Don’t Judge a Book By the Cover

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I was recently invited to read to Mrs. Charles class of second grade students at Marquette Elementary and Middle School on Multicultural Children’s Book Day. Once again, I was awestruck by the inquisitive nature and insight of little people who say the “darnedest things.”

MCCBDay, was started last year by two children’s book authors to promote diversity books and authors, and to send a message to publishers that the demand for multicultural books is real. Last year, I wrote about my experience at University Prep with students who brought in their favorite diverse books and talked about why they liked them.

This time, I read my latest book, Malcolm Mows the Lawn, a story about a little boy whose chore turns into an exciting adventure, and he becomes a hero. The literacy instructional specialist, Aretha Snadon, also asked me to read another book, The Royal Bee by Francis and Ginger Park, which was about a little boy in 20th century Korea whose persistence earned him an education and eventually, a national prize that allowed him to feed and clothe his family.

Right away, the story points out that only rich children were allowed to go to school. One little girl raised her hand. Yes?

“That’s not fair,” she said. “All people should be able to go to school.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

The kids had other questions too, and I had mine. Was Malcolm’s adventure real or imagined?

“It was fiction,” said one boy. “He was dreaming!”

Which book was your favorite?” I asked, so assured of the answer. When the majority of the children said the Korean book, Why?

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“It was inspiring,” said one little girl.

“But the book you wrote was fun!” said a boy. (Ahhh…my target market has spoken!)

I had expected the typical second grade class: Jittery, a little noisy, anxious to one-up the last answer someone gave. But these young people were thoughtful, calm and very good listeners.

While some parents and teachers may already know this, here’s what I learned: Our kids may be little and noisy and constantly craving fun, but once you turn the page, you will see their desire to connect the dots, and to understand how and why things are the way they are, whether real or make believe!

Reading—especially about diverse children and cultures—is a great way to help them to do that.

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If Football Players Can Wear Pink, We Can End Illiteracy

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(Left to right) Cowboys & Lions in pink; Pam Good, Renee Prewitt, Leslie Andrews and Councilman James Tate at Beyond Basics Literacy Summit; Links Panel on Literacy; Art Wall at Starr Academy.

I believe that we will greatly diminish illiteracy–especially in Detroit–in my lifetime. I’m a believer because I’ve seen problems of this magnitude make significant advances since I’ve been around, and I’m convinced that, when it comes to illiteracy, this too shall pass.

For example, December 1 was the anniversary of the day that Civil Rights Advocate Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to move to the back of the bus. Today, Barack Obama sits in the White House as the nation’s first African American president. Decades ago, Nancy Brinker’s sister, Susan G. Komen, sat in the back room of a hospital at a time when it was taboo to say the words “breast cancer.” Today, even big, strapping football players wear pink shoes on the football field, and an army of survivors have helped to turn fear and shame into courage. I’m a big fan of classic movies, and beyond their black and white allure and stylish sophistication, they reflected a time when smoking cigarettes was considered cool and sexy. Today, cigarette cool is making its last stand. The little tobacco stick is not even allowed in its most sacred refuge, the bar! Who ever would have thought?

But, most of all, I’m a believer because every time I’m with a group of people who are committed to reading and literacy, the energy in the room is so powerful. The people and the programs underway are not overwhelmed by the problem here in Detroit, where 47% of people are illiterate. Rather, they are dedicated to exposing children to books, to new experiences and helping them to develop language. Small victories become huge successes over time.

I believe that we will win this war on illiteracy in Detroit, in America, and eventually, around the world. Think about it, and I am sure you will agree. We’ve all seen issues of this magnitude solved in the past, and in time, we will say, Illiteracy: Problem solved! The opportunities to be a part of the movement are everywhere!

Reading and Volunteer Resources
http://detroitk12.org/readingcorps/
www.beyondbasics.org
www.liveunitedsem.org
www.gradelevelreading.net
www.pnc.com/grow-up-great
www.matrixhumanservices.org
www.readingrecovery.org

Renee Prewitt is author of Taj Cleans the Garage and Malcolm Mows the Lawn, books about little boys whose chores turn into exciting adventures!

