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Posts by Terry


Bookworm Basics: The Rainy Day Bookshelf

Posted by Terry on June 23, 2010 at 11:00 AM in RecommendationsSeriescreative literacy
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Books are great to share every day, but it is also nice to keep a few books in reserve for those times when you need to jump-start some interest in literacy activities and can't get to the library or bookstore. This is a stash of books - and it doesn't need to be many - that are the perfect response to "Mom, I'm bored!"

Joke books and riddles keep the kids talking to each other and laughing for hours. These books are essentially anthologies. They have lots of content, there is no required order of reading, they are (usually) good for mixed-age audiences, and everyone will find at least one thing that tickles their funny bone and/or stumps them.

Activity books are titles that engage the reader to use the book. Although workbooks fall into this category, I'd recommend keeping the fun in the books on your rainy day shelf. Coloring books and learn-to-draw books are always fun, as are books of word games (crossword puzzles, word hunts, and word scrambles). These types of books can often be found in a dollar store.

A kid-friendly craft or project book can offer hours of activity, too. A quick check at returned nearly 800 craft/project books for kids - 756 of them for kids ages 4 to 12! So if you want to find fun in a subject that interests them ... there is probably a book for that! Some need more unique supplies, so you may want to read carefully through the book to make sure you will have what you need on that rainy day.

Last but not least, books with blank pages (bound or spiral) are also good to have on hand. You may even think about adding a special set of crayons or pens to keep with it. Kids can turn the "empty book" into art or story portfolios, reporter's notebooks, lists of their favorite (or least favorite) things, journals ... anything their imagination dreams up.

Do you have any favorite books you like to save for rainy days?
Note: Book cover images link to the Childrens and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards (CYBILS) affiliate account with Purchases made through these links can earn income for the Cybils, but there is no obligation to use those links or to purchase the product.


Bookworm Basics: Bedtime Stories (5 to 9)

Posted by Terry on June 9, 2010 at 10:30 AM in Book Buying Easy ReadersPicture BooksRecommendations
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Creating a starter library can be lots of fun, but it can also get very expensive. Kids are interested in more involved stories and the list of bedtime stories is endless. There are bedtime-themed books that cover their worries (monsters, the dark) or their favorite things (dinosaurs, unicorns), as well as quiet, soothing stories that have nothing to do with sleep but are perfect just before lights out.

Because there are so many options, it may help to borrow a couple from the library to see if any become instant treasures and then make a buying decision (or not). This is also the time that many families introduce chapter books into their bedtime routine. I'm a picture book gal, myself, but I have discovered some great early-reader chapter books that allow us to share reading with our daughter.

Thumbnail image for bread-and-jam.jpgTo start, you can't go wrong with any of Pam's Beginning Bookshelves recommendations. You'll find some favorite characters from our childhood, like Curious George, Madeline, and Frances; and new friends like Fancy Nancy, Knuffle Bunny, and the Pigeon. Some of these stories now have multiple editions, too. For example, there is an easy reader edition of Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban. Here are a few more recommendations ...

anatole.jpgSusan Thomsen and her son like Anatole by Eve Titus. Anatole, a mouse who lives in France, rides his bicycle to the cheese factory each day. He earns his living tasting cheese and offering suggestions on how to improve it. Anatole is a 1957 Caldecott Honor Book, and Anatole and the Cat is a 1958 Caldecott Honor Book. There are two other titles in the series: Anatole and the Toy Shop and Anatole and the Piano. These last two books are out of print, but probably available at your library.

monster-trap.jpgThe Monster Trap by Dean Morrissey was a favorite in our house for about a year! Paddy, a young boy, is staying with his grandfather. His house seems different - spookier - than he remembered. Paddy can't sleep because he is sure he heard a monster. Together, they build traps to catch the monsters, each trap becoming more elaborate than the last. When they finally snare a monster, they learn just how much fun these critters are. This book turns the monster theme upside down. From Publishers Weekly: "The pictures comically reveal benign, silly-looking creatures as the source of the boy's fears."

poppleton.jpgCynthia Rylant's easy reader series - Henry and Mudge, Mr. Putter and Tabby, Annie and Snowball, the High Rise Private Eyes, and Poppleton - are wonderful stories that allow you and your audience to share the reading. The stories are light, build on each other, and have a twist that make it fun for adults and children alike.

To see the full list of favorites, and to keep the ideas in an easy-to-grab spot, I have created a list of these titles at Indie Bound and an Amazon aStore.

Note: The bookcover images in this post link to and include an affiliate code that, through purchases, may earn income for the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards (aka Cybils). The Indie Bound List and aStore include an affiliate code for the Reading Tub that, through purchases, may earn income for this literacy nonprofit. You are not obligated to use those links or make purchases through them.


Bookworm Basics: Summer Reading

Posted by Terry on June 2, 2010 at 10:30 AM in DatabasesLibrariesRecommendationsSeries
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ben-addy.jpgToward the end of April, the "summer reading" whispers started. But now it's June and school is out or almost over, so today I'm shifting gears and thinking about summer reading.

