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Feature Articles

Our features have something for everyone: from yoga to haircuts to the latest in books, music and videos. Count on these kid-centric stories to, entertain, enlighten, and inspire.

About Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen was born in 1939 in New York City. Her father was a café journalist, writing columns for the New York newspapers. Her mother was a psychiatric social worker until she was born. After that, her mother never held another full-time out of the home paid job (though she did volunteer work), but wrote short stories that didn't sell and crossword puzzles and acrostics that did.

When Jane was a year old, her father got a job doing publicity for Hollywood movies, and the family moved to California. They stayed there for a couple of years while he worked on such movies as "American Tragedy" and "Knut Rockne" ("Let's win one for the Gipper" starring Ronald Reagan.)

They moved back to New York City in time for the birth of her brother. Then her father went into the army as a Second Lieutenant and was shipped off to England for World War II. Jane and her brother spent the war years in Newport News with her mom and grandparents, while her father served as head of ABSIE, the secret radio in London. He was wounded in the buzz bombs and came home a hero. He told her that he'd won the war single-handedly, and she believed him.

Award winning illustrator combines love of science and art

Award winning illustrator Steve Jenkins inherited his love of both science and art from his father. Jenkins grew up believing he would become a scientist; however, in college he decided, on a "whim," to major in design. He and his wife, Robin Page, whom he had met at college, moved to New York where they both worked in commercial design. "I loved it, and I worked contentedly as a graphic designer for twenty years without thinking too much about the path that I had chosen," Jenkins said. "I truly stumbled into making children's books and feel incredibly lucky to have found a way to unite my early interest in science and my chosen career of creating art."

Jenkins' eye for design and use of an unusual medium for books - paper collage - has gained him wide acclaim and a loyal following. In describing his work process, Jenkins says that he starts with photographs from books or those he takes himself while visiting zoos or aquariums. Once he has established his overall ideas in his head, he begins putting things on paper. "I do an outline drawing based on the references and how I want them to look on the page. Then a quick color setting to figure out what paper I'm going to use in the collage. Finally I cut and tear," he said. Jenkins believes that the questions his children have asked over the years have been the inspiration for many of his books.

Author loves teaching creativity through her stories

Author Susan Ross says her ideas for stories come from everywhere. The idea for Violet came from a real sheep being sheered at a county fair. Read the charming interview Audra Rundle did with Susan about her book The Great Bellybutton Cover-up.

Audra Rundle (AR): How do you apply your education degree to your children's books?

Susan Ross (SR): My education and experience contributes to my ability to choose storylines appropriate to young children and to my ability to integrate educational themes into the books without children even knowing they are there. (Sneaky, but an effective way to expand a child's vocabulary, teach manners, etc.)

(AR): Who or what is your muse for your children's books?

(SR): I don't really have a muse although I model the physical layout of my books after those of Robert Munsch, a very famous children's author in Canada since I aspire to be as successful as he is. My daughter loved his books when she was little. My inspiration for my books comes from all different sources or sometimes just out of thin air. I never know when, where or how an idea will pop into my head.

(AR): Where did you come up with idea for Violet the Sheep?

(SR): This is a much easier question. I used to do storytelling at Fanshawe Pioneer Village (London, Canada). For their sheep-shearing event I came up with the idea of one sheep not wanting to be sheared because everyone would see her bellybutton. How embarrassing! I decided she'd search for creative solutions to her dilemma. Initially the story took place in the village but later I told the story at the Western Fair (London, Canada) and decided that would be a better venue for the story.

Author provides lessons in shapes and numbers with a cultural twist

Author provides lessons in shapes and numbers with a cultural twist
Read this enchanting interview Audra Rundle did with Roseanne Thong, the author of Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes and One Is a Drummer: A Book of Numbers and learn what inspired her to write the books and her love of exposing young children to different cultures.

Audra Rundle (AR): You were born in California, but have lived in Asia for more than 15 years. What took you to Asia, and what kept you there?

Roseanne Thong (RT): Teaching and traveling are my two loves in life, so it was logical to apply for overseas teaching jobs. I first worked in Guatemala, where I learned Spanish and about the rich traditions of the Hispanic world. However, my university training was in Mandarin, so I started looking for employment in Asia. I soon found a position at a bilingual British school in Hong Kong, where Mandarin and English were taught. This launched my career for both literacy training and writing about Asian traditions.

(AR): What inspired you to write children's books, and where do you continue to get new inspiration for upcoming books?

(RT): As a child, I kept a writing tablet by my bed, jotting down poems and thoughts late at night. Throughout school, I had several excellent writing teachers who encouraged me as well. I wrote many stories, but never shared them.

After my daughter was born, I started writing short stories for herstill, keeping them locked up. Then, one day, I shared the idea for Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes with a colleague at my school in Hong Kong. She liked it immediately, and invited me to join a writing group she was a member of. This was all it tookthe connection with an active writing community, and a gentle push in the right direction, to get me started sharing my ideas with publishers. The rest was luck.

My inspiration always comes from children I know, or places I have been. When I am excited about a topic, I assume everyone else will be as well. If I see children enjoying a tire swing on a lazy summer day, for example, I want to write about that experience.

(AR): What do you want to teach children about the Asian culture through your books?

(RT): My first goal is to teach children concepts like shapes, colors and numbers, or ideas like love, sharing, courage and hope. I take these universal ideas that all children can relate to and frame them in a way that both Asian and other children can enjoyno matter where they are from. When I focus on Asian themes, I hope that children in other locations learn about Asian cultural traditions as well as the universal themes that the books convey.

Author talks about her love of rhyming

Author uses humor to relate to children
One of Merrily Kutner's favorite authors is Dr. Seuss because his work is whimsical and classic. Read this delightful interview Audra Rundle did with Merrily about her award winning book Down on the Farm.

