Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bring in the New Year 2012: Take a ride on a butterfly.

Don’t be like the two caterpillars who were crawling along on the ground when a butterfly flew over them. And one caterpillar said to the other, “You’ll never catch me going up on one of those.” But I’ll ride a butterfly any day. And I hope you will too.
~Madeleine L’Engle

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Importance of free-thinking bookstores.

George Whitman, the American-born owner of Shakespeare & Company, a bookshop on the Left Bank   in Paris dies at the ripe age of 98. He opened his bookshop in 1951 because he believed the book business was the business of life. He welcomed visitors with large in-print messages on the walls- and one of my favorite was “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise” quoting Yeats. Support your local independent neighborhood book shop—ask yourself, what your neighborhood would look like if that shop didn’t exist.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why do children want the same book read over and over and over again?

The many rewards of rereading were recently recalled in an article in the NYT: “Read it again, Sam.”
We remember our first encounter and reaction to a book, and at the same time, we are amazed to think that the book has somehow changed. The experience of rereading keeps you in the moment and also takes you back in time. But what is behind children wanting you to read them the same book over and over again? For children, rereading is not just a rewarding experience but essential for them to get ready to learn to read. The books children ask you to read over and over again—and yes, you think you can’t read that book one more time— helps them understand how narrative works and offers them comfort and familiarity with the story and the characters. They know the story, in fact they have most likely memorized the story and can “read it’ to you. This is one of the ways children get ready to learn to read. And the love affair they have for a particular book begins a lifetime of meeting books that become their lifelong companions. So yes, do read Danny and the Dinosaur once again, and again, and again.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Parents As Reading Partners. Two-part webinar in celebration of Jewish Book Month, presented by The Jewish Education Project.

Part 1: December 7, 12:30- 1:30pm (EST)

The Art of Conversational Reading : Help Your Child Get the most from the Books They Read."
Both Webinars highlight the role parents play in developing a love for reading to their children. Reading books aloud stimulates a child’s imagination and expands their understanding of the world. Conversations that flow from books enable parents and their children to explore new ideas and concepts while also developing a love for reading and memories that will last a lifetime. Reading aloud is a gift you can freely give your children from the day you bring them home from the hospital until the time they leave the nest.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Make your Thanksgiving a culinary and literary feast.

Is there a child who has never felt ignored by a grown-up?
The children’s books of Florence Parry Heide (2/1919-10/2011) made the world a better place. My Thanksgiving this year goes to her wonderful book, The Shrinking Of Treehorn, illustrated by Edward Gorey.  A delightful book and cautionary tale to parents who try to ignore their children, this story rings true for any child who has tried to convince adults of the existence of fairies, imaginary friends, or the Loch Ness Monster. And for every child who has experienced the uncertainties that rage through childhood experiences, do get your hands on, Some Things Are Scary(1969).
Happy Thanksgiving. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Stories have the power to nurture us.

I.B. Singer (11.21.1902) who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978, understood the power of story to nurture a person’s mind and heart. He recognized how much we need stories in our lives.
“What’s life after all? The future isn’t here yet and you cannot foresee what it will bring. The present is only a moment and the past is one long story. Those who don’t tell stories and don’t hear stories live only for that moment and that isn’t enough.” His stories live on and reveal a rare combination of wisdom delivered through humor.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Curiosity drives learning.

“ UCSF scientist touts inquiry as key to learning”

Having to state the obvious spotlights the distressing state of education for too many children. The job of education should be to teach children how to ask good questions; questions that take them someplace in their thinking. The answers aren’t really important. What’s important is knowing the questions. Curiosity jump-starts learning. My favorite question to ask a child at the end of the day is: “What did you learn in school today that you are curious about?” There is no learning if there is no questioning. There is no learning without masking mistakes. We learn more from our mistakes than we do from our achievements. Questions and mistakes are the essence of learning. We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Boredom put to a very good use.

Lets celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Phantom Tollbooth by remembering how important boredom was to Milo. Different than most kids today, Milo had plenty of time on his hands. The Phantom Tollbooth tells the story of a bored young boy named Milo who unexpectedly receives a magic tollbooth one afternoon, which transports him to a land called the Kingdom of Wisdom.

This is one of those books that I dare anyone—adult or child— not to love. Read the book and become Milo’s companion for a trip the likes you have never experienced. Some of the folks you will meet are Tock, the watchdog, the Humbug, King Araz, the Mathemagician, Princesses Rhyme and Reason, the Terrible Trivium and the Senses Taker.

I loved how Norton Juster wrote his masterpiece while trying to avoid writing a book on cities for children that was both exhausting and dispiriting him and not something he wanted to do.   Read more about Norton Juster’s accidental masterpiece.

Monday, October 31, 2011

PJ Families in Dallas: KICK-OFF Event with award winning author, Diane Frankenstein. Sunday, November 6 @3-5pm.

