Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wednesday, May 20, 2015: Dedicated Issue: Brightly

Editors' Note


With the support of the publisher, Shelf Awareness looks at Brightly, a new online resource devoted to helping parents who want to raise lifelong readers.

Launched in partnership with Penguin Random House, Brightly features book recommendations from all publishers for every age and stage, reading tips and insights, seasonal inspirations, author essays, contests, gift guides and more.

Random House: Brightly

Books & Authors

The Right Book at the Right Time

Brightly co-founder Christine McNamara (r.) and content director Liz Kotin.

Brightly is a new online resource "devoted to helping parents who want to raise lifelong readers," according to co-founder Christine McNamara. "It's a lifestyle website and newsletter dedicated to children and reading." McNamara co-founded Brightly with Amanda Close. They also recommend a few titles for grown-ups and a generous amount of parenting tips. Their goal is to provide parents with "inspiration around creating a reading life for their families and helping just about anyone find the right book for the right kid at the right time," said McNamara. We spoke with McNamara and Liz Kotin, Brightly's content director, about the inspiration behind the site, the voices that inform it, and what readers can expect to find there.

What inspired you to launch Brightly?

Christine McNamara: The age-old question, "What should I read next?" changes when you become a parent--"What should my child be reading next?"--and, frankly, dozens more questions before and after that one. The inspiration for Brightly came from the realization that although my co-founder, Amanda Close, and I have spent our lives working in publishing, we actually have very little pragmatic knowledge about the best books for our kids at each age and stage. Before we were parents, we needed help finding the right books for the kids in our lives. Now that we're parents, we need even more help finding the right books for our children. The more we talked to others, the more it became clear that they also wanted practical guidance finding books for their own children and grandchildren.

How did you come up with the name "Brightly"?

CM: We chose Brightly as our name because we believe reading has the power to illuminate kids' lives. Reading is a window to the world and leads to bright futures. When we think of young book lovers, the image that pops into our heads is that of a child reading under the covers at bedtime with a flashlight.

What can readers expect to find on Brightly?

Liz Kotin: On Brightly, you'll find book recommendations for every age and stage of reader--from toddlers to teens to grown-ups. You'll see essays from authors, insights from illustrators, tips and advice on raising readers, seasonal inspirations, and more.

Whether you have a third-grader looking for his next read, a preschooler obsessed with dinosaurs, a teen delving into more intense topics, or a middle-schooler who's not so talkative about books, we hope you'll find information that's helpful and relevant to your family.

Tell us about some of the voices on Brightly.

LK: Our regular contributors are teachers, librarians, authors, book bloggers and journalists. They're lifelong book lovers, and many of them are also parents. They draw upon their reading, learning and literature insights, and also their parental insights, which gives the pieces an expertise and a kind of road-tested realness.

In addition to pieces from our regular contributors, readers will see original pieces from authors, guest posts from bloggers, and articles from partners such as Common Sense Media, Fatherly and GeekDad. You can learn more about our contributors here.

What are some of your favorite pieces that you've run?

LK: That's a tough one to answer! We publish new content daily, so there's often a new favorite. Some of the pieces I've really enjoyed include How to Diversify Your Child's Bookshelves; one of the very first pieces we published, What Reading Means to Me, which is a poignant personal essay on how reading shapes our sense of self; an entertaining roundup of Legitimately Funny Read-Aloud Books that are guaranteed to produce some giggles; and a piece full of great insights on The Importance of Reading Aloud to Big Kids.

CM: I have so many favorites, both for sharing with friends or, more selfishly, helping me find books for my toddler--like Tougher Than Your Toddler: Robust Lift the Flap Books, which my dad, in his best spoiling-grandparent-mode, wanted to buy all of for my daughter. I really love 10 Reasons Why Kids Need to Read Non-Disney Fairy Tales because I believe it's so important to explore various styles of storytelling and myth with kids of all ages. Leigh Ann Henion, author of Phenomenal, wrote us a great piece, Little House on the Prairie: The Next Generation, about reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books with her sons and how welcome the pioneer perspective is for many modern kids. And my most recent favorite mom-giggle to share is Help! 'Free-Range' Parenting Is Spreading to Picture Books. The whole conversation around "free-range" parenting is ripe for the parodying, but that said, I don't know if I'll ever read Blueberries for Sal the same way again!

What kind of responses have you received thus far?

CM: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We'd had a great deal of supportive feedback from our readership, and our audience is sharing ideas for content and coverage they'd like to see. We welcome all the dialogue and conversation, so if you see something, say something! Contact us on social or at

How do I sign up?

