Posts tagged ‘reading’

December 9, 2013

Calm, wintry nights

After seeing the chaos of Black Friday reflected in the news, I pulled my children close and reminded them that we don’t have to be like that. My oldest (who just turned eighteen) said, “Isn’t it ironic that the day after we give thanks, we trample people to death to get a better deal on something we probably could have afforded anyway?”

But it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of Christmas—stores start piping in the music shortly after Halloween. This year a few stores snuck Christmas ornaments on shelves next to cornucopias and Indian corn. I bet they sold more than a couple, too, because Christmas is like pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving—yes, you just stuffed yourself and probably should wait, but why? There’s the pie right there…

But there is a certain joy in waiting.

Of quieting your heart in expectation of what is to come.

To me, that’s what the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is, quiet expectation. Expectation reflected in the manger scene by our front door—Mary and Joseph near an empty cradle, waiting.

That expectation is also reflected by the pile of books under our Christmas tree. It waits for dinner to be done, dishes to be cleared, hot cocoa to be marshmallowed, and the fire to be crackling. Then the children gather around Daddy and he reads one story each night between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

My favorites are the calm, quiet stories. Here are a few on the top of the pile:

Quiet Christmas coverTitle: The Quiet Christmas Book (New this year!)
Author: Deborah Underwood
Illustrator: Renata Liwska
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

If you haven’t yet discovered Deborah Underwood, you’re in for a treat.

Her characters are gentle natured woodland animals getting ready for Christmas, but without the hustle and bustle of other books.

Check out the book trailer below!

onewintrynightTitle:  One Wintry Night
Author: Ruth Bell Graham
Illustrator: Richard Jesse Watson
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

Gorgeously illustrated story about a boy hearing the Christmas story for the first time.

littlefirtreeTitle:  The Little Fir Tree
Author: Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrator: Jim LaMarche
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

Another sweet book. A little tree wishes to be part of something—anything—and winds up being part of something he never could have imagined.


How about you? Which Christmas books make your family’s must-read list?

April 11, 2012

watercolor songs in “water sings blue’

I react to the mail the way the citizens do in the Music Man when the Wells Fargo wagon comes to town. I’ve even been known to sing when a package arrives. Even in the days of online shopping, when packages are regular, they still get me excited. But even better is one I’m not expecting. Such was the case with this beautiful gem of a book, which arrived unannounced from the publisher for a review. It’s the perfect time for a beach book, as it’s getting warmer and I’m about to order the next size up of bathing suits (online of course).

Title: Water Sings Blue
Author: Kate Coombs
Illustrator: Meilo So
Genre: Picture Book, Science and Nature
Ages: 0 – 9

Summary and Review: I have a soft spot for poetry picture books. I think poetry is the perfect way to introduce beautiful verse to a child. Children get poetry in a way that English PhD’s are still trying to figure out. And it allows you to read the whole book or just a few favorites, depending on the child, the time, and the interests. This books includes a wide range of poems.

Old Driftwood is beautifully visual:

Old Driftwood / has been to sea / an come back home / unexpectedly.
Gnarled sailor / now he sits high / up on the beach / beyond the tide,
telling of mermaids / and whales thi-i-i-s big / to all the attentive / astonished twigs.

What the Waves Say is rhythmically lyrical:

Shimmer and run, catch the sun. / Ripple thin, catch the wind.
Shift and splash, drift and dash. / Slow and gray, foggy day.
Whisper hush, murmur shush. / Swell and sigh, otter lullaby.
Journey on with a yawn. / Swirl and swish, play with fish.
Roll green, rise and lean— / wake and roar and strike the shore!

and Nudibranch is just silly:

The nudibranch / has dropped his clothes / in a spot not even / his mother slug knows.

Follow up with the kids: The poems are simple enough that they will be accessible to a really young audience. (A few of them might irritate a more serious poet, but I don’t usually pretend to be a more serious poet.)

Kids might like to write their own beach poems, especially during a vacation at the beach—maybe you need something to do when its raining? You could help younger kids by letting them copy the meter of one of the poems in the book. Or even let them use the rhyming words at the end and come up with some of their own words for the rest of the lyrics. How great would your family photo album be for your beach trip with some original art and poetry by your kids!

