Archive for ‘On Reading’

November 13, 2013

Reading with Dad

Hi! Check out these great ideas by Jake Ball (bio at the end of the post), and settle down with a book and a dad. (Or, as he indicates below, DON’T settle down, but still read.) 

Books and Reading Time with Dad

Reading has traditionally been an activity young children do with Mom.  However, in so many families reading can fall down the priorities list with both Mom and Dad working outside the home or if Mom and Dad are not together.

It is critical for Dad to be engaged in the effort of creating a healthy reading environment in the home.  Kids look up to Dad, just as they do Mom.  When they see both of their parents involved in literacy activities, it helps them develop a strong love of reading.

Dad reads differently than Moms

Dads tend to have a greater ability to be silly with their kids.  We are more in touch with their 12-year-old self. It’s true, whether we want to admit or not!  Dads are often the ones rolling down the hill with their kids or putting things on their head in the grocery store.  Keep that silliness alive even when you are cuddled up on the couch reading with your kids.

Read with funny voices and accents for each character.  Use costumes and puppets. Get off the couch and recreate the action of the story.  Injecting energy and enthusiasm in the story will make reading time with Dad an event not to be missed!

Father-child bonding time

Having that intimate time with your children is crucial and should be cherished. Read without distractions.  Turn off the TV and leave your phone in another room. Instead immerse yourself in the moment.  Texts and emails can wait – focus on the time you have together.  This strengths your bond and shows your children how special they are to you.

How to set the tone in the home

Make reading a priority.  Treat reading time as any other task or appointment on your schedule.  It is just as, if not more, important than anything other commitment you have.  There is always at least 15 minutes to pick up a book and read with your child.

Seeing how important it is to you will boost their self-confidence and motivate them to pick up a book. Dads have such a great influence on their kids – if you love reading, chances are they will too.

So Dad, pick up a book and share in the wonderful experience of reading with your children.  Read with enthusiasm and without distractions.  Put away your phone and turn off the TV. Below are a few selections for that are wonderful you, Dad, to read with your little ones.  Cuddle up with your kids for

hoponpoppigletHop on Pop – Dr. Seuss

Dads can never go wrong with Dr. Seuss. They are always fun to read, for parents and kids alike. The simple, silly rhymes are perfect for beginning readers.

Piglet and Papa – Margaret Wild

This heartwarming tale of parental forgiveness and unconditional love is a wonderful story for dads to read to their children.  Little Piglet has upset her father and wonders if he still loves her.  She feels unloved and seeks reassurance from other animals in the barnyard, learning that no one love her more than papa.  Piglets loving relationship with her papa will comfort any child who has ever been naughty for attention.



Owl Moon– Jane Yolen

This book demonstrates to your little one the importance of family time.  It poetically tells the story of a father and daughter going out into the woods one snowy night in search of an owl.  The little girl is so happy to finally go “owling” with her dad that she doesn’t mind if they never find an owl.

Guess How Much I Love You– Sam McBratney

No collection is complete without this sweet and touching little book.  It is a favorite in many homes and can choke up the toughest of dads.

About the Author:

Jake Ball started in 2006 after realizing that there was no website that was a truly independent bookstore that is 100% dedicated to juvenile literature. He loves engaging with the authors, illustrators and publishers who work hard to produce high quality children’s literature. Jake and his wife have 4 beautiful children. These poor children are often used as product testers and they have more books than might be considered healthy.

August 2, 2013

the secrets of parenting with books

This was a YA book I could NOT put down. I think EVERY SINGLE parent needs to read it right now. And most teens, too. I chose this book for its title and cover. This might make me shallow, but it totally worked. Because Aristotle and Dante DO discover the secrets of the universe, or at least some of them, and they do it in a really realistically teen way.

aristotleanddanteTitle: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Genre: Fiction, Realistic Fiction
Age: 12 and up

And the cool thing about the parents? Well for starters, they aren’t dead! When is the last time you read a kids’ book where the parents were still alive? Still thinking about that one? Exactly. ALL FOUR parents are involved, and all, despite various issues they might have, are phenomenal role models, or at least doing their best. (And not in a cheesy, role-your-eyes I can’t believe my mom is making me read this book kind of way. Not that your kid would EVER roll his eyes…)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a compelling story about two teenage boys. Both are Mexican-American, which is already an identity with which they struggle, in different ways. And both are discovering sexuality, and again, they discover their own in really different ways. Aristotle is rough around the edges, completely silent inside and out (which makes him a really unique 1st person narrator–he doesn’t understand himself well enough to tell you all the details). Dante is more refined, more talkative, inquisitive. He wants to save the dead bird in the street.

