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Thursday, May 31, 2012

When Reading is Not Fun

When you were born in Ethiopia and are still working to get a firm grasp on English...

When everybody else you go to school with has been reading since they were young...

When the literature at your reading level is far below your maturity level, far below what interests you...

When sounding out words often leads to frustration and makes you feel dumb...

When picking up a book only reminds you of how far behind you are, and how much further ahead you wish you were...

When reading feels like an alienating experience instead of a unifying one...

These are the struggles my eight year old and eleven year old face everyday. We work hard in our family to make reading fun, even when it's hard, and to show our kids the potential for it to be fun.

But today I am reminded that sometimes reading is not fun.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Starting Summer Reading!

Summer is here. And I have two children that just learned how to read this past school year (my 8 yr old and 11 yr old Ethiopian children). So I knew it was especially important for them to keep up their reading over the summer, not lose their momentum, and hopefully improve their skills a little more before school begins again. 

My kids respond to incentives (don't we all?), and so I instituted a marble jar system in our house. I have a list of activities posted in our kitchen that my kids can earn marbles for doing. They include: reading a book, practicing math, doing their chores without being asked, getting some exercise, choosing to watch something educational on Netflix instead of their normal TV shows they like (we have designated TV times, and they would have to use their TV time to watch something educational instead of watching their normal TV shows + something educational in addition to it), choosing a book from the library to read and then telling us why they liked it or didn't like it (they can earn two marbles for this one). 

I have told them that they can earn as many marbles as they want every day for reading books, but I have put caps on the rest of the activities so that they hopefully will do a little of each most days. 

They are earning marbles like crazy right now... but we are less than a week into summer. Ha! We'll see if the enthusiasm lasts. I woke up Friday morning and found them all reading in the living room (I didn't include a photo of Mary because she was in her jammies and didn't want anybody to see that). 

My little one can't read yet, so that makes the marble jars a little challenging. But when my little guy saw his big brother and sister reading Friday morning, he grabbed a couple wordless picture books and "read" them aloud to us all. We counted that as reading, and let him put a couple marbles in his jar for that.

My kids will get to cash in their marbles at Mommy's Store half way through the summer, and then again at the end. I'll break it up more if they are really struggling to use their marbles, or if they start losing momentum because they have forgotten what they're earning them for. 

So far it's working for us. I'll keep you posted!

We're also participating in our library's summer reading program. And we're going to do the Barnes and Noble summer reading program too! 

Would love to hear from you too! Are your kids anxious to read this summer? Or are you having to kick-start them like me? 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Picture Book Roundup: A Little of This and That

Picture Book Roundups are simply an overview of what my kids and I have been reading together. These are not books that were sent to me for review. They are books my children and I discovered at the library, a bookstore, a yard sale, or on our bookshelf at home. Some might be old, some might be new. Some we might love, some we might hate. We read whatever strikes our fancy. The only kickback I get from reviewing these books here is my Amazon Associates fees if you purchase through the links on my blog.

This is a cute story about a little girl that loves to read, and who makes a new friend and introduces her to the joys of reading as well. Her friend also introduces Lily to the joys of the outdoors and play! The two friends then combine their two interests for double fun! This would be a great intro to a conversation about interests and hobbies, and about being open to new things. 

Beautiful book. My boys liked the way it had a kind of graphic novel feel to it. Plus, it was a story about the lights going out, so that made it even cooler to them! As a mom, this is one of those stories that gives you the warm fuzzies without being so sentimental (or nostalgic) that your kids can't enjoy it too. It's a simple story about a family that is reminded, through the experience of going through a blackout together, of how fun it can be to forget about all your busyness and just hang out as a family. It would be fun to read this as a family and then stage your own blackout at home for an evening!

A book about a little girl that day dreams about having her own library? What's not to love? I loved the illustrations. The parade of animals that comes through her library are such fun. It would be fun to discuss with your kids or students, what kinds of books each animal might like reading ("What kind of book would you give a giraffe to read?"). It would also be a great tool for discussing what the role of a librarian is, and how they can help you when you go to a real library. How fun would it be to let your kids or students design their own imaginary library? Oh my goodness, I could see this being a real hoot of an activity with my students. They would love it!

