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November 2009 Archives


Gifts for a Year-Full of Reading

Posted by Ann on November 30, 2009 at 5:35 PM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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I truly have the best job in the world....being an aunt! And since this is the gift-giving season, I thought I should mention my ritual of selecting my niece's and nephews' Christmas gifts each year. When the children were young, I gave a "book to start each month" as his/her gift. I wrapped one book to be opened on Christmas morning; then they waited on the other wrapped books in the bag and opened one on the first day of each month throughout the year.

In order to make sure my selections were age/stage/interest level appropriate, I purchased and wrapped the books in two intervals. I wrapped January - June books for under the tree. Then I took July - December when we spent our vacation together in June.

Now that there are three teenagers in the family, I select far fewer picture books (although my 19-year-old nephew is getting one this Christmas). So I thought that I would pretend with this post that I still have a preschooler for whom to buy. Here is what would be wrapped for January - June, 2010:

January: The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney. Using only a few words to describe the animal sounds in the beloved Aesop's fable, Jerry Pinkney illustrates the story of kindness in a beautiful way. I think that this may be my favorite picture book of the year! And the end pages begin and end the story with illustrations that are easily pored over for a long time.pinkney endpages.jpg

February: The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin. This is not your typical book of colors, as the text is written in both Braille and in white letters on all-black pages. But the text presents color to the reader in a creative way.

March: A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet by Stephen T. Johnson. And this is not your typical alphabet book either! Adults will enjoy studying the 26 abstract creations that form the letters of the alphabet every bit as much as the child to whom they are reading.

April: The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett. Gravett uses humor to provide the reader with a very happy way to discuss motherhood, fatherhood, adoption, and acceptance. And the "Eric Carle-type collages" help the new baby make a dramatic entrance.

May: How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham. "No one saw the bird fall." But Will was not like the masses of people who walked by/around/over the injured bird. The illustrations show us the gentleness and care taken to save the bird and return it to the sky.

June: Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Susan L. Roth. The inspirational Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson's book for adults, is now available for very young readers. The stunning cut paper and fabric collages are the perfect illustrations accompany the story.

Finally, you may also want to do like I do and pick out a couple of gifts to give yourself! This year,silvey.jpg I am selecting Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book edited by Anita Silvey. The collection includes children's books that first inspired 100 leaders from arts, sciences, politics, and business.

Will you share with us your own recommendations for picture book gifts for young and "not so young" readers?

Happy Reading, Ann


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: Tips and Techniques for Encouraging Reading

Posted by Jen Robinson on November 30, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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I hope that you all had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend. I spent part of the long weekend poring over children's literacy and reading-related news. In the process, I found a variety of newspaper articles and blogs posts aimed at helping parents to encourage young readers. Coincidentally (or maybe there's something about this time of year), nearly all of the posts are written in the form of tips for raising readers. I hope that you will find some useful ideas.

pbskidsisland.jpgAt Great Kids Books, Mary Ann Scheuer reviews two websites specially designed for children just learning to read. She says: "Two websites that I particularly like for children learning to read are: PBS Kids Island and Starfall. Both sites help children develop early literacy skills while having fun. Both are solidly based on literacy research, and both have no advertising. Best yet, both are free and easy to use." Mary Ann describes PBS Kids Island in quite a bit of detail - her post is well worth a look.

At A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy, Liz Burns recently republished an article that she wrote for Foreword Magazine in 2007, about ways to encourage reading. Liz says: "Reading is fun. And I think that should be enough reason to encourage reading, and to praise reading, and to value it when we, and kids, read. Linking reading to increased employment opportunities and civic duty may be necessary to get press attention or involve employers and other organizations, but c'mon; does a ten year old care about that? Should they? No; they shouldn't read "because I will be a better person." They shouldn't read "because then I will make more money." They should read because it's fun." And then she discusses specific ideas for making reading fun (including "Read what your kids are reading", one of my favorite suggestions, too).

For more tips on encouraging reading, check out this article by Dr. Michele Borba with tips to get kids and teens to read. Borba says "Here are nine tips from The Big Book of Parenting Solutions I shared recently on the TODAY show to help parents get their kiddoes reading and hopefully even rekindle that great love of the printed page. (A little disclosure here: I was a former teacher and taught children's literature so you have to know I LOVE the printed page. I've also written 22 books so my bias should be evident)." There's definitely some overlap between Michele Borba's list and my own list of Tips for Growing Bookworms. But personally, I don't think we can talk enough about the importance of letting kids choose their own books, reading aloud to older kids, and so on. I found this link via Tweet from @KidCriticUSA.

