Wild About Reading Books

We love reading books in this house. We also love reading books outside, on the bus, while we’re walking, and even in the parked minivan in the garage.

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Van Reading

Graphic Novels

The book that has captured the attention of this van reader is a graphic novel in the Amulet series. He got book 4 in his Scholastic order, and the older brother got book 5. They’ve both read both books in one day!! That’s the problem and the benefit with graphic novels, I guess. Easy to read, and too easy to read.

The kids are devouring these books, so if you’re looking for something that interests graders 4-6, get your hands on Amulet soon.

Graphic novels are such a good transition from picture book to the meatier picture-free novel. But novels still work in read-aloud format, like picture books. I think that’s one big problem with graphic novels, they can’t be read aloud. Or, they can’t be read aloud and enjoyed like other books.

And though my kids are all gaining very secure footholds in the reading world, picture books are still a source of enjoyment. Recently, I cleaned out two shelves of picture books with my youngest and we had a chance to notice and comment on our favorites.

Picture Books

I think Wild About Books might be my favorite picture book. The kids love it, but it’s so well-written I think adults love reading it, too. Well, bibliophilic adults do. And my favorite part of the book is the insect zoo haiku part is my favorite part of favorites.

The witty puns, the clever word choice, the clever insect choice! It all comes together so effortlessly that I am willing to bet she spent days working on this part.

I feel a sort of familiar pain when the scorpion delivers the harsh, and sometimes true, critiques of the insect haikus. But to be a writer, one needs a thick skin…or chitin.

I love reading this story aloud.

 

 

Graphic Novels About Growing Up

Graphic novels are so hot right now. When I was growing up, I only remember reading Maus, a story about mice in World War 2. But now graphic novels about growing up are all the rage.

Graphic Novels We Have Loved

My oldest first read a graphic novel version of The Red Pyramid, then dove into a graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time. Then we both loved Roller Girl and El Deafo. After that, both boys plowed through all four Reina Telgmeier books: Smile, Sisters, Drama, and Ghosts. For Christmas, my oldest got the first book in the Amulet series. He said it was scary, but wants to read the rest of the seven book series. We also read American Born Chinese, but I think a lot of the elements of that book were over the head of my middle son.

Reading Reina’s books helped my fourth grade identify which kids in his class thought it was ok to make fun of gay people. I love that the majority of the graphic novels they have read have female protagonists. And in some cases, the books don’t tell incredibly grand stories. Instead they highlight the everyday challenges of growing up.

Now I am no illustrator, but for fun I’ve decided to create an graphic novel of my sixth grade year.

I’m aiming for six pages that highlight six things from sixth grade. I know many of my memories aren’t going to be positive, because sixth grade was a tough year.

I don’t have a catchy title yet, so for now I’m calling it 6th. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s honest.

6th

A graphic novel about sixth grade.

(Remember, illustration is NOT my forte.)

graphic novels

Friendships are hard in sixth grade.

 

graphic novels

So is fashion.

 

If you had to pick one year to make a graphic novel about from your life, what would it be?

Pig Out for Reading

I remember falling in love with reading.

I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade books the past year, because that’s what I want to write. I want to write books like the kind I read from fifth to eighth grade, the kind I re-read and re-re-read. They were the books that really stuck with me as I grew older and looked for new books to read. I loved the books, I loved the writers, I loved reading.

I have trouble remembering authors and titles sometimes, but I can remember how my books looked in my room. I didn’t have a traditional bookshelf in my room, but I had shelves in my closet and I can still picture the books stacked in there. I even remember keeping some books in the open shelf on my night stand.

Remembered Reading

I remember reading Dreams of VictoryA Dog Called KittySasha, My Friend, and Six Months to Live. And of course all of the Little House books. And a book series from the grocery store called Grandma’s Attic.

But I have forgotten the titles of other books I loved reading. I could only remember snippets.  I remembered I read about a woman who gets a young puppy as a companion for her older dog and the older dog dies on an adventure. Or something like that. And I remembered reading a book about a girl who’s mother went vegan in an attempt to be happier.The mom had recently gotten divorced. The daughter hated the new diet and tried to sabotage her mom. The two big scenes I remember reading involved the daughter drinking mustard and milk and finding mice eating the junk food she had hidden in her drawer. The mom and daughter finally come to a truce and a healthy balance of good food.