I was not a fan of this book. In fact, I gave up on it and didn't even finish reading it when I was doing story time with my preschool son. I must admit, I'm pretty snobby about alphabet books. I generally don't like them. Reading them often feels more like work and less like fun to me. So I rarely find one I actually like. Bad Kitty was a prime example of my beef with alphabet books. I didn't even realize it was an alphabet book till I began reading it with my son, otherwise I probably would have left it on the shelf. I found it tiring, and my son did too. Alphabet books always feel so contrived... I guess that's because they are. It's hard to do one well, though many seem to try. My stance is, if you can't do an alphabet book well, then don't do one. 

Love the illustrations. Charming, and just very visually interesting. My kids have been pretty fascinated with seeds and plants and gardens lately, so they could really relate to this story, and the feelings of the protagonist. I loved the gentle silliness of the birds and the bears. And we spent a long time on the page with the illustration of all the burrows. I could see a fun art project there! My boys thought that was way cool! I had heard a lot of chatter and buzz about this book, and now I see why. A real gem! 

My boys love Caps for Sale so I picked this one up while I was at the library this week. My preschooler dug it out of the book pile in his room today, flipped through it a bit on his own, and then asked me to read it to him. I bribed him into folding and putting his clothes away by telling him I would read it to him only while he was doing his chore. Worked like a charm. He folded his little t-shirts and shorts while intently listening to this new story of his beloved peddler on another adventure with his caps. Both my listened to this one and enjoyed it, seemingly as much as the first, thought it didn't induce quite as much laughter as the first one. They liked predicting what was going to happen though, and they were both pretty fascinated with all the various circus performers in the story. I'm not always huge on picture book sequels, but we liked this one!

I don't remember what got him talking about it, but my preschooler son started telling me about the story of the "fish with the shiny spot" that he heard at school. I knew he must have been talking about The Rainbow Fish  and when I mentioned the title he asked if there were more Rainbow Fish books at the library. I told him that I was pretty sure there were, and so he requested a quick trip to the library. We had to stop at the grocery store first and he fretted the whole time we were in there, worrying that someone else was going to get to the Rainbow Fish books at the library before us. Luckily, we found a couple on the shelf when we finally got there. He was very happy to read this one! I love seeing him developing his own reading preferences, and I'm glad he knows he can always look for more of what he likes at the library!

This is such a perfectly simple book. I love that my older son can practice his reading with it, and feel like he's reading a real book (and not some convoluted phonics-reader "story.") But it's also great for my preschooler who can "read" it with me by filling in the easy to predict ending to each sentence (using the illustrations as prompts). I love that when I was reading this to my preschooler, I read the page that said, "When I drive, I drive carefully." And then he said, "Why?" Ha! Ha! I guess this one is a great conversation starter with little ones too. Perfect for in a learning center at a preschool or child care center. Or great to just go along with some play time with toy cars at home.

This is one of those books that fully utilizes the picture book format to tell a clever, entertaining tale. Cornelius P. Mud is asked by his mom if he has put away his toys, brushed his teeth, fed the goldfish... as well as a handful of other tasks he's required to do before bed. Cornelius' answer is always, "Yes." But the reader sees in the illustration that Cornelius is not completing these tasks in the way his mom is probably expecting and hoping for. What's especially fun about this book is that the kids that are listening get to cleverly point out what Cornelius is doing wrong. And then everybody gets to have a good giggle over it. You can really ham it up and play dumb, as the teacher/parent/reader; "What?! What's wrong with the way he's getting his pajamas on?"

