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June 2009 Archives


Continuing Discussions on Social Reading and Reading Levels

Posted by Jen Robinson on June 29, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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herson.JPGIn recent posts at Booklights, I've written about the power of social reading (kids sparking enthusiasm for books amongst themselves) and the joy of light, self-selected summer reading (as opposed to heavy required reading lists). The latter was in the context of a larger discussion about letting kids read what they enjoy, instead of pushing them to read at ever more advanced reading levels. We've had some wonderful discussions here at Booklights, in the comments on both posts. Parents, teachers, librarians - quite a few people have taken the time to share their experiences. These comments are well worth a read, and I will certainly be revisiting them for insight. [Image credit: photo by Taliesin, shared via MorgueFile.]

I've also run across a number of posts on these topics around the Kidlitosphere. I'd like to share some of those links with you here at Booklights. These posts are all from blogs that I read regularly - people whose opinions I value - and they are pretty much universal in their encouragement of letting kids read what they enjoy, regardless of reading levels. This week, I'll share some posts about social reading and reading ahead of grade level. Next week, we'll focus on the defense of self-selected summer reading.

Sarah Mulhern has a follow-up post about social reading at The Reading Zone that is not to be missed. She describes a specific example of a series of books that spread like wildfire through her class, sparked by one boy's enthusiasm. She also shares some concrete recommendations for getting kids to talk together about books. One point that I particularly enjoyed from the post was when she said, about a previously dormant reader, that "He talked (a book) up way better than I could have, because he genuinely loved the book." No adult is going to be crazy about every book. Recommendations from their peers have the ability to reach more kids, simply because each person is going to love a different set of books. But do go and read Sarah's entire post.

Here at Booklights, children's literature professor Ann said: "research done in the early 1970s on how children make their choices of what books to read. And while these findings were taken from studying children who likely now have little readers of their own, it may still be relevant to our discussion. It turns out that when making the decision of what book to choose, children rely on the recommendations of others, the availability of books, and returning to the same author or illustrator whose work they have enjoyed in the past. Sounds a lot like adult readers, doesn't it?"

JGS_mF_CurrentEvents(2).jpgSee also this two-part post in which former teacher Kristine from Best Book I Have Not Read addresses the question of kids reading above grade level. She says: "I am embracing the idea put forth by Lucy Calkins in The Art of Teaching Reading regarding independent reading... Calkins recommends that "every teacher of reading starts the year by steadfastly directing children toward reading a lot of easy book, and reading these books fluently and smoothly, with clear comprehension, and at a good pace" (p. 339)... so clearly puts in words what I have known about students, but had a hard time explaining to parents who fret about their fourth grader loving Babymouse or insisting that they are ready to reading Twilight at the beginning of fourth grade." [Image credit: photo by Gracey, shared via MorgueFile]

Librarian Bibliovore at Kid Tested, Librarian Approved chimes in with her "greatest objection to pushing kids to read farther and farther above their grade level. Not that kids will encounter sex and violence, but that they may be in the presence of genius that they're not ready for, and in missing it, dismiss it for the rest of their lives."

Middle school librarian Paige Y. from Reading and Breathing shares her thoughts on reading above grade level and re-reading, lamenting the fact that "books on grade level (or above grade level) is the answer, according to many. I can preach until my lips fall off that reading below grade level improves fluency and comprehension, but to no avail." Paige also makes a neat point in defense of kids re-reading books, sharing her own personal experience: "I also go back to books whose characters show me the person I want be. I have learned much from Atticus Finch and Marmee and Elizabeth Bennett, among hundreds of other characters." It's certainly been like that for me, too.

And finally, Daphne Lee at The Places You Will Go writes a defense of picture book reading for people of all ages. She adds: "Author/illustrator Anthony Browne feels that way too. Browne has just been chosen as Britain's new Children's Laureate. He takes over from poet and picture book author Michael Rosen, and will hold the post for two years. Browne is looking forward to championing picture books which he said, in an interview with The Times, "are being marginalised and forgotten about"." It's great stuff!