Indies Are Not Dinosaurs

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Christopher Paul Curtis and Renee Prewitt at Book Beat “Indies First Storytime Day”

Some people say that the independent book store will be like dinosaurs soon; they will only be resurrected as Hollywood remakes. But I wouldn’t wager my 35mm digital movie camera just yet, based on the response from authors and readers alike at the Indies First Storytime Day, which took place on Saturday, May 17 at Book Beat in Oak Park, Michigan.

 

The whole idea was put together by Kate DiCamillo, author of the 2014 Newbery Award for Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures. She’s also National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (2014-2015). “The point is to show up and to read aloud, to celebrate stories and to celebrate the indies who work so hard to put our stories in the hands of readers,” she said.

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To honor Children’s Book Week (May 12-18) about 15 authors came to Book Beat, and read to a medium-sized, responsive crowd throughout a cool, windy day, full of sunshine. I started out reading Book Fiesta! by Pat Mora, recalling with great care, a few Spanish words I learned in high school. Cheered on by Book Beat owner Colleen Kammer, I followed up by reading one of my children’s books, Taj Cleans the Garage, about a little boy whose chore turns into an adventure. (A lot of parents liked the chore idea.)

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My highlight of the day was meeting Christopher Paul Curtis, who read a hilarious excerpt from The Watsons Go to Birmingham. My kids grew up reading his books and when I found two that they hadn’t read, I asked him, “Which one of these do you think they would like the most?” Without hesitation and despite my protests, he purchased, signed and gave me both of them: The Mighty Miss Malone and Elijah of Buxton. When I texted my daughter about it, all she said was “OMG, OMG, OMG! Did you tell him that Bud, Not Buddy, is my favorite?” Now, I have!

Gloria Whelan was there–all of her titles covered a whole table–as well as Susan Whithall, Wong Herbert Yee, Jean Alicia Elster, Kathryn Madeline Allen, Matt Faulkner, Jenny Risher, Terry Blackhawk, Michael Zadoorian, Rick Lieder, Brynne Barnes, and Tracy Gallup.

Children clapped and held out their books to be signed, Moms and Dads laughed, we discussed the ups and downs of the book industry, and ate delicious cake. Author swag bags included Gayle’s Chocolates and City Girls Soap, both Michigan based businesses.

“This event competed against a lot of activities on Saturday, including thousands of trees being planted in Detroit to remove blight, volunteers cleaning up the Detroit River, religious ceremonies, and an international Comics convention,” said Kammer. “Still, I’m happy for all of the authors and supporters who came out. Books matter and everyone’s presence reinforced that message.”

Long live the independent book stores! Dinosaurs not allowed!

Renee Prewitt is the author of two children’s books: Taj Cleans the Garage and Malcolm Mows the Lawn. 

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When Thunder, the Flying Horse Came

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When you tap into a child’s imagination, you’re likely to hear them say anything. That’s what happened this week when several volunteers from Chrysler joined me to read my new children’s book, Taj Cleans the Garage, to about 900 kids in celebration of National Reading Month. The automotive giant also provided a copy of the book to each child in Kindergarten through third grade at Burton International Academy, Sampson Webber Leadership Academy, and Thirkell and Chrysler Elementary, all Detroit Public Schools. It was a heady week for this new author who is passionate about helping to close the achievement gap.

Taj Cleans the Garage is the story about a little boy who does a chore that turns into a magical adventure. He takes off on a flying horse named Thunder who soars high into the air and almost gets captured by pirates. At the conclusion of the story, I always ask, “Where would you want the flying horse to take you?”

“Grandma’s house!” “The beach!” “Disney World!” were the most popular answers.

But geography and everything else became fair game too as the children told me about places that embedded warm memories of family, friends and fun. Just about every state in the union was mentioned with Hawaii at the top of the list. When it came to world travel they wanted to go to Africa, Mexico and Asia. They also wanted the flying horse to take them to Cedar Point amusement park, Lego Land, Santa’s Workshop, McDonald’s, the bank and then the mall, the park, Dad’s house, their cousin’s house, and to the hotel swimming pool. Ms. Naster’s Kindergarten class at Thirkell–who I had read to earlier in the month–presented me with a book titled, Thunder Takes Us… It was full of drawings of all the places they wanted to go to, including many of them here.

