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August 27, 2014

when your early reader is (not) a robot

by Wendy Lawrence

At some point, early readers (the people) get tired of the early readers (the books). For my first son, this was before he even opened them. I think I bought one or two out of a sense of duty, but wasn’t even that excited to read them myself. Some of them lack any obvious attempt at plot, characterization, voice, or any trait necessary to call something a “book”. And don’t get me started on the phonics ones.

But these! These are about robots! And aliens! And space adventures! And they have great titles! In fact, I’m pretty sure my son was drawn to this series, which was one of the first ones he read, just because of the title Ricky Ricotta’s Might Robot vs. The Stupid Stinkbugs from Saturn.

rickyricottaTitle: Ricky Ricotta’s Might Robot vs. The Stupid Stinkbugs from Saturn
Author: Dav Pilkey
Genre: Early Reader, Science Fiction
Ages: 4 – 8

Written by Dav Pilkey, of Captain Underpants fame*, these are a great beginner series. They are books that can be read in one sitting, with easy words (and not too many words per page), tons of pictures, Pilkey’s characteristic flip-o-rama (essentially a two-page flip book illustration), and even instructions on how to draw all the major characters (well, the robot and the alien villians, not the boring ones like mom and dad). ;) One of my son’s drawings based on those instructions can be found here:

filename-1*For those of you who worry about that sort of thing, there’s nothing of the toilet humor in these books that so pervades Underpants. I realize that my first example has the word “stupid” in it, but that’s not really indicative of how these books are written.

My son’s favorites as he remembers them, are Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot vs. the Mecha-Monkeys from Mars, Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot vs. the Uranium Unicorns from Uranus, and … vs. The Mutant Mosquitos from Mercury. There is a first one, and they were written in planet order (Mercury, Venus, etc.), but you can read them in any order. Every book stands alone.

So, if you have an early reader, I would highly recommend these. A reluctant reader might read them with you–one page you read aloud, then next page he/she reads aloud. (Although I do think reading aloud makes it even harder, so consider that.)

Have you tried these? Do you think you might?

August 25, 2014

scared yet?

Wendy Lawrenceby Wendy Lawrence

When my son first pointed to the Goosebumps books at the library, I was skeptical. I’ve seen one “scary” movie in my whole life. (I was dragged there more or less against my will. I spent almost the whole movie with my eyes closed and my hands over my ears.) Another example: I used to love the show The Closer. But I would start watching at the 15 minute mark to avoid the violence. Seriously. You should try it sometime–it’s more G-rated AND makes the mystery even harder to figure out because first you have to figure out what happened.

goosebumpsTitle: How I met my monster
Author: R.L. Stine
Ages: 6 and up
Genre: Horror, but not all that bad :)

But I digress. Goosebumps is NOT a series I would have picked out as a child. In fact, I wasn’t even super excited to read it now. But the things we do for our kids, right? I read one of them. And I liked it so much, I read another. Then I let my 6yo read them. Here’s the scoop:

- They are not that scary! At all! And this is from a true wimp! The covers are the scariest part of the book by far. In one of the books I read, a kid is given a shrunken head as a gift that starts to move and things, but doesn’t do anything too terrible. I read another one in which the main character thinks his new friend is a monster, but no one believes him. Finally he realizes that not only is that friend a monster, but so is his best friend, his parents–and even him! But they are friendly monsters, at least to each other.

- Now, they aren’t without scare. In the monster book above, for example, the boy has a repeated nightmare about a monster scaring him while he’s swimming. The description of the dream could be scary but it is, at least, just a dream.

- I only read 2, but my son spent most of the summer engrossed in this series, and he thinks that some of the books were scarier than others. Of course, he loves that, and my guess is that any child who would read a book with a cover like these would love it just the same. To be safe, I would start with the original series. If your kid likes those, you can move on to the others, like Horrorland, or Most Wanted.

