the college football game structure?

I like the changes to the college football structure in that four teams will now have a chance to play for the national championship instead of two. That’s a small step forward, but not nearly enough. The playoff should involve at least eight teams—and even better, twelve. Get rid of the meaningless conference championship games and play four first-round games at home sites the first week in December. Play quarterfinals on New Year’s Day at bowl sites, semis the next week. Then the championship game the week before the Super Bowl. Unlike with the basketball tournament, players would miss almost no class time, and a twelve-team tournament would let teams like Boise State, TCU, and Utah—which each went undefeated in past years—try to compete for the national championship. They would have the chance to do what Butler, George Mason, and VCU did in the basketball tournament—some of the most magical moments we’ve had in sports.

What should teams and fans look for this season?

Things to look for in this college season? The SEC will still have more good teams than anyone else. Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, and LSU will all make noise nationally. No one in the ACC will beat Florida State. The Big Ten will be down—again. The Pac-10 will be the most fun because no one is dominant but almost everyone is good, and the Big 12 will be Oklahoma, Baylor, and everyone else. Even so, the two games to see will be the same as they always are: Harvard-Yale and Army-Navy. Tradition. It’s great.

What do you look for in terms of stats, news, info in preseason for both NFL and college football?

I really don’t put much stock in preseason at all. Teams have gone 0–4 in exhibition games and won the Super Bowl. Bad teams often go 4–0. What matters are serious injuries—at every level, because football is so violent—and suspensions for bad behavior or steroid use. Unfortunately, even at the high school level where Alex Myers plays, they’re an important part of the game.

Any advice for aspiring sports journalists?

My advice for anyone wanting to get into journalism—whether in sports or not in sports—is always the same:

    1. Read a lot. Even reading bad writing helps because it teaches you what NOT to do.
    2. Don’t specialize when you’re young. If sports is your goal, that’s great. But I learned more from covering police, courts, and politics than I knew at the time. It helped make me a better reporter, and that’s always been critical for me.
    3. Don’t give up on writing. Everyone wants to be on TV these days. The best way to get on TV is to write and report very well. That way you aren’t being hired for your looks and you’ll last a lot longer.

Which writers inspire(d) you?

I’ve been inspired by lots of people since I first discovered reading as a kid. The “triple threat”—Alex Myers—was inspired by reading the Chip Hilton books, written by the great basketball coach Clair Bee (a mentor of Bob Knight’s). I was remarkably lucky to start my career at the Washington Post, where I learned from Bob Woodward—THE Bob Woodward of Watergate fame—David Maraniss, who has only won THREE Pulitzer Prizes, and superb sportswriters like Dave Kindred, Ken Denlinger, Tony Kornheiser (yes, he was once a real reporter and writer, proof of what I’m talking about as a TV star), and Tom Boswell. All took an interest in me and taught me lessons not only about how to report a story but how to RECOGNIZE a story. I’ve always thought my greatest strength was understanding you don’t have to be rich and famous to have a story to tell. I learned that from the people I worked with at the Post. As a reader, David Halberstam inspired me with his amazing eye for detail, whether reporting on Vietnam or the Portland Trail Blazers. I love reading thrillers, too—especially those that, as I said before, feel as if they could be real.

Which players do you admire?

I tend to admire athletes more for what they accomplish away from the playing fields than on them. Arthur Ashe was a great tennis player—three major championships, including the very first U.S. Open in 1968—but a better man. He made people think about important issues rather than trying to use his name to become wealthy. Bill Bradley, whom I watched as a kid because I was a Knicks fan, was similar to Arthur. He saw his ability as an athlete as a means to make a difference in the world, which he did as a U.S. senator. I’ve been close to many coaches, especially in basketball. Dean Smith helped desegregate restaurants in Chapel Hill in the late 1950s as a young assistant coach at North Carolina and took part in civil rights marches and nuclear freeze protests. Mike Krzyzewski is one of the most loyal men I’ve ever met—he never forgets a friend. While dying of cancer, Jim Valvano set up and organized the V Foundation, which has raised more than $100 million for cancer research since his death. He knew he was going to die but wanted to leave a meaningful—truly meaningful—legacy behind.

