Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Storytime Anytime-Happy Spring!

At least I think that it is spring. There was snow in Michigan last week, so it is kind of hard of to tell.

For me spring is all about drinking in the sunshine while life is blooming all around you.

Nothing breaks through the monochromatic dreariness of winter like the bold and colorful illustrations of Eric Carle.  Two of Carle's books that are perfect for spring are The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Tiny Seed.
Now, neither of these books is specifically about spring (The Tiny Seed mentions all of the seasons). However, both books feature that change and growth in nature that we associate with spring: from caterpillar to butterfly and seed to flower.
All of Eric Carle's stories are told with a simple and engaging text, but what sends them into the stratosphere are the vibrant illustrations. If you are unfamiliar with Eric Carle and his phenomenal work watch this video.

Taking inspiration from Carle's unique style, I love to make tissue paper collages with kids after sharing his books. Older kids can cut tissue paper into actual shapes and pictures of their own design. With younger kids you can have them use pieces of tissue paper to fill in a template or just randomly glue them to paper (which can be just as beautiful).

Tissue paper is one of my favorite craft supplies because: 1) It is super cheap 2)It comes in so many colors 3)You can cut it, rip it, wad it, glue it, mod podge it, the uses are endless!

 To create the collage put white glue in a bowl and thin it with some water. Take an old paint brush and brush a thin layer of glue on the paper and start pressing down pieces of tissue paper on top. The hardest part with little kids is to get them to not use so much glue that the collage is a sopping mess. If you want you can brush another thin layer of the glue and water over the top of the collage to give it a hard, shiny look.

There are oodles of wonderful picture books that are about spring. These are just a few that I have really enjoyed.

1. And Then It's Spring by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Caldecott winner, Erin E. Stead

I admit that part of my love for this book is because of the dog, who reminds me of the yellow lab I grew up with and the one I currently own. And Then It's Spring is a beautiful book about a boy who is sick of winter (we have all been there) and decides to plant a garden.

2. Bear Wants More by Karma Wilson
I am a big fan of all of Karma Wilson's adorable Bear books. In this one Bear wakes up after his long hibernation and he is HUNGRY! Follow along as Bear's forest friends help him find clovers, berries, roots, etc. to eat.

3. Spring Things by Bob Raczka
Rhyming books are always fun for kids and this one elaborates on all of the amazing things happening in spring.

4. Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
What says spring like kite flying? My youngest son got one in his Easter basket this year and only just got to fly it this past weekend (darn Michigan weather). I have read this book countless times to kids and I have yet to meet one who doesn't love it and find it hysterically funny. Here is a fantastic video of the author (who is pretty easy on the eyes) reading Stuck

5. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
All of Peter Brown's picture books are visually stunning, but The Curious Garden stands out to me. A city boy finds some a small, struggling garden and decides to nurture it. Soon the garden is flourishing throughout the drear city. If you are from Michigan (or anywhere up north) you understand how long and cold and gray winter can be. It is hard not to do a happy dance when you see some green sprouting out of the snow, slush, and muck. The illustrations are so lush that you will find yourself touching the pages expecting to feel the soft green plants.

6. Little Mouse's Big Secret by Eric Battut
In Michigan we are inundated with fruit trees so spring (and summer) means apple, pear, and cherry trees are beginning to bud and blossom.  In this cute and minimalist story Little Mouse finds a cherry and decides to hide it in the ground. The Cherry soon becomes a sprout and then a young sapling and then a flowering tree and finally a beautiful, mature cherry tree with enough fruit to share.

The perfect project for this book is a fingerprint tree. Print or draw a tree trunk with branches on some heavy paper and let kids finger paint green leaves and pink blossoms. Super easy and mega cute. If you have a child that does not like to stick their fingers in paint (and it always seems like it is boys that have an aversion to paint on their fingers-at least in my experience) use q-tips. Side note: Always have q-tips for crafts. They are perfect for little hands to paint or spread glue. Plus, they are cheap and  you can just throw them away afterwards.

Another one of my favorite crafts that is perfect for spring is grass buddies. These are super easy and so much fun for kids to watch over time.All you need is potting soil, a cup, grass seed, and some things to make a face on the cup (google eyes, puff balls, foam pieces, etc.). Obviously, as the grass grows it will become the hair. I have made these several times at the library, Sunday school, and just at home and the kids always love them.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mayhem and Murder

It would probably take a very tall bookcase to hold all of the fiction and non-fiction books about the Jack the Ripper.  Add in all of the documentaries, movies, articles, and television shows and you could probably fill a sizable library with materials based on the infamous White Chapel slayings. I happen to be a humongous fan of Victorian mystery and horror so, unsurprisingly, I have read and watched  a substantial number of these.

