Thursday, December 19, 2013

2014 Preview

Yes, we're already looking past the holiday season to what's happening in the New Year. We've got some great authors lined up plus a few more possibilities in the works. And Jane is busy building recommended reading lists to go with the 2014 talks. Here's what we have planned, with a little extra information if you want to start thinking ahead . . .

January 18th, 11 am: Boys and Books with Duncan McDougall of Children's Literacy Foundation and Dan Greene, U-32 High School Librarian - A discussion of how to engage boys who are reluctant readers in trying more books, and expanding the range and complexity of their reading.

This talk was one requested by in our educator surveys over the summer. Here are some articles that have caught our eye as we think about this topic.

Percentage reading for fun at least 5 times / week (From American Library Association)
March 8th, 11 am: Writing Workshop with authors Kate Messner and Jo Knowles - Participants should be prepared to do their own writing in this workshop that will be full of ideas for both the classroom and teachers’ own writing interests.

Both Kate and Jo have a lot of great materials posted online about writing and educators who write.  Here are some starting points:
March 22nd, 11 am: Grace Greene of the Vermont Dept. of Libraries presents the 2014-2015 Dorothy Canfield Fisher List - An overview of the newly announced DCF list and resources for building activities around these books.

We can't give you a sneak preview of this one, because we also won't know the list until March. But check out Dorothy's List - a new VPR program profiling books on the current DCF list. Also, see this list of 2013 DCF materials from the VT Department of Libraries.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

2013 In Review . . .

We've had a lot of great talks in 2013. In case you missed them, here is a review with links, notes, and related resources. . . as you might be able to guess, the next post will be a 2014 preview.

Picture Books Inspire Love of Learning

Okay, technically we're starting off with a 2012 selection, not 2013, but it was a great talk by Grace Greene, David Martin and Leda Schubert about picture books and the love of learning, and comes with many resources and handouts: Inspiration for Picture Books & Early Literacy 

Related to some of the topics covered in that talk, we recently noted a Publisher's Weekly Toolkit on Picture Book & Common Core (see here). Also, if you haven't seen it yet, check out the archive of Candlewick Press' 2012 yearlong celebration of picture books We Believe in Picture Books.

David Martin came back to the store in January of 2013 to talk with us about having fun with words We have a two part post follow up on Bad Jokes & Early Learning plus a Pinterest board of recommended Read Aloud Books from Jane.  

Research Can Be Fun 

One theme that authors visiting Bear Pond often address is the research that goes into writing their books - both for fiction and nonfiction.

Leda Schubert walked us through the research behind picture books in her November, 2012, visit to the store. 

Jenny Land and Natalie Kinsey Warnock took us into place-based research for their historical fiction, starting with the places, people, and stories around us. This post on Exploring Family and Place includes notes from their talks as well as additional resources for teachers. 

We got another take on looking at our own, local communities and finding questions to answer at our November 2013 event on Agricultural Literacy Week. Picture book author Gail Gibbons shared how she gets ideas for her food and agriculture-related nonfiction, and Abbie Nelson shared resources for teaching about agriculture in the classroom.

Facts Can (and should) Build Great Stories

Originally, Rebecca Rupp and Tanya Lee Stone were scheduled to visit the store in February. The flu intervened, so we'll have to bring them together here in the reviews. Rebeccca and her son Josh visited in February, while Tanya did a follow up visit in September. Still, you'll see related themes of using facts to build engaging stories first in Nonfiction with Personality (Rebecca & Josh) and then in Combining Passion & Research for Compelling Nonfiction (Tanya).

Great nonfiction means solid research as well as solid storytelling skills. One resource that Tanya recommends is the I.N.K. blog (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids). We'd also recommend checking it out - a roster of 30 authors take a day a month to talk about the best of nonfiction writing for a young audience. Find it at

For a slightly different take on facts building stories, authors Jon & Pamela Voelkel visited us to talk about Successful Author Visits to classrooms, schools, libraries and other organizations. They write a popular adventure series called the Jaguar Stones. Their presentations and web resources blend writing, theater, hands on projects, interviews and more to teach about Maya culture and history, all with a strong storytelling element. The information they provided was for any author visits (not just theirs) but definitely check out their own materials at

Writers on Writing 

In April this year, Bear Pond Books hosted a book party for Linda Urban's The Center of Everything. It wasn't technically part of the author-educator series, but still covered a lot of great ground so we're closing here with Linda's reflections on creating her books.

Monday, November 11, 2013

J&P Voelkel & Successful Author Visits

While Bear Pond Books takes a brief break from our monthly author-educator talks, we're turning our attention to sharing information from past talks and what's sent to us through our network of educators and authors. We're lucky to be in a state with so many creative, engaged people who are passionate about education, about the subjects they write about and teach, and about how children learn to always inquire and discover new things.

It seems appropriate during this vacation from educator events to start our blog posts with information on . . . well, educator events. It's a guide to arranging author visits to your school, classroom, library, book club, etc. . .

