Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Guest Post: I was a Reluctant Reader

Today's Parent Post is by my friend, Martha Rodriguez. Her books, A Reel Cool Summer, Smell My Feet! 10 Seriously Silly and Sweet Short Stories for Squirtsand What about Barnaby? are a delightful stories with fun well-defined characters. When Martha wrote about being a reluctant reader, I knew I had to talk her into letting me use it here. Thanks, Martha!

I was a Reluctant Reader. There, I said it!
I've been hearing and reading quite a bit about reluctant readers lately. I've found that some of the folks talking or writing about the subject weren't reluctant readers themselves, but have children or know others who are. I was a reluctant reader as a child so I thought I would address the topic from my perspective.

Come to think of it, I’m probably still a reluctant reader. When I buy or borrow a book you can be sure that I have researched it thoroughly before taking the plunge. I won’t just pick something up and give it a try because I know that I probably won’t get past the first few pages. This has been true for a long time.

I remember reading the Dick and Jane books as a child, but I’m not sure those books count because they were required reading in my first few years of school. And, yes, I read Dr. Seuss books and some of the other books that were popular, like Caps for Sale and the Curious George books. If my memory serves me correctly, I remember that those books were just “okay.” You’re probably upset with me right now and I’ll probably get some interesting comments for writing that.

I read those books because they were familiar and easy to read, not because I couldn't put them down. I read them because they were always easily available in my elementary school classroom, not because I always had to have a book in hand. I read them because they were the books that the librarians propped up on the shelves, not because it was a read or die situation.

I’m not saying that they weren't and aren't wonderful books. They have stood the test of time and are terrific books loved by all. What I’m saying is that I was not a reader. There were a few rare occasions when I picked up a book, like Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl or Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life, and read it cover to cover in one or two sittings but that was quite rare.

What was wrong with me? Nothing. Who was to blame? Not a single person.

I just preferred to play hopscotch outside with friends, play with Barbie dolls, or watch television. Some of you will recall that we used to do those things back in the dinosaur age… I mean in the 70’s. I’m sure that my parents, teachers and librarians tried everything they could to spark a love of reading in me, but it just wasn't happening. The only time I ever thought about reading was when there was a reading assignment and a subsequent report due. My thoughts were mostly of how horrible the whole ordeal would be. What could I do about it? Nothing, just read the book and do the assignment. I disliked (we weren't allowed to say “hated” in my family) every minute of it.

Does everyone like peas and carrots or jumping out of an airplane? No. So, is it possible that not everyone likes reading? I know, it seems weird that I’m asking that, especially because I just wrote a children’s book!

Well, the truth is that we would all be very happy if everyone liked to read but the reality is that not everyone does. Yes, reading plays a critical role in expanding vocabulary and comprehension, in unleashing imagination and creativity, and in growing curiosity in children. The problem is that it can’t be forced on someone any more than you can force a person to eat their peas and carrots (believe me, my parents tried and somehow I always found a little hiding place for them) or to jump out of an airplane (my husband would like to try to convince me but knows better).

So, what do we do? We keep trying just like my parents, teachers, and librarians did because we want to give our kids the best we can. It takes a bit of patience and some imagination to find the right fit for each child but if you can get that spark, it’s all worth it.

I’m not a teacher or a librarian and I certainly don’t play one on TV, but as a reluctant reader and the mom of a somewhat reluctant reader, let me give you some ideas that I've used successfully.