“I came away with a wealth of new ideas and techniques that I can use in the classroom but most importantly was the powerful message that literacy is nurtured through conversation. Reading comprehension begins with conversation!  Read a book, sing a song, play and keep talking – you will be developing a child who loves to read!” 
~ Comment from teacher at Akiba Academy

Turn your children into lifelong readers and help them get the most from the books they read.

Adults only program. Free child care will be provided, please RSVP for the program and or child care to

Monday, October 24, 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Diane comments in NYT 10.18.2011

Children need  social face-to-face social interaction to learn language. Babies learn language from people, not from gadgets.>>read more 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Diane will be a presenter at the Nueva Innovative Learning Conference: October 20, 2011

You are invited to attend the 2011 Innovative Learning Conference, October 20 & 21, a two-day education conference held at the Nueva School in Hillsborough, CA. More than 50 formal presentations, informative panels, and lively discussion groups  will address a broad range of topics related to the most compelling issues and effective strategies in innovative education today.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

High performing students need high quality teaching.

Bill Keller’s “The University of Wherever” (NYT 10.3.201) highlights the fact that technology-centric schooling does not improve basic learning. The question becomes what kind of classroom best teaches kids to think, calculate, and invent?
Classrooms in countries with the highest-performing students contain very little tech wizardry and emphasis is on pedagogical practices rather than digital gadgets.
School does not have to be grueling to be good but high performing students need more time in school with well-trained teachers. A 2010 McKinsey and Co. report stated that school systems in Singapore, Finland, and Korea recruit 100% of their teachers from the top one-third of the academic cohort versus America where about 23 percent of new teachers—and only 14 percent in high-poverty schools—come from the top one-third.
Parents have the responsibility of making sure their kids are ready to enter school with the literacy skills they need to be successful learners. The early literacy skills children need come from reading and talking with them about a story. This is how children obtain the vocabulary they need to get ready to learn to read. Teachers have the responsibility to be passionate about kids and learning, presenting material while staying connected to every student in the room.
The data seems to  indicate that high performing students need high quality teaching.

Diane does podcast about early childhood literacy for FIRST 5 Santa Clara County, CA

Early language and literacy development begins in the first three years of life and is closely linked to a child’s earliest experiences with books and stories.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Diane comments in the SF Chronicle: Forbid kids to read a particular book and see what happens.

Diane comments in the SF Chronicle (9.28.2011) on the consequences of living in a time and place where reading is/was a punishable offense. Forbidding kids to read certain books might be just the impetus for them to read.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Diane will be at the Sun Valley Idaho Community Library, Wed. October 12,2011 at 6pm.

DIANE W. FRANKENSTEIN, author of the award winning book, “Reading Together: Everything You Need to Know to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read”, believes that children who talk about stories better understand what they read, and children who get more from the books they read, are children who love to read. Book signing to follow talk.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Save November 6, 2011: Diane will be speaking in Dallas, Texas

On Sunday, November 6, 2011 (3:00 to 5:00 p.m.) the PJ Library of Dallas
is hosting an event for adults featuring Diane Frankenstein, award-winning
author of Reading Together — Everything You Need to Know
to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read.
This will be the “kick-off event” for the PJ Library in Dallas.
For more information visit:.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Celebrate Banned Book Week 2011

Banned book week September, 25- October 2, 2011 is one of my all time favorite literary events. Each year I am proud of how many banned or challenged books I count as my favorites. Often it is these very books that change the way I see the world. In my mind, that is a pretty good definition of what makes for a quality book.
Let’s celebrate Banned Book Week with three of my favorite books that illuminate what happens when reading books becomes forbidden. Offering kids books, where reading is forbidden, might be the perfect strategy to turn reluctant readers into ardent readers. Imagine what your life would be like if you lived in a time and place where reading is a punishable offense.
~ Red Scarf Girl:A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution, Ji-Li-Jiang
~ Stone Goddess
, Minfong Ho

~ Fahrenheit 451
, Ray Bradbury
The following story caught my eye and clearly demonstrates that freedom of expression is a right we need to vigilantly guard. 
Mr. Qiu grew up in a Shanghai neighborhood poor in amenities but rich in humanity. "You might not even have [indoor] toilet," he says. "Whatever circumstance . . . [people there] were contented. Most families, they just sit outside, and they would talk: They tell stories, wave their fans—they enjoy life!"
Mr. Qiu loved books, he says, from an early age. "But those years, it could already be dangerous or at least politically incorrect, so my father kind of locked away all the books. But as kid, I had my ways of opening a lock, right? It's really like the forbidden fruit: 'You don't want me to read it? I will read it!' And it was fun."
Mr.Qui is the author of Years of Red Dust: stories Old Shanghai. Forbidding kids to read  certain books might be just the impetus for them to read. Makes perfect sense to me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Should books for children be scary, silly or sophisticated?

