Book Stars: Interview with Kat Kirst


So, I have just launched a new video series where I interview the best authors.  Many of my clients ask about great books for their kids and Kat Kirst is one of my favorite Young Adult authors.  Her books are geared towards middle school and high school kids, but I can’t personally get enough of her books.  If your child is reading young adult books, then check out Kat’s books on Amazon.

She has just recently written her fourth book called The Cost of Living Forever.  It is about the horrors of what can happen if there was a pill that could make you live forever.  A young teenager has been living a sheltered life in this society, and he is about to take his first pill.  But then he falls in love with one of the hired hands.  His view and perspective on life and the society he is living in completely changes and he becomes a revolutionary pioneer. Check out this awesome interview below.


If you could live forever what would you do?

Reopening an Abandoned Library

Reopening an Abandoned Library

5th grade

Joanne Kaminski, Author of The Three Little Sisters Learn to Get Along

As an author I have the privilege of travelling to local schools and motivating kids to read, write, and dream.  Today I had the special privilege to speak at a remarkable school.  It is called Siefert Elementary and the principle there, Mrs. Varela-Katz, has had a mission since the moment she set foot in the school.  When she first toured it, she found that the library was in the basement, and she was concerned.  But then, when she saw that it had been closed down, she was broken hearted.  The students in this


Top 5th grade reader, cutting the ribbon to the new library.

This principal decided to gather some volunteers and staff members and reconstitute the library.  After tons of dusting, organizing, and labeling of books the library
was ready to be unveiled to the children.  Since this school is a RIF school, they were able to coordinate giving each child a free book to take home, and an author
visit.  But before the free book and author visit Mrs. Varela-Katz had the top reader in the 5th grade do the honor of cutting the tape.  This girl was so proud to have this honor and together they began the kickoff event.

But that is not all.  They dedicated this library to a woman named Mrs. Reed who had worked 27 years at that specific school.  Mrs. Reed not only worked there for a long time, but now that she is retired she still continues to volunteer at the school.  She was given an award and the library is now called The Reed Library.

Mrs. Reed

Mrs. Reed, a highly dedicated educator

I love that this woman’s name is Reed.  How awesome that a teacher named Mrs. Reed motivates children to read.

If people are wondering if awesome things are happening in the schools, then they don’t have to look far.  The students energy and excitement regarding this visit was off the chart.  Many of these kids had never met an author before.  They knew that an author is someone who writes books, but to meet an author in their eyes was like meeting a star.

It is so exciting that because of the efforts of amazing leadership, like that of Mrs. Varela-Katz that kids will have the potential to access an unlimited amount of knowledge.  In their new library there are 4 brand new computers and they are also getting a Smartboard.  The access of the world will be at their fingertips to learn and grow in knowledge and wisdom.  One little girl said that she was going to be able to read more books than she has ever read before because of this library.

Libraries are not a thing of the past.  I have found with my own children that they prefer to read actual books vs. virtual books.  Actually touching books, holding books, and reading books is not something that is going to disappear in this digital world.  It is only going to increase the access that people have to books.

What do you think of schools like this that are doing everything they can to keep the library alive and well?  Let me know what you think in the comments section.

Do Standardized Tests Create Innovative Thinking?

Do Standardized Tests Create Innovative Thinking?

Image 12-5-13 at 1.32 PM

 This is a great cartoon.  You can double click on it to read it better.  It really does speak the truth today about what is going on in schools.  We have all of these tests and honestly most of them are lame.  Why are they lame, because they don’t give us the information we need in order to effectively instruct our students.

When I was teaching in the classroom I remember the test results coming about 4 months after the kids had taken the test.  By that point the information that I could glean from the test, if I didn’t know that information, then I shouldn’t be teaching in the first place.  I should always know how well my students can perform during certain activities.

This leads me to the second part.  If standardized tests are not useful for teachers who are teaching kids, then maybe they are developing skills that kids need. Nope, they certainly don’t accomplish that either.  We don’t think in A, B, C answer choices.  Which makes this cartoon so funny.