1. Books you enjoyed as a child: Read to your child the books you enjoyed as a child or young adult. Tell them why you liked the books, where you read them (in a fort you built in your room, for example), how you came upon the books, and who read them with you (mom, dad, grandma, grandpa).
2. Books that interest your child: Always be ready to read books that interest them, even if they don’t necessarily interest you. This one can be tough. Remember it’s not about you; it’s about your child and that spark you want to create.
3. Picture books and books with pictures: When children are very young, picture books are wonderful because, while the child may not yet be able to read, the pictures are fun for little ones to look at. They will probably memorize the story before they can read the words. Once they are able to read the story, they will enjoy the book in a completely different way. In a funny twist, small children may also like books that are not necessarily meant for children but that have colorful pictures. You can relay the information in the text by tailoring it to their comprehension level. Make up stories for the pictures until they are old enough to understand the actual text.
4. Different genre: Read all types of books with your child to find out which ones he or she likes best. If one genre isn't appealing, try something new as long as it is age and reading level appropriate. Historical fiction, current events (even newspapers, magazines and on-line blogs or articles) and biographies may interest him or her.
5. Sports and animals: Children’s sports magazines with interviews of favorite athletes may encourage a child to read more about a particular sport or her favorite team member. Likewise, animal magazines usually feature unusual creatures and their unusual lives. It’s a fun peek into another world and a reason to find more reading material of the cool animals featured.
6. School topics: Find books or fun workbooks about topics your child likes in school like math or science. Even fun workbooks require reading comprehension, writing and focus. When the problems are fun to solve, they will most likely look for harder ones to challenge themselves. Even young children like to peek under secret flaps or follow a winding road to find their favorite characters.
7. Magic or science kits: Magic and science experiment kits are a great way to get your hands on reading and a great way to show what you can do with a magic wand or a test tube.
8. Comic books: Age appropriate comic books are fun. The pictures are detailed and engaging and allow children to escape to different worlds. It’s fun to imagine living in a strange world of superheroes with superpowers. Children may even be encouraged to write their own adventures.
9. Mad Libs: Fill-in-the-blank books like Mad Libs and others are a fun way to be silly and giggly. They won’t even know they’re reading and… added bonus, writing. They can even try to write their own fill-in-the-blank stories.
10 Board games: Play board games with age appropriate trivia questions. If your child doesn't know the answer, it can be fun to explore on-line or at your local library for the answer or to learn more about the topic.
11. Cooking, crafting, exploring: Find cooking or craft activities to do together or go exploring in your back yard with a bug book and magnifying glass or a telescope and astronomy book.
12. Plays and movies: Buy or borrow books of plays and help the kids put on a production for family and friends or make a movie. Sometimes getting into costume can make reading fun.
13.  Scavenger Hunts:  Pick a theme, like movies, books, or video games, and hide items related to the theme.  Then write up some silly (and long-winded) clues or hints to where the items may be hidden and let the hunt begin.  Another great way to do a scavenger hunt is to give the kiddos a list of items and ask them to take pictures of the items (a mall, a park, and the beach are great places to do it this way).  Then, ask them to write a story about the pictures. You mean they'll be writing, too?  Now that's cool!   

Don’t stop there. Ask your child’s teacher or librarian for more ideas, be a good example by reading books for pleasure, listen carefully to your child when he tells you why he likes or dislikes certain books, and relax and let him or her take the lead from time to time. You never know… she may write a book some day!
Safety first! Parents should always supervise children when working with science kits, cooking and crafting, or when going on-line.

Until next time… stay cool!

Martha's Bio:

Martha Rodriguez
Author and Publisher

Martha Rodriguez is the author of the children’s books A Reel Cool Summer, Smell My Feet! 10 Seriously Silly and Sweet Short Stories for Squirts, and What about Barnaby?  She is also the owner of Read To Me Publishing, LLC.

Martha was born in Havana, Cuba and immigrated to the United States with her family at the age of three.  She is a wife and the mother to three awesome kids.  Like most moms, she has had many years of experience answering the question, “We’re bored, what can we do?"  One answer to that question brought about the story behind A Reel Cool Summer where her real kids are the characters!

Smell My Feet! is a collection of short stories, for children ages 7-10, which she original published on her blog.  An angel, a hero, and a cute dog named Charlie are some of the characters you'll meet.  Don't be surprised if you recognize yourself, a crazy uncle, or a friend in one of them.

What about Barnaby? is Martha's first middle-grade fiction book about two friends who try to solve the mystery of Barnaby the dog's disappearance.  Neighborhood friends chip in to help the boys find Mr. Jensen's mutt.  Will a new detective agency be born?