With Banned Book Week (September 24-October1) approaching, I find myself thinking about the benefits of subversive thinkers. Some of our most cherished authors have been rebels who railed against the norms of their day. Most notably in the field of children’s literature, Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein come to mind. They all wrote bestselling children’s stories and they all have new books coming out soon, but the secret to their success is that their writing was once considered inappropriate for children! Once upon a more staid time, the purpose of children’s books was to model good behavior. They were meant to edify and to encourage young readers to be what parents wanted them to be, and the children in their pages were well behaved, properly attired and devoid of tears. Children’s literature was not supposed to shine a light on the way children actually were, or delight in the slovenly, self-interested and disobedient side of their natures. Seuss, Sendak and Silverstein ignored these rules. They brought a shock of subversion to the genre — defying the notion that children’s books shouldn’t be scary, silly or sophisticated. Rather than reprimand the wayward listener, their books encouraged bad (or perhaps just human) behavior. Not surprisingly, Silverstein and Sendak shared the same longtime editor, Ursula Nordstrom of Harper & Row, a woman who once declared it her mission to publish “good books for bad children."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Diane will speak Wednesday, September 21 at 7:30 p.m. Campus for the San Antonio Jewish Community at 12500 N.W. Military Hwy

Learn best practices for engaging children in their reading. making sure they are getting the most from the books they read.  For More Information: 302-6960 or

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Diane will be in San Antonio,Texas. Tuesday September 20 & 21, 2011

“What is the use of a book, thought Alice, without …conversations? Why Alice is right…a conversation with Diane Frankenstein.” Diane’s presentation will offer tips and strategies that promote literacy to ensure children become the readers they deserve to become. Program 7:30 pm 12500 N.W. Military Hwy. For more Information: 210 302-6960

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What does a giraffe have to do with learning?

Curiosity is our greatest search engine and education should be about keeping one’s curiosity alive and well nourished.  The beginning of a new school year holds much promise for learning, discovery and exploring and an active imagination is the best companion to take along on that journey.  You might wonder what does a giraffe have to do with learning?

Can your imagination stretch further than a giraffe?  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Knowledge...and a map of the world. Diane comments in San Francisco Chronicle 8.14.2011

A recent Newsweek poll said 38 percent of Americans would fail the U.S. citizenship test...Putting a colorful map of the world might be a good place to remedy the fact that many families don't know much about history.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Start off the school year right!

With school around the corner, start the year off right and buy a colorful map of the world. Let me share a story, THE MAP.

Our kitchen is the focal point of our family life and for the past 30 years, a colorful map of the world has decorated the room where we eat all our meals. It was this MAP that became a focal point for our conversations. We are a family of newspaper readers and THE MAP gave us context to where in the world something had happened. There was never any shortage of what to talk about, and we saw that without the map, our dinner table conversations became trapped in the sand pit of  “what happened (in school) today?”  with the usual forthcoming response: “Not much, nothing.”  When the boys were young THE MAP felt like a gigantic game board—it was fun and a challenge to discover and find the exact locations of world and national events.  The aim of any good conversation is to explore and not to persuade and THE MAP saved us from tedious and boring conversations as it entertained and educated. John Dewey said, “Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.”  Let a world map or a map of the United States be your family’s midwife to that education. 
P.S. THE MAP still hangs on the wall and not one of my sons live in the same time zone as their parents. We “blame” THE MAP, but hey, we told them to put on their roller skates and explore the world. My children were very good listeners.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The drawback of E-readers.

I have written extensively about the pros and cons of E-Reading and I admit I am not lukewarm on the subject. But I have just found the reason why I have not succumbed. I  recently read an article, “What an E-Reader Can’t Download.”  and I couldn’t say it more eloquently so here is an excerpt from that article.  “Electronic books can give us a universe of reading without ever leaving the house. but the books on my shelf help me remember that reading isn’t merely an inhalation of data. My library, and the years and places it evokes, speak of something deeper: the interplay of literature and the landscape of a life, the vivid record of a slow and winding search for wisdom, truth, the spark of pleasure or insight.”  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Discover the pleasure of rereading a favorite book.

Treat yourself and reread a favorite book. Not only do you reap the benefits of meeting an old friend you loved, but you also discover a different you who is now reading the book, but with different eyes. Experience the wisdom of Marcel Proust who said : “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
When I read a book to a classroom of children they often tell me ‘they know that story” and when I have finished the story, I hear a small voice say in awe, “ the story changed—that is not how I remember it.” Of course the story hasn’t changed—it is the listener who has changed.  It was Mark Twain, who said in a letter written to William Dean Howells in 18187,  “Nothing remains the same.” Each read delivers new riches.
Nothing demonstrates how personal reading is more clearly than rereading.  I just reread Bridge to Terabithia and want to share one of my souvenirs from that timeless book.   “Sometimes it seemed to him that his life was delicate as a dandelion. One little puff from any direction, and it was blown to bits.” From Bridge to Terabithia
In the books you read, begin to look for your souvenirs, a quote from a story you want to remember— and discover the power of ideas and how they are expressed. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Words and verbal fatigue. Are you beginning to sound like everyone else?