As a student in the elementary, middle school, and high school years I did an absolute horrible job on all of my standardized tests.  I was put into the lowest performing classes and dumbed down to because my brain didn’t know how to process multiple choice test.  However, the most amazing thing happened for me once I got my Master’s degree.  The school that I attended dropped any kind of paper test and only used essay writing to determine what you knew and what you didn’t know.  As a result, I ended up graduating with a 4.0.  Now, I know that not everyone can communicate well through writing, but this fit more with my style to show what I knew.

I was working in the school system when I was getting my Master’s Degree and during that time I learned how to teach kids to take multiple choice tests.  Now, I know that these tests are not going away, so I will share some of the tips regarding multiple choice tests in reading that I have learned.  By the way, I now can do very well on multiple choice tests as a result.

1.  There is always one throwaway answer.

2.  Two answers are always good answers, but only one is the best.

3.  If you are reading a passage, read the questions ahead of time (not the answer choices) to get your brain thinking about what you are going to get tested on.

4.  Go back to the passage and find your answer if you are stuck or not sure of the answer.

5.  Never leave a question blank, always fill in one bubble even if you don’t have time to finish.  You will have a 25% chance of getting it right if you at least fill in one vs. skipping it.

How did you do with multiple choice tests when you were in school?  Does your child struggle with taking them?  What are your thoughts about standardized tests?  I would really love to hear your opinion on the matter.




Birthday Parties Galore and Thanksgiving day Grace

Birthday Parties Galore and Thanksgiving day Grace

So today’s post is going to be a little different than usual.  I love being able to share my family life with all of you, so I am going to talk about the most wonderful things in my life today and that includes my daughters.

Both my oldest and my youngest daughter were born in November and 1 week apart no less.  They are the light of my life, so this time of year it is birthday party central at our house.  I love that I have the freedom to do some pretty special things for my girls when it comes time to celebrating their birthdays.  So this past weekend we got to celebrate my 11 year olds birthday.

My 11 year old is one of those kids that is a camo obsessed Tom Boy, so she is not into anything girly except for arts and crafts projects.  On her birthday I told her we could go shopping at her favorite store Justice, and she could pick out a new outfit.  After spending an hour there, she decided they didn’t have anything that she wanted.  After going to a couple of other stores she said that she didn’t need any clothing.  Then I asked her if she wanted to go to Barnes and Noble to buy a new book.  Her eyes lit up, and we had finally found a winner.

Phew, I hate not buying her a lot for her birthday, but she doesn’t really need a lot.  She would rather have a birthday party sleepover for her friends, so that is usually our present to her.  But this year I had bought a few things for her little sister, whose birthday was one week after hers.  So I wanted to try to make it fair.  She not only picked out one book, but found two others as well.  I love that my kids love to read so much that they would rather books than anything else in the world.  That is pretty cool.  Having people in our lives that care about us and a good book in hand is all this wonderful little girl needs.

So Saturday during the day we went shopping to buy everything we needed for her sleepover.  We decided to take a picture of the group of girls, put the picture on a transfer and iron it to a pillow case.  Here is the picture that we took.

Can you guess which one is the birthday girl?  You guessed it my Tom Boy in the middle being lifted by her friends and her sister.  I look at pictures like this and I photo-3think this is exactly why I have changed my life around.  At the end of the day I care about my children and the reading success of all of my students.  It’s not about politics, whose right, or people’s egos.  It is all about the children and their overall happiness.

While children that struggle with reading can be happy, their self esteem and their self image begin to be affected.  When does this happen, usually around 3rd and 4th grade.  That is why it is so important to catch them up before these grades.

But back to our birthday party galore week.  Mikayla who is in the picture in pink is celebrating her 7th birthday and going to Chuck E’ Cheese with her friends.  She saw her other sister have one of these parties before and decided that this year that was how she wanted to celebrate her birthday.

Not only do we have birthday parties galore going on, but we also have all the other traditional holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Tomorrow morning starts the beginning of the hustle and bustle of Black Friday, but I am pretty much all done with shopping.  I don’t have too many more things that I have to get.  My kids are getting older, and their lists are becoming more expensive and less lengthy.  I am grateful for the wonderful people that we have in our life today, and I am grateful for to watch my own children share in this gratitude.

