Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Lightning Thief: Now a Major Motion Picture

"Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood.

If you're reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.

Being a half-blood is dangerous. It's scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways.

If you're a normal kid, reading this because you think it's fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for being able to believe that none of this ever happened.

But if you recognize yourself in these pages -- if you feel something stirring inside -- stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it's only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they'll come for you.

Don't say I didn't warn you."

So opens the first chapter of The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. The Lightning Thief has been out since 2005, so it isn't new, but a host of children who were too young to read it when it was initially released may be draw to it once the movie comes out on February 12.

The premise of the story is that Percy Jackson is a demigod--half human, half Olympian god. This makes him a target for every "mythical" monster ever thrown out by Greek Mythology. At the beginning of the story, he is unaware of his parentage. Severely ADD and dyslexic, he's been thrown out of every school he's ever attended, usually because of some bizarre incident that lands him in trouble. Finally sent to a school for troubled kids in upstate New York, Percy is on his last chance -- if he's thrown out of Yancy Academy, who knows where he'll go next?

On a class field trip, his pre-algebra teacher morphs into a hideous monster bent on killing Percy. With some assistance from his Latin teacher, Percy manages to vaporize her with a magical sword. After this incident, no one seems to have noticed a thing. Percy knows something is going on, but can't even begin to fathom what. Returning home, he learns from his mother that his father was Poseidon, god of the sea. Once he knows who he is, he becomes the focus for more monsters, and is pursued all the way to Camp Half-Blood, a camp for demigods on Long Island. Here he meets Annabeth, a daughter of Athena, and Luke, son of Hermes, and learns the legend of Thalia's pine tree, which guards the camp from monsters.

The rest of the book is a romp: loads of action, lots of monsters turning up here and there, a quest to recover Zeus' Master Bolt, a secret prophecy involving a child of the Big Three (Zeus, Poseidon, Hades), and a plot to overthrow Olympus which will be the foundation for the rest of the series. Riordan has a gift for humor; Percy is wry and funny and fatalistic -- the characters often find irony in whatever bizarre situations they're confronted with. They're fast, entertaining reads and will appeal to boys and girls alike.

These are books for 9-14 year olds -- Percy is 11 when the series begins, and like Harry Potter, he ages a year with each new book. The books assume the existence of the Olympian gods, and while they don't go into any specifics, the promiscuity of those gods is a central theme. If you studied mythology in high school, you know that the Greek gods seldom resisted a pretty face; Greek myths are littered with their illegitimate children. Since most of the gods were also married, all of these connections are adulterous, though the book doesn't really comment on their morality (or lack thereof). There is perhaps a tacit commentary in that one of the themes running through the entire series is that of demigods who don't know their parentage because their immortal parent hasn't claimed them. This is always presented as a painful thing, which is as it should be.

Much of the Greek mythology is going to go over most kids' heads. Since I taught mythology, I thoroughly enjoyed how Riordan managed to bring many of the mythological characters into the present day -- I particularly liked "Auntie M's," the burger joint and statue shop -- what a great way to use Medusa (who, you will remember, turned people into stone with her hideous face). Here, she lures them in with greasy burgers and fries and then asks to "take their picture." She is heavily veiled to hide her face, but the kids assume she's Middle Eastern. Brilliant.

Each subsequent book does much the same thing, updating Greek myths for the modern world. In book 3, we learn that the sea of monsters travelled by Odysseus has been relocated in the modern world to the Bermuda Triangle -- so that's why all those ships keep disappearing! Circe runs a spa island and now turns men into guinea pigs instead of pigs ("so much cleaner!"). Olympus is now on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building.

Most of the characters use the phrase "Oh my gods!" and there are a few "butts" here and there. The characters, especially in later books, are depicted as dating each other, but there's nothing more explicit than some hand holding and a chaste kiss or two. There's lots of monster-slaying, but since the monsters only crumble into dust, the violence is somewhat softened. In later books, demigods are killed and the emotional tone of the story is cranked up a notch or two.

I enjoyed these books tremendously. When I re-read them for this post, I was struck all over again by how funny they are and how well paced for middle schoolers. I do think they're not for kids under 9, mainly because of the implied promiscuity and the violence, however mitigated. Also, I think you may find yourself embroiled in a discussion of values and beliefs after reading these books, and this is okay: it provides an opportunity to talk about what some cultures believed and how it affected their behavior and what the fallout for everyone was.

