Motivate! Author Interview Series: Rita Williams Garcia Answers Questions from Students

We kick off the Motivate! Author Interview Series with author Rita Williams Garcia and librarian DaNae Leu and her library group at Snow Horse Elementary. DaNae’s group read One Crazy Summer. Read on to find out how the book club meeting went, how Rita answered her eager readers’ questions, and what the possibility of a sequel is. And check the end of the post for a contest announcement!

DaNae's kids

Photo courtesty of DaNae Leu

DaNae said (read the rest of her post on her blog!): I provided a perfect number of girls willing to spend a summer’s afternoon in the school library. It goes without saying that the caliber of participants was exceptional. These are girls who spend big chunks of their summer reading without mandates. I would have loved to include a few boys but as I was culling from Summer Library patrons I had to recruit from the troops that walked by. Maybe another time we can get some male involvement. It does have to be said that One Crazy Summer is a very girl friendly tale indeed.

One Crazy Summer is an emotion-packed story of three young sisters, Delphine 11, Vonetta 9, and Fern 7. They have flown from their Brooklyn home the summer of 1968 to travel to San Francisco to spend a summer with their mother, Cecile. A mother they haven’t seen since she walked out on them when Fern was a nursing infant. From their first contact with Cecile, it is clear that she has no use for her offspring. The girls, hoping for seven years of makeup mothering, were instead kept at arms length and shipped off each day for summer camp at the local Black Panther establishment.

I’d read the book some months ago and was already a big fan. Listening to the audio was a whole other level of delightful. Narrated by Sisi Aisha Johnson, the book that has been repeatedly lauded for having a strong, genuine voice was attached to an audible voice, in Johnson, which cemented the time-period, location, and cadences to perfection.

One the afternoon when I gathered with six lovely young readers appropriate refreshments were offered. Naturally we had egg rolls, alas, not provided by Mean Lady Ming. They were served with fruit punch, as Big Ma would not have approved of soda pop. Cookies were also involved but there was no literary tie in. Let’s just say that we met in Utah, and I’m pretty sure it is obligatory that any meeting of greater than 3 people must include cookies. Appropriately all were severed on a blanket on the floor. No one was allowed in the kitchen. (…read the rest of her post on her blog!)

Rita Williams GarciaAnd now, on to the answers from Rita Williams Garcia! First of all, we’re very happy that Rita loves the audio recording. She told us, “Did I tell you I fell in love with Sisi Aisha Johnson when I heard her recording of Jackie Woodson’s Feathers? I thought, if I could ever have an audio deal and Sisi. I’ve gotta tell you, it’s all overwhelming! In a good way.” We love Sisi’s recording, too!

Karli: What made you want to write this book?
I wrote One Crazy Summer to share a piece of the late 1960s with young readers. With the exception of Kekla Magoon’s A Rock and a River, very little is written about the Black Panthers for young people. The only image we have of the Black Panthers is one associated with violence and anger. I felt the children who were served by the Panthers in breakfast programs, community centers and schools, might have a different recollection. I see those children as owning a story in history. I encourage kids to be interested observers and activists in the world today. To write about and value their own experiences that will one day be history.

Riley: What gave you the idea for Cecile’s character?
The first thing I heard Cecile say to her daughters was, “Run!” Then I imagined she was hiding from the man whose printer she picked up out of the trash and that she was running from the neighborhood Black Panthers who wanted her to print leaflets for them. I didn’t use this scene that inspired Cecile’s character, but from it I learned Cecile had a printing press and that she didn’t like people bothering her or asking her for her time, services, or to be a mother. I remembered the 1960s poet, Nikki Giovanni had her own printing press so I knew I’d make Cecile a poet. As the nation struggled in the 1960s for equality, women also struggled. I knew first-hand of the struggles of being black during this time period. But to have dreams that the average woman didn’t have…to have dreams that the average black woman didn’t have…to feel bound by responsibilities and to feel powerless to shape your identity and destiny…I thought all of those frustrations might make a person crazy. My mother had artistic dreams but no outlets to express them, so a lot of my mother’s energy went into creating Cecile. But unlike Cecile, my mother did absolutely everything in the household. Her rule to my sister, brother and I was, “Make up your bed and study your lessons.” When my sister was thirteen and decided to wash dishes one night my mother said, “There’s only one woman in this house and you’re not her.”

