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Terry: December 2009 Archives


Dear Santa ...

Posted by Terry on December 22, 2009 at 6:00 AM in creative literacy
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santaSCAN.JPGI want a wand that works and does real magek.
Love Catherine 2007

As she explained to us, Catherine didn't want something made out of plastic or a tube you load batteries into, she wanted a REAL wand. The kind that goes "poof" and makes what you want appear (and what you don't disappear). Well, because that was the ONLY thing my then 6-year-old daughter wanted, Santa felt compelled to reply with a letter of his own. When the Jolly Elf himself explained that wands are very tricky to make because the ingredients are different for each person, Catherine could accept why hers wasn't under the tree ... yet!

Periodically throughout 2008, Catherine would ask if we remembered the letter and what Santa said. Last year, still hopeful about that wand, she added another request, this time on behalf of her dog. Santa wrote again, explaining why he couldn't bring 15 real squirrels for Casey to chase.

In addition to creating two-way communication, Santa's letters have had another benefit: he is encouraging Catherine to keep writing. While she has always enjoyed reading, writing has always been very hard. In Kindergarten and first grade, her struggle with fine motor skills frustrated her, and even now that she has mastered correct letter form, getting her to write is still a battle. Only when something is important to her - like that wand - will she do it.

santa2.JPGSanta thought he was showing her that he understood her requests. He didn't realize at first that he was becoming a role model. Through this written conversation, he is quietly demonstrating how the two skills complement each other in her growth as a successful person.

Those simple replies from Santa are very important to Catherine. Last Christmas morning she made a beeline for the letter sitting in Casey's stocking, completely ignoring the gifts under the tree. She sat and read it immediately ... it was that imperative. Then she asked if she could write a thank-you letter to Santa. [Yes!]

So what does this have to do with raising readers? Well, it goes back to the idea of modeling our goals. One of the easiest ways for us to get kids to see reading as just a regular part of their life is to catch us reading. The same thing is true of writing ... if I want Catherine to see that writing is important, I need to do more of it around her and with her ... with pen in hand, not sitting at a keyboard.

So in the new year, I'm going to write more notes ... silly notes, story notes, just different things to entice Catherine to keep writing. Speaking of writing ...

When 2010 arrives, Susan Kusel will be back on board at Booklights ... which makes me very happy! I love how she brings the library to us in ways we can use at home. Although I won't be a regular contributor to Booklights every two weeks, I will still be writing about literacy, libraries, and books over at the Reading Tub blog. So I hope you'll stop by and chat there, too.

Here's wishing you times filled with great books, shared stories, and the magic of the season during the holidays and beyond.


Read and Read Alike: Selecting Books for Older Readers

Posted by Terry on December 8, 2009 at 8:00 AM in Recommendations
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During a recent conversation with my mom, she said that she would like to buy a book for my 13-year-old nephew, "Sam," for Christmas. For years, Sam was a dormant reader. Like his dad (my brother) he didn't like reading when he was younger. Unlike his dad, he has come to really enjoy books just for the fun of reading.

heat-mike-lupica.jpgAt the moment, Sam loves the middle-grade books by Mike Lupica, a sportswriter for the New York Daily News. Mom wants to get Sam something he likes, so she zeroed in on these books. After she got to the bookstore, though, she realized that didn't know what books he has already read. [There are 12 titles, three released this year.] My mom thought she would call my sister-in-law, but then realized that she might not know the answer, either.

So what do you do when you want to buy books for a reader who loves a particular author or series but you're not sure they're at the beginning or the end of a collection? Thanks to Sarah Mulhern, I had an idea on how to help my mom: look for a read alike. A read alike is a book (or series) that is similar to something that you (or your reader) already likes. The formula is fairly straightforward:

If you like [insert: author, title, series name], then you might like ________.

book_pile.jpgEarlier this year, Sarah (a 6th Grade Language Arts teacher) wrote a post about middle grade read-alikes for Share a Story-Shape a Future. She is a voracious reader and gets her students excited about reading, too. Her Reading Zone post is filled with read alike ideas. Sarah says she frequently relies on "the wonders of the internet" to find book lists for titles that her kids are excited about.

My mom isn't going to search on the Web; she wants to ask a person. Using the example above, she can get some recommendations from a librarian or a bookseller by asking this question:

    "My grandson likes the sports books by Mike Lupica. Can you recommend some books that are similar to his?"

For those of us who are web savvy, the Internet makes it easy to find read alike lists. With Google, when you search read alikes, you'll see a number of additional options. I selected "for kids," and instantly had a list of library systems that keep read alike lists on their website. Here are several I found particularly easy to maneuver.

  • The Charles County (Maryland) Public Library has a read-alikes page that lists popular book series. One click takes you to a printable list of read alikes. Suggestions range from books for early elementary readers to young adult.
  • The Hennepin County (Minnesota) Library has a series of read alike tools, including the "If You Like" Author Search that offers real reader reviews of books that mention your author of interest. There are some glitches, as a search of "J.K. Rowling" came back with ideas that covered every genre. However, because the site maintains a series of tools, it is easy to overcome that hiccup.
  • The New Jersey State Library has a collection of read alike lists on its Youth Services page. Although there are just a half-dozen lists, the read-alike titles each come with a short note about the story. On that same page, you'll find links to the Pick of the Decade list with the Best Books for Children Grades K to 8 with books, 1995 to 2005. [They aren't read alikes, but it is quite a nice list.]

Another tool that I found useful is a website called After you type in the author and title of a book you just read (or may be interested in), your search comes back with recommended read-alikes from BookArmy, Library Thing, and You can click on a title in the list to get more details about the book, which is a nice feature. Another tool, What Should I Read Next? Is similar to, but it clearly has a commercial relationship with

UPDATE: In a comment, Shana offers this information about "[It] allows you to type an author's name and find other authors that are read by the people who read the searched author. The results are displayed graphically to show you which are most similarly read, least similarly read."

Between the bookseller in person and me on the web, we should be able to help mom select a good book or two for my nephew. Update: Melinda has already offered John Feinstein's books!

Read-alikes are a great way to keep kids excited about reading; keep them in their [genre] comfort zone; and, at the same time, stretch them beyond the totally familiar. For the gift-giver, they are a great way to show that you listen to their book talks without the risk of duplicating something they already read!

Do you have a go-to source for finding tailored book recommendations? Add it below and I'll update this post with your suggestions.

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