Audra Rundle (AR): What is the most fun part of reading Down on the Farm aloud?

Merrily Kutner (MK): I would say the animal sounds but, then again, singing the Down on the Farm repeated refrain is very catchy. But, following the mouse is fun too; it's like a kind of where's Waldo. Hopefully, there's something for everyone to like.

(AR): The story reads in a sing-song manner naturally. If your book were made into a song, what genre would it be, and who would you want to sing it?

(MK): It actually came to me as a song. The Down on the Farm refrain just popped into my head first before I wrote the rest. I guess it's in the nursery rhyme genre, sort of like the Old MacDonald Had a Farm song. And, I would love Kermit the Frog to sing it.

(AR): What was your initial impression of the illustrations? Did they match what you pictured in your mind?

(MK): I knew my book was in good hands with Will Hillenbrand. He sent me a piece of sample art and I thought it was adorable. The rest of the illustrations were even better than I could have imagined because Will added the little mouse and the goat's shenanigans.

(AR): What is your favorite children's book (now or when you were a child), and why?

(MK): My favorite book when I was a child was Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss. I loved the repeated rhyming refrain and I never forgot it: "I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant's faithful 100%." The end of the story was very satisfying for me and a bit of a surprise. I loved the whimsy of it.

Author uses humor to relate to children

Author uses humor to relate to children
Audra Rundle (AR): Have You Seen My Potty? is told in delightful rhymes that add to the humor of the story. Why did you decide to write in rhyming verse?

Mij Kelly (MJ): I've often been advised by publishers and agents not to write in verse (it makes it more difficult to sell foreign language editions), but I find it almost impossible not to. I suppose I find verse much more fun and friendly. I also think that it makes it much easier for a child to remember the words so that they can start to "read" along with an adult. I'm absolutely certain that the first step to reading is pretending to read, so it makes sense for me to write books for little children that, after several hearings, they can begin to know by heart. To me it's analogous to holding a child's hand when they're walking - you kind of swing them along. So I try to swing them along with rhyme and rhythm.

(AR): Why did you decide to have Suzy Sue ask farm animals where her potty was, rather than people?

(MJ): My starting point with the story was the image of a cow sitting on a potty. The idea came to me out of the blue and I could see that it might be a good visual joke. I have a very childish sense of humor, and it tickled me. Writing a book about potties was never in my master-plan, but once I'd imagined a cow on a potty I suddenly found I wanted to write a celebration of potties, involving farmyard animals. But (as often happens with me) I didn't start writing the story until maybe a year later. Then I thought of Suzy Sue, who of course "had something very important to do"... I was really lucky to get Mary McQuillan as an illustrator. The cow she created has so much attitude.

It's a strange process writing children's picture books when you're just an author, not an author/illustrator. You write the story (and the pictures are all in your mind). Then you get a publisher, and the publisher gets you an illustrator. I've been really lucky, I've have some wonderful illustrators who are totally in tune with the spirit of whatever I've written and have added their own "whoomph" to the mix. But on top of that, sometimes you get an illustrator who picks up on something you haven't, as the writer, properly noticed. In the case of Have You Seen My Potty, it was the character of the cow. Then you get something bigger and better than what you started out with. Mary McQuillan's cow was so good; I knew I had to write something to match it. And now we have three books about Suzy Sue and the farmyard animals, with a fourth on the way, and a fifth in my mind....

Author talks about his love of creating art

All the Way to America
Award winning author and illustrator Dan Yaccarino is inspired by his family. He also loves robots and octopuses. Read this charming interview Audra Rundle did with Dan about what motivates him to write and illustrate a wide variety of products for children.

Audra Rundle (AR): Your artwork has appeared in The New York Times, Business Week, and New York Magazine as well as advertising campaigns for large companies such as Target. How does illustrating children's books compare?

Dan Yaccarino (DY): I love doing both! Of course I love creating my books because for me, it's a pure expression of a deeply personal idea. The assignment work challenges me to distill my ideas down to their essence and make them accessible. I use different parts of my brain to do each of these things. One is an expression and the other is a challenge.

(AR): Where do you obtain inspiration for your artwork?

(DY): Everywhere! Everything I see, hear, taste and touch. I read A LOT and that inspires me to do better work. I get some inspiration from other people's art, but I'm more inspired by the experiences I have every day with my family, friends and people I meet. I listen to what people say and I (hopefully) listen more than I speak because you can learn a lot more with your mouth shut than with it open.

Dinosaurs a favorite among the younger set

How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food
Award winning author Jane Yolen talks about finding inspiration in everyday life. Read the interview Audra Rundle did with Jane about her successful career as a writer.

Audra Rundle (AR): Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

Jane Yolan (JY): Everywhere. From the 300 books I have had published, I found inspiration in: magazines, books, dreams, overheard conversations, misheard rock lyrics, a line of poetry, a photograph, watching birds/alligators/fish in the wild, landscape, seascape, movies, one of my children. And so forth.

(AR): You've written more than 300 books - wow! Do you have a favorite, or a few favorites?

(JY): Depends which day--and hour--you ask. Any books you can read are old to me, and I am already intimately involved with the new books which you won't get to hold in your hand for a year or more. But if a big check comes in the mail, or a great review, or a passionate letter from a reader, or an award happens on the day and in the hour you ask, then THAT is my favorite of the moment.

(AR): Your 'How Do Dinosaurs...' series is wonderful! What made you choose Dinosaurs versus other animals?

(JY): An editor called me up and said, "My little boy Robbie is three years old and he loves dinosaurs and hates going to sleep. Can you help?"