Aristotle and Dante become fast friends and what happens next is nothing less than the story of all boys who grow up. It will, in particular, speak to those teenage boys who are finding out that their own sexuality might be different than the status quo, but I believe this is a book whose teenage angst will speak to all of us: gay, straight, young, and old.

And like I said, this is a book for parents. If you are having a hard time talking with your kids about growing up, having friends, or being gay, please read this book. Give it to your kids to read. And, like Ari’s father, sit down at the kitchen table one day and just start to talk. You might be surprised where it gets you.

If all books were like this, EVERYONE would read kids’ books, everyone would read with their kids, and this blog would be totally irrelevant.

And you don’t have to take MY word for it. This book won the Michael J. Printz Award, the Stonewall Book Award, and the Pura Belpré Award. Seriously. It has three medals on the cover.

If you like this one, I would suggest: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. All are great coming-of-age boy stories with a real MC and real problems in a real world.

March 26, 2013

Win something to read when you’re done swimming

Are you taking the kids to the lake this summer? Maybe you are going for awhile and need something to do when it’s time to come in from the sun? Or they need a break from the rain? Reading A Day At The Lake would be a great place to start, and then they could make up their own sound-alike words. “Flippity swish wish we were fish” is such a great line. Younger kids could think of alternatives for “flippity swish”. What are some other good words (or neologisms, they don’t have to be real words!) for fish movement? Or instead of fish, what about a butterfly, bird, cat, dog, squirrel, deer, raccoon, small child, car, motor boat, sail boat…I could go on forever!


Literacy doesn’t have to end when school is out and it doesn’t have to be limited to reading and writing. You could think of these words over ice cream cones on the porch or fish tacos at the dinner table. Encourage your kids to play with words–after they’ve played outside–and they will be hitting all kinds of multiple intelligences on what they think is just a fun family vacation.

I love the way this book plays with words, and your kids just might be inspired by that. There is some not-overwhelming rhyme, some great onomatopoeia (look that one up with the kids if they don’t know it yet!), gorgeous illustrations as you can see, and when it’s all said and done, a very fun day at the lake.


Win this great book by commenting below. Tell me what you like to do with your kids in the summer, and if you have any good ideas about keeping literacy alive in between campouts, let me know that, too! You have until Saturday, March 29th, at midnight Eastern time to leave your comment. Winners will be announced next week. MAKE SURE YOU LEAVE YOUR EMAIL OR SOME WAY FOR ME TO CONTACT YOU IN CASE YOU WIN!

aDayattheLake_coverTitle: A Day at the Lake
Authors: Stephanie Wallingford and Dawn Rynders
Illustrator: Erica Pelton Villnave
Genre: Picture Book
Age: 0 – 7

Want more chances to win this book? Check out the full blog tour schedule here.

March 18, 2013

What’s Spring?

There’s no better way to get kids interacting with reading than by writing their own stories. For little kids, you can have them tell you a story and you can write it down. Give them a prompt, or choose a favorite book and have then write a sequel. Or choose a favorite character and have them write another story with that character.

Older kids might like to rewrite a favorite story from the point of view of a more minor character, inventing things that happen to that character when they are “off camera”, or not on the page of the actual book.

To get my creative juices going, I’m responding today to a writing prompt on the awesome Susanna Hill’s blog. The challenge was to write a story about Spring in 350 words or less that ends with a specific line. Here’s my attempt. (349 words!*)


Little Fox’s Springs

Little Fox was almost one year old.

LIttle Fox remembered summer. He played in the sun and swam in the brook.