J&P Voelkel are known for their ability to make Maya history and culture come alive. You can get lost on their website In fact, I just lost 15 minutes reading up on Maya math (did you know they were one of the first civilizations to get the concept of zero?). Their teachers' materials include a full CD of information compiled with input from archaeologists, middle school teachers, and contemporary Maya people. And that's before we even get to the books themselves, an adventure series called The Jaguar Stones that Booklist describes as “a fact-packed, thrilling ride."
So, who better prepared to give us an author's eye view on crafting events that both catch children's imagination and match up with a teacher's lesson plans?

It turns out, nobody is better prepared. And the Voelkels left us with both a checklist for author visits and full notes on their presentation about how to arrange a successful visit.

These materials have great information - so we'll close this post and let you switch over to what the Voelkels have to say. One important thing to note: J&P Voelkel are available to do presentations in Vermont schools and you'll see from what they've written that they're enthusiastic about it! E-mail them at info @

Do you have useful resources, questions you'd like to see answered, or other information on connecting authors with educators? Let us know by e-mailing helen.labun.jordan @

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Agriculture in the Classroom

On November 2nd, Bear Pond Books hosted a talk about food, farms and picture books, with a particular focus on preK-4th grade classrooms. Abbie Nelson, Education Coordinator at the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-VT) and picture book author and illustrator Gail Gibbons led the conversation.

This event came ahead of Agricultural Literacy Week (November 18th - 22nd). It was an hour packed with information, and we've gathered some of it below:

This was our last author-educator talk for 2013, but we're back with more in 2014! See the schedule here. If you want to receive announcements of educator resources and events from Bear Pond Books, please contact helen.labun.jordan -at- with Subscribe in the subject line.  

Muffins with local carrots, flour, eggs, butter, cream cheese & maple syrup

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Abbie Nelson and Ag in the Classroom

In Franklin County, four libraries participate in tractor days - when farmers bring their tractors out for preschoolers to explore and learn about farming.

Some schools are using Farm-to-School grants from the Agency of Agriculture to get cooking carts, which can travel from classroom to classroom for cooking projects.

Many schools participate in a farmer correspondence program, receiving letters from a local farmer during the winter, then visiting the farm or bringing their farmer correspondent in as a speaker in the spring.

One Vermont teacher has found a simple way to pull more food education into daily schedules - she brings in a whole fruit for snack time, letting kids identify the fruit, taste test it, looking at the parts of a fruit, or discussing where it comes from and how it's raised. A lot can be learned in a ten minute snack.

There are a lot of ways to build agriculture into classroom education. On November 2nd, Abbie Nelson from the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-VT) shared some of the resources available to educators in Vermont. Her organization is part of VT Food Education Every Day, which "works with schools and communities to raise awareness about healthy food, the role of Vermont farms and farmers, and good nutrition." They have resources available online that include guides to bringing local food into schools, lesson plans, guides to taste testing, program evaluations, and how to involve the whole community in learning about farming. 

Two new resources that will be available in November are the New School Cuisine cookbook, which emphasizes healthy, local foods and practical ways to incorporate them into cafeterias, and a comprehensive guide to health and wellness in schools developed with VT-FEED and the Agency of Education. These resources are going to every school in Vermont. They're also being distributed nationally through the Child Nutrition Program.

These guides reflect both lessons learned in Vermont schools, and changes happening federally. Changes to school lunch guidelines mean that children will be introduced to more varied foods in the cafeteria, which in turn is an opportunity to teach them about these foods, health, and farming. Some changes include 'eating the rainbow' (many different colors of vegetable), more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, legumes and tofu is now recognized as a protein source.

Right now, NOFA-VT is gearing up for Agricultural Literacy Week, November 18th - 22nd. You can use their webpage to find out about agricultural activities happening in your region that week, to list ones that you know, or get inspired about ways to get involved.

We got inspired through picture books. Picture book author and illustrator Gail Gibbons joined Abbie on Saturday, and you can read her thoughts here. We also used books Gail and Abbie referenced, recommended reading from Shelburne Farms, and favorites from Jane in the Children's Room to put together a virtual display of some great farm-related picture books - check them out!

(And don't forget that teachers get a 20% discount on purchases for their classrooms).

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Where Gail Gibbons Gets her Picture Book Ideas

Gail Gibbons has written 169 picture books, and she's got no shortage of ideas for the next hundred either. While they aren't all about farming (her topics range from gorillas to sky scrapers), many of them are, and she came in to talk about her books as part of the Bear Pond Books author-educator discussion ahead of Agricultural Literacy Week (November 18th - 22nd).

Gail's first farm-related book was The Milk Makers, which became a Reading Rainbow book. She chose that topic because her normal driving routes went past many Vermont farms, and one day her young daughter asked why she hadn't done a book about cows. So, she did a book about cows.

Traveling around the state and country, talking with her young students, Gail quickly realized how much information about basic things like where milk comes from is missing from what children learn. "Kids in cities don't know where milk comes from, it comes from cartons, that's all they know. . . that's what really grabbed me," Gail said.

Even in Vermont, where most kids live near farms, there's a lack of understanding about where food comes from. One teacher shared a story of taking students out to dig sweet potatoes from the school garden. Students had a hard time guessing what the dug potatoes were. "Some of them guessed tomatoes!"