I hope that you found some food for thought in these excellent blog posts. Next week, I'll share a smorgasbord of posts dedicated to keeping summer reading fun.


June: Sandpapering Ideas

Posted by Ann on June 25, 2009 at 10:38 AM in LibrariesPicture BooksRecommendations
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I am delighted to join the Booklights bloggers Jen, Pam, and Susan. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading their posts....what wonderful resources they are for parents, teachers, and children's booklovers everywhere! My role will be to provide an end-of-the-month summary, reaction, and share the ideas that Jen, Pam, and Susan have prompted. To quote E.B. White, "A once a month column gives three weeks of off time to devote to a sustained project like shingling a barn or sandpapering an old idea." While I do not plan to shingle a barn, I will be spending this next year sandpapering a lot of old ideas as I will be on sabbatical from my work at Vanderbilt University.

Jen's latest post about the power of social reading reminds me of the research done in the early 1970s on how children make their choices of what books to read. And while these findings were taken from studying children who likely now have little readers of their own, it may still be relevant to our discussion. It turns out that when making the decision of what book to choose, children rely on the recommendations of others, the availability of books, and returning to the same author or illustrator whose work they have enjoyed in the past. Sounds a lot like adult readers, doesn't it?

So Jen's suggestions of parent-child book clubs and encouraging kids to talk to each other about the books they are reading are great. Teachers are also very valuable resources for making book recommendations. And the lists of favorites that were provided in May make fabulous suggestions of picture books that will be enjoyed by readers of every age. Many of you will want to grab a book bag and go to your local library to check out their favorites:

Pam (May 7)
Susan (April 27 and May 6)
Jen (April 24)

As I read their lists, I felt compelled to mention my own "Top Ten".....for this moment in time, anyway!

1. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, by Mem Fox (ill. Julie Vivas)
2. I'm in Charge of Celebrations, by Byrd Baylor (ill. Peter Parnell)
3. The Library, by Sarah Stewart (ill. David Small)
4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar (pop-up version), by Eric Carle
5. Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen (ill.
6. Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney
7. Time for Bed, by Mem Fox (ill. Jane Dyer)
8. Truman's Aunt Farm, by Jama Kim Rattigan (ill. Brian Karas)
9. Pink and Say, by Patricia Palacco
10. Animalia, by Graeme Base

The second finding from the research I mentioned above is about availability of books to read. On June 11, Pam talked about bringing home books. The second most frequent memories of early reading my university students have is that of bringing bags full of books home from the public library (the first most popular memory is that of their family reading time at night before bedtime).

It is particularly important that children have lots of books available to them in the summer. By the way, I think that summer is the perfect time for reading LESS challenging books! Try new genres of literature. Check out the latest nonfiction picture books. Take the time to look very closely at the illustrations.

And on June 10th, Susan provided us with a very nice example of how to discuss the illustrations of Where the Wild Things Are (by the way, the movie based on this book is scheduled to come out on October 16). It has been said that a child's first introduction to fine art is through the picture book. Spend time this summer talking about the art that you and your child will enjoy together in many of the picture books we have recommended.

Please, please do not encourage children to stop reading picture books too early. Show your children how much you enjoy the art of the picture book. As Susan mentioned, Brian Selznick's Caldecott winning book The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a picture book with a much longer format....544 pages rather than the usual 32! While it may seem daunting at first, 9-12 year olds will quickly discover the illustrations must be read just as carefully as the text in order for the book to be understood.

The professor in me loves Arthur Rackham's belief about illustration: "The most fascinating form of illustration consists of the expression by the artist of an individual sense of delight or emotion aroused by the accompanying passage of literature."

Looking forward to another month of wonderful posts....Ann


Thursday Three: So Cute

Posted by Pam on June 25, 2009 at 10:16 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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Today's Thursday Three is actually Thursday Six as each of the books has a related sequel. Enjoy these tributes to cuteness.