(I think that book may have influenced my current eating habits more than I realized.)

I wanted to find these books. I searched all over the internet using as many descriptive words as I could. I searched websites like BookFinder for out of print and old books, I searched Amazon for keywords. I searched Goodreads.

Buried Treasure

Goodreads was useful because users create lists like “kids books that were popular in the 80s” and that’s just what I was looking for.

On Goodreads, I was delighted to find some covers of one of my favorites!

reading

Six Months to Live was my first exposure to childhood disease. The main character has leukemia. Funny, maybe this book influenced me more than I realized, too, because I worked for the American Cancer Society for eight years before I moved to writing full time.

On a Goodreads list I also found a book that I know I read, but had forgotten. This was like discovering buried treasure.

But I still couldn’t find the book about the mom going on a health food kick, or the young puppy and old dog. I let my search fade while the rest of life took over, but I didn’t forget about it. Every once in awhile when I visited the library or an old bookstore, I’d poke around and see if a title or cover jogged my memory.

Then I got involved in cleaning out our basement. I wanted to get rid of our excess belongings for several reasons. I abhor hoarding. The thought of it gives me anxiety. Also, I wanted to move our workout equipment into our larger storage room so I could get more done. My cleanup was ruthless. If I had kept something in the basement so long I didn’t go looking for it, I didn’t need it. As a means of farewell, I did do a sweep through all the papers before I recycled them, and that’s when I found my real buried treasure. My Pig Out award.

Pig Out on Reading

reading award

I love to read.

In fifth grade, I wrote 86 book reports to help my class win a reading prize. While it was wonderful to win the prize thirty years ago, it was even better finding these book reports today. I was so, so grateful to my mom (and then me) for saving them until just this moment. (This is not a reason to horde things. Only keep stuff related to your passionate dream.)

I found the titles of those missing, beloved books. Here are some of my favorites:

Behind the Attic Wall

A Wrinkle in Time

A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Helen Keller

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great

I wrote reports on tons of Nancy Drew books and way too many Sweet Valley High books. Remember, I was going for quantity.

The Bunnicula series is in here, lots of Beverly Cleary books, some Choose Your Own Adventure and a book that gives me an unsettled feeling called The Twits, by Roald Dahl.

But the one about the mom and daughter and health food? It’s called Fifth Grade Secrets. Did you ever read it? I’ve got to find it.

I didn’t find the new dog/old dog book, but that might have been a story in my classroom SRA box. Did you have one of those?

 

New Books at Our Little Free Library

Our Little Free Library is really getting a lot of use! We get thank you notes frequently. I love seeing the books change over, noting which ones have found new homes, finding new ones that I didn’t add to the library appear. I do admit I feel a little bad for some books that never seem to get picked from the library.

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First Books

Did you ever write a book when you were a kid? Even a short one? As you can guess, I did. And so did a young writer in our neighborhood. The best part is that this young writer was able to put their book in our Little Free Library! It was incredibly inspiring to find this book by a young author in our library. I pictured how excited this little storyteller was when they placed their book in a real library for others to read. I hope other young writers share their books, too.

first books

NaNoWriMo

Speaking of writing books, it’s November. And you know what that means. Time to write a novel. Earlier in October, I shared some information about NaNoWriMo in the library. Only one person took a tear-off tab, but I’m hopeful that maybe some others visited the website and attempt to write their first (or second?) novel.

nanowire mo

I’m doing NaNoWriMo again this year. I know what kind of work it takes to “win” and write 50,000 words. Maybe in a few years one of my novels will be in a Little Free Library. But it won’t get there if it isn’t written, so it’s time for me to get to work. Let’s write!

 

Let’s Close the Word Gap

Ready to learn about the Word Gap?

I love to sneak learning into all parts of life. I’m a curious person, I can’t help it! My son asked if we could go on one vacation without learning things, and I answered with a maniacal laugh and a deep, sonorous NO. In this family, we love to learn!! And we talk about what we learn!!

