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From May 20 to 27, 2018, Marta Albert and Carolyn Stone of the Literacy Program led a short-term travel course with seven students, three alumni, and two additional faculty (Deborah Conrad and Tina Bush) to Finland and Sweden through EF College Study Tours. Prior to travel, the course itself required research and preparation. The three goals of the course were to: introduce students to current literacy educational programs of Finland and Sweden; identify values, approaches, and conditions that have shaped each nation’s formal and informal educational structures for children and youth; and, to compare current educational programs in Finland/Sweden to those in the United States.

Students conducted extensive research about Finnish and Swedish teaching styles leading up to the trip. One of the required readings, Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms by Timothy Walker, helped to frame the course. After they arrived in Finland, the group met Walker, an educator from Boston who now lives and teaches in the country. This was an exciting and fulfilling experience, as he reinforced what the students had read about, and also reminded all that we CAN be joyful in our classrooms!

For one traveler, meeting Walker was the highlight of the trip. “He was able to tell us the differences between teaching in the United States and Finland and it was just really interesting to be able to talk to him. He was there for us to ask questions, to further our intellectual knowledge of the Finnish school system.”

Deborah Conrad & Carolyn Stone Meeting Timothy Walker

Another terrific outcome of the meeting with Timothy Walker in Helsinki, Finland was the opportunity to chat with him about our Journey Into Literacy conferences at SUNY Potsdam. We (Carolyn and Deb) personally invited him in 2018, and he will be here at JIL on October 24, 2019. Make sure to attend his workshops and keynote and have your personal copy of Teach Like Finland signed by the author!

Need a copy of his book? Buy one HERE

By Carolyn Stone, JIL Committee Member

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  • Writer's pictureJIL

Elizabeth Zunon’s art begs to be examined carefully. In her picture books and picture book biographies, she combines paint and collage to bring her subjects to life, from singer Lena Horne to Barack Obama. With an artist’s eye for the right materials, she works with fabric, photographs, textured papers, and even plastic bags to create illustrations that seem to glow from within.

My first look at Liz’s work was the picture book biography One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, written by Miranda Paul. Ceesay started a women’s cooperative to turn discarded plastic shopping bags into woven purses. The women earned enough by selling the bags to open a center where they take classes in business and learn new skills. Liz’s collage technique was a natural fit for this story, in which plastic bags themselves tell the story of pollution, innovation, and hope.

Perhaps her best-known work is the picture book version of William Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, written with Bryan Mealer. Kamkwamba brought power to his village in rural Malawi by teaching himself the principles of electricity and building wind turbines from material he found in scrap yards. Again, this was the perfect project for Liz, whose paper and oil paint collages lend depth and texture to the landscape, people, and the young William’s engineering projects. Interesting to note: Kamkwamba himself visited Clarkson in 2016 to deliver the Van Sickle Endowed Lecture.

As soon as I joined the Journey into Literacy committee, I knew I wanted to invite Liz to speak, having seen her presentation at a regional conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Not only was it fascinating to learn about her creative process and how she conducts school visits, but her connection with students was evident. We’re lucky to have Liz come and speak to us and co-lead a workshop for schoolchildren with one of our other guest authors, Steve Sheinkin. Don’t miss her--Liz’s books are like mentor texts for student art projects!

Guest Blogger, Local Author & Committee Member: Rebecca Donnelly

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  • Writer's pictureJIL

Updated: Mar 7, 2019

We’ve got a superstar line-up of authors & presenters for the upcoming 2019 conference. While we wait for the glorious day of meeting them all in person, you can (and should!) check out their marvelous reads. What are they you ask? You've come to the right place for your answer. Be prepared to shop your favorite store or site for their work, pour yourself another coffee, and find that coveted reading nook because these speakers will have you all kinds of excited after you start turning the pages of their work!

We've got a sampling of every speaker for your reading pleasure. (You're welcome!)

Steve Sheinkin


In December of 1938, a chemist in a German laboratory made a shocking discovery: When placed next to radioactive material, a Uranium atom split in two. That simple discovery launched a scientific race that spanned three continents. This is the story of the plotting, the risk-taking, the deceit, and genius that created the world’s most formidable weapon. This is the story of the atomic bomb.