Some of the Goosebumps books have a neat twist at the end. My son read one where the main character claimed to have a best friend who was invisible. In the end, you realize he DOES have an invisible friend, and that invisible friend stays that way because they are a monster–which when described, you realize is just a human. And then you realize that all the main characters all along were alien creatures. I like that, because I like that it’s teaching my son to read carefully and understand more complex books. (Yes, I said complex in a post about Goosebumps.) He didn’t understand the twist at first and had to ask about it, but then when he read another one with a similar twist, he got it! Reading comprehension success! And all because of some children’s horror stories! Which just goes to show–the important thing is that they are reading.

Have you ever stepped out of your comfort zone when choosing books for your child? Let me know which books it was for and how it went!

August 9, 2014

Hooping for fun and fitness

By Angela Verges

Have you heard the saying, “what goes around, comes around?” Now apply that to the Hula Hoop. That hoop that goes swish, swish and round and round can be used for your fitness routine.

Hula Hooping for fun

Hula Hooping for fun

As a young girl, I remember competing in a neighborhood hula hoop contest. There were a few of us who thought we were the best. We could swirl the hoop around our neck, our knees and even one leg. Arms in the air and hips swaying were the ways we kept the hoop moving.

The hula hoop craze is still around, some like to do it for fun while others engage for fitness. I once challenged my kids to a hula hoop competition during a backyard picnic. They thought old people couldn’t hoop. It took a few attempts, but I managed to keep the hoop going for several revolutions.

When I read The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, a flood of memories surfaced. The story opened with the main character saying, “Today is the day I’m going to beat Jamara Johnson at hooping.” I was instantly transplanted to a summer’s day in fourth grade standing in my grandmother’s yard with a hula hoop. I had no other care in the world except practicing with my hoop.

Title: The Hula Hoopin' Queen Author: Thelma Lynne Godin Illustrator: Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Title: The Hula Hoopin’ Queen
Author: Thelma Lynne Godin
Illustrator: Vanessa Brantley-Newton

The main character Kameeka had a Hula Hoopin’ itch. She was so focused on becoming the Hulu-Hoopin’ Queen that she accidentally ruined the birthday cake that her mother was making for a special neighbor. The combination of lively language and detailed illustrations could easily cause the reader to want to swish and swirl a hula hoop with the characters.

After you’re done swishing and swaying through The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen with you child, check out Hooping-A Revolutionary Fitness Program by Christabel Zamor. This is a book for grown-ups that contains 50 step by step exercises to do with a hula hoop. There is also a 40 minute DVD that accompanies the book.

Title: Hooping - A Revolutionary Fitness Program Author: Christabel Zamor with Ariane Conrad

Title: Hooping – A Revolutionary Fitness Program
Author: Christabel Zamor with Ariane Conrad

Title: Hooping – A Revolutionary Fitness Program Author: Christabel Zamor with Ariane ConradTitle: Hooping – A Revolutionary Fitness Program
Author: Christabel Zamor with Ariane ConradCreate a challenge at home that includes fitness and a hula hoop. You could set up challenge stations.

Station 1 Hula hoop for 15 seconds with the hoop on an arm or around the knees.
Station 2 Walk forward a few inches while hooping.
Station 3 Clap your hands 5 times while hooping (slow hand claps are allowed).
Station 4 Hula hoop with more than one hoop for 5 seconds.
Station 5 Toss a football through a hula hoop.

Are you convinced yet that hula hooping can include fun and fitness? Grab a hoop and start going round and round.

July 19, 2014

You’ve got them reading–now, how do you keep them that way?

by Kathy Higgs-Coulthard 

You’re a lifelong reader. You understand the inherent joy in creeping around corners with Harriet M. Welsh, hiding behind potted ferns to jot notes on Ole Golly and Mr. Waldenstein; the horror in sitting next to Fern at the Arable kitchen table and seeing Papa walk toward the barn with his ax; the devastation in learning along with Travis and Arliss that a beloved lab has hydrophobia and must be put down.

