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A Word from Pat Scales

April 07, 2015

April – Celebrating Diversity

by Pat Scales

The Children’s Book Council and the Association of Library Service to Children sponsored a Day of Diversity: Dialogue and Action in Children’s Literature and Library Programming at the 2015 ALA Midwinter conference. A white paper, “The Importance of Library Programs and Materials Collections for Children,” is available.

Building a classroom and library collection that represents diverse populations should always be on the radar of teachers and librarians, but now is an especially good time to conduct a cultural inventory of materials. Does the collection represent all cultures that make up this nation? Is there a balance between historical and contemporary literature? How accurate are the materials? How often do these materials circulate? What can be done in library programming to promote cross-cultural materials?

There are a number of books about traditions and holiday celebrations of other cultures. There are also a number that are historical. This column will focus on books that celebrate diversity in an everyday and contemporary setting.

  • Ask readers to define diversity. Then have them name the different cultures in their classroom. What might we learn from one another?
  • Children’s book Week is the first week in May. Ask readers to design a Children’s Book Week poster that focuses on Books & Diversity.
  • Have readers read a book about another culture. Then have them design a placemat that features the book. During Children’s Book Week, ask permission to distribute the placemats in the school cafeteria.
  • Suggest that older readers write a guest editorial for the school newspaper about the importance of diversity in books. Have them include specific titles.
  • Display books about diverse populations.

Some suggestions for books featuring diverse characters from Random House include:

Picture Books

Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco

Piano Starts Here by Andrew Parker

The Name Jar by Jangsook Choi

Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale by Karen Henry Clark & illus. by Patrice Barton

Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

Yang the Third and Her Impossible Family by Lensey Namiok

I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora & Libby Martinez


Jackson Jones series by Mary Quattlebaum
Book Talk Available

Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear by Lensey Namioka

Alvin Ho by Lenore Look & illus. by Leuyen Pham
Book Talks Available

Brendan Buckley’s Universe by Sundee Frazier

Calvin Coconut series by Graham Salisbury
Book Talks Available

The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron & illus. by Ann Strugnell

Junebug in Trouble by Alice Mead

Ready? Set, Raymond! By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson & illus. by Derek Anderson

Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Eleanora Tate

Clever sticks by Bernard Ashley

 Tia Lola stories by Julia Alvarez
Educators’ Guide Available

Middle Grade

Small Steps by Louis Sachar
Educators’ Guide Available

Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park

Half and Half by Lensey Namioka

Darnell Rock Reporting by Walter Dean Myers

The Secret of Gumbo Grove by Eleanora Tate

The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani
Book Talk Available

Young Adult

145th Street: Short Stories by Walter Dean Myers

Hoops by Walter Dean Myers

Orchards by Holly Thompson

Bindi Babes Narinder Dhami

Words by Heart by Ouida Sebestyen

Join In by Donald R. Gallo

The Living by Matt de la Pena

Finding Miracles by Julia Alvarez

Outcasts United by Warren St. John

NOTE:  The various cultures aren’t specified here so that inclusiveness is celebrated.

March 11, 2015


by Pat Scales

There continues to be much in the news for children and young adults to follow.   Connecting fiction and nonfiction to these topics help the young gain a greater understanding of the world in which they live.  Some topics like the brutal winter that much of the nation has experienced may be examined in a lighter way, or in a factual way by looking at climate change, etc.  The recent outbreak of measles is causing some to once again raise the question of childhood vaccinations.   The deadly epidemic of Ebola in West Africa has caused health care professionals in the United States to prepare hospitals for the disease.  By reading articles and viewing conversations about Ebola, the young may want to examine other plagues that threatened the world’s population at sometime in our history.  Later in the year the nation will celebrate the end of World War II.  Suggest that younger students read books that prepare them for this important date.

Public and school librarians should take every opportunity to engage in conversation with the young about tough topics they hear about in the news.

