Table Talk: Recipe for a Successful Family Literacy Night

This community outreach in a Title I Fairfax County Elementary School caught our eye as a model of best practices in action involving building capacity for family literacy in the home.

From the Kitchen of Joanna Newton and Jeanne Taylor, Reading Teachers at Woodlawn ES, Fairfax County Public Schools

Ever had a family literacy night that didn’t go well? Well, so have we!

After a run of literacy nights at Woodlawn Elementary School which yielded minimal parent and teacher participation, we decided it was time for a new recipe!


Our main ingredient was to include teachers. In the recent past literacy nights were orchestrated by the Reading Team. This produced events of limited success. To expand participation, we formed a committee of teachers to work on family engagement at our school. This brought new and fresh energy and ideas.

This effort also included the ESOL Teacher and Parent Liaison who helped us to be more inclusive of our various populations.

The Main Course

The focus of the event was family conversations during mealtime. Our event included a brief presentation on the value of mealtime talk in the families’ native languages. This was followed by a family style meal and time to practice.

Entertainment for the evening was presented by students in grades K-2. It included poetry performances in Spanish and English as well as literacy games for all ages. Technology games were also featured.

Yields: An increase of over 100%. Attendance of over 360 people; not an empty seat; not a biscuit in sight! We also had participation from over 30 classroom teachers and staff, including content specialists, and administration.

The Right ingredients:

  • A team of dedicated teachers
  • Student performances in English and Spanish
  • A family style-meal
  • Teacher and student incentives for highest class attendance
  • RSVPs required; follow-up phone calls to confirm attendance
  • Student created posters
  • Book giveaways in a variety of languages
  • Multilanguage flyers and resources and phone calls
  • Language translation at the event
  • PTA partnership
  • Games for multiage levels

Food for Thought: We learned that a great literacy night involves bringing the right ingredients to the table!

For more information, please contact Joanna Newton ( and Jeannie Taylor ( ImageImageImageImage

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Your Mother’s Day Favorites

By Tanya Zinn Jones

GWRC Co-President

Family Literacy Chair

momtattooMadre, Mama, Muter. In any language, Moms are worth celebrating! We asked you to send us titles of your favorite books that capture something special about motherhood. In no particular order, here’s an annotated version of the titles you shared with us.


Are you my motherA childhood classic, P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? captures a baby bird’s journey to find his mother after falling out of his nest. His journey reflects his hope & determination to find his mother in spite of unexpected obstacles and one scary Snort! Young children often feel a great sense of relief when they find out that everything works out and that Mom was nearby all along doing what Mothers do every day. Working!


5 minutes peaceSeveral readers recommended Jill Murphy’s, Five Minutes Peace. Mrs. Large would like nothing more than a few quiet moments to herself in the tub in this endearing story. Her three energetic children keep her occupied and entertained throughout her chaotic morning. This relatable tale will keep both young children and parents smiling.



invisible stringOf The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, teacher Maggie Pow says, “The Invisible String is a comforting story about two siblings who learn that everyone has an invisible string that connects them to everyone they love, anywhere, anytime. It tells of their mother’s love even when she is not with them. This book is also good for children who have lost their parents / live apart from their natural parents or loved ones. It moves me to tears every time I read this to my children.”


Quiero a mi mama1st grade teacher Helen Heald recommends Quiero a Mi Mama Porque (I Love My Mommy Because…) by Laurel Porter-Gaylord. “It’s written in both Spanish and English and has adorable illustrations.” Tender scenes of animal families warm the heart in this gentle book. A companion book is Quiero a Mi Papa Porque (I Love My Daddy Because…).



a chair for my motherIt’s hard to imagine a booklist celebrating mothers without including Vera B. William’s award-winning, tender story A Chair For My Mother. A classic title submitted multiple times, this simple, beautifully illustrated story shows the warmth and strength of a family slowly rebuilding their home after a fire. By saving their coins, they buy a comfortable chair for everyone to enjoy. Every home library and elementary classroom should include this gem of a book.


love lizzieWritten as a series of letters between a young girl and her mom who is deployed overseas, author Lisa Tucker McElroy tenderly captures some of the emotional struggles of many military children in Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom. This book thoughtfully includes a helpful tip sheet entitled, “When a Parent is Deployed: Tips from Lizzie and Her Mom on Handling the Separation”.


