Patricia McCormick visits 11th grade class in Washington Heights

Yesterday, two time National Book nominee Patricia McCormick visited Community Health Academy of the Heights (CHAH) to discuss her book Purple Heart investigative journalism, and interviewing strategies with Mr. Dickhudt and Mr. Waligory’s 11th graders.

In preparation for her visit, the students have been reading both fiction and non-fiction about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including Patricia’s novel; the class is working towards writing their own three page non-fiction accounts of how foreign wars affect life at home.

The visit began with students reflecting on what it was like to re-enter a once-familiar environment after a change in perspective; Patricia then gave some insight about her inspiration to write Purple Heart. She told the story of when she volunteered with the Eyes Wide Open exhibit created by the American Friends Service Committee, which features a pair of empty boots to honor each US military casualty, and shoes to represent Iraqi and Afghan civilian casualties. She was responsible for putting out the shoes, and she described the moment when, in placing a pair of children’s soccer cleats, she saw clearly in her mind’s eye, a young boy is blown up. That image appears in the opening scene of the novel.

After a Q&A, and some pointers from Patricia on interviews, students interviewed one another about their re-entry experiences, and reflected on the kinds of questions that got the best responses.

Mr. Dickhudt told us “The kids were obviously into it.  Patty provided a lot of insight about her writing process and what she was thinking as she interviewed the veterans.  In some poignant questions about specific events in the book, she admitted to the students that she intentionally left certain questions in the book unanswered.  To this, the students smiled and nodded, accepting her honesty and, in many cases, relating to it.  It was a fantastic presentation all around and we’re very happy and enthusiastic that Behind the Book made it happen.”

In the next few days the class will prep for interviews with visiting veterans: reading articles, listening to interviews, and honing their theses. Check back next week to see how it went! If you want to be a part of this program as a writing mentor, email us at

Check it out: Knowing Our Neighborhood, by Ms. Moncada’s 3rd grade class!

Last week we gave our readers a sneak peek at the introduction to our newest student publication, Knowing Our Neighborhood, by Ms. Moncada’s 3rd grade class from PS 376, and today, you can view the book in its entirety, on our website!

"The inside of the store is gold and also the furniture is big and inside is beautiful"

“The inside of the store is gold and also the furniture is big and inside is beautiful”

All of the students in Mrs. Moncada’s class are English Language Learners, but, in conjunction with our academically rigorous programming, My Chinatown author Kam Mak’s incredible ability to draw out the student’s creativity helped them overcome their hesitation. We love seeing the final product because we know that there is something special about a physical book: it is a manifestation of that creativity. Congratulations to everyone, especially our amazing student authors!

"I was  feeling excited because I remember the store when my Dad buys my shoes and boots."

“I was feeling excited because I remember the store when my Dad buys my shoes and boots.”

We’re all authors! BtB students celebrate their first published book

student author, literacy

A student reads his work to author Susanna Pitzer

As author Susanna Pitzer entered the second grade classroom at PS 46 in Fort Greene, the seven year-old students instantly lit up and rushed to give her a warm welcome. Susanna’s book, Not Afraid of Dogs, was the centerpiece of a several part program where students wrote short stories based on their personal experiences with fear. Last week, BtB and PS 46 hosted a publishing party for the class’ finished book: Tales That Make You Afraid to Read.

The eight students in Mr. Braverman’s class have each been diagnosed with a learning disability, however, this obstacle didn’t stop them from producing strikingly creative work.

At the party, each student read their story out loud to the class and displayed their watercolor illustrations. Carli, a bubbly young girl, shared her story about being scared of wolves and how she overcame this fear by letting a wolf lick her hand. Several parents were also in attendance.

Once students shared their stories, Susanna invited the class to autograph all the copies. After all, everyone is an author! We even got our copy autographed!