Superhero ABC author and illustrator brings Superheros to life

Superhero ABC
Author and illustrator Bob McLeod talks about his passion for drawing and his love of Superheros. Audra Rundle interviewed Bob about his comic book career at Marvel Studios and his dream of writing a children's book.

Audra Rundle (AR): You teach at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design. What is the primary message you try to portray to your students regarding comic creation and design?

Bob McLeod (BM): I enjoy teaching so much. I teach a lot of subjects other than sequential art, but I really try to focus on the fundamentals, whatever subject I'm teaching. I always find myself teaching basic drawing in every class. Students want to skip ahead and gloss over most basics, and you just can't do that. So I stress composition, anatomy and perspective. I try to get them to draw with structure, rather than the contour drawing everyone does before they learn the proper way to draw. They usually want to get right into rendering the surface, without giving enough attention to the structure under the surface. The problems I see in art always go back to the fundamentals.

(AR): You have an extremely impressive career working in comics, including at Marvel Studios. What made you decide to use your talents to create a children's alphabet book specifically?

(BM): During the years I worked in comics, I was almost always just part of a team, doing either pencils, or inks, or lettering, or color, but almost never all of the art. I wanted to do something totally by myself, and I even ended up writing it, although I don't really consider myself a writer. Also, comics have been getting progressively darker, more violent, more adult, and I like doing humor, so a children's book seemed the ideal thing to do. But it was actually my wife Lucy's idea to do an alphabet book, specifically. I couldn't decide what kind of children's book I wanted to do, and had intended to do something other than superheroes, but after weeks of me changing my mind, she finally got frustrated with me and said "You know so much about superheroes, why don't you just do a superhero alphabet book?" I thought, hey, that's a really good idea. I can't believe I didn't think of that!

Award winning author Nancy Tafuri inspired by animals and nature

All Kinds of Kisses
Caldecott author Nancy Tafuri gets her ideas from the simple things that surround her every day. Audra Rundle interviewed Nancy about how she started writing and illustrating children's books .

Audra Rundle (AR): You've published more than 45 children's books; what was your favorite book to write, and why?

Nancy Tafuri (NT): Actually, every book I've worked on has its unique aspect and background story hidden in its past. You work on writing and illustrating a book for close to a year or even more, it really starts to become a big part of your life. The book that I truly was excited about doing was Have You Seen My Duckling? Until that point, I had painstakingly underwent the process of color overlay pre-separated art for my finishes and with Duckling I was now told I could do full color watercolor paintings and I was truly overjoyed! And I've never done another separation since.

(AR): You've been writing and illustrating children's books for more than 30 years now; where do you find your inspiration for your stories?

(NT): Inspiration is a funny thing...it can hit you at the silliest of times or it can hide away and you never think it will ever show up again. I find living with the nature around me as a way of simulating the process. I had been working on a project my editor had suggested and I really didn't have my heart into it and my mind started to drift and I became fascinated by a big grey squirrel trying to retrieve the seeds from the feeder, that was outside my window. He was so zany! That at that point I cleared off my drawing table ~ got out a fresh pad of vellum and started to work on The Busy Little Squirrel and put all the autumn nature around me in the book along with him!

Husband and wife team create a wonderland of fantasy

Learn how Kathleen and Michael Hague, the author and illustrator of Good Night, Fairies wrote this charming bedtime book. Audra Rundle interviewed the Hague's about how they work together as a team and their love of make believe.

Audra Rundle (AR): You two are not only a writer-illustrator team; but also husband and wife! How much influence did you both have over each other's work?

Kathleen Hague (KH): The idea of a book can come from anywhere or anyone. When we have a project together most often I do the writing firstoften I will bounce ideas or lines off Michael before they go to the editor. With this book we brainstormed dozens of possible things a fairy could do. I then wrote the draft of the text and Michael decided which lines inspired him for the best paintings. As he reads the text he gets images in his mind. We had input from the editor as well.

Then Michael, hopefully inspired, began the sketches. I seldom offer corrections since he is the best at what he does. We work closely in the beginning of the project and he often asks which version of a study or sketch I like best but when he is ready to paint the final versions of the illustrations I don't interfere.

(AR): If you had traded jobs and Michael wrote the story while you drew the pictures, what would be different about Good Night, Fairies?

(KH): This is really a tough question. I suppose that we would end the creative journey in a place very similar to where the book is now. We worked closely developing the story and had a shared vision.

Author offers insight into creating a children's picture book

Read this delightful interview Audra Rundle did with Barbara Jean Hicks, the author ofMonsters Don't Eat Broccoliand learn not only what inspired her to write the book but also the process an author goes through when writing a children's picture book

Audra Rundle (AR):What made you decide to use monsters foryour main characters, versus children or animals?

Barbara Jean Hicks (BJH):Here's the long answer:Monsters Don't Eat Broccolihas an interesting and unique back-story. In most cases, an author sends her manuscript off to an editor at a publishing house, and if the editor likes it, she finds an illustrator she thinks is a good match for the text. She's like a matchmaker, in a sense, looking to make a good marriage--but in this case, the two parties aren't allowed to meet until after the marriage takes place! That's right--the author doesn't choose her own illustrator and is even discouraged from making any kind of contact with the illustrator until the job is done.

Thisbook happened differently. Erin Clark, the editor at Random House/Knopf who had recently brought my picture bookThe Secret Life of Walter Kittyto life, happened to be at the Random House offices in London and found a book project that had been contracted and then abandoned. It was a pop-up novelty book, which Knopf doesn't publish, but Erin fell in love with the monsters thatBritish author/illustrator Sue Hendra had come up with. Like the good editor/matchmaker she is, sheimmediately thought my writing style would be a good fit for Sue's illustration style. She sent me Sue's dummy (a prototype with photocopies of sketches and a few pieces of finished artwork) and asked me if I could come up with a story forSue's adorablemonsters.