stellalunaStellaluna by Jan Cannon – While under attack by an owl, Stellaluna is separated from her bat family. Although lucky to be temporarily adopted by birds, Stellaluna must adapt to bird life, and leave her natural bat ways behind. When finally reunited with her own family, Stellaluna gets the best of both worlds by keeping her new bird friends while appreciating the comfort of knowing where she belongs. Stellaluna is a charming story which is sure to become a family favorite.


time to prayYoung Yasmin forms a special bond with her grandmother while visiting her in the Middle East. Sharing ancient traditions with her granddaughter in a modern culture, Teta passes along symbols and practices to Yasmin which are part of her family heritage. Maha Addasi’s tender and simple intergenerational story is written in both English and Arabic and touches on themes of spiritual development and family love.



Grandma calls me beautifulAnother lovely book touching on the themes of intergenerational ties and the grandmother/daughter bond is Grandma Calls Me Beautiful by Barbara Joosse. Set in the gorgeous Hawaiian Islands, a little girl named Beautiful begs her TuTu to tell her “our story” once again. Mesmerizing illustrations and poetic lyrical language make this book a perfect lap time read with young children.


you are the best medicineTenderly authored by breast cancer survivor and Baby Einstein founder Julie Clark, this sensitive and warm book provides reassurance to children who have a mother who has cancer. Soft, child-centered illustrations, comforting words, and a happy ending make this much needed book good medicine indeed.



When you meet a bearWhat do you do when you meet a lost little bear on Broadway? Stop him in his tracks and find out what’s the matter! Amy Hest’s gentle story of friendship and problem solving addresses every young child’s fear of becoming lost from Mom when out and about.




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Kids Love Reading at Pine Spring Elementary School!

School librarian, Nancy Bronez, captured students’ attention and motivation by promoting the following activities in the library in honor of “For the Love of Reading Month.”

Library activities
* Write your favorite author or book character on a red heart and stick it on the bulletin board outside the library. This is a great activity to do with your Book Buddies!

Valentine Contest – WITH PRIZES!
* Write a valentine poem or letter to your favorite author or character you met in a book. Drop it in the Valentine Box in the library. Winners will be chosen on Feb 14 and announced Monday February 17. Creativity, illustrations and wording will be assessed.

* Book Minute Segment – WPSE NEWS (Student’s applied to recommend books on the morning school news show)

1. Introduce yourself, tell your grade and class
2. Give book title and author
3. Write a brief ( 4-5 lines) summary of the book to let people know what the book was about and to entice them to read it. Catchy, funny, props, costumes all are great!
4. End “Book Minute” with the phrase, “Check it out!”

* Nancy presented an engaging and informative workshop for GWRC members and guests entitled, “Catch the Boys Before They Get Away! Tips, Titles and Strategies to Hook and Keep Boys Reading for a Lifetime”

Attendees were challenged to reconsider boys’ reading habits and the choices they make in reading material. Nancy focused on how to make it easier for boys to get their hands on the reading material they want.

Mini-bio: Nancy Bronez has been in library service to children for 10 years, both in the public library and in schools. She and her husband Thom have four children who all love to read but all read differently. She is passionate about reading and hooking students into books for life! If you see her driving around Northern Virginia with the top down and BOOKLUV on her license plate, be sure to honk! Email Nancy at or contact her on Twitter @juvielib

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Broad Run High School Celebrates “For the Love of Reading” In Style!

Contributed by Joanne Casares
Broad Run High School Reading Specialist
GWRC Member

Broad Run High School Spartans celebrated “For the Love of Reading” month with several activities during the month of February.

English teachers encouraged their students to bring in new or gently used children’s books. The English class which brought in the largest number of books was rewarded with doughnuts and had their photo taken with the 875 books collected. These books were delivered on February 6 to a local elementary school.

On February 12, staff and students were invited to ” Rock The Read” for 15 minutes during their lunch. Students who “rocked and read” in the front lobby received bookmarks, ate homemade cookies, and were entered into a drawing for some free gifts which were donated by area businesses. As an extra treat, the mascot from Chick-Fil-A arrived in his pajamas and took photos with the students. Several staff members and whole classes came down during the day with a book to read. The preschool students from our Early Childhood program came and listened to a Valentine’s Day book read by one of our staff members. The preschoolers received “I Love Reading” bookmarks after listening to the story. A “graffiti board” was placed in the front lobby for students and teachers to write their favorite book of all time. Of course, some readers could not pick just one book and wrote down several! Approximately 170 people participated in the event, including administration, secretaries, custodians, teachers and students.