Any international sports you wish would gain a greater fan following here in the USA?

The one sport I always wanted to cover more and learn more about that is not a big deal in this country is cycling—specifically the Tour de France. Unfortunately, Lance Armstrong and so many other drug cheats have sullied the sport to the point where it will be a long time before anyone takes it seriously again. I was awed—before I knew about all the steroid use—by what cyclists did, riding 100 miles a day, up and down mountains, and then doing it again the next day. People only get interested in swimming in this country during the Olympics, every four years. As an old swimmer, I would love to see people care more about the sport—but you can’t tell sports fans what to like and not like.

What are the dangers of steroid use by young high school athletes?

The most stunning facts I uncovered while researching the The Walk On—I do research my fiction to try, again, to make it feel like nonfiction—were about steroid use among high school athletes, especially football players. Teenagers believe they’re immortal, so health warnings don’t really affect them, especially when they read constantly about millionaire NFL players who are suspended for four games for steroid use and then come back to be cheered and continue to make millions. One doctor told me steroids are an “epidemic” among high school football players, in part because there isn’t very much drug testing at the high school level. The reason I made steroids a part of the story in The Walk On is because they are so prevalent.

Do you think it’s safe for young children to be playing contact football?

I have very mixed emotions about kids playing football. I love the sport, loved playing it as a kid, though I didn’t play past ninth grade because I was a swimmer and because my mom wasn’t thrilled about it. I’m not sure I would want my son to put his heart and soul into a sport that is bound to beat up your body. I think I would try to steer him in another direction. One of the reasons I wanted Alex to be a three-sport athlete was to keep his future options open

Do you think writing nonfiction makes you a better fiction writer?

The work I’ve done writing nonfiction is very much at the heart of my fiction writing. Every story is based on events and people I have covered. If I hadn’t been writing nonfiction for as long as I have, I doubt I could write fiction in the manner or style that I do.

How would you suggest a parent or teacher introduce books to a reluctant reader?

One of the most gratifying things about writing kids’ fiction—besides my own kids’ involvement as editors—has been the response I’ve gotten from a lot of parents who have reluctant readers in their house—more boys than girls. Many have told me that they have given their child one of the books and said, “You love sports, this is about sports, try this,” and have gotten very positive responses. Many write and say, “Please get your next book out soon so I can give it to my son and get him back to reading.” I like hearing/reading that. So, to all of them, here’s The Walk On.

What kinds of books did you like to read as a child?

As I mentioned, I read the Chip Hilton series—twenty-four books—as a kid. I also read the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift. One of the best books I ever read, one that inspired me to eventually become a history major in college, was Johnny Tremain. I think every middle school kid should have to read that book. I also read a series called Signature Books, which was a collection of biographies of famous people. I think learning what I did from those books made me want to know more about people who were successful—or even not successful but had interesting lives—when I grew up.

The Walk On











The Walk On
by John Feinstein
Hardcover: 9780385753463
Library Binding: 9780385753470


March 04, 2014

The Penderwicks

Jeanne Birdsall’s beloved Penderwicks series has been refreshed in paperback!  Brimming with the magic and adventures of summertime, the books are centered on the lives of four charming sisters and their hilarious, often touching, interactions with each other and the world around them. When the first title, The Penderwicks, appeared on shelves, it was a National Book Award winner, a New York Times bestseller, and was named to countless best-of lists.  Its sequels, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street and The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, are equally beloved. (Psst–we have an Educators Guide for the series available to download!)

 Check out the revamped covers below:




A boxed set of the new cover is also available. And get excited, Penderwicks fans!  We’ll have some news in the near future that may interest you… 
 


January 07, 2014

Celebrating Seuss’ Caldecott Honors

There’s no doubting the impact Dr. Seuss’ wonderful stories have had on the lives of millions, enriching them with memorable characters and imaginative wordplay, but, amazingly, his award credentials often seem to play second fiddle to his commercial successes.  We’re happy to say that these three stellar titles have been given some love, and have been reissued with the shiny medals front and center.  If you haven’t read these delightful tales, or haven’t added them to your classroom and library collections, now is a great time to dive into the fun.

P.S. Did you know that your favorite Seuss titles are now available as ebooks?