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December 2009 Archives


Thursday Three: Reading Resolutions

Posted by Pam on December 31, 2009 at 11:00 AM in creative literacy
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It being the last day of the year - of the decade - it's a good time to set Reading Resolutions. Continue to follow Jen's fabulous series on Tips for Growing Bookworms and make this the year - and the decade - that you...

1. Establish a Reading Ritual
The easiest way to keep reading in your child's life is to schedule it with as much regularity as dinnertime. Sure, it seems easier to fit in books whenever it works - and that's not to say that reading can't have some time in the quiet moments of the day. But what tends to happen, especially as the kids get older, is that other activities slowly crowd out books. Scheduling reading time for the end of the day keeps it important and keeps it happening.

2. Expand Reading Choices
I suspect that one of the reasons that parents become less invested in reading time is that they get bored. Hey, I've been there. I've done the tenth reading of Pinkalicious. One of the things that helped me through twelve years of reading time is keeping it interesting for me by expanding our reading choices. The easiest, cheapest way to do this is go to the library. I definitely believe that kids should choose their own books, but I also believe that parents should pick a few titles too. Use our suggestions here at Booklights. Print out some of the "Best Of" lists, and make your way through them during the next year. (My favorite lists for children's literature are The Cybils shortlists, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Association for Library Services for Children.) Ask the librarians for some new books that they've enjoyed. Along with exposing your child to many different kinds of books than what you might select yourself, you will keep the reading time engaging and interesting for you. Who knows, you might even learn something new.

3. Model Pleasure Reading
Okay, here's the one where I - and Jen - give you permission to do what you probably haven't been doing enough - reading books for fun. If you're like most of the moms I know, you save your own reading time for the very end of the day after the chores, the carpooling, the ballet/karate/music class when you're so exhausted that you fall asleep with latest Grisham book on your lap. Well, no more. I'm telling you to read during the day, perhaps in the actual presence of your child. I know it sounds crazy. But sometimes the dishes - and yes, even your kid - can wait. Kids interrupt adults' reading because we subtly train them to. We wouldn't stop cooking dinner because Susie wants us to color, but we'll quickly put down our newspaper for the same request. Yes, we want to show our children how valued they are by playing with them, but we need to balance that by showing them that reading is an important activity. That it is What People Do. Try out these phrases: "You play with your felt board here." or "Mommy's going to read. I'm going to read for a while, so do you want to make a picture with your crayons?" and my favorite, "Hey, get your book and I'll get mine and let's read together!"


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #6 Read yourself, and model an appreciation for reading

Posted by Jen Robinson on December 28, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 6 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.

Tip #6: Read yourself, and model an appreciation for reading. It's all very well to SAY that books and reading are important. But what kids notice is what you DO. If you turn on the TV during every free moment, and never have time to go to the library or the bookstore, your kids are unlikely to turn to books themselves. Terry just talked about this in her Dear Santa ... post last week. She said: "One of the easiest ways for us to get kids to see reading as just a regular part of their life is to catch us reading."

DadSonReading.jpgThis especially important for male role models, because boys often think of reading as an activity that's primarily for women. Every time a boy sees his dad (or uncle, or grandfather) reading, whether it's a novel, a history book, a business plan, or the sports section, he absorbs a tiny message that reading is something that guys do. Those tiny messages accumulate over a lifetime, and create a strong base for literacy. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

So what do you do if you're not much of a reader yourself, but you want your kids to grow up as bookworms? One answer is: tell them the truth. "I didn't read much as a kid, and now reading is hard for me. Plus I feel like I missed out on a lot of great stuff. I want better for you." That's modeling an appreciation for reading. Cap that off by making sure that your child has plenty of books.

FamilyCooking.jpgAlso, remember that all kinds of reading count as reading, and make sure your kids notice whatever it is you're reading. Point out when you come across something interesting in the morning paper. Talk about how much you love a particular cookbook, or how much you learned from a how-to manual. Listen to audiobooks in the car on long trips, or on your regular commute, and tell your kids about what you're listening to. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

Another way of modeling an appreciation for reading is to have lots of printed material in your home, especially books and magazines. This shows that you think that reading is a valued activity. Subscribe to the local paper, instead of just reading the news online. If you're planning a family trip, bring home some guidebooks about your destination. If you're planning a household project, pick up some books or manuals about that. Fill your house with printed material, and take books and magazines with you everywhere you go.