We're going to Disney this summer, and in an attempt to get my kids well acquainted with Mickey and the gang, I may have created monsters. My boys are all about Mickey and nothing else now (especially my three year old). But they enjoy a good Mickey story just as much, if not more, than a Mickey movie or show. And this particular book is a long one, and my boys both sat captivated through the entire thing. I really like these books that use the Disney characters to tell classic fairy and folk tales. They keep my kids' interest while giving them a bit of culture. Hee!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Keep 'Em Reading This Summer

Here's some ideas I've been thinking on for helping my kids continue working on their reading this summer:

- Read O'clock!
       Make reading part of your daily routine and schedule by establishing a time during the day when the whole family drops everything to read. This will be tricky to do in our house, and will require dedication on my part to stay consistent with it. But if I can get it to work, I think it could be marvelous for all of us!

- Enhance your summer outings and vacations by reading up on a topic or location before your trip.
        It can help build up anticipation for the trip, it can make your trip more enjoyable by helping you become more savvy about your destination, and it will make the trip more interesting for your kids.
       We're taking a Disney World trip this summer, and we're all having fun reading Disney books, watching Disney movies, and pouring through Disney travel guides!

- Participate in your library's summer reading program.
        Most libraries have all kinds of special events going on during the summer program. Our library is having a Star Wars party (what my boys are most excited about), puppets, crafts, magicians, reading partners (not exactly sure what this is yet), games, an animal presentation, etc. My kids are already excited about these events. We're going to try to make a weekly library trip part of our summer routine too.

- Learn a new hobby.
      Encourage your kiddos to use their free time this summer to learn a new hobby. Offer to help them, or offer to learn it with them. Then head to the library and get out all the books about that hobby that you can! Having a goal, feeling that thirst for information, can provide the right motivation to keep your kids eagerly hitting the books.

- Subscribe to a magazine
     This could work really well with the last idea mentioned. There's a magazine for everything, so get your child a subscription to a magazine that covers the topic of the hobby they're learning. That will be a fun surprise for them to watch for in the mail.

- PenPals!
     I'm going to see if I can set up a pen pal system between my kids and their cousin. This will be great practice for their reading and writing. And will give them something to look forward to receiving in the mailbox during the summer months. This also gives them a great opportunity to be creative with their writing; they can make cards, little books, lists, poems, charts, all kinds of things to have fun with!

What are you doing with your kiddos to keep them reading this summer? Share your ideas in the comments!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Favorite Links

Mail Call! - YSS Events, News, and Info  -  A clever idea for using "mail" to encourage literacy and enrich story time! I'm going to try this. Love it!

A Conversation on 'Playdough or iPads' in Early Ed - Early Ed Watch

Reading to Kids is an Irreplaceable Gift - The Tennessean

Letter Sort: Fat or Thin - ABC and 123

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Picture Book Round-Up: What We've Been Liking From the Library

I liked the simple message in this book (see title). I'm always looking for good books that will help my students understand the value of reading. I think I might work this title into my beginning or end of the year lessons. It would be a great discussion starter for my students to talk about their own personal reading experiences. 

This book felt like a hybrid between a traditional picture book and a wordless picture book. There was minimal text in it, and the text didn't so much tell a story as much as it made simple observations of the illustrations and allowed the reader to fill in the story themselves. There were dangling questions that the reader could imagine or guess their own answers for. Would work great when studying quantity perhaps in a preschool science unit, or even just as a means for practicing some great quantitative vocab words: plenty, much, more, few, several, etc. Could lead into some fun circle time activities.

I picked this book up in the "new books" section at my library. I was not familiar with the series, but it's very cute. My preschool son liked this book. It's a simple little story, but the characters and illustrations are pretty darling. I think my son would enjoy reading more titles in the series. And my older son is able to read the simple words in it to his younger brother, so that make it extra fun!

Loved this book. Wordless. A walrus escapes from his tiny cage at the zoo, the zoo keeper goes searching for him, but the walrus cleverly disguises himself in a variety of situations. Lots of giggles from my preschooler. And of course, it makes him feel so clever to be able to spot the walrus on each page. Would be fun to give your students or kids a simple walrus cut-out, like the one in the story, and let them create their own illustration in which the walrus is cleverly (or not-so-cleverly) disguised. Perhaps you could do some fun brainstorming with them before this project, in which you come up with ideas for other places the walrus could have hid. 