Reading is a lot like exercise. You need to do it regularly. When you take a vacation from your workouts, it takes some time to get back to where you were before. If I skip exercising for just ten days, I feel like I'm starting over when I get back. The same thing happens on a reading vacation. For kids, that can last three months! Ouch! To help prevent "injury," schools often send home a "reading list" so students can keep "fit" over the summer.

There are lots of opinions about the lists, particularly when the list hasn't changed since you were in school. Just know they are singular in their plea: please keep your child reading this summer. It can be tricky finding books that will keep them reading through the summer, especially with one of those stagnant, age-old lists! So what's a parent to do?

SMTD_2c_72.jpgFirst, introduce yourself to the librarians! Libraries across the country will be launching their summer reading programs over the next few weeks, and these programs are a great way to connect kids with books and keep them in tip-top reading shape. Another option is to seek out some books from ... lists of recommended books.

That's a reading list by another name, right? Yes and no. Yes, it is a list of books, but it isn't a standardized group of books. These are collections of books created by people who have road-tested the books and believe in their value. The recommended lists are often built around a theme. For example, Reading Rockets (and many other websites) have lists of books by theme or by award or recognition. At Reach Out and Read, you'll find books by developmental age. I love Reading Rocket's guide for how to find that 'just right' book. Hint: read page 2!

Thumbnail image for bookstack.pngYesterday, Susan Kusel took us behind the scenes of creating a book list. She not only shared how book lists are created, but also shows why librarians are the go-to resource for reading ideas. What I love about What's Next, a resource created by the wonderful librarians at the Arlington Public Library, is that it is part reading list, part idea box. I can find suggestions by book format (e.g., picture book), audience (infant through teen), and/or subject (apples to zoos and beyond) Here are two other all-inclusive resources I recommend.

  • For Share a Story-Shape a Future 2009, we put together a magazine called the Big List of Books. It includes every book recommended by parents, teachers, and librarians; and covers all ages and topics. Many of the resources in these lists include books across the full spectrum of readers, from infants to teens and beyond. For simplicity's sake they are listed just once.

Emergent Literacy - Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

Children's Picture Book Data Base - Miami University (OH) maintains a database is filled with more than 5,000 picture books, complete with abstracts! It is designed for educators who are building their curriculum, but it is a very handy tool when you're a mom looking for books about tractors.

Toddlers Booklist - On this Montgomery County (MD) Public Library list you'll find books that the librarians likely have used at storytime ... with great success. There is a bookcover image and short description with each title listed.

Early and Transitional Literacy - Kindergarten to Second Grade
SteveLambert_Card_Catalog.pngInfo Soup - This is a multifaceted, cooperative website maintained by a group of Wisconsin Public Libraries. You can find books via the page of book lists, or you can start at the home page and search any or all collections by title, author, keyword, or topic.

Zuckerman's Barn Kids Lit - This site offers a searchable database of book reviews by students for students. The goal of the site is to "create a community of readers across classrooms and schools, including both students and supportive adults." Search books by title, author, subject, grade level, and more.

Fluent Readers - Third Grade and Beyond
SteveLambert_Library_Book_Cart.pngLittle Willow's Booklists @ Bildungsroman - Little Willow's lists are my go-to recommendation when someone asks for a list. You'll find recommendations sorted by audience, themes, and topics, as well as her personal recommendations.

Best Books List @ Children's Literature Web Guide - The University of Calgary (Canada) maintains this site (link takes you to the Guide's topical list). What I love is that the topics go beyond the norm and focus on traits or interest for older kids, like books with artistic protagonists.

Many libraries create and maintain their own lists, too, so check out their sites. The Monroe County (IN) Library hosts a Children's Booklists on the Web page, where you can find a bunch of them in one place. Not all lists are created equal, and your librarian can point you toward some great ones or offer some "read alikes" that might work for the list you have.

purzen_Icon_with_question_mark.pngNow for the Million dollar question: Will my child will like the books on these lists? Odds are they won't like every book on any given list. They may not even like the first book from a list. Don't give up. If you get a couple pages in and the book isn't working, drop that one and find another one. If you've narrowed your options to things your child likes, it doesn't mean the entire list won't work, only that book. Just keep reading ... it's good exercise!

Image credit: Toddler and infant reading - Beach Book Trip by Kristi on Flickr.
Clipart - Open Clip Art Library: card catalog (Steve Lambert); library cart (Steve Lambert); pile of books (J Alves); question mark (Purzen)


Bookworm Basics: Books for Your World Explorer (0 to 5)

Posted by Terry on May 26, 2010 at 10:00 AM in Board BooksBook Buying Early LiteracyPicture BooksRecommendationsSeries
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The great thing - and the frustrating thing - about infants, toddlers, and preschoolers is that they are into everything. They are discovering something new all the time, beginning to label the world around them, and even deciding what they like and don't like. [Dinosaurs - yes. Spinach - not so much!]

