My review of Letters from Mir and the wonders of primary sources

Last week, The Jewish Home L.A. ran my review of the new book, Letters From Mir. Of the books I’ve reviewed professionally in the last couple months, it was the one that surprised me most, on more than one level.

When I read the cover blurb, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about the book. I warmed up a bit while reading the introductions (yes, that’s plural), but was completely won over once I hit the actual letters. These form the centerpiece of the volume, and they consist of those by and addressed to a young rabbi and yeshiva student, Rabbi Ernest Gugenheim during the tumultuous period that preceded the Second World War.

If you want to read about that book, you can do so here, but my favorite thing about the book touches on a topic that can be applied more widely: the importance of primary sources in understanding the past.  Continue reading

You’ve got to be a reader to raise a reader: My take on recent research on teens and reading

Common Sense Media recently issued a report about kids and teens and their reading habits. The four principal findings (I’m going to quote CSN directly) were these:

  1. Reading rates have dropped precipitously among adolescents.
  2. Reading achievement among older teens has stagnated.
  3. There’s a persistent gap in reading scores between white, black, and Latino kids.
  4. There’s also a gender gap in reading across ages.

The NY Times and NPR are both aghast at the findings, but their responses focused more on the problem — and how it has arisen — than on solutions. Common Sense Media itself has offered several strategies to increase reading, but I’m going to suggest my own. Continue reading

Telling kids about storytelling

I’m very excited to be visiting one of the local day schools tomorrow. For a change, I won’t be doing a read-aloud of Raizy. Raizy may not even come up, due to the age of the kids involved. Instead I’ll be talking about “Storytelling,” to coincide with the current unit the students are studying in school.

Fishing for a few stories on this fine morning

Breaking down storytelling in forty-five minutes will be challenging, especially at the upper-elementary school level. After a little intro, I plan on making an extended metaphor connecting storytellers to fishermen. I’m hoping it will be both instructive and age-appropriate. I’ve spent quite a bit of time preparing and concocted a whole series of visuals, and the like.

How is a good storyteller like a fisherman?

The truth is, everyone is a storyteller. Continue reading

It’s less than 3 weeks ’til Shavuot and it’s been 5 years of Raizy!

It’s the 5th anniversary of my picture book about Shavuos, A Dozen Daisies for Raizy, and I’d like to learn from teachers and librarians what activities they’ve used with the book and how their kids have responded to it. If you have pix of art projects or the like, that’s even better!

You can respond to me in the comments below or privately at beccaklempner@gmail.com.

How can you offer someone advice without taking it yourself?

I was corresponding with a client last night who is–among other things–considering publishing an ebook to distribute among clients and potential clients. I was telling her I thought it was a great idea, how it can be done with relatively little expense, yadda yadda yadda.

And then I thought to myself, “Hey! Why don’t you take your own advice?”

Not only might it generate business, but it’ll give me experience using the tools available on CreateSpace (or Lulu, or whichever service I go with) that will prove useful if I help last night’s client (and hopefully future ones) with their projects. I spent an hour and a half last night clipping bits from emails and blog posts to consolidate into a short ebook. It’ll take a few more hours just to complete the writing and editing of the material, and I’m sure it’ll take a while to design the ebook. But I’m excited about this little side project.

So the next time you offer someone some brilliant advice…prepare to take it yourself!

Be childlike, not childish–What we can learn about writing from kids

We now—joyfully—have 2 1/2 literate kids in our household. (The 1/2 is only 5. Cut her some slack.) One of the interesting things in my life lately has been watching them become writers, as well. I think we adults can learn a thing or two from their learning curve.

1) Kids enjoy writing about what they like. However, one of the things that makes them better writers is writing about things outside their comfort zone.  It’s a lot easier to get my 10 year old to write about cars or maps, but his writing skills have been built up greatly by writing all those friendly letters, book reports, essays, and so on that get assigned as homework or classwork. When was the last time you wrote something outside YOUR comfort zone? I know professional writers who only write personal essays, or those who have always exclusively written for kids. Try a little of everything. Mix it up. It’ll surprise you.

Watch out! Your bookworm might just become a writer!

2) Kids try to copy what they like to read. They’ll borrow liberally from Captain Underpants, Tintin, and the like. They recognize excellence and strive to emulate it. Of course, we want writers to develop their own voice (and never, ever plagiarize), but there’s nothing wrong from learning from the greats. So do a little pastiche–you’ll get a childlike pleasure from it, and brush up your skills, too.

3) There might be obstacles in the way. The right tools can help. One of my kids has a graphomotor problem. Upon advice, we bought him pencils with fatter leads. What a difference. And now he usually types writing assignments. So much easier for him. Another of my kids is so young, she hasn’t learned to spell yet. Relying on invented spelling allows her to communicate on paper, and she’s so pleased with the result she does a little dance (really, she does). If your inner kid has problems with writing, break it down and see if there’s a solution. Don’t just give up. Continue reading