Interview: Irene Drake, Third Grade Teacher at Rockwell School

This week, we have the pleasure of welcoming Irene Drake, third grade teacher at Anna H. Rockwell Elementary School. Irene discovered her calling as a teacher 14 years ago after serving as an accountant for 2 non-profit companies. She was a 6th grade Math and Language Arts teacher before becoming a 3rd grade teacher at Rockwell School 8 years ago. She holds a Masters of Science degree in Elementary Education and a 6th year degree in Educational Leadership.

KDC: Irene, thanks for taking time to give us your insights into educating children. Tell us what inspired you to become a teacher?

ID: There were many things that inspired me to become a teacher, but if I could choose one I would say it would be Mrs. Miller who was my 2nd grade teacher. The way she cared about us as individuals, pushed us to always exceed expectations, and used her love of music to make learning more fun was a huge inspiration to me and had me thinking about becoming a teacher like her at a young age. She was also the teacher who inspired me to learn how to play piano and take lessons.

KDC: What is your favorite picture book and chapter book?

ID: My favorite picture book is Strega Nona by Tomie DePaola because it reminds me of my family growing up. My favorite chapter book is Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume.

KDC: What are some techniques that you use to get reluctant readers engaged in reading?

ID: Some techniques that I use are:

  1. I use engaging chapter books that are part of a large series in order to hook the students and hopefully inspire them to want to continue reading more books in that series.
  2. I use technology to engage reluctant readers. Programs like Lexia and Raz-Kids are engaging for the students and provide those reluctant readers with a choice between fiction and non-fiction stories.
  3. I tap into the children’s interests to purchase books that might be engaging for those reluctant readers.
  4. I encourage them to try different types of books and I utilize our Media Specialist to help find engaging books for students who are reluctant readers.

KDC: You may have 3rd graders who read above their age level and are ready for more challenging texts, but still need developmentally appropriate content. If one of those children asked you to recommend a book, what would you tell them?

ID: There are a few series that are developmentally appropriate and meet the needs of students who need more challenging texts. I would lead them towards the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade texts that I have in my personal library and guide them towards series’ written by Andrew Clements, Madeleine L’Engle, Roald Dahl to start. All of the books in my library have been previewed by me and checked for appropriate content. Any book that is not developmentally appropriate does not appear on my shelf.

KDC: What changes are you seeing with the implementation of Common Core and a shift to more non-fiction reading?

ID: Non-fiction reading accounts for over 50% of the reading lessons, and non-fiction reading occurs in all subject areas like Science, Social Studies, and Math. Students are gravitating more to non-fiction books when making choices for independent reading. I have also seen more paired text options for students that include non-fiction texts. Students are now understanding that a map, graph, chart, etc.  is considered non-fiction reading.

Thank you Irene for your great perspective on education and the teaching of young readers! We appreciate your time.

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Interview: Alice Hutchinson of Byrd’s Books/ PiBoIdMo Kickoff

This week, we have the pleasure of welcoming Alice Hutchinson, owner of Byrd’s Books, an independent bookseller in Bethel, CT. Alice has been involved in the world of literature for over 30 years, beginning with roles as buyer and manager for her mother’s New Age bookstore. Alice has held several leadership roles within the Bethel community, and holds a Masters of Arts degree in Teaching with a concentration in Young Adult literature. Byrd’s Books was founded almost 3 years ago, and expanded last year into a larger location. If you are in the Bethel are, you can certainly stop in for a visit, but online ordering is also available.

Byrd's Books Logo

 

KDC: Alice, thanks for taking time to give us your insights into the book industry. Tell us what inspired you to open an independent bookstore?