Little Fox remembered fall. He hid in the leaves and ran with the wind.

Little Fox remembered winter. He cuddled with his mama and tunneled in the snow.

But he didn’t remember spring. It was so long ago!

“What’s spring?” he asked his mama.

“Spring is when you were born,” said his mama.

“Hmmmm,” said Little Fox.

Little Fox tiptoed out of his den. He found Jackrabbit.

“What’s spring?” he asked Jackrabbit.

“A spring is a bounce!” said Jackrabbit. “Here, I’ll show you.” And Jackrabbit sprung around the meadow and back to Little Fox.

“Hmmmm,” said Little Fox.

Little Fox now had a spring in his step. But he still wasn’t sure how he would know when spring was here. He found Raven.

“What’s spring?” he asked Raven.

“A spring is a coil that wiggles and jiggles. Here, I’ll show you.” And Raven flew to his nest, rifled through twigs and toys and carried a spring back to Little Fox.

“Hmmmm,” said Little Fox.

Little Fox now had a spring in his step and a new toy spring in his paw. But he still wasn’t sure how he would know when spring was here. He saw Moose.

“What’s spring?” he asked Moose.

“A spring is delicious!” said Moose. “Here, I’ll show you.” And Moose trod to a small hole in the moss where clear water was bubbling. Little Fox took a drink.

“Hmmmm,” said Little Fox, licking his lips.

Little Fox now had a spring in his step and a toy spring in his paw and some fresh spring water in his tummy. But he still wasn’t sure how he would know when spring was here. He saw Deer.

“What’s spring?” he asked Deer.

But Deer couldn’t talk. She was busy with two very tiny, very spotted fawns.

Little Fox remembered what his mama had said. He was born in the spring. The fawn gave Little Fox a slobbery kiss.

Little Fox knew spring was here at last.


Now you write your story!

*Note to contest judges: I don’t have a Word Processor on my new(!) computer yet, so I entered this into seven (7!) different online word counters. 349 was the number that came up most often (3 times). 3 counters got a lower number and 1 got a higher number, so it seemed safe to assume I’m within the legal limit!

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March 12, 2012

Literary Doppelgangers

Today, I’m blogging about my alter-egos in the Harry Potter series at Nashville Parent. If you could be anyone from those books, who would you choose? Click on over to Nashville Parent to find out who I would like to be.

February 10, 2012

learn to spell and read, happily

The Wizard of Why is loving the reading right now. It’s so cute. He gets so excited when he sees a word on the street that he knows. He loves asking me “why does that say —-” and then getting my crazy reaction of “WHAT!? You can read that?!” He’s a long way from reading his own books, but the process is so amazingly fun to watch. And just thinking about the whole world that opens up when you start to be able to read…I’m just so excited for him!

Title: Happy Endings: A Story About Suffixes
Author: Robin Pulver
Illustrator: Lynn Rowe Reed
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: 4 – 8

I found this book at the library recently and we loved it. It’s definitely for a slightly older crowd (I believe it was written with spelling, not reading in mind), but since he’s into looking at words right now it was perfect for him. It emphasizes suffixes, word endings, which you wouldn’t think made for a fun book, but it does. The story is fun: a class of kids are about to go for summer vacation but first they need to complete the last lesson of the year on suffixes. This proves more difficult when the suffixes hear the teacher say the class is going to “tackle” them after lunch and they go into hiding.

The illustrations are bright and fun and the whole book is written with the suffixes bolded and colored:

He pointed at the board The he stared. “Good grief,” he said. “This is the craziest year of my teaching life! No summer vacation until the words endings are found! Seriously!”

I highly recommend this book for kids learning to read and older kids learning to spell!

December 12, 2011

The immortal story

Given that my son who is not yet four and has less than 2 hours of screen time a week (and yet knows exactly what screen time is and that he wants more of it) recently taught my husband how to do something on his iPad, it’s easy to see that the future involves screens. So what’s a book, a decidedly un-screened thing, to do? Many people are talking about the future of books, and no one seems to know what to predict. It’s clear that digital books are the future. But will they exist alongside paperbacks or replace them entirely? Will books made of trees be the illumated manuscripts of the future, only to be examined in museums?

