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 →
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.”
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
Everyone 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.The 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.
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!
I have many blog posts about individual books, and groups of them, that I want to actually type up, but getting the time to get it all down sometimes poses challenges. That said, this wonderful article was in the Washington Post and deserves to be read by many many people, especially those concerned about what their kids read.
So tonight when I was scrolling through Facebook while putting my younger one to bed (she plays with my hair for 5 minutes), I found this outstanding article. It struck me because I have had conversations with other moms about letting kids read books that “upset them” or show things we might not want our “sheltered” kids to face yet. What I’ve always said is let them read the book.
Kids read books and understand them on different levels than we do. I mean, even when my older daughter was reading Harry Potter there was the whole fact that book 7 upset her at times that didn’t phase me, but the part that left me bawling was no big deal to her. We have read a wide variety of books and they have made her a more well-rounded reader and a more well-rounded person, even when they aren’t exactly my favorite books, or hers.
Kids learn TONS from books. They learn that the world around us is both wonderful and cruel, but they do it in a safe environment. They learn how to treat people and how not to treat people. They learn that there are good people in the world and truly horrible ones. I mean, no one would ever want to have parents like Matilda Wormwood’s, but kids innately understand that they are a caricature and move on.
I will admit that when J was much younger and reading things on a level that was truly unusual for say a 4 year old, I did a touch of censoring. I fully admit that I had a truly visceral reaction to Junie B Jones, which I ranted about so long ago it is on a different blog, but that did have to do with not wanting my 4 year old calling things stupid.
We protect our kids as much as we can, but it is also our job to teach them to be empathetic of others and aware that sometimes life sucks. A book might make them cry, it might make them question things, but the glorious thing is that they still come to us so we can be there to help them make sense of it all.
When we were reading Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics (which I still need to write about here), a big focus was on banning books. One person who has had many of her books on the “banned book list” was Judy Blume and she put it perfectly when interviewed by the Telegraph in 2014:
Parents worry “much too much” about what their children are reading, said the author Judy Blume. She argued that they will simply “self-censor” by getting bored of anything they do not understand.
So let your kids read. Let them read things that you think are perfect for them and let them read things that you can’t stand. I can only imagine what my parents thought when I was reading Sweet Valley High Books back in 6th grade, you know, after I begged my mother to allow me to read the Clan of the Cave Bear. Let them read for fun and not for their lexile level. Because the more you read, the more you grow.
Many people are very familiar with the name Laura Numeroff from her incredibly well known series “If You Give a Mouse…” We are big fans of that series, but I think we are even bigger fans of her lesser known series “The Jellybeans.”
“The Jellybeans” is a series that is at its core about friendship. The basic concept is that there are four girls who each have different passions but realize that that doesn’t mean that they can’t also be friends. They meet each other in The Jellybeans and the Big Dance and then continue to grow through three other books, each focusing on one of the girls. In the first book Emily notices that the first letters of their names spell out “beans” and she brings the group together by sharing jellybeans with the group.
Just as jellybeans are different flavors but go well together, the girls were all different but got along great – and so they called themselves The Jellybeans.
Both my 5 year old and my 8 year old LOVE these books. The stories are sweet and each girl can see herself in the characters. I love these books too. It is great to see four friends who are so different (and also represented by four different animal species) manage to find their common ground and support each other so beautifully.
The first book in the series is The Jellybeans and the Big Dance. In this book, the main focus is on Emily who loves to dance. She dances while waiting for the bus, while watching TV, even while brushing her teeth. One day she goes to a new dance class full of excitement, but is discouraged to discover that the three other girls in the class are not as excited to be taking the class. Nicole would rather be playing soccer, Bitsy would rather be painting and Anna just has her nose in a book. When one accidentally knocks into their dance cubbies and knocks their name tags down, Emily notices that the first letters of their names spell out “bean.” While she thought that was funny, no one else seems to care. By their fourth class, Emily just feels frustrated. Her mother tries to cheer her up by taking her to the local candy store and once inside she gets the brilliant idea to buy all of the girls a bag of jellybeans in the hopes that perhaps she could find a way to bring the girls together. Her idea worked and then each girl uses her own strengths to bring something special to their dance recital. When Emily has a moment of stage fright, the other girls band together and support her and the performance goes off without a hitch.
My favorite of all of the books is The Jellybeans and the Big Book Bonanza. This book focuses on Anna who is an avid reader who love spending time at the local library. One day the girls’ teacher assigns them all a book report and Anna is excited to bring her friends to her favorite place. But when they get there, each girl complains about how they would rather be doing something else. Even so, the librarian knows that books also come in lots of different flavors and helps each girl find a book that she likes. When they go to give their book reports the next day, Anna gets scared. She loves books, but is not so thrilled about public speaking. Just as she had helped her friends discover books, they stood by her to support her through her report. In her report, she sums it up perfectly.