I love words and I marvel how all of a sudden people can easily begin to sound like everyone else. Believe it or not, there is actually someone who keeps track of words and phr is actually someone who keeps track of words and phrases that are over used. Though maybe "you could care less," the scholars in question keep track of linguistic mangling and overused buzzwords in a database called the Oxford University Corpus. The voluminous record keeps track of books, magazines, broadcast, online media and other sources, watching for new overused, tiresome phrases and retiring those that fade from use (or misuse). Here are a few of my favorites and yes, I too probably over use these words and phrases.
The great hierarchy of verbal fatigue includes:
1 – At the end of the day
2 – Fairly unique
3 – I personally
4 – At this moment in time
5 – With all due respect
6 – Absolutely
7 – It’s a nightmare
8 – Shouldn’t of
9 – 24/7
10 – It’s not rocket science

Friday, July 8, 2011

Digitally interactive books versus a child's imagination.

My thoughts on digital books continue to evolve with new information and data on their effects on the way children read. If I was ‘Tsarina’ today…. I would like to keep children reading books they hold in their hands. A child’s brain develops most dramatically during the first five years and shapes how their brain matures. I am concerned that reading digitally adversely affects how children read and comprehend. I watch children reading digitally and I see how multi-tasking and distraction are part of that experience.

Offering children digitally interactive book brings up other issues as well.
I recently looked at the popular Alice and Wonderland digital book app and I found it difficult to get to the story— which took a back seat to the inter active nature of the app. Do I need the White Rabbit’s old-fashioned pocket watch or a jar of marmalade to move when I tilt the iPad or touch an object?  The question is what are children losing and what are they gaining when they digitally read versus reading a book they hold in their hands. My worry is that children reading on digital devices are losing some of the essential qualities of reading—the ability to concentrate deeply, reflect and peruse meaning.

Book apps mix text with video, sound and game-like interactivity. Authors and publishers are recasting themselves as app makers and I can’t quite decide if a book app is a book, a movie, or a game. I don’t think we need all the bells and whistles to make a great story great.  It’s A Book, by Lane Smith seems to be making the point that the very qualities that we love about books do not need those features. Give children a great story they can get lost in –and let them use their own imagination to conjure up the sounds, sights and smells the story evokes. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Celebrate July 4th with a book that makes the holiday come to life.

The, 4th of July celebrates the United States adopting the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776. What do Richard Henry Lee, George Clymer, John Witherspoon, Caesar Rodney and 52 other men have to do with the 4th of July? They were 4 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. These people put their reputations, their fortunes, and their very lives on the line by boldly and publicly declaring their support for liberty and freedom. In fact it was Benjamin Franklin, one of the signers from the state of Pennsylvania who said,  “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang
Lately there has been a rash of articles lamenting how children in the US don’t know their own history. The Signers, The 56 stories Behind the Declaration of Independence written by Dennis Brindell Fradin brings to life these 56 different individuals. Who were the signers—what made them tick, what were their flaws, did they all become famous, and did any of them become president of the United States?

The first heroes of the United States–56 people who signed the Declaration of Independence are people we know very little about. The Signers make it enjoyable to change that fact by giving readers the stories behind these individuals—mini portraits with background information, anecdotes, family history and personal idiosyncrasies. If you like stories of bravery, heroes, suspense, and action, this is the book for you. Happy Fourth of July!    

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Books to entertain—not to teach anything.

Looking for a summer home-run read?  Look to the books of Beverly Cleary —95 years old— and the author of over 42 books, many of which turn(ed) countless kids into the readers they are today. I can’t imagine somebody not finding a book by Beverly Cleary they don’t fall in love with. And we know, that it takes only one “home run” book to turn a child into a lifelong reader.

Cleary’s success as an author can be understood up by her knack to offer children the ability to relate what they read to their own lives. What drove her to write for children was her frustration at not finding books she wanted to read as a child and knowing she could do better. The right age to read her books, find kids at their most impressionable time in life as a reader and as one author noted, “Her stories offer courage and insight into what to expect from their lives.” I appreciate how she wrote for both boys and girls and I recommend her books knowing that she is an author that encourages children to cross the gender divide.

Cleary says she wrote books to entertain, not to teach anything. As a young reader, “If I thought the author was trying to show me how to be a better behaved girl, I shut the book.”  Her mother, a frustrated writer told her to keep it simple and she kept in mind the advice of a writing professor: the proper subject of the novel is universal human experience grounded in the minutiae of ordinary life. But in addition to the realistic nature of her stories, she also offers readers humor. Judy Blume says,  “There’s both gentle humor and laugh-out-loud humor.”

Her writing has been compared to that of E.B. White and Elizabeth Bishop—a model of the “plain American style.”  Cleary captures the feelings, moods and thoughts of her characters but they never cross the line of being sentimental. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Dear Mr. Henshaw, an epistolary novel for which she received the Newbery Medal in 1984.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Get off the literary stair master and stop counting the number of books you or your children are reading.

Upon returning from a fact finding trip to the US which included a visit to a NYC charter school, the UK Education Secretary announced that every student from upper-elementary through the high school grades should read fifty books a year. Read 50 books a year and become a reader —really?

