Today I was able to talk to a group of mothers in my area about early literacy and fostering a love of books. I am not a trained expert on the subject, but years of observation and following the research makes me feel pretty secure in my knowledge. When I hear a child who has hit 4th grade complaining about having to read it simply breaks my heart. The problem is that by 4th grade it is unlikely, though not impossible, that we can make much of a change. Where we need to instill that love of books is as early as possible.
Children are natural sponges. If we want to instill a love of books, we need them to see that we share that love ourselves. The best things we can do for our kids is to be an example of someone who loves books, have books around the house, and allow them to read what they want without worrying about lexile level or even content. But more than anything, our children mimic our behavior. If they see us reading, they are more likely to read. If they see us purchasing books or going to the library on a regular basis, they learn that we value books. In lower-income homes, this can be an issue because books are often not as valued, especially when other high priority needs need to be met. In other homes, adults have stopped purchasing “real” books and instead have started relying on digital books and kids can have a hard time differentiating between the fact that you are reading a book on your tablet vs checking Facebook or your email. (For more on digital media’s impact, check out this fascinating article from the NY Times) Continue reading →
It’s interesting watching your reader grow in maturity. This year has seen great strides for J who continues to grow, not only as a reader, but in general maturity. Friday morning I was reading a post from the Nerdy Book Club about the “just right” book and what that means and it resounded with me. I am happy to say that J has never focused much on her “level” and always has read for pleasure. She has had great teachers and I’m definitely not one to push for reading levels.
These days, unfortunately, many kids focus a great deal on the “level” of the book and less on the story itself. That’s one thing if the book is required reading, but if you are reading for pleasure, it should be just that – pleasurable. When J was obsessed with Harry Potter or the Land of Stories, it was like you couldn’t pull her away from them. She knew every detail backward and forward. She could actually even recite the chapter titles from the first Harry Potter book.
So these year I watch with fascination as J approaches her required reading list for the Battle of the Books. J has long desired to be a part of the Battle of the Books. While she could easily read and comprehend most of the books at an early age, the rules state that you have to be in 4th or 5th grade for the elementary competition. A big reason for this, I believe, is less about reading level and more about having the maturity to read books that you don’t necessarily like all that much. She took a quick break from one book in order to plow through another and the different purposes and the distinction feels very clear to me.
The first book she is reading is Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen. This is one of the books for the Battle of the Books this year and tells of a 13 year old boy living in the American frontier during the American Revolution. While Samuel is out hunting one day, his parents are taken captive by British soldiers. Samuel then sets out to find them. The story is filled with very detailed descriptions of muskets, rifles, bayonets and other weapons of the time. There are also many instances where readers learn of the practice of scalping someone. After each chapter there is also a page with historical notes that help fill in some of the holes that might exist by reading a book that takes place in such a different time. I would say that we are about half-way done with this book and while some parts are fabulous and keep you yearning to know what it going to happen, there are many other parts that you just have to trudge through.
The second book is Gertie’s Leap to Greatness. She inhaled this book. It was given to her on Thursday afternoon and by Sunday evening she had finished it. When I asked her what she liked about it, she just said it was great. I’ve started reading it myself, but haven’t gotten into the heart of the book yet. Gertie has been compared to Ramona Quimby, but slightly older and definitely more modern.
The story is primarily about Gertie Reece Foy, a fifth grade girl who has made it her goal in life to become the best fifth grader in the universe. Why? Her mother had moved out when she was a baby, but a few days before 5th grade started, Gertie saw a for sale sign in her mother’s front yard. Gertie feels the need to become her absolute best self so that she can walk up to her mother’s door, hand her back a locket that she had given her, and then her mother “would know that Gertie Foy was one-hundred-percent, not-from-concentrate awesome and that she didn’t need a mother anyway. So there.” But there is just one problem in Gertie’s plan. The new girl, Mary Sue Spivey, also wants to be the best fifth grader.
This book is the trials and tribulations of an 10 year old trying to become her best possible self. In seeking out her greater self, she stumbles upon the greatness that was already inside of her. Even if the kids who are reading it don’t completely get that message, they will see her try new things, fail, and pick herself right back up and figure out a new plan of action. Gertie’s “leap” to greatness is really made up of many small steps that all of us need to take.
I loved watching J tear through a book again, it just really made me think about how we all approach books. When a book really moves a kid, or an adult, they simply can’t put it down. Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, Serafina and the Twisted Staff, Frindle, The Monster War, these are the books that have been favorites recently in between the required reading she has done. She’s definitely enjoyed some of the BOB books more than others and doesn’t wait for me to share in the reading, but she absorbs them and enjoys them in a completely different way. That’s okay, she is learning of the wide variety of styles and flavors out there. If only we could all be as smart as our kids.
Last summer, while wandering the library I discovered the book The Book Scavenger. I was quickly enthralled by the book which takes kids on an adventure through the streets of San Francisco searching for books that have been hidden and also for clues that have been left by a writer who was about to launch a new game before he was attacked and left in a coma. I loved this book and could completely see kids from 3rd grade up liking it. It had everything for me – a great premise, books, San Francisco and engaging characters.
So earlier this week I happened into our local book shop and on my way out noticed signs for the book. Author Jennifer Chambliss Bertman was coming to town. She is planning on having a discussion about her debut novel and a book trivia game. I rearranged my older daughter’s piano lessons and we will be at the event!
