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Jen Robinson: October 2009 Archives


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: Reading with Kids of All Ages

Posted by Jen Robinson on October 26, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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Here are some recent articles about encouraging young readers that I thought would be of particular interest to Booklights readers.

Cathy Puett Miller has a great post at Parents and Kids Reading Together about finding time to read with your young child. Cathy recognizes the difficulties that families have sometimes, with today's busy lives, in finding time to read aloud everyday. She says: "carve out time in 10-20 minute increments. Your schedule may not allow more or your child may need small doses so that he leaves with a pleasant taste in his mouth about the experience instead of a negative one because he was asked to sit still for too long." Cathy also makes a strong argument for continuing to read aloud to your child even after the child can read on her own. I've always been a big proponent of this (see my Ten Tips for Growing Bookworms, for example), but Cathy does a nice job outlining multiple, concrete reasons.

Cindy Hudson at Mother Daughter Book Club shares reasons why your children are never too old for you to read aloud to them. Among many great reasons, she says: "Talking about what you read lets you broach topics that may not come up otherwise. If the characters in the book are having trouble with a friendship, your daughter may be encouraged to open up with you about a difficult relationship she's having as well." I agree with her completely. See also a post at 5 Minutes for Books by Ann Wright Rossouw about the joys of continuing to read aloud with older children.

Another must-read post this week comes from Donalyn Miller at The Book Whisperer, on the subject of boys and reading. Although written from a teacher's perspective, I think that Donalyn's defense of boys as readers has relevance for parents, too. She says: "Instead of blaming our boys for their gender, or lowering our expectations for their literacy development, we should scrutinize any system where boys are hailed for their achievement in science and math class and allowed to define themselves as nonreaders." She also offers some recommended titles that have been catching the attention of boys in her classroom this year, and has sparked a tip-filled discussion in the comments. Dawn Morris has also shares some helpful links for finding books for boys at Moms Inspire Learning.

Homeschooling mom Sarah has a lovely post at In Need of Chocolate in defense of picture books for older readers. She notes: "Some parents encourage a steady diet of chapter books, ridding their homes and library bags of picture books as they children age, dismissing them as the reading material of babes, but I believe that one is never too old for picture books." Just a couple of her reasons include: "Picture books create and sustain family memories" and "Picture books provide an opportunity to learn more about art and how feelings and stories can be conveyed through pictures".

Do your kids eat Cheerios? Are you familiar with the Spoonful of Stories program, by which children's books are available as prizes in specially marked Cheerios boxes? I love the idea of kids getting books instead of little plastic prizes, don't you? Brimful Curiosities reports that you can now vote for which titles are included in the 2010 program. You can vote once a day from now through Friday for any of 13 titles (including a couple by Kidlitosphere friends of mine, but I'm not a believer in telling other people how to vote, so I'll just send you over to the contest). This article was a tip from Terry Doherty.

Another suggestion from Terry was this Wake County SmartStart article with five tips for raising a reader. "Anna Troutman of Wake County SmartStart and Laura Walters of the Literacy Council of Wake County offer ... five simple ways to start your child on the road to reading even before your child can read to himself." None of the ideas are novel, but I think it's good to keep talking about the importance of reading aloud, modeling reading behavior, visiting the library, etc. I also find, via Book Dads, ten tips for helping your child learn to read from Michael Levy at Literacy News.

Last but not least, at Reading Rockets, Joanne Meier responds to a question from a parent looking for practical tips for those times when kids just don't want to read. Joanne says: "if I were to pick one piece of advice to help during those times, it would be this: make sure your child is reading at his or her independent level at home. A child's independent level is the level at which the material is relatively easy for the student to read, and can be read with at least 95% accuracy."

Have you run across any interesting articles about encouraging your readers? I'd love to hear about them.


Five Favorite Fictional Houses from Children's Literature

Posted by Jen Robinson on October 19, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Recommendations
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Lots of people responded positively to my recent post about favorite fictional towns from children's literature. A number of people commented and Twittered to share their favorites. Carol Rasco (from RIF) mentioned Misselthwaite Manor from The Secret Garden. And I thought "great suggestion, that's one of my favorite houses from children's literature." And that, naturally enough, led me to thinking about my other favorite fictional houses. In the interest of fairness (or at least of not being overly repetitive), I've excluded any authors who I previous mentioned in my favorite fictional towns or favorite fictional rooms posts. And yes, that excludes Hogwarts, because I've already mentioned Hogsmeade, and Green Gables, because I've already mentioned Avonlea, and the many great houses created by Elizabeth Enright and Zilpha Keatley Snyder. There are still lots of wonderful houses to choose from. In each case, I've decided to let the author describe the house in question. After all, they can do this far better than I could.

