Kat Yeh: Mad Scribbles, Big Feet

297310_10150320631406460_1375238351_nA couple years ago, Kat Yeh and I were attending the same writer’s conference. I was in the middle of a conversation with a well-respected agent, when Kat walked by. Immediately, the person I was speaking to went silent and his eyes followed Kat as she walked away. When he finally remembered that he was supposed to be speaking to me, he turned back, shrugged, and said, “She’s very striking.” The funny thing is that this guy had no idea that, as striking as Kat is from across the room, she is so much more so in person. Kat has a warm and endearing personality that has you laughing and feeling like you’ve known her for years, even when you first meet. This explains why I’ve spilled so many secrets to her despite our relatively short friendship!

Magic-Brush-Yeh-Kat-9780802721792You're Lovable to MeKat is a graduate of Villanova University and she worked in sports marketing for many years before discovering she really is a wonderfully talented writer who needs to be putting books into the world for the rest of us to read. She is the author of the picture books YOU’RE LOVABLE TO ME (Random House Books for Young Readers) and THE MAGIC BRUSH A story of love, family and Chinese Characters (Walker Books for Young Readers) and the forthcoming novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE (Little Brown BYR, coming 2014). She’s also the recipient of the 2012 SCBWI Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award.

Thank you, Kat, for joining us today on Nerdy Chicks Rule. Let’s get started! If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

I actually think I received the perfect piece of advice already at that age (though I was not really able to figure out how to use it till much later) A dear and wise-beyond-her -years friend gave me a little card with a tiny painting and the quote: “Being myself includes taking risks with myself, taking risks with my behavior so that I can see how it is I want to be” I think we were 13 or 14 at the time. She knew I was struggling and feeling stuck, so she made the card for me. I still have it.

And I wish I could honestly say I have other advice that I would give myself, but I kind of feel that all that stumbling and confusion was sort of necessary. Even the big plastic glasses and ill-advised outfit choice for my first 9th grade dance (brown cowl neck sweater and full-length a-line plaid skirt). I wouldn’t change any of it. But maybe I’d just go back and give myself a big hug.

If it makes you feel better, I never even went to my 9th grade dance (though had I gone, I’m sure my wardrobe choice would have been equally unfortunate). Let’s move on…You’re one of my favorite authors!

Funny, you’re one of mine 🙂

470696_10151023828672110_602530376_o

Here are the Nerdy Chicks with Kat (and Joyce Wan) in Princeton (after that conference where Kat was declared “striking”)

My favorite things to read…Books that lush and literary and brave and unapologetic and a little bit strange and completely committed to the world they create: example anything by Franny Billingsley.

 How do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?

I don’t think it is necessarily about what is being published today as much as it is about allowing a pretty free reign. Showing a lot of options, but then letting them make their own reading choices – and THEN being there to talk. Answer questions (or even better come up with more questions together!). Start discussions. Think of alternate endings. Be stumped. Be frustrated. Be in love. Then wonder and wonder and talk about why you both are feeling all these things. I love the George Carlin quote:  “Don’t just teach your children to read…Teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything.”

That is a terrific quote from a fairly smart (and nerdy!) man. But we’re called Nerdy Chicks Rule, so let’s re-focus on girls…Tell us about a fictitious nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her.

Is it too typical to say Jo March? I don’t think that I was ever as brave as she was as a teen, but I wanted to be. And of course, I always connected to her passion for reading and her utter desperate Need To Be a Writer – as well as her big feet and awkwardness and temper and fierce love and mad scribbling.

Your feet are not big! (Well, at least, not that big.) Moving on, though…What’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

I love, love spending hours in used book stores or in the used book section of my local indy. Looking for old art books. Hidden overlooked early editions of favorites. I love finding books with quirky titles and wonderful content. It’s like a treasure hunt. I recently found a ratty copy of a book titled, LOVE & DROLLERY – A SELECTION OF AMATORY, MERRY AND SATIRICAL VERSE OF THE 17TH CENTURY for $7. Happiness.

