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Jen Robinson: February 2010 Archives


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: February 22

Posted by Jen Robinson on February 22, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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I've run across a host of articles dedicated to encouraging young readers recently. I hope that you find some of them useful.

readingtogether.jpgCommonsense Media shares a Q&A with Diane Frankenstein (author of Reading Together: Everything You Need to Know to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read) on how to get kids excited about books. Here's a brief excerpt: "Parents mistakenly think that once their children can read on their own, they no longer need to be involved. Reading and discussing a story creates and nurtures the habit of taking about what matters to children. And in our fast-moving, media-saturated world, thoughtful conversations are more important than ever before." I so agree! Diane also includes some specific guidelines for talking to your kids about books. Thanks to my friend Liz for the link.

T. Wright at Room to Grow: Making Early Childhood Count has a nice nuts and bolts piece, with examples, on questions to ask when choosing a book for your preschooler. For example: "Is the text appropriate for my child's developmental level? Text with rhymes and repetition are often favorites for young children. Children are able to remember the text patterns and "read" the books independently."

pancakes.jpgOnce you're done choosing a book for your preschooler, you might want to check out Dawn Little's piece at Literacy Toolbox on ten tips for reading aloud with your preschooler. Dawn suggests: "Read wordless picture books with your children. Create a story for your child based on what is happening on each page. If your child is old enough, ask your child to "read" the story to you." She also includes some suggested wordless picture book titles, such as Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola. What do you all think? Do your preschoolers like wordless picture books?

SkeletonCreek.pngAuthor Patrick Carman has an interesting piece in Publisher's Weekly about how to reach young readers in the distraction-filled modern era. Carman says: "Today's teens and preteens have an overwhelming need to stay connected, and while adults may not appreciate it, we do have to live with it. My wife and I face this reality on a daily basis with our 14- and 12-year-old daughters. We've surrounded them with books, read to them endlessly over the years, and encouraged quiet time away from their friends and the consuming force of the computer. Yet it's a challenge to keep them engaged by the written page." He goes on to discuss the need to have (in addition to traditional books) stories like his Skeleton Creek books that "seamlessly blend words, videos, and the Web." Have any of you parents seen your teens and pre-teens engaged by more interactive, media-connected books? Thanks to Benjamin J Apel of PC Studio for the link.

And for another piece with an author's views on encouraging young readers, don't miss our new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature at Public School Insights. The interview is available in text and audio formats (it's 12 minutes long). Among other insights, Katherine Paterson says "Reading asks things of you that nothing else does. You cannot be a passive reader. It takes the gift of your intellect--you have to be able to decode the words and understand them. It takes, in a way, life experience, because a story doesn't make any sense to you if you can't understand what's happening in it. It also takes your creative imagination, because you have to make all the pictures. The whole child is involved in the process. I think we've seen what happens to a country and to a society when people stop reading and listen to a few sound bites, making really important decisions on the basis of very little--and many times very biased--information."

ReadAloudHandbook.jpgDawn Morris from Moms Inspire Learning recently read Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook for the first time. She considers it essential (the one book we all should read), and I do agree with her. I'm in fact re-reading it right now. Dawn is writing a series of posts in response to the book. One that stood out for me is The Tortoise, the Hare, and Literacy, about how many parents seem to live like the hare, instead of the tortoise, racing around to teach children phonics and worksheets, instead of slowing down to gift them with the love of reading. Dawn says: "It's up to parents to raise the readers and leaders of tomorrow. If we want to create a better world, we have to stop relying on other people to help our children to learn and grow. It's a big responsibility; but we have the tools we need to change the world, one child at a time..."

TheLightningThief.jpgJoyce Grant from Getting Kids Reading is always thinking about ways to connect her son with books. Recently she shared two posts that stood out for me. In the first, she describes leaving her eight-year-old son a surprise, no occasion gift: a copy of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. "You're eight, you don't feel like going to bed, you're dragging your feet, prolonging the inevitable... and then you find a new book in your bed. The whole situation suddenly changed. His face lit up, and he thanked me like crazy." The second post is about getting kids reading by telling them about the movie or TV show. She was thrilled to see a rack of movie tie-in books at Blockbuster, saying "I think reading extensions can get kids reading. For instance, while they're waiting for the new Alice in Wonderland movie to come out, I bet a lot of kids are picking up the book for the first time." What do you all think? Do popular movies and TV shows get kids excited to go back and read the books?

