So You’re Worried Your Kid Might Not Love (or even like?!) Reading

You’ve heard it all before.  Plenty of people have written articles and blog posts about how to guarantee that your child loves reading.  But can you REALLY guarantee it?

LittleMe

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to read.

I am the youngest of four children.  Three of us spent many happy childhood hours with our noses in a book.  The fourth sibling utterly surprised me when he showed up at our parents’ house as an adult with a book under his arm.  Several years post-college and working a job that required weekly cross-country travel to job sites, he said he didn’t have much else to do while he was in transit.  “It’s actually not so bad,” he sheepishly admitted.

I hardly think my family was unique, so I find it difficult to believe that there can be a guaranteed way to raise a child who loves reading.  I think everyone can enjoy reading a just-right book, but not everyone will want to spend hours of their free time curled up with a book.

So, if you can’t guarantee that your child will love to read, what can you at least do to encourage a positive attitude toward reading?  Continue reading

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8 Authors Every Early Elementary Child Should Read

I love books.  In fact, I obsess over them at times.  We’re 38 days into the new year, and I’ve already read 30 books (not counting kids’ books).  It may be a disease.

Pooh

Pookie reads part of my favorite Winnie the Pooh story.

Be that as it may, this love of books has led me to spend a LOT of time reading to my children.  A while back (a long while–I’ve spent most of my free time reading in the past few months), I posted a list of must-read books for the under-six set; I thought it was finally time for my next installment.  After much pondering, I settled on eight authors who have written one or more truly wonderful books for kids in the early elementary years, roughly ages 6-8.  I referenced my favorites of their books, and I’ve separated these into picture books and chapter books, with stories getting progressively longer/more difficult in each category.  Enjoy! Continue reading

20 books (by 11 authors) that you should read to your child before they turn six

About a year ago, I was looking at book lists for ideas of read-alouds.  As I was looking through lists for grades we’ve passed, it left me wondering what I would put on a must-read list.  Since that time, I’ve done a lot of pondering.  Here’s the first installment of my must-read lists–the preschool version–complete with 20 books by 11 authors divided into 0-2 and 3-5 age categories.

Continue reading

10 Book Series for Your Fairy-Loving Kid

fairybooksHave a fairy-loving kid on your hands?  Since I have spent several months of near-constant scrambling, trying to find things my daughter would enjoy reading, I figured I’d log what I found in the hope that it helps someone else.  I found five fairy-themed chapter book series and four series that involved enough magic to make up for the lack of fairies.  These range from late-second to fourth grade reading level and include occasional pictures, since my visual kid loves illustrations.  Several of them also feature a nice, big font, for those intimidated by small, crowded type. Continue reading

the domino effect of reading

Through the years, I can’t count the number of times when “I read it somewhere” was the only answer I had to give others who wondered where I’d learned things.

Though I’m not sure exactly when it began, somewhere during elementary school I became a voracious reader.  At one point I remember being frustrated with our town library because I had read any chapter books in the kids’ section that I found remotely interesting (that being a majority of them), and there was nothing new to read.  So the notion of soaking up information through books is nothing new to me.

And yet, sometimes I am still surprised at the ways in which reading connects to other areas of learning. I was reminded yet again this week of the truly interconnected nature of skill-development.

After hovering forever around the A to Z Mysteries and Boxcar Children level of books (for something like a year!), Peatie has FINALLY increased the difficulty/reading level in what he selects to read during his evening free-reading time, and I’m in my glory.  Why?  There are lots of reasons to rejoice, but here are a few:

A) Because he’s as excited about reading these books as he was about the first A to Z and Boxcar books.  (After the first few, it seemed like he read more of the same just because of momentum.)  He now comes dancing out of his room every evening to report on the latest happenings at Castle Glower.

B) Because he also pokes his head out every evening to ask me a vocab word or two.  He now knows about crenelations and retorts and griffins and privy chambers and any number of other glorious words.  Have I mentioned how much I love words?

C) Because he’s incorporating the tone and vocabulary of the book into his conversation at times, which I think is awesome.  The other night he was reporting in on the relative ages of the various characters when he informed me (with a smug smirk), “I don’t know Bran’s age, but I do know one thing for certain–he’s a wizard!”  The deliberate pace, the turn of phrase, and the pregnant pause were perfect, and he knew it.

D) Because even his writing is improving.  The story he started today sounded vastly more interesting and stylistically mature than what he’s written in the past.

A story he wrote a month ago started like this: “One time a bear lived in a tree. His name was Zub. He loved being up the tree, but suddenly Zub saw a hunter trying to get him! The hunter started racing up the tall tree. Zub raced into the high branches.”