The great thing about movies now is how stunningly they can render worlds which previously could only live in the mind. The magic of CGI has made kingdoms like Middle Earth and fabulous places like Hogwarts spring to vivid life. But the very real danger of movies like these is that kids will only see the film and leave the books -- often very good books -- languishing on the shelf. I hope the movie attracts more readers, but if you think your child might abandon the book for the movie, you might want to encourage the reading before the viewing.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Classic Monday -- Tuesday Edition: Good Night Gorilla

I'm telling you, Bookivore can. not. catch. a. break. We had another snow day yesterday, though this one was an early dismissal because of a completely unexpected blizzard. A BLIZZARD. How do you miss that, Mr. Weatherman? So I had a house full of kids, some mine, some who just wandered in from the bus stop, and once again got nothing done.

I'm moving to San Diego. I hear it's nice there. No blizzards.

Good Night Gorilla, by Peggy Rathman, has been around since the early 1990s and it has become a staple of the under-2 bookshelf. You can even still pick it up at Target, which is as big an indicator of its classic status as anything I can think of.

The story is one with only minimal words. The zookeeper is locking up the zoo for the night, and telling each animal "Good night," as he goes about his duties. The little gorilla, however, has taken his keys and is busily unlocking all the cages.

Eventually, the zookeeper arrives home with a parade of animals in tow. Everyone snuggles down in the zookeeper's bedroom, but once the lights are off Mrs. Zookeeper discovers the stowaways and firmly marches them all back to the zoo where they belong. All except the little gorilla, who slips back into the zookeeper's bedroom and falls asleep between the zookeeper and his wife.

It's a charming little book, beautifully illustrated with Rathman's brilliant paintings. If you're familiar with Rathman (Ruby the Copycat, 10 Minutes 'til Bedtime, Officer Buckle and Gloria) you'll know that her pictures always have more to them than meets the eye: in this book, children can spot the pink balloon that floats away on the first page. It reappears in subsequent pages. Also, on the last page a "family" portrait with Mr. and Mrs. Zookeeper and the little gorilla is finally completely revealed. He is obviously their spoiled darling.

This is an excellent book for pointing out what's happening in the pictures when your child is small and then later having your older child tell back to you what's going on in the story. It comes in a sturdy board book edition and also a larger "lap" edition. Along with other classics like Goodnight Moon or Time for Bed, it makes a great baby gift for new parents.

Pictures courtesy of and

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Classic Monday, Now onThursday! (Or Why George and Martha Got a Little Sidetracked...)

Bookivore had every intention of posting on Monday, but Thursday and Friday of last week we got buried in snow. Then the kids were off for MLK's birthday, and then, after only ONE DAY back at school, we got covered with this:

Yes, that's ice.

So, we had yet another snow day. We're up to 5 now. It's looking like we'll be making up snow days until mid-June. Anyway, with all three of my children home, I have gotten precisely nothing done. Until today.

And George and Martha, by James Marshall, deserve my undivided attention.

These books have been around since the 70s and early 80s and they are family favorites around here. What's great about them is that they work on two levels: first as excellent read-aloud stories, and second as good books for early readers.

Two of the truly charming things about George and Martha are their friendship and the dry, witty humor that often underlies their activities. The writing is for children, but it's good children's writing: writing that doesn't talk down to them or over-simplify things. Kids get the humor in George and Martha.

Each book is divided in to 5 short stories, which qualifies them as "chapter books" on the same order as the Henry and Mudge books. Sometimes the stories are connected, but often they are not. In George and Martha:Back in Town, the story "The Big Scare" has George leaping out at Martha and shouting "Boo!" The startled and annoyed Martha warns him that she's going to scare him next. The rest of the story is George saying to himself, "Any minute now, Martha is going to scare the pants off me!" and looking for her in unlikely places, such as beneath the kitchen sink, where she patently would not fit. He spends the rest of the story in paranoid anticipation until Martha, calmly reading in her hammock, finally says, "Oh, I'm sorry --I forgot to scare you." The following story, "The Amusement Park," has George and Martha enjoying the roller coaster, the Ferris wheel and the bumper cars before finally taking a trip through the tunnel of love. THAT'S when Martha yells "BOO!" and George screams "Have Mercy!" Martha remarks, "I guess I didn't forget after all."