Or, let your children explore with watercolors and paint their own scenes to these (or their own) poems.

Another fun activity would be to hand the kids a camera (maybe a toy one if they are really young) and let them photograph areas of the beach that could illustrate these (or their own) poems. Then when you get back to doing that family photo album, you will have some of their own photos and maybe even some of their own poems to include!

Your turn: Are you heading to the beach? Do you have any favorite beach poems or poetry picture books?

April 4, 2011

The wheels on the book get lost all over the house, all over the house, all over the house

This book is falling apart.  Which paradoxically means that it’s of the highest quality.  Because in a house with an active 3-year-old, nothing of low quality gets played with enough to fall apart.  But this book?  My son has literally loved it to death.  (It’s own death, not his, although I would say that it’s not totally destroyed yet, just on it’s way to a well-deserved rest home…)  This book has been read at bedtime and in the car.  It accompanies my son around the house when he wheels his toy bus on his hands and knees.  It’s even used as a reference book–when he sings the song and plays his banjo, or his drums, or his piano, or his accordion (we are big into the toy instruments here), he dutifully checks the book between each verse to see what’s next.  God forbid we sing the song in the wrong order…

It’s even been peed on.  (Notice that I only give book advice, not potty-training advice.)

Title: The Wheels on the Bus
Adapted and Illustrated by: Paul O. Zelinsky
Genre: Picture Book
Age: Toddlers and Preschoolers

Summary and Review:

The pictures in this book are vibrant and interesting.  After probably hundreds of reads, I’m still not tired of looking at them.  Each page has something tangible for the kids too–wheels to turn, doors and windows to open and close, etc.  I don’t love books with moving parts in general because I find them hard to maneuver and they don’t usually stand up to a curious toddler.  However, this is one of the longer-lasting ones, and definitely the most played with.  If it weren’t for a short temper tantrum a few months ago, we’d still have both wheels attached to the book.  🙂  I highly recommend this interactive version of the popular song!

Follow-up with the kids:

Music is the best follow-up with this book.  You can read it to your toddler and then sing it the next time.  You can have him practice moving the pieces at the same time as the song lyrics and get a sense of the rhythm as he does so.

Also, there is a lot going on in the pictures that isn’t in the text.  I love it when an illustrator makes a book even more interesting!  There’s a whole story to be told with the boy with the box of cats.  Why does he have them?  When does he lose one of the cats and when and how does he get it back?

Another example of this is when the song talks about the windows open and closing, notice the weather and how it changes over the few pages before and after.  Asking your child to notice these illustrated “subplots” helps hone their observation skills, which helps not only with reading comprehension but also is an early science skill.

Also, the book is animated in a wonderful DVD by Scholastic that also comes with some other great animated picture books.  We don’t do a lot of TV, but this is something I really recommend.  I found it here on Scholastic’s site as part of a travel pack, but I’m sure it’s also elsewhere online:

Hope you enjoy it as much as we have in our family!

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!

November 11, 2010

It’s meta-literary fun with your favorite characters

This is the BEST Elephant and Piggie book ever!  Well, there was “Are you ready to play outside?” which I really love and might be my favorite.  And of course, “Can I play too?” which is genius.  Come to think of it, I like them all.  But this one is really, truly great  Elephant and Piggie are at their best interacting with each other.  But in this book, they interact with YOU, too!  This is the latest in Mo Willem’s beloved series, so make sure you don’t miss it!

Title: We are in a book!
Author: Mo Willems
: Very Early Reader
Age: 2 – 7 (Amazon says 4 to 8, but that’s crazy.  This is a GREAT book for 2-year-olds, and it isn’t because I’m trying to push them out of picture books too early, as you would know by reading this blog.  It’s because I LOVE Elephant and Piggie!  Why deny them?)

Summary and Review:

Elephant notices someone watching him and is a little scared.  But when Piggie goes to investigate and finds out it’s a reader, they rejoice with happiness that they are in a book!

You can NOT have too much Mo! Or even too many Elephant and Piggie stories!