Last week we talked about bedtime stories for your home library. This week it's all about those waking hours! One suggestion: opt for the board book edition if there is one. This audience is notoriously tough on books!

Cars and Trucks and Things that Go by Richard Scarry. Susan Thomsen counts this and Freight Trains by Donald Crews among her son's favorites at this age. This is a timeless classic. With Car, kids can figure out what moves (and what doesn't), make the sounds of myriad transportation modes and animals, and feed that passion for things that move! Scarry did a great job of "hiding" other things in the illustrations that will keep young children glued to the page.

Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty. When Pam narrowed down her gift choices for 3-year-old niece, Jeremy was on the list. From Pam: "This title is one of my favorites of 2009, though it seems to have slipped under the radar in the book world. I didn't think the amazing message contained within was too subtle, but maybe it did escape many readers who looked at the surface and saw a simple, light story. It's a shame, because people missed one of the better combinations of art, story, and message that I've ever seen."

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems. I admit, that while I love Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny isn't a personal fave. Still, as Gina points out in her Show and Tale last November, Mo and the Bunny have LOTS of adoring fans. Here's what Karen told Gina: "My daughter loves Knuffle Bunny in all its forms (including the sequel). She adores the combination of photography and cartoons and has been able to recite the story since before she could read." What more could you ask for?

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. When we knew we were going to adopt, this was one of my first book purchases. I loved this story as a child. Even through the pages you can engage your senses, from the chill of Peter's hands to the crunch, crunch, crunch of the snow.

Picture books are a natural choice when it comes to piquing and satisfying a young child's curiosity. There are so many wonderful choices - what books do you recommend for a play-time library?

To see the full list of favorites, and to keep the ideas in an easy-to-grab spot, I have created a list of these titles at Indie Bound and an aStore on

Note: The bookcover images in this post link to and include an affiliate code that, through purchases, may earn income for the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards (aka Cybils). The Indie Bound List and aStore include an affiliate code for the Reading Tub that, through purchases, may earn income for this literacy nonprofit. You are not obligated to use those links or make purchases through them.


Bookworm Basics: Building a Bedtime Library (0 to 5)

Posted by Terry on May 19, 2010 at 10:05 AM in Book Buying Picture BooksRecommendationsSeries
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Last week, Susan Kusel offered a wonderful guide on budget-friendly way to build your child's library with library book sales. She even has some suggestions on when to shop (early) and what kinds of books to look for (hardcovers and series). If you haven't read it yet, check out Have I Got a Deal for You! You might also check out Pam's Thrifty Three ways to keep reading in tough economic times back in March.

I love Susan's post, bookmarked it, and even referenced it in a couple of places; but it left me with one question: If I'm starting a library for a child what titles should I try to find? Voila! A Bookworm Basics mini-series is born. Over the next few weeks, I'll have some recommendations with books for different ages.

Today we're talking bedtime stories. When I hear "read with your child," the first image that comes to mind is cuddling up close and sharing a picture book. These are the first books you're likely to own, and here are some of our favorites.

Night Lights by Susan Gal. Pam featured this in Thursday Three last November. Here is what Pam offered in a comment: "at my first look, Night Lights didn't grab me. But I realized that I was taking it too fast, and it's a book that needs you to slow down. It's there that I found its quiet value. I didn't even mention this, but I also like that it's about just a girl and her mom (and dog). Maybe it's a single mom or a dad in the military, but I liked seeing that represented."

The Owl and the Pussy Cat by Edward Lear, illustrated by Jan Brett. With Jan Brett's beautiful illustrations of this story of an unlikely couple, what's not to love? The rhyme is a soothing counterpoint to the bright illustrations. As Susan Thomsen says this one is not about sleep, but it is a beloved book that she and her son have shared repeatedly at bedtime.

Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go To Sleep by Joyce Dunbar, illustrated by Debi Gliori. In her February 2010 Show and Tale, Gina shares colleague Tracy Wynne's story about how she came to love this book after her 5-year-old daughter started having bad dreams. "In my frantic search to ease her fears, I came across the most delightful book ... This wonderful read-aloud is sweet and reassuring. I love how it addresses the power of positive thinking; a skill that will serve children well, even at night."

Time for Bed by Mem Fox, illustrated by Jane Dyer. It is hard to beat Mem Fox for wonderful stories. Mother animals beg their young one to go to sleep, and each mom has a different way of imploring their child to settle in for bed. For years this was our go-to book at nap time and bedtime. It is a particularly soothing story that offers a quiet "hush" with every turn and always got our busy toddler to stop what she was doing and hop into bed.

It's hard to beat the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with snuggling together to share a book. Including reading as part of your go-to-bed ritual is a wonderful tradition, an easy way to share a love of reading, and a great way to close out each day for you and your child. Do you have a family favorite? We'd love to hear about it!