Martha enjoys visiting elementary schools in person and through Skype to help kids get excited about reading and writing!

She has been active in her church as well as her children’s schools, volunteering wherever her talents were in demand. She is a supporter of literacy initiatives and has been a volunteer Adult Literacy Tutor with Literacy Volunteers of Leon County (LVLC). She served on the Board of Directors of LVLC from 2008-2011 as a member, the Vice President, and as Fundraising Committee Chair.

Martha and her husband, Jose, live in Tallahassee, Florida.

Thanks again, Martha - great stuff!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Tornado! Hurricane! Survival! Books to Make Your Heart Race

Do you like exciting stories based on serious weather? Do you like to read about tornadoes and hurricanes? Then this bunch of books is for you. 

 Storm Runners  by Roland Smith
Chase and his father live on the road, traveling to natural disasters. His father works making repairs for people who have been devastated by the storms. In Florida, they wind up at the winter quarters of a circus just as a monster hurricane bears down. When the storm strikes, Chase's school bus is swept off the road. This is a fast moving story that I couldn't put down. At first, I was disappointed to learn the adventure didn't wrap up by the end of the book.  But then I realized it just gave me 2 more books to look forward to:
Storm Runners #2: The Surge
Storm Runners #3: Eruption

By reading this book, you experience a tornado, a hurricane and a flood. Every few pages you’ll be asked to decide what to do next. Warning: not every choice turns out well!

 Saint Louis Armstrong Beach  by Brenda Woods
Saint Louis Armstrong Beach is the name of an almost-12-year-old boy. He is a skilled clarinet player and makes money playing for people on the streets of New Orleans. Told in first person, he tells about his experiences before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. It’s a terrific story that is very well told.
Another story similar to this one and also terrific: Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

 A Storm Called Katrina  by Myron Uhlberg, illustrated by Colin Bootman
10-year-old Louis Daniel thinks the worst of the storm is over when the wind and rain of Hurricane Katrina stops. But then the water starts to rise in his neighborhood. Daniel and his parents make their way to shelter – with Daniel and his mother sitting on the top of a broken-off porch as his father pushes them through the chest-high water. This picture book shows the flooding and the chaos without being too frightening.


 Tornadoes: The Science behind Terrible Twisters  by Alvin and Virginia Silverstein and Laura Silverstein Nunn
This book gives just what the title says: information about what tornadoes can do and why they happen. There are lots of pictures to show the impact of tornadoes, plus clear diagrams to explain the science. Also in this series:
Hurricanes: The Science behind Killer Storms
Earthquakes: The Science behind Seismic Shocks and Tsunamis

 Tornado! The Story behind These Twisting, Turning, Spinning, and Spiraling Storms  by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin
This is a National Geographic Kids book and includes many excellent pictures of tornadoes in action and the damage they create. It’s well constructed so if you want lots of information, you can read it all. But it also works if you just want to see the pictures, read the captions and the boxes of interesting tornado facts.

Saving Animals from Hurricanes by Stephen Person (sorry, no link)
When New Orleans flooded after Hurricane Katrina, people weren’t the only ones who were in danger. Their pets were in danger, too. The rescue teams in this book searched the flood waters to find cat, dogs, hamsters and other pets and brought them to safety. This book is part of the Rescuing Animal from Disasters series from Bearport Publishing.

Some of you may have experienced a hurricane or a tornado. I bet it was very difficult and I hope everything turned out well for you and your family.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fun Author Websites

This week and last I told you about lots of picture books. Many of the authors and illustrators have their own websites. Here are 4 of them.

Louise Yates (A Small Surprise
This website has lots of information about Louise Yates books and her artwork. For activities, click on Activities and Events and then on Activities.

This site has information about Laura Vaccaro Seeger, her books and a couple of cool book trailers.

Henry Cole (Unspoken)
Henry Cole has written lots of books and illustrated a ton more. I’m pleased to see I have lots more Henry Cole books to discover! The Games button has puzzles, a memory game and a painting activity. Henry’s Gallery has lots of Henry Cole’s artwork.