"I'm Not Cute!"
by Jonathan Allen
As all the animals talk about how adorable Baby Owl is with his big eyes and downy feathers, the little chick insists that he is not what they see but instead a "hunting machine," among other things. Of course, the illustrations are soooo cute the reader can't help but agree with the animals. Fortunately, Mama Owl is there to see her chick the way he wants to be seen - and tuck him too. Fun, cute book. See also: "I'm Not Scared!"

Me and My Dad
by Alison Ritchie
Sweet simple rhymes chronicle the day between a daddy bear and cub. "My dad wakes me up every morning, like this - He tickles my nose and gives me a kiss." It's nice that the cub could be a boy or girl, since text nevers says. The illustrations are lively with bright yellows and greens and blues. The artist makes the brown fur feel golden and so touchable you'd swear that you could reach into the pictures. See also Me and My Mom

Kittens! Kittens! Kittens!
written by Susan Meyers, illustrated by David Walker
Just. So. Cute. Lots of kittens everywhere doing the things kittens do in a soft lovely art style and sing-song rhymes. "Finding tails to stalk and chase, Washing whiskers, ears, and face. Pouncing, bouncing, mewing kittens, Busy, up-and-doing kittens." There may be a story involved of a family raising the kittens and at least one child getting his new kitten, but honestly, with all the kitteny cuteness, I lost track of a plot. See also: Puppies! Puppies! Puppies!


Series and Sequels

Posted by Susan on June 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM in Databases
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-What's the title of the new Percy Jackson book?
-What are the names of the series Beverly Clearly has written?
-What's the name of Magic Tree House book #17?
-Can you give me a full list of all the original Nancy Drew books in order?
-I've read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Which book is next?
-What's the sequel to The Name of this Book is Secret?
-How many Babysitter's Club books were written before they went out of print?
-I'm looking for funny books. Can you recommend a good series?

I get these kinds of questions at the reference desk all the time. And I'm guessing that you and your kids have them too. Are you frequently trying to figure out what book in a series to read next? Where should you look for the answer if you don't have a handy children's librarian around?

Try this fantastic (and free) Juvenile Series and Sequels database created by the Mid-Continent Public Library in Missouri. It's got the answers to all the questions above, plus many more you never even thought to ask.

The database is organized in four different ways. You can view it by series title, by author, by subject and you can do a book title search.

Here's the answers to the questions above with the links to where I found them (in case you're curious).

-The Last Olympian
-Series by Beverly Cleary: Beezus, Henry Huggins, Jimmy and Janet, Ralph S. Mouse, Ramona Quimby and Ribsy
-Tonight on the Titanic
-List of the original Nancy Drew books
-Would you like to read the Narnia books in chronological order or the order in which they were published?
-If You're Reading This, It's Too Late
-Try these humorous series

This database is a librarian's (and a parent's) best friend. Enjoy!


The Power of Social Reading

Posted by Jen Robinson on June 22, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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A post that I read recently at The Reading Zone inspired me to write about "social reading" for kids. Blogger Sarah Mulhern is "a 6th grade Language Arts teacher who strives to instill a love of reading and writing in her students". Recently, Sarah wrote about a book club that she observed in her classroom between two best friends. The two girls decided, on their own initiative, to read the same book (Gone by Michael Grant). Sarah observed:

"They talk about the book with each other and with me, coming to me to share their responses and exclamations. I LOVE IT! ... It's amazing the power that social reading has. Why don't we harness this in more classrooms and use it? Students reading, recommending, and talking about books is more powerful than any literacy kit, basal reader, or literature set."

