Lexile vs Literacy

As we head into August, it is starting to be back to school time, at least in my part of the country. For a long time I have had serious thoughts about the lexile system and as someone who is incredibly passionate about encouraging children to have a life-long love affair with books, I thought it deserved a post.

The Lexile system is relatively new. It didn’t exist when I was in school. Actually, that’s not 100% accurate. It was being developed when I was in elementary school and junior high school. The concept behind lexile levels is to find a way to quantify where a child is reading and understanding texts. That’s a great thing. We know that we struggle with children “reading below grade level” and there is a desire to help them grow into strong readers.

According to Wikipedia -“Readers and books are assigned a score on the Lexile scale, in which lower scores reflect easier readability for books and lower reading ability for readers. The Lexile framework uses quantitative methods, based on individual words and sentence lengths, rather than qualitative analysis of content to produce scores. Accordingly, the scores for texts do not reflect factors such as multiple levels of meaning or maturity of themes. Hence, the Common Core State standards recommend the use of alternative, qualitative, methods for selecting books for students at grade 6 and over.”

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Okay, so this is where some of my issues start to come in. Are they saying children reading at grade 6 levels or children actually in grade 6? Because according to the official Lexile website, “There is no direct correspondence between a specific Lexile measure and a specific grade level. Within any classroom or grade, there will be a range of readers and a range of reading materials.” So then by taking the grade 6 proficient number of 800, anything about 800 stops mattering so much, but some kids hit that number way before they are in 6th grade.

We understand that children shouldn’t be reading books that are way above their abilities, so having a knowledge of the lexile level is important. There is also something to be said for the child who is struggling and wants to use the lexile framework as a goal to achieve, but what of the advanced reader?

What gets me riled up is when educators and parents get so focused on a number that they forget about making sure that they are nurturing a love of reading and not a competition between kids on who has the higher lexile level. Also, if the materials contain additional “factors such as multiple levels of meaning or maturity of themes,” then in my mind, once they get to about a 800 lexile level and are STILL IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, we should leave them alone to develop as intelligent readers who gain insight about the world around them from the books they read.

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Here then is my beef. There are some schools and some teachers who cling so desperately to the numbers that they forget that reading fictional texts is about developing character and a love of reading. There is a such a strong testing mentality that kids are told they have to take a certain number of AR tests or Reading Counts quizzes and that they have to read within a certain range of their lexile. If I followed that train of thought, my daughter would have been expected to read things like “War and Peace” last year while she was in the 3rd grade. Right. I’m grateful that her school didn’t have these requirements and believed that kids should read what they want, but as an Usborne Consultant, I see similar posts from consultants around the country being questioned about lexile levels.

We need to remember that lexiles only look at sentence length and frequency of words. Stories help us understand the world around us and things we are going through. Here are some perfect examples:

I am Jack – This is a marvelous book about bullying, written from the perspective of an 11 year old boy. Life is good for Jack. He’s a great photographer, he wins at handball, and time at home with his family is never boring. But when big George Hamel starts calling Jack “Butt Head,” school becomes a little less great. And when everyone starts calling him “Butt Head,” it gets outright dangerous. Susanne Gervay’s thoughtful story sheds light on the contagious and destructive nature of school bullying, and the power of humor, love, and community to overcome it.  Lexile – 550

Because of Winn-Dixie – One of those must reads. This book touches on a variety of themes that all kids should read and experience. One summer’s day, ten-year-old India Opal Buloni goes down to the local supermarket for some groceries – and comes home with a dog. But Winn-Dixie is no ordinary dog. It’s because of Winn-Dixie that Opal begins to make friends. And it’s because of Winn-Dixie that she finally dares to ask her father about her mother, who left when Opal was three. In fact, as Opal admits, just about everything that happens that summer is because of Winn-Dixie.  Lexile – 610

The Fourteenth Goldfish – This book questions the idea of whether we can take science too far. With a lighthearted touch and plenty of humor, Jennifer Holm celebrates the wonder of science and explores fascinating questions about life and death, family and friendship, immortality . . . and possibility. This book opens up a world of possibility for discussion, but has a relatively low score. Lexile – 550

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – A great book for kids to read. Many are inhaling this at an early age. Do they get all of the details and themes? Probably not. Can they answer basic comprehension questions on it? Sure. Lexile – 880

Diary of a Wimpy Kid – I posted previously that I don’t love this book. Great for getting kids excited about reading though. But compared to the other books above, not nearly as deep and is just a great, fun book. As the Amazon summary says, Sixth grader Greg Heffley doesn’t understand his annoying younger brother, obnoxious older one, or well-meaning parents. But he knows enough to record his daily thoughts in a manly journal―not some girly diary. In a unique novel brimming with laugh-out-loud moments, Greg chronicles his first turbulent year of middle school. Lexile – 950

The Hunger Games – We all know this one. My point for including it is this. Lexile – 810. Will I let my 9 year old read it. NO!

