Common Core and the World of Children’s Books

And now a break from regular programming to bring you an interview about the changing school library market.

I met Jessica Robison at the recent Carolinas SCBWI conference and was fascinated to hear what she had to say about Common Core Curriciulum. I hope you’ll be fascinated, too.

Jessica is a National Board Certified Teacher who teaches eleventh grade English and AP English Language. She’s also a member of the Common Core Curriculum Implementation Team in Richland School District One in South Carolina. “My passions,” she says, “are people, reading, and writing, so English teaching suits me.”

Jessica, we’ve been hearing “Common Core” a lot. What does it mean?

The Common Core standards have been adopted by 45 states in the US, and provide educators, students, and parents with clear, specific goals for every grade level in the areas of Math and Language Arts. Visit this website for more information:

What’s the origin of Common Core, and what’s the goal?

For as long as I can remember, college professors and employers have complained that students are not prepared for college or the workforce. Their writing is not up to par, for example, or they are unable to comprehend college-level texts. As educators, our main job is to prepare students for their future, so we’ve known for quite awhile that something had to change in our schools to give our students the skills they need.

     The Common Core standards are based on the actual needs of our students instead of what teachers and state stakeholders think they need.  Our past state standards started with the writers asking what kids should be able to do in kindergarten, and planned forward. Without the focus on the end goal, there was less urgency at the early and middle grades. The Common Core’s use of backwards design makes it more rigorous in its expectations on students from elementary to high school, and I believe it is more in tune with what students will be expected to do after high school.
     The Common Core starts with the end in mind. Here’s what I mean: the creators of the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) asked this question: “What do students need to know and do when they graduate from high school?” They compiled answers from the community, colleges, and other stakeholders. Then, they worked backwards. “Ok,” they said, “then these reading and writing standards should be the standards for twelfth grade.  And what do students need to be able to do by the tenth grade?” Then they planned tenth grade, and so on. After comprehensive study and backwards planning, the team put together the CCSS.
What will change in the reading requirements for different grade levels?
From what I understand, educators will be putting more emphasis on re-reading and checking for deeper understanding. There will be less focus on reading a text, doing a worksheet with questions, and moving on.  Also, the ELA (English Language Arts) classroom will be flooded with nonfiction, and teachers will be encouraging students to read books appropriate for their reading level.
What do you think teachers and librarians will be looking for in the years to come?
Personally, I am on a quest for interesting nonfiction, as our focus shifts in that direction. I’ve recently gotten several good recommendations, but in the words of the famous meme, “I WANT MOAR!”
What are teachers around you saying about Common Core and the way it will affect how they teach reading/ writing/ literature?
Since I work with an amazing group of motivated educators, we are excited. Bring it on!  Once Common Core is implemented, we’ll see more student-driven discussions, with higher level thinking.  I think students will be reading harder books. I think they will get more frustrated, but will learn how to work through their frustration, which is another skill they will need in the real world.
Thanks so much for sharing, Jessica! I’ve been reading a bit of back and forth about Common Core. Here’s a recent editorial in the Washington Post, and here’s a post from a blog by a group of nonfiction lovers.
Personally, I think it will be really interesting to see where Common Core takes children, educators, and writers. I hope fiction won’t be lost in the shuffle, but there are lots of wonderful nonfiction texts that I hope will get new mileage in the classroom.
What do you think?

Slowpoke Giveaway and Discussion Guide: Closed

Want to win a free book?

To celebrate the release of the discussion guide for Slowpoke, I’m holding a giveaway contest. That means you have the chance to win a hardcover, signed copy of my early reader for your very own.

Make sure to check out the discussion guide here, written by the fabulous Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, a talented author in her own right. It’s a great teaching tool, relating Slowpoke to lessons in vocabulary, science, and art. The guide also includes questions for discussing the book with your child or students.

What are the rules?

  • Between now and Saturday, November 5, at 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, answer this question in the comments section: What was the first book you remember reading to yourself (or your child to him or herself)? Or, share your favorite children’s book, or just say “hi”!
  • One entry per person, per household. EXCEPTION: You can be entered twice if you link to this post in your blog, facebook, or Twitter account (or other social media). Add the link (or tell me about it, in the case of facebook) in the comments section so I know about the link and can enter your second chance.
  • This contest is restricted to residents of the United States or Germany.
  • The winner will be chosen using
  • The prize is just one book (not all the books in the photo).

Slowpoke is appropriate for boys or girls. It’s especially geared towards children who are learning to read, but it can be enjoyed as a parent read-aloud as well.

Booklist says: “Pearce’s succinct text will amuse emerging readers with her only slightly exaggerated references to the hectic pace of modern life. Ritchie’s fluid, cartoon-style illustrations are equally adept at conveying the story’s speedy absurdities”

School Library Journal says, “the writing in this easy reader is strong, and Pearce includes humorous examples and descriptions of Fiona’s predicament.”

