Author Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Happy, happy Friday, everyone! As you most likely already know by now, every Friday I invite an individual who believes in the power of children's books to finish my sentences. This week's guest is author and librarian Natalie Dias Lorenzi.  I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Natalie! 

Flying the Dragon tells the story of Skye, a soccer-loving American girl who has finally made the all-star soccer team, and her cousin, Hiroshi, who lives half-way around the world in Japan. Hiroshi is finally allowed to enter the local rokkaku (kite-fighting) contest as a flier, while Grandfather, fellow kite-fighter and Hiroshi’s best friend, will be his assistant. But before any kite battles or all-star soccer practices, Hiroshi’s family decides to move to America when Grandfather becomes ill. In order to help the grandfather whom she has never met, Skye will have to take a Japanese-language course on Saturdays, which means losing her place on the all-star soccer team. Hiroshi has to struggle through learning a new language and a new culture. The cousins struggle with change, their language barrier, and a rivalry for their grandfather's affection, but training for an upcoming rokkaku kite battle in Washington DC brings them together and helps them find the strength and courage to overcome new obstacles.

Kelly Murphy’s cover illustration could have depicted a giraffe driving a fire truck, and I would have been happy. Kelly’s art is amazing. You can read an interview here that author and friend Lynda Mullaly Hunt did with Kelly when my book was released, and a post I wrote here about my first (and second) reactions to finding out the news that Kelly would be doing the cover for Flying the Dragon.

Skype and in-person visits feel a lot like my day job, which is why I love them so much. My very first visit was back in January, and I didn’t sleep very well the night before because I was worried—would the kids think I was boring? Would they start throwing things? Would the teachers be grading papers during my presentation, oblivious to any back-of-the-room mayhem? And would I have giant bags under my eyes from not sleeping well the night before?? Once I was introduced to the kids and I started talking, though, it felt exactly like teaching. And then I wasn’t nervous at all; I had a ball.

”Rising to the Global Challenge: Literature as a Tool for Creating World Citizens” is irrefutable proof that Mr. Schu does his homework when he invites authors to finish his sentences! It’s also the name of a panel that a group of middle grade authors (including yours truly) will be presenting this November at the Fall AASL conference in Connecticut.

If you visited my school library you would know more about it than I do, because I haven’t seen it yet! I’ve taught at the same school for the past five years—three years as a full-time ESL teacher, and two years as part-time ESL teacher and part-time librarian. Just a few weeks ago, I accepted a full-time librarian position at a school much closer to my house (10 minutes away instead of 40). Even though I interviewed at the new school, I didn’t get to see the library because there was another interview scheduled right after mine.  

BUT...if you’d visited my other school library, you would have seen a whole section of shelves with books in foreign languages because of the school’s 1,000+ students, almost 40 different languages are spoken by children from over 50 countries. With an immigrant population of 88% and over 70% of those kids in the ESL program, you might also notice our substantial “Quick Reads” section, which are the hi-lo readers—books that appeal to upper elementary kids who read two, three, or more years below grade level. Our graphic novels section is also a huge hit; you probably wouldn’t see many of them on the shelves, but on the returns cart where they’ll be snatched up by the next class that walks in the door.

Reading is connecting. Cultures with oral storytelling traditions used stories to connect the newest generation to generations past. Readers today connect with characters on the page, and we connect with each other every time we pass a book along to a friend and say, “Drop everything and read this. Now. Seriously.”

As a librarian, I feel like I’m hand-selling books every day (sans money, of course). With over a thousand students at our school, I’ll admit that I don’t know every kid’s name. But I know what kind of books they like. When a kids walks in the door, I might not be able to greet him or her by name, but I will say something like, “Guess what? The next Bone book just came in and I saved it for you,” or “How’d you like that ocean book? I’ve got one on sharks that you might be interested in.” As teachers, we know that making connections improves comprehension. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? I tell my students that my job is to help them find the book that puts them in “the zone,” where they lose track of whatever is going on around them and follow a character into another world.

I had a 5th grade student this past year who was a good reader, but didn’t like to read. I kept making one suggestion after the other, until he finally connected with Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet graphic novel series. His teacher later told me that he was reading it at lunch and kept reading as he followed the class out to recess. He parked himself at the top of the slide and didn’t even hear when his teacher called the class to line up. With lots of classes on the playground, she didn’t realize he was missing until she got back to the classroom. When she sent two students to find him, he was still at the top of that slide reading. Later he came to find me in the library to tell me what happened and said, “Mrs. Lorenzi, now I know what you were talking about when you told us about being in the zone.” We high-fived and then he went off to get the next Amulet book. Best moment of the year for me.
Visit Natalie's website. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if I’ve ever made a fool of myself while living in Japan. The answer: Yes, and often.  My worst gaffe involved offending people with chopsticks. Once when I couldn’t grasp a piece of slippery food, I stabbed it with a chopstick and started to raise it to my mouth. The Japanese people at my table actually gasped. Apparently, stabbing things with chopsticks is only done after a person has been cremated, and, stabbable bits left over are reverently placed into a special container. Oops. 

I am giving away a copy of Flying the Dragon

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 7/26 to 11:59 P.M. on 7/28. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

Borrow Flying the Dragon from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


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