To see the full list of favorites, and to keep the ideas in an easy-to-grab spot, I have created a list of these titles at Indie Bound and an aStore on

Note: The bookcover images in this post link to and include an affiliate code that, through purchases, may earn income for the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards (aka Cybils). The Indie Bound List and aStore include an affiliate code for the Reading Tub that, through purchases, may earn income for this literacy nonprofit. You are not obligated to use those links or make purchases through them.


Bookworm Basics: Once Upon a Time - The Magic of Fairy Tales

Posted by Terry on May 12, 2010 at 11:00 AM in ClassicsPicture BooksRecommendations
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Most of the time you will find me reading a children's book, but this past week I took time out to read Ten Tips for Raising a Reader by Fran Hawk, a school librarian in the Charleston County (SC) school system. Fran talked about lots of genres and ways to use books, but her discussion about the power of fairy tales and folktales really stuck with me. By way of background, Fran was talking about her first job as a librarian. She worked in a rural school library where the students came from farmers and migrant workers.

Little Match Girl

I was unprepared for the realization that ingratitude and a sense of entitlement were major characteristics of these children ... A friend in a similar situation tackled this frustrating attitude with a direct hit. She read the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale,The Little Match Girl, to her first grade class. They were stunned, as well they might have been! ... For the first graders, it turned out to be a powerful magic bullet. That story unleashed a cascade of empathy and sympathy never seen before. Weeks later, the students were still mulling over the implications. Imagining themselves as 'little match girls' was helping them understand the importance of gratitude and kindness. This reaction could probably be expected regardless of the children's social and/or economic status.

Wow, never underestimate the power of a story! Especially one that has a lesson in it.

Folktales are both a category of literature and a type of story that includes fairy tales, legends, fables, and tall tales, to name a few. In general, the story has just a few characters, a plot build around specific events, an element of good v. evil, and a "moral to the story." Not all folktales have royalty and magic, but many do.

All cultures have their own folklore, but not all stories are suitable for all audiences. Some fairy tales, like The Elves and the Shoemaker, are universal and can be enjoyed by even the youngest audience. William Austin's Peter Rugg legends (described as tall tales and ghost stories) are for more mature audiences. Reading is Fundamental (RIF) has a terrific list of folktales and fairy tales that gives you a story summary and an audience recommendation.

Folktales, fairy tales, legends, fables - whatever you call them - are stories that allow us to explore history and cultures, social dynamics, and feelings. They stretch our imaginations and some even make us laugh! Because there are so many ways we can engage with these types of stories, today's Bookworm Basics explores folktales of all types.

Emergent Literacy - Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

It is easy to bring folktales to life with this group! Whether it's through puppets or on the playground, kids love to act out these stories. Who doesn't like to huff and puff and blow the house down? On the First-School Wisconsin site you'll find lots of coloring pages for fairy tales and fables.

The Mitten by Jan BrettWhen it comes to picture books, Jan Brett is probably the most prolific author/illustrator in the genre. Her stories include classics like Beauty and the Beast as well as tales from around the globe. On her website you'll find coloring pages, videos, and printable games that can bring the story into "real life."

Personal favorites:

Burro's TortillasBurro's Tortillas by Terri Fields, illustrated by Sherry Rogers (Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2007). If you've read The Little Red Hen, you know the sequence of events. Still, this retelling - with different animals and some Spanish mixed in - offers a nice change.

rabbit cooks up a cunning planRabbit Cooks Up a Cunning Plan by Andrew Fusek Peters, illustrated by Bruno Robert (Child's Play, 2008). The story has the feel of a classic fable. It has a clever twist on the outwit-the-bully theme. I also loved how it captured the idea that sometimes we are our "own worst enemy."

Early and Transitional Literacy - Kindergarten to Second Grade

chicken littleFairy tales and fables can be excellent "easy reader" books. Because they are simply told and have lots of repetition (think Chicken Little), they offer new readers a chance to practice sight words. With these readers you can also take folklore to the next level with fairy tales that tell a classic story but add a new twist, sometimes called fractured fairy tales. The Hennepin County Library has a nice list of recommendations to get you started.

Personal favorites:

bee-man.jpgThe Bee Man of Orn by Frank B. Stockton, illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Candlewick Press, 2003). This is a gorgeous book, with a not-well-known story. There is an audio reading of the story included, too. This is great for letting children follow along with text to build their sight vocabulary.
little-ruth.jpgLittle Ruth Reddingford and the Wolf by Hank Wesselman, illustrated by Raquel Abreau (Illumination Arts, 2004). This is another fractured fairy tale. Instead of wolves there are bullies; and Ruth isn't without fault, either.

paco_chile.jpgPaco and the Giant Chile Plant / Paco y Planta de Chile Gigante by Keith Polette, illustrated by Elizabeth Dulemba (Raven Tree Press, ©2008). Think Jack and the Beanstalk with a great new storyline and a totally unexpected twist.