Seriously, learning does not have to be boring. Learning can be fun if you do it the right way. And the right way is to make it into a game.

On car trips, when our kids were very little, we played rhyming games. They are all now school age so we will often play ‘Spelling Bee’ and give our kids funny words to spell at their grade level. We also keep a small but mighty trivia book tucked in a seat pocket and take turns passing it around and answering questions.

But let’s say you’re not on vacation and want some fun learning games for young kids. My first recommendation is BINGO. Yes, the classic game of Bingo is perfect to start playing with young kids (and older kids).

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Learning Numbers

When my oldest started kindergarten, I couldn’t wait to volunteer and help out. So as we neared Halloween, his wonderfully patient and experienced teacher invited me in to play a game with the class. I brought in our Bingo game set, complete with rolling ball and playing cards and red plastic markers. I started calling out letters and numbers and my son (and maybe a few other students) marked their cards. But most of the kids didn’t know what I meant when I called out double-digit numbers.

I felt embarrassed, but I also knew these kids could learn these numbers and that a game like Bingo was the perfect way to help them. We had been playing Bingo with our kids for a long time. If I hadn’t been so flustered, I could have written the numbers on the board and helping the kids look at their cards and match them up. I also could have done peer teaching and paired kids up.

Learning Words

It’s really important that kids learn their numbers, but it’s also important that they master our language and learn the parts of speech. Having a strong and varied vocabulary increases our ability to explain ourselves and understand others, to express complex thoughts and build connections between concepts and create new ideas. And that’s where Mad Libs comes in.

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Yes, Mad Libs. That old school paper book (not an e-device) that asks players to write in verbs, adjectives and nouns. The one where you couldn’t resist writing “butt” and “poop” at least a few times. It works.

My friend took a Mad Libs story into her son’s fourth grade class as a part of a holiday party and she was surprised how few kids could provide suggestions for the parts of speech. Standards in third grade already covered adjectives, adverbs and proper nouns! By fourth grade, students should be able to provide appropriate suggestions for those parts of speech. But even if they struggle, Mad Libs is a fun, non-academic way to encourage them to think about what kind of word is both grammatically logical but also hilariously out of place.

The Word Gap

Thinking about Mad Libs brings me back to the Word Gap. Simply put, kids from low income families are hearing and learning fewer words than kids from high income families. By age 3, kids from low income families are hearing 30 million fewer words. 30 million. And the discrepancy only increases as the kids age. It impacts these kids in terms of school success, which in turn impacts their chances of continuing education, job readiness, and the cycle of poverty.

A lack of words? It’s totally unfair.

It seems so bitterly unjust to me, someone who loves to talk and learn, that these children are already behind due to a lack of words. I try never to talk ‘down’ to children (or adults). But lots of people aren’t aware of this and say they aren’t sure what to say to kids. And sometimes when I take my children’s writing to more general critique groups, I get comments that my vocabulary is too high and I need to ‘dumb it down’ or ‘make it more kid friendly.’

But now you and I know being kid friendly means offering them more words, not less.

There are some amazing ideas out there. People are working to increase the number of words kids see, hear, read, learn and say. I’d love to contribute in some way to reduce the Word Gap. I’m going to keep thinking about it and I’m going to ask my kids what they think would work.

How would you reduce the Word Gap?

 

A Little Free Library – Finally!!

We finally have a Little Free Library in Tyler Park! About a year ago, I was in Minneapolis, MN, for a volunteer conference. While I was there, roaming around the very flat city, I walked by my very first Little Free Library. I had heard of these delightful book boxes, but never seen one.

As you can guess, I was incredibly inspired by the idea of sharing books with the community. I promised myself then and there I’d get one in our park. And it happened. Sure, it took over a year, but I never said I’d do it fast.

The Dream

First, I mentioned the idea to my neighbor on the board of our neighborhood association. Then I emailed the info to the board. After they approved the idea, they got approval from the township to install it in the park. Then I selected the design and ordered the LFL. It arrived in early June…and sat on my back deck for several months. I was sad about that, but there wasn’t much I could do. I’m not skilled with digging holes and pouring cement and I did not want this to be installed poorly.