Gail's picture books can help fill those gaps. She starts with the basics and builds from there. Potatoes, for example, grow in the ground, tomatoes do not. So what are the vegetables we dig up from under ground? Gail gave other examples of basic ideas everyone should know, but many people don't. These are the ideas that find their way into her books. For example, there's the question of how to grow flowers (what grows from a seed? what grows from a bulb?) or the difference between corn, which you harvest then replant the next year, and apples, which you harvest then care for the same trees year after year.      
Once Gail chooses a topic, she reads up on it, with "piles of books". Then, she checks with experts in the field. She's surprised at how many books pass along bad information - one book can make an error, and it's found replicated in other books later. Field trips and conversations with people who work every day on the topics she writes about are important ways to double check the reading material. On these trips, her husband will also help by taking pictures that Gail uses to make accurate illustrations later.

Students can follow a similar path of inquiry. It starts with looking at the food around them and asking, where does that come from? Then tracing that food back to the beginning, through reading about it in books, talking to the people who prepare the food, maybe even visiting the farms where it's grown or trying to grow some things for themselves! There's a lot to learn and Gail's books can be a great starting point.

For more resource ideas to support learning about agriculture, see Part 2 of this post with Abbie Nelson from VT Food Education Every Day.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Checklist for Author Visits to Your School, Class, or Book Club

Author Visit Checklist
(Things we've learned the hard way, so you don't have to)

by J&P Voelkel, authors of the Jaguar Stones books and survivors of hundreds of school visits across America. J&P Voelkel are known for their theatrical school presentations, including the always popular teachers-eating-bugs scene, that pique students' interest in both reading and learning about Maya history (see also our earlier blog posts Author Adventures and Making the Most of Author Classroom Visits). If you're interested in scheduling them to visit your school (which is free for VT schools) see their website

1. Arranging the visit

Make sure you and the author are on the same page:

• What kind of event are you both expecting? (E.g. formal assembly, sit-down chat?)
• Venue? (E.g. cafetorium, library, classroom, gym, theatre?)
• What format? (E.g. multimedia, slides, whiteboard?)
• How many students will be attending?
• Grades/age ranges?
• How much time does the author need? (Min/ max/how much flexibility?)
• How many sessions will the author do in one day?
• What equipment do they need?
• Any time constraints - what’s the earliest they can arrive/latest they can leave?
• How much time do they need for set-up? (This requires the room to be empty
ahead of time.)
• Any posters, bookmarks, fliers available for publicity purposes?
• Is the author amenable to interviews with students or any other extra side events
you might like to build in?

2. Before the visit

Publicize the event:

• Make sure all faculty and parents are informed.
• Talk up the author's books to the students.
• Generate book sales by sending home order forms, putting up posters, and making
school announcements.
• Try to drum up local media interest.

If possible, build the author's work, or subject, into the curriculum:

• Make a display in the school library and/or hallways.
• Have classes read the books and write book reports.
• Ask students to think up questions to ask the author.
• Throw a contest and have the winners receive autographed books.
• Have an art class make welcome posters, banners, and bookmarks.

3. Arrival & set-up

The most stressful part of school visits for the author is usually finding the school and
setting up. Ways you can help are:

• Send email confirmation with date of visit, agreed details including timing of
presentation, number/grades of students, venue (eg library, auditorium) and the
equipment you are providing. Include address of school and your contact numbers.
• Provide helpful information - any tricky directions, where to unload if author has a
lot of props, where to park, how not to get caught in morning drop-off lines, etc.
• Make sure the main office knows an author is coming and who to contact when
they arrive.
• Have someone to meet the author and escort them to the room (authors love it
when students do this job!)
• If the author will be giving multiple presentations, try to hold them all in same
location so there is only one set-up.
• Have all the equipment ready and tested in advance.
• Provide drinking water.
• Have technical help on call (.ie. someone who knows how to work all the
equipment including the projector, sound system, lighting, curtains etc.)

4. The presentation

Timing is everything:

• Confirm start and end times for presentation taking into account time for the
audience to file in and take their seats.
• Check with the author how they want to be introduced. (If time is tight, they might
rather launch straight in to their presentation.)
• Don’t keep the kids on too tight a rein (author visits should be fun), but don’t
abandon the author to the law of the jungle either. It’s helpful to share any
recognized school symbols for quiet - such as the presenter putting hand in air.
• Help the author manage time - prearrange a signal at, say, ten minutes to go.
• Help control Q&A (e.g. "we just have time for one more question").

5. Make the most of the visit

• Authors love meeting with small groups of students such as book groups, avid
readers, or aspiring writers. This is particularly good way to use a lunch break.
• Have students interview the author for school newspaper, radio, or TV.
• Remember to take photographs for the school website, yearbook, etc.
• Build in time for book signing (the bookstore will help you manage this)
• Get an address/email for follow-up questions (or skype).

6 Skype visits

Although Skype lacks the drama and excitement of an author visit, it can be a good
solution for remote school districts, complicated schedules and travel-averse authors.
It's particularly useful for follow-up chats after an author visit and when the students
have read the author’s books. The best format for Skype visits is a short talk by the
author followed by a question and answer session, where the questions have been
prepared by students and allocated ahead of time.

