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A Year with Mia: Highlights from Our Blog

January 24, 2019

Get to Know Us Better – What’s on the Blog?

Over the past year, we’ve covered a good deal of territory via our blog, some of which you may have missed. From the silly to the serious, from new books to very old ones, here are some of the highlights from 2018, organized by topic.

On Mia and Mia Learning

We spent a lot of time this year on demystifying Mia and putting her into context. We discussed the origins, mechanismstechnology, and philosophy behind Mia, the literacy experts who inform her coaching and general approach, how she can help teachers, parents, and librarians rather than presenting competition, and even her social justice potential.

Reading Aloud Series

This series of three related posts were among our most well-received, covering why, what, and how  parents should read out loud to their independently reading children. We also had a diverting way for parents to assess their greatest strength in reading aloud.

Just for Fun

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has spent a significant amount of time online that quizzes were some of our most popular blog fodder. Among our followers’ favorites? Finding out which fictional dragon matched their reading style and receiving a book recommendation based on which literary cat best suited their purr-sonalities. We also had a great time interviewing illustrator Alex Rodgers and exploring how books shape identity in a poignant conversation with Rowan Walker, an eloquent bibliophile who happens to be gender non-binary.

Lists for Days

In 2018, our blog also had some mighty engaging lists of books organized on themes, like chocolatey reads, colorful picture books, books about fabric, clothing, and cloth, and more thoughtful compilations, such as our collection of biographies about women artists and our list of graphic memoirs written by women. We’re always gratified when these lists circulate widely and prompt more library check-outs and store purchases of heretofore underappreciated books.

Can’t Get Enough of Mia? 

If you’ve read every bit of our blog and you’re still hungry for more, great! Sign up on our pre-launch page at Indiegogo to learn more about Secret Agent Mia’s Book Club and to make sure you don’t miss a thing when it comes to our upcoming crowdfunding campaign.

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Melodic Biography: Women Musicians of Color (Part One)

November 17, 2018

Each fall in Savannah, Georgia, classical musicians from all over the world gather for the Colour of Music Black Classical Musicians Festival. Inspired by the man many have dubbed “The Black Mozart,” slave-trade era composer Chevalier de Saintes-Georges, they pay tribute to black excellence in music, especially chamber ensemble players.

In the spirit of #ColourofMusicFestival, we have compiled a reading list centered on accomplished musicians of color – women, specifically – and their manifold contributions. As in so many areas, the achievements of women of color have been underplayed, sidelined, and relegated to the marginalia of history. Some names will be familiar to many parents and a few kids, while others may be completely new. Such is the beauty of modern juvenile non-fiction!

For the next few weeks, Mia Learning’s blog will be shedding the spotlight on several of these titles at a time. Here is our master list:

  1. Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney
  2. When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson, the Voice of a Century by Pam Munoz Ryan
  3. Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa by Veronica Chambers
  4. Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up the Stage by Alan Schroeder
  5. She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribe Leader by Jan Godown Annino
  6. Sophisticated Ladies: The Great Women of Jazz by Leslie Gourse
  7. Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown
  8. Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm by Karen Deans
  9. Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Sa, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist by Gina Capaldi
  10. Odetta, the Queen of Folk by Samantha Thornhill
  11. The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams by Ann Ingalls
  12. Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio
  13. Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song by Kathryn Erskine
  14. Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell
  15. Coretta Scott King by Kathleen Krull
  16. The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford
  17. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle
  18. Who Was Selena? by Max Bisantz
  19. Who Was Aretha Franklin? by Nico Medina
  20. Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs
  21. Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford
  22. Nina: Jazz Legend and Activist Nina Simone by Alice Brière-Haquet
  23. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford

  24. Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood

 

Blog Post

Reading with Purpose: What Do Kids Really Want to Get Out of Their Reading?

November 12, 2018

Reading with Purpose: What Do Kids Really Want to Get Out of Their Reading?

Children read not just for information or fun, but also with social-emotional purposes

By Diana Black and Darren Cambridge

Our goal at Mia Learning is to help grow motivated and purposeful readers. To get better at it, over the last few months we have been trying to better understand the purposes for which children read. We’ve worked with our Literacy Experts Taskforce—generating a list of 20 key purposes—and immersed ourselves in the relevant research literature. Most recently, Diana interviewed 13 children, ages 7-13, about their purposes for reading.

