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Picture Books and Reading Aloud: A Match Made in Heaven

11 March 2009

Last week, Betsy Bird (Fuse #8) announced that she is conducting a 100 Best Picture Books readers poll on her blog at School Library Journal.  She is looking for our top ten personal favorites, in order of preference. Betsy’s deadline is March 31, but since picture books and reading aloud go together, I set my personal deadline for this week.

Every time I thought I had the list together, I’d see one more post and the pile would come toppling to the floor.  For now I have stopped the other great lists!  I’m still fidgeting with the order, but today is my (self-imposed) deadline. So here goes … in alphabetical order.

The Empty Pot by Demi This is a beautifully told, beautifully illustrated folktale.

Hug illustrated by Jez Alborough It’s hard to compare this with other picture books, because with Hug, this is less about the story and more about the memorable experience of reading this with a young child on your lap.

Jumbo’s Lullaby written by Laura Krauss Melmed, illustrated by Henri Sorensen Brightly-colored illustrations complement a soothing poem about a baby elephant.

Lily and the Paper Man written by Rebecca Upjohn, illustrated by Renne Benoit This is a beautifully presented story of overcoming fears and compassion that doesn’t bang you over the head with its message.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. As kids, we would take turns playing the parts in the story – even the boys wanted to be Mary Ann.

The Princess Gown written by Linda Leopold Straus, illustrated by Malene Laugesen. Every list needs a fairy tale, and this one has all of the classic elements, without being  Disney-fied.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. This is one of my all-time favorite books. Even thinking about it, I can hear the crunch, crunch.

The Story about Ping written by Marjorie Flack, illustrated by Kurt Wiese. I would spend hours with this book. I “Yangtze River” sounded so exotic.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.  This is a story I remember only by rediscovering it with Catherine.  It reminded me of The Musicians of Bremen, a beloved Grimms fairy tale.

Time for Bed by Mem Fox, illustrated by Jane Dyer Every list needs a lullaby.


Share a Story: Today We’re Talking Read-Alouds

11 March 2009

Sorry for the posting delay, I was off enjoying the posts du jour about reading aloud. Susan has packed Day Three with great content.  She’s got three posts herself! I’ll plug in the day’s agenda below, but I want to make sure you don’t miss these tidbits …

Suan is giving away two children’s books: Bubble Homes and Fish Farts by Fiona Bayrock here; and Hush, Little Dragon by Boni Ashburn here.

Over at BookDads, not only did Brian put together a comprehensive post, but he loaded it with great book ideas and lots of links for resources and reading lists.

Over at the Book Whisper, Donalyn Miller has opened her contest: “Submit your favorite read alouds; include testimonials and recommended ages; and enter to win the drawing for a copy of my new book, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child published by Jossey-Bass and Education Week Press.”

picture-009Dr. Freud would probably have something to say, but I still have some of the bookmarks I made as a child: the macrame bookworms (6th grade); the leather book corner (4th grade?), and my all-time favorite: the ice cream cone (5th grade).  Bookmarks can be a fun way to engage kids with books – they can keep their reading list on them, they can create art to express themselves.  To get you started, we created a document with links to bookmarks you can download, instructions on how to make your own, and a collection of blank templates to get you started.

Be sure to stop by the Share a Story-Shape a Future blog, too. That’s where I’m going back to add links to posts that hosts add to their lists.

Day 3: Reading Aloud – It’s Fun, It’s Easy
hosted by Susan Stephenson at the Book Chook blog
  • What to Do When the Reading is Done – Aimee Buckner, hosted by the Stenhouse blog
  • Never Too old: Reading Aloud with Independent Readers – Donalyn Miller @ The Book Whisperer
  • Happy Reading!

    Share a Story: Now It’s Time to Pick a Book

    10 March 2009

    Did you ever have a teacher that opened doors inside you didn’t know existed? For me it was Miss Sauder, my seventh grade English teacher (back then it was English, not Language Arts). She transformed the way I looked at language and stories. I even changed careers.  I was going to be the first female conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. In fifth period English, I discovered my destiny – an English major.

    Why am I rambling about 1975? Because Sarah Mulhern is that kind of  fabulous teacher. When you read her blog, you get the chance to sit in a chair at the back of the room and catch a ray of enthusiasm – hers and her students.  She’s got a great day planned … Enjoy!