 Good luck and have fun!

** Please note this giveaway is now closed.

Hand-Shaped Drawings

My little folks have been making these lately. Yes, permission was granted for posting. Actually, I was requested to post pictures—a first.

They come from a book the little man was given for Christmas:

Hand Art (Chicken Socks)

They’ve had lots of fun with it. It kind of reminds me of Ed Emberley’s stuff. Do you remember his books? I used to love them as a kid. I need to pull out our copy of this:

View Image

I would highly recommend either of these books as a gift.

We just returned from Italy, so stay tuned for travel updates.

Beyond Coloring Books

My kids are way into drawing right now, and I hope it continues forever. At this point, they don’t really wanting me sharing their drawings on the blog, but maybe in the future, I hope. I bought them this book (one of our go-to birthday gifts for friends) but made them promise they would share it with me, too:

It’s a coloring book with pages that are primarily blank, with prompts for what you might want to draw on them. For example:
The caption reads, translated from the German: Who sits in the other four cages? Draw keys to free them all.
There’s a whole series of these books. They remind me of my Anti-Coloring Book from back in the day, a similar concept published in America. The idea is to give kids something to imagine, something they can draw themselves, rather than an outline they just color in.
This is the old school cover:
You can still buy these books, for example here, albeit with updated covers.
Here’s one of my favorite drawings from my old Anti-Coloring Book:
Note the I Dream of Jeannie influence on one of the homes. You gotta love SuperStation TBS. The red-haired lady is saying “Good morning, Mr. Doowaddle.”
Here’s another drawing that cracks me up, this time for the 80s references:
Notice any other tv influence? I must’ve watched a lot of tv.
The creator of the Anti-Coloring Books, Susan Striker, has a pretty extensive website, and you can even get free downloadable sample pages from the books there. Enjoy!

Max and Moritz: Great Uncles of the Comic Strip

File:Max und Moritz.JPG

You know the Brothers Grimm, but maybe you haven’t heard of some other famous German brothers: Max and Moritz. They’re some of the most beloved characters in all of German literature.

Published in 1865, Max and Moritz is the story of two naughty brothers whose adventures range from mischievous to vicious. Their darkly comical story is told in a series of seven pranks, and in the end….well, let’s just say they don’t get away with their crimes. It’s not exactly a Disney fairy tale.

The subversive  humor of the book and the boys’ flippancy toward adults represented a departure in the children’s literature of the time, which was strictly moralistic.

The book’s action-filled sequential line drawings are paired with relatively little text. It’s widely believed that Max and Moritz was the direct inspiration for the Katzenjammer Kids, the “oldest American comic strip still in syndication and the longest-running ever.” (from Wikipedia)

The other day I made a date with myself to go to the Wilhelm Busch Museum here in Hannover. The creator of Max and Moritz, illustrator and poet Wilhelm Busch, lived in and around Hannover for several years of his life. The museum is located on the edge of the royal Herrenhauser Gartens. It’s my favorite kind of museum: small, intimate, a beautiful space with really strong exhibits. It houses some of the original Max and Moritz sketches—I love seeing the rough beginnings of things.

Here’s the museum below:

The museum also hosts temporary exhibits of illustration and caricature, and I was lucky enough to catch the show of Lisbeth Zwerger, famed Austrian illustrator. I’ve been a fan of her whimsical fairy tale illustrations for a long time, so it was really interesting to see them in person. Along with German and English editions of Max and Moritz, I couldn’t resist getting Zwerger’s Noah’s Ark, also in the original German—I guess it’ll be good for my language skills.

Also on display, and equally interesting, was a large retrospective show of  influential British carticature artist Ronald Searle. I snapped a quick pic of this machine in the corner of the gallery:

What do you think it is? I’m guessing it’s a hygrometer to make sure the air doesn’t get too damp and damage the artwork, but I don’t know.

I can’t wait to get back to the museum for the next exhibits.

The Max and Moritz image above, which is in the public domain, was found at wikipedia. Information in this post comes from the English and German wikipedia entries for Wilhelm Busch.

Do All That You Can Do: Fight Breast Cancer with the Army of Women

Do you wish there was something practical you could do to fight breast cancer? There are lots of folks out there raising funds for the fight. It’s a very important way to help in the search for a cure, but there’s something else you can do to help, and it’s absolutely free.

Those of you who have read my middle grade novel, Isabel and the Miracle Baby, know that Isabel’s mother is a breast cancer survivor. What you may not know is that my own dear mom is also a breast cancer survivor, but mom’s story began after I wrote the book.

Two years ago, Mom found a lump in her breast. I’m so glad and proud that Mom had the courage to get it checked out, even though she’d had many lumps before that turned out to be nothing. This one turned out to be something, and luckily Mom caught it early. She had surgery and radiation and is doing very well. She’s now part of a breast cancer support group (Isabel had one of those, too!) and is trying to help raise awareness.

