Thursday, October 28, 2010


Sequencing is the ability to put events in order -- first, middle, last. Generally this is organized by how events must occur logically, or how they actually occurred in a story.

Sequencing is something kids often need help figuring out: what seems logical to an adult is by no means obvious to a child. It is especially important that kids learn to identify the parts of a story and place them in the order they happened. The ability to sequence is necessary to almost all types of writing and to many mathematical processes as well.

Fortunately, this is easy to teach and there are many, many books out there that lend themselves to this kind of activity very well.

Here's a very short list:

The Lady With the Alligator Purse, by Nadine Bernard Westcott

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (or a Shell, or a Bat, or any of the bazillion variations on this traditional tale), by Various

Good Night Gorilla, by Peggy Rathman

Rabbit's Pajama Party, by Stuart Murphy

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst

Manana, Iguana, by Ann Whitford Paul

The Tiny Seed/The Very Lonely Firefly/The Very Quiet Cricket, by Eric Carle

Really almost any book can be used to teach this skill, but when you're dealing with preschoolers it's best to keep things simple. Here's the activity in a nutshell: Read the book, talk about what happened first, what happened in the middle, what happened last or at the end. Boom -- done.

How come none of this looks like chicken nuggets?

For older children, recipes are a good way to practice sequencing. Have your reading child read a recipe as you both prepare it OR find a favorite dish and let your child write out the steps as you cook it. Any activity that has to occur in steps can be good practice for sequencing -- just talking through the steps.

It takes all of about 2 minutes to talk through a story and point out the order of events. Give this one a try next time you read to your little ones.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Creating a Culture of Reading

Part of helping kids learn to read is creating a culture of reading. Even though you read read read to them, if you, yourself, aren't much of a reader, chances are very good that your child will grow up to be someone who regards reading as something you do only when you have to.

This may seem very obvious, but the first step toward creating a culture of reading in your home is to have books. I know ---DUH. But do you have books for you? Do you have magazines you like to read? Do you ever turn off the TV at night and just read? Are there books on your nightstand or beside the bed? If your house has kid books and nothing else, eventually your kids may decide that reading isn't something grown ups do.

Do you have bookshelves full of lovely, color coordinated books? If not, call Nate Berkus and have him get you a set up like this one:

Pretty, no? But probably not used. If you pulled one out to read it, you'd mess up the arrangement. I will tell you a hard truth: people who aren't readers have cleaner houses than those of us who love books.

Get some shelves for your kids' books and then put them where the kids can reach them. Make books available whenever they want them. Make a rule that unless you're tying a tourniquet or landing the space shuttle you will drop what you're doing and read to your child when they ask you to at least once a day. Notice that I am not saying you have to do this all day long. The laundry, the cooking, these have to be done, but they're not so critical that they can't wait 10 minutes while you read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

Take your kids to the library or the used book store and make a big deal out of it -- act like you're going to Disneyland...or at least act like you're going to Starbucks. Anticipation is everything. Make sure you get some books for you, too. Take them to story time at your library, or at your local Barnes and Noble. Don't take them to story time at Pottery Barn Kids. Totally wrong message.

Let them catch you reading. Read a magazine while you drink coffee in the morning. Or read while you dry your hair. Turn off the TV and read in the evening (say whaaaaa?). Read a book in the afternoon just before they come home from school so they walk in and catch you reading. I often read when I'm waiting to pick up my youngest from preschool. I read in doctors' offices, I read in the bathtub, I read before bed. My kids know I read.

Pretend you're in a book club with your kids. Read the same books and talk about what you're reading. Talk about what you liked or didn't, what surprised you, what you predicted. Recommend books to each other -- kids love to do this and they love it even more when you take their suggestions. My kids are always tickled pink when they see me reading a book they recommended to me.

Make them read for information. This is something you can do when they get fairly competent: have them read recipes to you, or directions to a specific location or for a specific task, or the announcements from the church bulletin, or junk mail that looks interesting.

All these things underscore the message that reading is important in your house. If you can also convey that it's enjoyable, even desirable, you will keep your child pointed in the right direction.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Not for the Faint of Heart

Or the clinically depressed. Or anyone under the age of 13, though even that may be a bit young.