Secret Garden.jpg1. Misselthwaite Manor from The Secret Garden (with thanks to Carol Rasco) by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

"Not but that it's a grand big place in a gloomy way, and Mr. Craven's proud of it in his way--and that gloomy enough, too. The house is six hundred years old and it's on the edge of the moor, and there's near a hundred rooms in it, though most of them's shut up and locked. And there's pictures and fine old furniture and things that's been there for ages, and there's a big park round it and gardens and tree with branches trailing to the ground--some of them." (Chapter 2, Mistress Mary Quite Contrary, description by Mrs. Medlock)

2. The Hall family's house in Concord, MA from Jane Langton's The Diamond in the Window (reviewed here).

"All of the other houses on the street were neat square white buildings with dark shutters and simple pitched roofs. Out from among them mushroomed the Halls' house like an exotic tropical plant in a field of New England daisies. It was a great wooden Gothic Byzantine structure, truly in need of painting. Big as it was, it looked airy and light, as though the wind might pick it up and carry it away. Screened porches ballooned and billowed out of it all around, and domes and towers puffer up at the top as though they were filled with air." (Chapter Two, The Hidden Chamber)

Hobbit.jpg3. Bag End, Bilbo's house (later Frodo's house) from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.

"It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats -- the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill -- The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it -- and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another." (Chapter 1: An Unexpected Party, The Hobbit)

LionWitchWardrobe.jpg4. The Professor's house from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.

"It was the sort of house that you never seem to come to the end of, and it was full of unexpected places. The first few doors they tried led only into spare bedrooms, as everyone had expected that they would; but soon they came to a very long room full of pictures and there they found a suit of armor; and after that was a room all hung with green, with a harp in one corner; and then came three steps down and five steps up, and then a kind of little upstairs hall and a door that led out onto a balcony, and then a whole series of rooms that led into each other and were lined with books--most of them very old books and some bigger than a Bible in a church." (Chapter One, Lucy Looks Into a Wardrobe)

LittleHouseBigWoods.jpg5. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. (This house is technically not fictional, but since the series is generally shelved as fiction, I'm going to allow it.)

"Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.

The great, dark trees of the Big Woods stood all around the house, and beyond them were other trees and beyond them were more trees. As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week, or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses. There were no roads. There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them." (Page 1-2)

I think it's telling that all five of the passages quoted above are from the first chapter or two. These houses play a central part in the books in question. In thinking about these houses (and the ones from my other posts), it's clear that my favorite fictional houses fall into two basic categories: big houses with lots of corridors and cupolas and hidden surprises, and homes that evoke a cozy, safe feeling. How about you? What do you look for in a favorite fictional house? Do you crave turrets and long passageways to explore? Or do you care more about finding a cozy nest?


KidLitCon 2009 Panel: Coming Together, Reaching Out, Giving Back

Posted by Jen Robinson on October 12, 2009 at 6:00 AM in KidlitsosphereLiteracy News
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KidLitCon-badge.gifThis coming weekend, I, along with most of my Booklights cohorts, will be participating in the Third Annual Kidlitosphere Conference, a gathering of children's book bloggers and other interested parties. I'm expecting the conference to be a huge success (the conference organizer is Booklights' own Pam Coughlan, after all). I'm looking forward to chatting face to face with people I usually only "see" across the keyboard, some of whom (like Terry Doherty) I'll be meeting in person for the first time. I'm also looking forward to having discussions with other bloggers, and with authors and publishers, about books, blogging, and the nature of reviewing.

A session that may be of interest to the Booklights community is a panel session that I'll be hosting at the end of the conference. It's called: "Coming Together, Reaching Out, Giving Back: Building Community, Literacy and the Reading Message". Panelists include:

Here's a quick intro to the panel: "Here in the Kidlitosphere, we blog because we love books, and because we want to share that love and inspire the joy of reading in families, kids, and teens. In this panel, Ernestine, Gina, Pam, Terry, and I will be talking about some of the many ways that people from within the Kidlitosphere have banded together to connect with the larger community and spread the joy of reading."

I've put together a handout containing links to resources that I expect to be discussed during the panel, as well as some links to additional resources from around the Kidlitosphere and the online children's literacy community. I thought that I would share those links here, in case any of you who can't attend the conference might find them useful. (Everyone is welcome at the conference, by the way - there are a few spots still open - see here for details).