The dummy was titled Monsters Eat Skyscrapers, and there were a lot of sketches of monsters eating things like cars, boulders, buildings--and trees that vaguely resembled broccoli. I instantly thought about the way my dad got us kids to eat broccoli by pretending we were monsters eating trees. From there the words flowed--I thought about it for a couple of weeks and wrote the text in a week, with very little revision. That is VERY unusual for me--I have other picture books I've spent several years writing and revising! I feel so fortunate that Sue had no problem giving up her text for mine, and that she re-drew many of her sketches to accommodate my text.

(AR):Are there any vegetables that you have a similar bad reaction to that the monsters do to broccoli at first?

(BJH):There's a reason the phrase "slimy lima beans" appears in the story!

Giggling through the challenges of dressing your toddler

Giggling through the challenges of dressing your toddler
Author Candace Fleming's story about a baby who hates to be dressed is an adorable depiction of the challenges parents face in getting their kids dressed and hoping they stay that way. It's funny and charming and parents and kids alike will definitely relate to all the escapades of mother and child. Read the interview Audra Rundle did with Candace and learn what inspired her to write about a phase that all toddlers go through.

Audra Rundle (AR): Was This Is The Baby motivated by actual events in dressing your own child?

Candace Fleming (CF): The book was inspired by my own son's penchant for removing his clothes. As soon as he learned to manipulate zippers, snaps and Velcro, I could barely keep him dressed. I'd struggle to put his pants and shirt and shoes on. Mission accomplished, I'd turn away to do something else and... BAM! I'd turn back to find a naked, but very happy little boy. Cute, yes. But also very frustrating. Until he got over his "naked phase," I spent a lot of time and energy on pulling up little pairs of pants.

(AR): What was the primary message you wanted to convey in This Is The Baby?

(CF): I don't know if there's any real message in the book. I think, however, that both mothers and little ones recognize themselves on the pages. The small child, I hope, will recognize the joy of being free and unrestricted while moms and dads will be reassured that they aren't the only parents with a "little stripper" in the family.

(AR): What is your favorite reaction to someone reading (or being read) the book?

(CF): I love when I get to the end of the story, and listeners start to giggle. They can't wait to catch a glimpse of that baby's bare bottom, and when they do they always bust out laughing. And in my opinion, there's no better sound than a room full of preschoolers laughing and loving literature.

(AR): Parents deal with so many issues when it comes to caring for their little ones. Why did you decide to focus on the challenges of dressing a fussy baby?

(CF): I focused on the challenges of a fussy dresser simply because I knew there were lots of other parents out there experiencing the same thing. I wanted to make a connection, and through the story say, "See? We all have two year-olds like this. It's not only normal, but it's endearing... at least for now."

(AR): If you could give a new parent with a fussy or stubborn baby one piece of advice, what would it be?

(CF): My advice for parents of two year-olds is -- it'll pass. Yes, two year-olds exhibit all kinds of "terrible" behavior. But relax. It's just a phase, so embrace it. They won't act like this forever.

Find time to teach early reading skills to your children every day

Dr. Erika Burton - Find time to teach early reading skills to your children every day
It's 6:00 am and the familiar bellow of Luca, age two, can be heard from down the hall and our morning rituals begin. My son and I go downstairs to the couch and Luca selects several books to read. Mia, age four, and Alexis, age six, file out of their rooms around 7:00 am. They beeline to the couch with their morning drool and pillow marks still visible. I laugh while getting waffles, breakfast bars, pancakes and milk on the table. The morning routine has begun. For me it starts with making lunches, writing school notes, and discussing daily schedules with the kids while they eat their breakfast. I have one hour to get everyone out the door. But in addition to breakfast and schedules, I make the time to help my children learn basic reading skills.

How can you help your young children with reading skills in 15 minutes?

I turn on my computer while my girls tote their breakfast dishes to the sink. Mia selects a story she wants to read from her personalized homepage. Research suggests the best way to motivate kids to read is to allow them a choice in what they read. I hit the print button on my computer and Mia runs to the printer to gather her stories before Luca can snatch them.

Alexis is independently reviewing the pictures in a chapter of her book to predict story events. Reading comprehension skills begin with a child's first teacher and his or her parents. Mia stares at the title of the story I've just read to her. Then she looks at the illustrations on each page. She predicts the story will be about four tooth fairies. I then read Mia the story. I repeat the title and ask Mia to take a stab at reading the story herself. Mia begins with the familiar title that I have now read to her twice. Mia successfully repeats "There Are Four of Us in the Sky!" Then she continues reading through the eight page coloring book checking her understanding by looking at each illustration before cautiously reading each word on the page. Beginning readers often give up because they can become frustrated quickly. Research suggests a child's initial reading success is highly correlated with their future reading success.

Mia completes the story and I hand her an incentive chart. She fills it out as I print out her daily journal page and comprehension questions. Incentive charts help keep children motivated and focused while completing daily routines. I ask Mia, "What would you ask the tooth fairy if you met her?" Mia answers, "I think I saw her once when Alexis lost her first tooth. It was not my tooth so I could not ask her my question." I laugh and hug my daughter, but prompt her again, "But, what would you ask if you could?" Mia answers, "I would wish for more wishes." I ask her a few more comprehension questions. I then ask Mia to draw and/or write about what else she thinks a tooth fairy would have in her hand when visiting children who have lost teeth.