Most authors are happy to mail personalized bookplates to accompany a Skype visit.
How to get started:

1. If you’re not familiar with Skype, practice at home with someone you know.
2. Make sure your school network allows it.
3. Make sure the equipment you need is available and working.
4. Plan details with the author - timing, format of visit, how long it will last, etc.
5. Prepare the students: talk about Skype etiquette, have them prepare questions, work
out a running order, plan where the student will stand/sit while asking question and
what they're supposed to do when they’re done.
6. Test the Skype connection with the author before the scheduled visit.

On the day:

• Test your equipment is working at least 20 minutes before you’re scheduled to
contact the author.
• Introduce everyone who will be speaking.
• If your connection is lost, don’t panic. Just call the author back. (Have kids bring
books for silent reading in case there’s an extended period of lost contact.)

7. Follow-up after author visits and Skype sessions

Authors are extremely grateful if you recommend them to other schools - by blogging,
tweeting, or good old word of mouth. (And notes of thanks/testimonials that can be
displayed on the author's website are always much appreciated.)


J&P Voelkel offer free school visits in Vermont. For more information visit: or email

Authors who skype for free:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Food, Farms, and Picture Books - Teaching Agricultural Literacy

Join us for a special talk on bringing agricultural literacy into the elementary school classroom - November 2nd, 11:00 am in the Children's Room at Bear Pond Books.

Exploring agriculture can be a hands-on way for students to learn about history, culture, nature, science, health, math, art. . . almost anything. In November, Agricultural Literacy Week encourages educators around the state to participate in activities that help students learn from agriculture.

As the Vermont organizers write "Agricultural Literacy Week is designed to educate Vermont citizens about the depth of our connection to agriculture in the landscape, environment and our personal health. People young and old will have the opportunity to rediscover the beauty of our state and the powerful role that farms play in its economy, energy resources, sustainability efforts and resiliency."

Vermont's Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross says "Ag Literacy is essential for Vermonters to understand and reconnect to Vermont farms and farmers."

On November 2nd, Abbie Nelson from NOFA-VT will talk about resources available in Vermont for teachers, librarians and community members who want to include agriculture in the elementary school classroom. She will share successful projects other Vermont teachers have tried, and we invite you to share your own stories, too. NOFA-VT is one of the partners in the statewide farm-to-school organization VT Food Education Every Day (VT-FEED).

Abbie will be joined by Vermont picture book author Gail Gibbons. Gail has written about farm-related topics from Apples to Veterinarians in the countryside (that's as close as we could get to "z"). She'll talk about young readers' responses to her books, her classroom experiences, and how teachers have incorporated this material into standards-based lesson plans.

There will be some great local snacks, using recipes from the New School Cuisine farm-to-school cookbook. Learn more about the New School Cuisine cookbook from this story on the VPR Cafe

We've put together a Pinterest Board of farm-related picture books - which is only a starting point. What would you add? Let us know by e-mailing helen.labun.jordan at

The Shelburne Farms learning barn gave us a starting point for our picture book list. The Shelburne Farms website offers more information about farm-based education, including upcoming events.

This event is free and open to the public. Please join us at 11:00 am on Saturday November 2nd. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Author Adventures

We recently noticed this tweet from Pamela Voelkel, part of the author team J&P Voelkel behind both the Jaguar Stones book series and our Ocotber 26th talk on making the most of author visits:
Look at this : Other authors visit schools, we INVADE them! (Thanks to .)
The post that she's referring to is found here from the blog Unleashing Readers.

All this talk of invading and unleashing leads us straight into the adventure side of author visits. There's a lot of excitement to be brought into the classroom when guests can share what they're most passionate about. Check out these intriguing tidbits from the Voelkel site:
  • An archive of video interviews with the "real Indiana Joneses"
  • Costumes and theater and replacement quetzal bird feathers
  • Larvets Worm Snax (yeah, these were mentioned in the last post, but they're going to keep being mentioned until someone gives us a bug to eat)

The Voelkels focus on Mayan culture and Central America. But other authors give a sense of adventure closer to home. Check out this post from an author-educator event where Natalie Kinsey Warnock talked about exploring our own communities and family history.

And for many students, simply being able to interact with the authors behind their favorite books is its own kind of adventure. We can often make those connections when authors happen to be local, and increasingly it's possible with non-local authors, too. Here is some great advice from Kate Messner (who will be speaking at Bear Pond in the spring) on virtual classroom visits. And Skype, a common technology to use for these visits, keeps its own list of classroom opportunities here.

How do you translate the excitement around an author visit into sustained engagement and learning lessons that fit with curriculum goals? Come to Bear Pond Books on October 26th at 11:00 am and join the conversation for finding out the answer.