My youngest daughter has a special soft spot for the book The Jellybeans and the Big Art Adventure. This book focuses on Bitsy and her love of art. In this book, the owner of the local candy store that sells their beloved jellybeans asks the girls to paint a mural on her wall. All of Bitsy’s friends think that they can’t paint, so they took a trip to the art museum and each girl realized that there were many kind of art that appealed to their different sensibilities. After visiting the museum, each girl was excited to create their own art, but suddenly Bitsy had artist’s block. Of course her friends came to her rescue and encouraged her to believe in herself.
Finally, The Jellybeans and the Big Camp Kickoff focuses on athletic Nicole and her love of soccer. When the girls go to sleep-away camp together, everyone finds tons of things to do. When they are encouraged to take a class or participate in a group activity, everyone finds something, except Nicole, because while camp Pook-A-Wow has a lot of sports, they don’t have a soccer team. Nicole tried tons of other sports, but just didn’t like them. Her friends come to her aid by starting a camp soccer team, even though they don’t know how to play. While it isn’t our favorite of the Jellybean books, it continues to shine on the fact that we are our best when we are with our friends and supporting each other.
Both of my girls really enjoy the Jellybean books. They are sweet and having wonderful messages. Most kids, particularly girls, can find themselves in the pages of these books, but they also learn the lesson that sometimes they need to try new things to not only grow themselves, but to help support a friend. If you haven’t already checked out the Jellybean books, you should definitely take a look!
My daughter’s elementary school is in full swing Dr. Seuss celebration this week, so I thought it seemed appropriate to to throw in some Dr. Seuss love. I have been a long time fan of Dr. Seuss and even wrote a term paper on him in high school. My love for his stories has changed over the years, but there is no doubt in my mind that this man was a genius. Here are some of my personal favorites.
By now we all know the story of the Lorax who speaks for the trees, but when I first heard this story in the early ’90s, I was absolutely captivated by it. I’ve never been a big environmentalist, but the story is so spot on about not only speaking up for the environment, but speaking up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves for whatever reasons. It also does highlight all of the atrocious things that we are doing to our environment. Dr. Seuss wrote in back in 1971. I only wonder what he would say if he saw the state of our environment now.
I have a soft spot for dear old Horton and Horton Hears a Who. Such a marvelous story about a kind-hearted elephant. When he hears voices from a speck of dust, pleading for help, to find a stable, quiet place for them to live, he promises to help them. What he doesn’t expect is that the other animals in the forest are going to make it difficult for him, especially the head kangaroo who doesn’t believe in the Whos and who convinces every other animal that Horton is crazy and that they need to get rid of the speck. I always saw this as a book about standing up for the little people, not allowing a bully to have his way and to stand up for what you believe. Horton has a number of marvelous lines that we know by heart – “I said what I meant and I meant what I said, an elephant’s faithful 100%.”
Another story that was always powerful to me was Yurtle the Turtle. According to Seuss, Yurtle was a representation of Hitler, of a man who let power go to his head and needed to be toppled. Yurtle wanted to be ruler of all he could see and made the other turtles in the pond pile up below him so that his range of vision could keep expanding. Of course, having a pile of turtles on your back is rather difficult and the turtle at the bottom asked for respite. Yurtle refused, but in the end he wound up toppling into the mud.
Similarly, Star Bellied Sneetches, is a very powerful book about anti-Semitism and racism in general. They story of the Sneetches is about yellow bird-like creatures, with some who have stars on their stomachs, and others without. The “in” crowd are those who have the stars, and they look down on those who do not have it. Then a man named McBean comes to town with a machine that will put stars on your belly. When the original “out” crowd has stars, the “in” crowd goes through the machine to have their stars removed. This way, they can differentiate themselves once again and gain their superiority. The birds keep going through the machine until they run out of money and no one can remember if they originally had a star or not. They finally come to realize that they are not so very different after all.
Dr. Seuss was a man of amazing imagination. His book, Oh the Thinks you can Think, is a fabulous example of encouraging children to be creative. To think outside of the box and even outside of normal vocabulary. These days we put so much pressure on our kids to know all of the right answers that sometimes it is a good reminder that it is vitally important for them to explore, be creative, make mistakes and just have fun.
Wacky Wednesday is a book that doesn’t get a lot of play, but it was a favorite of mine as a child and now my younger daughter just loves it. Not all of his books had to have deep symbolic, some were just plain fun.