Today I am so grateful that I was able to be blessed with three amazing girls, a wonderful husband, a healthy mom, and the best students in the world to work with.  Doing what you love really is the secret sauce of living a happy and healthy life.  I am loving every second of it and I am so glad that in less than two months I will be officially rolling out my Tutorpreneur program to teach other teachers how to teach online as well, so they can teach from the comfort of their home and be a mom if they so choose.

What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?


15 Top Ways to Motivate your Child to Read

15 Top Ways to Motivate your Child to Read

In this neverending battle between electronics and books, it can be difficult to motivate our children to read.  I am going to list the most the influential things I have done that motivate my own children to read.

1.  Pick out a book together and read every night before bed.

2.  Just read to your child before they go to bed.

3.  Let them go to the library and pick out books on CD to listen to in the car.

4.  Let them purchase a book from the Scholastic Book fair.

5.  Ask them what books kids are reading in their class that they would be interested in reading.i-flip-flap-184343_640

6.  Look for book trailers on YouTube.  This is just like a movie trailer, but for books.

7.  Be a reader.  The best way to motivate kids to read is for them to see you reading.

8.  Go to rummage sales and pick out some new books.  Kids love getting presents.

9.  Find out where a children’s author will be appearing and take your child.  When you connect a child to an author it changes their perspective on books and really begins to engage them more.

10.  Introduce your child to a new series.

11.  If there is a movie out and it was a book first, have your child read the book before going to the movie.

12.  Start a book swap with other moms in your child’s class. You can write a list of top books that you have that your child has loved and have your child pick a book that they would want to read on the list.  Then everyone swaps.

13.  Immerse your child with books everywhere, in the home, in  your car, on your tech devices.

14.  Listen to author interviews on the internet.

15.  Visit the author’s website.  This is a great place to become familiar with books that your child’s favorite author has written.

You may have a child that you need to throw carrots to once in a while to read.  This means that you need to constantly be thinking of things that you can do versus just tell them to read for their 15 to 30 minutes a night.  If you have a variety of things to try you will continue to motivate and inspire your child to read.  Don’t give up!  If your child is resistant, just keep trying.

West Palm Beach Florida Author Visit

O.k. so I live in Wisconsin and it is an extremely cold day today.  My thermometer said that it was 26 degrees out.  Then I had the awesome opportunity to Skype with  Kindergarten class in West Palm Beach Florida to talk about my book The Three Little Sisters Learn to Get Along.  Do you want to know the gorgeous weather they are having?  It was in the 80′s.

These kindergarten kids were awesome.  Their teacher Ms. Martin does all brain based learning with her students, and I have to say I was extremely impressed. When I used the word dabbled to describe my  writing, Ms. Martin discussed what that word means to increase their vocabulary knowledge.  She already has readers and writers in her classroom, and it is only November.  It is amazing what children can learn at such a young age.

In fact these kids were already using big words to describe the parts of the brain like frontal cortex.  Some people would think they entered into a 7th grade classroom with the things these kids were learning.

I loved that when one of the students asked me how many books I own, I was able to show him one of my bookshelves that was filled to the brim.  When I told him that I had five more that looked just like this he was astounded and told me that he has a lot of books too.  Then I said, “In order to become a writer, you need to read a ton of books.”  The teacher loved this comment so much she had her children become a mirror and repeat that phrase.  She had them repeat it again.  Then she had them teach this phrase to the other kids sitting next to them.  This will definitely be a concept that they will leave from our Skype visit.

I love it.  I love being able to highlight the amazing teachers in our school systems.  There are so many of them, but Ms. Martin certainly stands out as someone on top of the latest research, implementing things that her students will stick to their long term brains, not just to their short term brains.  I can only imagine the conversations that some of these kids have with their parents when they go home for the day.  I bet they don’t look at their parents with that blank look when they get asked what they learned at school today.

Thank you Ms. Martin for inviting me to your class and sharing your extremely bright Kindergarten students with me.  They are a treasure, and you are amazing. Keep up the awesome work.

