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Celebrating National Poetry Month!

In less than two hours it will be April, and the beginning of National Poetry Month! Here are a few links to get you started.

Join Angie Karcher on her blogsite for RhyPiBoMo—Rhyming Picture Book Month. This is a month-long celebration of poetry and rhyming picture books. Enjoy blog posts from well-know poets as Jane Yolen, Lee Bennet Hopkins, Myra Reisberg and others. I feel honored to be a part of the list of guest bloggers for this event. My blog post will be featured on April 14th. During the month enjoy short lessons and writing prompts, and other resources. Register to be eligible for daily prizes. You can also join RhyPiBo Mo on facebook. Check out today's post with poet Lisa Wheeler!

Join the 30/30 Poetry Challenge 2014 and receive daily poetry writing prompts. Take the challenge to write 30 poems in 30 days.

Go to Irene Latham’s blogsite, Live Your Poem, to follow the 2014 Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem. What is it? A poem that travels daily from blog to blog, with each host adding a line. Watch as a poem grows from day one to the end of April.

Check out 30 Days/30 Poets with Greg Pinkus. 30 Days/30 Poets 2014 will feature two poems per day by well-known poets in a blast from the past.

National Poetry Month is a celebration of poetry first introduced in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets as a way to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in the United States. It is celebrated every April in the United States and (since 1999) Canada. For information about National Poetry Month, go to Poets.org, the Academy of American Poets.

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Children’s Writers and the Common Core and What School Librarians and Book Store Owners Look For

Panel of school librarians and independent book seller
Recently I attended a program on the Common Core Standards (CCS) and how it relates to children’s writers. Not having a teaching background can make understanding the CCS a little more difficult. But with 45 states, the District of Columbia and four territories using the CCS, it’s something that children’s authors should be aware of. Here are a few things that I learned.

The purpose of the common core standards is to provide consistent and clear understanding of what students must learn. CCS are a ‘guide,’ and are not specific.

There are different requirements for different grade levels, but the anchor standards are reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language. Reading is at the core of the CCS.

So how does this apply to us as writers of children’s literature? Ask yourself, where does your book fit into instruction? How does your book fit into the Common Core Standards taught in the schools? In other words, how can your book be used to reinforce what is being taught in schools.

What ways can you find in your book to connect to the Common Core Standards?
What is the grade level or reading level of your book? Books are made more marketable by using guided reading levels. For example, I can find the Flesch Kincaid reading level of my picture books by going to ‘Review’ in Word and clicking on ‘Spelling & Grammar.’ After it finishes the spell check, it will tell me the word count and readability, including passive sentences, Flesch reading ease, and Flesch-Kincaid grade level. If my picture book is a 2.9 reading level it might be included on the accelerated reading list for grade 2, which boosts sales to school libraries.

Teachers are concerned about having enough non-fiction for students. But your book doesn’t have to be non-fiction to have a connection to a historical event if there are facts within your story. Is there a math connection using counting, money, time? Does your story contain facts about plants, animals, planets? Is yours a book of poetry? The use of ‘language’ and ‘poetic form’ fits into the CCS.

Include how your book aligns to the CCS on your website. Post some book-related activities.

As part of the program, a panel of school librarians and an independent book store owner talked about how they choose the books that they buy. Big on the list was recommendations from sales reps, teachers and readers. Some other influences were—
books with good sales history
award-winning books
books with ‘kid’ appeal or ‘boy appeal’
books with kids as main characters
books requested by students

One librarian from an elementary school said she would like more books about animals and more multi-cultural books.

For non-fiction, in general, panelists wanted non-fiction that is not ‘text-heavy,’ good narrative, readability, and curriculum tie-ins. For biography, they look for non-fiction that reads like fiction. They also look for books about their state or about people from their state.

All agreed that their book purchasing budgets were down this year. All read reviews such as School Library Journal and Booklist, and they look for books with starred reviews. For some, they can only purchase books that have had three favorable reviews in the major publications, such as those above.

All looked for that curriculum tie-in. But—“Do not ‘write to’ the curriculum or the common core standards!” we were told. “Because whatever you write, is relative to someone.”  Read More 
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Using Difficult Words in Picture Books

Dirty Gert

Picture books are intended to be read to, or read by, younger children. They’re usually labeled as age 3 to 5 or age 5 to 8. When writing a picture book, we’re told to keep the age of our reader in mind. Picture books help a child develop language and concept. A picture book can either stick to the familiar, or introduce new words or concepts, or maybe do a little bit of both.

One of my critique groups raised a question about language, and words used in picture books that seem to be well over the age of the intended reader. I had questioned some words in a short picture book manuscript that seemed above the age level for picture books. But if you look at some picture books that children love, you can find some very difficult words in them.

Take for example DIRTY GERT by Ted Arnold. Arnold writes some very funny picture books, including PARTS and MORE PARTS, which I love. Here are some of the words used in DIRTY GERT:

idolized
internalizer
tantalize
supervised
civilize
reorganized
photosynthesized … and so on.

The story is about a little girl who loves to eat dirt. What child wouldn’t find that hilarious! The rhyme feeds into the unfamiliar words. Will they ‘get’ all the words? I think not. Will they ‘learn’ new words? I think most kids would learn at least some of them. Will they ‘get’ the story? Absolutely.

A picture book is a combination of words and pictures. The illustrations help the child to figure out what’s going on in the story. Illustrations are a learning tool. And Arnold’s illustrations are hilarious as well as the text.

The text is written in rhyme, so it’s fun to read out loud. Rhyme is a learning tool. Children like to repeat words in rhyme, and it helps a child to remember the words.

A child may not understand the words, but they are fun to say. Even without considering rhyme, they are poetic.

Picture books are fun. And reading this book together is a way for an adult and a child to have fun together while learning.

Some ways that picture books help a child learn include use of language, visual thinking, developing imagination, understanding humor, and exploring emotions.

I wouldn’t worry about expecting a child to understand all of the words in this book. And I don’t think it’s necessary. There is more for them to get from it. And they’ll have fun reading it, which is an important part of childhood.  Read More 
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