Sometimes their friendship is strained, as when George, the new lifeguard, has to give Martha a bawling out for misbehaving on the beach and she beans him with his megaphone. "This is a tough job," he says as she storms off.

Other times, they are quick to come to each other's rescue, as when George attempts to go off the high-dive and panics at the very top. "I'm coming!" shouts Martha (who earlier said you wouldn't catch her up there!). She climbs to the top and does a cannonball and in the huge splash that follows, George is able to get down without anyone seeing him or making fun of him.

Another favorite of ours is from One Fine Day. George decides in "The Icky Story," to tell an icky story while he and Martha are eating. "Have some consideration!" Martha says. But he tells it anyway. In revenge, Martha tells her own icky story and George is too grossed out to eat his dessert. "You win," says George. "Don't make me do it again," says Martha.

This is no sappy My Little Pony love, it's the portrait of a friendship between two imperfect characters who nonetheless love each other and are committed to taking care of each other.

There are 7 books in the series, as well as a new collection of early readers. I can't comment on those, but I would have my doubts about anything that played fast and loose with Marshall's excellent prose. Likewise it was made into a series for HBO, but since we are probably the only family in America without cable, I can't comment on that either, other than to say that cartoons based on really excellent books seldom capture the essence of what makes the books so good.

Read them to your preschoolers, then get your first and second graders to read them to you. Either way, they're getting a serving of great kids' literature.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Quick Guide to Reading Terms

When you deal with reading, you are likely to come up against some terms specific to teaching reading. You may or may not be familiar with them, but as I'm planning to use them in upcoming posts, I thought it would be a good idea to define and explain a few of the more common ones here.

Decoding: probably the most used term, especially in the early grades as children are learning to read. Basically, it means sounding out words. More specifically, it means taking what you know of letter sounds and using that information to arrive at a probable pronunciation for an unfamiliar word. It relates to pronunciation ONLY and is no indication of one's ability to interpret text.

Phoneme: the smallest unit of speech. Put another way, it's the sounds letters make. An example would be that RUN and BUN are distinguished by the initial phoneme, or first sound.

Phoneme Awareness: the awareness that spoken words are made up of phonemes and that those phonemes can be rearranged to make different words. Some kids come to this awareness later than others.

Phonics: an approach to reading that focuses on the relationship between letters and the sounds they make. Emphasizes "rules" of pronunciation -- this is where we get "two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking," and other such maxims.

Sight Word: technically, this means any word that a child can easily predict given the context of the reading OR words they've memorized, but it's usually used to mean the latter. Children in the primary grades are often given lists of sight words to memorize. Such lists include words like the, and, to, who, when, little, go, number and color words, and so on. The idea is that children know these words without having to decode them.

Fluency: the ability to read text quickly, effortlessly, smoothly and automatically. There are no pauses to decode, no stumbling over words. This applies to both out-loud and silent reading. Once a child becomes fluent, s/he can focus on the meaning of the text rather than the pronunciation of the words in the text.

Age-Equivalent Scores: some schools do this to give parents (and teachers) an idea of how well, relatively speaking, kids are reading. Basically, they test kids and then tell you that your child is reading at the level of a particular average age. For example, you may be told that your 8 year old is reading at the level of the average 10 year old. Or you may learn that your 7 year old is received the same score as the average 6 year old. Relies on norm-referenced tests to make comparisons, and they are just comparisons -- not actual scores. It may be that the average score on that particular test was 85% correct, but on a norm-referenced test, the average would appear as the 50th percentile.

These are more or less ranked by order of occurance -- the ones I think you'll encounter most frequently. Most of these I have encountered either in primary-grade conferences or in the take-home materials from standardized (norm-referenced) tests. I do occasionally use these terms in Bookivore, so wanted a quick reference available for the lay person. In future posts, I'll be sure to link the Quick Guide so it's handy.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Classic Monday: Encyclopedia Brown

Remember Encyclopedia Brown? The boy detective from the little town of Idaville where his father is Chief of Police and there's almost no crime, thanks to the superior sleuthing skills of one 10 year old boy? These were a staple of my childhood and now I'm discovering them all over again with my 3rd grader. They have definitely withstood the test of time.