 You’re a lifelong reader and you want your kids to be one too. You model your passion for great books by reading in front of your kids, reading with your kids, and sneaking off for a few minutes of quiet reading. When a polar vortex is on the horizon, you head not to the grocery store to stock up on staples like milk and bread, but to the library to grab books. When packing for long car rides, trips to the beach or a favorite camp ground, books are as important as a full tank of gas. You realize that no child is ever too young to be read to and that the comfort of a great story transcends teenage drama to connect families on a cozy couch. You do all the right things to instill a love of reading in your children.

 But a study by the University of Michigan shows that the amount of time our children spend reading drops nearly 20% between the ages of 5 and 9. That statistic worries me and since the same study also found that reading increased school achievement (even more so than studying!), it should worry you too.

 So, if we are doing our best to create lifelong readers, what is happening to these young readers when they turn 5 that reduces the time they spend reading? One obvious answer is school. The structure of a typical school day leaves little time for free choice reading. The other thing that happens right about that age is that kids are spending more time engaged in organized activities, like sports, Scouts, and fine arts. All of those are wonderful things! Keeping our kids healthy—intellectually and physically is important. But it is also important to remember that kids need time to sit still and read. Factor that in when your calendar starts to fill up. One family I know keeps a stack of books in the car to read while they wait at the community bus stop. Another family schedules after dinner reading time each night before they’re off to soccer practice. An especially busy mother of three devotes Sunday afternoons to a marathon reading spree.

You’ve made an important decision to build reading into your child’s life. Don’t let busy-family syndrome ruin that foundation. Whether they’re turning five or fifteen, a love for reading is the best gift you can give them.

 This is the first book I remember my mom reading with me.The Five Little Peppers

 The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew 
by Margaret Sidney

What books do you credit with making you a lifelong reader?

June 28, 2014

Jumpstart your summer adventure – Dig into reading

by Angela VergesBlog Photo

 

Schools out! Begin a summer adventure with your child through books. Let your child’s imagination go wild and create a theme for books he would like to read this summer. Make it a challenge for the whole family by offering small rewards for each book read or each story a child has read to him.
If you child likes books related to tractors, planting gardens, or building sand castles, you can use the theme Dig into reading. This theme could also mean digging through your home library and re-reading your favorite books.
When my teen boys were younger, they loved to pretend they were camping out (somewhere in the house). Sometimes this meant throwing a sheet over the Living room table and pretending they were in a cave. For them, pitching a tent meant rearranging furniture to create the effect of being at a campground.
Our bonfire time consisted of sitting next to our sleeping bags in the middle of the floor and eating microwave popcorn. Of course there was a sharing of stories by flashlight.
I recently came across a fun idea recently, related to camps. The idea was to have a stuffed animal camp out. Since my boys are too old for this type of camp out, I challenged them to read a book about campouts or going to camp.
The book I selected to read was Ivy & Bean Make the Rules by Annie Barrows. Bean’s older sister gets to go to camp, but Bean is not old enough. Bean doesn’t really want to go to camp, but she comes up with a plan to create a camp of her own. With the help of her friend Ivy, rules are developed, a tent is made (using old curtains), and kids invited to join in.
One of the rules the girls develop is, “You can only have as much fun as you are willing to get hurt.” The girls are clever at finding ways to make their camp work. One of my favorite things about the book are the activities at the end.

 

Author: Annie Barrows Illustrator: Sophie Blackall Genre: Chapter book Ages: 6-9 years

Author: Annie Barrows
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Genre: Chapter book
Ages: 6-9 years

Information is listed that tells you how to make your own camp; it lists what to do on day one through four. For example day one list says – pick a counselor, pick a name, make a tent, etc. There is also a word find and crossword puzzle that the reader can complete.
If your child enjoys solving mysteries, Nate the great by Marjorie Weisman Sharmat was a book. Nate the great is a youth detective who says he works alone. And he loves pancakes. One of his cases involved helping a friend find a lost picture. He asked questions, followed clues and satisfactorily solved the case.
At the end of the book there is a recipe for Nate’s Pancakes, directions for making cat crayons (melting old crayons) and Detective Talk (explains words that detectives use). Nate the great is a series that has many books from which to choose.

