Writing Young Adult lit before there *was* Young Adult lit

It’s been a tough week for book lovers.

With the death of J.D. Salinger, my Twitter and Facebook feeds have been overflowing with references to the author and memories of his works. And while I was trying to sort through my own reactions, Scholastic editorial director David Levithan (co-author of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and author of Love is the Higher Law) was writing his down for The Wall Street Journal.

In particular, for those of us with a special love for YA lit, Salinger is to be thanked for more than just the mere fact that he wrote excellent books: Salinger was essentially writing YA lit before the terminology existed. As David says in his essay, “Holden Caulfield is the embodiment of what we mean by the phrase ‘young adult’ – too young to be a grown-up, but too wise to the world to be completely innocent. He’s caught in the in-between, and that in-between is what all young adult authors write about. The Catcher in the Rye was one of the first books on the shelf of our young adult literature, and for almost sixty years we’ve written plenty more in an attempt to keep it company.”

So as a fan, as a writer, as a YA lover, I tip my nonexistent hat to Mr. Salinger and prepare to tuck in to my collection this weekend as a means of tribute. Meanwhile, though, David’s words in the WSJ can offer me, and hopefully other Salinger fans, some comfort:

“If a story is true enough, if it is real enough, the author can simply disappear. Which makes it easier for the characters to live on, and for young adult literature to live on.”

Previously On Our Minds:

* “Hello Miep, and what is the news today?”
* Who decides what kids should read?
* The Big Week: selecting books for Scholastic Book Fairs


The Big Week: selecting books for Scholastic Book Fairs

Picking the perfect book to take home from the Scholastic Book Fair is a big decision for many kids, and I treated it seriously. It would take me forever to decide which books would be MINE(!) and which I had to put back for next time…But, little did my 9-year-old self know how much work and time the Book Selection committee puts into deciding each and every book that may end up at a Scholastic Book Fair. To give you a better idea, Teryl McLane from Scholastic Book Fairs guest posts on the intricate process of how books are selected for Book Fairs.

It’s Book Selection week at Scholastic Book Fairs, or what we excitedly refer to as “the Big Week.” Twice a year, our team of book experts – former teachers, media specialists, booksellers, authors, and veteran Book Fair organizers – along with representatives from our Book Clubs and International divisions gather at our headquarters in Orlando, Fla., to begin the intense search for the very best children’s books on earth – those literary gems that will get kids hooked on reading and make them want to keep reading for the rest of their lives.

Finding books such as Harry Potter, Because of Winn Dixie, Junie B. Jones, Twilight, The Hunger Games, The 39 Clues, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid before they hit the bestseller list is what this team does best.

Throughout the week publishers from across the country, including Random House, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Harper Collins, and of course Scholastic, to name just a few, will travel to Orlando to present the best of their seasonal offerings to the selection team.

Despite working 12-plus hours each day, Book Selection is more book camp than boot camp. To screen the best books from a nearly overwhelming assortment, the group holds vigorous discussions and debates when voting on every book or manuscript that is presented. If the group can’t come to a consensus, the book is sent to a national panel of parents and kids for further review.

There are always recurring book themes every season. Wimpy kids and vampires still reign cool, while zombies and werewolves are jostling for their starring place on the pages. In the wake of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the team is seeing an uprising in dystopian novels, while girly and glamorous is the motif for a number of picture books, which seem to be trending toward the glitzy side lately. And, of course, there are plenty of perennial favorites and returning classics like Alice in Wonderland, The Indian in the Cupboard and Chicken Little.

If you’re reading this blog, our goals are probably the same: to help kids learn to read and love to read so they’ll be more successful in school and in life. So even when the official committee adjourns this weekend, the selection team will keep reading away. Collectively, they’ll spend more than 10,000 hours reviewing more than 4,000 books this year from publishers across the globe to find the books that will turn kids into lifelong readers. For this group, selecting books for our Fairs is not a vocation; it’s an avocation.

***Whether you’re a parent, teacher, librarian or just feeling nostalgic, be sure to fan Scholastic Book Fairs on Facebook!

Previously On Our Minds:

* 5 Questions with Anne Lee: Book Fairs
* 5 Questions with David Allender: an inside look at Scholastic Book Clubs
* $217 million in books for schools in ’08-’09!