That was totally going to be the title of my next book! I guess that’s why I should do more market research, especially in used book stores. You’ve convinced me to follow in your (normal-sized) footsteps! Now, what is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick?

easy: without a doubt, it is only when being absolutely myself (and therefore, embracing the nerdy in me) that I have been able to Find & Be Found and Get & Be Gotten by like-minded souls who have become life friends.

527286_10151155108171460_496397820_nI love the way you describe that: Find & Be Found and Get & Be Gotten. Beautiful. Guess that’s why you’re an award-winning author, huh? 🙂

Now, for the fun part: if someone gave you $75 and you could only spend it on you, what would you do with it?

That’s hard. As a mom, I tend not to think about spending money on myself. I’d probably buy drinks and a load of appetizers somewhere yummy (and hopefully with music) where a friend and I could have long, leisurely talk-ish time together.

And, finally, can you tell us one thing you buy at the grocery store that you cannot live without?

For several months now it’s been baby arugula. I know – it’s not glamorous or decadent, but it makes me crazy. All dark and peppery and perfect.

Thank you again, Kat! If you want to find out more about the fabulous and fashionable Kat Yeh, visit her at katyeh.com (still under construction, but coming soon!) and follow her on Twitter: @yehface

Baseball and Bullies

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Photo credit: Tage Olsin

I don’t like baseball.

I could give you a lot of explanations for that. The games are boring, with significant amounts of time passing with nothing happening at all. One hundred and sixty-two games is just too many for me to care about. The players are often un-athletic looking or even personally unappealing. But those explanations don’t really do justice to my disdain for baseball. That’s because, if I’m honest, none of those things are the reason I don’t like baseball.

The real reason has to do with a teacher and a bully.

Bullies have been on my mind lately. My oldest daughter has recently had to suffer at the hands of a bully. And, like me, her bully was a teacher. But her story is hers to tell — just as I haven’t wanted to talk about this for 20 years, she doesn’t want to talk about it, at least not now. So I will just tell you my story.

I can trace my dislike of baseball back to a single day. I don’t remember the exact date, but I know it was in the spring of 1993. I was a junior in high school, and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. After all, high school wasn’t awful for me, but it wasn’t great either. But there was one truly awful part of high school: gym class.

Oh, goodness, how I hated gym class. But never more than on that spring day.

I remember we were doing the baseball unit in gym. I remember walking out of the gym, through the parking lot, to the closest baseball diamond with my class. I remember being split into two uneven teams with the defense manning their positions on the field and everyone else being up at bat. And I remember the teacher, everything about her — though I won’t name her here.

Now, when I was in high school, we were tracked, meaning the academic classes were leveled into advanced, college prep, etc. So, I spent most of the day with basically the same set of kids who were also in the advanced classes. Except for things like gym. There, you could see a clear divide between the “smart” (and likely not athletic) kids and the “normal” kids. That was good, actually — even though I was not particularly skilled at sports, there were enough kids like me that I didn’t stand out as a failure.

On this day, on the diamond, that divide was there, as usual. As I waited for my turn at bat, I knew I wouldn’t hit anything. But neither would a bunch of other people. So, while I remember still hoping class would end before I got to the plate, I wasn’t all that worried about it. It would be no more embarrassing than any other gym class deficiency.

The bell didn’t ring before my turn. So, I stood there and waited for the pitch. I swung — and missed. I swung again, and missed again. And then one more time. Three strikes, and I was out.

Except, not that day.

I remember trying to hand the bat off when my gym teacher said no. She said I needed to stay there until I hit the baseball. I remember smirks and snickers from my classmates.

High School Me!

High School Me!

I swung again. Strike four. Then five. Then six.

Now, that divide I told you about was apparent, but in a very different way. One one side were the kids who were openly grinning and joking at my expense, and on the other were the kids who were painfully looking away, sympathetic to my embarrassment but unwilling to draw attention to themselves. After all, better me than them, right?

Strike seven. Eight. Nine.

Then the bell rang, the one that signaled it was time to go back to the locker room to get changed. I remember how sweet that bell sounded.