If you are interested in having me come to your classroom to do a free Skype author visit, then you can contact me at with subject line Author visit.  I would love to meet your students and drive enthusiasm into their lives for reading and writing.

Where Should Libraries be in Schools?

Where Should Libraries be in Schools?

In the library right?  Well, more and more libraries are disappearing in our schools.  Is anybody saddened by this.  I certainly am.  I love books and going to the library gives me a feeling of exhilaration to be around so many awesome books.

In my small town we have two libraries within a 5 mile radius.  We really are blessed.  But not all kids have parents that take them to the library.  I love that in most libraryschools they have a library so that kids can experience the thrill of being in the library.  A place where you can just look for the kinds of books that you want.  Some people get lost and don’t know where to begin.  That is where the smaller version inside of a school is so great.  Kids can learn how to find books in a library, but on a smaller scale.

I worked for a school district that had completely gotten rid of their librarians.  They replaced all of them with aids so that kids could check out books.  In some cases there was still story time, but for the most part any of the other perks like learning how to use the library and learning how to research were placed in the teachers hands.  As if teachers did not have enough responsibilities.

I did an author visit yesterday at a school, and one of the reasons the librarian mentioned that libraries are disappearing is because classrooms are required to have their own libraries.  I bet the people that did research on the value of books in the classroom didn’t realize that people would misinterpret that one and begin getting rid of libraries.

I believe that books should be both in the classroom and in the library.  Getting rid of libraries in the school because there are books in the classroom is as crazy as getting rid of town libraries because people have home libraries.  I completely disagree that either should have to suffer.

Some people will argue that funding is low in schools.  In my opinion, schools that get rid of books in schools should not have funding to begin with.  O.k maybe that is a little drastic, but seriously, how can you operate schools without books?

More and more schools are getting an increase in the amount of technology they have, but this is a whole different form of literacy.  This is called information literacy and it doesn’t replace reading.  I read a study yesterday that talked about how kids are using their laptops or computers and most of them are using them as word processors.  So the bulk of the time that they are on the computer is being spent writing final copies, vs. reading.

I have asked my own children how much time they spend on their computers, and both of them mentioned that even though they have their own computers they lug to and from school, they don’t actually use them a lot during the day. So computers aren’t replacing libraries and classroom libraries can’t replace libraries.

As much as I love schools, some crazy things are happening.  But what I love, even though some of these things are going on, and teachers have little control over it, great teachers are still introducing kids to great books.  Thank goodness we have teachers.  Teachers that no matter what is going on with funding and politics, do an amazing job and give our kids a first class education with what they have.  I know that all good teachers will always give the best education they possibly can.  I just hope that more schools would rethink the idea of getting rid of libraries and do the best that they can to make sure all kids have access to this amazing resource.

Where do you think libraries should be in schools?

Evaluating books – 7th Habit of Highly Effective Readers

Evaluating books – 7th Habit of Highly Effective Readers

Well, it is that time of year again. My kids are off to school, and I am excited to begin writing a brand new book. I will be creating the book through this blog, and you will have free access to all of it’s content here. This book/blog series is called 7 Habits of Highly Effective Readers and will give you information on what you can do to create an avid reader.


This is it.  The very last post in this series.  See how easy it can be to write a book.  I started this in September, and now the rough draft of the book is complete.  It just takes consistent action each day, and it is done in no time at all.

After a highly effective reader has finished a book, they immediately have a response.  They think, hmmm… “Did I like it or not like it?”  How a book ends plays a big-human-65931_640 part in whether someone likes a book or not.  If they don’t like the ending, then they most likely will not like it.

A group of 7th graders were reading the book Monsters by Walter Dean Myers and one girl said, “I have never liked a book that a teacher has suggested before.  This book has been great all the way until the end. I hate that the author ended the book with a question.”  That speaks volumes for how important an ending can be.  The book was great until the last sentence.  This reader doesn’t like to be left hanging, but it is allowing her to discover what she likes and doesn’t like about reading certain books.

Having an opinion about a book isn’t just liking it and not liking it.  It is backing up what you have to say.  Why do you like it?  Which parts did you like?  Which parts didn’t you like?  If you were the author, would you change anything?  If so, what would that be?