Younger readers may want to focus on issues related to the fun side of the weather, and some of the hardships the weather has caused.  Consider the following titles from Random House:

Picture Books

Cold Snap  by Eileen Spinelli; illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

Lemonade in Winter by Emily Jenkins; illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Snow Happy! by Patricia Hubbell; illustrations by Hiroe Nakata

Snow by Roy McKie and P.D. Eastman

Snowflakes Fall  by Patricia MacLachlan; illustrated by Steven Kellogg

Guide Available

Middle Grade

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose

Book Talk Available

Young Adult

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Guide Available

The world has long suffered epidemics that threatened to wipe out entire populations.  The United States has ways of controlling such devastating illnesses, but populations riddled with poverty don’t have medical facilities to help them control these epidemics.  The following books from Random House may help younger readers better understand these global public health issues:

Middle Grade

All the Way Home by Patricia Reilly Giff

Guide Available

The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson

Guide Available

Laugh with the Moon by Shana Berg

Guide Available

Young Adult

A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, adapted by Michael French

Book Talk Available

Outbreak: Plagues That Changed History  by Bryn Barnard

Perhaps young adults know about the raising of the United States Flag on Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945. They may wish to read Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley & Ron Powers & adapted by Michael French

Japan surrendered to the United States on September 2, 1945, officially ending World War II. Commemorate the 70th anniversary of this event by reading books set during World War II with special emphasis on the Pacific Theatre:

Middle Grade

FDR and The American Crisis by Albert Marrin

Under the Blood-Red Sun  by Graham Salisbury

Young Adult

Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive by Laura Hillenbrand

Eyes of the Emperor  by Graham Salisbury

House of Red Fish by Graham Salisbury

Farewell to Manzanar  by Jeanne Houston


February 11, 2015

February: What’s In The News?

There is never too much information when guiding young people to an understanding of national and world events. Most are aware of heated debates over issues like terrorism, immigration and the lifting of the Cuban embargo, and they need guidance as they begin to form their own opinions about hot topics. Have them search libraries for books and materials that relate to articles in the news.

●   Create a Then and Now display that highlights events of the 20th Century that led to newsworthy actions in the 21st century. Begin by introducing The Century for Young People by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster.  For example, what led to the Cuban embargo in the first place?

●   President Obama has called upon Congress to end the 50-year Cuban embargo.  Display books about Cuba and ask readers to find out how lifting the embargo may change the life for Cubans.  Why have some Cuban Americans taken a stand against Obama’s move?  Titles from Random House that help readers connect to the Cuban culture are:

Cuba 15 (young adult) by Nancy Osa

The Red Umbrella (young adult) by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

●  The recent events in Paris where two gunman stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper, and killed eleven people because of the way Muhammad was depicted in cartoons has caused much debate about Free Speech and the way nations deal with terrorists.  Teaching tolerance is the first step in this debate.  Recommended books from Random House are:

Dear Malala, We Stand with You (picture book) by Rosemary McCarney

The Genius of Islam: How Muslims Made the Modern World (middle grade) by Bryn Barnard

Growing Up Muslim (middle grade) by Sumbul All-Karamall

I Love I Hate My Sister (young adult) by Amelle Sarn

No god but God: The Origins & Evolution of Islam (young adult) by Reza Aslan

Shabana. Haveli and House of Djinn (young adult) by Suzanne Fisher Staples

●    Immigration remains in the news.  Suggest that readers “walk in others shoes” by reading a book that brings issues related to immigration front and center.  Titles from Random House include:

The Name Jar (picture book) by Yangsook Chol

Return to Sender (middle grade) by Julia Alvarez

The Tia Lola series (middle grade) by Julia Alvarez

Dark Water (young adult) by Laura McNeal

Enrique’s Journey (young adult) by Sonia Nazario

Outcasts United (young adult) by Warren St. John

●   2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Voter Rights Act signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6, 1965. The movie “Selma” is much in the news because critics question whether it’s historically accurate, especially the portrayal of Johnson. Ask young readers to document all of the events that led to the Voter Rights Act by reading books set during the Civil Rights Movement.   Titles from Random House include:

Child of the Civil Rights Movement (picture book) by Paula Young Shelton & illus by Raul Colon

I Have a Dream (picture book) by Martin Luther King, Jr. & illus by Kadir Nelson

My Dream of Martin Luther King (picture book) by Faith Ringgold

Thank You Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  (elementary) by Eleanora Tate

The Watson’s Go to Birmingham 1963 (middle grade) by Christopher Paul Curtis

January 12, 2015

January: Name the Best

by Pat Scales
It’s the season for the People’s Choice Awards, the ALA Youth Media Awards, and the announcement of the nominees for the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. Public and school libraries looking for ideas for programming might consider pulling ideas from these much-anticipated events. Children and young adults may already participate in the book-award programs in their state or in mock Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz award-selection groups.

Let’s take the award season a bit further and encourage readers to make their choices for best book and best character in categories named by readers. They may select genres like historical fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, science fiction, or nonfiction. It may be fun to narrow the categories to specific themes and topics.