Until the teacher said no one was going in — until I hit the ball. Now, the class wasn’t smirking. Now, they were mad. They were going to be late — because of me.

Strike ten. Strike eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen.

Around the fifteenth pitch, I made a little contact with the ball. It bounced forward pathetically. I took a deep breath. Was the ordeal over?

But the teacher said it didn’t count. Strike fifteen. Then sixteen.

Finally, I hit the seventeenth pitch. Well, not really hit it — just a bit more contact than the last time, so the ball bounced a bit more forward. But the teacher nodded, and it was done. I don’t remember, though, the expressions on my classmates’ faces or their reaction. By that point, I was staring at the ground. I didn’t think I’d ever want to make eye contact with anyone ever again.

It took years for me to label that incident as what it was: bullying. At the time, it didn’t occur to me — nor to any of the people who witnessed it. If a math teacher had done something like that — made a kid stand in front of the class for several minutes and figure out how to do a problem beyond his ability — I think there would have been reports and complaints and disciplinary action. Even then, it wasn’t OK to pick on kids who weren’t as smart. But not a single person — including me — thought there was a problem with the gym teacher picking on a nerdy kid. After all, that’s all in good fun, right?

But it’s not. And it’s not OK. And people need to talk about it.

The vast majority of teachers are incredible people who sacrifice and work ridiculously hard to raise other people’s children. That’s a generosity that most of us will never match. Even though it is rare — or maybe because it is rare — it is a severe breach of trust for a teacher to act like my gym teacher did. In the workplace, it would harassment and jobs would be terminated. Between two students, it would be a clear case of bullying and there would be suspensions. But when it is a teacher and a student — where the power difference is so much greater than between peers — it is often overlooked. Especially when the victim is “nerdy.” Because we still live in a world where being smart is a put down for a kid, something to be slightly embarrassed about. High school athletes get pep rallies and star status; the kids who are academically at the tops of their classes get ignored (which might be better than getting teased).

As a society, we have been talking a lot about bullying. I’m glad we are. It’s hard enough to get through school that there’s no reason for anyone to have an additional layer of difficulty artificially created by a bully. We need to learn to stand up and say it’s not OK — no matter who the victim is. Or who the perpetrator is. And we need to talk about how bullying is born of inferiority — not of the victim but of the offender. Looking back, I realize that my gym teacher probably felt that a smart kid like me needed to learn that getting good grades wasn’t everything and to be taken down a notch. But why would she need to take me down if she didn’t feel inferior in the first place?

Me on my pro-nerdyness crusade

Me on my pro-nerdyness crusade

Like I said, it’s taken years for me to come to terms with what happened that spring day. And even coming to terms with it doesn’t make it feel better. The only good to come out of it is that I’m more vigilant about situations like this. Just as I would never let people around me say negative things about another person’s race, religion, or disabilities, I’m sensitive about what they say about another person’s abilities. I’m sure to tell kids whenever I am doing an author visit that of all the things that shouldn’t embarrass them about themselves, being smart is the least of it. And anyone who makes fun of their brains is…well, stupid. And not worth a second thought. This is one of the main crusades in my life.

And, in the meantime, I’m working on liking baseball.

Karma Wilson: Better Today than Yesterday

novprofileI can’t imagine there’s anyone in the world who doesn’t know who Karma Wilson is. After all, she’s a bestselling author and all-around interesting person. Who, by the way, trains in Mixed Martial Arts and calls a dog, a cat, and a chicken her pets. But just in case you’ve been living under a rock and have never heard of Bear Snores On, Frog in the Bog, or Hogwash, here’s a little about Karma.

Karma never really thought about being a professional writer because, growing up, it seemed so boring. But that’s only because her mother was a professional writer – and who wants to do what Mom does? (By the way, the answer to that is usually EVERYONE. But only secretly.) But as children all over the world are grateful for every day, Karma eventually came around and started writing books for kids. The first one(Bear Snores On)  came out in 2002. Since then, she’s written 30 books which have collectively received numerous state and national awards, been translated into dozens of languages, and a few have made an appearance on the New York Times bestseller list. 