There are always competing demands on our time. Laundry to fold, bills to pay, phone calls to make, shows to watch on the DVR. And, hopefully, books that we want to read. But here's the thing. If we always prioritize the other tasks, and we let the books get dusty on the shelves, how on earth can we expect our children to think that reading is a valuable way to spend their time? Pam has a great anecdote at MotherReader about an incident playing house with her young daughter one day. The daughter, as "the mommy", sat down on the couch with a book, and told "her child" to go play with her sister, and let "the mommy" read for a while. Pam is justly proud of this story.

Here's what I recommend. Over the holiday vacation, take some time out to read. I mean, how great is it that you can do something to help your kids, and have it be enjoyable for you at the same time? So, curl up in that armchair in front of the fire with your book, lose yourself in its world, and be a reading role model, all at the same time. Years from now, your children will thank you.


Thursday Three: After Christmas

Posted by Pam on December 24, 2009 at 8:53 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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Surely, you’ve covered The Night Before Christmas in your seasonal reading, but you may have missed these picture books which focus on after Christmas.

My Penguin Osbert
by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, illustrated by H.B. Lewis
My Penguin OsbertJoe gets a penguin for Christmas from Santa after years of misunderstandings, but having a penguin turns out to be a lot of work. The feeding, the cold baths, the mounds of smelly fish - it’s a real problem. It’s also not an ideal situation for the penguin, so Joe does what is best for both of them. The “be careful what you wish for” message is handled with humor and grace. The illustrations and story make it brilliant.

Jingle Bells
by Nick Butterworth
Jingle BellsTwo mice would have happy barnyard lives, but are constantly bullied by the Cat. When they make Christmas stockings out of glove fingers, the mean feline puts up a note to Santa saying they went away for the holidays. Drat! They decide to teach cat a lesson, that involves a noisy jingle bell. A twist on the idea of the gift, where the present they give the cat is actually much better for the mice. Lovely illustrations with great details and a fun story.

Merry Un-Christmas
by Mike Reiss, illustrated by David Catrow
Merry Un-ChristmasYou may be surprised that Noelle isn’t happy with her Christmas pony or fancy dinner, but it soon becomes understandable when you find that she lives in a town where it is Christmas every day. Well, except for the one glorious day when it’s Un-Christmas and the mail comes and the kids go to school and everyone eats frozen dinners. Silly, funny, and yet with just a touch of message for kids who need to hear why Christmas comes just once a year.


Dear Santa ...

Posted by Terry on December 22, 2009 at 6:00 AM in creative literacy
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santaSCAN.JPGI want a wand that works and does real magek.
Love Catherine 2007

As she explained to us, Catherine didn't want something made out of plastic or a tube you load batteries into, she wanted a REAL wand. The kind that goes "poof" and makes what you want appear (and what you don't disappear). Well, because that was the ONLY thing my then 6-year-old daughter wanted, Santa felt compelled to reply with a letter of his own. When the Jolly Elf himself explained that wands are very tricky to make because the ingredients are different for each person, Catherine could accept why hers wasn't under the tree ... yet!

Periodically throughout 2008, Catherine would ask if we remembered the letter and what Santa said. Last year, still hopeful about that wand, she added another request, this time on behalf of her dog. Santa wrote again, explaining why he couldn't bring 15 real squirrels for Casey to chase.

In addition to creating two-way communication, Santa's letters have had another benefit: he is encouraging Catherine to keep writing. While she has always enjoyed reading, writing has always been very hard. In Kindergarten and first grade, her struggle with fine motor skills frustrated her, and even now that she has mastered correct letter form, getting her to write is still a battle. Only when something is important to her - like that wand - will she do it.

santa2.JPGSanta thought he was showing her that he understood her requests. He didn't realize at first that he was becoming a role model. Through this written conversation, he is quietly demonstrating how the two skills complement each other in her growth as a successful person.