So can we please stop worrying about their scores and let kids just read for a love of reading? Let’s bring back the book report and just let them explain what they got from the book rather rather than teaching them to answer comprehension questions. More than anything, encourage your child to read what they love. Their knowledge and willingness to try new things will grow.

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#pb10for10 – books about believing in yourself

I read way too many picture books, though I know that there are always tons of others that I have yet to hear about. That’s one of the reasons that I look forward to the annual #pb10for10 blogging event organized by Cathy Mere.

Each year, on August 10th, picture book lovers from near and far join together to share favorite picture books.  Classroom teachers, librarians, parents, authors, and other book lovers join the #pb10for10 community to share their favorite titles.  Stop by the community to share your favorites and to discover new titles you won’t be able to resist.

Copy of 10 Books

This year, I decided to focus on books that celebrate the power in believing in yourself and following your dreams. Even as adults we sometimes forget how important believing in ourselves is.

whatif coverJonathan James and the Whatif Monster – I can’t say enough about this book by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt. Using rhyming, fun pictures and pretty simple text, this book deals with the anxiety of childhood. What if no one likes me? What if I don’t know anyone in my new class? What if I fall? What if I make a fool of myself? What if people laugh at me? What if I don’t like it? What is outstanding is when, halfway through the book, Jonathan turns to his Whatif monster and says “whatif you’re wrong?” Sure, anytime you do something, it go badly or you could mess up, but you’ll never get to experience all of life’s amazing highs if you don’t go out and try. My full post on it can be found here.

0016435_cordelia_300Cordelia – Also by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt is another book about soaring high, no matter what other people say. In this gem, little Cordelia believes that she can fly, singing with the birds and dancing with the stars. Her life was full of joy “until the day others doubted she flew.” She had never before worried what others thought, but now it grounded her and she just trudged along and her world turned grey and dull (literally). But just as Jonathan questioned the whatif monster, Cordelia realizes that no one else has the right to say whether or not she could fly, so she once again began to believe in herself “because what others thought, didn’t matter anymore.”

0016619_amelia_who_could_fly_300Amelia Who Could Fly, written by Mara Dal Corso, is about young Amelia Earhart and her dreams of soaring high in the sky. Here was a young girl living in a time when girls were not supposed to get dirty and have big dreams, bu that didn’t stop her. She realized where her passion was and went after it with everything she had. I love the illustrations in this book as well. You can see my full post  here.

bad_case_of_stripesA Bad Case of Stripes – If there was ever a book that showed how changing yourself to please everyone else causes problems, this is it! David Shannon captured the need to conform perfectly by having poor little Camilla Cream get a bad case of stripes. It all started with the fact that Camilla loved lima beans but wouldn’t eat them because none of the other kids liked them. She worried so much about what other people thought that she couldn’t figure out what to wear to the first day of school. When she was striped from head to toe, she had to miss school anyway. She went the second day, but anytime someone talked about shapes or colors, her skin would change to match it. Her illness continued to worsen until a little old woman convinced her to eat what she was craving – some lima beans. The old woman knew that the real Camilla was in there somewhere,  she just needed to believe in herself.

red storyRed: A Crayon’s Story, by Michael Hall, is a marvelous multi-leveled story about a crayon who was given the wrong wrapper. Red has a bright red label, but he is, in fact, blue. His teacher tries to help him be red (let’s draw strawberries!), his mother tries to help him be red by sending him out on a playdate with a yellow classmate (go draw a nice orange!), and the scissors try to help him be red by snipping his label so that he has room to breathe. But Red is miserable. He just can’t be red, no matter how hard he tries! Finally, a brand-new friend offers a brand-new perspective, and Red discovers what readers have known all along. He’s blue! This story is about being true to your inner self and following your own path despite obstacles that may come your way.

periwinklePeriwinkle’s Journey is a new book by Judy Peterson-Fleming. Periwinkle is a Little Blue penguin who lives in Australia. When she gets invited to her cousin’s birthday party on the Antarctic Peninsula she realizes for the first time that she looks different than the rest of her black-and-white cousins. Her mother gently reminds her that “It’s not how you look on the outside, it’s what’s inside that matters.” Periwinkle then joins another penguin and an albatross on a journey south to meet his family and learn that each penguin has something that makes them unique. In a marvelous way, children are able to learn about 17 different types of penguins and what makes them special and individual. A beautiful book connecting individuality as well as a respect for nature.