BtB founder Jo Umans with her signed copy of "Stories That Make You Afraid to Read"

BtB founder Jo Umans with her signed copy of “Stories That Make You Afraid to Read”

To wrap up the party, each student received an personalized card from Susanna showing appreciation for their hard work and creativity. Refreshments, including apple juice and cookies, were enjoyed by all.
BtB is looking forward to our continued partnership with PS 46 and all of the talented young students there! Check out all the photos from the party on our facebook page.
Special thanks to our guest blogger, Steven Pastores from Columbia University and to Kelly Blose, one of the many volunteer book designers who help us create beautiful student books.

Huffington Post Interviews BtB Author Staceyann Chin

Recently, BtB author Staceyann Chin was interviewed by the HuffPost.  Speaking about her motivation to write her critically acclaimed 2009 memoir The Other Side of Paradise, she said:

“I read a lot and I didn’t find that there were a lot of books that told the story that sounded like mine” 

At BtB, we partner with authors to design classroom programs that make books relevant for students. Creating lifelong readers begins when students discover that their lives are reflected in published literature, that their experience is reflected in the experience of others.

Staceyann Chin is one of our favorite authors because of the openness and honesty with which she tells her story; we design our programs to empower students to tell their stories with the same courage that Staceyann brings to all of her work.

Staceyann has collaborated with BtB on two programs based on themes from her memoir: 11th and 12th graders at the Brooklyn Community Arts and Media (BCAM) High School wrote personal narratives and 10th and 11th graders at Harvey Milk High School wrote and performed poetry.

In reflections after the program, students from both classes enthused that the opportunity to meet an author concerned with issues so close to their own lives was illuminating. One BCAM student described her feelings after meeting Staceyann: “It gives you some sort of peace of mind knowing that she grew up, she became somebody.”

Below, you can read selections of poetry inspired by Staceyann’s workshop at Harvey Milk High School and watch the reactions of two students to meeting Staceyann at BCAM.

New Student Book: Knowing Our Neighborhood

We just received a copy of the amazing new book Knowing Our Neighborhood by Ms. Moncada’s 3rd grade class at PS 376! Check out the preface, below, and keep an eye out next week because we’ll be posting excerpts of the beautiful student work.

Kam Mak shared his award-winning book, ‘My Chinatown’, a memoir of growing up in New York City’s Chinatown with third graders in Bushwick, Brooklyn…

On a field trip, the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Chinatown came alive for the children as they explored Kam’s childhood neighborhood. The children visited shops, sampled Chinese candies, feasted on dim sum, and listened to spoken Chinese.

Back in Bushwick, the students walked along Knickerbocker Avenue, using their senses to observe life in their own neighborhood. From the local McDonald’s to a popular park and pizzeria, the students took notes and sketched their own bustling environment while reminiscing about their favorite places.

Through this cross-cultural experience with Kam Mak, the students developed an appreciation of both Chinese culture and their own surroundings. As Kam Mak recorded his life in Chinatown, this book collects the students’ writings and drawings of places in their own neighborhood.

Join us tonight for our monthly reading series!

Tonight is the night! 7pm at KGB bar we’ll be hearing from three incredibly talented young authors: Karen Russell, Stuart Nadler, and Dina Nayeri.

Karen Russell is a Pulitzer-nominated author of Swamplandia! whose third book, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, was just released to glowing critical acclaim, including a feature by the New York Times Book Review; Stuart Nadler, author of Wise Men, was recently named one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for February 2013; and Dina Nayeri’s first novel, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, was also released last week. We’ll see you tonight!

Happy President’s Day!

This President’s Day, check out the work of on of our favorite partner authors Doreen Rappaport! Today, we’ll be re-reading some of our favorite biographies of US Presidents and First Ladies: Jack’s Path of Courage, Abe’s Honest Words, and Eleanor, Quiet No More.

One reason we love working with Doreen is the generosity with which she shares her writing process with students. While she was writing Jack’s Path of Courage, she gave a class of 5th graders from CS 21 an opportunity to read, critique, and offer suggestions on her manuscript. We’ve included Ty Teanna’s, after the jump.