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Posts by Jen Robinson


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: Tips and Techniques for Encouraging Reading

Posted by Jen Robinson on November 30, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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I hope that you all had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend. I spent part of the long weekend poring over children's literacy and reading-related news. In the process, I found a variety of newspaper articles and blogs posts aimed at helping parents to encourage young readers. Coincidentally (or maybe there's something about this time of year), nearly all of the posts are written in the form of tips for raising readers. I hope that you will find some useful ideas.

pbskidsisland.jpgAt Great Kids Books, Mary Ann Scheuer reviews two websites specially designed for children just learning to read. She says: "Two websites that I particularly like for children learning to read are: PBS Kids Island and Starfall. Both sites help children develop early literacy skills while having fun. Both are solidly based on literacy research, and both have no advertising. Best yet, both are free and easy to use." Mary Ann describes PBS Kids Island in quite a bit of detail - her post is well worth a look.

At A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy, Liz Burns recently republished an article that she wrote for Foreword Magazine in 2007, about ways to encourage reading. Liz says: "Reading is fun. And I think that should be enough reason to encourage reading, and to praise reading, and to value it when we, and kids, read. Linking reading to increased employment opportunities and civic duty may be necessary to get press attention or involve employers and other organizations, but c'mon; does a ten year old care about that? Should they? No; they shouldn't read "because I will be a better person." They shouldn't read "because then I will make more money." They should read because it's fun." And then she discusses specific ideas for making reading fun (including "Read what your kids are reading", one of my favorite suggestions, too).

For more tips on encouraging reading, check out this article by Dr. Michele Borba with tips to get kids and teens to read. Borba says "Here are nine tips from The Big Book of Parenting Solutions I shared recently on the TODAY show to help parents get their kiddoes reading and hopefully even rekindle that great love of the printed page. (A little disclosure here: I was a former teacher and taught children's literature so you have to know I LOVE the printed page. I've also written 22 books so my bias should be evident)." There's definitely some overlap between Michele Borba's list and my own list of Tips for Growing Bookworms. But personally, I don't think we can talk enough about the importance of letting kids choose their own books, reading aloud to older kids, and so on. I found this link via Tweet from @KidCriticUSA.

Still more tips are available in a Times Press Recorder article from First 5 San Luis Obispo County, published in honor of Child Literacy Month. This article breaks the tips down for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. For instance: "Babies like brightly colored books with photos of other children and such familiar objects as toys and baby bottles. Also, choose books with pop-up characters and images that are soft to the touch so your baby can feel different textures." And, for preschoolers, "Make sure to always have books available for your children, even while running errands or traveling in the car. Read while waiting at the doctor's office or the bus stop -- anytime is a good time for reading."

BunchOfBoysReading.jpgBack in September, I linked to an article by Trevor Cairney about using nonfiction to engage boys in reading. This week, Trevor published a second post relative to fiction. He says: "While using non-fiction is a great way to get boys actually reading, it is also very important to raise their interest in reading fiction. It is out of the reading of literature that so much knowledge of language develops as well as a whole range of study and research skills that are important for life". He shares a host of specific techniques for younger boys vs. older boys, as well as specific books to try with boys of different ages. (Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt)

Based on sometimes frustrating personal experiences, Amy from Literacy Launchpad shares suggestions for making the most of a library visit with a toddler. My favorite of Amy's ideas was: "When you read a library book at home that you really like, talk about how it came from the library! Get them excited about finding MORE great books at the library." There are some other suggestions from Amy's readers in the comments.

That's all I have for this week. How about all of you? Has anyone come across any good articles or blog posts about encouraging young readers? If so, I'd love to hear about them. I also have some additional links in this week's Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up on my own blog.


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #3 Choose Books that Your Children Enjoy

Posted by Jen Robinson on November 23, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 3 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 where I have them.

Tip #3: Choose books that your children enjoy. Find books that satisfy their interests, and let them choose books that please them. When kids are reading (outside of assigned school reading), the important thing is that the reading is a pleasurable activity. The best way to make this true is to help them to find books that they are interested in. Not books that are good for them. Not books that teach them a particular lesson. Not books that are someone else's favorite (like the parent's favorite). Just books that the particular child eagerly wants to read.