    Day 2: Selecting Reading Material
    hosted by Sarah Mulhern at The Reading Zone


    Sarah”s Host Post: Selecting Reading Material

    Eeny, Meeny, Miny, May- Which Book Do I Choose Today? The ABCs of Reading: Infants, Toddlers & Preschoolers – Valerie Baartz on The Almost Librarian

    How to Help Emerging Readers – Anastasia Suen @ 5 Great Books

    I Don’t Know What I Want to Read Next: Helping Middle Grade Readers – Sarah Mulhern @ The Reading Zone

    Using Non-fiction for Read-Aloud – Mary Lee Hahn of A Year of Reading, hosted by the Stenhouse blog UPDATED (11:20 AM)

    Other Share a Story-Shape a Future News

    # Eva has announced her Favorite Library Contest. Either send her an email with a pic of your favorite library, or leave a comment with the answer to “My favorite library is __ because ….” Eva is giving away books for the winners. You can see all of our book giveaways here.

    # Jen Robinson has an open call for ideas on how to start a public information for read-aloud.  Stop by and join the discussion.

    Raising Readers: Look for the Clues – Tips and Tricks to Uncover and Help a Remedial Reader

    9 March 2009

    shareastorylogo-color1Sandra Stiles, our guest blogger this morning, is here to talk about working with struggling readers.  She teaches reading and English to speakers of other languages (ESOL) at Johnson Middle School, Bradenton, Florida. She is currently writing her first novel.


    I love working with remedial students. My own daughter was one. By learning her tricks, I also discovered ways to help her. After she graduated from high school, she was hired as an aid at my charter school. Guess whose class she worked in? Yes, mine. She walked into my classroom and introduced herself to my students.

    Now that you know that I am Mrs. Stiles’ daughter, there is something important you need to know. I was a student just like you. I struggled to read. I pulled every trick in the book to get out of reading. I can catch you at all of them. Don’t think you can sneak one by me.

    I am here to help you learn to read and teach you the things that my mom taught me that made the reading easier. Listen to what she has to say, let us help you and we will get you through this bump in the road.

    Helping a reader in need, starts with respect. Please remember that a remedial reader is one that has gaps in their learning. He is not dumb, even if he tries to use that as an excuse. She might tell you “I just don’t like to read.” Ask questions to find out what it is they don’t like about reading.

    Now let me share what I learned by helping my daughter and my students. These “tricks” work in the classroom and at home. Looking at it like a detective – step by step – helps. If a child hates to read, we need to find out why.

    First, be on the lookout for the subtle ways that kids try to avoid reading.  Group reading and book discussions can sometimes mask a reading deficiency. The student listens and rephrases what their classmates say because he was unable to read the assignment. Sometimes they are afraid to take a chance.  After two years of work, I am a National Board Certified teacher this year.  I worked with great students. They weren’t the quietest class or the best class to videotape.  This class was a mixed bag. In the process of reading Pictures of Hollis Woods two of my quietest students, who struggled the most, became my most active students during discussions.  They spent hours reading with a buddy to get the reading assignment done.  They started out by parroting others in the group.  As facilitator, I would ask a question specifically geared to them.  I usually phrased it two or three ways and gave them think time.  When they answered I would expand on their answer by asking them another question.  After the second or third day, one of the students – the lowest reader in the class – looked at me and said, “I get it now.  You want me to think about the question and when I answer it, think about other questions that my answer makes.”  That was one of my proudest moments.  I knew then she had figured out how to think critically.  Her group would ask her simple questions to get her started and then they would encourage her.  Groups can be great if monitored and handled well.

    Next, let’s continue with some of the not-so-subtle ways kids express their dislike of reading.

    books_everywhereThe complaint: “There is nothing to read.” This is a common complaint in my classroom. I find this funny since I have a personal library collection of more than 1,200 books.


    Solution 1: Use a book pass. Book passes are a wonderful way to solve this problem. I put a book on each desk and give students five minutes to read the cover, back, and part of the first chapter. At the end of those five minutes, they write the title, author, and their initial thoughts about the book. The student passes the book to the person behind him, and the student in front takes the next book off of the stack. Usually, by the end of class, every student has found a book they want to check out. They also have a list of books and their opinions for the next time they need a book. I do this at least twice a year.

    Solution 2: Take advantage of book series. They are popular for a reason: kids like to come back to see what their “friends” are up to now.