In spite of being mainly written in the 60s and 70s, the books aren't so dated that kids can't relate to the characters and situations. For comparison, consider something like the Little House on the Prairie books, which require a lot of explanation of things like butter churns, boot blacking, soddies, etc.

If the books are a little dated, it's in the wholesomeness of the town of Idaville and its pre-teen protagonists. Instead of hurling swear words at each other that would make a trucker blush, these kids say stuff like "Nuts to you!" And they mean it, dang it. In some ways, the books were ahead of their time. Encyclopedia's sidekick, Sally Kimball, is a strong, no-nonsense character who is a force to be reckoned with -- she's not just riding on Encyclopedia's coat tails or providing a cooing, admiring audience for his skills. Occasionally she, and not Encyclopedia, figures out the mystery.

The villains are bad, but not so bad -- no shopping mall shooters or child molesters here, just your garden-variety thieves and bullies. And of course, there's good old Bugs Meany, the teenaged would-be crime boss, were it not for Encyclopedia reining in his illegal (or morally questionable) activities. Encyclopedia himself is refreshingly modest, not wanting the general public to know that he assists his father in his investigations.

The books are compelling: each chapter is a mystery which Encyclopedia must solve. And he does, though to understand how he did it you must turn to the back of the book and read the solution. I remember quite clearly reading the answers when I was a kid and thinking "Oh, so that's how he knew!" Sometimes I could hardly wait to get through the mystery, I was so anxious to find out what Encyclopedia noticed that I didn't.

The language level of the books is good for 3rd or 4th grade. Accelerated Reader puts it at 4.1 or 4.2, which seems about right. Where their value lies, I think, is in their modelling of critical thinking and deductive reasoning. The books allow you to see what Encyclopedia Brown sees, then shows you how he deduced the solution from those clues.

Here's some interesting trivia: the author of the series, Donald J. Sobol, is still living (he's 85) and released a new Encyclopedia Brown book in 2007 (Encyclopedia Brown Cracks the Case). All of the books were re-released in paperback starting in 2007. Depending on which Wikipedia article you read, there are 25 or 26 volumes in the series, more than enough to keep your reader busy for a good, long while.

More trivia: when my 8-year old saw that I was posting about Enclyclopedia Brown, she did some spontaneous cartwheels in the family room and yelled "Yay! My favorite book series is on Bookivore!" So there's a ringing endorsement for you.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Karen Katz

Anyone with children knows that kids love lift-the-flap books. Unfortunately, most lift-the-flap books don't long survive the loving attention of most kids. I have a couple of large Sesame Street/Elmo books that bear mute (and torn) witness to this fact. That's why Karen Katz's books are such a welcome addition to the family library.

I discovered Karen Katz when my oldest was just a baby and immediately fell in love with her bright, sunny pictures and the gloriously large flaps on her lift-the-flap books. Where is Baby's Belly Button became an instant favorite at our house, one that our eldest daughter would drag around and offer to anyone sitting down -- "Read? Read?" She still asked for it long after she was technically too old for the simple text.

Many of her books are truly suitable for babies -- great choices for 6-18 month olds. The pictures are colorful enough to capture their attention, the flaps are ample enough for those little hands to lift easily, and the text is usually concerned with the sorts of things babies love -- peekaboo, lost objects that need finding, what babies say, etc. And they are well-made; Where is Baby's Belly Button survived all three of my children and lives to be read another day.

These two shots show just how generous the flaps are --all of my children loved lifting these big flaps to see what was underneath. When my oldest was a baby there weren't many books like this available. Now, of course, there are many more, including a nice line of books from DK (Dorling Kindersley), but I think Katz's books blazed the trail in this area.

Another nice feature is the multi-ethnic character of her work. Most of her books include children of many races, which is something I look for in children's books, particularly in picture books. It is my entirely unscientific opinion that the more "ethnic" faces children are exposed to as babies and toddlers, and the more they are taught that these faces are "pretty," "beautiful," "nice," whatever positive descriptor fits, the better off they will be when they encounter children or adults of other races in real life. Such faces are are normal to them. Or so I think.