AH: I believe a bookstore creates community, and it becomes a special place where people can support the arts. In our area, there was a vacuum when Borders closed, which I felt created a hole for the book community. There was an opportunity to fill that void, and I had a theory that people still wanted books along with their e-readers. I initially opened in a small location, and found that my theory was correct. So far, this community appears to want to support a brick-and-mortar bookstore, and we moved into a larger location to expand our ability to provide quality literature and book-related merchandise. People realize that when you buy from a local bookstore versus looking in person and then shopping online, you support a business that will then return more funds and involvement to the community itself. We put an emphasis on Connecticut authors, and actively support them through signings, consignment of self-published work, and other events.

KDC: What trends are you seeing now in both the publishing and consumer buying of children’s books?

AH: At Byrd’s Books, our most popular section is Connecticut authors, second most popular is books for ages 9-12, and third is books for 4-8 years old. Parents are looking for chapter books as well as books in a series that their children can get engaged with in order to improve their reading ability. We don’t carry most of the more populist book series (like those from Disney) – I strive to find series with more literary content like those from Kate DiCamillo. Bookstores are responding to the changes with education and the Common Core requirements, and the best way to do that is to carry great non-fiction including science books, good biographies of interesting people, and stories about people and topics that are fun and compelling. Non-fiction is on the rise, which is a good thing for literature anyway and fun to buy for.

KDC: How do you decide what books to buy for the store?

AH: We read Publisher’s Weekly, and we are very active members of the American Bookseller’s Association. We get advance copies of books from both the Association’s division Indie Bound and from publishers, and we do our best to review many of them to find those that are high quality and would be the right fit for the store. Most catalogs from publishers are on a system called Edelweiss, where reps add markers that allow us to see if books are trending on Goodreads, Publisher’s Weekly, or other sources. We do a lot of special orders for customers, which sometimes helps us discover interesting new books.

KDC: If a 5 year old and a 10 year old asked you for book recommendations, what would you tell them?

AH: I would ask them, “What’s the last book you read that you loved?” I listen carefully to how they talk about the book, and that will give me a jumping off point to find them books with similar topics or tone. At 5 years old, children often want chapter books but secretly are still interested in picture books. It also depends on whether they are reading, or they are being read to. If they are reading to themselves, you want to encourage their sight recognition of the words. At 8 years old, children are right on the edge between the 9-12 and 4-8 categories. If they are exceptional readers, you still may find good content in the 4-8 category because it is so wide. I will often take a strong 8 year old reader over to the Newberry section or introduce them to some classics like Mr. Popper’s Penguins, or From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. These books are fun to read, and are an important part of cultural literacy. Often a parent will tell me what they want their child to be reading and that they are bright, but that does not necessarily translate into reading ability or maturity. Your average 11 year old with above average reading ability will come in and ask for books in the teenage section (like The Hunger Games), when there are plenty of great books at the 9-12 level that provide challenge without getting into the issues with social relationships and violence that a high schooler is better prepared to grapple with. Helping match a person with a special find is one of the great joys of book selling.

KDC: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

AH: As we discussed before, our online ordering capability allows you to get the book you want 24 hours a day. We also have a lot of great events coming up, including a children’s writing workshop in February with Gail Carson Levine, and in late November is an opportunity to support your community bookstore through Small Business Saturday. Like ours, many bookstores will be having authors selling books right within the store on that day.

Thank you Alice for your great perspective on the book selling industry. We appreciate your time.

Make sure to support your local bookstore and if you are looking for a place to order your next book, give Byrd’s Books a try!


From Joanna’s desk:

Attention Picture Book Writers! November is Picture Book Idea Month–or PiBoIdMo, for short.

Tara Lazar, who hosts one of 2013’s Top Ten Blogs for Writers, has organized this fun event for quite a few years. The basic premise is to come up with 30 new ideas for picture books, all within November. You could do one idea a day, or all 30 ideas on the last day of the month–that’s up to you. Each day, there will be a special post of encouragement from various peeps in the kid lit world–I’m especially excited about Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Ammi-Joan Paquette. There are books to win, even critiques from published authors, agents and editors. Katie participated a few years ago; this is my first time.

Registration is open until Nov. 7th. Sign up here.