20 Reasons Children Read

  1. Immersion: lose themselves in new worlds, etc.
  2. Get smarter
  3. Make parents proud
  4. Teachers/parents force them to
  5. Explore questions that intrigue them
  6. Find new interests
  7. To talk about the book with others
  8. Learn new things
  9. Develop new skills
  10. Understand themselves better
  11. For problem solving purposes
  12. Have fun
  13. Deepen expertise
  14. Expand on existing interests
  15. Understand others better
  16. For inspiration of some sort
  17. Get a good laugh
  18. Entertainment more generally
  19. Sense of belonging/to fit in
  20. Achieve a desired mood (scared, uplifted, etc.).

One of the most thorough scholarly examinations of the role of purpose in reading is Literacy Beyond Text Comprehension: A Theory of Purposeful Reading (2017), by Anne M. Britt, Jean-François Rouet, and Amanda Durik. Reading, they argue, is a form of problem solving. Readers decide what, when, how, and how much to read based on what they believe will be the most effective solution to their given problem and its context. The contexts that receive the most attention in this particular book are schools and workplaces, wherein readers are assigned tasks that reading can help them complete. It is therefore unsurprising that the problem readers set out to solve is most typically a lack of information.

And it’s true that several of children we interviewed said they read to gain information, although their focus was on information-seeking related to their individual interests rather than assigned tasks. Sara, age 8, had a deep desire to understand the lives of others, making her a voracious reader of biographies. Reading deeply enough to understand not just isolated facts, but full life stories, and widely enough to experience a variety of such narratives make it possible for Sara to say that “books teach me a lot,” in a way that “is actually very fun.”

Aspiring fiction writer August, age 11, on the other hand, often reads for the practical purpose of improving his craft. Solving his problem requires focusing not just on the content of the text, but also on how it is written. He not only enjoys well-written books for their own sake; he also observes their characteristics closely, trying to decipher how the authors accomplish what they do so that he can emulate them.

However, our interviews suggest a more multifaceted understanding of the problems children read to solve when they read on their own initiative. In many cases, young readers were more focused on solving problems of identity and relationships they were on seeking information. Their challenges are social and emotional.

In Every Kid A Super Reader (2015), Ernest Morrell and Pam Allyn propose seven social-emotional “strengths,” valuable both in reading and throughout life. (See box.) The strengths have a recursive relationship with reading: cultivating them helps make more powerful readers, and reading is a powerful means for cultivating them. Children we interviewed talked about several of these strengths.

Maggie, who recently turned 13, discussed reading for bravery and belonging. She favors realistic fiction with protagonists close to her age because she’s seeking inspiration. She wants to read about characters not terribly unlike herself who exhibit bravery and stand up for what’s right, battling tirelessly against all sorts of injustices. Much of her reading shares a theme of liberation, and the characters she gravitates to model the fiercely righteous behavior she’d like to echo, giving her scripts and schemas for what to do and say in similar situations. Books help her to navigate not only the murky social waters of her early teens, but also a national climate rife with hostility and frightening headlines.

Maggie also reads, like so many adults do, for a kind of emotional reassurance – “to feel like I’m not the only one feeling certain things,” as she eloquently put it. Reading fosters a feeling of belonging, reminding us that despite the loneliness of our private consciousness, we are not alone. We can feel more connected to other human beings reading with such a purpose in mind.

At times, children read to build and strengthen relationships not just to humanity writ large, but to particular individuals. They read for friendship. Sara, daughter of two music/theater professionals, reads about those fields and related topics not so much to expand her knowledge as to feel closer to her family. Sara has taken it upon herself to read about the performing arts and enjoys using poetry and Shakespeare books to improve her own acting chops as part of her trusting relationship with her parents. (Similarly, in her #secretcodebook video, Dr. Susan Brown talks about the role a book played in strengthening her childhood relationship with her cousin.)