I certainly agree with that. I don't remember much about what I was reading in the classroom in 5th or 6th grade, beyond a vague memory of workbooks and reading comprehension questions. But I DO remember talking about books with my friend Holly. We especially enjoyed a book about Gnomes, Fairies, and Elves, and we were thrilled to discover a hidden path to an island of sticks in the swamp behind my house. Surely there was magic there! Holly moved out of the country after fifth grade, and for quite a while we took turns writing a shared story, sending chapters back and forth by airmail. I think that our shared experience with books worked a dual magic - it strengthened my friendship with Holly, while at the same time reinforcing my love of books. And I've been fortunate to have that dynamic with friends in my adult life, too. We benefit from the recommendations that we share with each other, and our friendships grow while we discuss the books.

In The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn Miller talks about the importance of her own shared reading experiences with her husband, her children, and her best friend. Talking about her classroom, she says:

"By setting the expectation that reading is what we do, always, everywhere, it becomes the heart of a class' culture. Even the most resistant readers can't fight if all of their friends comply." (Chapter 3)

I know parents who have had good success with parent-child bookgroups (see, for example, or read Heather Vogel Frederick's book The Mother-Daughter Book Club). I think that bookclubs are a great idea. There's no doubt that by talking about books with their kids, parents can have a tremendous influence. Last summer, our own MotherReader hosted a wonderful summer book club for her rising seventh-grader's Girl Scout Troop. (You can find all of the posts here.)

I also think that when kids talk about books on their own, and make recommendations to one another, great things can happen. I'm not sure what can be done to encourage this social reading, exactly. I'm sure that the best response comes from the spontaneous bubbling over of genuine enthusiasm, and you can't orchestrate that. But I would be willing to bet that kids whose close friends are avid readers are more likely to be readers themselves (and vice versa).

Surely social reading has been a big part of the Twilight phenomenon, with girls reading the books because their friends rave about them. It was clear when I attended the signing for The Last Olympian this spring that part of the reason that kids were so excited about the Percy Jackson books was because OTHER kids were so excited about them. And that's great. J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Rick Riordan deserve every iota of success, as far as I'm concerned, because their books have turned kids into readers. But what I'd also love to see more of is kids recommending books back and forth that aren't necessarily huge bestsellers. A kid recommending The Magic Thief or Alabama Moon to his best friend because he loves it, and he wants his friend to read it so that they can compare notes, and discuss it. I'd like to peek into Sarah's classroom, just for a moment, to see those two girls, heads bent together over their matching books. I think that social reading is a beautiful thing, something worth cultivating.

What do you all think? Have you observed social reading between your kids and their friends? In their classrooms? Teachers, is this something that you've been able to harness? Do you have any suggestions for how to do it? I would love to hear your feedback.


Thursday Three: Dads

Posted by Pam on June 18, 2009 at 9:33 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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Father's Day is right around the corner, and while I can't suggest the best DVD to buy for Dad - though I'm pretty partial to Lost - I can recommend three picture books to share.

I Love My Pirate Papa
written by Laura Leuck, illustrated by Kyle Stone
Here's a nice story about a boy who loves his daddy, who happens to be a pirate. The rhyming text outlines a day on the high sea with plenty of pirate antics. A sample: "I love my pirate papa! He's the bravest buccaneer. He helps me put my earring on and buckles up my gear." The illustrations are clever and interesting with lots of funny bits to catch in the pictures. Little pirates will eat it up.

You Can Do Anything Daddy!
by Michael Rex
A boy's version of the would-you-do-anything-for-me books. Like The Runaway Bunny without the separation issues. As the father tucks his son into bed, the boy asks his dad if he would save him from bad guys. Bad guys who get more elaborate as the bedtime ritual goes on. As the challenges escalate, the illustrations show how one middle-aged dad would save his son from robot gorilla pirates from Mars. The cartoon illustrations are fun and lively, and it's also a nice touch that the boy never looks concerned as he's carried off, but has a slight knowing smile. A great book that gives a guy's touch to "I love you so much."