Olivia the Pig (Olivia and the Fairy Princesses)
This site has crafts, recipes, coloring and other fun stuff. Click on the Fun with Olivia button.

What are some of your favorite authors and illustrators? You can Google their names and see if they have their own websites.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Making Literacy Connections with Picture Books

Last week, I listed lots of reasons why picture books are outstanding tools for boosting literacy. Today, I offer a few suggestions as to how to use picture books to enhance your child’s (and your own) enjoyment.

When making connections, readers tie what they read to personal experiences or to other reading, in order to increase their understanding of themselves, other books, and life itself. This is something enthusiastic and experienced readers do automatically. They read something and think, “Oh, this makes me think of when I …”

For example, in Ezra Jack Keats A Whistle for Willie (my favorite Keats book), Peter tries and tries to whistle. Any child can relate to such repeated attempts to master a skill.

When reading a book together, try modeling this by saying something like, “When I read that part, it made me think of when I ...” Or, “This makes me think of that book we read…”

As you read, you can comment and/or pose questions about the story.

About the text
I wonder what [a character] will do next?
Where do you think [a character] is going?
Who did that?
Why did [a character] do that?

Not so simple:
I wonder why [a character] seems so sad?
What message is the author trying to give?
What is your opinion about this?
Do you like this character? Why?
Do you like the ending? How would you change it?
Why might this story be scary (funny, confusing…) to some kids? To some adults?

About the illustrations
What season is this? How can you tell?
How many ___ are there in this picture?
What picture might be on the next page?
Where is the___?
After reading: What is your favorite illustration? Why?

Not so simple:
I wonder why the illustrator used such dark (bright, pale…) colors?
What do you think is the most important thing in this illustration? What makes it important?
How can you tell that car (girl, dog…) is going fast (feeling sad, is sleeping…)?

CAUTION: We adults tend to overdo the questions. The last thing we want is to make reading together at home seem like a chore. Be aware of your child’s reactions to your questions. Remember, our goal is to show that reading is fun.

Encourage your child to ask his own questions. Try asking your child to think of teacher-type questions for you. Pretending to be the teacher can be great fun and encourages a different type of thinking.


What does your family like to do when you are reading picture books together? Write them in the Comments box!

Monday, February 18, 2013

More Picture Books to Delight the Whole Family

As promised, here are some more picture books. Did you miss last week's books? Click here.

 Ish by Peter H. Reynolds
Ramon loves to draw. He draw everything and everywhere. That is, until his big brother makes a comment and he loses all confidence in his drawing. When his sister helps him see things a different way, everything changes.

 NO by Claudia Rueda
I remember when going to bed was the last thing I wanted to do. There was no good reason, right? Little bear feels the same way and has good answers for each of his mother’s arguments. But then… The illustrations are really nice and show a very snowy winter.

 Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg
Clever, clever, clever! And inspiring. A drip of paint? Ripped paper? A smudge and a smear? All things to celebrate. I don’t know what I like better, the idea behind this oops-are-beautiful book or the incredibly neat way it’s put together.

 Pig on the Titanic: A True Story by Gary Crew, illustrated by Bruce Whatley
Although this story is narrated by a wind-up musical pig, it is actually based on a true story. When Miss Edith Rosenbaum boarded the Titanic, she was carrying Maxixe, a wind-up pig that played music. When the Titanic started to sink, Miss Edith held onto her pig, knowing it was good luck. Together, Miss Edith and Maxixe helped many kids get on the rescue boat.

 Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
When a new girl, Maya, comes to her school, Chloe ignores her. Maya is friendly, but Chloe doesn’t like her raggedy clothes. Chloe’s teacher shows them how stones dropped in water create ripples, like how small kindnesses can create change. Chloe is ashamed and hopes for a chance to be different. This is a powerful book.

