Read to them…just because…

by Guest Bloggers JoEllen McCarthy and Erica Pecorale, Literacy for All Conference Speakers




Awareness and

Understanding is


Every time they are read to.

Read alouds matter. They create opportunities for a vibrant tapestry of rich classroom discussions. They provide pathways to broader thinking and reflection about the world. The empirical research about the benefits of read aloud is abundant, but there is “heart evidence” too.  Books touch our students’ hearts and minds.

Read alouds open up opportunities for gaining new perspectives or different appreciations in ways that only beautiful literature can.  Teachers read aloud… because…“Strong young minds continue to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who send their books out into the world like ships on the sea. Books give a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”  (Matilda by Roald Dahl)

In a fast-paced world where events, images and media are constantly sending messages, our students need opportunities to deconstruct their thinking. The choices we make about the texts we share with our students, convey big messages, strengthen relationships, and promote a greater understanding for ourselves, develop compassion for others and appreciate the diversity of our world.

Teachers understand that the precious gift of read aloud is something we must do just because…of all it offers. Stories must be savored. It goes beyond the teaching of literacy. It is about teaching the hearts, minds and hands of all students. Because our time allotted for read aloud needs to provide examples of  rich diverse literature.

Just because.

We need literature that empowers students through responsive teaching that imparts knowledge, skills and attitudes (Gloria Ladson Billings). Literacy and life lessons are about knowing, feeling, and doing work that matters.

Just because.

Because they promote empathy, like in Lend a Hand, John Frank and London Ladd’s book of poetry celebrating acts of kindness.


Because they encourage creativity and inquiry, like in The Wonder, Faye Hanson, wondering about the world, with joy and love and imagination for what it possible.


Because they make us think differently, in Yamada’s companion to What Do You Do with an Idea, exploring problems as opportunities.


Because they spread love, like in J.J. Austrian and Mike Curato’s Worm Loves Worm. Because “Love is art. Love is education. Love is accountability. And it needs repeating. Love is love is love.” – Brendan Kiely


Because they take us to new places, where we can deepen our understanding about the world.  Like in Susan Verde and Peter Reynold’s Water Princess we thirst for a future where everyone has access to basic human needs.


Because awareness and mindfulness call us to action. In Kids Who Are Changing the World, by Anne Jankeliowitch, real issues, inspire real children to pursue their passions and solve problems, while helping others.



Because they change perspectives and priorities.  Like in Yard Sale, by Eve Bunting and Lauren Castillo, where readers discover that the best things in life aren’t things.


Because they show us how to be human. In If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson, we are reminded that the way we react to new situations can have strong implications. The choice is ours.


Read aloud to all students…just because…

“Books can often show us who we are and how we, the people of the world, regardless of race, color, or creed, are all connected at the core of humanity. ”    –Marva Allen


Join JoEllen McCarthy and Erica Pecorale to explore more books and life lessons for talking, reading, writing, and reflecting on the diverse world we live in at the Literacy for All Conference  Monday, October 24, 2016 from 1:30-3:00. Their session is entitled, Literacy and Life Lessons (Grades 3-6).


#AlwaysLearning, JoEllen McCarthy, is a lead learner and staff developer who spends her days working collaboratively in schools and districts to support best instructional practices, co-teaching, planning, coaching and supporting the curriculum of children.

As the Educator Collaborative’s Book Ambassador, JoEllen spreads a love and enthusiasm for learning and the role books plays in all aspects of education.  

Erica Pecorale is the Director of Teacher Education and an associate professor at Long Island University, Riverhead.  In addition to her work in preparing future teacher candidates for their educational endeavors, she continues to provide professional development support to teachers, administrators, parents and students in K-8 school settings.

A Glimpse of the Writing Process

Jack_Gantos_author_photoby Jack Gantos

This week we’re proud to have as our guest blogger Jack Gantos, award-winning author of the Rotten Ralph and Joey Pigza books, and one of the keynote speakers at this November’s Literacy for All Conference. Jack shared with us some photos and reminiscences of his time finishing his most recent novel, The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza.


road16I was sitting in a Starbucks in Kuala Lumpur and working on The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza (due out 9/14) while on a speaking tour at the International School at Kuala Lumpur. Normally I would have finished my novel back in Boston before going on such a demanding tour, but I hadn’t finished the last few chapters. I was behind and so I was speaking by day and writing on the weekends and at nights in my hotel room. I did finish the book before I left Kuala Lumpur.

*note- click on the pictures to enlarge the photos



At the end of every novel, there are unused notes and pages and spin-off ideas that never get used. When I begin the task of packing up all the first draft material I have to sort through it and look for any random ideas that may be useful in the future. These ideas in the photo have been vetted and the useful ones filed away in the appropriate ‘future ideas’ file. The elephant money clip that holds the notebook together I bought in Bangkok while speaking at the International School. These notes are also from The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza.