This is one of those warm fuzzy (maybe cliche a bit?) that I could get behind. In it, a mom explains to her child that she loves them when they are doing all kinds of things that might make them feel unlovable: hitting, making messes, being irritating. What mom doesn't GET this? And what an important message to remind our kids of. All three of my kids (11,8, and 3) enjoyed hearing this story, and it made for some interesting conversation around the dinner table. 

I think I was expecting a lot form this book too; not sure what I had heard about it. But I wasn't really digging it. I guess it felt like one of those heavy-handed, cliched concepts to me: everybody is different, some do this, some do that, but be yourself. Left me feeling very "eh." The illustrations were pretty. And it would be fun to use the illustrations as inspiration for some cool fish art projects. Actually, if you found some nice, smooth, round-shaped stones, you could paint them to look like the fish in this story. That would be kind of fun. Maybe my kids and I will do that this summer. 

I love a funny story, and this is a funny story. My boys and I love to laugh together over a book, and this book was great for that. One of my sons has a hard time committing enough to a sport or activity to really put much effort into practicing, and this book was a great catalyst for us to talk about what it takes to get good at something. It's always nice when you can giggle about a topic and also have a thoughtful discussion about it. A humorous story can drive a point home much better than a lecturing parent. 

I was excited to read this title, because I had heard so much buzz about it. I was a little disappointed. I did enjoy it, but I guess I was expecting more. There is much beauty in this book. I love the tenderness between Baby Bear and Mama. The illustrations are pretty. The detail of all the various woodland creatures tucked most pages is fun. And because the story's theme is color, there is so much you could do to expand the story after reading. You could do a matching game with the colors and the critters from the book, you go on a color hunt of your own and create your own story book with a "baby" and a "mama"... 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What makes a picture book stick with a child for life?

My mom recently dug up a picture book from my childhood that I had been asking her about. I figured the book was long gone, and had been scouring Amazon and other sites trying to find it. I was pretty sure of the title, but had no clue who the author was. And I was coming up with absolutely nothing with my online searches. So I was more than thrilled when I went to visit my family for Easter and my mom plopped the long-lost book on my lap. The Nothing.

Look closely at the photo of the cover and you can see how well-loved this book was. There are water stains (or is it some other liquid?) along the bottom, and then there's the lovely added illustration that one of us kids put on there with a Sharpie. Obviously, the book jacket went missing at some point over the years.

I'm not exactly sure what made this book stick with me into adulthood. We were read all kinds of books when we (my siblings and me) were growing up. My guess is that there was something about this book that I particularly liked and so I must have asked my mom to read it to me over and over and over.

As soon as I picked this book back up, the story came flooding back to me. And the illustrations were so familiar to me, like I had just seen them yesterday.

The book is not particularly noteworthy in terms of story or illustrations (though I recently discovered that Sal Murdocca is the illustrator for The Magic Treehouse series). I don't recall being gifted this book for a special event, or it being read to me at a particularly meaningful time. There was no deep message in it that resonated with my childhood life...

So why do I remember this book from my childhood so fondly? I think it was simply a book I enjoyed being read (for whatever reason), and so I heard it a lot. And thusly, it has stuck with me. Sitting with my mom or dad, maybe my aunt, or a brother or sister, snuggled up, hearing the familiar words... It's those kinds of cozy, repeated experiences with books that (in my opinion) can hardwire a seemingly random story into a person's heart and soul.

So that book that you have read to your child so many times you want to chuck it out the window? You know the one. The one you don't even know why they like so much? Yeah, that one. Take care of it. Don't chuck it out the window, or give it to Goodwill. When you're child has seemingly outgrown it, tuck it safely away somewhere. Because chances are, when they grow up, they'll recall it with great fondness, and hope you hung onto it for them.

Thanks, Mom! And Happy (early) Mother's Day.

I would love to hear what long-lost book you recall from your childhood. Did your parents save it for you?

What book of your child's do you suspect might stick with them into adulthood?