Will we be snuggling up with an e-reader soon?

On a personal note, I would hate to see the disappearance of books. They are too much a part of my childhood, too much a part of my free time and my personal space, for me to give them up that easily. But on the other hand, maybe we are asking the wrong question. We are talking about the horse when we should be talking about transportation. We are talking about the telegraph when we should be talking about how we communicate. Maybe we are talking about books when we should be talking about stories.

Stories are not going to die. Stories have been around since Homer told the Odyssey to anyone who would sit down and listen. (And were people outraged later, when print came along, reducing that once-living epic to a fixed version of itself, subject only to minor word changes in its infinite translations?)

Stories keep us up at night, turning the pages (or maybe scrolling the screens) to find out what happens to a character we just met only a few hundred pages ago, a character that reminds us so much of ourselves that in her choices we see our own weakness and in her consequences we see our own narrowly-missed (or once-lived) fate. Stories teach us what we didn’t know about other people (that’s why she acts that way! that’s what he meant!). They teach us that some things we never thought of might be entirely possible, or even normal. Often, they teach us that what we thought weird about ourselves is normal, too. (I think that’s what most of the YA and MG genres are all about, aren’t they? Perhaps that’s why I like them so much!)

I’m curious—are you excited about the future of books you can interact with? Of carrying 1000 books in a small case on the plane with you? Or are you holding onto the past like I am, just a little bit longer? Please let me know! I read a blog recently that said the best Christmas present you can give a blogger is comments, and it’s so true! Let me know what you are thinking!

January 11, 2011

Challenge yourself and your family to read!

I just started a reading challenge for January – March of 2011 and I’m really excited about it.  It’s not that a reading challenge is so profound, but it’s already got me thinking about what kinds of books I’d like to add to my list.  I’m joining other members of a Goodreads group to try to read books that start with author last names from A – Z.  These people are pretty serious about their kid lit (yea!) and so there is a complex point system that includes bonuses for new genres, Goodreads authors, and more.  The first book I’m reading for the challenge is Sherman Alexie’s Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which I’ve been meaning to read for some time.  But since X is one of the exception letters (it just has to be IN the name, not at the beginning), this counts for one of the hardest ones to get!  I’m loving it so far–sat down with it last night and am halfway through.

This would be a great challenge for kids of all ages.  Write the letters of the alphabet on a large piece of poster board and hang it somewhere in the house with a column for each family member.  Then write the name of the book read when someone is done and see how long it takes your family to fill up the chart.  Of course, whether or not you want to give out a prize for winning, a prize for everyone who finishes or everyone who tries, or just celebrate the joy of reading with exhilaration itself, is bound to differ from family to family.  But have fun with it!  This would be a great activity for a Spring or Summer break, a family vacation, or just something for the New Year.

Enjoy your books!

January 6, 2011

Geek out with Harry Potter literary analysis

Hardison, the computer geek character in Leverage, my current favorite TV show, is fond of saying “It’s the age of the geek!”  And looking at Google and Facebook alone, it’s hard to argue that, although whether or not it’s the age of the literary geek is probably more debatable.  However, I’m happily able to admit that I am a full Harry Potter geek, even if I don’t have my own wand or invisibility cloak.  And that as a result, this book made me REALLY happy.

Title: Harry Potter’s Bookshelf
Author: John Granger
: Reference/Literature, Young Adult, Adult, Middle Grade
Age: 12 and up

Summary and Review:

John Granger really goes all out in his literary analysis of Harry Potter.  His author email address is, and he takes his professorship seriously.  Which, let me tell you, I appreciate.  Reading this book has given me not only profound insight into the Potter series, but also the centuries of literature it is built upon.  Whether Rowling was influenced by the exact books Granger mentions or whether she alludes to them with her writing style purposely, is irrelevant.  The brilliance of the book is how it ties together so many forms of literature and shows how those forms have influenced writing today, specifically the writing of the great JKR.