Recently, though, I was surprised to learn that there was another grisly series of deaths in London, The Thames Torso Murders, that were also committed during the late 1800s in England. British author, Sarah Pinborough, delves into the lurid history of Jack the Ripper and the Thames Torso killer and brilliantly combines them with paranormal horror in her book Mayhem and its recently published sequel, Murder.

The protagonist of Mayhem and Murder is Dr. Thomas Bond who was the actual police surgeon who examined the victims of both Jack the Ripper and the Thames Torso Killer.  Pinborough takes historical details from Bond's life to create an empathetic and tortured hero. Throw in a fantastical and horrific solution to the Ripper and Thames Torso mysteries and these books are terrifying, cannot-put-down, do-not-read-late-at-night fun.

If blood makes you squeamish these are probably not books that will make it on your "to read" shelf. However, if you are a fan of the macabre and love books featuring the heavy fog and juxtaposition of grime and gentility of Victorian London then pick up Mayhem and Murder today. You will not be disappointed.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Help! I have a Reluctant Reader!

 I cannot imagine my life without books any more than I can imagine life without breathing
~Terry Brooks
I don't just love reading, I consider it to be an essential survival skill. It gives me immeasurable joy to share my passion for books,  especially with my own children. In fact, when I found out that I was expecting my daughter I did not go out and buy booties, a stuffed animal, blankets, or any other cutesy baby stuff. My first purchases for my unborn child were The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. My two oldest children have definitely followed my example (or succumbed to my will) and become voracious readers. This is not the case with my sweet, social, and hilarious youngest son, though. Zane is a tiny, two-legged tornado of constant motion and endless energy who would rather go to the dentist than sit down and read a book. In professional educator speak, Zane is a "reluctant reader".

So, is it really a big deal that some kids just do not enjoy reading? The short answer: YES!
Kids that read for pleasure (i.e. read books that they choose for fun in and out of school) have greater academic success . The National Literacy Trust in the U.K. has also issued a report, Reading for Pleasure, that expounds on the many positive effects of voluntary reading.

The benefits of reading for pleasure do not stop at graduation, either. As Harry S. Truman stated: "Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers."  The National Endowment of the Arts released To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence in 2007 that took into account a multitude of research studies on reading and the lifelong benefits of reading (especially voluntary reading) are numerous and consistent across the board. The Harvard Business Review and the New York Times have both published articles proclaiming that reading makes you smarter, more successful, andmore empathetic.

*If you want more research (and who doesn't) I recommend Stephen Krashen's book The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research

Of Course, I am not a stat person. I am a totally emotional, touchy-feely, books are my life type of person. It is great that reading leads to success but this short video sums up the more important reasons that we need to take the remote or computer mouse out of our children's hands and replace it with a book.

Ok, let's get back to the whole point of this blog which is: My child hates to read and what can I do to change it?

First off, the point is frequently made that reluctant readers are not struggling or slow readers.  Well, in my opinion this is true and not true at the same time.

No matter how long students spend engaged in direct reading instruction, without time to apply what they learn in the context of real reading events, students will never build capacity as readers. Without spending increasingly longer periods of time reading, they won't build endurance as readers, either. Students need time to read and time to be readers.
                                                                                                    ~Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer

In other words, reading in school is not enough. Kids need to read just for the sake of reading outside of the classroom in order to become fluent readers. So how do you get them to do this without forcing them. I have struggled with this with Zane. I know that he needs to read at home, but I am scared that if I force him to do it he will just hate it more.      

The first step is to let your child choose what they want to read, where they want to read, and how they want to read.   Remember that your kids are already told what to read at school. If you want them to enjoy reading you need to give them the reigns and, trust me, I understand how difficult this can be for all of us control freak parents.  

Let me break down a few of these Reader's Rights.

1. The Right Not to Read
This probably seems counterintuitive. Isn't the whole point to get your kids to read? Well, think of it more as the right to stop and go do something else and come back later. Right now, Zane's nightly homework is to read for 20 minutes. For kids that do not like reading, though, 20 minutes can seem like an eternity. Break it up into more manageable chunks until your non-reader builds up some stamina. At our house, we have a mini indoor trampoline and Zane will read for 5-10 minutes and then go bounce for a few minutes.