BoyReading.jpgThis is especially important for women selecting books for boys, who may prefer reading in formats other than traditional fiction. Yes, it can be frustrating to have your child read nothing but comic books. But reading comic books IS reading. I'm not saying don't try to suggest other books for them, too. But keep in mind that the central goal is for kids to find reading a pleasurable activity, one that they wish to continue. Everything else follows from that (all the way to better test scores and dream colleges).

EagerReader.jpgA related point regarding book choice is the question of reading levels. Pam suggested in a post from earlier this fall that children benefit from reading a mix of books, some within and some outside of their comfort zone. She also said, strongly, that it's important for parents to avoid playing "The Reading Game". You know the one. Where parents speak loftily to one another about their children's advanced reading levels. Don't get sucked into this trap. The important thing isn't that your third grade daughter is reading a sixth grade book. The important thing is that your third grader is avidly reading ANY book. She'll get to the sixth grade level book eventually, if she enjoys reading. But if you pressure her to read harder and harder books all the time, you're likely to turn her off of reading altogether. And that is a tragedy.

For more on reading levels, see my earlier post about discussions in defense of escapist summer reading, which links to several articles in defense of letting kids read what they enjoy. I also had a two-part piece (part 1, part 2) early last summer about reading levels, and the defense of kids reading books that they enjoy, even if they are capable of reading more challenging books.

StackOfBooks.jpgIt's simply, really. If you want kids to learn to enjoy reading, you have to give them time to read things that they like, and that they choose. The choice itself is empowering, and leads to a positive association with reading. Your son could choose fiction or nonfiction, graphic novels or poetry, magazines or car manuals. He could read Goosebumps or Junie B. Jones or 100 different Magic Treehouse books. He could read the comic pages of your newspaper, all of the Harry Potter books, or the Guinness Book of World Records. What he's reading doesn't matter. What matters is that he is engaged in what he's reading, and wants to read more. Because that's what we're after here. As long as kids keep reading, something, anything, they'll become more proficient. And that's the way to make them readers for life.


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #2 Read the Books Your Children Read

Posted by Jen Robinson on November 16, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 2 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 where I have them. You can find Tip #1: Read Aloud here.

AdultReading.jpgTip #2: Read the books that your children read, even after you are no longer reading aloud with them (or along with books you're reading together). Talk to them about these books. Let them recommend books to you. By reading the books your children read, you show them that you value them, and the books, and you open up untold avenues for important discussions. I personally think that if more parents and other adults did this, there would be less of a drop-off in reading for pleasure as kids get older (though I have no formal data to back this up). I wrote about this in more detail in a very early post on my blog. But here are three good reasons to read the books your children read:

A. Reading the books that your kids are reading will give you a much better idea of what they like, and what their reading level is. This will make it easier to help them pick out other books, to buy books for them as gifts, etc. Some parents take this approach a step further, and read certain books before their children do, so that they can help decide when the child is ready for the book. The more you know first-hand what your kids are reading, the more you can help.

B. If you and your child are reading the same books, you'll open up all sorts of doors for discussion. This is especially true for parents of teens and tweens. Today's YA titles cover a wide range of issues, and sometimes it's easier to talk in hypotheticals than in actuals. As in "hmmm, I wonder what you would do in that situation." It's a thought, anyway. I do know parents who have found this to work well.

C. Reading the books that your children are reading sends a strong message to your kids that reading in general, and specifically what they are reading, is important to you. This tells them a) that they are important to you, and b) that you value books and reading. And I can't emphasize enough how important this last point is. There are all sorts of reasons why many kids' interest in reading for pleasure drops off as they get older. All of the distractions of television and computers. All of their activities at school. A perception that reading isn't "cool" in some cases. And so on. But if you are as excited as they are about the release of the new Rick Riordan series featuring Egyptian mythology - surely that has to help.

AnotherAdultReading.jpgI'll also add a side benefit of reading the books that your kids are reading - it's a tremendous amount of fun. I know lots of people who got back into reading children's and young adult literature because of their children, and then simply never stopped, because the books were so good.

One thing I'm not sure of with this whole "read the books your children read" idea is what you do when you are flat out not interested in the type of books that your child is reading. The most common example is mothers who enjoy fiction, confronted with sons who want to read about planes, trains, and war. Any parents out there have suggestions for handling this one? All I can say is that even a little bit of effort probably goes a long way here.