Fluent Readers - Third Grade and Beyond

With older kids, some of the fun of reading folklore can be exploring the cultures that "created" them. The Wikipedia List of Fairy Tales has a nice chart that lists fairy tales and the culture that popularized it. Another idea is to contrast/compare a story across cultures. In the May 2000 edition of Book Links (an American Library Association journal), Mary Northrop has an annotated list of Cinderella stories from around the world. She offers some activity tips at the end that would work with any book.

Another way to engage kids is to let them rewrite the story. At, children ages 8 and older can write a fractured fairy tale. If you're looking for a place to start, Marilyn Kinsella has a ready-made bibliography of fractured fairy tales, as well as some suggested activities to engage kids in modifying existing stories or creating new ones.

Personal favorites:

grandmother.jpgGrandmothers' Stories: Wise Woman Tales from Many Cultures edited by Burleigh Muten, illustrated by Sian Bailey (Barefoot Books, 1999). Some of the stories in this collection will sound similar to stories kids already know. What I love is that it captures some timeless tales of magic, wisdom, and perseverance that children will remember their whole life. There is a CD that comes with the book, which makes it a nice selection for dormant readers, too.

monsters and water beastsMonsters and Water Beasts: Creatures of Fact or Fiction? by Karen Hokanson Miller; illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier (Henry Holt and Company, 2007). This nonfiction (!) book provides a brief description of nine mythical creatures and shares facts and fables about their existence.

scratchy-mountain.jpgUp and Down the Scratchy Mountains or the Search for a Suitable Princess by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Greg Call (Random House Children's Books, 2008). If I have to have one princess book, this is it. This is not a straight-forward once-upon-a-time fairy tale, and it does take about a chapter or two to get into the author's style. Once you do, though, you're rewarded with a great story.

Fairy tales and folkore are timeless stories we can all enjoy together. It is a chance to pull out a favorite from your own childhood and pay forward that love with the kids in your lives. Whether you grab a book or start telling the story from memory, you're kids will always remember that once upon a time, ...

Note: Book title links take you to, with which the Reading Tub has an affiliate relationship. Purchases made through those links may provide income for our nonprofit. You're not obligated to purchase through those links; they are provided for your convenience.


Bookworm Basics: Reading with a Moving Audience

Posted by Terry on May 5, 2010 at 8:08 AM in creative literacy
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stop-drop-read.JPGThe idea of your children sitting quietly on your lap (or next to you) is one of the things we love about reading with our kids. The chance to cuddle makes it fun for us, and it is easier to do, too. But what about those of us with always-busy kids? How are we supposed to read with them when they won't sit still?

When your child is a toddler, you expect lots of wandering about. But what happens when they get to school? All of a sudden, that energy can become an issue. In the classroom, high levels of activity don't always work, but that doesn't mean your child's need for activity goes away.

Just like last week, I'll use three literacy categories to offer suggestions and tips. That post has definitions for the three levels, so I won't repeat them here.

Emergent Literacy - Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

The phrase "babies are like sponges" is apropos for this group. At this age, children are eager to learn and absorb every little thing, using all their senses in the process. From the minute they wake up to the moment they conk out, they are going. They are figuring out their world; putting names to objects and sounds; and finding their favorite things. Not all their learning comes from books. Regular conversations and singing along with the radio both offer ways to engage kids by expanding their vocabulary and introducing new concepts. Asking them questions about what they are doing/see/hear also helps their communication skills by encouraging them to talk about observation and process. When it comes to books, lots of board and picture books play to their love of exploring, and some will inspire your child to be part of the story by acting like the characters.

  • Take advantage of their love of pretend play to let them "be" something they love, whether it's a ballerina or a baseball player.
  • Toddlers, in particular, love to imitate. Books that let them imitate sounds and movement are always fund. When there's a lion in the story, ask what a lion "says."
  • Turn a story into a "guide book," by asking your child to find things that match what he sees or hears. If the book has recognizable shapes, encourage him to find something with that shape in his room. If there are birds, go outside and listen for birds.

They don't mind if you read while they play, so if you keep reading, they'll keep listening and doing their thing. This YouTube video of a toddler/preschool story time at the Chillicothe and Ross County Public Library (Ohio) may offer you some ideas on ways to engage young children with literacy concepts and books while still allowing them to be themselves.

Early and Transitional Literacy - Kindergarten to Second Grade

As kids reach Kindergarten and first grade, they still love exploring and hands-on learning. They have mastered basic object identification and colors, and many have mastered letter recognition and sounds. Now they are ready to begin more formal processes for learning to read. This is a layered approach that usually includes reading simple books and word study to build a set of vocabulary words they recognize by sight (sometimes called a "word bank"). There are many ways to help kids grow as readers, including active kids who don't do well sitting with flashcards. Here are a few ideas.