    Another option is to have everyone at school or in your family read the same book or book series. The last school I taught at did this twice a year. The secretaries, principal, city officials, and other guests came in and read to the students. We read it over two days and had activities that covered all content areas based on the book. Our cafeteria workers read the book and placed it next to their check out so they could discuss the book with students.

    2820250184_efa5eaac12_mThe complaint: “This book is too long/too hard.” This was my daughter’s biggest problem. She spent so much time decoding the words that she lost the meaning and eventually gave up. Telling students to just read 30 minutes a day or one hour a day won’t help. They see little progress, fall behind, and give up.

    The Solution: Invest in some sticky tabs. Use the ones that are about two inches long. Take the book and ask the child how many days they plan to spend reading the book. Divide the number of pages in the book by the number of days and then you know how many pages they must read each day. Place a sticky tab on those pages. For example:  If you have a book that is 217 pages and they want to read it in 14 days.

    217 ÷ 14 = 15/per day

    If the page does not end with a period then continue on to the next page that does end in a period.

    Next complaint: The panic sets in, and I hear “I can’t read 15 pages.”

    Solution: Count the pieces of paper. “15 pages” is only seven papers, and each paper has two sides. This usually alleviates the panic. Most students find that they read from one sticky note to the next without thinking about the time it took them. They usually decide to see how long it will take to read to the next goal.

    This is my favorite trick, and I have seen it work. Some of my former middle school reading students have come to visit me after moving on to high school. They show me their books and how they are continuing to mark them in this manner.

    These “tricks” as my daughter so aptly named them can be used through any grade into college. With remedial students I find that often times the, “I don’t like to read” attitude is actually frustration with the gaps they have in their ability. Once they are over the hump and have filled in the gaps they find they like to read.

    It is important to reach parents and get them to read to their children. My granddaughter was born premature, but when she came home the first thing her father did was sit on the couch, cuddle her in his arms, and read a book to her. She is almost three and her favorite thing to do is have a story read to her. At bedtime they read to her then leave her with two or three books to “read” before she goes to sleep.

    Not all parents like to read, and some are uncomfortable reading with their children. Here’s an idea that has worked in our school that might be helpful to you: build bridges with siblings. We teach some of our remedial students how to read to their brothers and sisters. The student picks out a couple of books from the school library and then the parents bring the younger siblings to school. This gives the student a chance to read, and the parent a chance to observe how reading can work. A pleasant side effect to this involved one of my Spanish-speaking students. The mother told me that her daughter sat the younger kids around the kitchen table and read to them while mom made dinner. Mom would join them and look at the book while her daughter read the stories. It helped her improve her English and after three months mom took over reading to the children while dinner cooked. If siblings aren’t an option, think about visiting an assisted living facility or reading with a neighbor. Reading is an activity that can be good for young and old alike.

    My final suggestion is to make sure to read the books your child or student would be reading. Talk about books with your kids. Read everything to them: books, magazines, recipes, newspaper articles.

    Last night, when I got home my granddaughter was there for a visit.  She had one of my cookbooks on the floor and was running her finger under the words. She was “reading” and making up her own story. This is a great example of how quickly kids develop their reading skills. She is only three, and she can’t pronounce the words on the page, but she knows how words work. This is because someone in her life made sure from the time she was born that she was read to. They made sure that she knew how important reading was.

    The keys to helping a remedial reader are respect, perseverance, and teamwork. Pick up a book and read.

    credits: Elizabeth Dulemba, Flickr – homework frustration and Books Everywhere

    Share a Story-Shape a Future: It Starts with Raising Readers

    9 March 2009

    shareastorylogo-colorWow! Share a Story – Shape a Future is now officially underway.  We are kicking off  the event with the theme that also doubles as our goal for the week: Raising Readers.

    We’ve heard the prescription: read with your kids everyday. It sounds like an infomercial: “In just 15 minutes a day, you can help your child be tops in his class.” But for lots of reasons, that 15 minutes never materializes. I understand, it happens to me too. The good news is that today isn’t the only day kids will see letters and words. We can try again tomorrow.

    With reading, there is no one perfect starting place, no one perfect moment in time.  Like many of the good things we try to do — exercise and dieting come to mind — it takes practice and support to reach our goals. Just as sons become fathers and mothers become grandmothers, each generation helps raise the readers in the next one. There is no beginning or end, no age limit for when we start raising readers.