Thank Phineas Gage

No question, we’re all about books and literacy here at Scholastic. Heck, it’s written into our carpet! We’re passionate about math too though, and we do our best to provide teachers with useful resources and cutting-edge technology that improve learning and make it fun.

To share with you what’s on our minds, we will occassionally cross-post content from the Math Hub blog, run by the smart folks at Tom Snyder Productions. This post, Thank Phineas Gage, was written by David Dockterman:

A new journal, BrainWorld, with interesting articles connecting neuroscience and education, just launched, and the editors should probably thank Phineas Gage for getting the whole mind/brain movement started way back in 1848. Gage, while working on a railroad in Vermont, fell victim to an accidental explosion that sent an iron rod into and out of his skull. He survived, but he was a changed man (who wouldn’t be?). Gage went from being a sweet family man to someone of ill temper and foul language. The incident prompted an examination of the connection between brain damage and behavior that continues today. (You can read a bit more about Gage in Smithsonian Magazine.)

Fortunately, today we don’t have to wait for brain traumas to explore brain function. New technologies allow us to explore normal brain function as it happens. And BrainWorld is a new place to read about that research in a very accessible format. I recommend three pieces in particular from the current issue: a conversation with John Medina, author of Brain Rules, and interviews with Howard Gardner (of multiple intelligences fame) and neuroscientist/musician Daniel Levitin (one of my favorites).

Photo Credit: From the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus.

Like what you read? There’s even more on the Math Hub blog.
And if you’re curious about Tom Snyder Productions? Teachers and administrators can sign up for a free webex (either Jan. 27 or Feb. 24) giving a sneak peek of Fraction Nation, a brand new adaptive software program that teaches math fluency.

5 Questions with Peter Lerangis: author of The 39 Clues The Viper’s Nest

We’ve got a special surprise for all of The 39 Clues fans out there! When Peter Lerangis, author of The 39 Clues book 3 The Sword Thief and book 7 The Viper’s Nest came to visit Scholastic’s HQ, Tyler and I met up with Peter to conduct a secret, never before seen, covert, highly classified, for your eyes only 5 Questions interview about the newest 39 Clues book THE VIPER’S NEST! Here are the confidential questions, but you’ll have to unscramble each word in the BONUS question – so only real 39 Clues agents can unveil the question! After all, 39 Clues fans are all about unraveling the mysteries, right? I can’t make this an easy post!

1. What happens in The 39 Clues book 7?

2. What’s your favorite part about writing for The 39 Clues series?

3. After writing book 3, what’s it like to start up again at book 7?

4. Have there been any particular fan comments that really stood out to you?

5. What’s on your mind?

***BONUS: Fi venste bergspiel itedinv ouy ot stca selfyour sa a cterchara orf het omingupc 93 uescl viemo – owh uldwo ouy eb?

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYG_2Q0C%5DAnd if you can’t get enough of the clue hunt, take a look at The Viper’s Nest book tour schedule on Facebook to see when Peter will be meeting Clue Hunters in person!

Previously On Our Minds:

* Even MORE 39 Clues Winners!
* Title and cover revealed for The 39 Clues: Book 7
* The 39 Clues: The Hunt Continues!

Haiti special report for kids, by kids

We’ve all been struggling with the devastation and loss of lives caused by the earthquake in Haiti – and you can bet kids have been asking about it too. Images and mainstream news coverage are often too intense for children, which is precisely why we created the Scholastic Kids Press Corps, and why we produce special reports like Crisis in Haiti.

This past week, Kid Reporters from across the country stepped up and out into their communities to learn about relief efforts for Haiti. The special report (www.scholastic.com/haiti_report) currently has nearly 20 stories, including: interviews with top officials from national relief agencies like Save the Children and the Red Cross; tips on how kids can help; creative ways kids, communities and businesses are raising money; and how America’s Haitian community is coping.

New York Times parenting reporter Lisa Belkin even suggested the special report on her blog Motherlode.

We will be adding more articles in the days and weeks ahead. And of course, all of the coverage is age-appropriate news for kids, by kids.