Mia chooses to draw a tooth fairy with many letters. She tells me, "This tooth fairy has many stops and would have many letters for kids." Mia then asks me how to spell the phase 'this one has many letters' which she wants to write under her illustration. Mia reads her sentence below the illustration to me as I point at each word. Research has demonstrated critical thinking skills emerge when a reader personally connects with what they read. Additionally, recent research on reading comprehension reports that in order for children to fully comprehend text they have to have a meaningful relationship with it. Mia begins to color her book as Alexis and I repeat this process with a chapter in her story. Alexis has already written out her chapter prediction while I was working with Mia. This entire process for both girls takes 30 minutes.

Why did you start practicing daily reading skills with your kids?

I am a busy parent. I felt, as most parents do, that there was never enough time in my day. I was guilty of putting off many things I intended to do later with my kids. This included working with them on daily reading skills. However, I began to change the way I wanted my kids to think about reading. Now I make reading skills a daily necessity just as I make sure my kids brush their teeth twice a day and eat green vegetables for their health. Not brushing, eating something green (most days) and practicing reading skills are never an option. Even before embarking on this reading journey I had always read daily to my kids.

However, I had put off making reading skills a part of my daily routine. Unfortunately, in the past, the day always got away from me. But I have found my kids have become more confident and motivated new readers by working with them on daily reading skills. I know the number one predictor of a child's beginning reading success is a parent's influence and attitude towards reading. My children expect daily reading skills now that I make reading skills part of their daily routine. Teaching reading skills is possible for any parent to start by selecting a convenient time, day or night, and remembering that routine is the key to success with any reading program. I believe helping my kids with reading skills has made me a more focused and voracious reader too!

Dr. Erika Burton developed the beginning online reading program while teaching her children to read. She is an adjunct professor at National Louis University where she focuses on courses in educational research. Burton has a doctorate degree in Education Leadership and Policy Studies from Loyola University in Chicago. She has also taught second grade in a bilingual classroom in inner city Los Angeles, first grade on the west side of Chicago, and third grade at an elementary school in Oak Park, IL. For more information on an easy to follow and affordable early reading skills program to empower your child to read visit Stepping Stones Together at www.steppingstonestogether.com.

Below is an extensive research reference list provided by Dr. Burton

Baker, L., Dreher, M.J., & Gutherie, J.T. (2000). Why teachers should promote reading engagement. In L. Baker, M.J. Dreher, & J.T. Gutherie (Eds.), Engaging young readers : Promoting achievement and motivation (pp. 1-16). New York: Guildford.

Baker, L., Machler, K. Sonnenschein, S., 7 Serpell, R. (2001). Mothers' interactions with their first grade children during storybook reading and relations with reading activity an achievement. Journal of School Psychology, 39, 415- 438.

Baker, L., & Scher, D. (2002). Beginning readers' motivation for reading in relation to parental beliefs and home reading experiences. Reading Psychology, 23, 239269.

Donovan, H., & Ellis, M. (2005, October). Paired ReadingMore Than an Evening of Entertainment. The Reading Teacher, 59(2), 174182.

Gambrell, L.B., Palmer, B., Codling, R., & Mazzoni, S. (1996, April). Assessing Motivation to Read. The Reading Teacher, 49(7), 518533.

Guthrie, J.T., & Humenick, N.M. (2004). Motivating students to read: Evidence for classroom practices that increase reading motivation and achievement. In P. McCardle & V. Chhabra (Eds.), The voice of evidence in reading research (pp. 329354).

Jones, J.A. (2006, March). Student-Involved Classroom Libraries. The Reading Teacher, 59(6), 576580.

Leslie, L., & Allen, L. (1999). Factors That Predict Success in an Early Literacy Intervention Project. Reading Research Quarterly, 34(4), 404424.

Morrow, L.M. (2002). Motivating lifelong voluntary readers. In J.Flood, D. Lapp, J.R. Squire, & J.M. Jensen (Eds.), Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts (2nd ed., pp. 857867). New York: Macmillan.

Rasinski, T. (2006, April). Reading Fluency Instruction: Moving Beyond Accuracy, Automaticity, and Prosody. The Reading Teacher, 59(7), 704706.

Rog, L. (2001). Interactive Storybook Reading: Making the Classroom Read-Aloud Program a Meaningful Learning Experience. In Early Literacy Instruction in Kindergarten (pp. 49-55). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Snow, C.E.; Barnes, W.S.; Chandler, J.; Goodman, L.F.; and Hemphill, L.; (1991). Unfilled Expectations: Home and School Influences on Literacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Stanovich,K.E. (1986). The Matthew Effect in Reading: Some Consequences for Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21 360- 407.

Whitehurst, G.J., & Lonigan, C.J. (2001). Emergent Literacy: Development from pre-readers to readers. In S.B. Neuman & D.K. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research (pp. 11- 29). New York? Guildford.

Wigfield, A. & Guthrie, J.T. (1997). Relations of children's motivation for reading to the amount and breadth of their reading. Journal of Educational Psychology,89(3), 420432.

Story Depicts Author's Own Experiences of Feeling like a Misfit

Story Depicts Author's Own Experiences of Feeling like a Misfit
Author Kallie George's story about a mermaid is a heartwarming tale that shows children how to be resourceful when faced with a challenge. Read the interview Audra Rundle did with Kallie and learn what inspired her to write about a topic that isn't often discussed in children's books.

Audra Rundle (AR): Melancholy is not a mood commonly covered in children's books; what inspired you to write about children feeling melancholy?

Kallie George (KG): Although melancholy might not be a common emotion discussed in children's books, I think that a lot of children do feel melancholic and suffer from sadness that lasts more than just momentarily. I was one of those childrenI went through a period of my life when I was sad and I didn't know what to do about it. Everyone tried to help me, but ultimately I realized that I needed to help myself, too. Maude, my mermaid, goes through the same realization that she must draw upon her own strengths to help her overcome her melancholy.