I dreamed of the day the LFL would be ready. My husband and I visited the park often and debated where the best place would be to put it. We settled on a spot near the playground and the driveway. I often looked across the park and pictured it. But every time I tried to line up installation, scheduling or weather got in the way.

So at the bus stop one morning, I mentioned my dilemma to some other families, and a dad volunteered to help me out. And that Friday, we met at the park and dug in!

Installation

We had a little helper who loved to measure.

lfl6

While the LFL shipped with basic installation instructions, the steps were a lot more involved than I could implement at the park. We didn’t have electricity for sawing wood. So I purchased the installation materials based on a useful blog post I discovered at Hugs and Kisses and Snot. Their idea was genius in my opinion. All we needed was two mail box posts, cement and screws. I did a very good job holding the mailbox posts in place.

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It was so great learning tips and tricks from my very skilled neighbor. After we leveled the posts, I assumed we’d have to mix the cement in the bucket, but he pointed out it was just as easy to mix it right in the ground. That smoke is like magic!!

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We let the cement set for a day. Bright and early Saturday morning my neighbor secured the LFL onto to the posts with a kind of construction glue and screws. Then the kids, my husband and I hustled over there with our big box of books and loaded it up.

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Little Free Library Opening Day

We didn’t have a huge Opening Day celebration. But the Little Free Library worked like a charm. My kids saw books that looked interested, grabbed them out of the LFL, and cracked them open. Perfect!lfl3It was very hard and very easy to make this dream come true. The Little Free Library is open in Tyler Park. I’ve checked on it every day since it opened. (Yes, I’m over eager) It’s exciting to see that people have taken books and left new ones! We even got a thank you note! It’s pretty thrilling.

Little Free Library

It’s funny, when I saw that Little Free Library in Minneapolis, I didn’t even open it. I remember I gazed at it longingly, but didn’t open the door or take out a book. I could have, of course, because the books in Little Free Libraries are available for anyone. But I realize now I thought those books were only for Minnesotans. So I declare now, if you visit  Tyler Park from you are allowed to take books from our Little Free Library!

Summer Reading Fun with Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

All school year I help my young kids log books. Our school has a program called Ross Reads and as the kids read books and pass quizzes online hosted by Scholastic, my kids earn prizes. They get colored rubber bracelets that signify their total of books read. They earn coupons for yogurt and local attractions. My kindergartener even earned tickets to a Washington Wild Things baseball game this year!!

And the reading doesn’t stop in summer. There are dozens of programs out there encouraging kids to read for rewards. At the library. At Half-Price Books. All summer I’m supposed to help them log books. When do I get a chance to earn rewards for reading??

Now.

reading

Bookmarks Up!

Finally, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh heard my woeful cry and offered a program for adults to earn prizes for reading. Their Summer Reading Log for 2016 is all online. That is perfect because it’s time consuming to drive across town to turn in a paper log. And I love that I am entered to win prizes for something I totally rock at doing: READING.

The program even offers suggestions for books I might like, but I don’t really need that aspect because my “To-Read” list on Goodreads is already a mile long and doesn’t even include the books that are stacked on my nightstand waiting to be read. I’ll read them all, I promise!

I really felt this program was designed just for me, but it turns out Carnegie Library wanted it to be easy for the whole city to read books and log their reading for rewards, so they challenged Pittsburghers to read 90,000 books before August 31, 2016. And we did it. I helped in my small way.

We Win!

We Win!

 

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Five Focal Points for Revising A Manuscript

I am training for a triathlon. That means I have to practice three different ways of racing: swimming, biking and running. Each one requires me to work on my form for that sport. But the form for each sport has lots of moving parts: arms, legs, head, neck, spine. When you’re practicing any of those, it’s hard to think about your entire form all at once. So I think about it parts. When I’m swimming, I’ll think about elbows one lap, or keeping my neck loose. When I’m biking I’ll work on relaxing my shoulders and leaning forward for a half mile at a time. When I’m running, I’ll work on my forward lean for 2 minutes, then knee lift for the next two.

The same goes for writing and for revising a manuscript.

It’s hard to think about all of it, all at once. So try breaking it into parts.