Building With Dad
written by Carol Nevius, illustrated by Bill Thomson
First of all, this book opens top to bottom instead of side to side. You may wonder why, until you open the first full page of picture and text and! You're treated to this perspective looking up to a man with a boy on his shoulders. The next page is a bulldozer, starting right from the pile of dirt on the ground. Then a dump truck dropping rocks that seem to almost spill off of the page and into your lap. And on and on. Rhyming couplets tell of being on the construction site with dad while they are building the kid's new school. Definitely would be a hit for truck lovers, but the fantastic illustrations will create adult fans too.

For tons of great ideas, check out Book Dads, an amazing website featuring books with a positive view of fatherhood. And, of course, use the comments here to share and find more favorite picture books about dads.


Terrific Tricky Tongue Twisters

Posted by Susan on June 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM in Fun and GamesPoetryRecommendations
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Try saying the words "Peggy Babcock" five times fast. Can you do it?

Don't feel bad if the answer is no. Peggy Babcock is one of the hardest combinations of words to say in the English language.

I've been having a lot of fun with tongue twisters lately. They're great to read aloud with kids. Here's a recent favorite of mine from Orangutan Tongs by Jon Agee. I was amazed that I was able to mesmerize several 5th grade classes merely by saying the words below out loud (very, very fast).

Orangutan Tongs.jpgWalter Witter called a waiter: "Waiter, over here!
I want some water, waiter. Water, waiter! Is that clear?
The waiter brought some water. Walter Witter shouted: "WRONG!
This water's really watered-down! I like my water strong
The waiter brought more water. Walter Witter was upset.
"This water's dry!" said Walter. "I like my water wet!
Bring me wetter water, waiter!" Walter Witter said.
The waiter brought a pitcherful and poured it on his head."

Did you find that one difficult? It's just a warm-up for Bubble Trouble, a terrific tongue twisting poem by Margaret Mahy. Bubble Trouble.jpg It was recently released as a picture book with illustrations by Polly Dunbar and it's probably the hardest book I've ever tried to read aloud. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here's a sample:

"Little Mabel blew a bubble, and it caused a lot of trouble...
Such a lot of bubble trouble in a bibble-bobble way.
For it broke away from Mabel as it bobbed across the table,
where it bobbled over Baby and it wafted him away."

And that's just the first page!

For more great tongue twisters, look no further than the good doctor. Seuss, that is. Open up Fox in Socks to one of my all time favorites, and "let's have a little talk about tweetle beetles:"

"When beetles fight these battles
in a bottle with their paddles and
the bottle's on a poodle and
the poodle's eating noodles...
they call this a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle bottle paddle battle."

If you've mastered Fox in Socks, you can graduate to Dr. Seuss' Oh Say Can you Say? Amazingly, it's got even harder tongue twisters:

"Fritz needs Fred and Fred needs Fritz.
Fritz feeds Fred and Fred feeds Fritz.
Fred feeds Fritz with ritzy Fred food.
Fritz feeds Fred with ritzy Fritz food.
And Fritz, when fed, has often said,
"I'm a Fred-fed Fritz. Fred's a Fritz-fed Fred."

For the true classics, try Alvin Schwartz's book: A Twister of Twists, A Tangler of Tongues. (It's out of print, but you can find it in a library.) In addition to lots of fun tongue twisters, he also provides great notes and folklore history. I love the great tidbits of information he's uncovered. For example, Peter Piper originally appeared in an undated pamphlet called Peter Piper's Practical Principles of Plain and Perfect Pronunciation. Here's the one from that pamphlet that we all know (there have been some slight variations over the years):

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper.
A peck of pickled pepper Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper,
Where is the peck of pickled pepper that Peter Piper picked?

Each tongue twister in the pamphlet was about an unusual occupation and began with the a different letter . Here's the entry for Q. It's done in the exact same format as Peter Piper.

"Questing Quidnunc quizzed a queerish question.
Did Questing Quidnunc quiz a queerish question?
If Questing Quidnunc quizzed a queering queerish question,
what's the queerish question Questing Quidnunc quizzed?

I don't know about you, but I'm kind of grateful that Peter became more famous than Quidnunc.