On Saturday, October 26th, Beard Pond Books presents How to Get The Most of Author Visits with Jon and Pamela Voelkel. The event is free and open to the public. It starts at 11:00 am in the upstairs Children's Room. Non-bug-related snacks provided. The full author-educator talk schedule is available here.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Combining Passion and Research for Compelling Nonfiction

Tanya Lee Stone talks at Bear  Pond 9/28/13
Tanya Lee Stone did not begin by writing nonfiction that she felt passionate about. Instead, she began as an editor, editing hundreds and hundreds of books of other people's nonfiction, then moved on to writing contracts for series of books for the library market. The first book that began in her own imagination that she then pitched to publishers was Elizabeth Leads the Way, about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her campaign to bring women the vote.

This book began as a well researched, solidly written story about one of the early founders of the women's suffragist movement. But it wasn't finding a publisher. So, Tanya set it aside, until one evening when she was watching a movie about women's rights and realized that the story had been lacking her own passion about the subject. She got off the couch and wrote what would become the first page of the finished book:

What would you do if someone told you you can't be what you want to be because you are a girl?

What would you do if someone told you your vote doesn't count, your voice doesn't matter, because you are a girl?

Would you ask why? Would you talk back? Would you fight. . .for your rights? Elizabeth did
When Tanya goes into classrooms, her first message to kids is to write on topics they care about. That's sometimes difficult, it calls for flexible assignments that, for example, don't assign students to write about "Italy" but instead ask them to find a country they're interested in and write about that.

Starting with a personal interest in a topic can not only make a more compelling final piece of writing, it also sustains the effort needed for solid research into that topic. Students writing a report on Italy may not put in the years, even a decade, of research Tanya will devote to her books, but it's still important to learn good research skills - to not open a Wikipedia page and call it a day.

Detailed research can back up an author's passion. When Tanya wrote her book Almost Astronauts about 13 women who demonstrated women could be astronauts, a former NASA employee followed her on the Internet dismissing the book as feminist propaganda. But the story was backed up by research, and librarians and teachers quickly came to Tanya's defense. Today NASA has its own web page telling the story of the "Mercury 13."

Research also uncovers new things - even topics that many people have researched and written about before have new information waiting to be uncovered. When Tanya and illustrator Boris Kulikov were working on Sandy's Circus about Alexander Calder, they needed to figure out what the castle he'd built for his little sister looked like. Other people had mentioned the castle, but no one knew what it looked like. Until, finally, Tanya discovered that Calder's sister (the one who received the castle) had written a book. . . and described the gift. Now the world has a picture of the mysterious castle.

Tanya worries that the market's current push for quickly producing a high volume of nonfiction that young readers will find entertaining discourages deep research. A related problem is finding serious market space for well-researched nonfiction - marketing it to children and adults, or moving from hardcover to paperbacks that will appeal to a broader audience. The changes happening with Common Core standards may help or hurt the situation. On one hand, these changes are partially feeding the push to get more entertaining nonfiction onto shelves quickly. On the other hand, they are building a bigger market for creative nonfiction. Some presses are even bringing back previous titles in paperback versions. This may be a sign that well researched, deeply thought out books will find more readers.

Tanya's final advice to students writing: start with your own passions, do good research, then get a first draft down without worrying about whether it's "good" (or going to get a good grade) and revise!

Want to learn more about making the most of visits from authors like Tanya in your classroom? Come to the store on Saturday, October 26th at 11:00 am for Jon and Pam Voelkel's talk about how to get the most from author visits (including Skype visits).

Recommended Resources:
Tanya Lee Stone & Jane Knight kick off the author-educator series for the 2013-2014 school year

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Using the Craft of Fiction to Tell Nonfiction Stories

This Saturday, September 28th, author Tanya Lee Stone is coming to Bear Pond Books' Children's Room at 11:00 am to talk about how she researches and writes nonfiction for young readers.

Tanya is an award winning, and prolific, author. As we posted earlier, on the 28th she'll discuss how she keeps the boundaries between fact and fiction when writing her books, which have covered historical figures ranging from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Abraham Lincoln to Barbie.

Even if fiction doesn't have a place in her nonfiction books, Tanya uses the same craft elements of a fiction writer to tell a story that draws her readers in, helping them understand and remember the events described in ways traditional textbooks may not.

One of Tanya's recent books, Courage Has No Color (2013, Grades 5 and up), offers a perfect opportunity to consider craft and structure as applied to both fiction and nonfiction. This book tells the true story of the Triple Nickles, America's first black paratroopers. A 2012 book, Shelley Pearsalls' Jump Into the Sky, uses historical fiction to tell the story of  the fictional grandson of a  Triple Nickle. The two books are a recommended pairing for a Common Core connection between fiction and nonfiction.

Tanya's teacher's guide to using Courage Has No Color in the classroom suggests things that the two books have in common beyond the starting inspiration. For example, the guide includes:

Craft and Structure
  • Find examples of ways the author uses words and phrases to set the tone of the times in regard to black soldiers and the discrimination they faced.
  • What is the relationship the first and last chapters and how they are written compared to the interior chapters? Explain how the chapters relate as a whole to the book.
  • From whose point of view is the story told and how did this shape the content and style of the book?
Vocabulary Acquisition and Use
  • Identify vocabulary specific to the paratrooper units. Explain how the context supports the meaning and then look up the words in a reference book. What strengths did you notice from using the supporting context to explain the meaning?
  • Locate specific instances in the book that use figurative language or a passage in which the words are connected to provide a clearer idea or thought on that topic. How do the author’s word choices add to the meaning of the paragraphs, page, or chapter?
These exercises also apply to analyzing a fictional text. And the comparison suggests more questions - like what research a fiction writer does before writing their story, how creative nonfiction compares to formal or technical nonfiction writing, how an author decides what technique to use, and how students can experiment with telling the same story in different ways. Bring your own questions to Bear Pond Books on September 28th at 11:00 am!