Still more tips are available in a Times Press Recorder article from First 5 San Luis Obispo County, published in honor of Child Literacy Month. This article breaks the tips down for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. For instance: "Babies like brightly colored books with photos of other children and such familiar objects as toys and baby bottles. Also, choose books with pop-up characters and images that are soft to the touch so your baby can feel different textures." And, for preschoolers, "Make sure to always have books available for your children, even while running errands or traveling in the car. Read while waiting at the doctor's office or the bus stop -- anytime is a good time for reading."

BunchOfBoysReading.jpgBack in September, I linked to an article by Trevor Cairney about using nonfiction to engage boys in reading. This week, Trevor published a second post relative to fiction. He says: "While using non-fiction is a great way to get boys actually reading, it is also very important to raise their interest in reading fiction. It is out of the reading of literature that so much knowledge of language develops as well as a whole range of study and research skills that are important for life". He shares a host of specific techniques for younger boys vs. older boys, as well as specific books to try with boys of different ages. (Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt)

Based on sometimes frustrating personal experiences, Amy from Literacy Launchpad shares suggestions for making the most of a library visit with a toddler. My favorite of Amy's ideas was: "When you read a library book at home that you really like, talk about how it came from the library! Get them excited about finding MORE great books at the library." There are some other suggestions from Amy's readers in the comments.

That's all I have for this week. How about all of you? Has anyone come across any good articles or blog posts about encouraging young readers? If so, I'd love to hear about them. I also have some additional links in this week's Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up on my own blog.


Ways to Give a Book

Posted by Pam on November 28, 2009 at 3:39 PM in Recommendations
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With all the toys and DVD's and video games clamoring for attention during the holiday season, it can be hard to notice the quiet book. For a few years now at MotherReader, I've put together lists of specific book titles and links to particular gifts. Feel free to stop by for some ideas. Overall though, there are a few themes that you can apply yourself for ways to give a book.

Give a knitting, crocheting or other craft book with supplies and gift card to craft store. If you know how to do the craft, perhaps you can spend some time teaching it.

For a teen or adult, give an interesting, insightful book with a restaurant gift card and a date to discuss the book together over a meal.

Comparing the book with the movie can be fun, so consider giving the book along with a handmade gift certificate for a movie date for a rental or a theater release.

For girls, pair a book with a related necklace. It's easy to find both books and jewelry for lovers of horses, dolphins, cats, and dogs. You should be fine with ballerinas, musicians, and soccer players.

Young kids will enjoy picture books with a stuffed animal. With so many books featuring animals, finding a match isn't a tough prospect, though it's worth noting for ease sake that Kohl's sells inexpensive pairings of books and toys to benefit its own charity foundation.

Onehen.jpgSpeaking of charity, there are a number of books that can be paired with a donation to a related organization. An easy choice is One Hen — How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference with a loan to Kiva or a donation to Heifer International to buy chicks. Abby the Librarian has a nice selection of matches for making the world a better place.

Look at giving an experience, but add a book to make the gift giving fun. Animal books with a trip to the zoo, marine life books with a trip to the aquarium, dinosaur books with a trip to a natural history museum, sports books with tickets to a game, dance book with tickets to ballet, or theater books with tickets to a play. Think about what is else is available in your area like ice skating rinks, indoor pools, trail rides, etc and what book might help represent that outing. If the place you have in mind doesn't sell tickets or memberships, make your own gift certificate.

Go ahead and give the toy you're dying to buy, but consider if a book might go along nicely with the gift. It can't hurt to thrown in a book as a little extra, maybe a special holiday title or an old favorite. Give a book this holiday season, however you want to do it.


Mixing some Red in Reading

Posted by Terry on November 24, 2009 at 11:21 AM in Fun and Games
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The malls are all decked with holiday décor, and whether we're ready or not, "toy season" is here. As you might expect, books are one of my favorite gift choices, but I also think its fun to sneak in something that doesn't look like it is related to reading.

Did you know the ABCs of learning to read doesn't begin with letters? It's true. Much of what we as adults tend to dismiss as "just playing" is really the brain's way of organizing and putting together the building blocks that kids later use for learning to read. There is a lot of science (link to Reading Online article, ©2000, International Reading Association) to support the idea that playing is a very effective way for kids to build lots of skills, reading being one of them. Trevor Cairney has additional links and some tips for encouraging simple play at Families, Literacy and Learning, too.