Schwartz also provides a sample of one of the earliest known written tongue twisters, published in 1674, in Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae by John Wallis:

"When a Twister, a twisting, will twist him a twist
For the twisting of his twist, he three times doth intwist.
But, if one of the twists of the twist do untwist,
The twine that untwisteth, untwisted the twist."

For some great tongue twisty additions to well known classics and nursery rhymes, take a look at Ira Trapani's Rufus and Friends: Rhyme Time. Here's a new stanza for Peter Piper:

"Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
But Patty Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers quicker.
Into a pickled pepper pot she packed the pack of peppers,
For Patty was a quicker pickled pepper packer-picker."

Enjoy tangling your tongue! And in the words of Dr. Seuss:

"Now is your tongue numb?"


Reading and Grade Levels: Keeping it FUN

Posted by Jen Robinson on June 15, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Fun and GamesLiteracy News
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I posted on my blog on Friday about the question of whether or not it's a good idea to encourage kids to read above their grade level. I was inspired by an excellent post on this subject by Dashka Slater at Babble. I discovered very quickly that quite a few people have opinions on this, as you can see in the extensive comments of both of the previous two posts, and the cropping up of other posts like this one at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy, this one at Here in the Bonny Glen, and this one at Best Book I Have Not Read. I decided, based on this response, that it was a worthwhile topic to bring up here at Booklights. This is also, I think, a logical follow-up to Pam's post from last week about encouraging summer reading. Pam talked about the importance of bringing home a variety of books from the library. She said: "Don't overrule a book your child picks as being too young for him, but also reserve the right make some selections yourself." Like Pam, I'm not a reading specialist, but I do have something to say about this topic.

RES_AnInterestInArt.jpgAs all of the above discussions make clear, there is, in some circles, a bit of competitive pressure going on regarding kids' reading levels. I've heard about the five year old who likes the unabridged version of the Iliad, and the six-year-old reading at a sixth grade level. Melissa Wiley writes about a woman who discouraged her four-year-old from reading picture books, in favor of "something more challenging". An elementary school librarian commented on my earlier post: "I have some students who are "weightlifting" in second grade, carrying Eragon and Inkspell around rather than reading it." The Babble article says: "I hear parents dropping the names of children's books as if they were designer labels. "Junie B. Jones?" one might say witheringly. "My daughter loved that in preschool, but now she's reading the sixth Harry Potter." [Image credit: photo by ToymanRon, shared at MorgueFile. And no, I don't know exactly what this girl is actually reading.]

I can see how it would be easy to caught up in all of this. The parent who reads aloud to her child from the womb, provides lots of books, and is a role model for the importance of reading might be understandably thrilled when said child becomes an advanced reader. Particularly if teachers are encouraging the child to read ever more "challenging" books, and other parents are all talking about what tremendously advanced material their children are reading. A recent Sydney Morning Herald article says (in the context of homework, but I think there's a clear parallel), "Parents who cannot remember homework when they were in kindergarten now help their five-year-olds with up to 45 minutes a day of sheets filled with literacy and numeracy problems. Even those who doubt the wisdom of homework at such an early age reluctantly go along with it, driven by fear of their child falling behind." I know that the "fear of their child falling behind", in our competitive society, is significant.

BUT, there are problems with the relentless progression towards ever-more-advanced reading material for kids. The short-term problem is that children can miss books that they would enjoy reading. Books about kids their own age, having relatable experiences. Fun books. Books with pictures! Instead, they can end up reading books before they are ready for them, which often leads to not appreciating the books, and never going back. The long-term problem is that if you turn reading into a competition, you run the risk of turning it into a chore. You run the risk of having that bright-eyed five-year-old advanced reader grow, in the blink of an eye, into a fourth-grader who won't read anything beyond what's strictly necessary for homework. And that is a tragedy.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't ever let your kids read books that are above their grade level. If they want to do that, and if you deem that books aren't too mature for them thematically, then by all means let them read ahead. Kids usually have a pretty good notion of what they can manage. If they find a book too difficult, they are likely to get bored with that book, and move on to something else. (As Stacy Dillon commented on my post, "I'm bored" is often code for "I don't understand"). So, I'm not saying that the occasional first grader reading the first Harry Potter book is a problem.

