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February 2010 Archives


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #8 Be Selective in Television Watching

Posted by Jen Robinson on February 8, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 8 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 #8: Be selective in television watching, and limit total time spent. There has been various studies that suggest that children under the age of two should not be allowed to watch any television. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, recommends that television viewing for children under the age of two should be avoided. The PBS Parents website has an excellent FAQ on TV and kids under age 3), compiled by children's media expert Shelley Pasnik. It includes links to the full AAP policy statement on young children and television.

For older kids, as reported in an article by Annie M. Moss in the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy (Vol. 8, No. 1, 67-102, 2008), an examination of various studies concluded that "(1) moderate amounts of television viewing were found to be beneficial for reading; (2) the content of programs viewed by children matters; (3) programs that aim to promote literacy in young children have been found to positively impact specific early literacy skills; and finally, (4) there are limitations to the existing literature".

The message that I take from this, and other reading that I've done, is that it's a good idea a) to limit the amount of time that kids spend watching television, and b) to be selective about what your kids (especially younger kids) watch.

Limiting Television Time:
Here's one simple fact, in the context of growing bookworms: time spent watching TV is time NOT spent reading books. In general, allowing hours and hours of television watching per day is not going to help you to raise readers. When kids watch stories on TV, everything is spelled out for them. When they read stories in books, they use their imaginations more. They picture the characters. They can imagine that the characters look like them. They become accustomed to filling in some of the details in their own minds. They see the words printed on the page, and learn what they mean.

I also think that books are better in general than television shows in terms of helping kids to expand their vocabularies. Kids who are read to from birth will hear many more different words over the course of their preschool days than kids who spend most of their free time in front of the TV. Especially if those television shows primarily use words like "bam".

WG-LOGO.gifUsing Television Wisely:
Of course television is quite enticing for kids. If you're going to allow your preschoolers to watch television, there are a couple of things that you can do to make TV work in favor of, instead of against, literacy skills. The first is obvious. Pick television shows that are educational and help your child's development, instead of violent or mindless cartoons. There are a number of educational shows that focus on vocabulary, but also strive to make reading fun. I've heard particularly good things about WordGirl and Super WHY!, for example.

rah-cov06.jpgAnother tip is one I learned from Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook (a book that every new parent should have a chance to read). Jim suggests that if you are going to have the television on, you can turn it into a "mechanical reading tutor" by the simple act of turning on the closed captioning. He cites examples of children in Finland who don't start school until age 7, watch a lot of television, and yet have high reading levels, explaining that they typically watch quite a bit of non-Finnish television, and make heavy use of closed captioning. It's like an interactive reading tutor, with the televised characters acting out the words. Closed captioning provides a steady stream of words across the bottom of screen, words that your child will notice and, eventually, decode.

Jim concludes: "It stands to reason that reasonable doses of captioned television can do no harm and most likely help greatly with reading. There is enough research to indicate significant gains in comprehension and vocabulary development (especially among bilingual students) when receiving instruction with educational television that is captioned." You can read more details here.

If you want your kids to love books, you have to give them time to love books. And that means quiet time, when the television isn't blaring in the background. Time to immerse themselves in other worlds, worlds that will build their imaginations. Time to just read.

But variety is important, too. If your kids are going to spend time watching television, the best ways that I know of to make TV work in favor of literacy are to select television shows carefully, and to turn on the closed captioning.

How have you balanced television and books in your house, in your quest to grow bookworms?


A Prompt Idea: Writing Ideas for Raising Readers

Posted by Terry on February 5, 2010 at 5:01 AM in creative literacy
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As you may remember from my post about letters to Santa, one of my goals for 2010 is not only to write more notes for my daughter, but also to let her see me writing more.

clear-wisdom.jpgModeling writing is important, as it is one way to help her become more comfortable with writing. I have tucked a couple of silly notes and cartoons into her lunch box and written in my journal at the table while she does her homework. It isn't an everyday thing, but it is something I am doing more consciously and consistently

All that thinking about writing and encouraging my daughter to write ultimately led to A Prompt Idea, a new column here at Booklights that will explore writing. Each month, I'll talk about writing and suggest ways to add writing to children's literacy diet.

youngaudiences.jpgEven if your child isn't ready to put pen to paper, prompts can open the doors to building vocabulary, honing communication skills, and being creative. Varying the outlets for writing and communicating is as important as offering different types of reading materials. With that in mind, I am going to use the concept of writing prompts as the foundation of to create literacy prompts. So let's get started ...