2.3.8. The Right to Skip, Not Finish, or Dip In
These all kind of go together for me. Some books have boring parts or start out interesting, but dry up. Think about the bible. Does anyone read the verses with all of the "begats"? Or if you have ever read The Lord of the Rings trilogy you know that Tolkien can go off on some long tangents (like pages and pages of Elvish songs). Don't force your child to keep reading if it is boring. You are just going to make them feel like they are sitting in school reading a text book.

4. The Right to Read it Again
When my kids were little they each had their favorite books that they would listen to over and over and over and over. Zoe could recite The Giving Tree and I read James and the Giant Peach to her four times before she was six (Zoe had a freakish attention span and would listen to chapter books as a toddler). My oldest son, Zander, loved The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. The only two picture books that I could get Zane to listen to were Hop on Pop and The Monster at the End of this Book. The point is kids love familiarity so if they want to reread their favorite books or will only read a single series let them. I promise that eventually they will move on to something else. There are kids who come into the library that will only read American and Michigan Chillers or Junie B. Jones or Rainbow Magic and their parents will try to force them to pick out something else. and it just makes the kids more stubborn. I have read The Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter series, and countless other books multiple times so why would I tell my kids they cannot read their favorites again? Even when they are reading a book for the tenth time they are still immersing themselves in language and that is what matters.

5.The Right to Read Anything
This one is usually the hardest, because we (as in parents) tend to get overly concerned about grade level and whether or not our kids are meeting educational standards. Do you always read Literature with a capital L or do you like to relax with a good thriller or romance novel? Throw all those thoughts about what you think your child should be reading out the window and focus on what they want to read. 

Are they interested in a particular subject? Try nonfiction. Zane has checked out every book the library has on Monster Trucks. Definitely not what I am interested in, but he will actually sit and read it so who cares. Boys especially seem to love any nonfiction book that has gross facts, man eating beasts, or motors in it.

You can also try Graphic Novels. Let go of any preconceived notions or prejudices you may have against comic books.  There is a lot of great story telling in Graphic Novels and they have them for every interest and age level.

There are also books published that are referred to High Interest/Low Grade Level (Hi/Lo). These are books that are appealing to kids, but are shorter and easier to read then general fiction. I am a huge fan of the Branches books that are published by Scholastic. If you follow the link you will see that they have a great variety of Hi/Lo series to choose from. Don't worry that these might be too easy for your child. When a child truly dislikes reading giving them books that are challenging or take too long to read will just turn them off.

Michael Sullivan is a librarian and author who has written several books on reluctant readers and specifically boys who do not like to read. He has lots of great book recommendations as well as book reviews on his website so check it out if you need some fresh ideas.

The rest of the rights are pretty self-explanatory. My final words of wisdom for those of you like me with reluctant and unwilling readers is: Don't give up hope! 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Comic Books? Graphic Novels? Graphic Literature?

Growing up, comic books were silly and fun but not serious reading. In fact most people thought  you were not truly reading if you read a comic book. 
Now graphic novels are taking on their own legitimacy from Superman to Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tale's series. Graphic novels are a great tool to teach complicated subjects, such as World War I (Nathan Hale's Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood).  They also deal with higher level thinking skills like crisis resolution, problem solving, internal conflict and life lessons (Seconds). Even the "fun" comics like  Batman Li'l Gotham, which is compromised of various short stories that often start out with a good vs evil them but ends with a  twist., the story stays with you and you wonder what you would do if you were in the same situation as the "bad" guy. 
If you are interested in comics or your children are but you don't know where to start, visit result for no flying no tights images 
*even though the picture says graphic novels for teens, they have reviews for kids and adults too! 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Perfect Pairings

Sometimes there are two things that you love, and you can't help but dream that they will someday come together to make something wonderful.  "Hey!  I like bacon and I like fudge . . . what if there were fudge with pieces of bacon in it!"  Or perhaps you think "I love the library and I love watching movies . . . what if they library showed movies!"  (By the way, we do show movies at the library--check out our calendar for details.  
Well, I'm beyond excited because two of my favorite teen fantasy writers--Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater--are collaborating on a new book, Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures.  Stiefvater has many wonderful books . . . the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, The Raven Cycle, and even one of the Spirit Animals books that I wrote about in a previous post.  She creates characters that you can't help but care about, and her plot twists boggle my mind.  Pearce wrote a gorgeous book called Sisters Red, which is a fairy tale retelling.  This book was all I could think about or talk about for weeks after reading it.  Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures comes out at the end of April . . . look for it at the library!