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

When superstar athlete Jim Thorpe and football legend Pop Warner met in 1904 at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, they forged one of the winningest teams in American football history. Called “the team that invented football,” they took on the best opponents of their day, defeating much more privileged schools such as Harvard and the Army in a series of breathtakingly close calls, genius plays, and bone-crushing hard work.

Elizabeth Zunon

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

When fourteen-year-old William Kamkwamba’s Malawi village was hit by a drought, everyone’s crops began to fail. Without enough money for food, let alone school, William spent his days in the library... and figured out how to bring electricity to his village. Persevering against the odds, William built a functioning windmill out of junkyard scraps, and thus became the local hero who harnessed the wind. 

Lyrically told and gloriously illustrated, this story will inspire many as it shows how - even in the worst of times - a great idea and a lot of hard work can still rock the world.

Grandpa Cacao: A Tall of Chocolate, From Farm to Family

This beautifully illustrated story connects past and present as a girl bakes a chocolate cake with her father and learns about her grandfather harvesting cacao beans in West Africa.

Chocolate is the perfect treat, everywhere! 

As a little girl and her father bake her birthday cake together, Daddy tells the story of her Grandpa Cacao, a farmer from the Ivory Coast in West Africa. In a land where elephants roam and the air is hot and damp, Grandpa Cacao worked in his village to harvest cacao, the most important ingredient in chocolate. "Chocolate is a gift to you from Grandpa Cacao," Daddy says. "We can only enjoy chocolate treats thanks to farmers like him." Once the cake is baked, it's ready to eat, but this isn't her only birthday present. There's a special surprise waiting at the front door . . .

Susan Roth

Do Re Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido D'ArezzoIf

you can read musical notes, you can sing any song or play any piece. But musical notes have not always been here. Long ago, songs were memorized. If songs were forgotten, they were lost forever. Thanks to one man, Guido d’Arezzo, music now can last forever.

Parrots Over Puerto Rico

Above the treetops of Puerto Rico flies a flock of parrots as green as their island home. . . . These are Puerto Rican parrots. They lived on this island for millions of years, and then they nearly vanished from the earth forever.

Puerto Rican parrots, once abundant, came perilously close to extinction in the 1960s due to centuries of foreign exploration and occupation, development, and habitat destruction. In this compelling book, Roth and Trumbore recount the efforts of the scientists of the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program to save the parrots and ensure their future. Woven into the parrots’ story is a brief history of Puerto Rico itself, from before the first human settlers to the present day.

With striking collage illustrations, a unique format, and engaging storytelling, PARROTS OVER PUERTO RICO invites readers to witness the amazing recovery efforts that have enabled Puerto Rican parrots to fly over their island once again

Timothy Walker

Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms

Easy-to-implement classroom lessons from the world’s premier educational system.

Finland shocked the world when its fifteen-year-olds scored highest on the first Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a set of tests touted for evaluating critical-thinking skills in math, science, and reading. That was in 2001; but even today, this tiny Nordic nation continues to amaze. How does Finnish education―with short school days, light homework loads, and little standardized testing―produce students who match the PISA scores of high-powered, stressed-out kids in Asia?

When Timothy D. Walker started teaching fifth graders at a Helsinki public school, he began a search for the secrets behind the successes of Finland’s schools. Walker wrote about several of those discoveries, and his Atlantic articles on this subject became hot topics of conversation. Here, he gathers all he learned and reveals how any teacher can implement many of Finland's best practices.

Remarkably, Finland is prioritizing the joy of learning in its newest core curricula and Walker carefully highlights specific strategies that support joyful K-12 classrooms and integrate seamlessly with educational standards in the United States.

From incorporating brain breaks to offering a peaceful learning environment, this book pulls back the curtain on the joyful teaching practices of the world's most lauded school system. His message is simple but profound: these Finland-inspired strategies can be used in the U.S. and other countries. No educator―or parent of a school-aged child―will want to miss out on the message of joy and change conveyed in this book.

There you have it! Get your copies today and start reading!

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