I wanted to interview Karma for this blog because not only is she a great example of a Nerdy Chick, but many, many years ago, she became one of my KidLit idols (that’s a secret, too. I don’t want to look like a lame fangirl). So, please welcome Karma to Nerdy Chicks Rule!

So, Karma, you’re an award-winning author! What are your favorite things to read?

Fantasy is numero uno and always has been, followed by historical fiction with plucky characteres, and sci-fi if it’s original.

How do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?

Oh no, not sure how to answer this. I don’t think all of them are for one thing.

(I agree with you. But do go on.)

A lot of pop fiction is depicting girls as helpless princesses waiting for a hero, or bullies, or cliquish mean girls.  I like books that help give girls a voice, that help them see themselves as capable people able to think and reason. Laurie Halse Anderson’s work, for instance. I think that for me it’s the books that are written about genuine, strong characters set in a good story that will automatically set the right examples for girls.  And I’m not the kind who thinks that only girl characters can set examples for girl readers. I love strong boy characters and think there is a gap in fiction that appeals to boys and girls. A timeless treasure like Freak the Mighty can go a long ways to teaching anybody how to be a more capable, compassionate, thinking person–boy or girl. A book depicting a boy character who values women and treats them as equals can help a girl recognize a good guy. Good stories, good characters–the rest falls into place.

Those are really good points. I think people are coming around to the idea that there shouldn’t be “girl books” and “boy books.” But speaking of girl characters…tell us about a fictitious nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her.

Anne of Green Gables. I admire her for taking her fantasies and not just using them as an escape from her harsh reality, but to improve herself as a person.  She learned from her mistakes, she grew as an individual, she was caring, unique and plucky.  I love her!

Me, too! Reading is obviously very important to you, which totally makes sense since Nerdy Chicks love to read! What is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a Nerdy Chick? family

Teaching my children to value words and literature. All three are excellent readers who enjoy words and writing. WIN!

In fact, I want to give a thanks to my kids, Michael, David and Chrissy for continuing to be my most successful endeavor….

That’s not only fabulous, it’s something that parents everywhere should try to emulate. Brava! How about this: what’s something else you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

I like to take pictures of food and post them on facebook. Yep, I’m one of those! lol. To be fair, I like and comment on other people’s food photos.

Mmmmm. There’s nothing wrong with that. Speaking of food, Can you tell us one thing you buy at the grocery store that you cannot live without?

Coffee.  And toilet paper. In that order? Oh, just one. Sorry! lol

OMG, I just snorted my Pepsi all over my desk! You are too funny! If someone gave you $75 and you could only spend it on you, what would you do with it? 

Buy a special treat from a local artist or craftsman. That way it would be a gift to them too! Probably pottery, which I love.

I’m starting to get goosebumps. I love pottery, too! Could we be long-lost sisters? (Wait, too fangirl-y? I’ll stop.)

IMG_2566Last question: tell us a four-word descriptive phrase you would like people to associate with you.

Better today than yesterday.

I’m not sure we could have ended on a better note than that – those may become words I have to live by. Thank you so much, Karma, for joining us.

If you want to learn more about Karma, find her on the web at www.karmawilson.com. There you can find great resources for teachers, parents and lovers of children’s books. 

Aimee Winner: An Interview with a Real Winner

mama cruiseOne of the things I’ve been looking forward to about this interview is the opportunity to write the following sentence: Aimee Winner is, well, a real winner. (No more puns about winning, I promise!) I met Aimee on one of my first visits to Howard County, Maryland, where she is an award-winning music educator. But more than that, Aimee is the kind of woman a lot of us hope to be when we grow up – accomplished (she has a Bachelor’s of Arts in Music Education with a voice principal from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ), professionally successful (one of the choirs she directs is routinely seen singing in the opening ceremonies of the Baltimore Blast Soccer games at Mariner Arena, singing the National Anthem at Camden Yards for the Baltimore Orioles and competing at The Festival of Music in the Parks at Hershey Park), personally successful (she is married with a beautiful 2 ½ year old son, Jonah), and just overall fun.