Of course I'm not suggesting that you try to read everything that your kids are reading in any case. If your child is a real bookworm, this will be impossible. And some teens might resist the idea that their parents want to read all of the books that they're reading. But I'll say this: if your son or daughter (or niece or nephew or grandchild) has a favorite series, it's worth checking out an installment or two. If "everybody" in your child's class is reading Twilight, then perhaps you should, too. I think that you'll find the experience rewarding. You may help keep your older child interested in reading. And perhaps you'll find yourself hooked on children's literature, too.


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: Be A Commercial for Literacy, and Keep it Fun

Posted by Jen Robinson on November 9, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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For some reason, Terry and I have come across quite a few articles lately for parents on encouraging young readers. Since I had several articles stacked up, I decided to share them with you this week. I'll be back next week with Tip #2 in my new Tips for Growing Bookworms series (Tip #1 is here). But for now, here are ideas from a variety of smart people across the blogs and the press.

The Book Chook, Susan Stephenson, shared a fun post about the "sheer pleasure" of playing with language. She said: "Children are hard wired to enjoy nonsense, (as are Book Chooks!) and playing with language is something they take to immediately. From early peek-a-boo and finger rhymes, through nursery rhymes, poems and songs, we are exposing our kids to new vocabulary, and the rhythms of language, as well as reinforcing the sheer pleasure of messing about with words." She then suggested several fun wordplay activities for parents and their children.

The Eden Prairie (MN) News recently shared tips from Heather Peterson for motivating "reluctant readers". For example, "Family reading time. Families read together - either aloud or silently, either the same book or separate books. It is a time when adults model good reading habits for their children."

Hopscotch.jpgThe FirstBook blog published a guest post from Tina Chovanec, the director of Reading, chock full of suggestions for helping "parents jumpstart reading and learning together". I especially liked "Game night. Start a new weekend tradition centered around family games. Rediscover classics like Memory, Scattergories, or Scrabble, or explore something new."

FamilyCooking.jpgAt Moms Inspire Learning, Dawn Morris suggested that an important way for parents to raise literate children is by listening. She said: "Before children learn to read or write, they first need to listen to what people are saying and respond in an appropriate manner. The more they are spoken with and read to, the greater the chances that they will grow into active listeners, speakers, and storytellers. THEN they can become the strong independent readers and writers we so want them to be." She also included some concrete suggestions for more active listening and support of literacy development.

DadSonReading.jpgThe Bolingbrook Sun published an article with simple steps for parents to help students read better. The author (no name was listed) focused on helping kids improve their reading comprehension by asking them frequent questions, and thus teaching them to think critically about what they're reading. I think this makes sense, to a point, as long as you don't stop and ask so many comprehension questions that you make the whole thing feel like work. The author added: "Experts suggest that what they read is not as important as the fact that they read. Encourage her to read often from a variety of resources; books, magazines and newspapers, just get them reading! Let them see you read as well. Children learn to value what the caring adults in their lives value. If they see you reading, they may be more willing to read regularly, too." (All of which you know I agree with.)

In a related vein, at Parents and Kids Reading Together, Cathy Puett Miller shared resources to help parents find the right books for their children. The column placed particular emphasis on resources for gifted readers, but the author said that "many of the resources here will also be terrific for all families, with children of all ages so read on and see what you can find that works for your child." Here's a snippet, "Remember that you are the commercial for reading and that motivation is an important indirect component." Cathy also included lists of book recommendations, including "books under the 9-12 year area that are "safe" content for younger children."

Finally, The Hindu Newspaper's Magazine section published yesterday a detailed, thoughtful article for parents about the benefits of raising readers, and ways to do so even in today's digitally-saturated environment. Aruna Sankaranarayanan wrote "Reading can give children analytical skills in this age of information overload. As another Children's Day comes around what can we do to foster this habit". She concluded: "For India to achieve 100 per cent literacy in the fullest sense, it is not enough to simply teach the mechanics of reading and writing. Ultimately, literacy informs a way of life. Instead of children reading under pressure, we should strive to be a nation full of children reading for pleasure." Of course, her ideas apply to children everywhere, not just in India.

jpg_book008.jpgThat's all I have for you today. But Terry has a slew of other links this morning in this week's Children's Literacy and Reading Roundup at Scrub-A-Dub-Tub.