Here is one more episode in the lengthy narrative on how to improve children’s literacy. I do not think the number of books a child reads determines how good a reader they are or if they will even be a life long reader. I think the most important outcome is not how many books a child reads, but how many conversations they’ve had about them.

Children who talk about stories better understand what they read. Better comprehension skills grow a child’s reading confidence, which directly correlates to the pleasure they find in reading. Let’s concentrate not on how many books children read, but how well they love the books they do read. Are they engaged readers, who know how to make connections between the books they read, ideas and experiences?

Help children find what to read and then, through conversation show them how to find meaning and pleasure in their reading. Children who get more from the books they read are children who will like to read.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Terrific resource for summertime reading

Websites offering summertime book recommendations can be overwhelming.
One of my favorite online resource for book recommendations is
Their recommendations are refreshingly on target for age appropriate titles.

In choosing books children will enjoy, parents should pay attention not just to the reading level but also to the emotional readiness a child brings to the story.
Some of my favorite evergreen titles:
Picture books ….& NO one ever outgrows the love of a great picture book:
Amos & Boris
 by William Steig
Henrietta and the Golden Egg
 by Hanna Johansen
 by Dan Yaccarino
Way to Start a Day
 by Byrd Baylor
Books for children in grades 2-5
Balto and the Great Race
 by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
Jake Drake Know-It-All
 by Andrew Clements
Stone Fox
 by John Reynolds Gardiner
Books for Children in Grades 4-6+
The Thirteen Clocks
 by James Thurber|
Castle in the Attic
 by Elizabeth Winthrop
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
 by Robert O’Brien

Friday, June 3, 2011

Make the most of summertime reading—strategies to avoid the summer slide.

We know from extensive research that without continued reading in the summer, students fall back in their reading achievement. The good news is that the latest research shows students who read at least 4 books over the summer maintain or even increase their skills. Reading is a skill that continues to improve through practice. The more you read, the better reader you become. Children who are good readers enjoy reading.
Strategies to avoid the summer slide
• Ramp up the “pleasure principle” in reading and love of story.
• Increase the time you read aloud and talk with children about what they read. Children who talk about a story have better comprehension skills, which build their confidence as readers. Children need confidence to enjoy reading. 
• Find a balance between school time reading and summer time reading. Summertime reading should be all about pleasure.
• SLOW DOWN: get off the literary stair master. I would rather your children read fewer books, know and love them well, than read many books they don't really like or even remember.
• Re-reading is not cheating! Encourage your children to revisit the books they have read. Everyone gets more from a book they have read more than once.
• Allow your children choice in what they read
• At the same time, suggest books you think they will like.  The Scholastic Study on Children and Reading found that children said they did not like to read because they could not find books they liked to read. Children want autonomy and independence in their reading but they also need guidance in what to read. Ask yourself: “Who is going to hand them the memorable books they will carry into their young adulthood years?”  Make your local librarian and local independent bookstore seller your new best friends.
• Audio books are terrific—and they build vocabulary and instill a love of story. They are also not associated with school assignments.
• Relax and let go of how challenging a book is—please do not tell children the book they are reading is too easy.

Set an example and follow your good advice: Read more this summer and enjoy what you read. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pre-school age children do not need tutors to get them ready to enter Kindergarten.

A recent article flagged a growing trend to push expensive tutoring programs aimed at the preschool set. I suggest parents relax and avoid anxiety producing pre-school tutoring programs and their promises of making sure children are ready for school. Reading to children and talking with them about the story are the early literacy skills they need to enter school ready to be successful learners, prepared to learn to read. Many of the skills children need to learn to read are first learned in conversation. Vocabulary is the lynchpin to literacy.

“Fast-Tracking to Kindergarten” rightly pointed out that “Research suggest that there is little benefit from preschool tutoring; young children learn just as much about math, if not more, fitting mixing bowls together on the kitchen floor.”

Competition in education has trickled down to the pre-school population and parents find themselves caught in the commercial push of products aimed at the early childhood population. I applaud Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, who said “tutoring programs…at best, they are useless.”

The seminal 1985 Commission on Reading’s report, Becoming a Nation of Readers, concluded “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” But being read to does not automatically lead to literacy. The real link seems to lie in the verbal interaction that occurs between adult and child during story reading. Talking with children had an even stronger effect on literacy learning than reading aloud to them.

Some poems are meant to be shared, loved and remembered.

Eloise Greenfield was born May 17 1929 in Parmele, North Carolina at the beginning of the Depression. Early on her family moved to Washington, D.C. where she still lives today. Here is one of my favorite poems, from her collection, Honey I Love, an ALA Notable Children’s Book. Enjoy discovering on your own other of her poems that are meant to be shared, loved and remembered.

Love don’t mean all that kissing
Like on television
Love Means Daddy
Saying keep your mama company
till I get back
And me doing it

Friday, May 13, 2011

“Oh my goodness, I was as giddy as a pig in the sunshine.” Patrick Lewis, upon hearing the news of being named Children’s Poet Laureate.