 Something Aimee is fond of saying is, “Be kinder than necessary today, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” Well, if that’s not advice from a winner, I don’t know what is. (OK, I lied about not making any more winning puns. It’s my interview, I get to do that!) Thanks for joining us today, Aimee!

Let’s start with the obvious question: how awesome is it to be an official Winner?

The students get a kick out of my last name being Winner. They say I always win. I love that, even though that isn’t necessarily true, but because it is my last name.

Well, I think it’s true. 🙂 As a “winning” music teacher, what are your favorite things to listen to?

Geesh, this is such a tough one. Being a lover of music makes it hard to pick a favorite. On any given day I could find myself listening to Claude Debussy, JS Bach, Stephen Sondheim, especially “Into the Woods” or Leonard Bernstein, Ella Fitzgerald and more recent artists like Fleet Foxes, Carla Morrison, Sufjan Stevens, Kings of Convenience, Coldplay, Alicia Keys, and Adele!! I could go on and on.

Recently, I have been rocking out to Ra Ra Riots new album “Beta Love”. I can’t get enough of them (all of their albums are great), and I had the privilege to see them for my birthday in January at the 9:30 Club in DC!! What a fun night with my hubby!

How did you become interested in music?

I was inspired by my mother, who is also a lover of music and has taught elementary music for many years. I grew up in a musical home and starting singing at a very young age. I also began to learn piano and violin in elementary school. I continued singing in choir, playing in the orchestra and performing in the musicals and plays through high school each year. And now, I’m devoted to making music and sharing her love of music with others forever and ever. 🙂

What’s one of your favorite experiences as a musician? jelly profile

My absolute favorite experience was during my senior year of undergrad while attending Westminster Choir College in 2004.  I had the amazing opportunity to perform in Westminster Symphonic Choir at Lincoln Center when Broadway and operetta united in the New York Philharmonic’s semi-staged performance of the musical “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein. The cast included Broadway’s “Wicked” Kristin Chenoweth as Cunegonde, Patti LuPone in a star turn as The Old Lady, Paul Groves as Candide, and Sir Thomas Allen as Dr. Pangloss/Narrator. “Candide” featured Bernstein protégé Marin Alsop conducting the New York Philharmonic, Wow! I still get goose bumps and smile when I think about how incredible it was rehearsing and performing on the stage at Avery Fischer Hall. I have such fond memories that I will remember for my lifetime from that week in NYC.

Any memorable experiences teaching music?

Well, in 2007 I was the silent music teacher for 5 weeks while I was on vocal rest. Yep, silent. I carried around a notebook or my laptop to communicate.  It was quite and interesting experience that I hope I never have to do again! I was able to teach music using a lot of technology and focusing on a student lead classroom. It was actually a tough time in my life because I didn’t talk at all for 5 weeks and my voice was in danger of being damaged for life. I chose not to talk at home or in the classroom and I couldn’t sing in fear of hurting my voice and losing my livelihood. But in the end the voice rest saved my voice!! You don’t really realize how important or special something is until you almost lose it forever.

Wow! That’s pretty amazing! I can’t imagine teaching without talking. (But I’m not surprised that you found a way to do it!) But it goes to show how important music can be…so tell us, how does music help kids to become nerdy?

Music is such an amazing outlet that reaches everyone young and old!!!  I find that music really allows kids to express themselves and have fun. Music meets you where you are at any moment. I love that kids can just soak it all in; laugh, play, move and make music. “Music expresses what words cannot” I love teaching music to kids because we have so much fun and nothing else matters when they walk in my classroom. Just right now and that moment, to be free and have a good time.

How do you see the music that is being produced today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?

Music today totally empowers girls to be smart. I love it. There is so much inspiration and fun in music that is being produced today. These songs make girls realize that whatever life brings you are going to be okay. There are so many messages about believing in yourself, finding beauty in yourself and moving on when you are stuck, keep trying, standing tall.

Tell us about a musical nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her.

