Are books really dead?

March 21, 2011 at 10:35 am | Posted in Book reviews, Education, Educators, Librarians, Publishing your story, Uncategorized, Writing | 1 Comment

I am always looking for the next book to read. One night I took a business book off my shelf called Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte. Just getting through his introduction was a shocker.

“Early in the next millennium your right and left cuff links or earrings may communicate with each other by low-orbiting satellites and have more computer power than your present PC…the digital planet will look and feel like the head of a pin.

As we interconnect ourselves, many of the values of a nation-state will give way to those of both larger and smaller electronic communities. We will socialize in digital neighborhoods in which physical space will be irrelevant and time will play a different roll.”

This was published in 1995…sixteen years ago.

 I was so fascinated by rereading Negroponte’s book I went online to see what other pronunciations he may suggest. And there it was… “The physical book will be dead in five years.” He shared this bombshell at the August 6, 2010 Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe, CA.  

Over the past three years, I have worked with author Gloria Smith Zawaski, publishing our first children’s book called The Trunk in the Attic. We are about to print our second book in the series called Mongolia Bound. Our purpose is to introduce kids to other kids around the world, first Holland and now Mongolia. The series helps kids learn from other kids’ adventures. But I now think I have to consider another way of delivering the information, one that will be meaningful to this new generation of youngsters who may no longer use books as I did.

 This revelation really hit me when Eliot and Amy took to me to this huge used book warehouse in Washington, DC.   I looked at the 1,000s of books surrounding me and realized that I was looking at the death of an industry as I know it.  

It’s time to embrace the new ways and see how to make this online system of sharing information and books a more encompassing way of learning.

 For someone like me who loves books and the written word, catching up is not going to be easy. Not only do I have to stop thinking linearly but have to learn new skills. Who will I turn to in order to learn how the new computer widgets work?

The Undercover Kids Journey Continues: Alden Place Elementary

November 9, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Posted in Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Librarians, Mystery books, Parent Teacher Groups, Parents, Puppets, Writing | Leave a comment
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The Undercover Kids have now performed at three schools and we are practically pros. Last week we visited Alden Place Elementary with Gloria and The Undercover Kids  (Katie, Jake and of course Cooper). The performances went well. But while we were at the school, I couldn’t help but think about how whirlwind these past couple of months have been. As I started looking back towards our past, I couldn’t believe how far we’ve come. Two months ago we didn’t have our puppets or even a script and now as almost through magic we have managed to visit three schools and provide a show for children. I think this is a testament to how hard work can pay off and if you put your mind to it you can accomplish anything. Another thing that surprises me about our performances is the reactions from the kids. So far, every school has been different. Some groups are rowdy and some are more reserved, but they are always full of curiosity. For example the children really enjoy interacting with Gloria (Katie and Jake too!) and asking her questions. My favorite question and answer interaction between Gloria and a student would have to be when a young boy from Alden Place asked Gloria if she could write a book about a car and when Gloria said sure what kind of car, The boy replied, “A 1969 Ford Mustang.” As funny as that response was it really made me think that kids really know what they want and we really have to listen to them. We will have to keep that in mind for any future performances we have in the future. Until next time!

Books can open the door to new discoveries

October 23, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Posted in Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Librarians, Mystery books, Parent Teacher Groups, Parents, Writing | Leave a comment
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When I was young and read a book, I never did any activities that went along with that book. I might have said to my parents, “I just read a really great book,” but that’s it. I would just move on and start reading another book (or as much as I hate to admit this, wait for the movie to come out). But, there are so many other activities that you do while you are reading a book. That’s what is so great about the Undercover Kids, even though it is just one book there is so much you can do along with it for fun. For example, we just developed a teacher’s guide that is filled with great activities teachers and students can do together with or without reading the Undercover Kids. You can download it on the Undercover Kids homepage. Also, be on the lookout for our Undercover Kids Column in  Hudson Valley Parent magazine, where we will post various fun and educational activities that you can participate in with your family. If you are a student reading this blog tell your teacher about the guide and if you are a parent or a teacher thanks for visiting our page! Remember open up a book and let it take you on an adventure and have fun. Happy reading!

Katie, Jake and Cooper Break a Leg!

October 13, 2009 at 4:56 pm | Posted in Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Librarians, Mystery books, Publishing your story, Puppets, Writing | Leave a comment
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Last week The Undercover Kids took one of their most exciting journeys yet. This time, they didn’t travel to any exotic locations, but stayed right in their own backyard in Port Jervis, NY. Well, to the Anna S. Kuhl Elementary School in Port Jervis to be exact. Katie, Jake, Cooper and Gloria Smith Zawaski (their creator) made a presentation to 1,000 children at the school ranging from kindergarten students all the way up to sixth graders. The presentation touched on important subjects such as: literacy, how to develop characters for a story and using your imagination. The presentation was fun and the best part about it is that the children really seemed to enjoy it. Check out some sneak peeks of the presentation here, and tell us what you think! Do you think that The Undercover Kids were a success?

HOW A BOOK IS BORN: Creating the story

September 14, 2009 at 5:53 am | Posted in about life, Book reviews, Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Librarians, Mystery books, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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Now I had an author to write our story but what form should the story take? Gloria Smith Zawaski is unbelievably creative and has more ideas than I can keep up with. We met and shared.

At our next meeting Gloria mentioned that there would be a cemetery with a ghost near Aunt Jean’s farm. The kids meet the ghost who wants to return to the homeland of his ancestors in Africa. Great idea because our region has a number of black cemeteries. And Sojourner Truth was born about 1797 in Ulster County, which is the region where we live. So it would all fit.