This event is free and open to the public and involves snacks.

Links to More Information on This Topic: 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Making the Most of Author Classroom Visits

The first Author-Educator talk of the 2013-2014 school year is happening on September 28th at 11:00 am when Tanya Lee Stone talks about the research that goes into her nonfiction books and how facts become a compelling story. Here is a sneak preview of the second talk, happening October 26th with the Voelkels, authors of the Jaguar Stones series. 

Jon and Pamela Voelkel put a lot of planning into their school presentations about Maya culture, research, and their popular Jaguar Stones books. They've got an action packed, fast paced approach that is designed to align with Common Core Standards for Science and Social Sciences in grades 6-8. And when we say action packed, that includes adventure tales from their time traveling through the rainforests of Central America, multimedia visuals, theater, and fried meal worms (if you're curious, the worm snacks are sold here).

On their website the Voelkels also have lesson plans, guides to classroom projects, and suggested resources for studying the cultures and history discussed in their presentation.

In short, this writing team has worked hard to become expert in making the most out of every minute they spend in schools. Along the way, they've learned a lot about how teachers can make the most out of any author visit, not just theirs. On Saturday, October 26th, at 11:00 am the Voelkels are coming to Bear Pond Books to share their tips and insights.

Join us on October 26th to talk about getting students engaged in author presentations, connecting these presentations to Common Core Standards, preparing for a visit, following up a visit with classroom lessons and activities, questions to ask authors and information to provide for them. . . and any other questions you might have about using author visits in your school.

See also the follow-up post on Author Adventures

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tanya Lee Stone - Saturday, September 28th - Nonfiction for Young Readers

On Saturday, September 28th, we're excited to kick off a great year of author talks for educators with Tanya Lee Stone. Please join us at 11:00 am in the Children's Room at Bear Pond Books. We'll be talking about how to write a compelling story while sticking to the facts, with a focus on works for elementary and middle school age children.

Last winter, authors Rebecca and Joshua Rupp presented a great talk on writing creative nonfiction, which they define as "nonfiction with personality" (notes from that talk are here).

On September 28th, we're returning to nonfiction with personality when author Tanya Lee Stone joins us with a talk on "A Fine, Fine Line." The title comes from a 2011 article she wrote on blurring (or, more accurately, not blurring) the line between fact and fiction.

Why is the line between fact and fiction so fine? Because writing a narrative is different from taking a true / false test. Authors need to convey not only that events happened, but also the emotion behind what happened and a storyline that draws readers into the history. The techniques of fiction writers help create the emotion, character and story. Sometimes, though, writers cross the line into fiction  - with dialogue that's imagined for the purpose of illustrating a point, emotions that are likely but not documented, opinions that are intuited but not cited. Okay, if you announce you're writing fiction, not okay, Tanya says, if you don't..

Tanya explains that strictly staying to fact means "If I write that Jerrie Cobb’s smile was tinged with sadness, the reader needs to know I do so with authority. That I have seen that smile or have some other documented knowing of it."

So, then, how does a nonfiction writer do the research needed to stand behind each word? And how does she craft a compelling tale that remains on the nonfiction side of the line?

As Tanya writes "We don’t need to manipulate the facts to be effective storytellers. We don’t need to invent to be inventive. The facts, in the right hands, are as entertaining as any fiction." Find out about her approach to research, writing and documenting history for young readers on September 28th at 11:00 am in the Children's Room. 

If you're interested in this topic, you might also be interested in these articles on historical fiction from our March, 2013, talk with Jenny Land and Natalie Kinsey Warnock.

For a follow up post on this event, click here to read "Using the Craft of Fiction to Tell Nonfiction Stories." And read about all Bear Pond Books events at our website

More Information on Tanya Lee Stone

Tanya Lee Stone is a former editor and the Robert F. Sibert Award–winning author of Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream. Her most recent nonfiction book, Courage Has No Color, was almost a decade in the making, as she did extensive original research into the Triple Nickles, the U.S.'s first African-American paratroopers who fought in World War II. Her most recent picture book Who Says' Women Can't Be Doctors? was named one of the year's top 10 biographies by Booklist.

Some readers may also know Tanya from her 2010 book The Good, The Bad, and the Barbie, which won the Golden Kite Award. In all, she has written almost 100 books for kids.

Coming Up This Fall
In October we'll be inviting local authors in to talk about making the most of an author visit to your classroom. Stay tuned for the final date. Any good tips to share? Send them to helen.labun.jordan @ or via Twitter @BearPondBooks

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Summer Reading

Here are some summer reading recommendations, by grade level, from Jane in the Children's Loft. . . 

