Media Literacy and “Teaching Kids News”

TKN_logoI’m a freelance journalist who is also involved in children’s literacy.

A few years ago, I brought those two aspects of my life together to co-create: TeachingKidsNews.com (TKN).

(Here’s the story of how TKN got started: an interested parent + an enthusiastic teacher.)

TKN provides daily, kid-friendly news. For each article we add teaching questions taken from the school curriculum.

So, kids can find out what’s happening in the “real” news–and teachers/homeschool parents can cover off the curriculum.

Recently, TVOParents talked to the founders of TKN about media literacy and why it’s so important for kids to develop critical media literacy skills.

Here is TVO’s wonderful piece on TKN and media literacy.

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Getting kids writing – a book that worked for me

Just Write: Here's how by Walter Dean MyersDo you have a budding writer on your hands?

Here’s a terrific, fast-reading book that aims to get young people writing.

Walter Dean Myers has written more than 100 books, including the best-selling Monster.

He is currently the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in New York.

His books tend to be about the young, urban black experience in America. And he knows whereof he writes.

Being able to write lifted Myers out of his sometimes difficult home life. It gave him possibilities. It saved him.

He wants young people to be able to make the journey that was so important for him.

Just Write: Here’s How! is a book I picked up at the library because I was stuck. Having a been a journalist for more than 25 years–and writing nearly every day that I can remember–I was stuck. I had several looming book-related deadlines and I needed something to help me get unstuck, and fast. I’m delighted to say that Myers’s book has done just that.

I didn’t have time for boring, introduction-heavy tomes that were written from atop some author’s high horse. And kids don’t either.

Just Write doesn’t beat around the bush. It tells you how to start, how to plan, how to plot and how to revise. It’s practical and specific. “Here are the tools; it’s not easy, but you can do it.”

For instance, Myers plans his novels using a “six-box model.”WalterDeanMyersPhoto
The boxes are:
1) Character and problem
2) Obvious solutions
3) Insight and inner conflict
4) Growth and change
5) Taking action
6) Resolution

The writer fills in each box to create a plan. Later, each box is fleshed out to create an outline.

Myers also advises writers to pin photographs of their characters on a wall near where they’re writing. It’s a good idea.

Although it was great for me, Just Write is aimed at young people. Myers recounts his collaboration with a young writer who happened to send him an email. (I’m not sure how he got Myers’s email address, by the way, because I’ve been scouring the Internet for it and can’t find it anywhere–so right off the bat, this must have been an exceptional kid.)

The two–experienced writer and absolute beginner–began planning their book and then writing it, a chapter at a time, until they had something that could be published. Their book, Kick, was published by Harperteen (Harper Collins) last year.

Myers does a lot of work with kids in correctional institutions. He figures that without writing, that’s likely where he’d have wound up. He knows that there are kids in there who have something to say; he wants to help them get a chance to say it.

I love that although I’m not black, I’m not male, I’m not young, I’m not in crisis, I’m not a new writer and (I hope) I’m not headed for jail… this book helped me to write. If you know a kid who is even one of those things, I’m sure it will help them, too.

This is a book that will help kids get–and keep on–writing.

Related links
A collection of Myers’s books with descriptions.
Myers’s website.

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Enter our exciting Gordon Korman contest!

Gordon Korman You know I’m a huge Gordon Korman fan.

That’s because, ever since he wrote his first, award-winning book at the age of 12 (that is not a typo), he’s penned some of Canada’s best loved children’s books.

Now, I’m excited to announce a contest for tickets to see Gordon Korman, live.

SEE GORDON KORMAN LIVE AT IFOA

You can win two tickets to see Gordon Korman at the IFOA (International Festival of Authors) in Toronto, Ont. on October 26 at 11 a.m.

Korman will be interviewed about his new book, The Hypnotists, live on-stage by none other than Patty Sullivan, popular host of Kids’ CBC!

Here are the event details.

Gordon Korman is the beloved author of hilarious Canadian classic, This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall!, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.

Since then Gordon has written more than 70 novels for young readers. Take a look at some of them here: Books by Gordon Korman.

The Hypnotists by Gordon KormanHOW TO ENTER

To enter the contest, send an email to scholasticcanada@gmail.com (no dot between Scholastic and Canada); tell us what your favourite Gordon Korman book is, and which one you’d like to read and you might just win it, along with the tickets! Use the subject line: Korman Contest.

CBC's Patty Sullivan will interview author Gordon Korman.

CBC’s Patty Sullivan will interview author Gordon Korman.

We have TWO sets of TWO tickets to give away (along with ONE book of your choice)!