Prompts are like open-ended questions. They can help you bypass the yes-or-no answer, but sometimes nothing comes back. The question "What did you learn today at school?" is a great example. As parents, we're thinking, after six hours, Sammy should have lots to tell us. Sammy is thinking Geez, I don't know; so much happened where should I start? I can't remember. The proverbial brain freeze.

writing-prompt.jpgThe same thing happens when we ask kids to "write about anything you want." That works for some kids, but for others it is too broad. That's where prompts can help. A writing prompt is a "device" to narrow the focus and help you start writing.

  • Prompts can be in the form of a question or the first few words of a phrase or sentence which the writer completes.
  • A prompt might ask you to describe something (sitting in a waiting room); explain something (how to plant a flower); persuade someone (why should I donate money to the library?); or finish an idea (When the blue bear ran in front of me, ...).
  • The results can take lots of forms, though they are most commonly associated with journal entries or essays.

There are prompts for every type of writing, from creative to narrative to topical, on all kinds of topics, and lots of children's books. In the months to come, we'll explore many of them. For now, I've included a selection of resources at the end of this post. As you'll see, there is no shortage of writing prompt lists and prompt generators (based on words you plug in). Although many sites are for authors or educators, they can be helpful to parents, too.

Here are some Prompt Ideas for February. As part of this series, I will close each post with some writing prompt suggestions focused on topics relevant to that month.They may be helpful in just talking about ideas, dinner conversation, or as the start of a writing project.

If you haven't yet read it, Jen's latest Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere includes a link to Melissa Wiley's Saturday Snapshots post about her dad converting photographs to coloring pages for her kids. A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

valentine.PNGFor St. Valentines Day and National Heart Month skip the store-bought Valentines and write or draw a love note. Try these ideas:

  • Do you know what my favorite memory of being with you is? It was when we ...
  • Draw a big heart and fill it with words or pictures about the person you're sending it to.

  • pres-day.PNGFor President's Day and Black History Month sneak a little history in the process.

  • What would George and/or Abe) like about America in the 21st Century? What wouldn't they like?
  • Write a letter of invitation for George or Abe to meet your best friend: who is it? where would it be? what would you do? etc.
  • Create poems that use the letters of famous and/or familiar African Americans as the start to the poem.
  • Write a script or make a video/slideshow about a time when you felt you were treated unfairly.
  • dandelion.PNGFor Plant the Seeds of Greatness month take the opportunity to reflect, renew, and stretch your imagination.

  • I am great because ...
  • As I was walking home from school, I found a purple seed ...
  • When I plant my garden of greatness, my garden will look like ...

  • These are just a few of the events and days of recognition/awareness for February. If you have a prompt idea for one of these themes or another one, I hope you'll add it in the comments.

    Places to find Writing Prompt Ideas

    Within the Grammar and Composition section of, there is a list of 400 topic suggestions for paragraphs and essays.

    Writing Fix, the website of the Northern Nevada Writing Project has the most robust bibliography of book-related prompts I've ever seen!

    Children's authors Glen and Karen Bledsoe have built a robust website with all types of starter ideas for adult writers, young authors, and teachers, that is also an informative resource for parents.

    Daily Holidays on the Net lets you search for holidays, awareness days, and days of recognition on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

    images found via Google Image Search
    Spilled Milk Writing Prompt Template - Make Learning Fun website
    Mom and daughter painting - Young Audiences of Northeast Ohio blog
    Mom writing note with daughter -
    Sketches are from the Microsoft Clipart Gallery


    Thursday Three: Cybils Picture Books

    Posted by Pam on February 4, 2010 at 10:23 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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    In January, I talked about three of the Cybils Fiction Picture Book Finalists with an eye towards which ones might win a Caldecott medal. I was right about two of them. "Bam!" said the lady!

    I also reviewed one of the other finalists - Jeremy Draws a Monster - as a book that I was giving to my three year old niece. But with a bit more than a week to go before the ultimate winner is chosen, it's certainly time to share the other three books from the Cybils Fiction Picture Book shortlist.

    The Listeners
    by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Mike Benny
    The ListenersThe lives of the slaves are hard work, little food, and old clothes. But there are also times of pride, worship, and family. Under the cover of darkness, the slave children sneak under the windows of the Big House to hear the news and then take it back to their community. Inside the conversations are elements of harshness, indifference, compassion, and with any luck - hope. Beautifully rendered, this story for older readers will touch your heart and open your eyes.

    Silly Tilly
    by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by David Slonim
    Silly TillyHere's a goose who "took her baths in apple juice," so we can safely say that she's pretty silly. Her crazy antics get to her barnyard friends, who read her the riot act to stop the silliness. Later though, they miss laughing and the miss the real Tilly, who they learn to accept just the way she is. The value of the book is in the wild lines that will have kids giggling even as they are learning about rhymes. It's a perfect read aloud with wonderful rhythm and expressive illustration that captures this very silly goose.