Pre-K - Kindergarten
Fun, new (and a few older) picture books for kids entering school for the first time.

This rhyming book celebrates the way children get to school around the world. Can be an interesting way to introduce new riders to the school bus.

This is part of a successful series that draws you into our seasonal habitats (forest, snow, pond and garden) and helps you discover who lives in each. Simple text and helpful factual information that's not overwhelming for little people.

Another perfectly summertime tale in which a boy feels like he "owns a piece of moonlight" though he realizes he must set the fireflies free.

A magical story about growing a sunflower house and all the creativity it inspires. A perfect summer story.

The infamous Pigeon helps create the fun in this wildly imaginative activity book. Will keep the summer rainy day blues in check.

This sweet picture book depicts a seemingly silly fight between best friends, but helps us understand how important it is to embrace differences and new things (even if it is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! yuck!)

This is a stunningly illustrated introduction to nature and poetry.

It's never too early to make the connection between what we pull out of our lunch boxes and what grows in our gardens and on our farms. Lots of Vermont kids may already be steeped in this knowledge but it is the first picture book to do a decent job with the topic.

Bailey is a dog who enjoys going to school-- he just gets distracted sometimes, and eats his homework. But he always tries his best. Kids will love the idea of sharing their day in the classroom with a character as likeable as this.

This sweet story explores the first day jitters as Bill decides he absolutely needs to bring a few favorite things with him on the first day.

First - Second Grades (ish)
These are a mixture of early readers, picture books and short chapter books for emergent readers.

Watch the transformation of Velma from a less-than-noticeable brand new first grader to a person of great interest (especially to the monarch!) in this sweet and informational tale.

There’s just something about Pete-- is it his groovy shoes or his groovy attitude? You just can’t resist this cool cat’s charm, even if he is a little afraid of the ocean.

Penny isn’t groovy-- but she has all the charm and earnestness of a spring day. Henkes hits all the right notes with this series.

In their own words, cartoon-style these familiar birds invite young people to pay attention and get out a sketchbook. Quirky and interactive, this book invites a whole new generation to an age-old hobby.

This is a new series based on the definitive book The Way Things Work, pared down and simplified for the needs of emerging readers. The series also includes castles, the eye and (my favorite) the toilet.

Vermonter and horse woman Haas introduces us to a girl who has been looking for a horse to love. Bramble has been looking for someone to take her away from her life of routine--is it a perfect match? With genuine horsey wisdom and humor Haas brings her love of animals to a fresh new series.

This chapter book is filled with humor, heart and wonderful illustrations. Lulu is a biracial child portrayed in a multi-racial classroom which is plenty welcome in the genre. Classroom chaos provides for plenty of comic relief for animal lovers and the rest of us, too.

The odd couple-- fussy rabbit and logical robot-- provide much amusement on a sleepover that Rabbit has planned from start to sleep. However, things don’t quite go as planned (who would’ve thought that Robot like nuts and bolts on his pizza?) and the reader has a blast watching these two figure it out. Simple text, but much to love. 
  • Dog Diaries by Kate Klimo
This early chapter series (like the much loved Horse Diaries) tells each story from the dog’s point of view, each dog being a different breed. Dog facts, history and lore in each.

Fans of Fancy Nancy can grow up with her as she becomes a young detective in this new series. Another beloved character-- Amelia Bedelia now stars in her own chapter book series, too.

  • Heroes in Training by Joan Holub
This is a great age to introduce Greek Myths-- there are many ways to begin (D’aulaire’s, Mary Pope Osborne’s Tales from the Odyssey) but here is a action-packed series for new readers not quite ready for Percy Jackson.

Third - Fourth Grades (or so)
Increasing depth, complexity and comprehension

Max reinvents himself at summer camp, and has a bumpy time merging his two personae when he returns to his regular life and old friends. Max is a likable kid who makes some questionable choices, like we all do. A great summer camp read.

  • Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood
A little magic, and a bake shop is the perfect recipe for summer fun. The Bliss family is a little eccentric, one of those zany families we’ve all wished to be a part of at one point or another.

When friendships get a little complicated, Anna turns to her books for comfort. However, real life friendships can be much trickier to navigate. Book lovers will find a lot to love in this quiet, well-written gem.

  • Pie by Sarah Weeks
Yes, another book about food! But who doesn’t like pie?! And well, this has a fun mystery twist that involves a not-so-loveable cat named Lardo. Need I say more?

The Lunch Lady serves lunch....and justice! This is a friendly, action-packed graphic novel series for kids who like serious fun. The graphics are easy to follow, and the story keeps them coming back for more.

From the same author who brought us Calamity Jack and Rapunzel’s Revenge, here are some seriously well-crafted graphic novels that tell about some of the livelier events in history. Big Bad Ironclad covers the history of the amazing ironclad steam warships used in the Civil War. One Dead Spy tells the strange but true story of an officer and spy for the American rebels during the Revolutionary War.

Justin is a worrying kind of kid, but his (mis)adventures are comic and his heart is big. Fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid will enjoy Justin’s will appreciate the doodle-like illustrations though Justin is thoroughly his own winsome character---- even if he does worry a lot.

