Archive for June 10, 2013

The Problem with Math Problems, Common Core, Standard Tests, etc.

I’ve been meaning to write an epic post recounting my visits to schools this past year. The things I’ve seen, the things I’ve learned, but gosh, I keep watching it slide down my list of things to do.

In short:

* It’s INSANE that elementary schools don’t have full-time librarians. Crazy, backwards, tragic, stupid, ill-conceived.

* Writing that above bullet point, I know that I should try to do more.

* April used to be the first month that filled up with school visits. It was the perfect time of year for it. Nowadays all I hear after we take out the calendars, “=April is out — that’s for testing.” Okay, I’ll admit that I have a bias, but what we are saying is, “In April, there’s no time to celebrate literacy and inspire a love of reading and thinking and writing — we’ve got to give hours upon hours of lousy tests instead.”

* When educators rally around the state capitol in Albany and chant, “Let us teach, let us teach, let us teach!” that’s just a really sad thing. I wish that we would, you know, listen to them.

Some links:

* An ALA-supported education bill that aims to help support school libraries: “For too long, research has shown that students have a better chance of succeeding academically when they attend schools with strong library programs,” said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association’s Washington Office. “This bill will ensure that students will have access to professionals who can help them make connections between subject areas, retrieve information, and think independently.”

* I’m so sorry I missed this important public statement, but was off coaching a ballgame. A sincere “thank you” to everybody who showed up to fight the good fight.

* NY Principals: Why new Common Core Tests failed.

We New York City and Metropolitan Area Principals hold ourselves accountable to ensuring that all of our students make consistent and meaningful academic progress. Although we are skeptical of the ability of high stakes tests alone to accurately capture students’ growth, we understand a system’s need for efficiently establishing and measuring milestones of learning.

“Will Anybody Be There?” I Wondered

So I was all set for a book signing at BEA (Book Expo America!), and by all set I mean, Showered & Dressed. Beyond that, who knew!

Signings are always dicey and come, like clowns and mimes, with associated horrors. That is, seemingly benign and happy on the outside, but inside lurks a black snake with venom called Public Humiliation.

In other words: “Will anybody show up?”

And even: “Why would they?”

Authors, it’s how we roll.

Fortunately, publishers look out for their authors. So they offer freebies. No, we couldn’t tap a keg or fire up the Weber Grill.

The trick was to offer FREE BOOKS!

That’s those things we love — BOOKS — at the price we like — FREE!

You may wonder, “How do I get a free book?”

Ah, there’s a bit of a catch. A minor hurdle. A rub.

First, you stand on line. Next, you shuffle foreward. Last, you accept a signature from the guy in the chair. Some small talk may be required. A bit of grace. Then, and only then, do you get the free book. That’s the price you pay at BEA.

And seriously, if you don’t get this already, I am sincerely grateful and amazed that anybody would ever show up with a smile, and kind words, and ask for my autograph. Really. The honor is mine.

So I’ll say it again: Thanks.

Hope you like the book!

BEA 2013: “James Preller: Pursuing a New Direction” (and a Photo Op with R.L. Stine)

Just passing along an article by the very kind Sally Lodge, who phoned me a couple of weeks back. We chatted for a while and the result of that conversation was this article that appeared in a special edition of Publishers Weekly for Book Expo America (BEA).

And yes, while I was in NYC, I stood next to R.L. Stine and tried to hug him. Thanks to Kathryn Little for the snap!

He might not have loved it, hard to say. But actually, we spoke amiably in front of a video camera, so maybe a cool clip will come of it at some point down the road. But I digress!

Here’s the article:

The author of the Jigsaw Jones Mysteries ventures onto chilling turf in his latest series, Scary Tales, which premieres in July with Home Sweet Horror. James Preller calls the project, published by Feiwel and Friends, a “massive departure for me. I’ve always really adhered to realistic fiction. If someone had said that I would be writing a novel about zombies outside of a school—that happens in the third book—I would have said, ‘That’s ridiculous!’ But what’s interesting to me is how the other characters, ordinary people, respond to and interact with those zombies. With this series, I’m giving myself new freedom, and I’m really having fun with it.”

Preller’s inspiration for Scary Tales had several sources. His most recent fiction has been geared to older readers, including middle-grade novels Six Innings and Bystander, and Before You Go, his debut YA. “I hadn’t written anything for the second- and third-grade audience for a while, and I wanted to get back to that,” he says. “I hear from teachers and librarians that kids love scary books and that there isn’t much that is fresh and new in that area.”

The author’s fondness for old Twilight Zone episodes also fueled his imagination. “I love that the show spans a number of genres, from science fiction to gangster stories,” he says. “I want to do something similar with Scary Tales. I see these books existing on a broader canvas than just being scary. The series is not going to be just one ghost story after another. Each will be different, though all will have an intellectual twist at the end that will blow readers’ minds a little.”

Preller is hopeful that Scary Tales will provide kids with “a positive, fun reading experience” and will snare reluctant readers. “To attract reluctant readers who might need an easier read, a book can’t look babyish,” he observes. “But if it looks cool, they’ll pick it up. I am hoping the series will reach those readers, especially boys. That is a very important readership for me — reaching them is something I feel passionate about.”