Mostly Katz is the writer/illustrator of these books, though in a few cases she illustrates someone else's text. Toes, Ears, & Nose! is one such book, great for toddlers, which is a fun look at clothes and the body parts they cover.

Katz' collection of works has expanded to include books which are not lift-the-flap, but these often have an interactive dimension to them, like Counting Kisses, in which all the members of the family (including Grandma and the dog and cat) are giving a series of kisses to the cranky baby just before bedtime. We used to read this one to our kids, kissing the appropriate body part (tiny toes, chubby yummy knees, etc.) as we read.

She also has a line of books for toddlers/preschoolers dealing with manners (No Hitting!; No Biting!; I Can Share; Excuse Me!) and of course, the obligatory potty training book. These are all in lift-the-flap format.

If you've got an infant or toddler and have never tried Karen Katz's books before, they are highly recommended. They are often (almost always) available at TJ Maxx and Marshalls for a discount, though you won't get the range of selections available at a bookstore. If your kids are past this type of book, they make great shower gifts -- consider tucking one or two in a basket with some onesies and baby socks for a quick, cute, li'l bit different baby gift. Sturdy, bright and appealing, they will absolutely entertain little ones and provide a great incentive to reading.

all pictures courtesy of

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What Does Bookivore Read?

Oooooo, good question.

I have written before about my mom-filter (here and here), that little part of my brain that is constantly assessing literature with my children in mind. But often I shut the mom-filter off entirely and just read for fun, with no intention whatsoever of passing those books on to my kids.

In the past six months, I've been busy. In addition to the books I've read and reviewed for this blog, I've read a number of grown-up books that are NOT AT ALL FOR KIDS. Just want to be clear on that.

Here's a sampling of what I've read ( a sampling because I can't always remember everything I've read).

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe

Loved this mainly because I had to teach the Salem Witchcraft Trials in American Lit and the premise of this book was nifty. What, the book asks, if the trials weren't so misguided as they seemed? What if there really were witches? Told through the eyes of a doctoral student trying to track down a Physick book that may have belonged to her own ancestor. Entertaining.

The Time Travelers Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

This one was like the movie The Piano; I'm glad I read it, but I don't think I'll ever read it again. The time travel paradoxes will blow your mind and the love story which "will happen because it already has happened" is beautiful and tragic. The language is often coarse, which I found a little distracting. Feels like something that college English profs are going to assign -- it's got that kind of literary impact. Can't believe they made this a movie. After reading it, I just don't see how they could squeeze this into 2 hours and have it still be coherent.

The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton

Wow. Cannot say enough about this book and yet words fail me. Rich, layered, mysterious, painful, empowering. The main character peels away the layers of her Grandmother's past exposing a long history of lies, misdirections and myths. Some revelations are just breathtaking. So good.

The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton

Read this one because I liked The Forgotten Garden so much. This one came first and deals similarly with secrets of the past, but in this one, the narrator is the key to unravelling the mystery, and she's not at all sure she wants to tell what she knows. Excellent.

The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd

Loved this -- amazing to think how far civil rights has come in just a little more than my lifetime. Even more wonderful to see how everyday lives were affected and the moral dilemma this presents for the main character. Liked the characters, was shocked to see how they cast the movie. Stupid Hollywood.

The Mermaid Chair, by Sue Monk Kidd

Hated this -- self indulgent, whining "heroine" in the midst of a mid-life crisis. She manages to wound her husband, seduce a monk and generally irritate before the big secret of her life is revealed. Here's the big secret: it's no good.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

Wicked good fun. A twisted mystery, an 11-year old heroine with an obsessive love of chemistry and a lovely, malicious sense of humor. Set in post-war Britain in a country house, it feels utterly English, though the writer is Canadian. Loved this one.

The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer

One of my comfort books. Georgette Heyer is a latter-day Jane Austen with a nice array of Regency-era novels. If you like Pride and Prejudice and Emma, you will likely fall in love with Heyer's books. Start with this one; it's among her best.

