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Jen Robinson: January 2010 Archives


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #7 Point Out When You're Learning Useful Information by Reading

Posted by Jen Robinson on January 25, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 7 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 #7: For younger children, point out when you're learning useful information by reading. The idea is to gradually (and in non-didactic fashion) show young children the many doors that reading opens, and make them that much more eager to learn to read themselves. Here are just a few examples:

FamilyCooking.jpgRecipes. When you're cooking from a recipe, you can ask your older child to help you by reading the next step, or measuring out an ingredient. For younger kids, you can browse through recipe books or cooking magazines that have pictures, and point out that the text can tell you how to make the dishes that you see. If you then follow up by actually making some of the most interesting dishes, that will really reinforce the value of reading. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

ReadingGroceryLabels.jpgProduct names, ingredient lists, and prices at the supermarket. You can say "Look, your favorite cereal is on sale" or "Well, let's check the package and see how healthy this is" or even just "Can you tell which one is the Cheerios box? See the C?". Teaching kids to read and pay attention to ingredient lists is especially important for kids who have food allergies. (One of my favorite bloggers, HipWriterMama, writes about kids and food allergies occasionally.) But for most kids, food is a pretty important part of their day-to-day life, so seeing the connection between food and reading can only help. When you're out to eat, you automatically demonstrate useful reading when you read the menu. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

Maps. When you're planning to go somewhere new, near or far, break out the atlas, and point out some of the things you can learn from the writing on maps. Being able too read the symbols on a map is like learning to decode words, and is sometimes easier (since the symbols appear as pictures).

KangarooRoadSign.jpgSigns on the roadways. I've seen snippets on blogs (I don't remember exactly where) to the effect that the first reading that many kids do involves street signs. Makes sense to me. STOP signs are big and clear, and have a special color and shape to add visual cues, and make reading easier. Any time you're out in the car, or out in the neighborhood for a walk, it can't hurt to point out signs, and talk about what they say. The same goes for directional signs in neighborhood parks and amusement parks. For example: "This sign says that there are ducks around this way. Should we go see?". [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

Instructions. Whenever you have something new come into the house that requires setup or assembly, you can point out how helpful it is to read the instructions. As kids get older, you can encourage them to read instructions themselves.

FamilyReadingNewspaper.jpgNewspapers and magazines. When you pick up the daily paper or a magazine, it might make sense to point out to your child that you're getting useful or interesting information there. For example: "Should we check and see if the Red Sox won yesterday, and where they are on the standings now?" or "I'm thinking about buying a new phone, and this article talks about the one that I'm thinking of." And of course many kids enjoy reading the comics before they're ready to read much of anything else. I personally think that it's a great idea to keep printed newspapers and magazines coming into the house, even when you can look up a lot of things online. The physical presence of printed material provides opportunities for entertainment and consultation. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

Search engines. When a question comes up that you can't answer off the top of your head, you can develop a habit of turning to the computer. Most of us do this anyway - it's mostly just a matter of pointing out to kids when we consult Google or Wikipedia or IMDB or whatever. Of course we can also still turn to the printed dictionary or thesaurus. The more important point is to show that when certain types of questions come up, we can use reading, in whatever format, to answer them.

These are just a few ideas for pointing out the positive consequences that come from knowing how to read. We can get to where we need to go, eat what we want to eat, use the new things that we buy, and find information that we're interested in. Of course there's no need to be overly aggressive about this, and turn every little walk around the neighborhood into a reading lesson. But here and there, as you go about your day, you'll naturally find a few opportunities to demonstrate practical reading. It makes sense to me to use them.

What do you all think? Do you have other ways that you subtly point out to your kids the benefits of reading (above and beyond reading with them)?


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: January 18th

Posted by Jen Robinson on January 18, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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As many of you know, today, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, has been designated a National Day of Service to honor the life and work of Dr. King. The First Book blog has a guest article from Tina Chovanec of Reading Rockets with links to ways to help out in your community, as well as some "reading-writing-and-book-inspired ideas for the Day of Service or for a year-round community project." And here are a few other ideas from around the Kidlitosphere for encouraging young readers every day.

KidWriting.jpgBig Universe shares Five Ways to Raise a Reader from parent and former classroom teacher Dawn Little of Links to Literacy. Dawn's suggestions aren't unusual (read to kids, talk to them, expose them to plenty of print material, etc.), but her genuine enthusiasm shines through in every tip. For example: "Reading and writing go hand in hand. The more you read the better writer you become and the more you write the better reader you become. Encourage your child to write."

Terry Doherty found a nice little article about why reading aloud to your child is important at The Hobbit Movie Guide. Kent W. Johnson says "By reading aloud to your kids, you're showing them how to enjoy children's books, the English language, the wonders of a good story, and hopefully, you're instilling a love of reading and learning. Many kids associate books with the drudgeries of school and homework, but you want to show them how a well written children's book can be an exciting adventure, a real pleasure, as their imagination takes them to places they've never been to visit with people and characters they've never met." Obviously, we've been talking about the importance of read-aloud here at Booklights since day one. But we liked how this article specifically mentions poetry as a way to engage kids with reading.