Our new Children’s Poet Laureate, Patrick Lewis said “ A lifelong love for poetry is most likely to result if cultivated early in childhood and reinforced thereafter” Patrick Lewis has certainly done his part and then some in cultivating a love of poetry for both adults and children. He says  “poetry can transport children when they realize the beauty of language. Lewis reads poetry “ always looking for that ‘ah ha!’ moment, and he wants to bring that same ‘ah ha!” to children.

Upon receiving the news of his being named Poet Laureate he said,  “Oh my goodness, I was as giddy as a pig in the sunshine.” “When I received the phone call, I immediately had butterflies, and they jumped up and began tap-dancing on my heart—and that’s where they are now!”

For years, Lewis wrote poetry while teaching business, accounting, and economics at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, before hanging up his professor cap in 1998 to write fulltime. “It was just serendipitous that I had two absolutely wonderful careers—one having nothing to do with the other—so I’ve been very lucky in that regard,” he says.

Lewis has written many poems and here is one to enjoy as we celebrate with him on his recent appointment.

Books Discover Children
Yes, children do discover books,
But books find children on their own,
And then can’t wait to get their hooks
In kids who think they’re all alone.
For instance, GOODNIGHT MOON knows why
That girl is thinking to herself,
How can I ever say good-bye….
When Rabbit pulls her to the shelf.
And FROG AND TOAD hops to the child
Who almost lost his closest friend:
The only way pain’s reconciled
Is by the letter that you send.
When CHARLOTTE’S WEB bumps into you-
A girl who’s fastened to a farm-
The simple life you thought you knew
Is spelled out in a spider’s charm.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mothers hold their children's hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.

Mother’s Day seems to be the perfect time to look at the perennial “nature versus nurture” debate. I see NO downside in hedging your bets. If hedging your bet is defined as protecting yourself against a possible loss, what parent wants to possibly lose the opportunity of doing whatever they can to nurture a child becoming the best person they can become?

Before you become a parent you most likely have strong opinions on the nature versus nature argument.  However, once you become a parent you find yourself determined to parent in ways that reflect the state of the art child rearing practices. The rub is that state of the art parenting practices do not stay static—they change with new information, and new fads, which reflect the latest trends and what is in vogue. So what is a parent to do? I weigh in on the side of the good advice of William James who said, “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”   Parent as if what you do matters. What is the downside? The one state of the art child rearing practice that I am confident will never change is: LOVE your child.

Happy Mother’s Day—celebrate the day with the gift of the poem The Reading Mother, by Strickland Gillilan

I had a mother who read to me—
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be—
I had a Mother who read to me. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

School Standards that encourage deeper thought is a good thing

I am cautiously optimistic of the Common Core standards, which is the newest experiment in the arena of school curriculum standards.
NYTimes “Trial Run for School Standards That Encourage Deeper Thought.”

The stated goal is “to go beyond reading lists” (emphasizing reading for meaning) “and math formulas to try to raise the bar not only on what students in every grade are expected to learn, but also on how teachers are expected to teach” gives prominence to the foundation for education. Students will be asked to read fiction and non-fiction and skills such as the ability to analyze and express ideas in a persuasive manner will be emphasized.

The Common Core standards have the potential to teach students the concept of making connections—knowing how to connect books, experiences and ideas.  Reading is thinking and students today spend too much time on assignments that are busy work, which do not promote thinking. It appears that Common Core could put into practice the adage: “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.” Involving students in what they read promotes understanding and thinking—both indispensable to best practices in education.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Diane Frankenstein to speak at Lakeside Presbyterian Center for Children, May 11, 6:00-7:30p.m. 201 Eucalyptus Drive, S.F. 94132

Diane W. Frankenstein, author of the award winning book, Reading Together: Everything You Need To Know To Raise a Child Who Loves to Read will offer tips, strategies and best practices to make the most of summer reading and to make sure your children are enjoying the books they read. Open to the Public. 

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Shahrazad and her Arabian Night tales made me a lover of story with her “…and then what happened?” And C.P. Cavafy made me a lover of poetry.

I mark the last day of April as poetry month with one of my most favorite poems. I love journeys and the poem, Ithaka, written by the Greek poet, Constantine Peter Cavafy captures for me what a journey can be—one filled with passions, adventures, and awakenings. Let the poem transport you as the best of poetry does.  An interesting note —Cavafy,was born on April 29, 1863 and died on the same date in 1933 in Alexandria (Egypt).
Ithaka, by Constantine Peter Cavafy

Hope your journey is long,
Full of adventure, full of awakening.
Do not fear the monsters of the old
You will not meet them in your travels
If your thoughts are exalted and remain high'
If authentic passions stirs your mind, body and spirit.
You will not encounter fearful monsters ,
If you don't carry them within your soul,
If your soul doesn't set them up in front of you..

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Monday, April 25, 2011

“Only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young.”