This prize pack doesn’t include transportation or accommodation in Toronto. (You know that, but we have to say it.) Oh, and this prize pack is worth approximately $40, depending on what book you pick. However… reading your favourite Gordon Korman book on the subway on your way to see him at IFOA? Priceless!

The deadline to enter is Oct. 20, so enter now!

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“Spirit Animals,” a new multi-author book series with an online game

  • September 30, 2013 at 11:59 am
  • Great books
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Wild Born Book 1 Spirit Animals Books in series are popular with kids because, once they’ve found a book they love, they can keep reading as long as the author keeps writing.

Sometimes, of course, that’s not often enough. After all, there are only so many books a writer can produce in a year. Kids can read ’em faster than writers can write ’em.

That’s one reason why multi-author series are so popular.

39 Clues, of course, is one of the best and most popular multi-author series, with some big-name children’s authors including Gordan Korman and Rick Riordan.

Scholastic recently launched a new multi-author series called Spirit Animals. Book I is Wild Born, by best-selling author Brandon Mull.

The series is almost certain to be a hit with kids. It deliberately hits all the right buttons—an interesting fantasy world in which kids are the heroes, likeable, imperfect protagonists that kids can identify with, and… animals. Kids love books about animals, there is no doubt of that.

But these are not just any animals. In Wild Born, certain children can conjure up a “spirit animal,” with whom they then bond for life. That spirit animal gives the child powers—but only after the child has already proven himself capable.

Wild Born’s world is Erdas (which, naturally, is in peril and will require the kids and their spirit animals to save it.)Hunted Spirit Animals Book II Maggie Stiefvater

Erdas is similar enough to Earth that kids don’t have to mentally venture too far from home. Relatability is important for middle-grade readers, some of whom may get turned off something that is just too “out there.”

Erdas’s continents are given relatively recognizable names: Arctica, Eura, Amaya (“America”) and Zhong (“Asia”) – in real life, the Chinese word for China is Zhong Guo.

Brandon Mull scoped out the plot for the whole series, which the other writers will follow and embellish. The uber-popular children’s author Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Boys) picks up the torch for book two in the series, Hunted, which comes out in January. There will be seven books in the series; the last one comes out in April 2015.

Another plus for a middle-grade book is a plot that clips right along and Wild Born has that in spades. The reader is introduced to each child in turn and his or her spirit animal; the children are quickly united in a massive, action-packed save-the-world adventure.

While there is a lot going on—with four main characters and four spirit animals, it’s a lot for the reader to keep track of—kids love that kind of mental juggling.

The animals, incidentally, are an eagle, a cheetah, a wolf and a panda (whose bonded child never quite appreciates it in Book I: “What skills would it bestow on a fighter? The ability to eat bamboo,” Meilin asks herself.).

The Spirit Animals series is known as a “multi-platform fantasy adventure series” because it includes an online game kids can access using a code in their book. Kids create an adventurer and conjure their own spirit animal. In fairly short order, enemies start attacking–I was bitten by a magic rattlesnake quite a few times before I could find a way to right-click him into oblivion–and the Greencloaks waste no time in ushering your character into Erdas.

It’s not necessary to go online to enjoy the books. It’s just an added bonus to help get—and keep—kids reading.

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“The Hypnotists” by Gordon Korman

The Hypnotists by Gordon KormanEver since he was a teenager and winning awards for his fabulous Macdonald Hall series, Canadian author Gordon Korman has been getting kids reading, and turning them into life-long readers.

Korman has a knack for creating likeable, memorable characters, interesting worlds and unique situations.

His new The Hypnotists is no exception.

Like a playful punch in the arm exchanged between pals, Korman’s books will be enjoyed particularly by boys.

They will be instantly drawn to young Jackson Opus who, we discover, is descended from two families, each with the powerful ability to hypnotize.

As Opus’s gift becomes known he is enrolled in a special school and, ultimately, used as a pawn to create city-wide mischief.

Opus must recognize who the bad guys are, and then come to understand that he is much more powerful than they are, if much less experienced at using his gift.

We love The Hypnotists because the answers to problems aren’t immediately obvious. Korman is a master story-teller and as such, leads us to conclusions rather than simply dropping us into them.

An English teacher once told me that the best books have characters you will remember long after you have closed the back cover.

Jackson Opus now takes his place among the many Korman characters who will always occupy a happy corner of my memory.

Gordon Korman

Gordon Korman

And The Hypnotists takes its place among the very best of middle-grade books.