    Many years ago, at least one caring adult in your life supported your effort to learn to read.  They helped raise a reader. You may not remember the specific things they did to help you or even the books you read.  To become a reader, you took lots of little steps over a long period of time. But now you are here.

    Fast forward to today.  How would your child see a reader? Would he describe him as a boy who digs for worms and likes to sing silly songs? Would she say it’s a girl who climbs trees and plays soccer? Would he say its a kid with Ketchup on his Tshirt and long stringy hair? Would she describe you?

    Kids want to see people that look like them and like the same stuff, be they real humans or life-like characters in a book. As toddlers, kids love imitating what you do and looking at themselves in the mirror. As teens, they still love mirrors. Seeing their reflection is a way of both connecting and grounding. It reassures them that they are Okay.

    And so it is with books. To see themselves as readers, kids want to look “just like everybody else.” If they see readers only as people who wear wire-rimmed glasses and sweater vests — and they wouldn’t be caught dead in a sweater vest — then they can’t see themselves as readers.

    The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.
    ~ Sydney  J. Harris ~

    Raising Readers is about relationships. As both Cathy Miller and Sandra Stiles explain, raising readers is about making connections.  It is about finding ways to help children understand that reading is a  necessary but ordinary part of life. They need to see that we are all readers.  Cathy and Sandra also remind us that raising readers is not language-dependent. They both shared stories about engaging parents as partners in their child’s reading development across languages.

    Because we live in a text-rich environment, there are no limits to the ways we can engage kids as readers.  Just by looking around we can turn the routine events of the day (driving to ballet practice)  into reading opportunities (reading the exit sign).

    Today’s guests have lots of great ideas for integrating reading in our daily routines. Here is our lineup. As posts go live, I will add the links. Done.

    Finding Time at Home – Tricia Stohr-Hunt @ The Miss Rumphius Effect
    Making Time in the Classroom for Read Alouds – Sarah Mulhern @ The Reading Zone
    Look for the Clues: Tips and Tricks to Help a Remedial Reader – Sandra Stiles guest post on Scrub-a-Dub-Tub
    It’s Bigger than the Book: Building Strong Readers at any Age with a Daily Dose of Read Aloud,  an Interview with Cathy Miller
    Minding the Gap: Engagine Gifted Readers – Donalyn Miller @ The Book Whisperer

    More Great Posts about Raising Readers

    A Public Information Campaign for Read-Aloud @ Jen Robinson’s Book Page
    Share a Story Days 1 and 2 @ MotherReader

    Useful Tools from Reach Out and Read

    Have you found a way to build reading into your day? Throughout the day, I’ll be reading through the comments to post ideas here. If you have written a post, please be sure to put your link in the comment. We invite you to visit the Share a Story – Shape a Future blog to get the event image to add to your post.

    image credit: Author/illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba created the Share a Story – Shape a Future logo.

    Book Review: Burn My Heart

    6 March 2009

    burn_my_heartBurn My Heart

    written by:  Beverley Naidoo
    published by: Amistad, an Imprint of HarperCollins, 2007
    Audience (reading level): 10 and up (Flesch-Kincaid 5.6)

    In this historical fiction novel, Beverley Naidoo takes us to Kenya in the early 1950s. This is the story of the Mau Mau rebellion, seen through the eyes of two young boys.

    Mathew and Mugo share a friendship, just as their fathers had before them. The boys are the third generation of their families living in British-occupied Kenya.  What had been the tribal land of Mugo’s grandfather now belonged to the Graysons.  By British decree, Mathew’s grandfather owned 5,000 acres. The Kikuyus – Mugo’s people – were hired as staff and were allowed to create a homestead on some of the land.

    It is November 1951, and the rumblings of a rebellion against the British occupiers are beginning to grow.  Talk of the Mau Mau among adults was now spilling over to young ears, including Mugo’s and Mathew’s. This is where the story begins and their lives begin to diverge.

    • Mathew believes that loyalty and friendship will protect them from the Mau Mau.  Mugo is his friend. They do fun things together, they share secrets. Mugo saved his life – twice!
    • When Mugo witnesses a Mau Mau initiation meeting – and sees his father take an oath, he is confused. Bwana Kidogo (little master) doesn’t always make good choices, but he isn’t like the white people the Mau Mau described.

    Both boys struggle with trying to understand what is going on and what it means for their families.  In their own way, they are angry and saddened by what is happening.  Thanks in part to the heavy-handed Kenya Police Reserve, every event is blown out of proportion, fueling fear, resentment, and misunderstanding. The secrets they share become huge knots in their stomachs.