Walter de la Mare (4/25/1873-1956) was an English poet, short story writer and novelist, probably best remembered for his works for children and "The Listeners". His children's book A Penny a Day won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1962. But I think of him as the person who taught me something very valuable when it comes to children and books—he said,  “Only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young.”

Babytalk Magazine interviews Diane Frankenstein, award winning author of Reading Together

Diane offers advice on the importance of reading to young babies—what are the benefits and she offers some of her favorite books

Friday, April 22, 2011

Best practice for Literacy Volunteer: READ & TALK

An excerpt from a program I recently did for Literacy Volunteers:

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a team of parents, educators, volunteers and caregivers, working together to make sure children acquire the early literacy skill they need to enter school and be successful learners. Children are made readers on the laps of their parents but when this is not the case, often the efforts of a literacy volunteer saves the day.  

Children who come to school with well-developed skills in finding meaning from books are clearly at an advantage. Someone in the home read to the children, answered their questions, and encouraged them to read and write. The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2000) says parents and other regular caregivers in childrens lives are the active ingredients of environmental influence on childrens development.  However sad the case, many children dont get the support they need at home and the role of a literacy volunteer is the bright and shinning ray of hope for those children.

We know that A child’s desire to learn to read comes from being read to and the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. BUT being read to does not automatically lead to literacy. The real link seems to lie in the verbal interaction that occurs between adult and child during story reading. Talking with children had an even stronger effect on literacy learning than reading aloud to them. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Unplug…your kids and yourself!

Screen Free Week, (formally TV Turn off, April 18-24, 2011) is the annual national celebration where children, families, schools, and communities turn off TV, video games, computers, and hand-held devices and turn on life.  Instead of relying on screens for entertainment, they play, read, daydream, explore nature, and enjoy spending time with family and friends.  

Children spend far too much time with screens: an astonishing average of 32 hours a week for preschoolers and even more for older children.  Time with screens is linked to poor school performance, childhood obesity, attention issues and other health and social problems.

Some information to inform your choices of how much screen time is good for children:
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
• The average child watches 3 hours of TV a day -- 2 hours of quality programming is the maximum recommended by the Academy.
• Active play time is needed to develop mental, physical and social skills.
 •Children who watch violence on TV are more likely to display aggressive behavior.
• Young children don't know the difference between programs and commercials.
A thought to ponder~
Geena Davis, an advocate for gender equality in children’s entertainment recently stated in the The WSJ “ A Blueprint for Change” “The more hours of television a girl watches, the fewer options she believes she has in life. And the more hours a boy watches, the more sexist his views become.”

I hope that your mini vacation from all those gadgets, like the best of vacations, present some different and new habits. A suggestion for a new habit—add the element of TALK with your children about the TV programs or videos etc they watch.   Here are some conversation starters.

~ Did you learn anything new?
~ What character would you like to be your friend? Why?
~ Is there a character you dislike?
~ How would “the story” be different if…?
~ What would you do in this situation?
~ What are you curious about at the end of “the story?”


Friday, April 15, 2011

Lets hear it for poetry that is easy, and I do not mean simple, to understand and invites pleasure.

In anticipation of April being poetry month I signed up to receive a poem a day, delivered to my email.  Anticipating great delight, I quickly, and not so happily, became disenchanted. I have not understood or liked any of the poems until today when I received The Things by Donald Hall.

Lets hear it for poetry that is easy, and I do not mean simple, to understand and invites pleasure. I don’t think anyone loves to look for the hidden meaning, that needle in the haystack. 

When I walk in my house I see pictures,

bought long ago, framed and hanging

—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore
that I've cherished and stared at for years,

yet my eyes keep returning to the masters 

of the trivial—a white stone perfectly round, 

tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell, 

a broken great-grandmother's rocker,

a dead dog's toy—valueless, unforgettable 

detritus that my children will throw away

as I did my mother's souvenirs of trips 

with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens, 

and bundles of cards from her mother Kate
~ Donald Hall

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Children (and adults) benefit from someone handing them a book that speaks to their interests.

They say advice is worth what you paid for but here is a lovely story about how a piece of advice played out. Recently I was doing a program and a librarian and mother of two sons lamented how one of her sons is a reluctant reader. I asked her what are his interests and I suggested she find him some books, biography, nonfiction, or fiction that touch on those subjects. The following are the results of her following my advice:  “I took to heart your recommendation to find a book about soccer or track for my younger son.  Found a graphic novel and a non-fiction training book.   He read the novel last night and started on the second one right before bed.  Your advice worked!”
Children often say they don’t like to read because they can’t find books they want to read. All children need and benefit from someone handing them a book that speaks to their interests. Be the person who hands a child their home run books! 

