My View: The can't-miss experience for a college senior
Sure, the senior thesis is a giant, time-consuming project -- but it's all about you and your passions, Elizabeth Landau writes.
April 17th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

My View: The can't-miss experience for a college senior

Elizabeth LandauBy Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Editor's note: Elizabeth Landau is a writer and producer for She is a 2006 graduate of Princeton University.

(CNN) - When I told my mother that my senior thesis proposal had been accepted, that I would travel overseas to study the legacy of medieval Judaism in Spain, her main question was: “Where is this all going?”

For a 21-year-old, it’s often not clear where anything is going. I wasn’t entirely sure myself. In today’s tough job market, it may be hard for students - or parents - to rationalize working on an extensive academic research project over the course of the senior year of college, especially in the liberal arts.

But this is the season when some students are deciding whether to pursue one, and the seniors are submitting them. So, parents, listen up: A senior thesis is something that you should motivate your college student to do, even if the subject doesn’t lead to an obvious career path.

Outside of graduate studies or academia, most people will never again choose a topic that they want to research deeply for months, and write about what they discovered. As long as there’s an academic supervisor, reading and writing involved, the process can help with job and life skills.


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Newbery, Caldecott awards announced, coming to library waitlists near you
Jon Klassen's "This Is Not My Hat" won the 75-year-old Caldecott Medal for illustration.
January 28th, 2013
04:09 PM ET

Newbery, Caldecott awards announced, coming to library waitlists near you

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

Courtesy American Library Association(CNN) – The latest round of books you'll be seeing in your kid's backpack and waiting for at the library was announced Monday. That is, the American Library Association named the winners of its annual youth media awards, including its oldest and best-known prizes, the Newbery and Caldecott medals.

The Newbery Medal went to “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate. It's a fictional story about Ivan, a real-life gorilla who lived for years in a cage in a circus-themed mall before moving to Zoo Atlanta in 1994.

In its 75th years, the Caldecott Medal went to “This Is Not My Hat," written and illustrated by Jon Klassen. It's the story of a little fish who tries to get away with the hat of a much larger fish. Klassen also illustrated the Caldecott honor book, "Extra Yarn."

"Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon," by Steve Sheinkin and "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe," by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, also received multiple honors from the library association on Monday. Katherine Paterson, author of "Bridge to Terabithia" and "Jacob Have I Loved," received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for "substantial and lasting" contributions to children's literature. Tamora Pierce, author of "The Song of the Lioness," won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults.

The award announcements lit up Twitter as teachers and librarians streamed the awards announcement live, and classes watched to see how their  mock Caldecott and Newbery votes held up.

The awards are big business, too, meaning prominent placement for winners on bookstore and library displays.

“Receiving a Caldecott Medal practically guarantees that the winning title will remain in print and on library and bookstore shelves for decades to come,” the library association posted on its website.

Here’s a list of winners:


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December 12th, 2012
02:50 PM ET

Florida students score big in reading

Florida 4th graders rank #2 in a worldwide reading test. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart shares the success story.

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Filed under: Policy • Practice • Reading • video
October 9th, 2012
02:11 PM ET

Can lawsuit, charter takeover save Highland Park, Michigan, schools?

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

Highland Park, Michigan (CNN) - A few weeks before school began here, parents filed into the high school cafeteria to meet the people just hired to revamp one of the state's worst-performing districts: their own.

They came with questions. What time would the school day start? What were these new uniforms they’d heard about? Would all the schools stay open? Would the same teachers be there? The same kids? Was there anything worth saving?

For years, financial and academic turmoil plagued Highland Park schools. The state of Michigan says the district ran at an operating deficit five of the last six years. Barely 800 kids still attended its three schools, and even those buildings were overgrown with weeds and tagged with graffiti.

There was a lot of cash coming in, more than $14,000 per student, but there weren’t enough textbooks to go around. Standardized test scores were embarrassingly low; among 11th-graders, 10% scored proficient in reading and 5% proficient in math. Some kids went on to college, but nobody - 0% - of kids reached the ACT's college readiness benchmarks.

The district drew national attention this summer when the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a "first-of-its-kind" lawsuit against the state, education leaders and Highland Park schools for allegedly failing to teach students to read at grade level.

Now the state-appointed emergency financial manager had handed the district over to a charter school operator, the Leona Group, for a five-year contract worth more than $750,000. In a statement, the Michigan governor’s office said it moved to address “a long overdue fiscal and academic crisis that was crippling the district” because it “can’t and won’t accept academic failure.”

For some here, it was a hostile takeover. For others, a new hope.


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Sweet 'spell' of success
Sukanya Roy of South Abington Township, Pennsylvania reacts after winning the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee competition June 2, 2011 in National Harbor, Maryland.
May 30th, 2012
12:02 PM ET

Sweet 'spell' of success

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) It’s not always easy to watch: young people given increasingly difficult words to spell, standing uncomfortably under lights and cameras, their faces strained or frozen under pressure, their parents watching helplessly from their seats in the audience… They’re all components of the tournament that crowns America’s best speller.

If you look back at the National Spelling Bee’s winning words of the 1930s and 40s, you’ll see quite a few you can handle: fracas, knack, torsion, initials, psychiatry. In more recent years, with many more students competing with far more intensity, most of us need a dictionary – not just for the spellings, but for the definitions of the words themselves.

When was the last time you used Ursprache, appoggiatura, Laodicean or cymotrichous in a sentence? (When was the last time you even saw them anywhere?)

Words like these will be either the stumbling blocks or victory laps for the 278 spellers in this year’s Scripps bee. They’re from all over the map, representing ages from 6 to 15. And while they may not be able to drive, buy lottery tickets, vote, or get a beer after the event, they’re all better spellers than we are.