There are so many wonderful and inspiring ladies out there, but I think the first one that comes to my mind is the beloved and much-honored star Julie Andrews. I grew up watching her in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. There is just something about her natural elegance and beautiful singing voice that has always drawn me to her.  As a child she helped me find my love for music at such a young age. I would still love to play either of those roles on stage because of her! She is simply amazing.

Do you have a personal “theme song,” perhaps one that speaks to your inner nerdiness? So, I have two…. Or hundreds… right?! Again, such great songs to choose from, but…I would have to say “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. It’s about doing everything in your power to fight for what you believe in. Elphaba sings of how she wants to live without limits, going against the rules that others have set for her. We are unlimited. No one will bring you down. If you haven’t heard it, or better yet, seen the show Wicked, it is a MUST see/hear!

IMG_0405And/or

“Get on your feet” by Gloria Estefan not only because it is so energetic and gets me moving, but there was a particular Parks & Recreation episode that was especially funny, with the highlight of Amy Poelher and posie on thin ice during her character’s campaign. Amy is brilliant and stunning! Love her!

What is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick?

One of my favorite achievements is that I get to direct a musical with my 4th and 5th graders each spring. It is amazing to watch the transformation of the students over the six months on working on the show. This year I am working on Winnie the Pooh, KIDS. Each year seems like it will be the best experience, but it just keeps getting better and better each year. I am so proud of the kids for taking a risk to perform on stage and work so hard. It is so much fun building the relationships and experiences with them and seeing them transform during our time together, building memories of a lifetime. Shows in the past have been: Emperor’s New Clothes, Jungle Book Kids, Honk Jr. Aladdin KIDS, A Year With Frog and Toad KIDS, Willy Wonka Kids, 101 Dalmatians KIDS, Aristocat KIDS.

This has been such a fun and thoughtful interview – thanks for all your great answers! But now for the fun part…If someone gave you $75 and you could only spend it on you, what would you do with it?

I would go to NYC and see a show on Broadway in a heartbeat! I don’t get there enough to enjoy the talent and magic of the stage. I sure miss it.  

Can you tell us one thing you buy at the grocery store that you cannot live without?

There are not many things in life that are more enjoyable than a nice cup of tea. We always have few different choices in our cupboard for morning, noon or night.

What kind of music have you taught your son Jonah? aimeejonahhay

He and I are always making music together, playing guitar, banjo, violin, piano, drums and singing – usually marching too. There is never a dull moment in the Winner house!

What’s one thing musical you’d like to do in the future?

I would love to direct a treble boy’s choir. That would be something I haven’t done yet and would love have in my life as a director. Treble boys is such a pure and rich sound.

Thanks again, Aimee, for talking to us today. To learn more about Aimee, visit her on the web at http://web.hcpss.org/~aimee_winner/. And, in her honor, go sing something!

The Education of the Nerdy Chick: A Chat with John Schumacher

This week, we are talking to Librarian-Blogger-Literacy-Advocate-Extraordinaire, John Schumacher. His Watch. Connect. Read. Blog (http://mrschureads.blogspot.com/) is one of the best sources on the internet for information about children’s books, authors, resources, and insight. As a librarian and teacher, we wanted his thoughts on The Education of the Nerdy Chick, especially when it comes to reading. Thank you, Mr. Schu, for talking to us today!

We asked Mr. Schu to finish some of our sentences — here’s what he had to say:

“The differences between girl readers and boy readers are not all that different in my school library. I encourage my students not to label a book as a “boy book” or a “girl book.” If you spent an afternoon in my school library, chances are you would witness me turn to a third grader and say, “Books do not have a gender. Babymouse, Bink and Gollie, Hound Dog True, Marty McGuire, Ivy + Bean, Keena Ford, Clementine,Squish, and Stink are for ALL readers. Read what you want to read, regardless of what a marketing team might have thought when deciding on a book’s final cover or its targeted gender.”  My students know I will never create book lists with the following titles:

  • 10 Books Every Boy Should Read
  • Top Picks for Boy Readers
  • Every Tween Girl Should Read These Books
  • Listen Up Girls! You Must Read These Books

I work tirelessly to match my students with the perfect books. I consider their interests, age, and personality. Gender is not a part of readers’ advisory.”