Having these opinions about books is pivotal to figuring out your own tastes in reading.  It helps you become a better judge of a book the next time you pick one up.  If you know that you don’t like a certain genre because it has never caught your attention, then you will be less likely to pick that genre up again.  However, if you did like a certain genre, then you may be more likely to pick it up again.

Getting into  the habit of evaluating a book is powerful for a child.  I am going to show you how powerful it can really be.  Remember at the beginning of the book when I mentioned that Goodreads was a good tool?  Well, now we are going to see how it is like Pandora.

Everyone loves Pandora for it’s ability to customize music channels with music you totally love.  Well Goodreads does the same thing for books.  You leave your recommendation for how you felt about a book and then rate it on a scale of 1-5 stars.  Based on your reviews Goodreads will recommend other books.  Here is how the stars break down.

1 star = I hated this book

2 stars = I did not like this book

3 stars = This book was o.k

4 stars = This book was really good

5 stars = I loved this book

Have your child create an account with their e-mail address.  If your child does not have an e-mail address, then you can sign up under an e-mail address that you do not access all the time.  Then your child can become active in the community and begin rating the books that she has read.  She can add just the latest book she has read or have fun with all the books she has read in the past year.

Then she can begin adding her recommendations.  Here is an outline of information to include in a recommendation.

Introduction – List the name of the book, the author, and who you would recommend the book to.

Summary – Give some information about the book.

Assessment – Describe why you liked it?

Conclusion – Why you rated it with the star’s that you gave it?

Recommendations don’t have to be long.  This is a simple formula to follow that can make it an easy task.  It is not a book report, just your overall opinion.

Why is this important for all kids to do?  Well, again it helps them figure out what kinds of books they enjoy reading, and it spreads the love of reading good books to others.

What books have you reviewed lately?

Making Connections: The 7th Habit of Highly Effective Readers

Making Connections: The 7th Habit of Highly Effective Readers

Well, it is that time of year again. My kids are off to school, and I am excited to begin writing a brand new book. I will be creating the book through this blog, and you will have free access to all of it’s content here. This book/blog series is called 7 Habits of Highly Effective Readers and will give you information on what you can do to create an avid reader.


Highly effective readers make 3 kinds of connections when they are reading.  These connections are called text to self, text to text, and text to world.  Any book a child is reading is considered text.  Let’s take a deeper look at what these connections are.

Text to self connections

Text to self connections occurs when a reader is reading something and all of a sudden the student thinks, “Oh, that has happened to me before.”  The reader is connecting on a personal level with what she is reading.  For children where this does not happen as naturally, they need an adult that can ask these kinds of questions.

1.  Has that ever happened to you before?  Tell me about it.

2.  Which character do you feel most like?  Why?

3.  How did you feel when that happened to you?  How do you feel about it now.

Being able to use text to self connections allows a reader to make better predictions about what is going to happen next in the story.  They can think back to their own situation and see if what happens next is similar to what happened to them.

Text to text connections

These connections are all about making connections with other books that the child has read.  The other day I was reading a book in RAZ-Kids, and it had the same pattern as Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle.  Since the child was unfamiliar with Brown Bear, Brown Bear I was able to introduce that book to him as well.  Sometimes books are familiar for the following reasons:

1.  Same pattern

2.  Same author, series, or writing style

3.  Similar plot

4.  Similar book layout

5.  Same genre

By making connections with other books readers are able to learn more about how different genres are written, specific author techniques, and so much more.  It gets the reader thinking beyond just the words that he/she is reading.  This is helpful for developing the difficult skill of inferencing, or what my teachers used to call it, reading between the lines.  Making these kinds of connections are not just right there kinds of connections.  They take a separate approach to being developed.  Here are some suggestions to get kids to begin making connections between books.  Image 11-7-13 at 9.44 AM

1.  Read two similar books

2.  As you are reading the second book guide the reader in making connections between the two books.

3.  Compare the two books using a Venn Diagram.  Where the two circles overlap you can write how the books are similar.  In the outer area of the circle you can put how they are different.