AR: The illustrations for The Melancholic Mermaid are unique and gorgeous. How do they compare to the visions you had in your head while writing the story?

KG: I think the illustrations are better than the ones I had conjured in my head. I was SO worried about how an illustrator would depict a two-tailed mermaid. Abigail did it perfectly.

AR: Did you do any research on mermaid folklore when creating this story, or did you create your own?

KG: I did do a lot of research to create this story, and in particular a lot of mermaid research. I knew two-tailed mermaids existed in folklore and I wanted to find out more about their stories. I didn't really use much of this research when creating my own myths about the two-tailed mermaid world, but I always like to know what is out there already. I also adore research in general.

AR: Do you plan to write any more books about Maude and Tony having adventures?

KG: I am not sure yet! I definitely left the story with Maude and Tony taking off of more adventures, and lots of kids have asked me about what happens next. Right now, however, I am too busy working on other tales about new characters. I may indeed come back to Maude and Tony, however. I've had a few kids write to me about what happened to Maude and Tony and I love their stories.

ABCDrive! teaches the alphabet using concepts that kids see everyday

Up, Down, and Around author talks about her book and love of vegetables
All parents want their kids to learn the alphabet. Author and illustrator Naomi Howland makes this journey fun and interesting by using familiar objects that kids will recognize. Read the interview Audra Rundle did with Naomi and learn about her motivation for writing this clever book that kids will love over and over again.

Audra Rundle (AR): Is there a specific reason ABCDrive! is set in San Francisco?

Naomi Howland (NH): When I first drew the illustrations for the book, I didn't have any particular place in mind. But then, I realized that the book would benefit if there was a narrative to the ABC, a story that could be told about the little boy and his mom. I considered placing the story in New York City, a city with which I am very familiar. But so many books are centered in New York and I wanted my book to be different. San Francisco is beautiful and unique. When I drew pages like the one with the Golden Gate Bridge, I knew that readers would recognize the place without my having to write it out.

AR: ABCDrive! teaches many different lessons such as the alphabet, street sign recognition, and colors. What is the primary lesson you would like a child to learn from reading (or being read) ABCDrive!?

NH: I thought that ABCDrive! could be used like a game, to see how many objects the young reader might be able to find when riding in a car. Then the child might also identify new objects by their first letter. I thought that would be a fun way to use the book.

AR: What is your favorite reaction you've witnessed a child have to ABCDrive!?

NH: The son of a friend of mine asked the book to be read to him every single night for a year. I apologized to the mom and dad! It is wonderful and I was really happy it was my book this little boy loved so but I was also sorry that the parents had to read the same book nightly.

AR: You are both the author and illustrator of ABCDrive!. Which aspect of the book creation did you most enjoy, and why?

NH: ABCDrive! was the first book I wrote. I have always been an artist but was not confident of my ability to write. I decided to try an ABC book because then I'd only have to write 26 words! I still enjoy doing the art in a book the most. The words are the underlying structure, the skeleton, where I may hang the pictures.

AR: How long did it take you to create ABCDrive!, from start to finish?

NH: From the time my editor first accepted the book until I was done with the art, it took about a year for me to complete the illustrations. I had a very patient editor, Dinah Stevenson, at Clarion Books. This was my first book and she essentially taught me how to create a book by sending back dummy after dummy after dummy.

AR: What is your favorite letter of the alphabet, and why?

NH: I love the letter N because it begins my first name, Naomi. My cursive writing is very pretty. I like making the letters E, F, G H, J, K, P, S, V, and Y in script.

Up, Down, and Around author talks about her book and love of vegetables

Up, Down, and Around author talks about her book and love of vegetables
All parents are eager to have their kids eat healthy foods. Enjoy this charming interview Audra Rundle did with Katherine Ayres, the author of Up, Down, and Around and learn why vegetables and gardens get her so excited.

Audra Rundle (AR): What do you want children to get out of your book Up, Down, and Around?

Katherine Ayres (KA): I hope children will get excited about seeing those giant carrots, and oh my goodness, how many ants are there on the pages, and look there's a worm under the ground. The sense of wonder is one of the most precious gifts of childhood and I'm hoping my books appeal to that sense.

AR: What was the most rewarding aspect of creating and writing Up, Down, and Around?

KA: Seeing the art! You write a picture book text and sort of imagine how it might turn out, but once I saw some of Nadine Westcott's sketches I got very excited. The writing wasn't too hard, as there aren't too many words in this book. I did fiddle around with the verbs--climb, vine, twine, wind. That was fun.

AR: What is YOUR favorite vegetable?

KA: Tomatoes, hands down. But I had a sort-of rule---I had to like every veggie in the book. When I was a small child I was a very picky eater, so corn and tomatoes and potatoes were about my only veggies, but these days, I love lots of them. You didn't ask about a least favorite veggie. I'll answer that anyway---brussels sprouts---bleah! But they're my dad's favorite. All our tongues get to make up their own minds about what tastes good.

AR: Do you personally have a garden?

KA: I love to play in the dirt. I grow mostly flowers and flowering shrubs. We have two houses, so I'm not in one place all summer at the present time. If I planted veggies in Massachusetts, by the time they ripened, I'd be back in Pittsburgh. So the bunnies and the deer and the bears would eat them all. I do plant herbs in a big pot by the back door. That's it for now. Oh, and my smallest granddaughter likes to eat my begonias. Does that count?

AR: What has been the most gratifying experience you've had of a child reading this book?

KA: I love it when kids dance to the story. Probably the most amazing moment came while on tour for the Pennsylvania One Book (Every Young Child) when an entire library full of kindergarten children (300 of them) sang my story to me. Wow!

AR: Is there anything you would change about Up, Down, and Around since it's been published?

