Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A New Anna Alter Release... Spelling Books... AND A Giveaway!!!

No... this post isn't about your elementary/middle school instructional spelling book! It's way better than that! Today is the National Spelling Bee Finals... so I'm featuring books related to spelling bees!

Anna Alter has a new book that was released in late April, Abigail Spells.

Alter, Anna.
Abigail Spells.
Random House Children's Books.

This is a sweet book about friendship that takes precedence over all else! Abigail and her friend George do everything together - dancing and playing musical instruments, painting, telling/listening to stories.

The only difference between the two is that Abigail loves spelling and George doesn't. Abigail spells everything... "b-r-u-s-h" when she's brushing her teeth, "n-i-g-h-t" when she's saying good-night, and even "c-a-r-r-o-t" when she finds one in her lunch box! When she discovers a sign posted about a spelling bee, Abigail can't wait to enter. George even helps her practice, just like a true friend would! However, when Abigail gets up on stage, she learns that there's more to a spelling bee than just spelling words... there's a whole audience out there watching her. Abigail suddenly freezes, overcome with some stage fright that results in her inability to focus on the word at hand, ending with her misspelling "elephant" with an "f" instead of "ph."

She's embarrassed and it affects her for days... George comes to the rescue though, telling Abigail a sweet story about a bear who's worried about his friend, a bird, who's the best speller he'd ever met... Abigail understands the purpose for his story and realizes that George is still her friend even though she didn't win the spelling bee!

This is definitely a book to share with children of all ages who are experiencing a bit of stage fright, as it teaches an important lesson... just because you didn't win, you still have a lot of people supporting you!

And a word from Anna, to her readers...
Abigail Spells is a book I have been working on for several years. When I first dreamed up the idea, I wanted to make a book about how a kid might experience stage fright. As a shy kid I was terrified of standing up in front of a crowd, and I knew from my years teaching that many other kids experience the same thing.

I also wanted to make a book that would get kids excited about spelling. It was certainly not my strongest subject in schook, but I was enchanted by the movie Spellbound, and even attended a spelling bee in my neighborhood while researching the book. The excitement and enthusiasm of the kids was riveting. Watching as the stage became less and less crowded with competitors, everyone in the audience held their breath hoping for each kid to spell their word correctly. When one by one they walked off the stage my heart went out to them.

When these two ideas merged, I had the first draft for Abigail Spells. Like most of my books, it is not about the main character "winning." For me, it is more important to tell stories that show how it is possible to cope with things not going your way, to emphasize the value of trying despite the outcome. I wanted to reinforce that winning isn't everything, and that a good friend can help up to get through just about anything.

Now that the book is at last on bookshelves, I hope that kids will get those messages loud and clear and have fun reading Abigail's story. I've put together a web site (, where readers and educators alike can go to expand on the themes in the book. There you will find a curriculum guide, activity and coloring sheets to download, and fun spelling video games kids can play. I hope these tools, and of course the book, will help inspire young spellers everywhere!
Some other great spelling bee-related books:

Scott, Ann Herbert.
Brave as a Mountain Lion.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Spider is in trouble. He scored 100% on his spelling test and now his teacher wants him to compete in the spelling bee and Spider is dealing with a big case of stage fright - he doesn't want everyone up there looking at him. Noticing Spider's fears, his family works to put his mind at ease,
"Dad, were you ever in a spelling bee?" he asked.
"As a matter of fact, I was."
"Were you scared?"
"I was very scared. I didn't even want to do it. But then my father told me to pretend I was a brave animal, the strongest, bravest animal I could think of. Then I wasn't afraid any more."
Spider decided to take his father's advice - trying to be brave as a mountain lion. Being brave as a mountain lion wasn't enough though, so he enlisted the help of his grandmother.
"Grandma, were you ever in a spelling bee?"
"No, I never was," his grandmother answered. "Are you thinking much about it?"
"All the time," said Spider.
"What's the worst part?"
"Being up on the stage with all the people looking at you."
"Oh, that's easy," said his grandmother. "You can be clever. Clever as a coyote. The coyote always has some trick to help him out of trouble. When you're up there on the stage, you don't have to look at the people. You can turn your back on them and pretend they aren't even there."
Vowing to be brave as a mountain lion and clever as a coyote, Spider heads off to bed. But, upon arriving outside of the gym the next day, he discovers he still isn't comfortable competing in the spelling bee. At home later, his brother Will gives him more advice.
Will nodded. "I remember those spelling bees."
"Were you afraid?" asked Spider.
"I was scared silly," said Will. "I was so scared I was afraid I'd wet my pants. Then I learned the secret."
"What's the secret?" asked Spider.
"To be silent."
"Silent?" asked Spider. "What does that do?"
"It keeps you cool. When I have a hard shot to make and the whole team depends on me, that's when I get very silent."
When he combines the advice of three of his family members, he finally has the courage to compete in the bee, and even though he doesn't win the bee, he realizes he was a winner on his own, for he wasn't even afraid up on stage!