  • Grab the chalk and make a hopscotch board with sight words instead of numbers. upside-down-reader.jpg
  • Turn Twister(r) into a word game by taping word cards over the board and then drawing individual words from a matching set (instead of using the spinner). The stack can grow over time and allow for practicing words that kids have trouble with.
  • Make a "life size" concentration (or Memory) gameboard by writing the words on regular-sized paper and spreading them out so that kids have to walk to the words.

Susan Stephenson (the Book Chook) paired a baking sheet and magnetic letters so that her son could practice spelling and words. This is a reading activity that lets readers-to-be practice independently in the car, on the playground, anywhere.

Fluent Readers - Third Grade and Beyond

This may sound odd, but if you can let your child exercise hard for 30 to 40 minutes before she has to start any task that includes reading, it will get done faster. [] By the time kids reach third grade, the activity centers they used to know are gone, and they are sitting most of their school day. For kids who are active, it takes all their energy to "conform" during school, so a surge of physical exertion can help get them re-focused.

  • Finish off a healthy snack with a stick of gum. The action of repetitive chewing will help get your child centered and yet still satisfy the need to be "doing something" while reading.
  • Get out the kitchen timer. Your child may do better if she has regular intervals where she can get up and move a little bit. It might be one activity or a short circuit. Ideally it will include some aerobic activity (like jumping jacks, jumping rope, or jogging in place) with strength exercises (squats, pushups, or lunges).

My sister-in-law tells the story of my nephew (now a freshman in high school) who bounces his soccer ball while he does his homework. He walks a "track" athrough the kitchen, dining room, and living room because he needs to be in constant motion when they are reviewing material for quizzes and tests. It drives her crazy, but if she forces him sit still, he gets so pent up that he forgets what he had been studying.

Reading with an active child can be distracting and frustrating, but it can also be lots of fun. With younger kids, textured, lift-the-flap, and pop-up books can engage an active child with stories. These books give them a bit of independence, keep them busy, and help them focus, too.

With older kids, if you can find something quieter than a bouncing soccer ball and/or get past the motion, you may be able to sneak in some recreational reading that your kids might not otherwise have. This might allow you the bond that came with reading aloud alive with an otherwise resistant pre-teen. This Scholastic Parent video demonstrating how to read out loud with your pre-teen may have some ideas for you, too.

While it may not seem to you that you are "making progress" with your child's literacy development, you are. As long as they're within hearing range, just keep moving!

Image Credits
Mom reading with boys - Barbara's Mommy, Teach Me album on Picasa.
Upside Down Reader cover - (no link offered)
YouTube Videos: CRCPL Kids Channel and Scholastic Parent Channel


Bookworm Basics: Growing Readers of All Sizes

Posted by Terry on April 28, 2010 at 8:00 AM in PoetryRecommendationscreative literacy
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jkrROUNDUP.jpgNo sooner had Jen Robinson finished her Ten Tips for Growing a Bookworm series and her daughter arrived - ten weeks early. Ten tips ... ten weeks. Coincidence or just an anxious bookworm? Ah, the mysteries of life.

When Jen announced the birth of her little bookworm, she also explained that she was taking a hiatus from blogging. On Mondays, Jen often starts us off with Literacy 'Lights, a quick roundup of family-reading related ideas and tips from around the kidlitosphere. For the next few weeks, while Jen is enjoying all of the joys that come with bringing home a new baby, Susan Kusel will be here on Mondays and I'll stop by on Wednesdays with Bookworm Basics.

Jen and her passion for growing bookworms is the inspiration for my column. I wanted to do something that complements what she does AND celebrate bookworms of all ages. So each week I'll offer ideas about literacy and reading in the context of how a reader grows, from emergent literacy (infant/toddler) through fluency (third grade). I will incorporate my Prompt Ideas, too, when they fit. This week, I thought I'd round out National Poetry Month with ideas that draw on a poetry theme.

Emergent Literacy - Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
When we think of poetry for kids, we often think of rhymes, which are perfect for this audience. At these ages, kids are exploring, testing, and repeating sounds ... a lot! The sillier or sing-songy the sound combinations, the better. In the process, these pre-readers are learning how to make sounds and give them meaning (gurgles to dada); discerning words and vocabulary (recognizing that shluba is a silly word and tuba is a real thing); and beginning to connect a letter sound with the symbol.

Nursery rhymes and silly words - like the ones we think of as "classic" Dr. Seuss - are great ways to combine poetry and learning. In this YouTube video, a young boy is "reading" by exploring the sounds in Dr. Seuss' ABC Book An Amazing Alphabet Book. The video is about 4 minutes long, but you can get the idea of how he is exploring words and sounds with about 45 seconds.

Early and Transitional Literacy - Kindergarten to Second Grade

poetrymosaic.jpg Now that they can recognize individual letters and sounds, readers-to-be are ready to start combining them into words and learn how one letter (silent e) affects the sounds of others around it (star becomes stare). Rhyming and repetition often remain central to helping kids build vocabulary and pronouncing words they don't quite know yet. Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, and Kenn Nesbitt are wonderful children's poets who combine rhymes, recognized song lyrics, kids' favorite (and least favorite) things, and silliness to engage kids as readers - without them even knowing it!