    In December 1951, Lance Smithers, Mathew’s classmate and the zealot son of a Kenya Police Reserve inspector, arrives on the scene.  He is a catalyst – more like a firebomb – that pushes Mathew and Mugo to harden their positions.  Lance, as unlikeable as he is, is an important piece of the story. His close-minded, aggressive behavior helps the boys uncover their own feelings.

    In Burn My Heart, Naidoo turns innocence on its ear.  On first glance, the three boys’ indiscretions (disobeying a parent so they can hunt, staying up past bedtime, keeping secrets) seem typical of a young boys.  They are children, and these are innocent, minor things.  No one got hurt. As the story unfolds, that innocence is eroded. In part, because of their own actions, but also because of events thrust upon them. Yes, somebody did get hurt.

    Whenever I read a book where the story built around black v. white characters, I  always feel uneasy and ignorant. No matter how many stories I hear or read, I still have a difficult time understanding why people treat each other the way they do. I don’t “get” their reasoning, either.

    In Burn My Heart, Naidoo helps clarify how things turn ugly.  This is a story about Character. There were times in the story that I got angry at Mathew and ached for Mugo. There were times when I was angry at Mugo and ached for Mathew. In talking about the boys in her afterword, Naidoo closes with this adage:

    the word in the heart is drawn out by talking.

    THAT I get. Burn My Heart is exceptional, and Naidoo has crafted another wonderful story. I can easily imagine Mugo and Mathew walking down the street. There is no more Mau Mau, but fear and misunderstanding are still very much a part of this world. This is a book meant for readers pre-teen thorugh adult. It is destined to open some wonderfully thoughtful, candid discussions that are as relevant today as theywould have been in 1951.

    Other books by Beverley Naidoo
    Out of Bounds: Seven Stories of Conflict and Hope (HarperCollins, 2008)
    Web of Lies (Amistad, 2006)

    diversity_rocksThis is our March selection for the Diversity Rocks book challenge. Be sure to stop by Diversity Rocks! to see the collection of March reviews.

    Reading Ahead – February 2009

    5 March 2009

    Spring is coming, and so are the books. It’s hard to believe we’re starting to gear up for summer reading already. There are so many enticing titles in the spring catalogs. It will be fun to see what people send our way. In February, we got more chapter books than anything else.  Because there is so much fantasy/adventure out there,  books in other genres really stand out.

    Easy Readers and Illustrated Chapter Books

    swallow_her_prideDown on Friendly Acres Series written by Ronda Friend, illustrated by Bill Ross (Sunflower Seeds Press, 2008) These illustrated chapter books offer a story, humor, and recipes. Given the illustrations, varied type sizes, and themes, these look like they have potential for reluctant readers. (AR reading levels range from 3.4 to 4.8)

    sword_of_ramuraiOraculous Tales: Sword of the Ramurai written by Becky Ances, illustrated by Ryan Wilson This looks very clever and engaging.  This is more than just historical fiction. Therea are pages  with facts about samurais, sword fighting, and Asian dynasties.  (Flesch Kincaid reading level 3.8)

    Middle Grade and Young Adult

    swallows_came_earlyThe Year the Swallows Came Early written by Kathryn Fitzmaurice (HarperCollins, 2009) The illustration on the front draws you in (young girl with her hands in the air as swallows fly by.  It also fits snugly in your hands. I like that in books for middle graders. (Flesch Kincaid readability level 4.6)

    uncharted_watersUncharted Waters by Leslie Bulion This looks like  a great story for everyone, but it has several hooks that will make it attractive to reluctant readers. For one, the main character has just failed 7th grade English! This is a how-I-spent-my-summer kind of adventure. (Flesch Kincaid readability level 4.1)

    sacred_scarabThe Secret of the Sacred Scarab by Fiona Ingram The cover for this book reminds me of classic mysteries a la the Hardy Boys. The story, set in Egypt, engages the readers in helping our heroes by decoding some hieroglyphics.  (Flesch Kincaid readability level  4.9)

    Picture Books

    henry_heron1Henry the Impatient Heron written by Donna Love, illustrated by Christina Ward. Sylvan Dell Publishing always has creative stories wrapped around science lessons. The idea of learning patience is very appealing!  (Flesch Kincaid readbility level 4.6)