Resources Mentioned by Panelists:

Other Kidlitosphere Links:

Other Literacy Blog Links:

Of course I read many other children's and young adult book blogs, and many other literacy-related blogs. But these should get you started. There's also a nice sampler set of Kidlitosphere blogs available at Kidlitosphere Central.

I hope to see some of you at the conference! If you can't make it, and you have questions for our panel, just let me know in the comments. I'll let you know how the panel session goes.


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: Encouraging Readers, from Babies to Teens

Posted by Jen Robinson on October 5, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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With some help from Terry Doherty, I have been saving up recent children's literacy news with an emphasis on raising readers. I hope that you find these articles useful!

herson.JPGTerry found a nice little article at by Jennifer about how it's never to early to start focusing on children's literacy. She offers "a list of ways to help your small children become more effective readers." I liked: "Read everywhere - make reading a fundamental part of your children's lives. Have them help you read menus, point out road signs, read game directions, weather reports, movie and television time listings, and other practical everyday information. Also, make sure they always have something to read in their spare time when they could be waiting for appointments or riding in a car." [Image credit: photo by Taliesin, shared via MorgueFile.]

0470372273.jpgEducation World's Wireside Chat recently featured an interview with Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, about cultivating young readers. While the article is aimed at teachers, I think that parents can benefit from reading Donalyn's thoughts on learning to read, boys and reading, and the importance of kids reading every day. This part especially resonated for me (on why Donalyn thinks that fewer children are reading for pleasure these days): "Children do not realize that the same story arcs they love in television programs, movies, and video games exist in books. Schools do a good job of teaching children how to read, but provide little motivation for students to read outside of school. Reading becomes a school task for many children, not an activity they enjoy."

Of course one of the major tips for parents to encourage young readers it to read aloud to them. Via a tweet from Mitali Perkins (first discovered by Terry), I found a wonderful "how to" resource by Mem Fox (author of Reading Magic), complete with audio examples. Here's a snippet: "Reading aloud is an art form in which the eyes and voice play important parts. Here are a few hints about how to make the most of both, as well as some general advice on how to read all stories aloud in a more entertaining manner."

At Literacy Launchpad, Amy wrote recently about the importance of reading role models, including but not limited to parents. She offers concrete and enthusiastic suggestions, like "Encourage others' children to read, not only your own. We need to be role models for many! Ask your children's friends what they're reading. Volunteer to read at your child's school. Host storytime playdates. Be seen reading!" I always like to think of myself as a reading role model, don't you?

41JWWB5SA6L._SL500_AA240_.jpgAt Great Kids Books, librarian Mary Ann Scheuer reviews a brand new book for parents by Diane Frankenstein: Reading Together: Everything You Need to Know to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read. Mary Ann says: "Reading Together explains that it is through reading for pleasure that children will read more, enjoy reading and become better readers. The first step for parents is to help your child find books that they enjoy and can read successfully - a book that is at their reading level and one that engages them." I haven't seen this book yet myself, but it certainly sounds like a resource worth checking out. She recommends it for parents of four to 12 year olds.

I linked earlier to Susan Stephenson's two-part series about Literacy in the Playground. Recently, Susan published Part 3 at the Book Chook. After recapping several chanting and clapping games, Susan says: "Kids are hot-wired to enjoy play. The motivational factor involved in games with accompanying chants, means that children will repeat them many times. This allows language to become internalized. Judging by the looks on the faces of people I've asked about these games, and the tone of their emails, adults remember them very fondly. The words stay with us (in my case!) for an amazing number of years."

For parents interested in encouraging middle school and high school readers, Cathy Puett Miller has some suggestions at Parents and Kids Reading Together. Cathy specifically addresses the laments of parents whose children used to love reading, and don't anymore. She says: "Certainly you can't expect that 13 or 15 year old to want to sit with you and read like they did when they were small. But you can keep whetting his/her appetite for reading by exposing your young person to reading materials (books, magazines, Internet sites, how-to manuals, vacation brochures, etc.) that connect to his interests." She offers several concrete tips.

I also found an article by Pam Krueger in the Bismarck Tribune about the decline in reading skills among adolescents. Although the article talks primarily about schools, Kruger concludes with recommendations for parents. She says: "School is not the only place where literacy can be the focus. There also are things that parents can do to improve literacy in adolescent children. Continue doing the things that help younger children blossom into readers, such as modeling reading, providing an assortment of reading materials that adolescents enjoy, encouraging daily reading, make reading a part of the family's everyday life, and continuing to read out loud to older children."

I'll have more children's literacy news in this week's children's literacy and reading news roundup (prepared by Terry and me) at my personal blog. What about you all? Have you run across any recent posts or news stories aimed at helping parents to grow bookworms? I would love to hear about them.

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