I've mentioned Amy's series at Literacy Launchpad on tips for fostering a love of reading. In her latest post, Amy talks about limiting television (something that I also wrote about recently here at Booklights). Amy extensively references The Read-Aloud Handbook (are you parents out there getting the idea that this might be a good book to read? It is!). But she also shares her own family's personal experience in limiting television watching for the sake of encouraging reading. For example, she suggests having audiobooks or NPR on in the background, especially in the car, instead of TV.

And speaking of posts that tackle topics that I've also discussed in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series, Dawn Little writes at Literacy Toolbox about incorporating "environmental print" into your preschooler's vocabulary. (My tip was about pointing out when you're learning something useful by reading - environmental print is a more concise way to express some of the things that I as saying.) Dawn says "Recognizing the signs, symbols, and words that children see every day is a precursor to beginning reading... It's important that children use the world around them to help make connections."

One more tips post, one that also references The Read-Aloud Handbook, comes to us from Jim at Teacherninja. Jim offers tips for teachers and parents for growing readers (especially formerly reluctant readers). Here's an excerpt: "The back of the driver's side car seats in both of our vehicles are stuffed with magazines and slim books that my daughter likes. There's no DVD player (except on long trips). Guess what she does when she's not bopping to the music? There's also a basket of magazines and books in both bathrooms. There's one with her name on it next to her bed she can dig into when she can't get to sleep. If you build it, they will come...". Jim also talks about reading aloud and limiting television, clearly recurring themes this week.

On the remote chance that the above didn't provide enough links for you, I have other literacy and reading-related news (including literacy-related events, programs and research, 21st century literacies, and grants and donations) at my own blog today (in a post co-authored by Terry Doherty). I'd also welcome any feedback that you might have on how I could make these Literacy 'Lights posts more useful. Thanks for stopping by Booklights!


The 2009 Cybils Winners!

Posted by Jen Robinson on February 15, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Awards
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Cybils2009-150px.gifYesterday was Valentine's Day, a widespread celebration of romance and chocolate. Less well-known, perhaps, is that fact that February 14th is also the day that the winners of the Cybils are announced each year. As I've mentioned previously, the Cybils are a series of book awards given by children's and young adult literature bloggers. The awards are given to the books that panelists feel provide the best balance of literary merit and kid-appeal. This year, there are twelve winning titles, in categories ranging from easy readers to poetry to middle grade graphic novels to young adult fiction. Here are the winners:

Cybils Awards for Children's and Middle Grade Books

Picture Book (Fiction)

AllTheWorld.jpgAll the World
by Liz Garton Scanlon; illustrated by Marla Frazee
Beach Lane Books
Nominated by: Cynthia Leitich Smith

Picture Book (Non-Fiction)

DayGloBrothers.jpgThe Day-Glo Brothers
by Chris Barton; illustrated by Tony Persiani
Nominated by: Cynthia Leitich Smith

Easy Reader

WatchMeThrow.jpgWatch Me Throw the Ball! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)
by Mo Willems
Nominated by: Melissa

Early Chapter Book

BadToTheBone.jpgBad to the Bone (Down Girl and Sit)
by Lucy Nolan; illustrated by Mike Reed
Marshall Cavendish Childrens Books
Nominated by: Jennifer Wharton


RedSingsfromTreetops.jpgRed Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors
by Joyce Sidman; illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated by: Elizabeth Bird

Graphic Novel

SecretAlliance.jpgThe Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook
by Eleanor Davis
Bloomsbury USA
Nominated by: Scope Notes

Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction

SilksingerSmall.jpgDreamdark: Silksinger (Faeries of Dreamdark)
by Laini Taylor
Putnam Juvenile
Nominated by: Melissa
My review

Middle Grade Fiction

by Laurie Halse Anderson
Simon & Schuster
Nominated by: melissa
My review

Cybils Awards For Young Adult Books


FrogScientist.jpgThe Frog Scientist
by Pamela S. Turner; illustrated by Andy Comins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated by: Laurie Thompson

Graphic Novel

Gunnerkrigg.jpgGunnerkrigg Court: Orientation
by Tom Siddell
Archaia Press
Nominated by: Paradox

Fantasy & Science Fiction

by Kristin Cashore
Nominated by: Jenny Moss
My review

Young Adult Fiction

CrackedUp.jpgCracked Up to Be
by Courtney Summers
Nominated by: Robin Prehn

You can find additional detail about the winners, including blurbs about each book, at the Cybils blog. You can also find a printable list of all of the shortlist titles (five to seven in each of the above categories) in the upper right-hand corner of the Cybils blog.

I hope that you'll take the opportunity to check out the Cybils winners. These are titles that are guaranteed to be well-written, kid-friendly titles, the cream of the crop from each category. You kids won't be disappointed with these books, and neither will you.


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?


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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