Sixty Second Parent's blog highlights the merits of Reading Together: Everything You Need To Know To Raise a Child Who Loves To Read

“30 Days to Make a Lifetime Reader” Recommends Reading Together  read more>>

Ramping up the pleasure principle in reading and love of story helps prevent the well-documented summer slide in academics, most notably in reading. The key is to find a balance between school time reading and summer time reading. “30 Days to Make a Lifetime Reader” offers some valuable and easy to follow advice about children and reading.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

“Poetry is emotion recorded in tranquility.” Wordsworth

It is no surprise that William Wordsworth, (4.7.1770) born in the midst of spring, wrote enduring words about daffodils— one of the happiest flowers I know. I don’t gaze upon them without recalling his words—“Fluttering and dancing in the breeze, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.” Choose your own favorite line or two, a "souvenir" from his Daffodil poem. Below is the full dose of his musings about how they make him feel. And when you look upon a daffodil, how do they make you feel? I sometimes wonder if I am more in love with poetry or how poets describe poetry. You decide which you prefer—
“Poetry is emotion recorded in tranquility.” Wordsworth
I WANDER’D lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch’d in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils

Monday, April 4, 2011

“Others might tell stories to put you to sleep, but I tell stories to wake you up!”

Born April 4, Reb Nachman would be 239 years old today.
As a brilliant teacher, and considered to be the first Jewish storyteller, he succeeded in creating  stories which will endure forever. Reb Nachman understood the power of stories to transmit a people’s values and way of life and put into practice the adage:  Thou shalt not lasts a moment. Once upon a time lasts forever. 
Two of my favorite Nachman story collections are:
The Seven Beggars & Other Kabalistic Tales of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan Translator &

The Empty Chair: Finding Hope & Joy- Timeless Wisdom from a Hasidic Master, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
Two memorable souvenirs from his writings are:
“Others might tell stories to put you to sleep, but I tell stories to wake you up!”

“If you won't be better tomorrow than you were today, then what do you need tomorrow for?”

Friday, April 1, 2011

Children & Poetry- a match made in heaven!

I am delighted that the Academy of American Poets inaugurated in 1996 National Poetry Month, which is now held every April. Taking poetry “off the mantle”— saving it for meaningful occasions—and putting a little bit into our everyday lives is a good thing.  I think of a poem as a vitamin for the spirit.

Having said that I never understood the wisdom of having a 6-week unit of poetry. I remember well those 6-week units and by the end, I had enough poetry to last me a lifetime and I didn’t want to hear, once again, the ubiquitous question “What is the meaning of the poem?” In my way of thinking a better question is to ask: “What is the mood that is deposited after you read the poem—how does the poem make you feel?” I want children meeting poems that elicit a wide range of emotions—happy, sad, cheerful, reflective, humorous, soulful, heartfelt and others.

In our hurried lives, poetry offers the opportunity to get lost in a picture of words and feeling and reminds us to slow down and savor the everyday.  Robert Frost’s poem,
A Time To Talk captures that sentiment.

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still land look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, “What is it?”
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Parents reading to children opens to the door for a conversation about the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Parents want their children to feel safe, but traumas and natural disasters are part of the world. The urge is not to talk with children about subjects that are difficult, but the reality is that your children will learn about these subjects, and if not from you, then from someone else. And that “someone else” is not going to have the conversation you want to have with your child. 

Stories put an event into a larger context, allowing a parent or teacher to have a more meaningful conversation. The Big Wave, written in 1947 by Pearl Buck is such a book. The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan put that country’s trauma on the map as it was beamed into our hearts and minds for days. The events were frightening and overwhelming for both children and adults. 

The story centers on Jiya, a Japanese boy who must face life after escaping the tidal wave destruction of his family and village. As with the best of literature, the story offers no easy solutions or trivial remedies but rather encourages the reader to experience, albeit vicariously, Jiya’s journey of acceptance of what has happened as he forges his response to how he must now live his life.  One of my souvenirs from the book is: “To live in the midst of danger is to know how good life is.”

Reading and talking with children about The Big Wave makes it possible to have a conversation about what recently happened in Japan and encourages a parent and child to talk about some very strong emotions, fear, grief, death, love and hope and others.  Children need adults who are willing to talk about hard subjects and strong emotions. A willingness to take a subject out of the dark, expose it to the light of day, and let go of the need to arrive at a solution makes for an important conversation everyone can begin.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Children who read for meaning are children who are good readers and enjoy reading.

The San Francisco Examiner recently ran an article: “ Children love to read, especially when they read actual books” which made the point that although reading devices abound with new gadgets readily available, children are actually reading books—the ones that come with real pages. A point that seemed to be missing in the article was the fact that many children say they don’t like to read and we know that California’s students’ ability to read is ranked 49th in the country by the U.S. Department of Education. So what is going wrong? We know that pleasure needs to drive reading and it makes sense that children who are good readers like to read. Children become good readers when they read for meaning —not to be confused with children who read the words of a book but who do not necessarily understand what they read. Children only read for story and if they are working too hard at reading the words, they cannot get to the story. Offer children books where they can easily get to the story and talk with them about the story.

Talking about a story is how children better understand what they read and become involved with the story. There is no magic formula for raising children who love to read but there is a winning equation. Read a book, ask a question, start a conversation.”  Let there be no doubt: Children who get more from the books they read are children who love to read.”