One way to engage kids in creating their own poems (and silly words) is to add a set of poetry magnets to the fridge. Every time someone reaches for the milk they can create something new! This is an activity that lest kids stretch their imagination, explore language, and work on spelling all at the same time. It's also a game that everyone can play ... including Mom and Dad. To help with the (dreaded) weekly word list, you might try making some magnets of your own using materials from a craft or hobby store.

Fluent Readers - Third Grade and Beyond
This is the group of independents (in more ways than one). Once kids are reading at a third grade level, they have mastered the strategies they need for reading without help. They have the tools to put understanding, vocabulary, and spelling together and combine them in whatever format is presented. They also compose lengthier original works, from synopses to full-length stories and reports.

Those rhyming books they loved last year are now "for babies," though there are exceptions. The magnets on the fridge can come in handy, because they let your reader independently explore their creative side. And Mom and Dad sneak in a little writing!

Another idea would be to pull out their old alphabet letters and let them "text" on the refrigerator. I know, it confuses me too, but there is research that suggests texting can help kids with spelling. If the study doesn't convince you, maybe this video by Mr. J.A. Gill, an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, will add a perspective that makes sense.

There are some great resources to help you engage kids as readers across the spectrum of development. Reading Rockets, for example, has some wonderful parent guides with tips in English and ten other languages. I have always loved their practical ideas, and I was tickled to find their new parent tip sheets for babies and toddlers.

One of the great things about growing a bookworm, as Jen has explained, is that the old can become new again. Reading aloud to them as infants and beyond (Tip 1) might just lead to them sneaking a flashlight to stay up late and read under the covers (Tip 10) . At least we can hope!

Note: Dr. Seuss ABC Book title link goes to and the Reading Tub affiliate. Purchases made through that link may generate income for the Reading tub, a 501c3 nonprofit.


Prompt Idea: April Fools and Other Madness

Posted by Terry on April 2, 2010 at 8:00 AM in creative literacy
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april-sno.jpgJust when we thought winter was going to go on forever ... April has arrived. The almanac predicting snow this month is just an April Fool's joke, right? In our school district, Spring Break starts next week. I have been trying to think of some fun games to play (and sneak in a little literacy, of course), and then it hit me ...

Mad Libs! Remember those? For those who might not be familiar, Mad Libs is a word game where players create a unique, one-of-a-kind story simply by filling in some "missing" words. One person asks for words mad-libs.jpg to fill in the blanks, and (at least) one person provides them. The reader asks for specific types of words, but doesn't reveal anything about the story. Once all of the words have been gathered, the story is read aloud, usually with lots of laughs. Mad Libs have been around since 1953, and the creators (Leonard Stern and Roger Price) published the first book of Mad Libs in 1958. Mad Libs is a registered trademark, but the name is used universally, much like "kleenex" is used for "facial tissue."

Another form of this word game is called Consequences. In this version, one person writes a word or phrase, folds the paper to hide their answer, and then gives it to the next person. The first two people offer names; the third person a place; the fourth and fifth offer he said and she said, respectively; the next person offers a consequence, and the last person offers an outcome. Although there are seven parts to the story, you can play this game with two people passing the paper back and forth. The finished product might look like this.

Jeffrey and Mary Ellen visited the zoo. He said "I love bike riding." She said "Purple is my favorite color." He gave her a pickled beet. She gave him blue earrings. They ended up with no money. Then they ran away to find the library.

Exquisite Corpse cover.jpgBoth Mad Libs and Consequences are "home version" of a writing method called the exquisite corpse. That may sound familiar, as the National Center for the Book (part of the Library of Congress) and the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance are sponsoring the episodic Exquisite Corpse Adventure, where children's book authors are writing a chapter, drawing on content of the previous writer. With each episode, a children's book artist adds an illustration. That alone is cool, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Reading Rockets and have a companion project that lets kids be writers, too. Each month, as part of The Exquisite Prompt project, two of the Exquisite Corpse Adventure contributors ask the kids to write something, based on a prompt they provide. Last month Nikki Grimes asked Kindergarteners, first and second graders to create an original joke, riddle, or short story. Oh there is bound to be silliness there!

When I was a kid, creating and reading Mad Libs was always good for an afternoon of laughs. I remember then as a "summer" thing and something we did at birthday parties. They were fun, and they ALWAYS got us laughing and being silly. What I didn't realize about them - but do now - is how valuable these word games are as a literacy tool.

  • In asking for words of specific types, kids are learning and practicing parts of speech.

  • The players are recording the words, which is writing AND spelling.

  • The completed story, which is read aloud (!) offers reading practice and vocabulary development, too.

  • Everyone can share in the fun ... this is social reading at its silliest.