Chrysanthemum_(Henkes_book)Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Hankes, is a book that I return to over and over, so it has a well deserved place on my #pb10for10 list. Chrysanthemum is a marvelous book about loving who you are regardless of what others say and do. Chrysanthemum is a little mouse who, until going to kindergarten, always thought that she had the most wonderful name in the world. When she arrives in school the other children all have short names and a trio of other little girls make fun of her. When they do, she wilts. The story does a great job of showing how even though others might not appreciate things about you, you need to love yourself and believe in yourself rather than listening to people who just like to put others down. In the end, even the mean girls realize that her name is special.

name jarIn the same notion of liking your name, I give you The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi. This story tells of a young girl from Korea and how having a name that others can’t pronounce easily makes her uncomfortable. So when she enters her new classroom, rather than telling everyone her name, she tells them that she hasn’t picked on yet, but will let them know as soon as she does. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey. While believing in herself is somewhat thrust upon Unhei, the process in getting to that point and having kind people in your life can be just as important.

spoonSpoon is one of those books that my daughter loves to pull off of the shelf every now and again, and it is one whose story never really gets old. In this book, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, everyone is encouraged to celebrate what makes them special, not what they can or cannot do. Spoon has always been a happy little utensil, but lately, he feels like life as a spoon just isn’t cutting it. He thinks Fork, Knife, and The Chopsticks all have it so much better than him. A nice talk with his mother reminds him of all of the special things that only spoon is able to do and poses the thought that maybe Fork, Knife and The Chopsticks look upon him with a little bit of envy as well. A book for all ages, Spoon serves as a gentle reminder to celebrate what makes us each special.

oh the placesOh the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss, is one of the most common books given to kids as they graduate from various stages of school. It was not a book that I loved much early on, but when J was younger I read it from a different perspective and realized that this book is about not only believing in yourself and following your dreams, but it is also a book that says that sometimes life can suck and there might be things that hold you back or get you down, but YOU need to be the force of change and get back on a course that works for you. On a lot of levels, this is the ultimate believe in yourself book.

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Ready for the Olympics

nfpb16It’s Wednesday and that means the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. We are pretty darn excited about the Olympics in this house so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to highlight a visually stunning book about sports and the Olympics.

This is the first time that both of my girls actually want to watch the opening ceremonies as well as many of the events. My husband is a big sports fan and sports and news are really the only reason we still have cable. I, on the other hand, almost never watch sports, but even I get the Olympic bug. So when I was offered a copy of Everything Sports from National Geographic Kids, I jumped at the chance.

res_t_9781426323331Everything Sports is aimed at readers aged 8-12.  From archery to zip lining this book covers EVERYTHING about the world’s most popular, most obscure and most grueling team and individual sports. Dozens of athletics pursuits are profiled and the book covers sports history, rules and regulations, and training, and a Hall of Fame that profiles the giants in downhill skiing, hockey, gymnastics, football and more.  There is even a quiz kids can take to see if they’d make a good ref.  Packed with big, bold pictures and graphics and featuring a diverse array of athletes (men and women of all races, young and old,) Everything Sports not only includes the most popular sports such as baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis, but also features the more extreme and quirkier sports like parkour, wakeboarding, fencing, curling, and table tennis.

This book has a ton of facts put together into bite-size pieces that make it a great book to pick up and play around with. Like all National Geographic books, the photographs are mind-blowing. Some of the more interesting spreads, to me, were items about What is a Sport, Who Plays What, some of the amazing photo galleries, and the X-games, although I still don’t fully understand what Parkour is.

The pieces on the Olympics themselves are informative and quite useful. So are the comparisons between professional and amateur play. As someone who appreciates sports but hasn’t done a great job of getting my girls fully informed about them, the spreads about the history and rules of individual sports are great references.

I remember when the Winter Olympics were happening that it was a struggle to find good Olympic themed books for kids. I recently reviewed Nadia and Valarie Budayr of Jump Into a Book put together a link-up of posts about the Olympics. Everything Sports is definitely a great addition to the list.

gold medal fill inWhile you’re having fun with the Olympics theme, National Geographic Kids also put together a really great Funny Fill-In with an Olympics focus – My Gold Medal Adventure. In this fun activity book, create silly stories a-la mad libs with an Olympics theme. You can create a story on your own by filling in the necessary words on the left hand page or complete it with a friend by filling in the words directly on the story on the right hand page. We love doing these in the car and while waiting for appointments. A great way to work on grammar, have fun, and celebrate the Olympics!

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It’s Monday – What are you Reading?

There is a popular thread among book bloggers with the hashtag #IMWAYR. I don’t typically manage to post to this thread, but I just picked my older daughter up from 3 weeks of sleep-away camp yesterday and it seemed appropriate to cover what she has been focused on. So I welcome you to J’s edition of #IMWAYR.