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #1 Read Aloud

Posted by Jen Robinson on November 2, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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Back in 2007 I wrote a post on my own blog called 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. This has remained a popular post, and people have suggested several other tips in the comments there. I've decided to expand upon each of these tips, and create a new Tips for Growing Bookworms series here at Booklights. Of course other Booklights contributors talk about tips for encouraging young readers here, too, as in Terry's Bedtime from Afar post from last week. But I say, we can't focus on this important topic too much. So, without further ado:

MomReading.jpgTip #1: Read aloud to your children from (or even before) birth, as often as possible, and keep reading aloud to them even after they can read on their own. Reading aloud has been shown to have a huge impact in raising readers, and is the number one thing that parents and other concerned adults can do to help grow bookworms. By reading to kids in a comfortable, safe environment, you help them to think of reading as a pleasurable activity. You also increase their vocabularies and attention spans, and show them that you think that books are important. And with all of the many wonderful books out there, reading together should be enjoyable for you and the kids.

DadSonReading.jpgIt's especially helpful when Dads or other male caregivers can participate in at least some of the read aloud activity. This shows boys that reading isn't just something that girls do, but rather something that's fun for everyone. A recent survey by UK charity Booktrust found that "some 67% of mothers of four to five-year-olds claim to be the principal reader, compared with 17% of fathers, although many more fathers were said to be reading than in last year's survey." The Booktrust study (as reported by BBC News) found that 96% of children surveyed reported enjoying reading, but also reported that only one in three families read with their children every day. I would personally love to see that last statistic increase.

ReadingOlderKids.jpgIt is, of course, tempting to think that once your child can read on his or her own, you can stop reading aloud. However, if you can find the time and the motivation to continue reading aloud with your older children, your whole family will reap rewards. You'll be able to read books that they aren't ready to read on their own, and share the experience of discovery. You'll be able to introduce your kids first-hand to the books that you loved as a child, and talk about why you loved them. You'll be able to discuss all sorts of topics that are raised in books, allowing you and your kids to learn from and about each other. Andrea Ross from Just One More Book! wrote a wonderful article for Canwest Newspapers last month about the benefits to parents of reading aloud with their children.

Of course sometimes it's hard to find the time for read-aloud. But I promise that if you do, you and your children will find the time well-spent. For parents who aren't comfortable reading aloud, you can listen to audiobooks together (libraries have audiobooks you can check out), or turn the pages of a picture book and make up your own stories. Children, young children especially, are a forgiving audience. They'll find the attention and the closeness and your time much more important than your particular pronunciation of a word, or the fact that you aren't skilled at giving the different characters distinct voices. The more you try, the easier it will get, too. See also Susan Kusel's post at Booklights about the ups and downs of reading aloud.

Reading aloud together. It's enjoyable time for parents and kids. It helps kids to do better in school, and builds family closeness. And it's free (all you need is a library card). It is well worth a try. Do any of you have success stories or tips that you'd like to share about reading aloud with your kids?


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.


Five Favorite Fictional Towns from Children's Literature

Posted by Jen Robinson on September 28, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Recommendations
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Charlie.jpgLast fall, inspired by a post at Charlotte's Library, I wrote about my Five Favorite Fictional Rooms from Children's Literature. That post remains one of my favorites, because it makes me happy just thinking about these favorite fictional rooms (like the chocolate room from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

This weekend, I got to thinking about some of favorite fictional towns from children's literature. These are towns described so perfectly on the page that they feel real. Town that stand out in my memory, and that my childhood self would have loved to visit. Some of my favorites are realistic towns. The only magic that you'll find there is the magic of community. Others are clearly fantastic, from a town for wizards to an underground city to a city in the clouds. But they're all special, in one way or another. Here are my personal top five fictional towns from children's literature, with a couple of honorable mentions at the end.

anneshirleyboxedset.jpg#1: Avonlea, Price Edward Island, Canada. Avonlea is home, of course, of Anne Shirley of Green Gables. Avonlea is a fictional community, albeit one closely based on the towns of L. M. Montgomery's childhood (or so Wikipedia says). Avonlea features Green Gables, Mrs. Rachel Lynde's farm, the school where Anne was first pupil then teacher, and Marilla's church. Avonlea really shines in Anne of Avonlea, as you might expect. Remember the village improvement society, and their mishap with the wrong color paint? I think that my fondness for Avonlea is a side effect of my general fondness for Anne, Marilla, Matthew, Diana, and, of course, Gilbert. When I started thinking about favorite towns from literature, Avonlea was the first to come to mind.