Those simple replies from Santa are very important to Catherine. Last Christmas morning she made a beeline for the letter sitting in Casey's stocking, completely ignoring the gifts under the tree. She sat and read it immediately ... it was that imperative. Then she asked if she could write a thank-you letter to Santa. [Yes!]

So what does this have to do with raising readers? Well, it goes back to the idea of modeling our goals. One of the easiest ways for us to get kids to see reading as just a regular part of their life is to catch us reading. The same thing is true of writing ... if I want Catherine to see that writing is important, I need to do more of it around her and with her ... with pen in hand, not sitting at a keyboard.

So in the new year, I'm going to write more notes ... silly notes, story notes, just different things to entice Catherine to keep writing. Speaking of writing ...

When 2010 arrives, Susan Kusel will be back on board at Booklights ... which makes me very happy! I love how she brings the library to us in ways we can use at home. Although I won't be a regular contributor to Booklights every two weeks, I will still be writing about literacy, libraries, and books over at the Reading Tub blog. So I hope you'll stop by and chat there, too.

Here's wishing you times filled with great books, shared stories, and the magic of the season during the holidays and beyond.


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: Christmas Week Edition

Posted by Jen Robinson on December 21, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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It's been a quiet time in the Kidlitosphere lately. But I do have a few links saved up to share with you.

Literacy-Lava-Badge.jpgThe third issue of Literacy Lava is now available. Literacy Lava is a free downloadable magazine (in PDF format) dedicated to encouraging children's literacy. It's produced by Susan Stephenson from The Book Chook. Susan says: "It's another great issue, exploding with tips for parents about ways to encourage literacy in family life. Find out what your local library has to offer, read ideas on making books with kids, sneak some learning into shopping, discover games that build literacy skills, develop imagination while playing Grocery Store, make writing part of your family's life, read why picture books are so good for kids, and find out how literacy helped one child fight night terrors. Don't forget to check out the Online Extras page, and the Writing Prompt activity page for kids." I hope that you'll all check it out. [Image credit: Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook.]

The Book Chook also recently linked to an Australian study that found that most kids are largely sedentary, and that "Preschoolers are spending 85 per cent of their waking hours inactive". Susan went on to discuss ways to balance the need to encourage literacy AND encourage kids to be active. She suggests: "Making small changes might be the best way to start. We could swap half an hour of TV watching with half an hour of family walking or bike riding in the park. Once the whole family is involved, it becomes not only a healthy habit, but a way for everyone to wind down after work and school, and a great opportunity for casual conversation." She also suggests focusing TV time on shows that encourage kids to move around, rather than sitting passively.

Outgoing National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jon Scieszka had a great article in the December 11th Huffington Post. Scieszka says: "I used my two-year term to work on reaching the reluctant reader: that's the kid who might be a reader, who could be one, but just isn't that interested in reading. The new Ambassador will have his or her own program, and ideas on connecting kids with reading." He then outlines his top advice for encouraging reluctant readers. Although the advice is technically focused on kids who aren't so into reading, I think that it's a great list of tips for anyone. For example: "If a kid doesn't like one book, don't worry about finishing it. Start another. The key is helping children find what they like." Click through to see the whole list. Thanks to Meghan Newton from Goodman Media for sending me the link.

The Washington Post's Answer Sheet recently ran a guest column from Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer about whether good readers are born or made. Miller says: "The widespread belief that some readers possess an innate gift, like artists or athletes, sells many children short. I often hear parents claim, "Well, my child is just not a reader," as if the reading fairy passed over their child while handing out the good stuff." She adds: "The strong readers always outstrip the weaker readers because they practice, finesse, and expand their reading skills through hours and hours of reading." She also outlines the conditions that have been found to increase "reading engagement" in kids. Things like time to read, access to books, and reading role models. Click through for more details.

Our own Terry Doherty has a timely post at The Reading Tub, chock-full of holiday gift ideas that keep an "I" towards literacy. She notes: "With the kids in my life, I look for gifts that look more fun than educational. For example, kids who love mysteries and riddles might enjoy word puzzles or games. Because it is a game, then don't notice that they're practicing spelling, expanding their vocabulary, or learning synonyms and antonyms." She then suggests pen and paper games ("that you can create yourself, find online, or purchase in a "formal" game") as well as board games.