“Girls can be reluctant readers, too. To get girls to read, I ask these questions:

  •    What are some of your all-time favorite movies?
  •    What do you do for fun on a Saturday afternoon?
  •    What does the perfect day look and sound like?
  •    Have you ever been lost in a book?
  •    What’s the last GREAT book you read?

It all boils down to this: the more I know about her, the better chance I have of recommending a book that helps her realize how awesome and gratifying it is to be a reader. It’s a magical moment when a dormant reader bonds with a book.”

“It can be hard for younger girls to embrace their inner Nerdy Chick. But what is great about when that happens is she discovers a supportive reading community that wants to discuss books and celebrate authors and literacy.

The Nerdy Book Club (http://www.nerdybookclub.com) is the perfect example of a supportive and enthusiastic community.”

“Even Nerdy Chicks need guidance. To help her expand her reading interests, I would discuss a balanced reading diet and encourage her to try different genres and formats. If she’s only reading historical fiction, why not read a graphic novel every so often? If she’s only reading dystopian fiction, why not try nonfiction?

My booktalking sessions always include a nice balance of genres, formats, fiction, and nonfiction.”

“If I was a Nerdy Chick, I would wear stickers advertising my favorite books, tweet nonstop about MUST-READ titles, host book birthday parties, recommend picture books and middle-grade novels to strangers, and give away hundreds of books.  🙂 ”

Once again, a big thank you to Mr. Schu for joining us. Want to read more of his brilliant thoughts? Follow his blog, Watch. Connect. Read. And go throw a book birthday party today!

 

The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Michelle Rhee

File:Michelle Rhee at NOAA.jpgToday’s Quotable Nerdy Chick is someone I have admired for a long time. Michelle Rhee is the daughter of Korean immigrants who has become a force on the American education stage. Not everyone agrees with her positions — I can’t say that I always do, either — but it is impossible to deny her passion for school reform and her commitment to every child’s right to a quality education.

Michelle started her career as a teacher in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1997, she founded The New Teacher Project, a non-profit organization that has trained over 43,000 teachers to work in many of our country’s city schools. Between 2007 and 2010, she was chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools, and when she left that position, she founded StudentsFirst, an organization which is devoted to political advocacy on education reform issues.

Quotes from Michelle Rhee: 

  • “As a nation, we should get engaged and involved in changing laws that are not serving kids.”
  • “Are we beholden to the public school system at any cost, or are we beholden to the public school child at any cost?”
  • On the perceived failures of the public education system: “I have talked with too many teachers to believe this is their fault. I know they are working furiously in a system that for many years has not appreciated them — sometimes not even paying them on time or providing textbooks. Those who categorically blame teachers for the failures of our system are simply wrong.”
  • “My job is to hear all the input, and then as the leader, then decide which are the things that I think are going to move student achievement forward in this district. And I have to make those decisions. That doesn’t mean that I’m not listening. It just means I have to choose to take into consideration all of that input.”
  • On teacher’s unions: “People often say to me the teachers unions are here to stay, that they are big players, that I have to find a way to get along. I actually disagree with that. It’s important for us to lay out on the table what we’re willing to do, but what our bottom line is for kids. The bottom line is that if you can’t come to agreement then you have to push your agenda in a different way, and we’re absolutely going to do that.”
  • “Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.”

To learn more about Michelle Rhee, click HERE.

Leeza Hernandez: Fueled by Sour Patch Kids

leezaI met Leeza Hernandez years ago, and I’ve always felt she was waaaaaaay cooler than me. That’s hard for me to admit. Add to that her incredible artistic talent and way cool accent (she hails from the south of England), and I almost don’t want to talk to her. Except you can’t help but talk to Leeza — she’s too much fun, she’s got too much energy, and she’s way too smart. Read her interview — you’ll see what I mean.