This is a wonderful book to teach children to have the courage to try something they're afraid of and that even if they don't win, they'll be a winner in their own sense of the word, as they're facing one of their fears and standing up to prove to themselves that they have the power to be strong!

McDonald, Janet.
Penguin Group (USA).

Raven is a "project girl," growing up in the Projects of Brooklyn. All her life she's been planning for her senior year of high school... putting money down on the class ring... her graduation cap and gown. Her dreams are put on the back burner when she unexpectedly becomes a mom at the tender age of sixteen. Suddenly, she has to drop out of school, get herself on welfare and sign up for food stamps. When she goes is forced to go out and try to get a job, she's met with the reaction,
"I'm sorry, miss, every applicant must hold a high school diploma. We won't be able to process your application further. Thank you for your interest in National and have a nice day."
Rather than allowing herself to succumb to defeat, Raven takes her sister's advice and applies for Spell Success program which will offer one person the chance to attend a summer prep program for college and then reward them with a full-ride scholarship to attend! Even though she's never been a speller, Raven devotes all of her extra energy to studying all of the words she doesn't know in hopes of winning the spelling bee so she can make something of her life,- land a real job and get herself and Smokey (her son) an apartment in Manhattan. Her hard work pays off, as Raven becomes the recipient of the full-ride scholarship.

This book was very moving. It's not very often that I've read young-adult literature that really allows you to feel as though you're walking along side the character. This novel definitely allows readers that opportunity. I also feel that this book gives a somewhat accurate portrayal of life for "Project Girls" who are dealing with unexpected motherhood when they're little more than children themselves - living at home with parents, dropped by the baby's father, supported on public assistance alone... I believe that this book would inspire teenage mothers to fight for their dreams and find a way to make them come true - to show them that their life is not over and that they still have a chance to make something of their lives - they're not only living for themselves now, but have a child to think about as well... all the more reason to make a name for themselves!

AND now, for the giveaway!!!

Thanks to Random House and Anna Alter, 3, that's right... 3 lucky readers will be receiving a copy of Anna's latest book, Abigail Spells! You've got to work for this one though!
  1. Head over to the Abigail Spells website and check out all the cool resources Anna has provided us with!
  2. As a parent, you're most definitely a teacher! As a teacher, you're probably always looking for different activities to use with literature! If you're reading this post and hoping to win a copy for the kids (either your own or the classroom full of them), browse through the activities Anna has provided and choose your favorite (one you can see yourself using alongside the book with the kids).
  3. To enter the drawing, leave a comment (making SURE to include your e-mail address so I can contact you if you win) about which activity is your favorite.
You have until 11:59pm EST on Friday, June 5th to enter in the giveaway! Winners will be contacted via e-mail!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to


style='clear: both;' Z-Kids said...

Our kids have the hardest time with spelling -- afraid they get that from me. I love the idea of creating their own spelling dictionary! I see us plugging in words they frequently have trouble with. I think they'd have tons of fun, and not even realize how educational it is...
(zenzart at hotmail dot com)

style='clear: both;' Corey Schwartz said...

My favorite is the Alphabetizing activity. My daughter is at the perfect stage for this book. We'd love to win a copy.

style='clear: both;' KR said...

I teach kindergarten and yes, we do have spelling tests after Christmas!! I love the spelling journal activity.


style='clear: both;' Pam said...

The spelling ABC's activity sounds like fun but I think the picture dictionary is more appropriate for my son at the moment.

melacan at hotmail dto com

style='clear: both;' Renee G said...

I love the ideas activities --especially creating a picture dictionary. What a great idea.

style='clear: both;' AJ and Adam said...

I love the picture dictionary idea. I've been working on making one with my son for a while now! amy_stanislawski at