Terry also found a fun article with tips for practicing family literacy at home and in your community. Cindy Taylor shares an alphabet themed list that has everything from "Ask your child questions about the story you're reading to ensure comprehension" to "Zap off the TV - pick up a book instead!". I also liked "Quiet, cozy reading spaces are good places for your child to read independently."

9780399251931H.jpgAlso from Terry, an article at Literacy News on teaching about language through reading aloud. The article emphasizes in particular the benefits of dads reading aloud to kids, saying: "When dads read aloud to them, children are learning many different things. They are learning about the world, they are learning to love books and reading, and they are learning about language. This learning about language occurs mainly as children hear, see and understand the language as it is used". My Dad always read us The Night Before Christmas every Christmas Eve, and I can testify first-hand that this kind of experience leaves a lasting impression.

And on that note, I'll leave you with my hope that for those of you who celebrate Christmas, it's a festive and happy experience for you this year. [And don't miss Pam's post on celebrating Christmas around the world.] For those who celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or some other holiday - I hope that is, or was, wonderful, too. Me, I'm wishing for, and giving, books for Christmas, and gifting myself time to read them. Happy Holidays!


Thursday FIVE: Christmas Around the World

Posted by Pam on December 17, 2009 at 9:09 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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The original post I did at MotherReader about Christmas Around the World always gets a lot of traffic this time of year. So I'm posting it here for the PBS Booklights subscribers who may not have seen these options for expanding your holiday storytelling at home or in the classroom.

(By the way, it would be more accurate to call this post Christmas Around the World plus One Hanukkah Story, but that title was too long. Forgive me.)

The Magic Maguey
by Tony Johnson, illustrated by Elisa Kleven
The Magic MagueyA large maguey plant sits in the middle of a Mexican village providing many resources to the people of the town, as well as a gathering spot. As Christmas approaches, a rich man who owns that land says that he will get rid of the maguey and build a house there. Miguel, with the help of the other children, decorate the maguey so beautifully for Christmas that the rich man realizes his error and doesn’t cut it down. A great story about resourcefulness with a little bit of Christmas tradition and a smattering of Spanish words.

What’s Cooking, Jamela?
by Niki Daly
What's Cooking, Jamela?Jamela’s family gets a chicken to fatten up for Christmas dinner, but Jamela gets attached to the chicken as a pet. Tension builds as a woman comes to prepare the chicken dinner, but in the end, Jamela’s mother finds something else for the Christmas dinner and gives the chicken to Jamela as a present. A fun story of a South African Christmas,conveying a sense of the culture along with a few words of the country.

A Kenya Christmas
by Tony Johnson, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins
A Kenya ChristmasJuma’s Christmas wish is to see Father Christmas, and his special aunt brings a red and white suit to the village. She tells Juma to find someone to wear the suit so that the whole village can see Father Christmas for the first time. He does so and Father Christmas surprises the village with his arrival. But it is Juma who is surprised later when he finds out that the man who was supposed to play the part didn’t do so after all. Who was that man on the elephant? A very different picture of Christmas in Africa with amazing pictures by Leonard Jenkins.

Cobweb Christmas: The Traditon of Tinsel
by Shirley Climo, illustrated by Jane Manning
A Cobweb ChristmasIn Germany, a old woman sets up a Christmas tree and cleans her house throughly, chasing the spiders outside. Let back into the house by Kris Kringle, the spiders are curious about this interesting tree, and end up “decorating” it with their cobwebs. What could be a holiday mishap becomes magical as Kris Kringle turns the webs into silver, making the first tinsel. A sweet story about the Christmas tree tradition.

The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes
by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Nancy Cote
The Borrowed Hanukkah LatkesAs a family prepares for Hanukkah, more guests are due to arrive than expected. The daughter, Rachel, borrows potatoes and eggs from their elderly neighbor to make the latkes, each time hoping that by borrowing food she will convince the woman to join the family for Hanukkah. She can’t make her come over, but in the end comes up with another plan to bring Hanukkah to the woman. While not a story of Israel, it is my favorite Hanukkah story, so I kind of cheat and use it anyway.