23168798We literally finished this book the night before we dropped J off at camp. The Dragon Lantern is the second book in the League of Seven series by Alan Gratz, and it had us chomping at the bit for book 3. The series is a very fascinating steampunk scifi look at an alternate history of the US and takes place in the 1870s. Without giving away too much, a group of extraordinary kids come together to save the world as part of the League of Seven to save the world from destruction at the hands of the Mangelborn (it is scifi, remember). Book 1 focuses on the first three characters of the League and in book 2 an additional two get introduced.

6327Roald Dahl strikes again! It’s been a while since J has read a new-to-her Dahl book, but we sent this one to camp with her and she loved it. In The Witches, Grandmamma loves to tell about witches. Real witches don’t ride around on broomsticks. They don’t even wear black cloaks and hats. They are vile, cunning, detestable creatures who disguise themselves as nice, ordinary ladies. So how can you tell when you’re face to face with one? Well, if you don’t know yet you’d better find out quickly-because there’s nothing a witch loathes quite as much as children and she’ll wield all kinds of terrifying powers to get rid of them.

22402972I wanted J to get some of her Battle of the Books reading done, if possible, while she was at camp and am thrilled that she enjoyed Fish in a Tree as much as I did. This book focuses on a little girl with dyslexia who has always managed to hide her disability, but also, who has also always just figured that she was stupid. When a new teachers comes to teach Ally’s 6th grade class, he sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike. Children are wonderfully taught that “Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”

Of course, summer is the time of amazing new releases. One of the notes we got from J was actually requesting that we send her two of the books that were released the Tuesday after she started camp, which of course we had pre-ordered. I only sent her one, but we have a lot of reading cut out for us.

23611997The one book I did send her was The Land of Stories: An Author’s Odessey. In the fifth installation of Chris Colfer’s fabulous Land of Stories series, brother and sister, Conner and Alex, are trying to save the fairy tale world by jumping into stories that Conner wrote and creating an army. There are a lot of hidden gems in this one about the lines between fiction and reality, the role of the author, and where the creative spark comes from. As a grown-up, I loved this series most when it stayed put in the fairy-tale world, but it is still a wonderful series that J is super excited to be reading. She needed a break from telling us about her experiences at camp so she could just have quiet time in the car to read this one!

28119313One that we haven’t read yet, but is in our pile to be inhaled as soon as possible, is Serafina and the Twisted Staff, the sequel to the wonderful Serafina and the Black Cloak. In 1899, when an evil threatens all the humans and animals of the Blue Ridge Mountains, twelve-year-old Serafina, rat catcher for the Biltmore estate and the daughter of a shapeshifting mountain lion.  Deep in the forest, Serafina comes face-to-face with the evil infecting Biltmore–and discovers its reach is far greater than she’d ever imagined. All the humans and creatures of the Blue Ridge Mountains are in terrible danger. For Serafina to defeat this new evil before it engulfs her beloved home, she must search deep inside herself and embrace the destiny that has always awaited her.

28118451Tomorrow, our copy of The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Case will arrive. J absolutely adored The Candymakers and read it three times! This book takes place a few months after the first book. Forever changed by the experience, Logan, Miles, Philip, and Daisy have returned to their regular lives. But when presented with the chance to go on tour to promote the new candy, they each have very different reasons for hitting the road. The stakes are a lot higher than they thought, however, and a decades-old secret is revealed. In this action-packed adventure, the four friends embark on a journey full of hidden treasures, imaginary worlds, rivers of light, a map of awe, a sky of many colors, and one very small cat who thinks he’s a dog. They’ve already learned to trust one another. Now they’ll have to trust themselves in order to face what lies ahead and save what really matters.

26114250Since I mentioned that we finished The Dragon Lantern right as J was going off to camp, I couldn’t even wait the three weeks for her to get back to read the final book. It came out the Tuesday after she left and I immediately bought it (and loved it!). The final book, The Monster Wars, was probably my favorite of all three. Having discovered the monstrous secret of his origins, Archie Dent is no longer certain that he is worthy to be a member of the League of Seven. But with new enemies to face, he realizes that he may not have the luxury of questioning his destiny. Wielding the Dragon Lantern, the maniacal Philomena Moffett has turned her back on the Septemberist Society, creating her own Shadow League and unleashing a monster army on the American continent. Archie and his friends must race to find the last two members of their league in time to thwart Moffett’s plan and rescue humanity once more.

There are definitely too many books and not nearly enough time! What are you reading?

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Yosef’s Dream – A story about Ethiopian Jews

The Jewish people have a long history of being spread all over the world. Many forget, however, that for many years there was a large contingent of Jews living in Ethiopia. They lived in isolation, not realizing that there were other Jews in the world and often oppressed by their Ethiopian “hosts.”