In May, I attended an agent workshop hosted by my local SCBWI chapter. I spent the most time with Vicki Selvaggio from the Jennifer de Chiara agency. In final presentation of the weekend, she suggested each of us go back through our manuscripts and read it over five times. Each time through, she offered a different focal point for us to consider. Because it’s hard to revise your manuscript and think about all the important pieces all at once.

Here are the five focal points she suggested for revising a manuscript:

  1. Make an X in the manuscript whenever you get bored, a character says the same thing more than once, you’re confused, or you see a tell vs. a show.
  2. Make an X if a scene, page or chapter doesn’t move the story forward, if it doesn’t end when the story is over, if there’s a main character change or if the theme isn’t clear.
  3. Make an X if it’s not written in a unique voice, if someone doesn’t have an important role, if they dialogue tags are too visible (“said” is just fine).
  4. Make an X if your story is missing sensory details, if the story feels like it’s in a void, if you haven’t mentioned how things look, sound, smell, taste, feel, if you can combine setting details with action.
  5. Make an X where you start paragraphs the same way, if you can avoid “-ing” verbs, if you can avoid double verbs, if you can remove adverbs, or other weak words.

Before you tackle this, she suggests letting the story sit at least a month. I’m well overdue for revising my manuscript, so I have to get started making x’s right now!

 

Read it five separate times. Revising a manuscript

Read it five separate times!

Does Watching the Movie First Make Kids Better Readers?

Lots of parents don’t let their kids watch the movie versions of popular books before their children read the books. I’ve heard this about Lord of the Rings, Divergent, Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and more.

I totally see the logic of this. Parents are worried their children won’t read the books if they’ve already seen the movie.

I want readers in my family, too. But we probably sound a little crazy and lazy to other families, because I let our kids watch the movies before they read the books. In fact, I often encourage it. I think it’s a great way to for my children to find stories that interest them and that it actually encourages them to read more instead of reading less.

Recently, I let my kids watch entire collection of Harry Potter movies. And you know what? Watching the movie first might have made my kids better readers, because after the movie they only wanted to read the books more.

harry potter spell

Imperious doesn’t work when it comes to making kids better readers

My oldest son, who is 11, had already read the first four a few months ago but after the movies he was even more motivated to read the final three. He was so interested, he actually went back to the beginning and plowed all the way through the entire series of books. My middle son, who is only eight years old picked up the first book and is now almost finished the fourth book. My middle son was actually more excited about reading the books after seeing the movies because he wanted to know more of what happened. Instead of going from the rich, detailed book world to the skim-and-dip experience of a two-hour movie experience, he went the other direction. He went from the brief, delightful movie experience and dove into the fully fleshed out magical book world of Harry Potter with extra scenes and extended dialogue and an imaginative setting. He loves pointing out things he didn’t understand in the movies that are now clear to him because of the detailed book.

Movies Before Books

I did try it the reverse once, with the classic book The Last Unicorn. I read that book out loud to my sons over the course of many weeks. They were transfixed and captivated by the unicorn’s search for her lost people. When we finished, I announced that we could now watch the movie. At the end of the ninety minutes, all they did was talk about the parts of the book left out of the movie.

“If I watched the movie first,” my middle son declared, “I would want to read the book right away to learn what I had missed.”

I totally think the books are always better than the movies. Truly. And I want to reiterate that I get that parents are looking for ways to make their kids better readers. But parents might not realize their well-intentioned plan can backfire.

Look at this way: Did you ever play a sport as a kid? Did you ever have to run laps as punishment for something you or your team did wrong? Did it make you love running? Sure, it made you stronger as an athlete but it became a punishment, not a reward. Many adults still think about laps with loathing and dread running. Reading shouldn’t be the same thing.

It’s possible that when parents say kids must read the books before getting to enjoy the “more desirable” result of viewing the movie, parents are turning reading into a chore. If they make it task or duty to be suffered before getting to the fun movie, parents should think about whether they are really encouraging a love of reading or sabotaging their own goals.

Were you allowed to see movies before books as a kid? Did it make you more or less of a reader?

What other ways do you find helps make kids better readers?