Some of the online versions, like It's a Mad Libs World website, include prompts about what the various parts of speech do, which is helpful for developing readers and English Language Learners. Mad Libs have always been portable, but technology makes them even more so. There online versions and apps for your iPhone.

These are simple word games, adaptable to readers of all ages and abilities. For kids not yet reading, they can be adult-directed; for developing readers and beyond, they can do it all themselves. Once kids understand the concept, they can create their own word libs from some of their favorite stories. All they need to do is drop out a word here and there and create "blanks" for their friends to fill in. Oh, think of the possibilities for The Three Little Pigs!

Unlike the "old days," you can find Mad Libs for just about every branded character or television show. And that's no fooling!

Prompt Ideas for April
Here are the writing prompt starters for National Humor Month, National Poetry Month, National Karaoke Week, and more.

  • Kick off National Humor Month with a Mad Lib.
  • Then let the kids create a word lib with one of their favorite songs.
  • Let kids wax poetic. Let them come up with a theme/title, then ask for specific words or phrases to create poems.

A Prompt Idea: Writing with Pictures

Posted by Terry on March 5, 2010 at 8:30 AM in Picture Bookscreative literacy
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"A picture is worth a thousand words."

the-boys-the-fish-thumb12217640.jpgHow many times have we heard that? Imagery tells stories and explains things without words. Photographs, maps, and illustrations are images that freeze a moment in time: when your Mom held your new baby the first time, when your son held up the "big catch," or the kids waving to a train going by. Each of those images reveals a story, or at least part of one.

Images can be writing prompts, too. When I was in school, our teacher would present an image and ask us to tell her/him about it - describe what we see, what we think we see, or create a story, depending on the assignment. Some would be fictional/creative writing, others would be more factual.

Lion and Mouse.jpgI have become fascinated with stories presented completely without words. One of the "hot" genres for children's books is the wordless book ... and they're not just for little kids. One of the most popular picture books last year was Jerry Pinkney's Caldecott winning book The Lion and the Mouse. It is the folktale we all grew up with, told only in imagery. The story we remember may be "simple," but the illustrations are far from it!

For children who struggle with reading or writing, sharing and creating stories with just pictures may be just the thing to get them excited about literacy. First, they let kids stretch their imaginations. It also gives them a chance to tell a story in their own words ... the way they see it, without feeling hemmed in, overwhelmed, or intimidated by the actual text. There is a list of wordless and near-wordless books at the end of this post that may help you find books of interest.

2691767702_76d433163c.jpgYounger children draw "simple" pictures that tell very complex stories. Sometimes they'll launch into stories that would rival Tolstoy's War and Peace. But if they don't, ask them questions: Is that a tree? Does anyone live there? Do they have a name? Asking them to tell you about their picture today can encourage their long-term interest in stories and reading.

Older children may enjoy making cartoons. Because they are telling a complete (albeit short) story in 3 to 5 "boxes," they have to think carefully about what details they want to show and also how to organize their thoughts.

For kids who don't like to draw, grab some magazines. Let them cut out images and put them together in a single "picture" or sequence them to create a book. If writing practice is important, ask the artist annotate the images as the text of the story.

drawings-as-a-child-thumb912268.jpgPictures, maps, charts, and drawings can be great literacy props. We use them for everything from teaching kids colors to helping adults put together a bike. [I can't remember the last time I actually looked past the illustrations to read the instructions on how to put something together!]

In creating and telling their stories, kids are practicing their vocabulary, sequencing (putting events in order), and communication skills. Images help us get kids excited about reading, and ultimately writing ... without reading a word!

Prompt Ideas for March
Each month I'll close the column with some starter ideas. This month, I'm building on the theme of wordless writing and including a few "traditional" prompts, too. For kids who aren't ready to write, you can talk about them as conversations.

For Celebrate Your Name Week (March 7)

For each letter in your name, pick something you like that starts with that letter. Now do the dislikes. (This can be pictures, drawings, or words)
When you think of your name, what color do you see? Why?
If your name were a food, what would it be? This can be pictures, drawings, or words)

For Genealogy Day (March 13)
Pull out some old photographs and create a book about someone's life.
Work together to create a short interview with an older family member. Start with "What would you like to know about from the time [person] grew up?"

For St. Patrick's Day (March 17)
The pot of gold is gone. What would you find at the end of the rainbow? Who/What would protect it? (This can be words or pictures)

Wordless Picture Book Resources

Wordless and Almost Wordless Picture Books List Reading is Fundamental
Wordless Book Reviews Children's Literature (online journal)
Wordless Picture Book List, Weber County (Utah) Public Library
Booklist - Wordless Picture Books Louisville (Kentucky) Free Public Library
Wonderful Wordless Picture Books Ann M. Neely, on Booklights

Image Credits
Boy and Fish Image - Morgue File -
Child holding Crayon - Morgue File -

Little girls holding up pictures - Flickr -

Book title links to Cybils affiliate account with Amazon. Purchases made through that link may earn income for the Cybils and help fund this literary awards program.

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