Have readers write a nomination for each suggested category. Post the nominations on the school and public library websites to engage other readers in the school and community. Here are suggestions from Random House:


Betty Goes Bananas (picture book) by Steve Antony

While You Were Napping (picture book) by Jenny Offill and illustrated by Barry Blitt

Freckle Juice (elementary) by Judy Blume

Family Ties (middle grade) by Gary Paulsen

Death by Toilet Paper (middle grade) by Donna Gephart

Flush (middle grade) by Carl Hiaasen

7 Kinds of Ordinary Catastrophes (young adult) by Amber Kizer

Andromeda Klein (young adult) by Frank Portman


Doug Unplugs on the Farm (picture book) by Dan Yaccarino

In New York (picture book) by Marc Brown

The $25,000 Flight (Totally True Adventures) (elementary) by Lori Haskins Houran and illustrated by Wesley Lowe

Chomp (middle grade) by Carl Hiaasen

Navigating Early (middle grade) by Clare Vanderpool

Boys of Blur (middle grade) by N. D. Wilson

The Living (young adult) by Matt de la Peña


Puss in Boots (picture book) by Kathryn Jackson and illustrated by J. P. Miller

Emma and the Blue Genie (elementary) by Cornelia Funke and illustrated by Kerstin Meyer

The Witch at the Window (elementary) by Ruth Chew

Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle (middle grade) by George Hagen

Unmade (young adult) by Sarah Rees Brennan


Anatole (picture book) by Eve Titus

The Little Island (picture book) by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

Harriet the Spy (middle grade) by Louise Fitzhugh

Where the Red Fern Grows (middle grade) by Wilson Rawls

A Day No Pigs Would Die (young adult) by Robert Newton Peck

I Am the Cheese (young adult) by Robert Cormier

Best Series

Junie B. Jones (early reader) by Barbara Park

Babymouse (elementary) by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Alvin Ho (elementary) by Lenore Look and illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Calvin Coconut (elementary) by Graham Salisbury

Cheesie Mack (elementary) by Steve Cotler

Jackson Jones (elementary) by Mary Quattlebaum

The Boys and Girls (middle grade) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Sammy Keyes (young adult) by Wendelin van Draanen

Most Admired Character

Ida Lewis from The Bravest Woman in America (picture book) by Marissa Moss and illustrated by Andrea U’Ren

The boy from Paperboy (middle grade) by Vince Vawter

Clare Silver from Laugh with the Moon (middle grade) by Shana Burg

Auggie Pullman from Wonder (middle grade) by R. J. Palacio

Kenny from The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 (middle grade) by Christopher Paul Curtis

Andi Alpers from Revolution (young adult) by Jennifer Donnelly

Jerry from The Chocolate War (young adult) by Robert Cormier

Hattie Brooks from Hattie Big Sky and Hattie Ever After (young adult) by Kirby Larson

December 03, 2014

December: Write to a Friend Month

Most people don’t write letters anymore. It’s too easy to communicate by email or text. I’m amazed at how many people don’t write thank-you notes for gifts. Most people don’t even bother to RSVP for a special event. Perhaps it’s time to remind the younger generation that while email and text are fabulous ways to convey a quick message, sometimes a written note (sent via snail mail) is more appropriate. Since December is Write to a Friend Month, this is a good time to practice letter-writing skills. Like always, this site offers ways to connect books with special occasions or events. Here are suggestions for ways to make that connection with Write to a Friend Month:

●   Ask students or library patrons if they have ever received a letter from a friend or family member. Librarians and
teachers should write a letter to an unnamed friend to share in class. How does the letter begin? What type of
information is in the body of the letter? How does the letter end? What is the purpose of the PS at the end of the
letter? How does the address appear on the envelope?

●   Have them think of a bit of news they would like to share. Perhaps it’s a victory in a sporting event or an accomplishment in the performing or visual arts. Then have them write about it to a friend.

●   Read aloud from the letters that Austin Ives writes to his brother Levi in Dear Levi: Letters from the Overland Trail by Elvira Woodruff. How do Austin’s letters reveal the plot of the story?