Literacy awareness was raised during the week of February 17 as paper hearts with quotes related to reading were placed around the school halls. Various literacy statistics were read for a week on the morning announcements and posted on the school website.

Finally, Chick-Fil-A plans to post photos of the Rock and Read event at the local restaurant in Ashburn.

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2014 Virginia Readers’ Choice Titles for Middle School

Contributed by Brooks Spencer
GWRC Fauquier County Liaison
VA Reader’s Choice Committee – Middle School

If you are looking for great books to use in your classroom, add to your classroom library, or recommend to your students, here is your list for Middle School. Twice a year, 40 devoted reading teachers and librarians meet to select some of the best books available for Primary, Elementary, Middle School and High School. The MS list for 2013/14 was one of the best in the country. This year’s list is also a winner. I can say that because I helped choose both of those lists! All of the lists are now posted on the VSRA website.

Here is your extra special preview of the 2014/15 Middle School list:

How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg

ImageModern science, not available to the 19 Big Names in this quirky, disgusting peek at their last days, now looks back to explain the mysteries and bizarre circumstances surrounding their deaths. It’s a real life tell-all, if you have the stomach for it! The illustrations and additional facts are not to be missed.

Excellence in Nonfiction Notable

(I’ve used this with two classes, 6th and 7th graders, as a read aloud and they love it. It really does have some disgusting, almost gagging, information. The author also writes in a snarky, sarcastic tone which the kids also enjoy. The entries about each person are relatively short – four or five pages – and the illustrations and related facts are ripe for discussions.)

On the Day I Died by Candace Fleming

ImageSpeeding down a lonely dark road after midnight, Mike encounters a mysterious marble white girl who leads him to a cemetery for teenagers. Nine ghostly apparitions appear and share their nine deathly tales of lives cut short. Mike is not allowed to leave the graveyard until each creepy, cautionary tale is told.

Kirkus Starred Best of 2012

(I can’t wait to use this as a read aloud. Each story is perfect for a class period. Could easily have been a HS pick, but works for MS because there are no language issues.)

Spy School by Stuart Gibbs

ImageTwelve year old Ben Ripley dreams of becoming a spy and is thrilled when he is invited to the Academy of Espionage where CIA agents are trained. His time at the Academy includes a hot junior agent, a double cross, night-time ninjas, real bullets, kidnapping, plus a mad dash through secret passages inside a major Washington monument.

2013 Edgar Award Finalist

(Great for our area because it’s set in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding suburbs. Good recommendation for boys, lots of action, female character is smart and independent. Sequel is out – Spy Camp.

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

murphysWhen Mom’s abusive boyfriend goes too far, Carley lands in a foster home with the Murphy family. As she gets to know the family, they make her feel like she belongs and the wall she has built around her heart begins to crumble. Then, she’s faced with a difficult decision when her mother wants her back – should she return to live with her mother, or stay with the family she’s come to love? Have tissues on hand!

Tassy Walden Award, Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award

(When I was reading this for the nominations, I made every teacher I knew read it and they all loved it, too. Everyone on the committee loved it.)

New Author – can’t wait for more!

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

ungiftedDonovan Curtis is a middle school student of average intelligence, but above average ability when it comes to causing mayhem. An especially disastrous prank lands his name on the superintendent’s list, but then a major mix-up occurs and Donovan is mistakenly placed in the Gifted Program. As he tries to fit in and go unnoticed, he unintentionally creates a bridge of understanding between academia and the “regular” kids in middle school. Korman once again delivers a nicely layered story about real kids.

Junior Library Guild selection.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

inside outTen year old Ha, forced to leave war-torn Vietnam, escapes with her mother and three brothers to the foreign land of Alabama. Faced with the task of learning English piece by piece, rule by rule, she also faces the daily struggle of being the strange kid. This novel in verse explores the complications and celebrations of adapting to new surroundings and how the strength of family, old and new, make everything possible.

Newberry Honor Book, National Book Award.

(I plan on using this as a read-aloud in 6th and 7th grade. 260 pages go by quickly in verse.  Diversity, bullying, historical significance.)