Paige: Were the characters based on anyone you knew?
My mother was the basis for Cecile, but so many other women went into different aspects of her. Years ago, Nikki Giovanni gave a lecture at my college, and she told us how her small child often went with her to performances, and that she could hear him off stage chanting her poems. 1960s poet, Kattie Cumbo had told me a funny story about how she got her printing press. These women helped me to create the poet, Cecile.

With Delphine, I had friends who were the oldest and had tremendous responsibilities. My older sister, Rosalind was in charge of Russell and me. My two best friends did hard work and raised their younger sisters and brothers. Every moment of fun was always interrupted by responsibility.

Brinley: Who told Big Ma that Cecile lived in a hole in the wall?
Big Ma knew Cecile didn’t have much money and guessed that she lived in an abandoned building or in some place that was falling apart. We used to call those impoverished places “slums.” But I think, instead of saying that Cecile lived in a falling apart building in the slums, Big Ma used the “hole in the wall” expression. I think adults use many expressions that sound confusing to small children.

Brinley: How did you come up with the names for the characters?
Almost every name in ONE CRAZY SUMMER has a story behind it. As a kid in California, I went to school with a lot of Black and Asian biracial kids who had first names like “Hiroshima,” “Yuriko,” and last names like “Brown” and “Taylor.” The “Hirohito” in Hirohito Woods comes from the Japanese Emperor Hirohito. I imagined my character’s father would name his son after the emperor who was a clever war strategist, but not always a “just” ruler. I wanted to pay tribute to my friend, Rashamella Cumbo, who is a gifted teacher among many other talents—and found a name for Sister Mukumbu that would be close the hers. Here’s some trivia: My character’s full name is Rasheeda Mukumbu, but I only used her surname.

As for my main characters, I was typing a letter to my editor to tell her about this story I wanted to write. I made a rhythm while I typed, probably like Cecile tapping out her rhythms with her pencil. In the rhythm I heard the syllables of the names first and I quickly typed Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern. The single syllable of “Fern” seems to bring it all back to reality. Fern. I found Fern’s original name, in Mexico, of all places! My friends treated me to a trip to Mexico and I’d get up in the wee hours of the morning, go outside, sit among the trees, plant-life, ravens, and giant parrots, and I’d write. There, I dreamed of the story behind Fern’s original name and how it came out of the African naming tradition of giving the newborn a name that describes the circumstances of her birth. Fern’s original name means, “Born on a Friday.” Even Cecile’s African name, “Nzila” has a mystery behind it.

Shelbi: Will you write a sequel? I thought it would be interesting to have Cecile come to Brooklyn.
It’s hard to say goodbye to characters you’ve come to know and love, especially when their lives are incomplete. When Pa has an announcement, Uncle Darnell comes home from Vietnam, and Delphine has to go to the sixth grade dance. There’s even the mystery behind Cecile’s African name, “Nzila”—among other things! I’m still working on my current novel, but give it another year or two, and hopefully you’ll read—or listen to the sequel titled, P.S.: BE ELEVEN.

Thank you so much to DaNae, her students, and Rita Williams Garcia! To win a copy of the print book (donated by HarperCollins) and audiobook (donated by Recorded Books) One Crazy Summer, just enter a comment below. We’ll pick 5 winners via on Thursday, 9/9/2010. Good luck! Stay tuned to the blog to find out how your students could be a part of the Motivate! Author Interview Series.

Since we only had 8 entrants (we think you must all still be waking up from the summer!), we’re going to give a prize to everyone who entered! I’ll be contacting you each soon to get your information. Stay tuned for the next portion of the Motivate! Author Interview Series.