This is the start of a perfectly tailored fantasy series for readers who might not be ready for Harry Potter-- it is engaging and engrossing without being “too much” for younger readers. And at the heart of this story is an ever-changing magic castle that can grow a new room or change a few hallways depending in the day and its mood. Castle envy anyone?

A wonderful and necessary addition to the nature investigations genre, this book can be used in multiple situations, but as the title suggests, is best used in the backyard and in your community. Wonderful photography, resources and project ideas, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

This East Montpelier author just gets better and better--- her third novel is expertly crafted and is infused with her signature humor. Ruby Pepperdine is about to give her first public speech at the local Fourth of July parade, and as the story spirals backward we get a glimpse into her hopes, wishes and sadness. Character-driven and smart, Linda’s novels are also great for book groups.

When the Star-Spangled Banner is taken from its super-secure Smithsonian vault, three kids connected by their Vermont background and family membership in a secret artifact-protection society band together to find the irreplaceable national treasure. A little history, a lot of adventure and mystery.

Fifth and Sixth Grades (or thereabouts)
Reading with confidence and fluency.

A real western and a mystery to boot, P.K. (Pinky) is a plucky hero (with asperger’s) who has excellent powers of observation and a keen memory. Funny, filled with plenty of misfits and period detail and some gory details, this should appeal to most fans of high adventure.

A perilous quest that involves swashbuckling pirates and treasure, poor Egg, orphaned and living with the wealthy Pembroke family, discovers all is not as it seems. He must discover why his benefactor is trying to kill him why trying to find his courage and wits as well.

Another quest --this time involving three friends who are trying to deliver the ashes of a young girl to a cemetery in Ohio and put her ghost to rest. This unique tale dons the cloak of a creepy ghost tale to deliver bittersweet meditations on the nature of friendship, the price of growing up and the power of storytelling.

  • Twerp by Mark Goldblatt
It’s 1969 Queens, and as punishment, Julian is told he must journal about the events leading up to a school incident (about which we don’t actually learn until the latter part of the story). Until then, we are treated to various other mishaps with his gang of friends, and other bumps in the road into adolescence. Timeless issues and humorous sketches of boyhood mischief make this an engaging read.

Starring in her own series is the favorite fictional heroine of Clarice Bean, as any Child fan will know. With nods to Harriet the Spy and enough wisecracks to keep you chuckling throughout, this new detective series is charming and witty from start to finish.

This graphic novel series gives a fresh look to the Underworld and ingeniously preserves the old tale’s archetypal quality without ever losing sight of its human dimension. A popular series that just keeps getting better.

Alone in her belief that a found body is not her sister’s, plucky Georgie sneaks away in the dead of night, determined to retrace her sister’s steps in order to solve the mystery of her disappearance and, she hopes, to bring her home. Set in rural 1870’s Wisconsin, against the almost surreal setting where passenger pigeons are migrating, this historical novel grabs you from start to finish, and it’s hard to find a more charismatic character than Georgie.

This story of Vietnam is told through the eyes of a German Shepherd that becomes trained as a military canine to help soldiers sniff out booby traps, and through the eyes of Willie- the boy who had to let him go. A heartfelt tale that explores the close bond of the scout-dog team and gives insight to a little known piece in history.

A delightfully creative spin on some of the most well-known fairy tales, where princes aren’t so charming. This review pretty much sums it up: “This is the most fun you can have short of rounding up King Arthur’s knights, filling their armor with laughing gas, and driving them to a roller disco.” author Frank Cottrell Boyce

Young Adults-- ages 12 and up

Stiefvater's novel, inspired by Manx, Irish, and Scottish legends of beautiful but deadly fairy horses that emerge from the sea each autumn-- utterly beguiling.

A cast of well-defined characters and a unique magic system completes this lavishly imagined world, where light doesn’t always conquer dark and deception runs so deep that it becomes truth. High fantasy with a twist of Russian fairy tale.

An unforgettable and un-put-down-able story of WWII bravery and friendship told through the eyes of two young women serving as a spy and a pilot. Intelligent writing and perfect pacing-- adults should read this one, too!

A dystopian novel set in Brazil, where the matriarchs rule and technology is restricted. This meditation on art, creativity and passion fuels a unique ride.

A thrilling and dark exploration into the mind and drive behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this gothic tale does not let up.

A post-apocalyptic alien invasion story with a smart, vulnerable heroine. Another non-stop thrill ride that is deftly plotted.

This starts as a well-written, quirky romance and turns into an all but predictable story about the dark secrets that, when kept, can take down a community. Thoughtful, sweet and poignant.

The perfect summer beach read--a tongue-in-cheek take on the Regency romance. Clever and witty, with a memorable protagonist who is smart and savvy.

An alternate fantasy that borrows heavily from the New England witch trials-- well-written with the perfect amount of romance that never overshadows the feminist plot.

Vivid imagination and deft storytelling make for refreshing speculative fiction in this time-travel tale.

This is the story of building of the first atomic bomb and it reads like a spy thriller. It has won multiple awards and is loaded with archival photos and primary-source documents, though the story at the heart of this non-fiction book is what shines through.