 Secret Agent Splat by Rob Scotten
Splat’s dad makes toy ducks. When some of them turn up missing and then reappear (missing their beaks), Splat becomes Secret Agent Splat. Splat and his mouse friend Seymour work to solve the mystery. The illustrations are a riot.

 Spork by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Spork lives in a world of spoons and forks. As much as he tried, he never really fit in – he was either too pointy or too round. Trying to change did not help at all. Then one day… This is a terrific story with perfect illustrations.

 The Insomniacs by Karina Wolf, illustrated by The Brothers Hilt
Some people have a hard time sleeping at night and they are called insomniacs. This family, Mika and her parents, have insomnia. They try to cure it but in the end, they decide to change their lives instead. The illustrations are kind of spooky but in a good way.

I'll keep collecting picture books to tell you about (maybe in May?) Next week - Books to Make Your Heart Race!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Celebrate Presidents' Day with Fun Activities

Presidents' Day is this Monday. Here are some ideas for game,s party ideas, crafts, printables and food ideas. Have a great day!

Crafts and printables

Presidents' Day Games from Primary Games 
Online Presidents’ Day games.

I’ve never thought to have a Presidents’ Day party before, but these ideas sound pretty fun. There are activities and food ideas.

Crafts, activities, games and printables.

President's Day Activities from
Crafts, treats and games.

Crafts and coloring pages.

Happy Presidents' Day from A Kid’s Heart 
Online games and puzzles.

I hope you enjoy these!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Using Picture Books to Boost Literacy Skills

As I've said over and over in this blog, picture books are NOT just for little ones. Picture books are key to any literacy program (at home and at school). At least once a year, I just have to post about the many benefits of picture books for all ages. If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you will probably recognize many of these points.

Since the last time I wrote about the glories of picture books, I have started a reading and writing club at a local after-school program. I show up with a bag full of picture books and we take turns reading them aloud. We then use them as sparks for our own writing. My group of 2nd – 6th graders are an inspiration to me and each other.

Picture books offer so many things to so many readers. Some of the benefits include:

They are fun. Picture book authors know how to deliver a great story in few words and lively language. The illustrations provide another layer of energy, wonderment and delight.

They are motivating. Pictures draw us in and make us want to read on. Books without pictures can do this, too, but not unless we’re already hooked on the power of books.

They are easy to follow. Picture books tend to have straightforward plots. If there are twists, the pictures usually lead you down the right path. These plots invite retelling. I can’t tell you how many times my students have acted out the plots from picture books just because they were simple and easy to recall and of course, fun.

They often introduce new vocabulary and expressions. Picture books seldom use restricted vocabulary, such as early readers use. The authors use whatever language and vocabulary they need to tell their stories and often let the illustrations illuminate the meaning.

They introduce a variety of writing styles, authors, and illustrators. This can provide models for young writers to try in their own stories. When teaching writing, I often used picture books as models.

They provide an excuse to stay close. Reading aloud a chapter book with no pictures can be done from the other side of the room. Picture books demand to be seen. Sitting close is the only way to go.

They provide windows to complex subjects and ideas. Well-written picture books can introduce, clarify, raise questions, challenge and spark interest in all kinds of subjects: science, history, philosophy, emotions, math, attitudes, cultures…

Picture books rock! Next week I’ll offer a few suggestions as to how to use picture books to enhance your child’s (and your own) reading and book enjoyment.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Picture Books to Delight the Whole Family

Some picture books are written for the youngest children.They give perfect windows into the wonders of books. They may not appeal to older kids but they are wonderful for the younger kids.

Today's books are for everyone. I share them with my elementary and middle school friends. I also share them with my adult friends. Why? They are just delightful - a terrific reason to share books!

 A Small Surprise by Louise Yates
A circus puts out a Jobs Available sign, but the sign says, “small animals need not apply.” A bunny, who is very small, applies anyway and proves he is perfect for a circus job. This is a wonderful story about small is good and the illustrations are hilarious.

 Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Green is a book about a very simple subject – the color green. But… it’s not all that simple. Green is quite complex, when you really look at it. There’s forest green, sea green, slow green (inch worm). Most pages have cutouts that make it even more interesting.