Guest Blogger Jana Warnell Reviews Clementine

Jana Warnell, an elementary school librarian in Montana, will be guest blogging for us to kick off the back-to-school season. Check out more reviews and librarian insights from Jana at her blog,

ClementineClementine by Sara Pennypacker
Running Time: 1.5 hours
Interest Level: K-5 , Reading Level: 4
Audie Award Winner
AudioFile Earphones Award
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

Are you looking for a quick story about a quirky girl? Clementine is for you. Clementine was written by Sara Pennypacker and is a fun book about a third grade girl and all the trouble she gets into. She is among the ranks of everyday girls in fiction, like Ramona and Junie B. Jones (but she is way smarter than Junie, which I love).

I won the audio book in a contest from Recorded Books. I had already read the print edition, but knowing what a unique voice Clementine is, I couldn’t wait to listen to the book to hear how the narrator handled her.

The narrator, Jessica Almasy, was excellent (she has an amazing body of work with Recorded Books, I look forward to hearing more of her books!). She had a younger voice, but not a babyish voice. While listening I was easily reminded why I loved Clementine in the first place. It was fun to hear how her personality came through in Jessica’s voice.

Clementine is a story that could easily be read “down” to it’s audience, but Jessica never does that. She makes you feel right there inside Clementine’s head. And it is a fun place to be! There are four books total in the Clementine series [Editor’s Note: Many available on audio exclusively from Recorded Books!] and I recommend them all, in print and audio.

Audiobooks Triumph Over Dyslexia: Part 2

Yesterday, we shared Roberta Witte’s story about how audiobooks helped her son overcome his Dyslexia. Today learn how they began her path to becoming an educator. Feel free to ask questions by comment.



Roberta Witte and son Chris

After witnessing her son’s progress and success, Roberta was inspired to help others who had similar learning disabilities as her son. She returned to school to earn her master’s degree in special education.

“My son’s victory is why I went back to school,” said Roberta. “I needed the credentials to support and teach others. I did not want to give up on these kids. They simply learn differently.”

And now many schools later in her son’s academic career, Roberta has returned to Sacred Heart School as a resource specialist to help other students facing the same reading, writing and spelling difficulties that Chris overcame. With her son’s experience, she brought knowledge of different methods of learning and audio support for readers.

Roberta obtained a grant to start a library at Sacred Heart School. The funds covered the cost of purchasing Recorded Books audiobooks for the library. In addition, she donated audiobooks from her son’s collection to the library to build a solid base for future purchases. When the school questioned the use of Recorded Books, her response was simply, “Trust me.”

Roberta develops Personal Learning Profiles for each student to find out the best way for them to learn. She incorporates Recorded Books’ audiobooks when necessary to motivate Sacred Heart students. She has even created a Personal Learning Profile for her son that he now shares with each professor at the beginning of each semester.

While she continues to build a better reading program at Sacred Heart School, Roberta is also in the process of working with her students who are English language learners needing support with reading comprehension skills. Through the use of Recorded Books audiobooks and visuals, she hopes to expand the student’s vocabulary, fluency and reading comprehension.

“Using different angles toward learning builds not only reading and speaking skills, but it also builds the student’s confidence,” Roberta said. “I’m hoping to set up the best way for each student to learn and diminish any feelings of being different.”

Roberta has found the value in using a different curriculum for reluctant readers – and she has done so mainly through Recorded Books’ audiobooks.

“Audiobooks are perfect for kids who can’t keep up otherwise,” Roberta said. “You want to even the playing field for them, so using these products puts struggling readers at a leveled playing field with their classmates. It offers a way for them to bypass their weaknesses and tune into their strengths instead.”

Since not all do well with just audio support, Roberta also pairs it with visual support when necessary. “It all goes back to the Personal Learning Profiles I compile for each student,” Roberta adds. “So they’re being taught with the methods most conducive to their learning style.”

Since Roberta implemented her new reading programs she has noticed significant changes in student reaction and participation.

There are less academic issues and less complaints regarding student progress. With differentiated learning, students are able to keep up in class and find level ground within a classroom as a whole.

“Recorded Books audiobooks are a helpful tool for all students,” Roberta said. “The key is tweaking each student’s curriculum to fit his/her best learning practices. These kinds of products can turn concerns into successes.”