Oh the Places You Go was one of Dr. Seuss’s last books written in 1990. It gained large popularity as a graduation gift throughout the 1990s which is exactly when I was graduating from high school and college. At the time, I simply couldn’t understand why people thought this was a good graduation gift. Fast forward a number of years and I reread the book and the giant lightbulb went off. Not only could I understand it as a graduation gift, but as a gift to anyone who had gone through some seriously hard times. Not only does the book touch on making those first important life decisions, but it is a story of success and failure, of facing challenging times and finding your way out.
Dr. Seuss’s final book, which actually was never finished and was completed by Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith, is a powerful book that resonates a ton with parents these days with all of the tests that our kids face – Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! At Diffendoofer School, the teachers don’t necessarily follow all the rules and teach the kids a variety of things, but mainly, they teach them how to think for themselves, how to laugh, how to create. The principal is concerned about whether they are learning certain things and then one day it gets put to a test – “All schools for miles and miles around must take a special test, to see who’s learning such and such – to see which school’s the best.” If the students don’t perform well, they will close Diffendoofer down and everyone will have to go to dreary Flobbertown. Of course, the kids at Diffendoofer out-perform the other schools and everyone is happy in the end. I have a hard time with all of the tests that kids are subjected to these days and wonder if a little creativity isn’t the answer.
I could go on and on, and I’m not even mentioning the Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham. Dr. Seuss just encouraged children to read and explore and have fun with it all. As I said before, a genius.
One of J’s latest ideas for a career is to be an author. She definitely loves books enough. I’ve enjoyed watching some of her creations come to life and see her develop her stories and her illustrations. Last year for her birthday, she received a set from Illustory. I held off letting her use it because, at the time, she really wasn’t creating any stories, was unwilling to draw pictures, and it seemed like a waste of a great gift. Now that she has matured a bit and enjoys the full process, we broke out the set. She was going to sit right down and write, but I encouraged her to use their brainstorming sheet to plot her story ahead of time, and she was all over it! So when I was at the library shortly after and found the book “The Little ‘Read’ Hen,” it was as if all of the stars were aligning.
The little red hen is a classic tale about the virtues of a strong work ethic, the value of working together and how to make bread. The story has been re-imagined many times over. There are versions that stay true to the original and those where the hen makes something other than bread (ie pizza, soup etc.). We even have The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah! Then there are a ton of books where they take the work ethic and collaboration themes and use them for something else completely. I had recently heard of “The Little Red Pen” from one of the other book bloggers I follow, but when I glanced at it in the library, it seemed more aimed at adults than kids – it is about a red pen with a huge pile of homework to grade asking for the other school supplies to help her. Then I happened across “The Little Read Hen.” The Little Read Hen is a cute story that aims to show kids the flow of writing a story or a research paper but is still tongue in cheek enough for parents to get a good laugh.
The story is about a little hen who loves to read and loves to write. She gets a great idea to write a story and when she sees her friends, she wants to do it together so she asks the dog, cat and pig to help her with the first step, brainstorming.
In typical little red hen fashion, they refuse. So she goes and does it herself. She proceeds to go through all of the necessary steps to write a great story with no help from her friends. As with the great “Starbawks” pun and her ordering a mocha-cocoa flappaccino, there are other cute notes like “egg pad,” “cooped up” etc.
As with other little red hen stories, the other animals want in on the finished product even though they didn’t help make it at all. Initially the hen doesn’t want to share her book with them, but then she realizes that everything is better if you can share it with friends.
This is a great take on an old tale. We are at the perfect stage to be learning about the process of writing a story or researching a topic. J of course decided to argue with me on how to pronounce “read,” but other than that, this is one that we have been reading over and over.
A few weeks ago I put a status up on facebook about my crazy 6 year old daughter hitting a point in her reading that I feel the need to be reading the books that she plows through. One thing that is very difficult with having a child who reads above grade level is finding books that engage her and yet are at the right emotional level for her. A friend commented that I should start a blog and voila! Got that bee in my bonnet and here it is.
So this blog is a place to find books that kids like. There are a ton of sites out there that put out information about books, but the one thing that I somehow feel is lacking is input from the kid. Add that to the fact that this is starting during summer vacation when I want to keep her engaged and talking about books, rather than just inhaling them, this is sort of my own personal book club with my daughter.
But I have two amazing girls. So this isn’t just about the books that my 6 year old reads, but the books that my 2 1/2 year old enjoys. At this point it is a work in progress, but hopefully I will be able to figure out some good categories to make this all useful. If it makes sense to combine books into one post, I will. If not, I will just talk about one book at a time.
I love books. I’m learning every day about books for kids and I have a desire to share that love. Enjoy!