This notebook is part of the odds and ends leftovers from From Norvelt to Nowhere. This collection of pages and scraps looks like off-road material from when I was working on the chapter that takes place in Rugby, TN— a great 19th century utopic town started in Tennessee by Thomas Hughes, the English writer who made his money writing the important anti-bullying book titled Tom Brown’s School Days. The town faded away— but the library is fully intact, and is brilliant. I used this town as the birthplace of Miss Volker in the NORVELT books, as the town’s utopic origins would surely be inspirational to Miss Volker, who is a progressive community thinker.

Jack Gantos will be presenting at the Literacy for All Conference in Providence, RI on Tuesday, November 4, 2014. His keynote session is entitled, “Literature, It’s All Personal.” He will also be presenting two additional sessions at the conference.

Our Favorite Books For Winter

winterbooks2Here in Cambridge we are experiencing some exceptionally arctic temperatures. And what better way to keep warm than to cuddle up with your favorite winter-themed book. Below are some of the Center staff’s favorites. Enjoy!

  • Brave Irene by William Steig– Emily C. (Project Assistant) and Helen S. (Intermediate and Middle School Trainer)
  • Snowmen at Night by Caralyn and Mark Beuhner– Wendy V. (Senior Researcher)
  • Thomas’s Snowsuit by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko– Toni C. (Online Course Faculty)
  • Snow by Cynthia Rylant and Lauren Stringer– Heather M. (Intermediate and Middle School Trainer)
  • Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost and Susan Jeffers– Diane P. (Assistant Director, Primary)
  • The Hat by Jan Brett– Melissa F. (Project Manager)
  • The Mitten by Jan Brett– Kelly A. (Project Manager)
  • Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton– Candice C. (Project Assistant)
  • Skip Through the Seasons by Stella Blackstone and Maria Carluccio– Averie B. (Project Manager)

Let us know what your favorite winter-themed books are in the comments below!

Getting More Bang for the Book

By Jessica Sherman

Primary Literacy Collaborative Trainer

The most effective teachers value beautiful children’s literature because they understand that in addition to providing students with endless hours of entertainment and wonder, these books also hold the keys to strengthening and expanding students’ thinking, speaking, reading, and writing powers.  The tricky part is selecting the right book for a particular group of readers, especially when choosing a book to share with the entire class. There are so many things to consider when approaching a new read aloud text.  Is the subject matter interesting and relevant? Is the text complex enough to challenge the listeners but accessible enough to keep them engaged? Is the literary language and vocabulary enriching without being exhausting? Are there elements of craft that readers will be able to appreciate and discuss? Are there elements of craft that writers might be able to take on in their own writing?  What work will have to be done to introduce this book to the group?

With so many instructional goals in mind and so many books in the marketplace, the bigger question always remains: Is this book even worthy of all of the careful consideration and precious class time it requires? Henry David Thoreau said, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” This call to action is certainly worthwhile, but also incredibly daunting! While there are stacks of wonderful books that have been adored for decades (with more and more being written even as you read this blog post), there is also a surplus of less wonderful, less adorable books lurking on every bookseller’s shelf.

How have you sorted out these “best books” for young readers from the rest of the books?

We hope the resources below can help guide your quest.  Good luck and please let us know what you discover!

Best of the year

Association for Library Service to Children’s Notable List: A committee from this division of the American Library Association (ALA) identifies the best of the best in children’s lit.

Kirkus Reviews’ Best Children’s Books: Kirkus Reviews prides itself on being a comprehensive and “authoritative voice” in children’s lit for almost 80 years.

Best of the week

New York Times Best-Selling Picture Books: See what everyone else is buying this week.

Most wanted

Amazon’s Most Wished For List: Crowd sourcing! Updated daily.

National Award Winners, Past and Present

Caldecott Medal: For the last 75 years, the ALA has awarded this medal to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

Newbery Medal: For 90 years, the ALA has awarded the Newbery Medal to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Coretta Scott King Book Award Recipients: This award is given annually by the ALA to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.

Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children: Since 1990, this award has been given for excellence in the writing of nonfiction for children.

Lisa Bartle’s Searchable Database of Award Winners: So cool! This site allows users to search a database of award winning books by a variety of categories including age of reader, setting, historical period, characteristics of the protagonist, culture, genre, and date of publication.

Bibliographies and Recommendations from University Centers

Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature

Cooperative Children’s Book Center at University of Wisconsin

The Center for Children’s Books at University of Illinois


Seven Impossible Things: The creators see this blog as a “literary salon where authors and illustrators stop by…to share their craft, and where illustrators wake us up with art.

Young Books: Librarian and critic Rebecca Young has been reviewing children’s books in for over 20 years.

The Brown Bookshelf: Bloggers here are passionate about the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers.

Your Local Resources

Indie Bound Store Finder: There is nothing better than passionate conversation about children’s lit with your local bookseller…

Library Locator: Except, perhaps, a passionate conversation with your local librarian.