• The National Institute for Literacy says that 30-50% of the population has undiagnosed learning disabilities.
• A report to Congress from the US Department of Education said that 2.9 million school-age children ages 6-21 in the US (5% of all school-aged children in public schools) are classified as having specific learning disabilities and receive some kind of special education support.
• That same report said 27% of children with learning disabilities drop out of high school.
• And a Roper Starch Poll stated that 44% of parents who noticed their child exhibiting signs of difficulty with learning waited a year or more before acknowledging their child might have a serious problem.
• One in five students, or 15-20% of the population, has a language based learning disability. Dyslexia is probably the most common of the language based learning disabilities.
• Dyslexia is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties.
• Of people with poor reading skills, 70-80% are likely dyslexic.

Build skills and confidence with the Intervention Library Collections. These high-interest titles provide the extra support struggling readers need without sacrificing good books. Find a sample of titles below. Contact 1-800-638-1304 or visit for more information.

5th Grade
Blackwater by Eve Bunting
S.O.R Losers by Avi

6th Grade
The Maze by Will Hobbs
Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech

7th Grade
Forged by Fire by Sharon Draper
Point Blank by Anthony Horowitz

8th Grade
Scorpions by Walter Dean Meyers
The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket

9th Grade
The Dare by R.L. Stine
Driver’s Ed by Caroline B. Cooney

10th Grade
The Juvie Three by Gordon Korman
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

11th and 12th Grades
Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan
The Lottery Rose by Irene Hunt

Audiobooks Triumph Over Dyslexia: Part 1

You may recognize Roberta Witte as a frequent commenter here at the blog. When I started discussing how she began using audiobooks with her students, I found she had a very interesting story to share about audiobooks, her son, and her path to becoming an educator.

Read the first part of Roberta’s story below and feel free to ask questions by comment. Part 2 of the story will be posted Wednesday, July 28.

Battle with son’s dyslexia inspires one mother to help other struggling readers


Roberta Witte and son Chris

College senior Chris Witte is sitting in his room, headphones on and a book in his hands, stopping occasionally to highlight passages. This scene is nothing out of the ordinary amongst today’s plugged-in, multitasking college students who enjoy a little background music when studying.

But having received a prestigious internship at Apple headquarters at just 24 years old, Chris is anything but an ordinary college student. And his headphones aren’t playing music. They’re playing a recording of required reading for his college course, and Chris is following along with the book in his hands.

Audiobooks from Recorded Books K-12 forever changed the way Chris manages his dyslexia, and his mother, Roberta Witte, is helping other students do the same.

Seventeen years ago at age seven, Chris began to noticeably struggle with reading. After he was officially diagnosed with dyslexia in grade school, his mother tried every method she could think of to improve his reading skills.

But it wasn’t until she paired headphones with audiobooks that she found the most effective reading method – one that would stay with him today at college.

Recorded Books’ audiobooks opened a new chapter for her son, and now they’re helping Roberta re-write the book on how to help students at lower reading levels overcome their struggles with comprehension.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it is estimated that 15% of American students may have dyslexia. Roberta first noticed the signs in 1993. Her son was in kindergarten when his teacher observed that something wasn’t working for him. By first grade his struggle with reading became more evident. He found it difficult to sound out new words and connect what he read with what he heard in class.

Right away, she began looking for ways to help him succeed in the classroom. Roberta and his teacher worked hard throughout his first grade year by using tactile letters made from sandpaper and recording his assigned sentences for dictation. Roberta also tried various methods of home instruction, and even had psychological tests performed in an effort to find the answer.

Finally after a neuro-psychologist with experience in this field diagnosed him with dyslexia and ADHD, they looked for tutors and started medication that could help focus on learning. Around this time the administration and teachers at Chris’s school, Sacred Heart School, informed Roberta that they did not know how to teach someone who is dyslexic, and he was transferred to a different school.

After trying two different schools, a variety of tutoring programs and accommodations in the classroom, Chris was finally able to accomplish typical classroom tasks. The medication was helping him to focus and pay attention so he could properly filter what he was hearing in the classroom. By fifth grade Chris was experiencing some success in other subjects like math and science. However, he was still not reading well enough or comprehending easily.