The Seven Strengths
(from Morrell and Allyn)Belonging: Identifying as a valued, represented member of a larger community

Curiosity: Fostering a willingness to explore new territory and test new theories

Friendship: Having close, trusting relationships and personal connections to others—learning to interact in positive, productive ways

Kindness: Being compassionate toward others, expressing tenderness that has an impact, near and far

Confidence: Thinking independently and
expressing ideas with assurance

Courage: Having the strength to do something that you hope is right, even though it may be difficult

Hope: Thinking optimistically and believing that today’s efforts will produce good things in the future for yourself and the world

Children also read to build hope. Maggie describes re-reading books “to cheer up,” to give herself hope, when she feels defeated. Ella, 10, notes that a certain book can almost guarantee such a desired emotional outcome or mood. The richly developed narrative in such books provide the resources to consistently solve the problem of a lack of hope. August likes to re-read graphic novels because there are always “details to appreciate I might have missed the first time.” The high level of detail makes reading the book valuable even as the context creating emotional needs changes over time. Achieving the same results would be difficult through the strategic, shallow reading of collections of shorter texts—often well suited to meeting needs for information—is much more difficult.

As with any framework, the information-seeking model that Literacy Beyond Text Comprehension prioritizes is limited, and does not always match with children’s purposes for reading. However, we find their problem-solving prism valuable because it helps us get beyond surface explanations of intentions to examine the underlying value. It invites us to ask not just, “what is this child trying to do here?” but also, “What problem are they doing it to solve?”

For example, in interviews, several children mentioned selecting certain books with the express aim of obtaining “new, higher reading levels” in school. But what problem does reaching higher reading levels solve? We want Mia to offer quite different coaching when the underlying problem is, “My teacher doesn’t believe I’m a good reader” than when it is “I want to be able to read the harder books on a topic in which I’m deeply interested.”

We (including Mia) would need a deeper understanding of the context in which each child reads—such as about their intentions, interests, attitudes, and relationships—to distinguish between the two underlying problems. One of the key challenges for Mia Learning going forward is helping children reflect on their reading in context and helping Mia learn from those conversations to offer better recommendations and coaching.

References

Britt, M.A., Rouet, J., & Durik, A.M. (2017). Literacy beyond text comprehension: A theory of purposeful reading. New York: Routledge.

Morrell, E. & Allyn, P. (2015). Every child a super reader: 7 strengths to open a world of possible. New York: Scholastic.

Blog Post, Book Recommendation, Uncategorized

#FridayFive: November 9th, 2018

November 9, 2018

#FridayFive: November 9th, 2018

We’re back with another list of five recent releases worth your child’s (and your) time! This week ranges from biographies to graphic novels and nonfiction. If you missed any of the previous weeks’ lists, including graphic novel biographies of women and graphic memoirs by women, go to our blog archives for more recommendations by Mia and her staff.

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Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. Eric Velasquez

If your child reads just one picture book biography this year, let it be this one. Arturo Schomburg isn’t a household name, but after finishing this extraordinary title, we think perhaps it should be. An Afro-Puerto Rican bibliophile and incredible self-taught scholar, Schomburg personally assembled what is now considered the world’s foremost collection of black excellence in the forms of books, art, music, and ephemera, aiming to debunk claims of racial inferiority. His superb life’s work is housed today in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. Why is this book important? It will make kids think about how history is made, shaped, and reshaped, encouraging them to question the narratives they encounter in school, in the media they consume, and elsewhere, and to think critically.

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Nightlights 

Lorena Alvarez

Spooky, gorgeous, and awash in atmosphere, this graphic short story may surprise you given the undeniable, Studio Ghibli-style cuteness of its protagonist and her artwork. Bright, inquisitive Sandy attends a strict Catholic school, where hypercritical nuns’ eyes constantly scan students to find fault, but all she wants to do is draw. Her mother is distracted and her dreams are filled with spectacular images that she puts down on paper upon waking. When a mysteries new classmate named Morfie takes an interest in Sandy and her talents, is something more sinister afoot? Best for older readers given the frightening qualities of the story.

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Back from the Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction

Nancy F. Castaldo

When an animal is removed from the Endangered Species list, how exactly has that been accomplished? Castaldo provides detailed answers for kids who love animals and want to protect them, giving case studies of more than ten different species and speaking with the scientists committed to saving them. Side panels in the shape of spiral notebook pages are used to direct kids who’d like to help more to resources, give special anecdotes, and make other worthwhile side meanderings.