——————————————————————————-

The Hypnotists is the first book in a series.
Visit Korman’s website for more information about his many novels.
The Macdonald Hall series on Getting Kids Reading.

 

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For tween girls: Small, Medium at Large, by Joanne Levy

small-medium-at-largeIf you’re looking for a lovely, humorous read for your tween girl, look no further than Small Medium at Large, by Joanne Levy.

The title refers to the fact that after our heroine, Lilah Bloom, is struck by lightning (at her mother’s wedding) she begins to hear ghosts–starting with her grandmother, Bubby Dora.

The ghosts Bloom communicates with are always interesting, funny and helpful. And come to think about it, isn’t that exactly what a tween girl needs? Helpful, fun mentors she can turn to for advice during those tricky in-between years.

And what girl wouldn’t give anything to be able to spend a few more days with her grandmother?

The story clicks right along, in Small Medium at Large, with just enough character development to satisfy most young female readers and just enough action to make it a fast and easy read.

The ghosts help Bloom solve some problems, like finally getting her dorky dad to go on a date. And she helps them, as well.

The main character, Lilah Bloom, is a girl who’s smart but just imperfect enough for the reader to be able to relate to her. Small Medium at Large is a good read, for girls at an age when it can be difficult to find reading material that’s not babyish but not inappropriate, either. This book fits the bill.

There is an excellent review of the book on the blog YA Love.

 

 

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Strange word game – but fun!

monkey-go-happy-guess-starfishMonkey GO Happy, Guess? is an odd game, yes it is.

But it’s fun. Kids’ll like it.

And you can’t deny, it’s all about words.

The online game is one of a series of simple, quirky word games by PencilKids.

In Monkey GO Happy, Guess? (the spelling and punctuation of its name belie its oddness) you have to figure out what word is needed, based on a picture clue.

For instance, a picture of a STAR plus a picture of a FISH would equal STARFISH.
The clues get progressively stranger, albeit not necessarily much more difficult, as you proceed.

Every time you get one right you earn coins.

Underlying all of the oddness is oddly catchy music, bonus games in which you have to figure out roman numerals based on clues, the occasional brainteaser plus the chance to use your accumulated coins to buy mini-prizes (a trampoline, a car) for the little monkeys at the bottom of the page.

It’s all very odd, but fun. And word-oriented.

The link for this game is via Bart Bonte‘s excellent online casual games page.
You can search his site for the other Monkey GO Happy games.

 

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Great free, online game with words

RISE onomasticaThe online game Onomastica is what’s known as a “platformer.”

In other words, it’s one of those run-and-jump games, like Mario (except much simpler).

You make the character run or jump using the –> arrows on your keyboard.

With Onomastica, however, the character also interacts with simple words. When he encounters WALL, for instance, he has to push an S next to TAIR to create stairs that will get him over an obstacle.

It’s a super-simple, quick and easy game that kids will like.

And it might just get them thinking about words in a new way.

 

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More about the three important literacy boosters

49th shelf logoWe’ve talked before on GKR about the three most important things you can do for your kids to get them reading.

(Hint – there’re in the sidebar, over there on the right-hand side!)

The fine people at 49th Shelf, a Canadian literature site, have allowed me to talk a bit about them. Just in time for Family Literacy Day, Jan. 27.

(If you’re not familiar with 49th Shelf, get yerself on over there and check it out. It’s a terrific website that promotes Canadian literature.)

And by the way, if you’re looking for something to do to celebrate Literacy Day this weekend, come on down to my book launch for Gabby.

It’s this Sunday at 1:00 at the International Travel Authority cafe, 1165 Bloor St. W., Toronto. There’ll be cake!

 

Here’s the article on 49th Shelf.

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Writing contest for Canadian kids grades 4 to 12

Madonna with Writing Child, by Pinturicchio, 1490s.

Madonna with Writing Child, by Pinturicchio, 1490s.

If you’re a Canadian kid in grade 4 to 12, you could win a great prize in a writing contest sponsored by the Canadian Children’s Centre and TD.

Here are some details:

  • Deadline is Feb. 1, 2013;
  • Fiction or non-fiction stories or poems;
  • Entries must be mailed in (no emails or faxes);
  • Must include an entry form — found here;
  • Prizes: $250 book gift certificate for a winner in each grade plus two honourable mentions ($50) from each grade.

You’ll find more details, the address to send your entries to and the entry form on the Canadian Children’s Book Centre website, here.

(Oh, the image? Yeah, that’s a child in the 1400s. He’s writing. In a book held by the mother of Jesus. Don’t worry, he’s not eligible for the contest–not Canadian. Phew!)

 

 

 

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