At her wits end, Roberta learned about Recorded Books from a family friend during a summer vacation. She had tried audiobooks before, but her son showed little interest in them, having previously deemed most of the recordings “boring.” Once Recorded Books’ audiobooks were introduced into his learning curriculum, the best way for him to read became very clear.

“I was ecstatic to see my son understand what he just read,” said Roberta. “Chris would listen to the audiobook, track the text in the book and I would quiz him with the accompanying study guide.”

Roberta and her son found what worked. By the end of fifth grade, they realized how much the sound recognition helped his literacy and began using Recorded Books’ audiobooks for class and recreational reading. By doing so, books were no longer boring to Chris, they were interesting.

“During this time, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out,” said Roberta. “This was the moment where he first showed interested in a book on his own. He became immersed in the story and used the Recorded Books’ recording to supplement his leisure reading. He finally fell in love with a book. It opened a whole new world for him.”

Twelve years later, Chris is now a student at University of San Francisco and interning at Apple headquarters. He continues to use Recorded Books to support his reading course load in college.

“After we started using Recorded Books, it was clear what worked for him,” said Roberta. “This modification in his learning style proved the value of accommodating for differentiated learning in all students with similar problems. Quite simply, it changed his life.”

Have you also had success using audiobooks for Dyslexia? Tell us your story in a comment! And be sure to check back tomorrow for Part 2 of Roberta’s story.

Poetry Month Contest Winners Announced

As you may have noticed if you follow @recordebooks on Twitter, we had so many wonderful entries to the National Poetry Month contest that we decided to pick three winners instead of just one! Thank you all so much for participating and leaving such insightful comments and great ideas. I encourage everyone to go back through and read the contributions that you may have missed. There are some wonderful suggestions there that you might want to incorporate next year!

We invited in two celebrity judges (plus me, Jennah Watters, AKA “the Recorded Books Twitterer“) to pick the winners!

Alan SitomerAlan Sitomer
Alan Sitomer is the author of the Alan Sitomer BookJam. California’s 2007 Teacher of the Year, he is also the critically acclaimed author of numerous engaging books for young adult readers. Also the 2003 California Literacy Teacher of the Year and 2004 winner of the Award for Classroom Excellence from the Southern California Teachers of English, Alan is currently a classroom teacher in Los Angeles, California.

Michael Cirelli Michael Cirelli
Michael Cirelli, co-author of the Poetry Jam with Alan Sitomer, is the executive director of Urban Word NYC, an award-winning literary arts organization that serves over 15,000 teens annually. Urban Word now hosts the largest local teen poetry slam in the country. Michael holds an MFA in poetry from The New School.

And now, on to the winners!

Mag, who said

mag, on April 15, 2010 at 12:20 pm Said:

Poetry is great to read silently on one’s own, but the real power of poetry emerges when a poem is read aloud. Poetry is best shared.
Eating Poetry
Mark Strand


Eating Poetry

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry

Alan liked the poem Mag shared by Mark Strand, saying, “I like its vibrancy — particularly in the first line. (ink is a great word for this piece). And the third line is bold and proud.”


Susan Alicea, on April 21, 2010 at 9:25 am Said:

We sponsor a “Poetry Idol” during the month of April in our schoool library. Our students can recite their poetry in front of other students. Then, our panel of judges give points to the first, second, and third place winners. Everyone who participates gets a “Poetry Idol” certificate.

Michael said, “I like the idea of pairing pop culture with poetry… breathes life into it.”


Christine Leo, on April 28, 2010 at 10:33 am Said:

During the year, the children are encouraged to add their original poems to our classroom “POE – TREE” (a small artificial tree in our poetry corner with many leaves to which the poems are attached); Then in April, to celebrate National Poetry Month, the poets vote on the best poem on the tree (you only get to vote if you’ve contributed to the tree!) and the winner gets a small, real tree to take home and plant in his or her yard! This reward ties in with Earth Day which is also in April.

This is a great way to get students involved (you can’t vote if you can’t contribute!), and I like incorporating Earth Day with National Poetry Month. It probably makes for some great poetry, and I have fond memories of bringing home saplings from school on Earth Day.