Author: Marjorie Weinman Sharmat Illustrator: Marc Simont Genre: Chapter Book Ages: 6-9 years

Author: Marjorie Weinman Sharmat
Illustrator: Marc Simont
Genre: Chapter Book
Ages: 6-9 years

Do you have a book suggestion to jumpstart summer reading? Dig in and leave your suggestion.

 

 

 

May 13, 2014

Dystopian Fantasy: The End of the World as We Know it

Dystopian Fantasy: The End of the World as We Know It
by Katherine Higgs-Coulthard38-FE3-KathyHiggs-Coulthard

Hunger Games
Divergent
The Maze Runner
Ender’s Game

What do these books have in common?

a) They’re great books that offer an exciting read.
b) Preteens, tweens, and teens love them.
c) They either have or will soon be made into movies.
d) They are dystopian novels.
e) All of the above.

The answer is e) All of the above!

Books like Hunger Games and Divergent are introducing today’s generation to dystopian fiction. While many adults may not recognize the label “dystopian,” it’s not new. Remember reading Louis Lowry’s The Giver or Stephen King/Richard Bachman’s Running Man back in the 90’s? In fact, a brief Google search will uncover dystopian stories dating back to the 18th Century! But what does “dystopian” mean? The opposite of utopian, dystopian stories take place in a society where people are severely oppressed or live in fear. Usually they take place in an altered reality or a future version of our world where the government wields heavy-handed power.

Dystopian stories draw in middle grade to young adult readers because they offer many of the same features fairy tales offer to younger readers: They show that the world is a dangerous place where people are not always what they seem, but where creativity, intellect, and perseverance can prevail.

If you have a child ages 10 and up, you’ve probably seen them carrying around a copy of Hunger Games or Divergent. But there are more great dystopian books out there than just the blockbusters. Check out these:

 

13th reality

Title: The 13th Reality
Author: James Dashner
Genre: middle grade

 

Title: City of Embercity of ember
Author:
Jeanne Duprau
Genre: middle grade

 

 

Among the HiddenTitle: Among the Hidden
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Genre: middle grade

 

 

Title: The UgliesThe Uglies
Author: Scott Westerfield
Genre: y/a

 

Add to the list! What dystopian novels have your family discovered?

May 6, 2014

National Clean Up Your Room Day

Blog Photo

by Angela Verges

Sometimes I stumble across the most bazaar things, this time it’s National Clean up Your Room Day, which is celebrated May 10th. This is one holiday I’m willing to celebrate, but I don’t think my boys are. Have you ever had to constantly tell your child to clean his room?
It your child is less than thrilled about cleaning his room, encourage him to join you in the national celebration of clean your room day. Maybe your child doesn’t even believe his room is a mess. I remember many times that my sons room has looked like a science experiment gone wrong. When he did attempt to clean it things were rearranged, but still not clean.
I recently read a picture book that reminded me of my son and his attempts to clean his room. Clean Your Room, Harvey Moon! is a picture book by Pat Cummings that uses colorful pictures and rhyme to tell the story of Harvey’s cleaning spree.
Harvey was all set to watch cartoons when his mom reminded him that it was the day he needed to clean his room. He didn’t’ t think his room was mess at all and could be cleaned before the next T.V. show that he wanted to see. Harvey picked up a softball, a toothbrush and even library books he had forgotten about.

Author and Illustrator: Pat Cummings Ages 4-7 years

Author and Illustrator: Pat Cummings
Ages 4-7 years

When Harvey looked at the clock it was nearing time for next T.V. show he wanted to see and there were still toys all around his room. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens. Maybe Harvey could have taken a few cleaning tips from the book How Do Dinosaurs Clean Their Rooms? By Jane Yolen and Mark Teague.

In Jane Yolen’s book questions are raised such as, Does a dinosaur put dirty socks in the back of his drawers? Does he hide his pajamas behind bathroom doors? In the end questions such as this are answered and the dinosaur has a tidy room.