CM: Visit us at and click "Subscribe" in the upper right-hand corner. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.  --Jennifer M. Brown

How We Talk (or Don’t Talk) About Diversity When We Read with Our Kids

Authors of children's and teen books are among the contributors at Brightly. Matt de la Pa is the author of five critically acclaimed young adult novels: Ball Don't Lie; Mexican WhiteBoy; We Were Here; I Will Save You; and The Living. He's also the author of the picture books Last Stop on Market Street and the award-winning A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis. De la Peña is on the advisory committee of We Need Diverse Books and teaches creative writing and visits schools and colleges throughout the country. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

I still remember the concerned look on my mom's face as we stood together in the doll aisle at Toys "R" Us. "What am I supposed to do now?" she said under her breath.

I shrugged.

I was just a freshman in high school, and I didn't want to be there. But before my mom would drop me off at the gym, so I could play ball with the fellas, I had to accompany her to the toy store to help pick out a gift for my youngest sister.

It's important to note that my working class folks didn't have a whole lot of disposable income when I was a kid. We'd wake up most Christmas mornings to find one wrapped gift each tucked under the tree. Some years it was socks. Other years--the good years!--it was a plastic skateboard, or a Barbie Corvette, or an Easy Bake Oven. That year my sis happened to be obsessed with Cabbage Patch Kids. Which were expensive. And hard to find. But my mom was determined to make it happen. She called stores all around the city until she found the one place that still had them in stock.

The problem?

By the time we got to Toys "R" Us, they only had three left. And none of them looked like my sis.

We're mixed kids. Half Mexican, half white. Back then you never found "mixed" dolls, so my mom would opt for the "Latino" doll, or, more commonly, the white doll. But here she was, staring down at three African American Cabbage Patch Kids.

After another minute of hemming and hawing she lifted one of the black dolls off the rack, paid for it with credit, wrapped it in shiny candy cane paper, and tucked it under the tree between the gift for me and the gift for my middle sister. When my youngest sis tore open her present that Christmas morning she jumped up and down and spun around in circles clutching her very own Cabbage Patch Kid tightly against her chest, chanting, "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!"

There weren't any deep, race-related discussions that Christmas morning. My mom didn't sit my sis down and use it as some kind of teachable moment. It was simpler than that. It was just an excited little girl and her new doll.

As a new parent (I have a 10-month-old baby girl!) I've recently discovered a fascinating phenomenon. Whenever my daughter falls and bumps her head, or coughs up a mouthful of sweet potato, she looks to me or my wife before reacting. If we remain calm, she remains calm (most of the time). Conversely, if we freak out, she freaks out.

Lately I've been wondering if this phenomenon holds true in other contexts as well. Like with dolls. Or making new friends at the park. Or... literature.

Maybe kids look to us (parents, teachers, librarians) before deciding how to frame a new book they've just encountered. If we make a big deal about the differences between the young reader and the characters in the story, isn't the story more likely to be viewed as "other" in the child's mind? If we focus on the narrative instead, and on the journey of the characters, maybe a young reader's attention will remain here, too. At least in the short term.

This is my current approach to writing. I still strive to write books featuring diverse characters, but I now try to place them in stories that have nothing to do with diversity, not overtly anyway. Last Stop on Market Street is an example of this new approach. CJ and his grandma are African American, but the story is about a colorful bus ride through a bustling city. It's about a boy's relationship with his amazing grandma. It's about seeing the beautiful in the world and the power of service. My dream is for the book to be read by (and read to) kids of all races. I didn't set out to write a book that would spark race-related conversation; I wanted to take readers on a fun ride with two special characters.

Don't get me wrong, my little sis did eventually ask my mom about the skin color of her Cabbage Patch Kid. It was almost a year later. By then the doll was my sister's best friend. The point is, my sister arrived at her questions on her own. Some readers of Last Stop may eventually ask questions, too. In no way am I saying these conversations should be avoided. I'm saying these conversations don't have to be the focus. I'm saying it's worth considering how we consciously or unconsciously frame "diverse" stories to the little guys. --Matt de la Peña

Read this article at Brightly.

5 Tips for Reading Aloud to More Than One Child

Librarians and educators frequently offer tips to parents on Brightly. In her pre-child life, Janssen Bradshaw was an elementary school librarian. Now she stays home with her three girls and is constantly maxing out her library card with picture books, cookbooks and young adult novels. She's anxiously counting down the days until her girls are old enough to read the Little House on the Prairie books. You can find Janssen on her blog, Everyday Reading, where she celebrates modern motherhood with a practical twist.

When you have one child, reading aloud is pretty easy.

You pick the books you think your child will like and that are at the appropriate reading level, and you're off.

But when you add another child or two to the mix, things get a little tricky.

Do you pick books for the reading level of your oldest child? Your youngest? Somewhere in the middle?

Here are some ways to make sure everyone can enjoy reading together.

1. Always keep picture books as part of the mix. Just because your older children can read longer books doesn't mean they can't still benefit from picture books. Picture books often have great vocabulary and interesting topics for everyone to discuss.