His latest story begins, “The wonders of the different worlds spread across the worlds fast. Heartland (a world) had many towns, and one of them was Size (Named because it was HUGE)! In the town of Size the houses are small, and they have many stairs. In Rattle the Rat’s house the shows on TV were always watched on the 2594th floor.  (Now we can’t go over what all his house was like, because it has 10000 levels.) So he was watching a show when he heard a sound.”

Earth-shatteringly brilliant writing?  No, but in my opinion there’s definitely noticeable improvement, and I’m excited for him.  (And for myself.  His stories before were all rather formulaic, insanely improbable, and hard to follow–and I had to read them all.)

All these delightful effects (and more that I haven’t noticed, I’m sure!) come because he’s now read a couple more challenging books.

Isn’t it fun to watch your kids learn and grow, making connections and getting excited about new information and improving their skills!?  I can’t wait to see what he learns next!  I love this job!  (Well, most of the time…)

**In case you’re wondering, he’s currently working through Jessica Day George’s Tuesdays at the Castle series.

15—or maybe 19…or 26—chapter book series to get you through the early years

So your child is reading—glorious! I’m sure you’re ecstatic. And you’ve slogged through the painful sounding-out-every-word phase, endured the agonizing repetitions of early reader books, and coasted in the golden waters of simple picture books. But now your little reader has really begun to take off. Either he’s begun demanding to read chapter books like some of the older kids he knows, or she’s gobbling through picture books so fast that you’ve worn out your library card. One way or the other, you’re venturing into the world of beginning chapter books.

Make no mistake—this road is not an easy one, either. If you’re like me, you’re pretty picky about what your precious little sweeties read: nothing too scary or gory, and I’d like the characters in the books to be generally likeable and preferably not sassy to their parents or unkind to each other. Even if you’re not as paranoid as I am, you’ll soon realize that while chapter books take your kids longer to read than picture books, they still don’t take that long. And then you need another one. And another one. And it’s not always easy to find something your child wants to read.

With picture books, the options seemed endless: take home a super-sized stack, and fully half of them would be appealing enough for your child to survive through 32 short pages. With chapter books, you may find that you soon gravitate toward books in a series. After all, it’s taken you eleven attempts to find a book that Junior likes beyond the first chapter. The others were too long or too short or had a bland cover or didn’t have an interesting first chapter or had too-small font or not enough pictures or too many pictures or too many animals or not enough animals or…. Having finally found something he enjoys, do you really want to go through the whole process again to find another one he’ll read?

Having slogged through this era myself—and finally getting one child to branch into longer, harder books while the second child loops back to re-read every picture book we own and each chapter book she has already enjoyed while building stamina for things with more pages and smaller fonts (and don’t even get me started on the third child, who has spent the last nine months stagnant in the sounding-things-out phase)—I thought I’d share the journey in the hope that it makes someone else’s life simpler.

Below you’ll find a chart illustrating the reading level range of each book series we’ve read (and some shoot-offs that I found out about as I was trying to chart the main ones we had read). The reading levels listed are the grade-level equivalents given by Scholastic’s Book Wizard; these are not necessarily the same as the AR level or any other level someone invented. (There seem to be at least three dozen ways to level books; I had to pick some way to sort this, and the Book Wizard sure is handy.) If the reading level of a series is mostly focused in a narrow range despite some outliers, then I have made that focus-range darker than the rest of the bar. I’ve also included very loose genre categorizations for each series, with A being a general adventure-type book, M being a mystery series, AN being an adventure series with a nonfiction element, and N being nonfiction.

Under the chart, you’ll find a quick summary of each series (in ABC order, to make life simple, with author’s last name referenced parenthetically after the series title) along with any information I thought might be pertinent or helpful. Beneath that, I’ve included a list of book series about which I have heard good things but haven’t actually had in my home—in case you need still more fodder. Obviously, you’ll want to be sure any books your kids read are a good fit for your own family’s values.

Handy Chart o’ Chapter Books for Reading Levels/Grade Levels 1-4ishEarlyChapterBooks