JGS_Reading.jpgWhat I am saying is that it's not a good idea to pressure kids to read above their age level. Reading, especially in the summer, should be fun. It isn't meant to be a race. It's a pastime, a journey, a way to teach kids to love books. You don't instill a life-long love of reading by belittling the eight-year-old who wants to flip through picture books on a rainy afternoon. You don't encourage reading by turning down your nose at Goosebumps or comic books or (for teens) the Twilight books. Just because your seven year old CAN read at a sixth grade level, you don't have to deny her the joy of reading about Clementine, Ramona, Pippi Longstocking or Ivy and Bean. Just as we adults sometimes want to read recreationally, it's ok for kids, too. More than OK, in fact, it's something that can help them to maintain the joy of reading. That's what I think, anyway. And it's what many of the authors of and commenters on the posts above think, too, though I've only been able to capture a small amount of that discussion here. [Image credit: photo by Gracey, shared at MorgueFile]

What do you all think? Have you felt pressure, from teachers or other parents, to keep your children reading above grade level? How do you handle this? Or have you found it to be more of a problem the other way, with your library not letting kids read above grade level?


Summer Reading, Having a Blast

Posted by Pam on June 11, 2009 at 9:36 AM in Fun and GamesLibraries
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Yesterday I was talking with a friend about reading over the summer vacation. She called to ask about the public library, but we ended up discussing how to help her son improve his reading skills over the break. Having been in a similar situation with my younger daughter, I had some ready solutions that I offered her and now you. I should mention that I'm not a reading specialist, but am suggesting a plan for summer reading that worked and made sense to me.

1. Make the Time
I am asked often enough how I find time to read. My answer is more like a mission statement: You don't find time to read, you make time to read. Reading needs to be part of your schedule like eating or bathing, because in its own way it's as important. Sure, you can go a day without reading, but why would you want to? I prefer bedtime as the ideal reading time. It's easily remembered, and it's a great way to wind down. The evening hour can also offer a spouse or older sibling an opportunity to participate. In the summer perhaps morning will work better, and that's fine, but make the time every day.

2. Bring Home the Books
Even if you have tons of titles on your shelves, summer offers a wonderful opportunity to explore the public library. Having something new to read that you have for a limited time, is more exciting. The library also gives you the chance to try something different. Pick out some folk tales from other countries. Try the new horse series. Investigate life in China or under the sea. Don't overrule a book your child picks as being too young for him, but also reserve the right make some selections yourself.

It's often said that boys are more interested in nonfiction than stories, so head over to the 500's of your Dewey Decimal system. It's rich with science books for kids including topics like space, dinosaurs, insects, snakes, and mammals. And these aren't the boring books you might remember from your childhood with long pages of text on one side, and one second-rate photo on the other. Today's children's nonfiction works with innovative layouts, multi-level text, and amazing photography. Ask your librarian to direct you to other nonfiction sections as well, including poetry, art, history, and biographies. Bring home a variety of books and plenty of them. (If you're worried about keeping track of them, our library books live in a basket by the couch and that's where they are read.)

3. Mix It Up
I love reading, and yet there is a stage of learning to read that makes me clench my teeth. It's exciting when your child is first sounding out words. Later, it's wonderful when you are reading together and she asks the meaning of a particular word. The part that is hard for me is a particular middle phase, where my daughters would sound out the same word for the third time within five pages. We each made it through this period (successfully) and I held my tongue (mostly), but it led me to my greatest discovery of mixing up our reading time.