Text to World Connections

These connections are comparing things that are happening in our world currently.  Kids can often be cut off from the realities of the world, and this is the toughest type of connection to make.  A great book to use to teach about homelessness and what that can be like is Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting.  This book talks about a little boy who lives at an airport because his father and himself are homeless.  These kinds of books are helpful with developing compassion in children for them to be aware of other situations that out there.

Schools really focus on presidential elections every four years.  This is a good time to read books about elections, past presidents, and compare and contrast it to what is on going on today.  Again this can also be done a Venn Diagram format.

When kids are connecting with what they are reading, they are thinking.  Reading is all about thinking and engaging with the text.  It is not just accepting at face value what an author says to be the end of the experience.  By making connections we are helping kids to be thoughtful, careful, readers.

Do you notice yourself making connections when you are reading?  How does it effect your reading?





Asking Questions: The 7th Habit of Highly Effective Readers

Asking Questions: The 7th Habit of Highly Effective Readers

Well, it is that time of year again. My kids are off to school, and I am excited to begin writing a brand new book. I will be creating the book through this blog, and you will have free access to all of it’s content here. This book/blog series is called 7 Habits of Highly Effective Readers and will give you information on what you can do to create an avid reader.

Kids ask a lot of questions on a daily basis, right? Well, highly effective readers particularly ask questions when they are reading. When they learn knew things that don’t seem to connect with their prior knowledge, this spawns a question. When they are stuck or confused, then they know how to ask for help. And when they are done reading, they have questions that never got answered from what they read, and they are left with more questions.

Not all readers do this. In fact, many kids don’t even know how to state a question. When you ask them to think of a question based off of the title and the front cover, some kids will give a statement. So, to help these kids out let’s take a look at some strategies that can help them with coming up with questions, even if they don’t know what a question is.

First you need to let the reader know and understand that a question begins with who, what, when, where, why, and how. Don’t try to explain that you can use any word as the first word, because this will confuse them. Also, questions that begin with other words, such as are, can lead to short yes and no question verses higher level questions. For example, are monkey’s found in the Gombe Forest? The only answer we can get from this is, yes.  We want to get our readers to think beyond yes and no questions.

Readers questions can be separated into three different categories.
1. Questions that clarify
2. Questions asked before, during, and after reading

3.  Distracting questions

There is a difference between these types of questions. The first kind of question is the question that a reader asks when she has never heard of a specific word before or she doesn’t know how to pronounce a word. These questions fall under the monitoring for meaning section mentioned in an earlier post.

The second kind of questions are those questions that a reader asks before, during and after reading. A helpful tool that can get kids thinking before, during, and after reading is a question chart like the one posted below.

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When a reader is asking questions before reading a passage, it is not necessary to fill out this entire chart.  This chart is only a guide to get the juices flowing.  Have the child focus on 2 to 3 questions based off of the title or front cover.

While the child is reading, she can write down the answers to her questions on a separate sheet.  This will help guide her with remembering more information while she is reading.

After she is done reading she can ask any other questions that she is wondering about and do research for any of the questions that have not been answered.  In many classrooms around the country kids ask these questions, but teachers don’t make them write down the answers to them.  If a child’s questions are just left hanging without being answered, then they will view this as a useless task and will not rely on this strategy when they are reading independently.

So why should a reader ask questions when she is reading.  Well, it allows the reader to engage with the text.  A reader that is asking questions is more likely to remember what she is reading than a reader that just reads all of the words.

However, there are times when asking questions is not a good thing.  When the questions the child reads are distractors, then they will actually hinder the reading experience vs. enhance it.  Today one of my students read the word chimpanzees as cousins, and then he started asking about where his cousins moved to.  This has nothing to do with what he is reading.  When this happens it is important to point out to the reader that this is a distractor and that it will not help her to understand what she is reading.  Another way to help the child see the difference between a question and a distractor is to ask whether this question will help the reader understand more about her reading or distract her from her reading.  Once she begins to label it as a distractor she is more likely to begin recognizing these kinds of questions when she is reading on her own.

Do you find yourself asking questions when you are reading?