Topics in this book include the narrative structure of the book–why Rowling might have chosen the third person omniscient limited as her main form of narrative style, genre–how each book reads like a classic mystery tale, and author-influence–how frequently Jane Austen and her characters and ideas flit through the pages of the Potter novels.  He also covers the setting as structured like a familiar British boarding-school novel, and the moral meaning of the significant gothic influences and postmodern themes present in the book.  He covers satire, allegory, literary alchemy, and fantasy.

The book was a great read.  As a Harry Potter fan, I enjoyed a new glimpse into the books, and it has encouraged me to pick them up another time, reading at a deeper level.  As a reader, I loved learning about the literary history that I either never learned in school or have long forgotten.  And as a writer, I really appreciated the chance to dissect a great book and to really think about why it’s great and what choices the author may have made along the way.

This book certainly isn’t a children’s book, but a precocious Potter-loving middle school would enjoy it.  And any high schooler with an appreciation for the young wizard will get a kick out of it, especially since he or she would likely be in the middle of the stage of education where many of the books mentioned in here are required reading.  This might make Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre a heck of a lot more fun!

Follow-up with the kids:

It would be a lot of fun to reread one of the Potter books or even the whole series with this analysis in mind.  Or you could do a scavenger hunt through one of the books and look for some of the clues and allusions Granger mentions.  And despite the fact that it’s a literary analysis, you could probably (sigh) watch the movies (which, don’t get me wrong are great, but really) and find some of the trends, especially as regards the setting, in there as well.  So grab some popcorn and sit the family on the couch to look for gothic symbolism or medieval signs.

December 31, 2010

Grown-ups who read kids’ books

Here’s what I think.  Yes, technically this blog is for parents to recommend books to their kids, or read along with them, but there are a lot of adults reading children’s books out there, whether their kids are reading them or not.  And not just Harry Potter and Twilight (oh please, not Twilight).  But a lot of other good stuff, too.  And I wanted to celebrate that!  Take the cover off the book you read on the train and come out from under the covers at night.  I think these are great reads for adults!

Middle grade books are my favorite.  I’ve always taught middle school, with a few forays into elementary and high school, but I always come back to middle school, so maybe whatever it is that draws me to these kids also draws me to these books.  But I really do think that middle grade books often tackle much more complex issues than adult books and tend to be much more honest. The Golden Compass, anyone?  Who has read an adult book lately that talks about stripping our souls away from us?  (And for more thoughts about what it means to take away your soul, just look at Harry Potter‘s Voldemort.)  And what about The Hunger Games?  Katniss is such an honest character—she’s tough and likeable, brave and resists authority like any Tom Clancy hero, but she’s also unsure of herself, unsure of love, and unsure of her role as a heroine.  She’s a real, complex personality.  And Ender’s Game?  Ender is only six when the book starts, but his journey is one we can all learn from.  And all of these books have a lot to say about our own society as well.

Almost every time I read adult fiction, which is rare, but I make an exception once in awhile for a notable book (most recently for A Reliable Wife), I regret it.  In A Reliable Wife, for example, the writing was superb, the plot interesting and complex, but the characters.  “Ah humanity,” as Bartleby would say.  Oh good lord.  None of them were at all likeable.  I get it, the world has evil people in it.  They do weird and bad things.  But please, it’s almost as if to be considered good adult fiction it has to be dark and subversive—happiness is thought of as a childish emotion and not part of reality.  (Frankly, I loved Gretchen’s Rubin’s point in The Happiness Project that happiness is actually very hard to achieve in the modern world and people who do so are usually shot down by the rest of us, who take the easy, cynical route, and take it too seriously.)  There’s plenty of dark, subversive things to be found in kids’ books, but kids’ authors don’t have to put on a hoity-toity pretense that it isn’t good writing if someone doesn’t get raped or murdered.

Honestly, I think the characters in kids’ books, because they are going through that awkward time in their lives where they so outwardly try to “find themselves” are much more honest portrayals of reality.  Because really, has any of us actually found ourselves?  No, I didn’t think so.  If I’m going to read an “adult” book, it usually has to be nonfiction.  Or a Jonathan Safron Foer book.  Maybe Jonathan Franzen.  Or the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.  Because seriously, Ma Ramotse is a great character.