This week, I thought I would pull together some ideas for ways to give the gift of reading that don't require batteries, computers, flashcards, or workbooks.

early_drawing.JPGEncourage your Artist in Residence - Every toddler and preschooler I've ever met loves to play with crayons, markers, chalk, and paint. Giving kids the tools to create their masterpieces ultimately feeds into their reading. First, they can tell you fantastic, often very elaborate stories about those abstract versions of castles and dinosaurs, flowers and houses. Second, it also gives them practice in recognizing and drawing shapes. What does that have to do with reading?

Well, let's look at the letter b. It has two shapes: a line and a circle. The process of turning those early squiggles into straight lines and misshaped lumps into a circle is a precursor to being able to put the two objects together to create that "b." Before you know it those waves that mean "I love you. You're the best Mom in the world" will transform themselves into letters and lots more love notes that don't require translation!

puzzle.JPGPromote your Little Detective - Just as kids need to recognize the parts that comprise a letter, they also need to know what makes them different. When they're building a puzzle, they are looking for those types of clues ... one of the stepping stones of reading. That same stick and circle not only make a "b," but they are used for a "d" and a "p" as well. Putting together picture puzzles gives kids practice in finding shapes that fit together and pick them out from those that don't. It also lets them practice separating the "trees from the forest" and what makes sense (or doesn't). Does the tree branch really connect to the top of the sheep's head? Look for puzzles with pieces that range from 2 to 4 inches, are easy for a young child to manipulate, connect with "buttons and holes," and have just a few elements to the picture. Not the ones with 60+ pieces, varied shapes, and subtle distinctions (like 15 striped hot air balloons).

swinging.JPGAdd a Little Exercise - Studies (link to February 2008 Education Week article, PDF) show that there is a direct correlation between vigorous physical activity and learning. One of the best things to happen to my second grader this year is that she has PE before having to settle into math (a subject she struggles with). She concentrates better, she comprehends more, and she is more confident in her ability to learn. When kids get that heart pumping and use their "big muscles" - be it with jump ropes, jungle gyms, trampolines, hopscotch, basketball, soccer, or just running around - they are preparing their minds to focus. If you're looking for something to go along with your exercise ideas, Susan Stephenson of The Book Chook created a downloadable book of skipping and clapping rhymes, songs, chants, and games from her Literacy on the Playground (pdf) series. Speaking of songs ...

Mix in some Music - You can find children's music in every genre. The sillier the better ... at least from their perspective! The lyrics in kids' songs let them hear language in new ways, whether it is a made-up word or just a really big one. The rhythm, rhyme, and repetition all help with vocabulary.

These are just a few of the ideas of ways to mix in some "literacy toys" this holiday. When it comes to kids, their imagination and energy, there is no limit to where they can - and want to go! We were all born with an insatiable appetite to discover and learn, and there are so many ways we can encourage that and still meet our goals of turning our little ones into successful readers. If you've got some ideas, please add them below. I know one elf who would appreciate the help!

image sources
child's drawing and girl swinging - (c) Terry Doherty
puzzle pieces - Microsoft ClipArt, modified


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #3 Choose Books that Your Children Enjoy

Posted by Jen Robinson on November 23, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 3 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information where I have them.

Tip #3: Choose books that your children enjoy. Find books that satisfy their interests, and let them choose books that please them. When kids are reading (outside of assigned school reading), the important thing is that the reading is a pleasurable activity. The best way to make this true is to help them to find books that they are interested in. Not books that are good for them. Not books that teach them a particular lesson. Not books that are someone else's favorite (like the parent's favorite). Just books that the particular child eagerly wants to read.

BoyReading.jpgThis is especially important for women selecting books for boys, who may prefer reading in formats other than traditional fiction. Yes, it can be frustrating to have your child read nothing but comic books. But reading comic books IS reading. I'm not saying don't try to suggest other books for them, too. But keep in mind that the central goal is for kids to find reading a pleasurable activity, one that they wish to continue. Everything else follows from that (all the way to better test scores and dream colleges).

EagerReader.jpgA related point regarding book choice is the question of reading levels. Pam suggested in a post from earlier this fall that children benefit from reading a mix of books, some within and some outside of their comfort zone. She also said, strongly, that it's important for parents to avoid playing "The Reading Game". You know the one. Where parents speak loftily to one another about their children's advanced reading levels. Don't get sucked into this trap. The important thing isn't that your third grade daughter is reading a sixth grade book. The important thing is that your third grader is avidly reading ANY book. She'll get to the sixth grade level book eventually, if she enjoys reading. But if you pressure her to read harder and harder books all the time, you're likely to turn her off of reading altogether. And that is a tragedy.