Finally the library came through with my hold -- Mockingjay was mine for 2 weeks. Naturally, I put the laundry on hold, quit feeding the kids, gave my husband the cold shoulder, and read it cover to cover.

It's good. Very good. But it's dark. Very dark. I could give you a dozen spoilers, but I think the best thing to say about it is that it very accurately portrays the effects and after-effects of war -- even a necessary war such as Katniss is fighting. It does a fabulous job of showing how both sides manipulate people and information for their own ends. And a good, if depressing, job of showing the mental unraveling of those who make it through.

There's no storybook ending. There is survival, but those who manage this do so in profoundly damaged states -- both emotionally and physically. It's well done, but it pulls no punches. You're not going to read this book and come out of it feeling light and buoyant. Be aware that this one deals with themes of murder, torture, suicide, loss, abandonment and betrayal. You will come out of it sobered by the stark, unflinching portrait of war.

Because of its mature nature, I think this one should be for 13 and up, absolutely no younger. And I really have reservations about 13 year olds reading this, so in my house, everyone who wants to read it has to be in high school.

But don't miss it -- it's a brilliant, moving read.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Favorite Authors: Dav Pilkey

If the name Dav Pilkey immediately conjures up the image of a superhero in his underpants, then let me be the first to show you the wonderful range of this very appealing author.

While he's perhaps best known for Captain Underpants and its ever-expanding franchise of books (Super Diaper Baby, Ook and Gluk), Pilkey (who's been around for years) has a nice repertoire of other books that are worth a look.

Let's get the comic-book and low-brow stuff out of the way first. Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot and all its sequels are very much like a comic book without the frames. The pictures are cartoonish, the action is very much the **CRASH!** **POW!** **BAM!** type and the storylines are like a very silly vintage Batman episode. However, the text is just right for beginning readers -- not too much on each page, a little repetitive but not boringly so, amply illustrated so pictures can help with comprehension. These are great books, especially for boys.

The low-brow would be the Dumb Bunnies. And before you ask: yes, they are dumb. They may remind you of Amelia Bedelia in that they often take things very very literally, but they have their own loopy charm. They also have some egregious nose-picking, some mild toilet humor, and the weird sight of Papa Bunny strolling everywhere in his tighty-whities. These look like picture books, but are good for Kindergarten/1st Grade kids who can read the fairly simple text and get the textual/visual jokes in the artwork. Kids love the dumb humor, especially the nose-picking.

Also under the category of dumb humor, but more along the lines of groaners, are Dogzilla, Kat Kong, The Hallo-Wiener, The Night Before Thanksgiving and Dog Breath. Some -- like Dogzilla and Kat Kong -- are full of bad puns and plays on words, but the basic stories are appealing to kids and the bad jokes aren't a deterrent for them. Hallo-Wiener and Thanksgiving are holiday tie-in books.

One of my favorites is Pilkey's Dragon series -- a very nice set of books that are at an early reader level but very colorfully illustrated. Again, they're like comics without the frames. The character of Dragon is childlike -- sometimes impulsive in a negative way (like when he makes a Christmas wreath of candy and then eats all of it) and sometimes in a positive way (like when he rescues a cat stuck in the snow and ends up adopting it). He's very sweet and likable. These are often available at Scholastic Warehouse sales if you keep your eyes open.

Another fave around here is Pilkey's Big Dog and Little Dog series. These work as read-alouds or early readers; we read this one aloud at bedtime a lot. It's the adventures of Big Dog and Little Dog, and all the ways they manage to either get in trouble (like chasing a cat that turns out to be a skunk) or help each other (like Little Dog helping find a sweater for Big Dog so they can both have one). Again, very sweet and likable. The stories are available in board book format, and in a collected edition, which is pictured here.

Then there's Dav Pilkey the Caldecott Honor author of The Paperboy, a lovely story of a boy up before the rest of the world, delivering papers. The artwork is more painterly, less comic-book, and very nice.

Last, there are a few lesser-known Pilkey books, like God Bless the Gargoyles, When Cats Dream and The Moonglow Roll-O-Rama. These are picture books for 4-8 year olds which certainly might be worth a look at your library.

I promise you there's more to this guy than potty jokes. Go check him out.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

20 Minutes Worth of Ideas

Remember on Monday when I said it's tough sometimes to carve out those 20 minutes for reading practice?