As my youngest daughter was in the easy-reader stage for a long time, we learned to keep it interesting and fun. She'd read one book to me, then I'd read a picture book to her. Sometimes we'd take turns with her easy reader book. Sometimes she'd sound out words in the picture book. Other times, I'd read a chapter book to her and we'd discuss what happened in each chapter before moving on. There were even times when she would read to herself, and I'd read my own book alongside her. Occasionally, her older sister would step in to do the easy reader part while I washed the dishes. (A dollar payment most well spent.) We used this time to improve other reading skills besides sounding out and word recognition. Picture books are great for discussing art and illustration cues to the story. With their concise stories, picture books are wonderful to reinforce the concepts of story arcs, prediction, and comprehension. We'd talk about our favorite picture or the funniest part. I might remind her of a similar book or a personal connection, and soon she was doing the same thing. What could have been an exhausting stage for both of us, turned into a wonderful time of exploring, discussing, analyzing, and yes, reading.


A Walk on the Wild Side

Posted by Susan on June 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM in Picture Books
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Let's take a new look at a book you've probably read a hundred times.

Go to your bookshelf and pull out your copy of Where the Wild Things Are.

Can't find it? Don't worry. I'll wait here while you go to the library.

What took you so long?

Got the book in your hands? Great. Now follow me.

Look at the picture of Max making mischief. Not the picture itself, but the size of the picture. It's pretty small, isn't it? Most of the page is taken up by white space. And on the left hand side, there's only that one line of black text to break up all the white.

Beep. (That sound means it's time to turn the page.)

As Max chases the dog (notice the Wild Thing picture on the wall), the size of the illustration gets bigger.

Peeb. (Beep spelled backward. Turn the page back.)

Do you see how much larger the box is than the page before?

Beep. Now go forward again.

Now turn the pages without reading the words. Watch as the box gets bigger and bigger. Beep. Beep. Beep.

Are you on the page where Max's ceiling is hung with vines? Good. Do you see how the picture takes over the entire right side of the page? The box is gone. Beep.

As Max sails in his private boat, the illustration can't be contained to one page. It starts spreading out and breaks into the white space on the left side of the page. Beep. The illustration gets a bit bigger as Max sails in and out of weeks. Beep.

When he comes to the place where the wild things are, the illustrations take over until they're covering the entire top of both pages. Look at how much white space is left on the bottom for the words. Beep.

The white space shrinks lower. Beep. And lower still. By the time Max is made king of wild things, there's only a thin space for the words. The white space has been reduced by half from the picture where Max arrived. Beep.

The wild rumpus has begun and lasts for three pages. Words are no longer adequate to tell the story. Beep. Beep. Beep.

When Max cries "stop," the illustrations start to recede. Beep.

As his boat sails off, there's the same amount of white space as there was when his boat landed. Beep. As he sails back over a year, the picture retreats even more. Beep.

When he arrives in his room, the picture only covers the right side of the page, but it covers it completely. What a contrast to the first page in the book, where the picture only took up a small amount of the page. Beep.

For the line "and it was still hot," the illustrations have faded away completely. We're left with five small black words in a sea of white. Beep.

Take a look at the endpapers, and then close the book and look at the cover. Beep.

The illustration takes up most of the space. But, the words are there, above and below, surrounding the image. When you're holding the book in your hand, the image is even more powerful. The edges of the book act as a physical frame to keep the pictures in.

Where the Wild Things Are.jpg

Does the front cover image mean something different to you now than it did a few minutes ago? Sometimes, it's worth taking a look at something familiar from another perspective.

Why does the design matter so much? Take a look at this quote from Brian Selznick's fantastic Caldecott acceptance speech for The Invention of Hugo Cabret:

"Think about the wild rumpus in Where the Wild Things Are. The pictures grow until they take over the entire book and there is no more room for words. Only the reader turning the page can move the story forward. We are put in charge at the exact moment Max himself takes charge. We become Max, all because of the page turns."

Isn't it amazing how much power the turn of the page gives the reader? To see this play out in a much longer format, pick up The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Don't worry, I won't go page by page with you (too many beeps!) but take a close look. It's incredible.

Never underestimate how important book design is to a picture book.

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