Great idea Gloria, but I need to go back to Holland because of this Quadricentennial celebration coming up.  I want to use the celebrations being planned as a vehicle to sell the book. I figure the events will bring out many people, especially families, and that is the market I want to target.

So back to Holland we go. The kids would come from New York City to their aunt’s farm for a vacation. They would travel, through some kind of magic, to Holland where they would share adventures with Dutch kids. That would be the basis of the story.

As a publisher, you may ask, “What is my role?” I ask that all the time. I come up with ideas and share them with Gloria. Gloria develops the story and I provide feedback.

Gloria researches our stories and brings them to life on the printed page. My role make to make the sale of the book a reality.

 As we finish the first book, ideas for the next two books are coming from unusual sources.

 In the second book, Gloria takes kids to Mongolia. Why Mongolia? Gloria and I agreed that each book should visit another part of the world and possibly another continent.

I read the Wolf Totem by Jian Rong which takes place in Outer Mongolia. A beautiful setting for a people who are being overtaken by the Chinese. Then on NPR I head a story about a young man who uses throat singing to preserve the stories of his Mongolian ancestors. Gloria and I agreed to take our kids to Mongolia for 2010.

 And then, once again, we will visit Gloria’s ideas for an African adventure for 2011.

Giving birth to puppets

August 3, 2009 at 10:03 am | Posted in Community groups, Education, Educators, Fundraising, Kids and reading, Librarians, Mystery books, Parent Teacher Groups, Parents | Leave a comment

My team and I are busy creating great programs for school kids that will introduce students to other kids from around the world as well as to the world of creative thinking.

My job is to organize the school presentations. We originally developed a classroom program for 25-30 kids but as we spoke to principals they told us that they organize programs for groups of classes…from 60 to 90 kids and more. So we went back to the drawing board and decided to have fun with this for our sakes as well as the kids. So here come the puppets.

Today is Sunday and two New York City puppeteer groups have graciously agreed to let me meet the stars of their puppet studios so that I can understand how to best develop our Katie, Jake and Cooper puppets to go into Hudson Valley schools. Will Katie take on that “I’m going to organize things” look? If you meet Jake will you know instantly that he is always coming up with new ideas to try out? And will  Cooper be that mischievous dog always getting into trouble?  Because I am not sure how to create puppets with personality I am visiting some of the experts in the field.

While I am taking responsibility for developing the program for schools, Bridget, a member of my team, goes full steam ahead with The Undercover Kids Teacher’s Guide. This 32-page guide provides games, exercises and programs that the teachers can use after we leave the school. Bridget is organizing the guide so that it can be used in conjunction with the book, as well as independent of the book. Our goal is to encourage kids to have fun writing their own Undercover Kids’ story. When given a chance to let their imaginations roam, they develop story ideas that are not hampered by adult rules or regulations. That is the joy of childhood that we want to foster.

Invite us to your school. Your students get a chance to meet a local author, as well as our puppet kids who have wonderful stories to share. The program lasts about 45 minutes. It is interactive, and your kids will walk away with a better understanding of how to write their own stories.

The program costs $300 per performance. And schools get $6 a book for every book that kids buy. It can be a great fundraiser and is educational as well. I was always in favor of my kids buying books rather than selling candy or wrapping paper.

Kids give new book a rousing 9 review

July 19, 2009 at 5:02 pm | Posted in Book reviews, Kids and reading, Librarians, Mystery books, Parents | Leave a comment
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trunk in the attic cover.qxpWe want to thank Nicole and her sister Sami for taking a look at “The Undercover Kids.” Nicole who is 16 asked her younger sister Samantha, who is 12, to read and review the book.  Nicole writes a blog on books.
” Okay, time to review. Even though this book was a little younger then the books I normally read, it was still good non-the-less. It was fun to find out that pannenkoeken is really pancakes with ham, cheese, and tomato on top. I wish I could’ve seen a bit more, but of course, Cooper’s gone and what not. I suggest that ages 7-12 read this book, maybe younger if they are good readers.”

Sami gave the book a 9/10. Great going! Check it out.

Illustrators tell their own stories

July 19, 2009 at 3:06 pm | Posted in Book reviews, Kids and reading, Librarians, Parents | Leave a comment
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Three illustrators share their vision

Elizabeth Kennedy‘s reviews on kids’ books are right to the point and provide a wonderful insite into the genre. If you have not visited Elizabeth’s Children’s Books Blog click on the link above and see if you agree with her review of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Brian Selznick is a genius storyteller and illustrator

hugo_cabret_17Brian Selznick, the author of Hugo Cabret, has a marvelous talent for creating a beautiful story and providing the key illustrations that make the story more meaningful.  I was fascinated with his illustrations because they now only supported the storyline but provided additional insite…something I rarely find in books today.

Illustrators tell stories

The Grave Yard BookIf you are fascinated with how illustrations add to a story look at the drawings in The Graveyard Book from Dave McKean. His illustrations set the tone for the story by Neil Gaiman.

The Arrival written entirely with images.

The Arrival written entirely with images.

And then check out a book written entirely with illustrations called The Arrival by Shaun Tan. The book, written in 2006, tells they story of an immigrant family that seeks to leave their mystical homeland for a better place…supposedly New York City. Only the dad gets to leave and he trys to create an environment where he can help his entire family escape from their oppressive environment.

Shaun Tan was born in 1974 and grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. He graduated from the University of WA in 1995 with joint honours in Fine Arts and English Literature, and currently works full time as a freelance artist and author in Melbourne. He is best known for illustrated books that deal with social, political and historical subjects through surreal, dream-like imagery

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