Author: Jane Yolen Illustrator: Mark Teague

Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Mark Teague

In the picture book How to Clean Your Room in 10 easy steps, author Jennifer LaRue Huget takes a different approach. On the opening page of the story the little girl welcomes the reader into her very clean room. The author used humor as she lists step one, “always wait until your mother hollers.”

By step three the reader is told to take everything out of his closets and drawers and dump it in a pile in the middle of the room. This is the beginning of reorganization efforts. By the end of the story, the reader has seen how to clean his room in a fun way.

Author: Jennifer LaRue Huget Illustrator: Edward Koren

Author: Jennifer LaRue Huget
Illustrator: Edward Koren

Check out the article 10 Awesome Ways to make cleaning FUN for kids, for creative ways to get your child to clean. Here are a few of those tips:
• Dress up like maids and butlers
• Let your child pretend she is filming a cleaning commercial
• Give your child a mission or challenge – for example, tell him his first mission is to organize all of his shoes. Sing or play the theme song to Mission Impossible as he works

What are your tips for National Clean Up Your Room Day?

April 1, 2014

March into spring with National Poetry Month by Angela Verges

Spring is in the air (almost) and it’s National Poetry Month. What will you do to celebrate April as National Poetry Month?

Blog Photo

When my son was in the seventh grade his Language Arts teacher transformed their classroom into a poetry café. Parents were invited to the gala. As I entered the room I was immediately immersed in the atmosphere.

The classroom was illuminated with a small table lamp at the front of the room and faux candles on the tables. Thump thump… thump thump, was the sound of the bongos as one student read his poetry. At the end of each spoken word fingers snapped as a form of applause.

After visiting the makeshift poetry café, I realized how much fun poetry can be for all ages. Celebrate poetry month by creating your very own family café. Each family member can create an original poem or recite a favorite one. You can even act out a favorite poem.

If you’re searching for a poem to start you on your way, check out the picture book, Almost Late to School And More School Poems, by Carol Diggory Shields.

Title: Almost Late to School And More School Poems Author: Carol Diggory Shields Illustrator: Paul Meisel Genre: Picture Books

 

 

If you have a pet or have always wanted to have one take a look at few poems about pets. There are a variety of pet poems in the picture book, Who Swallowed Harold? And other poems about pets by Susan Pearson.

Title: Who Swallowed Harold? Author: Susan Pearson Illustrator: David Slonim Genre: Picture Book

Title: Who Swallowed Harold?
Author: Susan Pearson
Illustrator: David Slonim
Genre: Picture Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a part of your poetry café, your child may enjoy creating his own I Spy riddles as a form of poetry. Your riddles can even be published online. Learn to write I Spy riddles with Jean Marzollo by clicking here. If you’re looking for funny poems check out Giggle Poetry.

You have the entire month of April to discover your creativity with poetry. Hang an open sign on your door and welcome the family into your poetry café. Do you have a favorite poem or book about poetry?

March 12, 2014

Wedgies, Swirlies, and the Last One Picked

Wedgies, Swirlies, and the Last One Picked
by Katherine Higgs-Coulthard38-FE3-KathyHiggs-Coulthard

“It’s just a natural part of growing up.”
“Sticks and stones, you know?”
“He needs to get thicker skin.”
“Maybe he should join a new sport.”

 These are actual comments I received when I tried to talk to adults about the situation my child was facing in school. My son went from being a bubbly, outgoing, goofy fifth grader to a severely depressed sixth grader. We talked to his teachers. We talked to school officials. We were told things were being handled. And they seemed to be. We stopped hearing about the kid at school who called our son names and pushed him in the hallway. We stopped hearing about the group that shunned him at lunch.

We found out two years later that they hadn’t stopped. Our son had just learned that telling us didn’t change anything, so he quit telling us.

As parents we try our best to do the right thing. We didn’t want to make things worse for our son at school, so we trusted the school when they said they were handling the situation. But here’s the thing…bullying is not just about wedgies and swirlies and other outward acts of aggression—it is sneaky and invisible. It is about lack. Lack of invitations. Lack of compliments. Lack of feeling valued and cared for. And it is institutionalized—supported by a school culture that differentially values athletics over the arts, or the arts over athletics, or popularity over everything else.