For more on reading levels, see my earlier post about discussions in defense of escapist summer reading, which links to several articles in defense of letting kids read what they enjoy. I also had a two-part piece (part 1, part 2) early last summer about reading levels, and the defense of kids reading books that they enjoy, even if they are capable of reading more challenging books.

StackOfBooks.jpgIt's simply, really. If you want kids to learn to enjoy reading, you have to give them time to read things that they like, and that they choose. The choice itself is empowering, and leads to a positive association with reading. Your son could choose fiction or nonfiction, graphic novels or poetry, magazines or car manuals. He could read Goosebumps or Junie B. Jones or 100 different Magic Treehouse books. He could read the comic pages of your newspaper, all of the Harry Potter books, or the Guinness Book of World Records. What he's reading doesn't matter. What matters is that he is engaged in what he's reading, and wants to read more. Because that's what we're after here. As long as kids keep reading, something, anything, they'll become more proficient. And that's the way to make them readers for life.


Thursday Three: Thanksgiving

Posted by Pam on November 19, 2009 at 9:51 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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Thanksgiving in the White House
by Gary Hines

Thanksgiving in the White HousePresident Abraham Lincoln’s youngest son, Tad, is very fond of Jack the turkey. He has tamed him and taught him tricks, and the bird follows him all around the White House yard. But Jack was meant to be the main dish of the first official Thanksgiving celebration. Big problem! Can Tad convince his father to spare the turkey? This is a perfect book to share in the elementary classroom where you can sneak in a little learning along with your holiday celebration.

This Is the Turkey
by Abby Levine

This Is the TurkeyFollowing the standard rhyme of “This is the House that Jack Built,” this book describes the activities of a young boy and his extended family as they share Thanksgiving. They pick out a turkey, prepare the bread, set the table and so on. However a mistep sends the turkey into the fish tank instead of on the table, and the family realizes what they have to be thankful for is more than a cooked bird. I particularly like that an African American girl is featured on the book cover, showing a mixed-race family. The simple text and bright pictures make this a good choice for a preschool audience.

’Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving
by Dav Pilkey

’Twas the Night Before ThanksgivingUsing the format of Clement Moore’s classic Christmas poem, we’re treated to a story about eight boys and girls whose trip to a turkey farm leads to a surprise. The book is blunt at times about the fate of these birds, but always funny, especially when the kids leave the farm considerably fatter and with feathers sticking out from their coats. The poem aspect of the joke will be lost on preschoolers, but they'll still enjoy the story. The elementary kids will be more on board and will really have fun with this clever book.

Susan T.

Wish Lists

Posted by Susan T. on November 17, 2009 at 10:00 AM in
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With Thanksgiving just around the corner and the December holidays quickly approaching, parents may need some great book recommendations fast. Whether the children are looking for entertainment for a long plane trip or a little something to tide them over until the turkey is ready, the following offer a bounty of ideas. I collect lists, and these are some of my favorites:

The New York Times Book Review's Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2009

Booklist's 2009 Top Ten Religion Books for Youth

Outstanding science books of 2008, chosen by the National Science Teachers Association

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Gift Guide 2009. A large, wide-ranging selection of books published in the last few years.

The National Outdoor Book Awards. This roster includes books for children and adults.

The E.B. White Read Aloud Awards

Wired Magazine's GeekDad's book picks for 2009. Geektastic titles for kids and grown-ups.


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #2 Read the Books Your Children Read

Posted by Jen Robinson on November 16, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 2 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information where I have them. You can find Tip #1: Read Aloud here.

AdultReading.jpgTip #2: Read the books that your children read, even after you are no longer reading aloud with them (or along with books you're reading together). Talk to them about these books. Let them recommend books to you. By reading the books your children read, you show them that you value them, and the books, and you open up untold avenues for important discussions. I personally think that if more parents and other adults did this, there would be less of a drop-off in reading for pleasure as kids get older (though I have no formal data to back this up). I wrote about this in more detail in a very early post on my blog. But here are three good reasons to read the books your children read:

A. Reading the books that your kids are reading will give you a much better idea of what they like, and what their reading level is. This will make it easier to help them pick out other books, to buy books for them as gifts, etc. Some parents take this approach a step further, and read certain books before their children do, so that they can help decide when the child is ready for the book. The more you know first-hand what your kids are reading, the more you can help.

B. If you and your child are reading the same books, you'll open up all sorts of doors for discussion. This is especially true for parents of teens and tweens. Today's YA titles cover a wide range of issues, and sometimes it's easier to talk in hypotheticals than in actuals. As in "hmmm, I wonder what you would do in that situation." It's a thought, anyway. I do know parents who have found this to work well.