KA: No. To me, it's yummy, just as it is.

Mommy Bloggers Are Doing It For Themselves

Mommy Bloggers Are Doing It For Themselves
In May of 2004, following fast on the heels of a divorce, Miriam Kamin began documenting her new life as a single mom. By 2010 her blog Would Coulda Shoulda had been voted into the top fifty mom blogs in the US with over 3000 readers each day. Kamin had worked in theater and the software design industry before ditching it all to go to work for herself. Writing. What compelled her to do it? "I'd been reading a lot of blogs and starting to connect with other women who had been through a divorce. I didn't know anyone in my "real" life with whom I had that in common and I decided it was my turn to start talking."

Kamin is one of almost 4 million mommy bloggers in the United States, and that number is expected to rise to 4.5 by the year 2014. If you think that's something, consider the number of readers: 17.5 million. There's something for everyone: Mommy blogger "specialties" run the gamut, from Lenore Skenazy's popular blog Free Range Kids made famous when she allowed her then nine-year-old son to take the New York subway by himself, to Amy Thompson's Progressive Pioneers where Thompson advocates for a family centered, self sufficient lifestyle.

John Medina: Brain Rules for Baby

John Medina: Brain Rules for Baby
Developmental molecular biologist John Medina has already written one book on the human brain, the New York Times Bestseller Brain Rules. Now Medina is at it again with a younger version of the same. Brain Rules for Baby promises to give readers the inside scoop on raising smart and happy kids aged birth to five. But his recommendations might come as a revelation.

Medina is an affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine and the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University. A large man with glasses, Medina is an inspirational and enthusiastic speaker, with witticisms flying faster from his tongue than fireworks on the fourth of July. Even though his classic Brooks Brothers button down shirts and blazers convey the image of a conservative dean, Medina has an uncanny ability to bridge the worlds of science and popular culture, folding in commercial concepts and celebrity behavior as needed to help out his audience of wide-eyed parents or parents-to-be. Case in point: Kirstie Allen's fluctuating weight stood in as a metaphor for the changeability of the human IQ.

Secret Mountain: Roland Stringer is bringing everyone together

In 2000 publisher Roland Stringer created Secret Mountain, a record label and publishing house that has brought together musicians, illustrators, songwriters and authors with the intention of creating a wealth of book/CD combinations with musical influences from around the globe. R_Stringer photo

The publishing house's name stems from the title of a novel by celebrated French Canadian author Gabrielle Roy. A quote from the same book appears in fine print on Canada's twenty-dollar bill: "Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?" Stringer describes Roy's novel as a metaphor for exceeding one's wildest ambitions, especially those that pertain to artistic development. The publishing house's title also subtly alludes to Montreal, which Stringer describes as, "An island with a mountain in the middle of the city where families go on weekends for picnics. You get a wonderful view of the whole city... and yet it really feels like you're far from the traffic and urban sounds." And lastly, it didn't hurt that children simply like the idea of secrets. Stringer explains, "Telling secrets, keeping secrets, and I thought it worked on that front too."

Picture This: Kids and photography

Photo courtesy Bellen Drake
Photo courtesy Bellen Drake
It's not easy to get the perfect shot. In fact it can be downright daunting. I grew up with a father who as a professional photographer tried to capture our family events for posterity. Most of my memories revolve around us being posed to look as natural as possible. We look anything but.

Now as a parent, I'm pretty camera happy myself. And I want images that capture a bit of the spontaneity that seems to be the benchmark of childhood. Occasionally my point and click method results in a timely shot - that perfect smile or gesture so closely associated with a young one. But more often than not, it results in inadvertently lopping off random body parts and creating indistinct forms that incite more candid viewers to ask if that blur in the background is our cat or our kid. Turns out that getting a carefree image requires significantly more than mere chance.

In the good old days we'd pay for the film to be developed. But with the arrival of the digital camera, development costs for film are nil. What's to keep us in check? We can click to our hearts' content, taking as many images as we want, the only downside being a wade through countless results in search of a Kodak moment (which may or may not surface).

MaryLee & Nancy: A Lifetime of Harmony

MaryLee Sunseri and Nancy Stewart BFF.
MaryLee Sunseri and
Nancy Stewart BFF
They've known each other for forty-six years and are still making music. When MaryLee Sunseri and Nancy Stewart met at the tender age of thirteen in 1964, it was the start of a lifelong friendship made all the sweeter through a shared interest in song. Of the thirty-five years they've spent as professional musicians, about twenty-five have been dedicated to the creation of top-tier tunes for children. In 1987 the two pals recorded their first indie CD, the instantly acclaimed Goodnight, Sleep Tight. They've been awarded Parents' Choice Awards, the Sandman's Seal of Approval and the American Library Association's Notable Children's Recording for a number of their collaborative efforts including Rhythm of the Rocks, a multi-cultural journey, and Singin' Sidesaddle, a medley of songs from the far west.

On a recent Sunday evening in June, MaryLee and Nancy performed at Island Books on Mercer Island, Washington. MaryLee in long flowing skirts and blonde hair, and Nancy, a wavy-haired brunette in eclectically colored tights, stood before a gaggle of children fidgeting and jostling one another for space as they sat cross-legged in front of an impromptu stage. Parents stood near the back, shifting from one leg to the next, occasionally glancing at the surrounding titles. MaryLee and Nancy took their places, standing nearly hip-to-hip at the front with unabashed grins, then, after the briefest of introductions their voices penetrated the dense air -- rising and falling in harmony as naturally and mesmerizing as a stream of waves. The background buzz gave way to rapture.