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In Yosef’s Dream, (Sept 1st by Apples and Honey Press)  by Sylvia Rouss with assistance from Ambassador Asher Naim, the stories of “Operation Solomon” and the biblical tale of Joseph and his dreams are combined to remind us all in the power of believing.

Those with hope in God will renew their strength,
they will soar aloft as with eagle’s wings (Isaiah 40:31)

This story starts in Israel, but quickly cuts back to Yosef’s memories of his time in Ethiopia. He loved his homeland with it’s “tall mountains, flowing rivers and wide plains,” but even though his people had lived their for thousands of years, they were “still seen as strangers, for we were Jewish…and different.”

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Yosef goes through his morning and readers can get a sense of what his daily life is like in Ethiopia. His sister bakes injera bread (so delicious if you’ve never tried it!) and also weaves the baskets and makes the pottery that their family sells at the market. They rely on the land for farming and water and Yosef carries food to his father and brother working in the fields.yosef 2

One day, Yosef accidentally falls into a deep hole and cannot climb out. In a folkloric turn, Gazelle comes to him in a dream, encourages him to hold onto her horns, be pulled out, and travel to see far-off places. Hyena interrupts and says that together they will “hide in the shadows and feed off of the scrapes of others.” Suddenly, a giant Eagle sweeps in and tells Yosef to pull himself out. “You can do it if you try. Catch hold of my wings and we will fly to your new home far, far away.” Suddenly, his brother has found him, but Yosef still manages to climb out of the hole himself.yosef 3

Yosef runs to school where he had been told a special visitor would be coming that day. It is Ambassador Asher Naim from Israel. He has come to over them all a home, to a return to the Promised Land. An older boy says that legends tell them one day they will return to Israel on the wings of eagles and Yosef says, “Just like my dream!” This time everyone listens to him and they are reminded of Joseph, the young Hebrew boy who saw the future in his dreams.yosef 4

There are fears that the Ethiopian government will never let them go. Yosef’s family also fears their ability to go as his mother is very pregnant. But over the next weeks, the villagers prepare for the big trip in hopes that it will happen soon. When the word comes that Ethiopia will allow them to leave, it is much like Pharoah allowing the Jews to leave Egypt, “it must be TODAY!”yosef 5

Thirteen years later, the family is in Israel celebrating his younger brother Jacob’s Bar Mitzvah. Jacob mentions Yosef’s dream in his speech – “Yosef’s dream was about making a choice. If we had gone with Gazelle, my family could have traveled to other countries, never settling anywhere. Had we stayed with Hyena, we would still be living as outcasts in Ethiopia. But we chose to fly with Eagle, and after nearly 3000 years of exile we have returned to Israel, our true home.”

I found this book incredibly powerful. There are very few stories that talk about Ethiopian Jews who lived in the diaspora. We don’t think about them as much as a part of the larger Jewish history or general world history. So while this book isn’t technically a non-fiction picture book, I believe that it has an important place in the classroom and home to tell a story that needs to be told. The story is told in an incredibly accessible way and Tamar Blumenfeld’s illustrations hold the whole thing together.

The Jews in Ethiopia were often oppressed by their Ethiopian hosts, called “falashas,” which means strangers, and were blamed for droughts, famines, and illness. Operation Solomon. The Author’s Note at the end tells about the work that Ambassador Naim did in 1991 to fly nearly 14,000 Jews out of Ethiopia and to Israel within a 36 hour period. During the fights, seven children were born, just like Yosef’s brother Jacob.

nfpb16So, as I mentioned, while not technically a non-fiction title, I am including it in the link-up of non-fiction picture books hosted each week by Kid Lit Frenzy. Check out the other books reviewed by the marvelous book blogging community!

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher while at a conference, but all opinions are completely my own. The book will be released September 1st by Apples and Honey Press.

Patricia Polacco and a Love Affair with Books

I have a deep and abiding respect for Patricia Polacco. Her books are outstandingly good and never fail to amaze me with their depth. Her stories are aimed at a slightly older audience as they tend to cover serious subjects and are wordy for picture books, but they provide wonderful learning lessons for children in the form of a story.

aunt chipThe most recent Patricia Polacco book that I picked up is “Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair.” This book is a ringing endorsement for reading and a warning about allowing televisions to take over the world. This book was written in 1996 and could easily be updated to be about over-use of the internet, but the whole feel is exactly the same.