    The Book That Eats People
    by John Perry, illustrated by Mark Fearing
    The Book That Eats PeopleDark and deadly, this is a book to be feared as it eats people. Throughout the pages the reader learns of many of the unsuspecting victims of this most dangerous book. The illustrations are appropriately creepy, and the tone is darkly comedic. While I personally would have put this book as most appropriate for older readers - say first and second grade - I've had personal reports of much younger children who want to hear this book read again and again. So beware, because it might just take over your family as well.


    What's your favorite book today?

    Posted by Susan on February 3, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Recommendations
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    What's your favorite book?

    That's an impossible question to answer.

    Do I mean your favorite book from your childhood? Your favorite book as an adult? The book that most impacted your life? The book you read last week?

    It's amazing to see how our tastes change over the years. As a librarian, I can't tell you how many times I've heard: "My child loves this book. It's his favorite." Yes, it's his favorite book right now. But what about last year? What about six months from now?

    I Stink.jpgLet me use my own kindergartner as an example. His first favorite book was Fuzzy Fuzzy Fuzzy! because he loved to play with it. Then he moved on to Good Night, Gorilla, Goodnight Moon, and Freight Train. Blue Hat, Green Hat enjoyed a spot on top of the charts too. As he got older, it kept changing. I Stink, Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go and Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel started appearing regularly on his must read pile. He thought Are You Ready to Play Outside? was the funniest book ever and we read that one over and over (and then some.) He's gone through Berenstain Bears, Dr. Seuss, Arthur and Curious George phases (some of which are still going). Dog Train.jpgWhen we were reading Charlotte's Web, he couldn't wait for the next chapter. I asked him today, and he said his favorite books are Rhinoceros Tap, Philadelphia Chickens, Dog Train and Blue Moo... all wonderful books/albums by Sandra Boynton. They've been on the top of his charts for at least three years.

    And I've changed my favorites too. In second grade, Cam Jansen was the best thing out there. When I was in fifth grade, I thought there was nothing better than the From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and I wanted to go live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I loved Marjorie Morningstar when I was an angsty teenage. Man Who Walked.jpgAt the time, it felt magical and as if Herman Wouk had written it just for me, but it doesn't resonate as much for me now. If you asked me for my favorite today, I'd say Pride and Prejudice. The interesting thing about that book is that I've understood, appreciated and loved it in different ways at different ages. But, I'd also say that my favorite book today is The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. And as of three months ago, I'd add Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. There's no such thing as one favorite, at least, not for me.

    I wrote last week about keeping a book journal and got many wonderful responses. A few people commented that the idea of recording books every single day seemed overwhelming. If that's too much for you, try keeping a favorites journal. Wouldn't it be great to have a record of that?

    What phases have you and your children gone through? What worked before that doesn't work anymore? What works now?

    And most important, what's your favorite book today?


    Wonderful Wordless Picture Books

    Posted by Ann on February 1, 2010 at 9:41 AM in AwardsPicture BooksRecommendations
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    In my posting on January 2, I suggested that we put together a list of the 10 best picture books from the decade that just passed. I said that list would be my posting this month. Since I have already changed my mind about my New Year's resolutions, I have also changed my plan for this posting. BUT I promise to get back to that list very soon.

    Given this year's Caldecott Award recipient, The Lion and the Mouse, is an almost-wordless picture book, I want to talk about ways to use such books with children. Parents and teachers may be at a bit of a loss on ways to share these books with children. With the great assortment of wordless picture books available, it would be a shame if children just looked at the pictures with adults telling the story.

    Let me first include some of my favorite wordless picture books. David Wiesner's books may well be the leaders of the group. Three of his books have been awarded the Caldecott Award: 2007 for Flotsam, 2002 for The Three Pigs, and 1992 for Tuesday.0618194576_l.gif0618007016_l.gif0395870828_l.gif

    Raymond Briggs's The Snowman gave us the first "modern day" wordless picture book. 0375810676_l.gifMitsumasa Anno followed with many beautiful wordless (or almost wordless) picture books, my favorite being All in a Day.0613145135_l.gif

    So how might we "read" these books with children? The youngest child will enjoy looking at the illustrations and will likely discuss what he sees. Jerry Pinkney would want us to spend a good bit of time on the end pages! Those endpages caught my eye when I shared them with you last November. pinkney endpages.jpg

    Kindergarteners will begin to see how the pictures are connected to tell a story. Many are able to tell that story aloud. Second graders can start to write the story that goes along with the illustrations. Fourth graders are able to include a plot and describe the characters with greater elaboration. Wordless picture books should also be used with middle schoolers, who are able to expand the story being told in creative ways.