As I said, Leeza is originally from England, but has been living in the USA since 1999. In 2004 she switched from newspaper and magazine design to children’s book illustration and writing. 2012 marked a milestone for her as she celebrated the release of her debut-authored picture book Dog Gone! (G.P. Putnam’s Sons).

Leeza is currently working on revisions and sketches for two new books due out in 2014 and just finished final art for a picture book written by John Lithgow (wow!!!!!!), due for release in fall 2013. She’s also the Regional Advisor for the New Jersey SCBWI chapter.
In her spare time, Leeza can be found either playing school, carpet picnic-ing or making art with her daughter, or cleaning the litter box. Coffee and Sour Patch Kids fuel late deadline nights which is also when the the cat likes to present her favorite fur balls under the art table!
Thanks for joining us, Leeza! Let’s get started…If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Middle school: DUCK!

(Oh, that’s hilarious. sorry for interrupting!)

High school: You might not be good at that and that’s okay. It in no way means you are a failure, simply do your best!

That’s great advice — I wish someone had told me that in high school! Moving forward in time, though, you’re now a professional artist. What are your favorite things to draw?

I love drawing chubby chickens wearing boots, scarves and/or earmuffs. There’s something very funny to me about that image. Makes me smile.

That’s made me smile, too! How do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?

Showcasing any female character who, when faced with adversity, finds victory and overcomes chaos in clever, articulate and intuitive ways is a sure fire way to empower girls. I think that society is more open to embracing these types of characters and therefore today’s books have become the perfect platform to inspire nerdy chicks, help them be smart and know that anything in life is possible.

I agree — finding great examples in literature is a way to inspire girls to go after their dreams. Can you tell us about a fictitious nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her?

Roald Dahl’s Matilda has to be one of the first “fictitious nerdy chicks” I ever remember having an impact on my life. There’s so many things to love about her- in spite of a difficult home life and an atrocious headmistress, she sought and found solace in books. With an insatiable appetite for learning she discovered the power of knowledge. Two other fictitious nerdy chicks whom I admire are Alice Pleasance and Violet Beaudelaire- smart girls who knew how to keep it together!

I love those characters, too! (See — I told you Leeza is waaaay cooler than me!) You truly are a Nerdy Chick, Leeza. What is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a Nerdy Chick?

Oh wow, now you’ve put me on the spot! Okay, sorry if this sounds cheesy, but getting in to college was a big deal for me. Going through high school, and knowing that there was an exciting world filled with mystery and yet-to-be-discovered opportunities beyond the waters that surrounded the island I grew up on, were what made me more determined to study and get to college. That was my gateway to a new world. I absorbed myself in my art especially, and getting into art school will always be one of my favorite achievements. Debuting as an author/illustrator last year felt pretty good too!

I think college was a pretty big deal for a lot of us — doesn’t sound cheesy at all. It’s very inspiring to hear how you used college to open up a “new world,” as you put it. I think that’s what college is supposed to do.

Let’s shift gears a bit and have some fun…Do you have a personal “theme song,” perhaps one that speaks to your inner nerdiness?

Hmm, I never thought about a theme song. Ziggy Marley’s “Believe in Yourself” perhaps?

Love it! If someone gave you $75 and you could only spend it on you, what would you do with it?

No brainer! Books and art supplies.

Can you tell us one thing you buy at the grocery store that you cannot live without?

Cheese: a good strong cheddar. (Hate to think what my cholesterol levels are like though!)

Ha! LEEZA HERNANDEZ, LOVER OF CHEESE. I think I love that even more! And finally, is there anything else you want to share with us that has made you who you are today?

Well, aside from art, sports and French were my favorite subjects throughout most of my school years. I was terrible at science. Also, I played cello for three years in middle school, but only because all the flutes were taken in the school orchestra. I can’t play cello anymore, but I do still play descant and tenor recorder.

Thank you, Leeza, for this great interview. I will never look at chickens without boots or earmuffs the same again!

If you want to know more about Leeza and her work (and who wouldn’t?), you can find her on the web at www.leezaworks.comHer books can be found at www.doggonethebook.com and www.eatyourmathhomework.com. Follow her on Twitter: @leezaworks