●   Have readers think about the events in a specific novel and write a letter from one character to another. Suggestions from Random House include:

—Freddy to Marlene in Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean (picture book) by Jane Lynch, Lara Embry, and A. E. Mikesell, illustrated by Tricia Tusa

—Harriet M. Welsch to Sport in Harriet the Spy (middle grade) by Louise Fitzhugh

—Little Man to Mr. Spiro in Paperboy (middle grade) by Vince Vawter

—Wahoo Cray to Tuna Gordon in Chomp (middle grade) by Carl Hiaasen

—Katie to Mark in Very Bad Things (young adult) by Susan McBride

—Angel to Inggy in Jersey Angel (young adult) by Beth Ann Bauman

●   Write a letter from a main character to another character after they are grown up. How might they remember significant moments in the plots of their lives? Suggestions from Random House Children’s Books include:

Alvin Ho (beginning reader) series by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Melonhead and the We-Fix-It Company (elementary age) by Katy Kelly, illustrated by Gillian Johnson

—Gabriel Finley in Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle (middle grade) by George Hagen

—Georges in Liar & Spy (middle grade) by Rebecca Stead

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

—Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu from Sylvia & Aki (middle grade) by Winifred Conkling

—Tomi from Under the Blood-Red Sun (young adult) by Graham Salisbury

—Kana Goldberg in Orchards (young adult) by Holly Thompson

—Ethan in The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy (young adult) by Kate Hattemer

—Lotus Lowenstein in The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein (young adult) by Libby Schmais

●   Finally, have readers write a letter from the main character of one novel to another. An example for younger readers is Gooney Bird Greene (elementary age) to Junie B. Jones.

●   Ask for volunteers to share their letters.

November 03, 2014

Celebrate American Education Week

“Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility” – Theme of American Education Week

This year marks the 93rd annual celebration of American Education Week. The National Education Association
suggests daily activities or ways to spotlight education during the week November 17-22. But the focus on the importance of education leads to many programming opportunities for school and public libraries during this week
and all year long. The fact that Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who speaks out about the importance of education for girls in a country where girls aren’t honored, received the Nobel Peace Prize is reason enough to help students in the United States understand how lucky they are to live in a country that offers free public education to all. At the same time, students need to know that educational opportunities haven’t always been available to every school-age child. Our history points to the fact that slave owners didn’t think that slaves had the right to an education. Nightjohn and Sarny by Gary Paulsen tell the story of two people born in slavery who risked their lives to teach black children to read. The early immigrants, farm families, or those suffering economic challenges often kept their children home from school to help earn a living. Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop tells of one girl who desperately wants to continue her education but must drop out to help her family by working in the mill.

  • Read aloud Dear Malala We Stand with You by Rosemary McCarney (picture book). Ask readers to discuss why girls aren’t offered the same educational opportunities as boys in Pakistan. What makes Malala different from other girls in her country?
  • Explain what Malala means, “One child, one teacher, one book and one person can change the world.”
  • Have readers name one book they’ve read that has broadened their view of the world. Instruct them write a letter to their parents that state how the book changed their global view. Suggestions from Random House include:

Enrique’s Journey (middle grade) by Sonia Nazario
Laugh with the Moon (middle grade) by Shana Burg
Slumgirl Dreaming (middle grade) by Ribina Ali with Anne Berthod and Divya Dugar
A Time of Miracles (young adult) by Anne-Laura Bondoux and translated from French by Y. Maudet
The Book Thief (young adult) by Markus Zusak
An Ocean Apart, A World Away and Ties That Bind, Ties That Break (young adult) by Lensey Namioka
Shabanu, Haveli or The House of Djinn (young adult) by Suzanne Fisher Staples

  • Ask readers to read about The Nobel Peace Prize and write a front-page story for a national newspaper that pays tribute to Malala and her efforts on behalf of girls.
  • Have students research one of the milestones in public education in the following timeline of events documented by the NEA.
    The following books from Random House may help them understand these important events:

Sylvia & Aki (middle grade) by Winifred Conkling
Navigating Early (middle grade) by Clare Vanderpool
Wonder (middle grade) by R.J. Palacio

  • Recognizing and honoring teachers is one of the activities that NEA suggests for American Education Week. Ask students to read a book about a special teacher and think of a way to honor them. Suggestions from Random House include:

Miss Brooks Loves Books and Miss Brooks’ Story Nook (Where Tales are Told and Ogres are Welcome) (picture books) by Barbara Bottner and illus. by Michael Emberley
The Magical Ms. Plum (picture book) by Bonny Becker and illus. by Amy Portnoy
SCAT (middle grade) by Carl Hiaasen
Burning Up (young adult) by Caroline B. Cooney
Ringside, 1925 (young adult) by Jen Bryant