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I truly feel like I have been flying with Thunder all week. The children’s excitement was contagious. They were so energetic, so full of wonder and curiosity, so creative and responsive to questions that invited them to stretch their imaginations to the sky, and so attentive too, which was great for my ego!

I said this before (or something like it) and I’ll say it again. Pick a school and go in and read to the children. It reinforces that reading is a fun activity that should be shared. Children see the world with fresh eyes and have an uncanny ability to help adults lighten up and see things differently too. I think you’ll find that reading a  story to a child is one of the easiest ways to give back to your community, and the most rewarding too.

And now, the awards…Renee, Taj, Thunder and Jackson want to thank the following for making this week one of the most exciting times in our lives!

Chrysler, Daphne Harris and Chrysler volunteers: You have made our dreams come true!

Beyond Basics, Ellen Sellstrom and Pam Good: You guys are scheduling genius’s and have one of the best literacy programs ever!

Detroit Public School Principals John Wilson, Burton International Academy; Anthony Houston and Asst. Principal Trina Lee, Sampson Webber Leadership Academy; Dr. Clara Smith, Thirkell Elementary School; Wendy Shirley, Chrysler Elementary: For your unwavering commitment to educate the children in Detroit.

Detroit Public School teachers: Thank you for teaching and preparing the future leaders of tomorrow DAY IN and DAY OUT!

Detroit Public School Students: Thank you for being so full of possibilities and for sharing Taj Cleans the Garage with me. Keep reading!

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Let Their Imaginations Run Wild with Great Stories

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I’m having a good time reading Taj Cleans the Garage to young kids. I’m learning a lot in this reading and literacy process, namely:

–Make sure the children know what the words reward, allowance and lasso mean. I specifically put these words and others into the book to initiate discussion and help to develop their language skills.

–Engage them with “What if?” questions. I usually ask, “If you could go anywhere on a flying horse, where would you go? Aside from the occasional playground and Disney World, the top of the list is “Grandma’s house,” “the store,” and “Chucky Cheese,” all reflections of a child’s own world, and their exposure to things within their comfort zone. Still, I get some outer world answers like “The Black Hole.” (But, aren’t you afraid of getting lost in there? Nope!). I also hear “All over the city,” and “Outer space,” as well as “Deep, deep outer space!” Now, we’re getting somewhere!

That’s what I’m really trying to do by reading my book about a little boy whose chore turns into an adventure. Yes, I want to promote responsibility, but I also want to tap into a child’s imagination. In addition to the required 3 Rs: ‘reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic, I want to say that I helped to turn on that endless flow of creativity that allows children to soar to heights never seen before, especially if it’s on a flying horse!

Maybe you want to do something like this too. Just call up your local school and tell them you want to read a book to a class. They’ll be glad to host you.

My First Book Signing!

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Last week, I had a book signing at Eastern Market

The sun was blinding, the music was hip and bluesy, and the conversations were peppered with words like containers, hotels, reading, and oh yeah, Taj Cleans the Garage, which is not just a book, it’s my platform to inspire young boys to read more and to learn to love reading. I also want to encourage parents to engage their children in more reading activities.

The book signing/conversational event brought people together who purchased signed copies of Taj, and heard me talk about a study that has been making its rounds in efforts to close the achievement gap:  

·         The Kansas study showed that many low-income and minority children learn 30 million fewer words by age 3 than their higher income counterparts

·         This study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley says that this is a predictor for low achievement and ongoing academic challenges.

There is a way that each of us can do something about this: We can read earlier and more often to children, and talk to them more about everything.

Lots of pre-school programs are already on board. In addition, there are several programs that are advocating the “earlier and often” mantra, including The United Way of Southeastern Michigan, that gives newborns through five year olds a book each month http://www.liveunitedsem.org/pages/imagination-library

It’s going to take a village to turn things around, and tag, we’re it. Join them and others you will hear more about in the weeks to come.

Tags: Eastern Market, First Container and a Book Signing

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