Breast cancer research has come a long way but still has a long way to go. One obstacle in the way of curing breast cancer is the lack of enough people to participate in studies of the disease.

The Army of Women is an initiative by the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation to connect women with cancer research scientists. The goal is to build an “army” of people to participate in research, whether that be through questionnaires, or providing of samples. All you have to do is register with your email address here. You won’t be pressured to do anything you don’t want—-you’ll just be made aware of what you can do (trust me, I’m a member, so I can speak firsthand). FAQ here.

Any woman can take part, breast cancer survivor or not. We need all kinds! Thanks for your help.

Slowpoke Update and Skype Author Chat

Slowpoke has gotten a couple more positive reviews, from Booklist :

“Pearce’s succinct text will amuse emerging readers with her only slightly exaggerated references to the hectic pace of modern life. Ritchie’s fluid, cartoon-style illustrations are equally adept at conveying the story’s speedy absurdities…and its more relaxing moments”

and from School Library Journal (scroll down after clicking on the link).

Also, I just found out that Slowpoke now has an Accelerated Reader test (you have to enter the title into the search feature to see it).

Last week, I did a Skype author chat with Carver Elementary School in Florence, SC. It was really fun. The students are third-graders and had all read Slowpoke ahead of time. Their teachers helped them compile questions about the writing process. I missed being able to interact in person with the kids, but it was a good experience. The learning goes both ways with these kinds of things, and it’s always great to hear from readers. I’d like to do more of them in the future. For tips on hosting a Skype author chat, check out this article. If your school wants to host me, please contact bettyasmith (at) bellsouth (dot) net and put “author visit” in the subject line.

The picture above is me on the big screen in Carver’s library. Special thanks to librarian Debra Heimbrook for working with me on this inaugural Skype chat.

The Frankfurt Report

Every year Frankfurt, Germany hosts the largest international book fair (Buch Messe) in the world. Last week, I took the train down to Frankfurt to see what all the excitement is about.

In the picture above, taken by Sarah Johnson, my gracious host and guide, I’m in the Boyds Mills Press booth, where Slowpoke was displayed (way down in the corner to my left). Yeah, my expression is strange. Just to my right the BMP foreign rights rep was having a meeting, so I guess I was feeling a little silly posing for a shot right beside them.

This book fair is all business. Whereas at librarian and teacher conferences  the booth folk are very chatty, here they are all booked from morning til night with business meetings. There are few authors or educator types or average joe book customers, and the books aren’t sold individually. The idea is to show them to foreign publishers who might want to buy the rights and re-publish in another country/ language.  Like this:

The hall for German publishers is a little different, with readings and cookbook demos and tv interviews going on all day. It had by far the most traffic of all the halls. Interestingly, the BMP booth was located in this hall, not with all the other American and British publishers in another hall.

American friends who had been before all told me to wear walking shoes. Now that I live in Germany, all my shoes are walking shoes. It was good advice, though. My shoes held up fine, but I was definitely sore from walking for hours and hours.

It was fascinating to see the books being written and published in countries all across the world. Even though I’m living overseas, I often still forget that the U.S. is just one market, just one place people make and read books, and English is just one language of many. The picture book artwork really stood out to me—-so many fresh and fabulous images.

Some of my favorite covers:

Signature : Patterns in Gond Art


Those top two covers are both from Kalandraka,  a Spanish language children’s publisher that produces gorgeous books. The third book is from Indian publisher Tara Books. They sell handmade, hand-printed versions of their books as well as “regular” ones. More info about Tara books at this blog post. The fourth cover above is from Swedish publisher Raben & Sjogren.

Below is a display of Steig Larrson’s book covers. The Swedish author’s trilogy has been translated and read all over the world, and each country has its own cover art. I’m currently reading book the second book in the trilogy, with the trade paperback British cover (which I have to say is not my favorite—the cover, that is—the book is awesome).

There were a lot of digital tools around at the fair. I find the whole digital publishing front intriguing, but I was struck by the overwhelming beauty of the actual books in contrast. Especially picture books. A screen just can’t compete with paper. I guess I’m a paper-lover, always have been.

Speaking of paper-loving, I also really enjoyed the booths full of German art books. I’m talking about hand-printed, limited edition books from independent presses. The ultimate rebellion against the digital age. Made me want to start cranking out my own again.

My Very First Easy Reader: WHY CAN’T I HAVE MY OWN WAY?

Unearthed recently from the ESP archives, this is my first easy reader, written sometime during my first grade year. I’m posting it today to celebrate the release of my new easy reader, Slowpoke! Enjoy.

"No, this one."

"I am." / "I am."

"This."/ "This." I believe that's a couple of dodge balls vs. a jump rope.

"You can't," (says the mom). "I will," (says the kid).