MomReading.jpgAnother pro-read-aloud post, with book suggestions, can be found at Grow Up With Books, where Lara Ivey includes quotes from both Patricia Polacco and Jim Trelease. Lara concludes: "So, here is our challenge for you this week. Take a look at your calendars. What do you value? What do you make time for? Is there time for reading? Go ahead...write it in pen and commit to it! Do it for yourself as much as for your child."

The Book Dads blog recently linked to a handy 2-page flier prepared by the Eaton County School Readiness and Kindergarten Transitions team. The first page features tips for reading to young children, while the second page is chock-full of book recommendations by age range.

At Literacy, families and learning, Trevor Cairney shares 30 simple ways to stimulate children's learning over the holidays (he's based in Australia, and wrote this while facing the warm-weather end of year holidays last month). His suggestions cover a wide range of activities, including things like: "Dramatisation - Dramatisation is an excellent way to respond to a book. If you have a dress-up box all the better. Let your children either re-tell the story through dramatisation or improvise. Get involved to help set the pattern for turn taking etc. I play a mean wolf, and an even better Grandma!" See also Trevor's post about making books come alive during the holidays by visiting the real-world setting for a treasured book.

At Getting Kids Reading, Joyce Grant suggests encouraging kids to write thank you cards as a way to promote literacy. I thought this was a nice companion piece to Terry's recent Booklights post about Letters to Santa. Joyce is firm about requiring her son to write thank you notes for all gifts, and she includes suggestions for keeping the activity fun, rather than letting it turn into a chore. And it's probably not a coincidence that Joyce's son's favorite holiday gift this year was a book.

ParentReadingforPleasure.jpgPam snuck in an important post here at Booklights on New Year's Eve, with three recommended reading resolutions for parents. My favorite, of course, is Pam's third resolution: model pleasure reading. She says: "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."

At Kidliterate, Melissa urges parents not to rush into reading the Harry Potter books to their young children. She says: "If you are reading HP to your kids before you have read them the RAMONA books, LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, the FUDGE books, most of Cynthia Rylant, A CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE, STUART LITTLE, and most of Roald Dahl, just to name a fraction of the available books, then your kids are not ready for HP. Shorter books do not equal bad. It is okay to finish a read-aloud quickly. It is okay to tell your child that they are not old enough for HP yet." She also offers a great list of read-alouds that are appropriate for six to eight year olds. I agree with Melissa completely, and I know that Pam does, too.

The Learning & Reading Disabilities blog recently ran a guest post by Francesca Lopez about how her family helped a child who started out at-risk for reading problems to learn to love reading. Lopez's suggestions are in line with several already discussed (including parents modeling reading behavior), but I liked the personal nature of the article. I found this link via Everybody Wins! USA.

I hope that you all find some food for thought in this article. If you would like more literacy-related links, check out this week's Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup at The Reading Tub. Enjoy MLK Day / the National Day of Service.


The 2009 Cybils Shortlists

Posted by Jen Robinson on January 11, 2010 at 6:00 AM in AwardsRecommendations
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Cybils2009-150px.gifOn Thursday, Pam focused on three Cybils picture book finalists for her Thursday Three. Today I'd like to talk a bit more about the Cybils finalists in general, and why I think that they're such a great resource for parents, teachers, and librarians.

The Cybils are an annual series of book awards given by children's and young adult book bloggers. Now in their fourth year, the Cybils were started by Anne Boles Levy and Kelly Herold with a dual purpose:

"1. Reward the children's and young adult authors (and illustrators, let's not forget them) whose books combine the highest literary merit and "kid appeal." What's that mean? If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussel sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we're thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We're yummy and nutritious.

2. Foster a sense of community among bloggers who write about children's and YA literature, highlight our best reviewers (and shamelessly promote their blogs) and provide a forum for the similarly obsessed."

The Cybils award process is quite an undertaking. Each year, children's book fans nominate titles in a variety of categories ranging from picture books to young adult fiction and nonfiction. This year, 939 books were nominated across the different categories. Anyone who likes can nominate titles (one per category).

Once the nominations close, two rounds of judging ensue for each category. The judges are drawn from children's book bloggers, including authors and reviewers, people who immerse themselves year-round in their respective categories. Nearly 140 bloggers are involved in this volunteer-run effort. Many authors and publishers help by providing review copies, though panelists also buy, borrow, and share titles.

In each category, the first team of panelists weeds down the nominated titles to a shortlist of five to seven titles. Then a second panel selects a winner from that shortlist. This year, there are a total of 72 shortlist titles spread across a dozen sub-categories. The winners will be announced on February 14th (and we'll be sure to share the news here at Booklights).

This year, in addition to being the Literacy Evangelist for the Cybils (read: person who jumps up and down and tells people how great the Cybils are), I'm a second round judge for the Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction category. I'm currently reading my way through the seven shortlisted titles. I know from my experience in past years that selecting the best of the best will be a difficult task. That's because, honestly, every title that makes it onto the shortlists is amazing.