How much TV is too much TV? Welcome to Triple Creek, where the townspeople watch TV day and night. They watch it when they’re eating, working, playing, and sleeping. They even use TVs to teach the kids at school. Sounds pretty horrible, and yet, sounds like the direction we have been heading with computers instead of televisions. Everyone in Triple Creek loves television. Everyone, that is, except for Eli’s Aunt Chip, who doesn’t even own one.

aunt chip 1Everyone sees Aunt Chip as the eccentric old lady who refuses to leave her house. Apparently, well over 50 years earlier she took to her bed and vowed never to get out of it again. She constantly railed that “there will be consequences.” What consequences?  Well, it turns out that Aunt Chip took to her bed when a television tower was built in the town and when they closed down the library. Since then, the people of Triple Creek have lost the knowledge of how to read and instead spend all day staring at their television screens.

Eli loves his crazy Aunt just the same, and visits her almost every day. He is amazed when she tells him stories and wonders where they all come from. “Some come out of thin air. Some come out of my dreams. Some come right out of books!” Eli can’t understand how she gets a story out of a book because the town now only uses books as building materials. When Aunt Chip realizes that no one knows how to read anymore, she decides that enough is enough and gets out of bed. She is shocked when she wanders around town and finds that there are no children playing in the streets…they are all inside about to watch a TV show.aunt chip 2The town is depressing and Aunt Chip has had enough. She shows Eli a book and teaches him to read. His knowledge starts to amaze his friends at school and he teaches them to read (along with Aunt Chip’s help). The kids start borrowing books from all over town, taking them from wherever they can find them. One day Eli pulls out a copy of Moby Dick from a large pile and accidentally opens up a floodgate of water which topples the television tower. As it starts to rain books, the town is finally given a sign about the importance of books and reading and the consequences of an addiction to television.

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Understand, folks still had their TV’s, all right, but they were wise about what they watched and for how long. They had so much else to do!

Polacco, in her amazing way, urges parents and children alike to open their eyes to how bad an addiction to technology can be. She also shines a light on how spectacular the world of reading can be and how it can take you places and change the world around you. A ringing endorsement if I’ve ever seen one. To reading!

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Shimmying up to Shakespeare

My 9 year old has developed a deep and abiding love for all things Shakespeare. Back in February we inadvertently introduced her to King Lear when we read a picture book called Anook the Snow Princess. Since then, we have had lots of conversations about Shakespeare’s plays, but more than anything else, we have found a wealth of truly amazing books that help bring Shakespeare to life.*

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Teaching your children to understand the stories that Shakespeare wrote and the world in which he lived is a great way to open their eyes to a world of creativity. We haven’t focused on any of the old English, but I would love to find a way to bring some of the bard’s poetry in as well. What thrills me is that there are wonderful resources out there to encourage a love of his works.

J’s absolute favorite book that we have is the Usborne Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare. From lively comedy to dark tragedy, with clowns, witches and a doomed romance, this wonderful collection has six of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays. In this durable collection, young readers can discover the stories of Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and The Tempest, all beautifully retold for easy reading. The text is mainly told in modern styles, but from time to time there are direct quotes from the stories written in italics, almost like speech bubbles.hamlet spread

J has read this book from cover to cover multiple times. She is shocked that so many people perish in the end, but we have to explain to her that that is simply a part of how plays were written long ago. Her favorite at the moment is Twelfth Night.  Having her read and enjoy this book has opened up conversations about how Romeo and Juliet is the basis for West Side Story, one of my all-time-favorite musicals, and how so many people have been inspired by Shakespeare’s works.

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Once she was completely entranced with the stories themselves, we moved on to another book that engages her in a hunt and search method while also informing her about additional plays. In “Where’s Will“, readers get to explore ten of William Shakespeare’s most exciting, funny, and powerful plays. Each play has a spread that gives young readers a summary of the story, allows them to meet the characters, and find out what they are up to. Then turn the page and you get to find Will and all of the characters in a “Where’s Waldo” style hunt.

For our long car rides, J loves to do sticker books. She initially got hooked doing sticker dolly dressing books, but we have now discovered a wealth of titles that are not only fun sticker books, but also educational. One of these titles is Sticker Dressing Shakespeare. These are hands on books that allow kids to learn about the fashions utilized in the plays as well as learn little bits about the plays themselves.

A brand new title that starts children understanding the world that Shakespeare lived in and how his plays were produced is See Inside the World of Shakespeare. Through engaging lift-the-flaps, kids can travel back 400 years to visit rowdy playhouses and royal palaces and discover Shakespeare’s tales of doomed princes and mischievous fairies causing trouble.