Frederica, by Georgette Heyer

More Heyer. This is a good one to start with, too, if you've never read Heyer before. Sourcebooks has released new editions of her works and given them covers which are far more dignified than the trite "romance" covers Harlequin has given them for so many years. Make no mistake, these are not "romance" novels in the Harlequin sense.

Twenties Girl, by Sophie Kinsella

I really liked this one -- Kinsella's books are like brain candy for me. Pure enjoyment. This one had a odd premise, I thought, for a Kinsella book. The heroine is haunted by a great aunt she barely knew, but in Kinsella's capable hands, it works. If you've read much Sophie Kinsella, you know she's kind of a potty mouth, but I do enjoy her books.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Oddly absorbing book, told through letters from a journalist visiting the island of Guernsey after World War II. Details of the island's occupation by the Nazi's and the fates of the residents, some who stayed and others who were taken away by the Germans, emerge as they grow closer to the stranger in their midst.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

I almost put this one down after just 20 pages or so. It's a murder mystery that takes place in Sweden and begins with a recounting of a libel trial so densely and thoroughly plotted that I felt like I was reading a law review instead of a novel. But I stuck with it and it paid off. Not a book for the faint of heart -- the main characters are a womanizer and a bisexual rape victim. It's dark -- makes me completely see what Bill Bryson meant when he joked that the national sport of Sweden is suicide.

The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson

Well, after all that effort, I had to read the sequel. Much easier to jump into this one. I find the character of Lisbeth Salander very compelling and this volume takes us farther into the past that has so shaped her paranoid present. The accompanying murder mystery is just as riveting, but be warned: Larsson's books are seamy, sordid, violent and just generally Not Pretty. Interesting note, Stieg Larsson presented the manuscripts for his 3 murder mysteries to his publisher (the 3rd one is coming out in May 2010) and then promptly went out and died of a heart attack at age 50. I don't know why that affects how I think about these books; it just does.

So there you have it. This is how Bookivore occupies her time. It's also why the bathrooms are dirty and dinner is only half-made and the kids occasionally have to shout "MOM!" before I look up hazily and acknowledge their existence. And for the record, all but the Georgette Heyer books came from my public library.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Making a Deal With the Devil

Confession Time: We don't just sit around here reading books all the time like a satellite branch of the library. Truth be told, Bookivore's two oldest children received Nintendo DS Lites for Christmas (though not from Bookivore and her husband, who are stingy, Scrooge-like parents bent on stuffing their kids' stockings with coal. Or socks. Same thing.) This year, Grandma and Grandpa came through and there was much rejoicing.

After a few days, we noticed that our son was playing so much DS that he was barely making time to eat. Or sleep. Or talk. In fact, he barely came up for air at all, so engrossed was he in this video game thingy. At night, when we'd offer to read to him, he asked if he could play his DS while we read.


Then Lo! School resumed, and the DS had to be nearly surgically removed from my son's hands since his school has a total ban on video games. What a great opportunity to explain what confiscate means!

All day I pondered what I was going to say to him when he got home and wanted to play DS until bedtime -- too much game, too little of the other stuff he needs to do (eat, talk, read, play using his imagination, sleep, etc.). In the end, I made a list of chores that he had to get done before he played with his DS. This included things like put away laundry, feed the dog, and one item that sent him right into the stratosphere: Read for 20 minutes.

WHAT!!? Didn't I know that he does this reading stuff at school?? Why on earth would I make him also do it at home?

He was mad, but he was also motivated. That DS was a powerful lure. So he manned-up and found a book about football and read aloud to me while I made dinner.

It was wonderful. And it earned him 20 minutes of DS.

If your child has an interest like this -- TV, video games, building with Legos -- use it to your advantage. Make them "buy" activity time with reading minutes. First and second graders can read to you for about 20 minutes (longer if you feel their reading skills can handle it, but don't make it so hard for them that it's not worth the reward). Older kids who are reading well independently can start with a half hour. This kind of consistent, daily reading leads to breakthroughs in fluency -- and the more fluent they are as readers, the more meaning they'll get out of what they read because they're not spending as much time decoding (sounding things out). Reading improvement doesn't happen in a vacuum, it's like playing the piano or learning to type; you have to practice. And most kids need a nudge in the practice department.

It's kind of a deal with the devil, but much much better than your average Faustian bargain.