I have yet to find a Diwali story that isn’t just, “This is what happens during Diwali,” so if anyone has one, I’d be happy to hear about it. If anyone wants to write a good Diwali story, I’d say you’d have a pretty open market.


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #5 Visit Libraries and Bookstores

Posted by Jen Robinson on December 14, 2009 at 6:00 AM in LibrariesLiteracy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 5 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.

Tip #5: Visit libraries and bookstores. I talked last week about how I think that it's important for kids to have at least a few books that they can own and cherish. And that's absolutely true. But I think that libraries and bookstores are important in raising readers, too.

It would be impossible, not to mention incredibly wasteful, to try to buy copies of every book that might possibly work for your child. Libraries allow you to choose a variety of books on every visit, and to try books out before you buy the ones that your child really loves. This is a true gift. The library will have the big-name popular books, sure, but they'll also have books that you would never have heard of on your own. The array of choices can be dazzling. Some of those books might become your child's favorites. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt gallery]

But there's much more to it than just the chance to try out books for free. A library is a celebration of books and reading, day in and day out. Taking your child to the library is a way to show her that you aren't the only one who values books. Lots of people, from all sorts of backgrounds, work in and visit the library, and think that books are important. Libraries also have events and read-alouds, programming centered around showing kids that books are fun. Yes, you can (and should!) read books aloud at home. But being surrounded by other kids listening to the same book delivers a powerful message to pre-schoolers. Hearing someone besides Mom or Dad reading books aloud tells kids that literacy is a universal thing. All of this reinforces what you're already doing at home.

Another plus to visiting libraries, although one that not every visitor takes advantage of, is access to librarians. Youth service librarians excel at recommending books based on a child's interest. Sure, you can find book recommendations online, too. But if your school or community boasts a highly trained, caring person, someone who can get to know your child and help him to select books, why on earth wouldn't you take advantage of that? I still have books on my shelves that were recommended for me personally by my elementary school librarian.

For more on the services performed by librarians, from collection development to cataloging, check out this recent post from Liz Burns at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy. Other Booklights posts that talk about the benefits of libraries can be found here (from Susan), here (from Terry), and here (from Pam).

Many of the benefits of libraries (with the notable exception of the free access to books) are also true of bookstores. Bookstores show kids an environment and a culture filled with people who also love books. The good ones are staffed by people who can help you choose books based on your child's interests. Bookstores also often have fun events. A bookstore is more likely than a library to host author events. These can be an amazing opportunity to get kids excited about books. See my Booklights post about a Rick Riordan author event last summer, an earlier post on my own blog about an event by Jon Scieszka, and Becky Levine's recent post about a signing by Eoin Colfer. [Image credit: Photo taken by Susan Taylor Brown at Jon Scieszka signing event at Hicklebee's Books.]

And although the books aren't free at the bookstore, that can be a plus, too. Occasionally taking your child out and buying her a book says that you value books enough to spend money on them. My mother used to take me to our local used bookstore on a regular basis. She'd buy books for herself, and she'd buy books for me. We always had fun picking them out. I loved the treasure of finding a used copy of a book by one of my favorite authors. Is it any wonder that I grew up a reader? (And, actually, my mom and I still go to used bookstores together when we have the chance. And I still love finding old copies of books by cherished authors.)

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of visits to the library, and visits to bookstores. Taking your child to visit both can be a wonderful component to growing bookworms. And, as an added bonus, you get to visit libraries and bookstores yourself.

Susan T.

Polliwog Serenade

Posted by Susan T. on December 11, 2009 at 1:50 PM in Picture BooksPoetry
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9780061800221.jpgPoetry Friday is a tradition at many of the children's book blogs. People review poetry books for kids, share original works, and post short, copyright-friendly excerpts of other authors' poems. It's a lot of fun; I call Poetry Friday a literary happy hour.

So, today is a Friday, and a perfect time to mention The Frogs and Toads All Sang, a picture-book collection of ten poems by Arnold Lobel (HarperCollins, 2009). Yes, the very same Arnold Lobel of the Frog and Toad beginning readers. The characters in the new book, very much their own amphibians (and different from the beloved Frog and Toad Are Friends guys), dance, bake, eat, and, in general, celebrate life. One even leaps to the moon.