So what can parents do? Talk to our kids. Believe what they tell us. Help them build social skills for problem solving and teach them kindness and inclusion. Oh! And read these books!

(Epilogue: My son finally found a place where he was valued for his goofiness. He’s a happy high school senior who landed the lead in Rumplestiltskin!)

ChrysanthemumTitle: Chrysanthemum
Author/Illustrator: Kevin Henke
Genre: Picture book

 

Title: The Hundred Dressesthe hundred dresses
Author:
Eleanor Estes
Illustrator: Louis Slobodkin
Genre: Fiction chapter book, Grades 2-6

 

 

dear bullyTitle: Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories
Author: Dawn Metcalf, Megan Kelley Hall, & Carrie Jones
Genre: Nonfiction Anthology

 

 

Title: Thirteen Reasons Why13 Reasons
Author: Jay Asher
Genre: Fiction–Middle & High School
Genre: Nonfiction–adult resource

 

What stories have you found to help children learn social skills and avoid unkindness?

March 2, 2014

Make an appointment with the doctor – Dr. Seuss

by Angela Verges

March is reading month and its Dr. Seuss’s birthday. This is a time of year that many libraries and schools create a celebration around the man of lyrical language, Dr. Seuss. Born on March 2, 1904, Dr. Seuss books have entertained and enriched many generations.

Dr. Seuss B-day

This year for Dr. Seuss’s birthday, I challenged by sons to select and read a Dr. Seuss book that relates to them in some way. Together we found Dr. Seuss books that we had never read before. I have labeled our reading challenge as an appointment with the doctor.

My fourteen-year-old son chose the book, Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! In this early reader, Marvin is encouraged to “Go”, whether it is by skates or skis he is asked to just go…Please! Although my son is past the picture book stage, he felt this book reminded him of me asking, no demanding, that he go and clean his room.

In the story, Marvin looked like a lovable character who got into mischief at every turn. He was asked to “go” and each time he was given ideas for a grand exit – by balloon, broomstick or even a Bumble-Boat.

Marvin K. Mooney by Dr. Seuss

Title: Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!
Author: Dr. Seuss
Illustrator: Dr. Seuss
Genre: Picture Book

My seventeen-year-old son thought it was quite amusing that he had to read a “kiddie” book. However, he was able to come up with a fitting picture book selection, If I Ran the Zoo. My son liked this book because he felt that our house is sometimes like a zoo. I’m sure he meant it is a home filled with excitement and fun (wink).

In the book, If I Ran the Zoo, the character, Gerald McGrew told how he would run the zoo. He would open every cage, unlock every pen, let the animals out and start over again. His animals wouldn’t have just four feet. They would have ten, wouldn’t that be neat.

Title: If I Ran The Zoo Author: Dr. Seuss Illustrator: Dr. Seuss Genre: Picture Book

Title: If I Ran The Zoo
Author: Dr. Seuss
Illustrator: Dr. Seuss
Genre: Picture Book

The story I chose to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s writings was, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? I like the title of this particular book. For me the book taught a lesson of how to appreciate who you are.

Title: Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? Author: Dr. Seuss Illustrator: Dr. Seuss Genre: Picture Book

Title: Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?
Author: Dr. Seuss
Illustrator: Dr. Seuss
Genre: Picture Book

After reading our selection of Dr. Seuss books, our celebration was not complete without a meal of green eggs and ham and a side of toast. My boys did not eat much of their green eggs, but they had fun creating them.
If you have young children, why not add a craft project to your celebration?

Make a Cat-in-the-Hat, hat craft. If an edible project is more appealing, create a snack based on the book One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. It’s as simple as making blueberry Jell-O and dipping in Swedish Fish candies.

Do you have a favorite Dr. Seuss book? What will you read to celebrate March as reading month? Make your selection and celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday the entire month.

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