C. Reading the books that your children are reading sends a strong message to your kids that reading in general, and specifically what they are reading, is important to you. This tells them a) that they are important to you, and b) that you value books and reading. And I can't emphasize enough how important this last point is. There are all sorts of reasons why many kids' interest in reading for pleasure drops off as they get older. All of the distractions of television and computers. All of their activities at school. A perception that reading isn't "cool" in some cases. And so on. But if you are as excited as they are about the release of the new Rick Riordan series featuring Egyptian mythology - surely that has to help.

AnotherAdultReading.jpgI'll also add a side benefit of reading the books that your kids are reading - it's a tremendous amount of fun. I know lots of people who got back into reading children's and young adult literature because of their children, and then simply never stopped, because the books were so good.

One thing I'm not sure of with this whole "read the books your children read" idea is what you do when you are flat out not interested in the type of books that your child is reading. The most common example is mothers who enjoy fiction, confronted with sons who want to read about planes, trains, and war. Any parents out there have suggestions for handling this one? All I can say is that even a little bit of effort probably goes a long way here.

Of course I'm not suggesting that you try to read everything that your kids are reading in any case. If your child is a real bookworm, this will be impossible. And some teens might resist the idea that their parents want to read all of the books that they're reading. But I'll say this: if your son or daughter (or niece or nephew or grandchild) has a favorite series, it's worth checking out an installment or two. If "everybody" in your child's class is reading Twilight, then perhaps you should, too. I think that you'll find the experience rewarding. You may help keep your older child interested in reading. And perhaps you'll find yourself hooked on children's literature, too.


Thursday Three: Nighttime

Posted by Pam on November 12, 2009 at 10:44 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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Nighttime is the right time for reading, and here are three, new, Cybils-nominated books to pick up for bedtime.

Night Lights
by Susan Gal
Night LightsTo be able to appreciate its charm, think of this book as a wordless picture book that happens to contain a little bit of text. The story is entirely in the pictures, with the words pointing out the various lights seen at night - like headlight, firelight, and flashlight. The story is of a girl and her mother biking home in the city, having a cookout and birthday cake in the backyard, and then the girl going to bed. Simple enough. But allow lingering over the illustrations to see the way the lantern light shines differently on the faces than the firelight. Notice the marshmallows that go outside in the lantern light, are forgotten in the lightning storm, and attract surprise visitors in the spotlight. Delight in the use of real fabric, elaborate patterns, and children's drawings to add depth to the drawings. Even the endpapers have a little story. Wonderful, gentle book for toddlers and preschoolers.

Scaredy Squirrel at Night
by Melanie Watt
Scaredy Squirrel at NightScaredy Squirrel is here in his fourth book, and just as charming as ever. Now he can't sleep because he is afraid of bad dreams in the form of bats, dragons, and polka-dot monsters. He stays up, but experiences many negative side effects of not sleeping. He faces the problem with preparations that involve cupcakes, banana peels, and a fire extinguisher. Will his plan allow him to get a good night sleep? Of course, but the fun is in how. Funny, silly, adorable, and clever the book quietly contains a message about the importance of a good night sleep along with the series theme of maybe not needing to worry so much. Delightful book that will be enjoyed by the preschool set and up.

I Need My Monster
by Amanda Noll, illustrated by Howard McWilliam
I Need My MonsterWhen Gabe is ready to go to sleep, he needs his monster under the bed. Unfortunately, his monster took off on vacation, leaving Gabe to interview possible candidates. But each one is rejected for not having loud breathing or sharp claws or a slimy tail. It's only Gabe's monster who is scary enough - in a good way, understand - to keep him from getting out of bed at night. This is a great take on the traditional monster-under-the-bed story where kids conquer their fears of this beast. Here the story embraces the concept in a humorous and clever way. The illustrations are amazing in bringing the story to life, but the monsters may be a bit on the creepy side for younger readers. Know your kid. It's perfect for the kindergarten to second grade set, who want a bedtime picture book with a little bite. That wasn't a monster joke. Okay, it was.


Show and Tale: Bridge to Terabithia

Posted by Gina on November 10, 2009 at 7:28 AM in ClassicsRecommendationsShow and Tale
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terabithia.jpgMom Jodi picks the beloved tearjerker Bridge to Terabithia. Katherine Paterson's classic story of Jess and Leslie, who create their own kingdom in the woods, is popular reading in schools, was a Trophy Newbery, and has been made into a movie.

"This book is my favorite because when it was read to me as a child, it began my love affair with reading," Jodi says. "It brought me to another world of imagination."

What book has opened you or your child's minds to other worlds?

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