One big part of this book is that people all over the country participate in a massive game of “find the book” that has been organized by a book publisher. A few years ago we got into geocaching with my kids and their friends, but we floundered when there weren’t a ton of things in our area to find. The idea of basically being able to geocache with books and literary clues…awesome! I remember reading the book wishing something really existed. The thing is, it does, it’s just that last year when I read the book, no one had hid any within an hour of our home. The bookstore, however, also reminded me that people can hide books via the Book Scavenger website. Someone from the store itself has hidden a few in preparation for this event. That in mind, my thoughts began to churn – I need to hide some books!
Today I picked up 6 books at a local used book store and am going to hide them over the weekend. I would love for my daughter to get into this book, she just is currently devouring The League of Seven and wants to finish that one first. But once she finishes the book, I want her to have the ability to go searching for books. For that, I need more people to get involved. If you live near us, and you know who you are, go to the Book Scavenger website and get the materials necessary to hide a book. If you don’t live near us, do it anyway, you never know what young reader you will be helping!
As for the book itself, I honestly don’t remember a ton of details from the book. I do know that there were lots of wonderful little gems. As someone who grew up roaming the streets of San Francisco, it was like stepping back in time visiting places I hadn’t thought of in years, especially City Lights Bookstore. I loved that not only were ciphers used, but you got a little bit of history lesson on them as well. Then there were the relationships between Emily and her brother Matthew as well as between Emily and James. This book was one that struck me as just fabulous and that all book loving kids should read. If you are a fan of Mr. Lemoncello’s Library or a fan of a good mystery, you will definitely enjoy this book.
September is national library card sign-up month. If you hadn’t already figured it out, I would be completely and utterly lost without the local public library. Buying books is great, but finding books in the library allows us to read a much wider variety of great books. I still have fond memories of the library where I grew up, and we are fortunate to have two libraries here even if I do have to pay to use one of them. Granted, I still miss living in a bigger city with multiple connected libraries, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Sometimes I go to the library with a specific list of books I want to get for the girls and sometimes I just randomly pull things off the shelves. I’ve gotten really lucky the past few times and wanted to share a bunch of gems that we’ve found.
We fell in love with the original My Name is Not Isabella, and I was thrilled to find another of her adventures on our local library’s bookshelves. Isabella: Star of the Story is an homage to books and to the library in general. How could we not love it? Isabella goes to the library with her parents and checks out Peter Pan, Goldilocks, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Black Beauty, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz.
The title of this book attracted me, and both my 2 year old and 6 year old LOVE it. This fabulous rhyming story dedicated to Dr. Seuss brings a librarian and her bookmobile into the zoo. There she lures the animals into a love affair with books in the same way that we all hope to lure our children into loving books. With absolutely beautiful artwork by Marc Brown, we watch as the librarian finds just the right book for each animal. The crocodiles read Peter Pan while giraffes want “tall books” on subjects like basketball and skyscrapers and the Pandas demand “more books in Chinese.” By the end, the animals are writing their own stories and opening a zoobrary. The animals are wild about books and we are wild about this one too.
I was actually shocked to find this on the shelves of our small town library as it is a brand new book. The story is about a goat who thinks he’s pretty hot stuff until a unicorn moves into town. When the unicorn flies, makes it rain cupcakes and turns things to gold the goat gets a case of the green eyed monster. Then one day, while moping around eating some goat cheese pizza, the unicorn comes up and is jealous of all the things that make goat special. The two realize that they each have qualities that make them pretty awesome and that together they would make an unstoppable team. It is a great story about being happy with yourself while learning that the grass only looks greener on the other side.
I picked up this book because we struggle with J and keeping her hair brushed, let alone pulled back in pretty barrettes. So imagine my shock when we get to the end and Sophie decides to chop off her hair and give it to “Locks for Kids,” a hybrid of Locks of Love and Wigs for Kids. What seemed like a superficial story turned out to be a lesson in humanity. It is hard to explain to a 6 year old that kids can get cancer too, but this is a truly wonderful story.
For all of the picky eaters out there, I present a ridiculous story of a little girl who refused to eat her green beans until the beans came to town and kidnapped her parents. The only way for her to save her parents from those mean old beans was to eat them, but the beans didn’t think she could do it. This was a silly tale that shows that you shouldn’t be afraid of your food. We read a lot of semi-serious picture books, and those are usually the books that make it onto the blog, but a little fluff now and then is important too 🙂
Peter Reynolds gets a lot of press in September with the 15th being International Dot Day. The Dot is a marvelous book with a great lesson, but in looking for that on the shelf, I came across the lesser known, but stunningly wonderful Sky Color. Reynolds’s books encourage kids to nurture their inner artists, but what I love about this one is that it takes someone who is comfortable with her inner artist and forces her to think outside of the box. Marisol’s class is going to paint a mural and she volunteers to paint the sky, but when she goes to the paint box there is no blue. “How am I going to make the sky without blue paint?” Marisol watched the sky to try and figure out a solution and dreamt of a sky of swirling colors, mixed together “making too many colors to count.” Her final product shows how many ways to look at things there are. I loved the colors and her frustrations and her attempts to figure it out. An unusual, but impressive little book.