And that's why I'm telling you about the Cybils shortlists at Booklights. Where else can you find recommended titles, guaranteed to have both literary quality and kid appeal, helpfully grouped by age range and genre? There are thousands of children's and young adult books published every year. What the Cybils process does is start with those thousands, and then use an open nomination process to narrow down to roughly 1000 nominated titles, and then us a well-thought-out judging process to get the list down further to a few dozen recommendations. And although I'll be taking my round two judging seriously, my personal belief is that the most valuable thing that comes out of the Cybils are these shortlists. Are you looking for high-quality nonfiction picture books? Look here. Are you looking for middle grade graphic novels? Here you go. The Cybils shortlists are an excellent resource for anyone looking to match books to kids.

Here are the links to this year's Cybils shortlists (the Easy Reader and Short Chapter Books and Graphic Novels categories each are broken into two sub-lists, by age range):

Easy Readers & Short Chapter Books
Fantasy & Science Fiction (Middle Grade)
Fantasy & Science Fiction (Young Adult)
Fiction Picture Books
Graphic Novels
Middle Grade Fiction
Non-Fiction Middle Grade/YA
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Young Adult Fiction

And here are links to printable versions of the shortlists from last year and the year before (each link opens a PDF file).

I hope that you'll find the Cybils shortlists a useful resource. I know I do.


An Appreciation for National Ambassador Jon Scieszka

Posted by Jen Robinson on January 4, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Authors and IllustratorsLiteracy News
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Tomorrow, January 5th, the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature will be announced by the Library of Congress. The official National Ambassador site explains: "The position of National Ambassador for Young People's Literature was created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people's literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education, and the development and betterment of the lives of young people... The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the Children's Book Council (CBC), and Every Child a Reader, the CBC foundation, are the administrators of the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature initiative." As you might imagine, I was thrilled when this position was first announced two years ago.

JenwithJonScieszka.jpgToday, Mary Lee and Franki from A Year of Reading are hosting a virtual celebration of our outgoing (first) National Ambassador Jon Scieszka. They asked for blog posts honoring Scieszka, saying: "The "Thank You Jon Scieszka" post can be a review of one of his books, your reflections on his work as ambassador, a personal story around one of his books or author visits, something connected to Guys Read...anything Jon Scieszka."

I have previously reviewed one of Scieszka's books (Smash! Crash! (Trucktown)) on my blog, and recapped one of his bookstore events during his term as Ambassador (see a photo of me with Jon Scieszka above). I just mentioned one of Scieszka's articles, written as Ambassador, in my most recent Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere post, among many other mentions over the past two years.

knucklehead.jpgI also loved Scieszka's memoir, Knucklehead (though I didn't review it, because I listened to it on audiobook, but you can read a great review at A Fuse #8 Production). I think that his Trucktown series cries out "make reading FUN" with every new book. All in all, I'm a huge fan not only of Scieszka's books, but of his tireless efforts to promote reading, especially among boys and reluctant readers.

Before he was appointed National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Scieszka founded Guys Read, a website dedicated to helping boys learn to enjoy reading. Here's his brief statement on boys and reading (much of which he carried over to his work as Ambassador), edited slightly for formatting:

"Boys often have to read books they don't really like. They don't get to choose what they want to read. And what they do like to read, people often tell them is not really reading. We can help boys read by:

  • Letting them choose what they read.
  • Expanding our definition of "reading" to include: nonfiction; graphic novels, comics, comic strips; humor; and magazines, newspapers, online text (edited for formatting)
  • Getting boys to recommend reading they do like to other boys.
  • Providing boys with male role models for reading in school and at home.

Great ideas, all! A big part of what Guys Read provides is lists of boy-friendly books and audiobooks, broken up into entertaining categories like "Outer space, but without aliens" and "At least one explosion". But there are also recommended resources, options for starting a Guys Read field office, downloadable bookmarks and bookplates, and more.

Guys Read is a great resource, and I'm glad that it will be continuing. But I personally think that Jon Scieszka has done even more for kids (especially boys) and reading during his tenure as Ambassador. You can read his platform here. He visited 33 states and 274 schools, libraries, bookstores, conferences, and festivals in the past two years (per the Huffington Post article). He engaged thousands and thousands of children, and their parents, during that time. He spent the past two years encouraging people to let kids choose what they want to read, provide adult reading role models, expand our definition of what constitutes "real" reading, stop vilifying other types of media like television, and take ACTION to prmote literacy. The amount of energy this must have taken is truly breathtaking.

The committee members who chose Jon Scieszka to be our first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature chose well. They picked someone dynamic and talented, with a kid-friendly sense of humor and an unquenchable enthusiasm for connecting kids with books. I can't wait to hear who the 2010-2011 selection committee chooses for our next National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He or she will have big shoes to fill. Thanks, Mr. Scieszka. You did a great job!

Updated to add: you can find links to many more posts in honor of Mr. Scieszka in this post at A Year of Reading.

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