 Good News Bad News by Jeff Mack
Rabbit and Mouse are going for a picnic – good news. It starts to rain – bad news. And the good news – bad news continues. Can their friendship last through all the bad news? Only 3 words are used throughout the whole book: good, bad, news. Outstanding illustrations!

 Oink-A-Doodle-Moo by Jef Czekaj
Pig says to Rooster, “Psst. I have a secret. Oink. Pass it on.” So Rooster passes on the message, but adds his own message, “Oink-a-doodle-doo.” And so the message gets passed around the farm until it gets to poor dog who is burdened with a really long message. Very funny. This is a funny – but hard! – read-aloud.

 Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole
I have a fondness for wordless books that tell their stories without words because words just aren’t needed. This book tells the story of a girl who secretly helps out someone who is fleeing from slavery. It is a beautiful book.

 Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer
You’ve got to love Olivia and her independent thinking. This time, she’s annoyed all the other girls want is to be princesses. Olivia, on the other hand, has lots of more creative ideas. She is really quite wonderful.

 Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta, illustrated by Ed Young
This is a real page-turner! I found each page exciting and although really wanted to look at each one carefully, first time through, I kept flipping quickly to see what was happening. By the way, the picture the ninja sees as he is sneaking through the house (the page that says he balanced and leapt) is hanging on my wall at home!

 A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead
Toad was out looking for interesting things when he finds Bird. Bird never speaks but Toad is determined to find his new friend a home. Toad takes Bird to lots of new homes but nothing works out until one day… This is a very charming book.

Hooray! I have more picture books next week!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Online Games for Valentine's Day

Last Friday, I gave lots of  Funny Jokes for Valentine's Day. Today's Friday Fun is a list on online games to play for Valentines Day. Enjoy!

games and puzzles

games, puzzles and clipart

games and online coloring

games and puzzles

How will you be celebrating Vlentine's Day this year? Write about it in the Comments Box!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

MORE Literacy Ideas for a Fun Valentine's Day

This week’s Valentine’s Day post has lots of literacy-boosting activities to try at home: coloring pages, songs, finger plays  word searches, writing ideas and more.

Word Searches – You can find Valentine’s Day word searches online but creating your own is a better literacy idea.
  • Brainstorm a list of Valentine’s Day words.
  • Give each family member a piece of graph paper to create his own puzzle.
  • On the graph paper, write the letters of each word in the squares.
  • Fill in the unused squares with random letters.
  • Exchange searches.

V-A-L-E-N-T-I-N-E Words
Using the letters in Valentine, create other words. Examples: lend, tin, live… If you want, you can make it a contest to see who gets the most words. You can also give extra credit for longer words.

Simple writing prompts for Valentine's Day from Reading Rockets,  plus a few of my own
  • Coupon Book Create a Valentine's Day coupon book for a family member or friend, full of simple things you will do to show your love and friendship.
  • Letter Write a letter to your Mom, Dad, grandparent, brother, or sister telling them why you love them.
  • Personal Memory Describe a time when you felt especially loved.
  • Acrostic Poems Write an acrostic poem using a word like MOM, FRIEND, LOVE, or VALENTINE. Try this interactive acrostic learning tool from ReadWriteThink [very cool].
  • Conversation Heart Poems Choose the heart(s) you want to use (or pick randomly, without looking). Glue down the hearts, leaving space for your own lines in between.
  • Conversation Heart Stories Start with one or more conversation hearts. Let them be the dialogue in a story.
  • Want to know more about conversation hearts? All about Conversation Hearts

Valentine Word Scrambles
Make your own with your brainstormed words or try these:


Cool heartbeat demonstration
In A Heartbeat I love this! 

Valentine’s Day Coloring Pages


Valentine’s Day Activities
Imagination Tree      

I hope you haven’t maxed-out on Valentine’s Day yet because this Friday I have Jokes for Valentine's Day coming on Friday!