Recently a couple of first-grade buddies and I were reading the book aloud. Suddenly, one little girl stopped and asked if she could sing the one of the poems. I said, "Sure." In the sweetest high-pitched voice, she began, "A bright green frog/With slippery skin/Played waltzes/On a violin." I clapped at the end. Good books inspire kids time after time.

Arnold Lobel died more than twenty years ago, but had written and drawn what became The Frogs and Toads All Sang as a single-edition gift for a friend. The work eventually found its way to Lobel's daughter, Adrianne, a Broadway set designer. She added watercolor to her father's original sketches and used them, along with the poems, to create a new book.

Publishers Weekly said that the poems and illustrations are the "progenitors" of the Frog and Toad series, but I didn't go into the publishing history with the first graders. We just enjoyed the book together. I bet you and yours will, too.

Feel free to sing.

If you would like to read more of the entries for today's Poetry Friday, Diane May is gathering all the links together at her blog, Random Noodling.


Thursday Three: Holidays

Posted by Pam on December 10, 2009 at 10:14 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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With the holidays quickly approaching, here are three books that I've been favoring lately to celebrate the season.

The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming.
Lemony Snicket
The Latke Who Couldn't Stop ScreamingJust hysterical. A latke runs screaming from the frying pan, and encounters various Christmas icons along its path. As the latke explains what it is and its significance in the celebration of Hanukkah, it keeps getting compared to Christmas. And so it keeps screaming. Lemony Snicket actually gets in a fair bit about the meaning of Hanukkah, while keeping a wry tone throughout. For instance as the latke explains in a long paragraph about being fried in oil as a reference to the oil that was used to rededicate the temple and the miracle that made the oil last for eight nights, the answer it receives is par for the course:

“So you’re basically hash browns,” said the flashing colored lights. “Maybe you can be served alongside a Christmas ham.”

“I’m not hash browns!” cried the latke. “I’m something completely different!”And then it runs screaming, “AAAHHHHHHHHH!” for two pages. As my kids have grown past the traditional - and too often schmaltzy - Hannukkah stories, this one is our new family classic.

The Lump of Coal
Lemony Snicket
The Lump of CoalOn the same note, we've turned to this title to replace the cute Christmas stories that absorbed us in the past. It contains perhaps one of the most perfect opening sentences of all times:

The holiday season is a time for storytelling, and whether you are hearing the story of a candelabra staying lit for more than a week, or a baby born in a barn without proper medical supervision, these stories often feature miracles.
A humble lump of coal longs to be something more and visits an art gallery and Korean barbecue in hopes of fulfilling his search for meaning. Instead a drugstore Santa decides he'll be the perfect thing for his stepson's stocking as punishment. But this ill intent goes right as the coal finds his purpose in an artist's hand. Wry, funy and odd, this book ends on just the right note for the holidays, and in echoing the first sentence, with miracles.

Robert's Snowflakes
Grace Lin
Robert's SnowflakesLest you think I'm all about the wit, my third choice is not about either holiday, but it is about beauty, joy, and hope. The book features dozens of snowflake shapes decorated by famous children's illustrators and gentle haikus for the winter season. The artwork created is amazing. Some illustrators featured their characters - like Oliva, of Ian Falconer and the dinosaurs of Mark Teague. Others contributed scenes of snow, skating, Santa, and lights. The real story within the book is the dedication of this group in auctioning of the original snowflakes to fund cancer research with the push of Grace Lin and her husband Robert Mercer, diagnosed with the disease. It's been a few years now, another set of snowflakes were auctioned, and more money raised through Robert's Snow for Cancer Cure.

Unfortunately, Robert himself has died. In his memory, Grace wrote and published her latest book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - a beautiful book of love, friendship, and gratitude that I can't recommend enough. Where the Mountain Meets the MoonIncorporating Chinese folktales with the style of European fairytales, the story tells the adventure of a girl trying to help her family by appealing to the Old Man in the Moon to change their family's fortune. I mention it now because the cover is very similar to the snowflake that Grace contributed to Robert's Snowflakes - a girl riding on a dragon against a blue background. I was in love with the cover months before I even had a chance to fall in love with the book. I also mention it because it would be the ideal gift for either/any holiday for a special girl in your life. Or for you.