Bat Walk in the Park

Anni Morton shows off the anatomy of a bat using a model.
Anni Morton shows off the
anatomy of a bat using a model
On a warm Wednesday evening, a group of twenty-five kids and adults gathered at the Audubon Center to learn more about a creature we've loved to hate: bats. Since Vampires first appeared in literature bats have gotten a pretty bad rap. They're associated with the dark, evil spirits, and are even rumored to seek shelter in human hair. The Audubon Center is out to set the record straight, inviting kids and adults alike to take a walk on the wild side of Seattle's Seward Park.

At dusk our guide, Anni Morton, has us follow her to the edge of Lake Washington where she stops to explain that bats drink directly from large bodies of water. "So if you don't live near a lake," explains Morton, "its unlikely you'll get to reside with a colony of bats." I hear a collective sigh of relief as our group heads into the trees.

Morton has been Director of Education since the Audubon Center opened in April 2008. She's responsible for creating all of the Center's community and school programs. Developing a bat program and debunking a few myths was at the top of her list. "I grew up on a farm and have always been an animal person," says Morton. "I've liked bats since I was a child. People think that they're flying mice, and that they're responsible for spreading diseases like rabies. But that's not at all the case." Morton should know, she's studied ecology and evolutionary science and has conducted extensive research on bats - netting them in the Nevada desert and performing acoustic surveys to determine how many species populate an area.

The Buzz Around the Business of Kids Haircuts

Jody Hall talks with a young client.
Jody Hall talks with a young client
For many parents getting their children to the hair salon can be about as alluring as a trip to the dentist. Child psychologist and writer Bruno Bettelheim claimed that approximately fifty-five percent of children under the age of five had a pronounced fear in haircutting situations where scissors were used. It's not unusual then to s ee children fight tooth and nail against what seems like a simple trim of the tresses. Fed up with the clash over curls, some parents resort to home products that promise the ease of a salon haircut from the comfort of home, such as Flowbee, which attaches to a vacuum cleaner and suctions sections of hair through its blades. But for parents who prefer to see their children's locks in the hands of a professional, a number of hair salons promise kid friendly cuts and an atmosphere conducive to helping children relax.

Dina Pupera had been catering to the needs of adults in upscale New York hair salons for more than a decade when she decided to branch out into children's hair. The decision followed the birth of her daughter, now four, who she hoped to take along with her to work. Now the owner of Columbia City Cuts in Seattle, Pupera has found a way to accommodate other parents with kids. Her salon offers cuts for both. "Moms can bring their kids in with them while they get a haircut and not feel uncomfortable with needing to get up halfway through to tend to their child," says Pupera. "I totally understand." And what about little ones who are less reluctant to hop in the chair? Pupera offers a word of advice. "Relax. Kids can feel a parent's energy."

"How the first haircut goes depends a lot on age," explains Pupera. "Little ones don't necessarily know that they're getting a haircut, but by age two or three kids are a lot more aware. I try to involve them in the process, letting them feel the water with their hands so it's their experience too and not just something being done to them."

Baby Pro: Lara and Todd Needham are Playing in the Big Leagues

Children don't need to know the rules of the game to enjoy soccer.
Children don't need to know the
rules of the game to enjoy soccer
Baseball and Beethoven? Soccer and Strauss? It would seem a classic clash. But Lara and Todd Needham have made the combination of sports and classical music a surprisingly harmonious mix. In 2002 Lara Needham entered a room to find her then one-year old son, Grant, immersed in a television show featuring the X games, an annual commercial event focused on action sports such as skateboarding and motocross. "He was totally mesmerized by the movement and the loud swoosh that accompanied it each time a skateboarder flew by on the half pipe," explained Lara. A few days later her son pulled out his father's skateboard from the closet. He had made an important connection between what he'd seen onscreen and what he might do himself. Lara excitedly called her husband Todd to tell him what she'd seen and to ask him a pressing question: "What if media was used to introduce traditional mainstream sports to toddlers in such a way that it propelled them to go out and play?"

The Needhams were quick to realize that although the market was saturated with products catering to children's minds, very few engaged with children's bodies. They set out to create a series that promoted sports for young and old alike: their motto: Encouraging active play, for a lifetime.

Suzi Shelton: Music to their Ears

Suzi Shelton at the microphone
Suzi Shelton at the microphone
When Suzi Shelton moved from Ohio to New York City she could hardly have imagined that a mere fifteen years later she'd be one of New York's most popular sets. Shelton mixes creative pop ballads with sensitively rendered lessons in love, and it's not just parents who have noticed. In 2006 Shelton was awarded the Parent's Choice Award, an Iparenting Media award, and a children's music web award. The following year, her Live at Southpaw DVD won the 2007 NAPPA Gold Award. Not too shabby for a transplant from Chesterfield, Ohio.

As a child Shelton learned to read music and play the flute, and singing and performing were part of her early family experiences. "My Mom was always singing -- she has a lovely voice. Occasionally she would play the piano when my sister and I were supposed to be napping. My Dad is not musical at all, but he made a good audience member when called upon to watch the hundreds of impromptu concerts that I would force him to endure!"

Trained as a dance and pre-school teacher Shelton found work at the Children's Museum of the Arts in Soho where she was introduced to making children's music -- the first step in a now decade long music career. In 1997 Shelton joined Brooklyn based children's band Gillygaloo, whose eclectic American folk songs and international dance tunes created a musical melting pot. Soon after, Shelton became a founding member of the Imagination Workshop Band creating adult friendly kids music. By 2005 she was ready to launch a solo career. Not knowing how to play the guitar didn't deter her in the least. "In fact it was an economical decision," explains Shelton. "I wanted to learn to accompany myself instead of hiring someone else to do it." Now with two albums and a DVD (Live at Southpaw) under her belt Shelton performs for children nationwide.

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