2. Alternate who chooses the books. When I read to both of my girls, I let them each pick one book and we read them both. Then they each choose another one and we do those, too. They're happy to sit through each other's books because they know theirs is coming. Plus, it exposes them to books they might not have selected themselves.

3. Let the older child read to the younger ones. If your older child can read, let them practice reading to their younger siblings. Those little siblings won't be critical of their reading abilities and the older one will love feeling grown up (plus, it gives you a chance to make dinner or shower!).

4. Let them do something with their hands while you read aloud. This is especially great for younger children who may not be able to follow a longer book perfectly. Let them play with stickers or Legos or color while you read aloud. You'll probably be surprised by how much they pick up!

5. Don't force it. You don't want reading to be something that your child resents. If the younger one wants to wander off or an older child is bored, don't force them to stay and participate. Try again another day, with another book. --Janssen Bradshaw

Read this article at Brightly.

10 Literary Characters Tween and Teen Girls Can Look Up To

Parents who double as educators often develop recommended reading lists for Brightly. Melissa Taylor is a teacher, mother and writer from Colorado. Her goal in childhood was to read every book in the children's section of the library. She loves (in no particular order) children's books, her Kindle, Pinterest and knitting rectangles. An education expert, she's written for many publications, including, USA Today Health and Scholastic Parent and Child.

You're likely already acquainted with famously strong female characters like Katniss, Hermione, and the Paper Bag Princess, but there are many more that are worthy of celebration and admiration. Whether physically, emotionally, or intellectually strong, these are female characters who don't conform to stereotypes, who struggle and suffer, and who show young readers the power of perseverance and pluck.

1. Flora (Flora & Ulysses)
Flora isn't afraid to see her parents as human beings. And she's determined to protect her talking squirrel friend Ulysses from her mother's "malfeasance." Who can resist Flora's independent spirit and acceptance of all things Ulysses!?

2. Liesel (The Book Thief)
It's wartime in Europe. Liesel wants to read, so much so that she steals books, even though books are banned. We watch her struggle, persevere, and grow into a mature girl with strong friendships and a strong sense of justice.

3. Cimorene (Dealing with Dragons)
Self-sufficient and intelligent Princess Cimorene is fed up with princess life. She leaves home to work for a dragon instead. And no, Cimorene doesn't want a prince to rescue her; she likes working for her dragon just fine, thank you very much. Cimorene shows us to follow your heart, even if it defies conventions.

4. Stargirl (Stargirl)
This is one of my favorite characters and books of all time. Stargirl's been homeschooled until tenth grade. Her uniqueness shocks her classmates--she plays ukelele, cheers for every football team, and is (gasp!) nice to everyone. When she's shunned, in typical high school fashion, she tries to remake herself to fit in. But that doesn't work and Stargirl returns to the person we love--an individual who knows herself, even if she doesn't fit the "norm."

5. Éowyn (The Lord of the Rings)
One of the few females in the trilogy, Éowyn, a beautiful Royal, is a fierce fighter. She kills the Witch-king in battle and voices some of my favorite feminist dialogue. The king doesn't believe he can be killed and says to her, "No living man may hinder me," to which Éowyn replies, "No living man am I! You look upon a woman," and kills him. Take that, Witch-king!

6. Rapunzel (Rapunzel's Revenge)
Rapunzel escapes her tower to right the wrongs perpetrated by her mother/capturer. She uses her long braids as lassos, has a male sidekick, and courageously seeks answers about her past. She kicks butt and serves out justice, Wild-West style.

7. Willow (Counting By 7s)
Your heart will break with Willow's as she struggles with the sudden death of her parents while trying to find a new home. One thing you'll see is that Willow is confused and heartbroken, but she's not broken. In fact, Willow is remarkably resilient; her emotional strength is profoundly moving. This a story, and a character, that will stay with you.

8. Deza (The Mighty Miss Malone)
Deza is a smart girl who loves learning. She's also a survivor--a survivor of prejudice, poverty, and family troubles. Her strength lies in her ability to persevere and her strong relationship with her family.

9. Puck (The Scorpio Races)
To save her family home, orphan Puck must learn to ride the water horses (a feat in itself since they eat human flesh and try to drown their riders), enter the island's Scorpio Races, and win the monetary prize. Seems like a lot, right? But Puck is focused and determined. You'll admire Puck for her courage and passionate pursuit of her goal.

10. Sabriel (The Abhorsen Trilogy)
Sabriel is a necromancer like her father, and now it's up to her to cross into the Old Kingdom to find him while battling the Dead and navigating other dangers. She's smart, loyal, and fearless. Sabriel is a female character whose epic journey you won't want to put down. She's amazing, as is this trilogy. --Melissa Taylor

Read this article at Brightly.

Random House: Brightly Home Joy

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