A conversation with Milton Chen and Tony Wagner

How do you teach “critical thinking?” How do you bridge the digital gap between some students and teachers? How should educators be assessing students in the 21st Century?

These were just a few of the topics addressed in a wonderful conversation taped here at Scholastic yesterday with Tony Wagner, author of The Global Achievement Gap, and Milton Chen, Executive Director of The George Lucas Educational Foundation.

It was the first of four Expert Talks” we have planned to help educators and school leaders better address the unique challenges and opportunities of for teaching and learning in the 21st Century.

If you missed it, no worries! You can see the whole thing on replay here:

Previously On Our Minds:

* Videos: Milton Chen on learning in the 21st Century
* Webcast series: Helping schools meet the challenges of the 21st Century

How to make TV a positive force in the family

Yesterday we wrote about the Kaiser Family Foundation’s report about kids and media, which seems like the perfect segue for our guest blogger Jef Kaminsky, the Vice President of Television Development & Programming for Scholastic Media.

Jef began working at Scholastic in the early 1990s on the television series The Magic School Bus. His job is to select and develop high quality children’s television properties. Jef is also a former 3rd grade and Kindergarten teacher, as well as a dad.

One of Kaiser’s findings is about parents and “media rules.” According to the report, only about three in 10 young people say they have rules about how much time they can spend watching TV (28%). But when parents set limits, children spend less time with media: those with any media rules consume nearly 3 hours less media per day than those with no rules.

Jef Kaminsky concurs about creating limits around TV watching, and offers some valuable advice of his own:

I can’t stress strongly enough that parents should “pre-screen” and “co-view” television programming for and with their kids. Whenever my family comes across a new television show, my wife and I will watch it ahead of time to ensure that it’s appropriate for our daughter’s age and stage of development. Soon enough, she’ll be old enough to see, hear and understand older-skewing content, so what’s the rush for her see it before she is old enough to understand it properly and to process it for herself?

Co-viewing simply means watching TV with your kids. You can be there to answer any questions and ask your kids questions, but mostly it’s fun to hang out together! Then you’ll be able to truly “water cooler” with them about what they’ve watched.

Good educational television can augment a child’s knowledge base in a multitude of content areas. There are a lot of great shows for both preschoolers and grade schoolers alike that put the focus on reading, math and science skills. Here are some of my recommendations for the current offerings in the kids television space.

Shows for Preschoolers (ages 3 to 5):

Clifford The Big Red Dog – The Clifford series on PBS Kids continues to help the youngest viewers get ready for school by incorporating a pro-social curriculum into each and every episode of the series. If you’ve got a preschooler who is about to face the challenge of spending full school days amongst other preschoolers, you can’t go wrong with Clifford. The topics explored and the lessons learned are just the ticket for children who are growing into peer-to-peer relationships.

Curious George and Sid the Science Kid – These two offerings from PBS Kids help preschoolers begin to make sense of science and engineering (how things work). These shows, along with Scholastic’s The Magic School Bus, do a nice job of introducing science content to the youngest viewers.

Sesame Street and SuperWhy – For the youngest children learning their letters and letter sounds, these series demystify decoding. And of course, Sesame Street incorporates other content areas as well – numbers and counting, social issues and more have made it the 40 year-old golden standard of children’s television. (Like many of my peers, Sesame Street helped me learn to read and count – and sing a song or two!)

Shows for School Aged Kids (ages 6 to 9):

The Electric Company – This series is just right for emergent readers. The new version is wonderfully done and really fun. There’s a lot of great character interaction and the interesting storylines make this series one of my daughter’s current favorites.

WordGirl – All the fun of a superhero series with all the goodness of building a super strong vocabulary. A solid curriculum (in the guise of great humor) helps tackle the vocabulary deficit that affects too many students. Kids can watch WordGirl defeat her enemies and learn to use new words, all in the same entertaining half-hour. WordGirl is a stellar star in my house!

Wizards of Waverly Place and iCarly – While these shows aren’t exactly “granola television”, they’re fun and funny pre-teen fare.

Television can be a great break from busy schedules – but it shouldn’t be a child’s main course. If your child is watching more television than reading books, work with them to strike a balance. And of course, families can open up a good book and read together too!