  • A to Z Mysteries (Roy): Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose—the older siblings of the protagonists in the Calendar Mysteries—always manage to get to the bottom of tough situations in order to help folks in their town. Though I was skeptical of some of the titles since my kids are pretty sensitive, the series handles even ghosts and zombies in a manner that was not frightening. (Spoiler: It’s always someone dressed up who’s trying to scare others away for some reason.) These books are just slightly longer than those in their siblings’ series and can be read in any order. My son’s favorite feature was the included map of their town, which allowed him to track the kids’ every move!
  • Andrew Lost (Greenburg): A 10-year-old boy gets sucked into his atom-shrinker invention along with his cousin Judy. They end up going all kinds of crazy places—beginning with the inside of a dog’s nose—learning about them from Andrew’s tiny robot friend as they go. My nonfiction-loving son was fond of these.
  • Boxcar Children (Warner): Four children whose parents have died (off-camera and completely un-distressingly) decide to strike out on their own rather than risk being split up or sent to live with an unknown grandfather. The first book is an adventure, while the subsequent books in the incredibly-long series are all mysteries. There’s also a secondary series, The Adventures of Benny and Watch, which has a bit lower reading level, ranging from 2.3-3.6, though only one is above 3.2.
  • Calendar Mysteries (Roy): Bradley, Brian, Nate, and Lucy—all first graders at the start of this series—untangle a variety of mysterious happenings around town in these innocuous little chapter books. Surprisingly, there are 13 stand-alone books in this series—one for each month, and a final one with a New Year’s Eve theme.
  • Clifford Chapter Books (Scholastic): Great for early readers, these books have big text and an image on almost every page. While the guidelines say ages 7-10, I don’t know any 10-year-old who wants to be caught reading Clifford; on the other hand, these were perfect for my preschoolers who were reading at this level.
  • Flat Stanley (Brown): This one is tough because there are three different groups of books going by the same series name: there’s the original series, the Worldwide Adventures, and the I Can Read books. The original six-book series, in which Stanley not only becomes flat but also turns invisible and has a variety of other (very unlikely, as my son points out) adventures, is pretty solidly a 3rd grade reading level, split between early- and late-3rd grade. The Worldwide Adventures series, featuring about a dozen more stories in which Stanley visits famous locations around the globe, is mostly in the upper-3rd to lower-4th grade range (though there’s one upper-second and one lower-5th book in there…), while the I Can Read (Level 2) books range from early 1st to late 2nd.
  • Fly Guy (Arnold): These silly stories follow the adventures of a boy named Buzz and his brilliant pet, Fly Guy. While it’s a stretch to call them chapter books—each page of the extremely short chapters features a large image and only a sentence or two of text in large, cartoony print—they do contain chapter headings, and the subject matter will appeal to even older readers. I didn’t love all of the subject matter, but many of them were great. There is now a sub-series called “Fly Guy Presents…” which are humorous informational books.
  • Jigsaw Jones Mysteries (Preller): Seven-year-old Theodore Jones—better known as Jigsaw—has a talent for solving mysteries. All of his friends ask for his help whenever there’s something they can’t figure out, and he and his friend Mila work together to solve the cases. A couple dozen titles will keep your kids busy testing their wits on these mysteries.
  • The Littles (Peterson): The Littles, a family of tiny people-with-tails who live hidden in the home of a normal-sized, tail-less family, have to be inventive to meet their needs, and their tiny lives are full of adventures. There are two groups of books here, the original dozen or so Littles titles, which are mostly early-to-mid 3rd grade level, and then a handful of the Littles First Readers, which are almost exclusively level 2.1.
  • Magic Tree House (Osborne): As you likely know, there are about a zillion of these books about Jack and Annie and their travels through time in the Magic Tree House; many kids tire of the plot formula after a while, but my daughter was happy to read every one she could get her hands on—and then go back and read them all over again. I have to admit, though, that I’ve been delighted at the tidbits of history she’s retained from these and brought up at random moments. It’s best to read at least the first few in order; the stories do build on one another (referring to previous events, especially within each multi-book mission), but it’s not a big deal to jump around, either. The later books tend to be a bit higher reading level, though this is not universally true. The companion nonfiction research guides vary widely as to reading level, with the early ones being about as hard as the books they’re written to accompany, and many of the Fact Trackers being 4th or 5th grade reading level.
  • Magic School Bus Chapter Books (Scholastic): Like the videos and picture book series, these twenty stories feature Ms. Frizzle’s class going on field trips in their Magic School Bus. The characters and general plot-style are the same; these are just more text-heavy. My nonfiction-loving son enjoyed plowing through these and learned a surprising amount.
  • Marvin Redpost (Sachar): Third grader Marvin Redpost struggles with the typical kid issues, from wonderings about his place in his family to accusations of nose-picking to ill-advised feats of bravery.
  • Mercy Watson (DiCamillo): This super-silly series about a pig named Mercy who thinks she ought to be human features a nice, big font and colorful, hilarious pictures on nearly every spread.
  • Mr. Putter and Tabby (Rylant): A quirky retiree and his cat bumble through a variety of everyday adventures like dancing, racing, and baking. My daughter was charmed by his antics. Oddly, the series is mostly either 2.1-2.2 level books or 2.9 level books.
  • Wayside School (Sachar): The setting for these books is the top floor of Wayside School, which was supposed to be one long hallway with thirty classrooms but instead was built with 30 stories, each containing only one classroom. Sachar pulls out all the stops in these books, coming up with the zaniest scenarios that leave kids in fits of giggles.  This one can be a little dark, though, so you may want to take care with these.  For example, the first chapter of the first book features a teacher who turns children into apples–and then accidentally turns herself into an apple and gets eaten by the janitor.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list of chapter book options in this reading range; it is merely the list of chapter books that my kids have enjoyed. Though I hesitate to advocate for series with which I have no experience, I will provide a list of other options that I’ve heard recommended on numerous occasions but for one reason or another my kids didn’t get around to reading:

  • The Kingdom of Wrenly (Quinn): The protagonists of this one are an eight-year-old prince and his friend, the seamstress’ daughter. Though these aren’t carried by Scholastic (and thus don’t have a reading level listed there), the Lexile system places them roughly on-level with the upper Magic Tree House or lower Magic School Bus books; I’m guessing around 3rd grade-level. I did see one of these, though, and it has a huge font and numerous illustrations, which means I ought to pick it up to expand the repertoire of my small-text-averse daughter. **Edit: My daughter LOVED these books, devouring each one of the seven we got several times over the course of two weeks.  Pookie was enthralled by her enthusiastic descriptions and had me read them aloud to him.  While I didn’t find them gripping, the stories have positive messages and laudable protagonists, and the pictures on every page are nicely done.
  • Rainbow Fairies (“Meadows”): These seem to be pretty narrowly in the 2.7-2.9 range and strongly appeal to kids who enjoy magic, with female fairies for protagonists. My sister said she was surprised that these weren’t as cheesy as she expected. Upon some investigation, there seem to be more fairy books after the seven rainbow colors—Weather Fairies, Dance Fairies, Fashion Fairies, Animal Rescue Fairies….
  • Pony Pals (Betancourt): For the horse-lovers among us, there are several dozen of these books ranging pretty evenly from 3.1-3.9 and featuring female pony-lovers and their horse-themed escapades.
  • Secrets of Droon (Abbott): Though I’ve heard of these, I’ve somehow never run across them. There are a couple dozen of these stories, though, which feature magic and are mostly early-third-grade level.
  • Geronimo Stilton (Piemme/Scholastic): These heavily-illustrated books featuring mouse characters appeal to those who love comic books because of their frequent use of fun fonts and small images in the text. They range widely from early-second- to early-fourth-grade level.
  • Cynthia Rylant has written several series for young readers, including Mr. Putter and Tabby (listed above), a second-grade-level series about a pig called Poppleton, and the third-grade-level Lighthouse Family series.

Hopefully this list will give you enough fodder to keep your voracious little reader going for a while…until she’s ready for some longer chapter books.  Perhaps I’ll have to make a list of those next.

descriptive writing: crafting strong sentences by focusing on parts of speech and word order

As a lover of language, it’s important to me that my kids understand our language well.  I want them not only to be able to decode words and communicate effectively, but also to have the capacity both for deconstructing complex or difficult thoughts and for shaping their own language into something powerful and beautiful.  I want them to understand the structure of language so that they can use their knowledge to understand the power behind others’ words and so that they are able to build sentences (and paragraphs, memoirs, letters to the editor, memos, love notes) that carry weight and convey meaning with clarity and perfect emphasis.

One powerful tool a good writer has in her toolbelt is the knowledge that sentences, unlike puzzles, can be assembled in many different ways.  In fact, there are almost always numerous correct ways to construct a sentence–as well as a few incorrect ways.  Changing sentence structure not only keeps writing from seeming repetitive and boring, it also serves to change the shade of meaning.  To emphasize this fact and to get my kids started on the road of thinking about their sentence construction, I’ve devised a descriptive writing exercise.  While we’re using Michael Clay Thompson’s language arts materials, the activity below would be useful for any student who has a basic knowledge of the parts of speech and their functions.  My kids are young, so for them this will merely be an introduction to the concept of sentence structure, but this is an activity I could easily have done when I taught 8th graders.  In fact, I think all ages can benefit from writing exercises like this one.

Here are my step-by-step instructions:

  • Print a copy of the PDF Parts of Speech and Sentence Structure (or create your own).
  • Have your child select a particular place or event to describe.  Choose four nouns that can be seen in that place or at that event, and write them in the “noun” column on the paper.
  • Follow each of your nouns with a solid, vivid verb, and then fill out your page with two strong adjectives and adverbs to modify each noun and verb.
  • Cut your word pieces apart.  Using the “Bonus Words” (and any others you might need), see how many different ways you can put each sentence together.  Consider writing them all down so you can better compare them.
    • Discuss sentence structures that work.  How does changing the order of the words change the emphasis of your sentence?
    • Discuss sentence structures that do NOT work.  Why do certain word orders not make sense?
  • Optional: Choose your favorite version of each sentence.  (You may add or remove words to make the sentence stronger.)  Using your strong, descriptive sentences, write a descriptive paragraph or an entire narrative about your place or event.  Structure your sentences carefully to emphasize the things you think are most important.