Well, sometimes it's also hard to carve out 20 minutes for blogging. I certainly meant to post these ideas yesterday, but Life, as they say, intervened.

So here they are, a day late but no less valuable. Twenty minutes of reading can be very intimidating for a child, so the purpose here is to mix things up a bit so they don't feel any overwhelming sense of pressure. Let me clarify that these are for kids who are school age -- 1st, 2nd, even 3rd grade. Possibly Kindergarten if your child is really smokin' hot in the reading department.

1. Partner read. Mom or Dad reads a paragraph, then the child reads a paragraph. Alternate for several minutes or for the whole time. My son often forgets where he's supposed to stop and will sometimes keep reading to the end of the page (which is a much more obvious break than a paragraph when you're 7). For short books or books with a little text on each page, you could alternate pages.

2. Popcorn read. The child begins reading and then stops at some random point. When s/he stops, s/he says "Mom, go!" and the parent picks up at that point and reads for awhile. Then the parent stops at a random point and says "Go!" to the child, and so on. This really forces the child (and the parent) to follow along as the other one is reading.

3. Stop and Go. This is for when your child is maxed out on reading aloud. The parent does all the reading, but stops at random points in the text. The child must then point to where the parent stopped.

4. Whisper read. Either the parent, or the child, or both, read the text in a whisper. Kids usually love this one because it's different -- like making pancakes in the shape of a mouse. They're still pancakes but they seem exotically different. The kids are still reading, but whispering brings it a nice sense of novelty.

5. Shout it out. If you can stand the noise, you could read the text as loudly as possible. Obviously not good right before bedtime.

6. Out Loud/In Loud. Alternate silent and out-loud reading. This is a good one as their reading skills improve. The child reads a page or a paragraph to him/herself and then says "done." The parent picks up the reading from that point out loud. Have the child alternate silent and out-loud reading -- in other words, the child shouldn't be only reading silently.

7. Mixer. Combine any or all of the above ideas. Popcorn read for a bit, then alternate paragraphs, then whisper for a while, then have the child read silently, etc.

There's no magic formula that's going to work -- it's just practice. And changing things up a bit to keep your child interested. And then more practice.

But it does work, if you put in the time.

Monday, October 4, 2010

20 Minutes a Day...

That's the minimum recommended length of time a parent should read to a child, or a child should read to a parent EACH DAY to achieve reading competence and fluency. For a very young child, say under 5, that's about 4-5 books before bed. For an older child, it's usually a straight measure of time.

Twenty minutes: it doesn't seem like so much.

However, we all know that sometimes it IS hard to carve 20 minutes of dedicated reading time out of our busy schedules. Especially if you have multiple children. And especially if your kids are in activities. And especially if you like them to go to bed before you do (can I get an amen?)

When you take out the actual school day (about 7.5 hours if your kids ride a bus; longer if they go to before/after care) then remove the time needed for activities -- an hour for soccer practice, a 1/2 hour for piano or guitar, 30-90 minutes for dance or gymnastics, 2 hours for church activities; and then take out the 30-60 minutes of driving time and the 30-60 minutes for eating, brushing teeth, getting that last drink of water, etc.; and the 9-10 hours (please God) that they're actually sleeping, you're not left with a whole heck of a lot. About 2-3 hours, in little chunks throughout the day.

One of those chunks has to be devoted to reading.

And not because Bookivore says so, because it just IS so.

And yes, you have to make room for it even if the best time to do it is while you're making dinner or right about when you want to put your own feet up and just be for a little while, or you've just gotten home from work and all you can think about is what the score might be in the game you were listening to on sports radio on the way home, or when you've spent most of the day running people to and from here and there and THEY don't want to read to YOU and you have to make them although secretly you'd rather just go take a long hot bath but the teacher says they have to read to you.

Oh baby, Bookivore feels your pain.

And yes, teachers understand that we have busy lives. They have busy lives, too. But it still has to be done. Not because they're mean or unfeeling, but because it's best for your child. If you have a first or second grader, even a third grader, it's critical to their development as readers.

So suck it up, baby.

You can do this.

Wednesday I'm going to post a few ideas for those 20 minutes to help pass the time as constructively as possible.