Finally, for those who are older and really ready to get into meaty information about the Bard, there is the beautifully produced World of Shakespeare. This 64 page reference guide shows how Shakespeare’s world was full of danger, excitement and change. Elizabethan London was filthy, crowded, crime-ridden, hazardous, thrilling and inspiring. But the theaters, situated in the scruffier parts of town, provided popular places of entertainment. Shakespeare’s plays tell tales of love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge, corruption, family, feuds, ghosts, witches, and murder. Discover how Shakespeare lived, and why, hundreds of years later, his works are still being performed, interpreted and adapted all over the world.

I love that my daughter has gotten interested in Shakespeare and I will do all that I can to encourage her to learn more about him. For additional titles, check out this guest post on Pragmatic Mom.

*Note – Most of these books are published by Usborne Books & More. I am an independent Usborne Consultant and the links are back to my website.

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The Wildest Race Ever

With the Summer Olympics coming soon, when I saw a book about the story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon, I had to pick it up. Written by Meghan McCarthy, The Wildest Race Ever tells the story of the third marathon in Olympic history.the-wildest-race-ever-9781481406390_hr

The 1904 Olympics took place in St. Louis, Missouri. That year, it was not only the Olympics, but St. Louis combined the games with the World’s Fair. Hundreds of thousands of people came by car, by train, and boat. Part of the Olympics was a wild, wacky marathon.

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Forty-two racers registered, thirty-two showed up, and of the three racers vying for the finish line: on drove part way, one was helped by his trainers over the line, and one was a postman who traveled from Cuba and ran in street clothes that he cut off to look like shorts.

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With incredibly fun illustrations, McCarthy highlights many facts about the day’s race and a number of the runners. As well versed as we are with modern marathons, it seems insane that the race began at 3:00 in the afternoon on a 90 degree day. Most of the race was run on dirt roads and the runners were choked by the dust that was stirred up by the cars filled with officials, doctors and reporters.

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Readers will laugh at the antics of runner Felix Carvajal, of Spain, who did things like stopped to chat with spectators and was constantly eating his way through the race and be amazed that Fred Lorz tried to claim he won even though he rode in a car most of the way. The ultimate winner, Thomas Hicks, ran the race slow and steady and was given rat poison by his trainers when he begged for water! By the time he crossed the finish line, the poor runner was suffering from hallucinations.

This was a very fun history lesson about the first Olympics held in the United States and the many ways that marathons have changed.

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I picked this book as part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy. She also picked a sports themed book this week and there are always a ton of great books linked up. This is a great way to keep nonfiction picture books in our reading selections.

Exploring the world of Color

Children love learning about colors and they are often some of the first words that they can read on their own. There is something completely fascinating in what you can do with three primary colors if only you are allowed to try. There are actually many wonderful books that open up a world of possibility and encourage creativity in the realm of color exploration, I’ve only found a few of them…

This post was born from random library browsing. A few weeks ago I picked up a wonderful book called Snap at our local library. When I was returning that and looking through other new books, I came across Swatch: The Girl who Loved Color and an idea was born. Why not write a post about books that talk about color? Do you have favorite books about colors? I would love to hear of them in the comments section.

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mix it up coverMy children love books that allow them to be involved. Hervé Tullet has a collection of interactive books and Mix-it Up is his way of teaching color theory. This book is a great way to get kids thinking about how to utilize the primary colors to make a world of possibilities. One of the fun things about this book is that most of it can also be done with actual paint allowing the kids to get truly tactile.

usborne colorAnother fabulous book that focuses on the colors themselves with less of a story is The Usborne Big Book of Colors. This is a great book to start young children in an understanding of colors. This is a visually stunning book for the youngest learners to kick start their excitement about colors. What is marvelous about this book is that it goes beyond exploring the basic red, blue, green colors and instead shows the various shades within the main color groups. Where it goes further is by having a color wheel to show complimentary colors, a page with an acetate layover to show how colors mix together, and a page that shows color words that are used to describe feelings.

my blue coverTouching on the concept of colors used as ways to describe emotions, My Blue is Happy is a great book that perhaps changes how we look at colors. We often forget that colors mean different things to different people. Is red angry, like a dragon’s breath? Or brave like a fire truck? Is pink pretty or annoying? Is black scary like creeping shadows or peaceful like the still surface of the lake? Art teacher Jessica Young challenges common assumptions about colors and celebrates individual perspective in this ode to colors and the unique way we experience them.MyBlueIsHappy-int1

snap coverWho doesn’t love a brand new box of crayons? In this colorful book, Evan can’t wait to draw with his brand new set until, SNAP! his brown crayon breaks in two. He tries everything to get the crayons back together until “as if by magic, something changed.” What changed? This is the awesome part – Evan realized that having two pieces was even better than having one!snap broken

In an unusual twist, Snap shows kids how to make lemonade out of lemons. The broken crayon encouraged all kinds of creativity in Evan. When wrappers came off, he figured out how to do etchings, when he lost his green crayon, he accidentally got into color mixing. This is a marvelous book about creativity, discovery, color combinations and always looking on the bright side. An incredibly fun way to encourage a young artist and the dreamer in all of us.snap mixing