In a moment of genius, Piggie decides to make the reader say the word “bananas” by saying it himself.  Hysterical.  And then they notice what page they are on and what page the book ends so they start to hatch a plot to get the book to never end.  Any guesses?  It’s sheer genius!  (And explains the first page a little better than the first time you read it!)  Great book, great characters.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

This book really gets kids thinking about what a book actually is.  The characters notice the page numbers, and so can you and your child!  Go back to the beginning of the book and ask you child what number she thinks the book will start on.  Then count up and look at the page numbers.  Then research to find out what page the book ends on.  This is teaching them good skills of looking in a book to find information.

Get a little surreal.  Ask your child what happens to Elephant and Piggie when the book ends.  Why is Elephant scared to have the book end and what is their plot to keep it from ending?  How does this relate to the very first page of the book?

When you read a book (any book), you probably start with the title.  Also include the author’s name.  Give your kid a sense that books come from people; understanding this may make his early years of writing more magical.  We talk about movie stars, why not lowly authors, too?  This is a good one to talk about the author because you are already in the mode of talking about the actual book itself, rather than just the story, which after all, isn’t so much a story in this one.

November 10, 2010

Dirt is funny

I don’t care if he’s famous.  I don’t care what they say about rhyming picture books.  I don’t care what they say about celebrity picture books.  I don’t care that I got this book off of the bargain shelf at a large chain bookstore.  I LOVE THIS BOOK!  (And so, most importantly, does my son.)

Title: Dirt on My Shirt
Author: Jeff Foxworthy
: Picture Book
Age: 0 – 7

Summary and Review:

This is a book of poems that are really fun to read aloud!  A lot of them are about the outdoors (hence the title) and another strong theme is family.  There are poems about a staring contest with a cat, looking for a lost hat (and finding it, of course, on your head), a missing tadpole (where a frog now stands), playing with your cousins, crazy aunts and uncles, and a whole lot more.  They are sweet, funny, and fun to read.  The illustrations also are great and really bring the book to life.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

All of these poems are subjects that kids can relate to, so talking to them about the poems will get them engaged in the book and also teach them how to think while they read (seems simple, but trust me, I’ve taught lots of middle schoolers, and it isn’t!)  A good reader makes connections between what they are reading and real life or other things they have read or seen.  You can start with this book.  Examples:

You read the poem about making friends, and ask your kid about some of his own friends.  What does he like to do with his friends?  Anything in the poem (make a sandwich, a tree house, or green jello)?  Does anything in the poem remind him of his own friendships?

Read the tadpole-frog poem and ask your child what happened?  How did a tadpole disappear and a frog reappear?  Even if they are too young to know, ask the question first and then teach them.  Model for them the art of asking questions while you read, always trying to understand the text.

Or you read the poem about what you can see when you are outside and ask you daughter what she saw last time she was outside.  Remember, these seem like simple questions, but we are talking toddlers here, and you are instilling in them good reading habits.  You want them to know they can interact with the material they are reading, compare it to their own lives, and really think about it.  Then, when they get to middle school and endure literature discussions in English class, they won’t be frantically trying to remember some mundane fact.  Instead, they can contribute their own original thoughts about what they’ve read.

And maybe they’ll never be one of those kids who reads a whole chapter without understanding a single thing, and never stopping to look up a word or ask a question.  To me, that’s the saddest thing!

(P.S. Sorry it’s been awhile!  Family vacation!)

October 10, 2010

The painful death of picture books, according to the New York Times

(BIG DISCLAIMER ON THIS POST: One of the major quotes for this article in the NYT was taken way out of context and the parent has cleared this up on her blog, The Zen Leaf.  I try not to spread rumors when possible, but really, I didn’t think reposting a New York Times article would be akin to spreading rumors.  Sometimes I worry that journalism isn’t just dying because of the internet, but that journalists are giving up on it themselves.)

This is sad.  Really sad.  Kids should LOVE reading.  Or they are not going to read.  This should be obvious.  I find it interesting that so many adults think kids are going to act differently than themselves.  I mean, how many things do you do that you don’t really like?  It reminds me of a friend who once said she tried to start eating more healthy foods by buying tofu, until she realized that putting tofu in her refrigerator for a few weeks and then throwing it out when it was old was NOT a good way to get protein.  Similarly, buying chapter books for reluctant readers who want to read picture books is NOT a good way to get literate.  I mean, seriously, buy them some Captain Underpants.

New York Times article on disappearing picture books
(I think you need to register or log in to read, but it is free).