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One Day a Dot: The Story of You, the Universe, and Everything

Ian Lendler, ill. Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb

Cosmology and evolutionary biology are not exactly kid’s stuff, yet Lendler and his collaborators have managed to make both comprehensible to young elementary aged children without grossly oversimplifying the science. With a handy timeline at the back, lively and appealing earth-toned illustrations, and commendably clear language, readers can get a feel for how the planet came to be and how human beings came to be as well. A kind of kid’s primer before A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, this one’s a well-crafted winner that curious minds will love.

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Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World

Vashti Harrison

A follow-up to Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, Harrison’s focus here has shifted to women of all races and nations, with 40 profiles of scientists, artists, and more. Few names will already ring a bell with readers (Marie Curie and Frida Kahlo might), but that’s one of the best things about the book. With a glossary of key terms, this makes an excellent gateway book to more detailed biographies, although the uniformity of Harrison’s illustrative style is more of a hindrance than a help – why should such accomplished, bold women keep their gaze downcast? Still, this is a minor gripe with an inspiring volume.

Book Recommendation, Uncategorized

#FridayFive: November 2nd, 2018

November 2, 2018

#FridayFive: November 2nd, 2018

We’re back with another list of five recent releases worth your child’s (and your) time! If you missed the previous weeks’ lists, including graphic novel biographies of women and graphic memoirs by women, go to our blog archives for more recommendations by Mia and her staff.

I am Human
I Am Human: A Book of Empathy

Susan Verde, ill. Peter H. Reynolds

From the team behind I Am Yoga and I Am Peace, this celebration of compassion and universal experiences is just what is needed right now. All of us, at the end of the day, are human beings, which means, like the boy who narrates the book, we are “not perfect.” “I can hurt others with my words, my actions, and even my silence,” he reflects, going on to consider ways he can remedy it when he goes off-course. We can think of no message more necessary today.

violette
Violette Around the World: 1. My Head in the Clouds

Teresa Radice, ill. Stefano Turconi

Originally published in Italy, this graphic novel romp stars Violette Vermeer, an adventurous, inquisitive 12-year-old and self-styled “citizen of the world” who makes the acquaintance of famed artist Henri de Toulouse Lautrec in Paris. Her father is an entomologist/insect trainer and her mother a human cannonball with the multilingual, ebullient Cirque de la Lune (“Circus of the Moon”), where Violette is a trapeze artist. With candy-colored, cartoonish illustrations and plenty of whimsy, this is a promising start to the series.

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy

Tony Medina (ill. by 13 artists)

This gorgeous ode is lyrical, dignified, and affecting, with poems ranging from joyous to wrenching (“Every breath I take is taxed/The kind of life where/I’ll have to take out a loan/To pay back them other loans”). In popular culture, black boys are so often reduced to stereotypes, and it’s wonderful to see Medina giving a wide swath of experiences and perspectives to counteract those harmful images. The wildly different thirteen black artists he recruited to illustrate his poems only serve to broaden his canvas further, and biographies of each are included at the book’s end.

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Akissi: Tales of Mischief

Marguerite Abouet, ill. Mathieu Sapin

Acclaimed Côte d’Ivoire author Abouet has created an indelible character is Akissi, a little girl so mischievous and funny she could easily be taken for a mythical Trickster. This is a marvelous slice of Abouet’s Ivory Coast childhood, with plenty of humor, delightfully realistic family interactions, and gross-out situations (Akissi’s pet monkey, Boubou, is recruited to eat lice off her head at one point, for instance, and another episode has Akissi contracting worms) that give it an irresistible liveliness.

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Space Cat

Ruthven Todd, ill. Paul Galdone

Technically not a new release (it was first published in 1952) but newly re-issued, this classic tale of a cat-stronaut will delight elementary-aged readers despite its vintage. After stowing away on a plane, intrepid and adorable kitten Flyball makes his way to the moon itself, where he explores in a custom-made space suit, makes up silly songs, and reacts to his new surroundings in a charmingly feline way. The first of four books about Flyball, this is a great read-aloud for parents and children to share together.