#2: Gone-Away from Elizabeth Enright's Gone-Away Lake books. I wrote about the second Gone-Away book, Return to Gone-Away, recently at Booklights, and also reviewed it here. Gone-Away is a former summer community, located on the shores of a lake degenerated into a swamp, populated by two elderly residents. Here is the reader's first glimpse of Gone-Away: "They both climbed up on the little hulk and looked out over the tops of the reeds, a sea of reeds, beyond which, and around, grew the dark woods. But that was not all. Portia and Julian drew in a breath of surprise at exactly the same instant, because at the northeast end of the swamp, between the reeds and the woods, and quite near to them, they saw a row of wrecked old houses. There were perhaps a dozen of them; all large and shabby, though once they must have been quite elaborate, adorned as they were with balconies, turrets, widows' walks, and lacy wooden trimming. But now the balconies were sagging and the turrets tipsy; the shutters were crooked or gone, and large sections of wooden trimming had broken off. There was a tree sticking out of one of the windows, not into it but out of it. And everything was as still as death." (Chapter 2, Gone-Away Lake). Of course the children learn that Gone-Away is far less forbidding than it first appears. Gone-Away epitomizes summer for me. It will always have a special place in my heart.

All Harry Potter books.jpg#3: Hogsmeade from the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Hogsmeade is a magic-filled town, located adjacent to Hogwarts. It includes the Three Broomsticks pub, Honeydukes sweetshop, Madam Puddifoot's tearoom, and, of course, the Shrieking Shack. Hogswarts students aren't allowed to visit Hogwarts until their third year, and even then they need permission from a parent or guardian (a sore spot indeed for a boy with toxic guardians). Millions of children around the world would go to the same lengths Harry does, if it meant that they could drink some butterbeer, or pick up magic tricks at Zonko's joke shop. Happily, they'll have a chance to visit a theme park version of Hogsmeade at Universal Studios next spring. I'm sure that's going to be a huge hit. Though me, I always picture Hogsmeade in the snow.

#4: Ember from Jeanne DuPrau's The City of Ember (with an honorable mention for Sparks, location of the second book in the series). Ember is an underground city, built as a last-ditch effort to protect humanity from a nuclear holocaust. The people living in Ember don't know that there ever was an outside world, and are completely dependent on light bulbs. Here's the opening description of Ember: "In the city of Ember, the sky was always dark. The only light came from great flood lamps mounted on the buildings and at the top of poles in the middle of the larger squares. When the lights were on, they cast a yellowish glow over the streets; people walking by threw long shadows that shortened and then stretched out again. When the lights were off, as they were between nine at night and six in the morning, the city was so dark that people might as well have been wearing blindfolds." (Chapter 1, The City of Ember) Who could read that, and not want to know more about Ember?

BelowTheRoot.jpg#5: Green Sky from the Green Sky Trilogy by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Green Sky is a city build high up in the branches of an enormous forest. The people there wear "shubas", which are garments with wide, wing-like panels. The shubas allow them to glide gently downward in Green Sky's heavy atmosphere (they use ladders and stairways to climb back up). Here's a hint of what Green Sky is like: "He stood on the narrow grundbranch, looking down hundreds of feet, through vast open spaces softly lit by filtering rays of greenish light, bordered and intersected by enormous branches, festooned with curtains of graceful Wissenvine. Shaking out the wing panels of his shuba, the long silken robe worn by all except the youngest infants, he launched himself downward into space." (Chapter 1, Below the Root) I've never forgotten Green Sky, first encountered when I was probably 10 years old. I reviewed the Green Sky Trilogy here.

And finally, here are a few honorable mentions: L. Frank Baum's Emerald City, Astrid Lindgren's Noisy Village, and Laini Taylor's Dreamdark. My fondness for these fictional towns is a testament to the power of literature.

How about you? What are your favorite fictional towns from children's literature? What other "favorites" should we discuss here at Booklights?

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