Sky-ColorPeter H. Reynolds is known for his amazing books about creativity and thinking outside of the box. In Sky Color, Marisol is ready to paint the sky for her class mural, but there is no blue paint. While the rest of her class works on their portions of the mural, Marisol ponders how she can do her part. As she watches the sky, she realizes that it is so much more than blue, changing as the son moves across the horizon. When she goes to school the next day, she creates her own new color, “sky color,” and the effects are stunning.

swatch coverIn this newly released book by Julia Denos, Swatch: The Girl who Loved Color is about a little girl named Swatch who loves to run with the colors and make masterpieces. When she called to the colors, they would come to her “because Swatch loved color and color loved Swatch back.” One day she realizes that she can capture the colors in jars and starts to make a collection. However, when she goes to collect her final color, Yellowest Yellow, the color actually asks her what she is going. Yellowest Yellow doesn’t want to be put into a jar and while Swatch could have scooped it up anyway, she agrees to allow him to go free. Yellowest Yellow reminds her just how wild he is from roaring and loud to warm and buttery. She allows all of her colors to be free again and together they make a masterpiece. A wonderful book highlighting the beauty and power of colors and the life that they can bring to your world.

Liza loves her crayons, but when she decides that a blank wall in her room would make a wonderful canvas, her mother takes her beloved crayons away from her. Immediately, this bright, colorful book turns black and white and Liza experiences a life without crayons and, in her mind, a life without color. She goes about her day and unknowingly starts to create art. When she roams outside, grass stains open her eyes to the wonders that are nature and she starts to bring color back to her pages. As colors return, so does her outstanding creativity. She gets her crayons back, but she no longer needs them. A glorious look at colors and the creative genius.

Finally, what would a post about colors and crayons be without The Day the Crayons Quit? There is actually a series around this book and the kids LOVE it!  The concept of the first book, The Day the Crayons Quit, is that Duncan opens his crayon box to find that all of his crayons have quit. Beige is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown. Blue needs a break from coloring all that water, while Pink just wants to be used. Green has no complaints, but Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking to each other. The Day the Crayons Came Home is about some of the lesser known crayons writing postcards to Duncan asking to be rescued from various scenarios. This October there will be a new board book available, called The Crayon’s Book of Colors, where the crayons come together to make Duncan a birthday card.crayons quit red

No matter which book you choose, there is a world of color waiting to be explored!

Nadia – The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still

When I was a little girl, I was completely fascinated with Nadia Comaneci. She had captured the world’s attention in the 1976 Olympic games and by the time I was 5 or 6 the television movie on her life had made it’s debut and I would watch it any chance that I got. I tried gymnastics classes, but I didn’t have the skill or the passion. I was much happier playing soccer and baseball, but that didn’t deter my love of Nadia.

9780544319608_lresBack in December, I read that a new picture book biography of Nadia was coming out and decided that I had to have it. “Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still,” by Karlin Gray, shows a little girl who couldn’t sit still, but who was determined to be the best. It wisely skips over the eating disorder that she, and many other gymnasts, suffered from, but it does show her amazing focus and how she changed the sport of gymnastics.

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Bela & Malta Karolyi picked Nadia to be a part of their new gymnasium because of the joy that she showed when cartwheeling around the playground. It would take lots of hard work and determination to build Olympic level skills, but that’s what she did.

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Like most humans, Nadia was not perfect and would often fall during practice and early competitions. But like the champion that she was, she always got back up and did it again. All of this paid off when she was the first gymnast to ever get a perfect 10.

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When I read this book with my older daughter, or really, when she read it to me, she was as taken with Nadia’s story as I have always been. On the eve of the Summer Olympics, I’m thrilled to get my kids excited about the sports that they can see. J took gymnastics when she was younger, but never really got into it. She has recently been fascinated with figure skating, but we are obviously in the wrong season for that. So I’m excited to have her wanting to learn more about gymnastics and now both J and E want to watch the Olympic games. I even found the original Nadia movie on YouTube and will be letting the girls watch that at some point in the near future.

One of the things that I love about non-fiction picture books is getting kids excited about topics that for whatever reason that don’t know much about. When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, not only were there lots of kids doing gymnastics, but we were family friends with an Olympic gymnast so there was a lot of interest. I love that we managed t drum up some interest in a great Olympic sport at just the right time.

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I first found out about this book because of a post of upcoming new releases from KidLitFrenzy, the host of the non-fiction picture book challenge. I have learned of so many awesome titles because of this weekly link-up of awesome non-fiction picture books.

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