Congratulations to all the winners! We’ll be contacting you shortly so you can claim your prize. And again, I do encourage you to go back and check out all the entries for some other inspiring ideas.

Don’t forget: Until June 14, 2010, we’ve still got a contest running where you can win 10 of the top 20 children’s audiobooks! Submit your list of the best children’s audiobooks and you’ll be entered to win.

Send us your audiobook tips and you could be featured!

Become an RB featured educator!First of all, don’t forget to enter our January contest to win a free audiobook! We’re currently hard at work on the 2010 Recorded Books K-12 catalog, and we love including stories and testimonials from our customers. If you use audiobooks in your classroom or school, send us a quick statement telling us what you think of them. We don’t need anything too fancy—just jot down your experiences with audiobooks and send them our way via email, blog comment, or twitter.

Some ideas:
1. Share a story about a particular student who has shown improvement since being introduced to audiobooks.
2. Tell us about a teacher/librarian audiobook partnership or intervention program that uses audiobooks.
3. Share your favorite lesson plan using audiobooks.
4. Tell us why you and your students like audiobooks.
5. Tell us what your favorite RB audiobook is.
6. Tell us how you use audiobooks in your classroom.
7. Tell us how you found out about using audiobooks to improve fluency, comprehension, and motivation.

Be sure we can contact you via twitter or email if we choose your story or quote!

P.S.—We appreciate you sharing with us, so if you are featured in the catalog, we’ll provide you with a freebie or two!

September Contest Winner

sept2009-winnerCongratulations to Nikki Coates, our September contest winner! Nikki, you’ll receive one copy of Dear Mr. Henshaw on CD to share with your students. We asked respondents to share stories about who inspired them, and we got some great responses! Here are a few of our favorites, but we encourage you to read the rest of the inspiring stories as well—perfect for a pick-me-up on this day of remembrance:

Nikki Coates: I have many people who have inspired me in my life. However the one that I think of first would be my chemistry teacher from high school. I used to hate all kinds of science, I was even nervous taking chemistry I didnt think I would pass. Science was always boring and hard for me. I had my teacher for chemistry my sophomore year and ap chemistry my senior year. Yes, I took two years even though I didnt need to. My teacher made it enjoyable and fun to learn. After being in her class for two years I started thinking about becoming a science teacher. However; once I started doing some observation hours I changed my mind and wanted to become a special ed teacher. I want students to learn and have fun and see that school isnt as bad as it seems!

John Bradford: My Catholic high school chaplain, Father William Schooler, inspired me. A true humanist, he encouraged the students to think for themselves – even if that put him at odds with the school administration or the other faculty. The books in his office were always available for loan, and he introduced me to C.S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and comparative religion.

Victoria Mazur: My fourth grade teacher, Miss Judy, was an inspiration to me as a budding writer. She allowed me to read voraciously and did not censor my creativity. Her incentives included a meal at her home (that would probably not be permitted now) and I will always remember my introduction to alfalfa sprouts. I threw up on the way home.

MaryAnn: Eleanor was the most amazing children’s librarian! Her enthusiasm inspired generations of readers in her public library, and her storytimes were legendary in the County. Most amazingly, she could locate a book just from a brief description of a character or situation. One day I heard a young lady ask her for a book tin which a girl sat on a porch and chewed gum…and Eleanor’s face lit up. Off she flew to the stacks, returning with the right book! She introduced me to the classics, to illustrators, to storytelling and to public service, and I would be thrilled to be remembered as her student!

Mike Jones: One person in my life who had a tremendous impact on me was my high school football coach. This coach didn’t just inspire, he forever changed me and the path my life took once I started playing for him. No one in my life had ever pushed me so hard, made me work so much, been so tough on me, or cared as much as he did. This man believed in me more than I believed in myself, and through his dedicated, persistent effort, he was able to reach me in a way that no teacher, coach, or person had ever done before. The main, and most important things that that this coach taught me had nothing to do with football but are tools that I will use the rest of my life; the ability to apply myself to the highest levels and work through whatever obstacles or adversity come my way.

If you didn’t get a chance to share a story about someone who inspired you, we’d still love to hear from you on this post. And as always, stay tuned for another contest next month!

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