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

inside outA futuristic retelling of the Cinderella story complete with earthlings, lunar beings, cyborgs, androids and, of course, a handsome prince. A deadly plague has everyone terrified and the hopes for a cure could possibly rest on a young cyborg named Cinder. How did Cinder become a cyborg anyway? Will she survive and save earth or will the Lunar Queen take over the planet? The sequel is Scarlet.

Best Teen Books of 2012

(More of a chick book so I’m not planning on using it as a classroom read. This Cinderella is smart and talented, and the prince would be lucky to get HER.)

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

inside outThe latest violence in the Congo becomes personal as Sophie is thrust into an unforgettable adventure. On her way to spend the summer with her mother who runs a Bonobo Refuge, she sees a baby bonobo on the street. She can’t bear to see it sold for food, but her mother has told her not to buy them, it only encourages more  mistreatment and capture. When the Bonobo Refuge is taken over by rebel soldiers, Sophie escapes with her little charge into the jungle and the survival begins.

2012 National Book Award Finalist

I like this cover because it shows Sophie as a bi-racial teen. There was a lot of discussion over this one and it could easily have been on the HS list. Personal danger to Sophie by a young soldier is inferred but subtly.  After reading this book, I adopted a bonobo through World Wildlife Fund. This would make a great read aloud project for World Geography class or a science class.

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

bombWhen the news leaks that uranium can split atoms in two, every major world leader is desperate to be the first one to possess an atomic bomb. In the midst of WW II, spies target scientists and even infiltrate government sites. Bomb reveals all the hard work, trials and failures, plus the espionage, treason and theft of information among the allies and others. Numerous awards, nonfiction. Can be very complicated, tons of facts. Excerpts would be well used in a science or social studies class.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier (Graphic Novel)

dramaCallie is a set designer for her school play. Despite a lack of funds, skills and organization, she is determined to make it a success. The drama escalates when two cute brothers enter the production and Callie’s life. Diverse characters, friendships, crushes and all the normal Middle School drama ensue. Booklist notes that by addressing issues such as homosexuality, Drama is more teen oriented than Telgemeier’s elementary-school-friendly Smile (2010).

Top 10 Teen Graphic Novel 2013, Stonewall Book Award Honor Book.

Tips for promoting the Virginia Reader’s Choice voting activities in your school:

  • Have a big reveal at the beginning of the year with book talks.
  • Ensure that book titles are available in the Library Media Center.
  • Have classroom sets of books on hand to share.
  • Students and teachers can keep track of reading titles on progress charts.
  • Arrange for book talks on the school’s morning news announcements, in classrooms, and in the library.
  • Voting – students vote for 4 or more titles that they have heard read aloud or that they have read independently.
  • Celebrate student choices in some way (special lunch, snacks, author Skyping, etc.).
  • Look at other Readers’ Choice Lists – Primary, Elementary, HS

One of the very best books, The One and Only Ivan, was chosen last year by both elementary and middle school, and elementary won.

How are the titles chosen?

The pool of 30 + nominated books, three by each committee member, is narrowed to 10 plus 2 alternates, (anyone can nominate a book). There are many great books that don’t make the list for various reasons e.g. too much like a book from the year before, too many of the same genre, gender reasons, readability issues, etc.

The alternates are chosen in case a publisher of one of the top 10 cannot guarantee there will be enough copies available. Alternate titles this year are: Four Mile by Watt Key (this one is worth recommending) and The Final Four by Paul Volponi (honestly, too HS for me).

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February 15, 2014 · 11:28 PM

For the Love of Reading Twitter Chat – 2/11, 8PM #ftlor

GWRC is excited to host our first Twitter chat on Tuesday evening 2/11 @8pm EST with co-host Donalyn Miller and the National Center for Families Learning. Please join in the discussion as we consider and share how to promote and preserve the love of reading throughout the lifespan.

We will share resources for families, children, & young adults. We’ll also share ideas and strategies for reaching boys with books. We would also like to hear how others promote literacy in their communities. Book drives? Community events in the library? Scouts? Rotary? What’s happening on the local level to keep reading meaningful and relevant? How has digital literacy impacted what and how we read? Can students still love reading in an increasingly digital world?

Our chat will flow freely as we discuss a variety of topics. Please join in – share, comment, connect. We look forward to meeting up with all our literacy lovers out there. See you Tuesday!hearts

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February “For the Love of Reading” events are now posted! Leave a comment and tell us your favorite way to celebrate reading!

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February 8, 2014 · 10:19 PM