    Enjoy The Lion and the Mouse with children of all ages.Take a look at the wordless picture books mentioned above. And let us know what other wordless picture books you have read and enjoyed.

    Happy reading, Ann


    Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: Encouraging Readers, Writers and Artists

    Posted by Jen Robinson on February 1, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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    StoryToYoungerSister.jpgThis week is National Storytelling Week in the UK, established "to promote the oldest art form in the world". Tipping my hat to the UK's storytelling week, I've collected a smorgasbord of articles from around the world dedicated to encouraging young readers, writers, and artists. I hope that you find some of these links useful.

    At Literacy Launchpad, Amy has started a new series similar to my own Tips for Growing Bookworms series. But she has much cuter illustrations than I do, since she's focusing on her young son, Isaac. Her first installment is about finding books on topics that interest your child. She says: "There's this certain joy that comes with finding a book that you know your little one is going to go gaga over. So far for me, it's been one of the most rewarding experiences when it comes to parenting... Who am I kidding? It's been one of the most rewarding experiences PERIOD." Who could resist that? Her second installment is about something that I'll be writing about soon, too: Have Books Everywhere!

    And in the spirit of having books everywhere, Booklights contributor Susan Thomsen from Chicken Spaghetti shares a short list of suggested reading topics for six year olds. The list was compiled with help from Susan's first-grade reading buddies.

    Here's another fun idea for six year olds (and others). At Here in the Bonny Glen, Melissa Wiley talks about how her father "converted a bunch of family photos to coloring pages and emailed them to us for printing out." Lori, a commenter at Melissa's site, dug up a link to Crayola's website for creating coloring pages from pictures. Seems to me that a creative aunt, uncle or grandparent could make a truly awesome coloring book for kids, with this technology.

    YoungArtists.jpgThe Book Chook (Australian author Susan Stephenson) has a fun post about using toys as a springboard for writing. She says: "Kids love their toys. Do you remember wondering what your toys got up to when you were asleep? ... Why not tap into that fascination and encourage your child to take photos of his toys? Use those photos to spark some writing OR plan your story first, and work out what pictures you need to accompany the story." She offers several concrete, detailed suggestions for children's writing projects based on photos of toys.

    Also from The Book Chook, a lovely post that answers the question: "what's so great about children's literature anyway?". Susan highlights many excellent attributes of children's literature, particularly when used for shared family reading (closeness, conversational bridges, exploration and escape, etc.). Here's a snippet: "By reading children's literature, or listening to it read aloud, we are putting ourselves in someone else's shoes. We experience their reality. This exposure to other lives increases our empathy and tolerance. One thing our world needs is more tolerance! By understanding another's perspective, we are less likely to be ego-centric, or bully others." Regular Booklights readers probably already think that children's literature is pretty great. Still, Susan's post may give you some ammunition, if needed, for convincing other people about the many upsides of books for kids.

    mrspicon.pngEverybody Wins has a Q&A with Mrs. P (aka TV star Kathy Kinney) about the importance of reading. Mrs. P says: "when you read to a child, you compel her to use her imagination, which can be a very addictive pleasure. Once you've escaped into that world, you always want to go back, and the best way in is through a book. The most interesting and successful people I know are book addicts. Hmm, all this talk has given me an uncontrollable desire to go read a book. Are we done?"

    The newest edition of the monthly Carnival of Children's Literature was posted this weekend at Jenny's Wonderland of Books. Among other kidlit-related topics, host Jenny Schwartzberg included a section of links dedicated to the importance of literacy and reading to children. One post in particular (in addition to The Book Chook's second post above) caught my eye:

    Fiona Ingram from South Africa shares her thoughts on why many children don't enjoy reading. She says: "the problem of literacy in my home country affects me deeply as an author. Around one fifth of the population of 48-million people are still illiterate." She offers advice for parents to remedy the problem, focusing on ways to keep reading from feeling like a chore. For example: "Be innovative. For example, reading to each other or acting out the various characters' parts will make it fun (children love acting), and if another parent or enthusiastic family members are the audience the 'cast' have to work hard to entertain."

    But do check out the other links from this week's Carnival of Children's Literature. It's an excellent resource for anyone interested in kids and reading. For additional literacy links, you can also check out this week's children's literacy and reading news roundup from Terry Doherty and me, now available on my personal blog. Thanks for caring about connecting kids with books!

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