Links to books in this post are affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which the site may receive a referral fee.


Read and Read Alike: Selecting Books for Older Readers

Posted by Terry on December 8, 2009 at 8:00 AM in Recommendations
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During a recent conversation with my mom, she said that she would like to buy a book for my 13-year-old nephew, "Sam," for Christmas. For years, Sam was a dormant reader. Like his dad (my brother) he didn't like reading when he was younger. Unlike his dad, he has come to really enjoy books just for the fun of reading.

heat-mike-lupica.jpgAt the moment, Sam loves the middle-grade books by Mike Lupica, a sportswriter for the New York Daily News. Mom wants to get Sam something he likes, so she zeroed in on these books. After she got to the bookstore, though, she realized that didn't know what books he has already read. [There are 12 titles, three released this year.] My mom thought she would call my sister-in-law, but then realized that she might not know the answer, either.

So what do you do when you want to buy books for a reader who loves a particular author or series but you're not sure they're at the beginning or the end of a collection? Thanks to Sarah Mulhern, I had an idea on how to help my mom: look for a read alike. A read alike is a book (or series) that is similar to something that you (or your reader) already likes. The formula is fairly straightforward:

If you like [insert: author, title, series name], then you might like ________.

book_pile.jpgEarlier this year, Sarah (a 6th Grade Language Arts teacher) wrote a post about middle grade read-alikes for Share a Story-Shape a Future. She is a voracious reader and gets her students excited about reading, too. Her Reading Zone post is filled with read alike ideas. Sarah says she frequently relies on "the wonders of the internet" to find book lists for titles that her kids are excited about.

My mom isn't going to search on the Web; she wants to ask a person. Using the example above, she can get some recommendations from a librarian or a bookseller by asking this question:

    "My grandson likes the sports books by Mike Lupica. Can you recommend some books that are similar to his?"

For those of us who are web savvy, the Internet makes it easy to find read alike lists. With Google, when you search read alikes, you'll see a number of additional options. I selected "for kids," and instantly had a list of library systems that keep read alike lists on their website. Here are several I found particularly easy to maneuver.

  • The Charles County (Maryland) Public Library has a read-alikes page that lists popular book series. One click takes you to a printable list of read alikes. Suggestions range from books for early elementary readers to young adult.
  • The Hennepin County (Minnesota) Library has a series of read alike tools, including the "If You Like" Author Search that offers real reader reviews of books that mention your author of interest. There are some glitches, as a search of "J.K. Rowling" came back with ideas that covered every genre. However, because the site maintains a series of tools, it is easy to overcome that hiccup.
  • The New Jersey State Library has a collection of read alike lists on its Youth Services page. Although there are just a half-dozen lists, the read-alike titles each come with a short note about the story. On that same page, you'll find links to the Pick of the Decade list with the Best Books for Children Grades K to 8 with books, 1995 to 2005. [They aren't read alikes, but it is quite a nice list.]

Another tool that I found useful is a website called After you type in the author and title of a book you just read (or may be interested in), your search comes back with recommended read-alikes from BookArmy, Library Thing, and You can click on a title in the list to get more details about the book, which is a nice feature. Another tool, What Should I Read Next? Is similar to, but it clearly has a commercial relationship with

UPDATE: In a comment, Shana offers this information about "[It] allows you to type an author's name and find other authors that are read by the people who read the searched author. The results are displayed graphically to show you which are most similarly read, least similarly read."

Between the bookseller in person and me on the web, we should be able to help mom select a good book or two for my nephew. Update: Melinda has already offered John Feinstein's books!

Read-alikes are a great way to keep kids excited about reading; keep them in their [genre] comfort zone; and, at the same time, stretch them beyond the totally familiar. For the gift-giver, they are a great way to show that you listen to their book talks without the risk of duplicating something they already read!

Do you have a go-to source for finding tailored book recommendations? Add it below and I'll update this post with your suggestions.

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