In fact, most of these students are scholars in other areas. Take 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison. She’s been in spelling bees since age 3, but she’s also won awards in mythology and math events. Arvind Mahankali, who’s 12 and came in third place last year, has received an honors award from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth. And 14-year-old Nabeel Rahman came in first place in the middle school National Geographic Bee.

Of course, spelling on its own is hard enough. Everywhere you look, there are misspellings – even the very word looks like it has too many consonants. Whenever Germanic, Old Norse, Latin, French, and Old English got together, two things were inevitable: confusion and compromise.

And those are evident across our lexicon. Remember the “i before e” rule? It had a plethora of exceptions, so spelling tipsters added “or when sounded like ‘ay’, as in neighbor and weigh.” But that isn’t enough to go on because words like height and efficient pop up and throw us further off the tracks. So a better, overall summary might be “i before e, except after c…or whenever.”

As anyone who’s ever written anything in English can tell you, there are a lot of exceptions to our rules of spelling, not to mention differences in British and American spellings (see colour, humour, etc.). The bad news is that sometimes, you just have to memorize words on a case-by-case basis.

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Maurice Sendak, author of 'Where the Wild Things Are,' dead at 83
May 8th, 2012
10:32 AM ET

Maurice Sendak, author of 'Where the Wild Things Are,' dead at 83

Maurice Sendak, author of the classic children's book "Where the Wild Things Are," died from complications after a stroke on Tuesday, said Erin Crum, a spokeswoman for HarperCollins Publishers.

Sendak illustrated nearly 100 books during a 60-year career, winning dozens of accolades as he endeared himself to generations of children reared on his fanciful stories. One critic called him "the Picasso of children's literature." Former President Bill Clinton called him the "king of dreams."

Born in Brooklyn the son of Polish immigrants, Sendak grew up to take a few night classes but largely taught himself as an artist.

He is best known for his book, "Where the Wild Things Are." It tells the story of a boy named Max, who dresses in a white wolf costume and escapes his life at home by sailing to a remote land, where he discovers wild things who roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth.

'The Hunger Games' ignites the ALA's list of most challenged books
Many of the complaints leveled against "The Hunger Games" books focused on the film version directed by Gary Ross.
April 9th, 2012
06:27 PM ET

'The Hunger Games' ignites the ALA's list of most challenged books

By Stephan Lee,

( - "The Hunger Games" movie may not have had trouble earning a PG-13 rating, but many parents and educators are wondering whether the best-selling book trilogy belongs on library shelves.

The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom released its annual list of most frequently challenged books of 2011 yesterday, and the increased popularity of Suzanne Collins' dystopian saga - in large part fueled by buzz surrounding the blockbuster film - drove the books higher on the list. In 2010, only the first novel cracked the top ten at number five. In 2011, all three books occupy the number three position, and the complaints have grown more varied: "anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence."

The ALA keeps track of challenges filed and counted 327 reported attempts to restrict or remove books from schools and libraries in 2011. The association defines a challenge as "a formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that a book or other material be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness."

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Encyclopedia Britannica to stop printing books
March 14th, 2012
03:24 PM ET

Encyclopedia Britannica to stop printing books

By Julianne Pepitone, CNNMoney

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) - After 244 years, Encyclopedia Britannica will cease production of its iconic multi-volume book sets.

Britannica usually prints a new set of the tomes every two years, but 2010's 32-volume set will be its last. Instead, the company will focus solely on its digital encyclopedia and education tools.

The news is sure to sadden champions of the printed word, but Britannica president Jorge Cauz said the move is a natural part of his company's evolution.

"Everyone will want to call this the end of an era, and I understand that," Cauz says. "But there's no sad moment for us. I think outsiders are more nostalgic about the books than I am."

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March 12th, 2012
06:10 AM ET

Reading, across the aisle: Democrats and Republicans work to get kids reading

By Brianna Keilar, CNN White House Correspondent

Washington, D.C (CNN) - Schools face a staggering literacy problem here in the nation's capital and lawmakers and congressional staffers from both sides of the aisle are trying to do something about it.

Every week, just four blocks from the Capitol, many of them read to students at Brent Elementary School.

They're part of the "Power Lunch" program put on by Everybody Wins ! DC, a nonprofit literacy group serving 38 Title I schools in the nation's capital, where many students live at or near the poverty line.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and his Chief of Staff Brian Ahlberg mentor a first- grader named John.

"It's something I look forward to," says Harkin. "They say the kids get a lot of it but I think we get a lot out of it, too."

At the next table in the school library, Summer Mersinger, a top aide to Sen. John Thune (R-SD), reads to another child.

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March 7th, 2012
01:32 PM ET

Kate Beckinsale kicks off National Reading Month

By Jennifer Gerardo, CNN

(CNN) Actress Kate Beckinsale kicked off this National Reading Month by promoting the importance of reading through “The Nestlé Joy of Reading Program”. CNN’s J.D. Cargill sat down with Beckinsale at a recent event to discuss her love of reading and why she got involved in the project.

Beckinsale said that Nestlé’s commitment to providing books to underprivileged children is what attracted her to the program. She explained, “61% of low-income families have absolutely no books in their homes at all for children and 80% of preschools that serve underprivileged children have no age-appropriate books for those children.” Beckinsale thinks those statistics are disheartening and applauds Nestlé’s efforts to alleviate this problem.

Beckinsale says that reading is a very important part of her life and it’s one way she connects with her daughter. She’s gotten so much out of reading to her daughter and wanted to share that with other children.

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