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.