143 posts categorized "Love of Books" Feed

Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader: Melissa Taylor

Book: Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader (Kindle edition)
Author: Melissa Taylor
Pages: n/a 
Age Range: Adult nonfiction

On a recent trip, I read two books aimed at helping parents to raise readers. The first was Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader by my blog/Twitter friend Melissa Taylor from Imagination Soup. Book Love is written from Melissa's perspective as an elementary school teacher and as a book-loving parent who found herself with two children who didn't enjoy reading. While there are certainly nuggets in the book that will apply to any parent of young children, Book Love is directed towards parents who have kids who, for one reason or another, don't enjoy reading. Taylor proposes four general reasons why kids dislike reading, and then explores them each in detail. The reasons are:

  1. Too boring (because "either the reading level is too hard, or your child hasn't found the right book or subject that gets him hooked.")
  2. Too blurry (because "vision, learning difficulties, and the ability (or inability) to pay attention" get in the way)
  3. Too tricky (because reading is a hard thing to learn to do)
  4. Too "sitty" (because some kids don't like to sit still and read)

Taylor starts with some brief, down to earth guidelines for "setting your child up for success as you help him learn to love reading". These include "Don't push him. Please", and a quick warning about limiting television.

The tone of Book Love is as if your child's very committed teacher sat down with you for coffee, and gave you one-on-one advice for helping your child with reading. There's a very personal, colloquial feel to the book, with plenty of short, declarative sentences ("Reading is important. Make time for it"). Here's an example:

"Engage in Grown-Up Reading

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, right? Kids copy what we do.

Here's your change to read that book you've been wanting to read. So read a book. Or two. Or ten. Show your child how you choose your books. Talk about the ones you want to read. Demonstrate how you make time for reading, even a little bit, every day."

Book Love is highly approachable, and not at all intimidating. It's a relatively quick read, a plus for busy parents. There are user-friendly lists of questions to ask your child to help diagnose the above-described reasons for not liking reading. There are lists of the child's favorite interests for the parent to fill in (and book lists to support those interests). There are carefully chosen pictures throughout. There are less common tips, like this:

"skip buying a reading lamp. Buy a headlamp--the light is brighter and covers a wider area. Then kids can also read in the car at night (including during longer trips where it's tempting to let them overdose on video games or movies), in a tent or in a cabin at camp, or when staying over with friends of relatives."

There are bulleted lists, and references to the most cutting edge technology (eBook readers, etc.). There are steps listed for assessments that parents can perform to understand their own children's reading issues (and references to where to find help in advocating for the child). There are literacy-themed games and activities. Book Love has a lot of useful information in a contemporary and user-friendly package.

I do think that readers who have already read canons of the literacy field (such as The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease) may find Book Love a bit ... informal. There are relatively few references to other books or to research studies. There are a fair number of links to online material, but these tend to be somewhat casually sourced (e.g a reference to Betsy Bird's list of top 100 children's books that doesn't actually mention Betsy or her blog, A Fuse #8 Production, by name; there's a reference to Daniel Pennac's The Rights of the Reader poster, but one has to click through to see the list itself, etc.).

I think that this informality stems from a) the fact that Book Love is self-published (it's harder for an individual author to go through the hoops of requesting permission to just include things like The Rights of the Reader poster) and b) the fact that Book Love was inspired by a blog. Just linking to something, rather than including it, is common blog practice. And it works well. When people are reading online, it's easy enough to click through to the original source, and is actually courteous on the part of the referring author (since traffic is sent to the original source). However, when one is reading a book (particularly a print book, but even an eBook on a device), having to click through to see something is more disruptive. This may be an artifact of where we are in the evolution of books (20 years from now we may be reading everything online, and so used to cross-linking that one would barely notice). Book Love is clearly on the cutting edge, in the sense of being a book-formed offshoot of content developed on a blog.

But getting back to the book itself (rather than musing on the nature of books), Book Love contains lists and lists of book suggestions, and also suggestions for products to help with literacy learning. I can't speak for the content of the product lists (though I do very much like the idea of helping parents find phonics tools and the like with which to help struggling young readers). But I found the book lists to be quite comprehensive. Taylor is well in the loop and up on both current and classic literature. The lists aren't blurbed (books or products), however, so to find out whether or not a particular book or item might be interesting and relevant to your child's age, one must click through. The lack of blurbs for book lists is common, of course, and would be prohibitive in this case (since Taylor suggests so many book). But I personally find lists that also tell me something about the book to be a bit more useful (like the Cybils shortlists). Still, the range of suggested books (and the many themes for the lists) is quite impressive.

The nicest thing about Book Love, I think, is that it is directly aimed at parents of children who are struggling with reading in one way or another (or disinterested in reading). For such parents, Book Love offers a real (and non-judgmental) lifeline. The tips for what to do are clear, concrete, and contemporary. There are tons of ideas, book suggestions, and product recommendations. Readers who like concise, practical advice, as from magazine articles and blog posts, will appreciate Book Love's format and tone. It's definitely a new era book, though, with a different feel from that of books by Jim Trelease and Mem Fox. Readers who expect a lot of references and research studies, and don't want to be clicking back and forth to the web when they read, may not find Book Love a good fit. But that's ok. As Taylor indicates herself in Book Love, the trick is finding the right book for the right reader at the right time. That goes for books about growing bookworms, too. Later, I'll have a review of a book that takes a more traditional approach.

Publisher: Imagination Soup, LLC (@ImaginationSoup)
Publication Date: November 5, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you). 


Some Personal Thoughts on Fiction vs. Nonfiction in eBook Reading

On a recent trip, I read several adult nonfiction titles on my new Kindle Paperwhite, including Book Love by Melissa Taylor and Raising Bookworms by Emma Walton Hamilton (reviews to come). While I adore the Kindle for travel, particularly the backlit Paperwhite version, I have concluded that, as the technology exists today, I don't love using the Kindle to read non-fiction.

First of all, while it's easy to highlight passages, I find it cumbersome to go back and review the highlights. They are in a separate document, and while it's easy enough to skim through all of the highlighted text, it's awkward to go back and see the whole page from which the highlight was pulled. There's no easy way to see at a glance how many highlights there are (as with a "porcupine book" like The Book Whisperer that I have littered with post-it flags). This makes it much harder to review the book (this also holds for me when reviewing fiction).

A bigger part of this highlighting issue, and the one that applies more directly to nonfiction for me, is that I think the digital format will make me less likely in the future to refer back to the book (vs. if I had a printed copy on my shelf, post-its still intact). For fiction this is not such a big deal. I'm much more likely later in life to go back to find, say, a reading tip, than to find a particular passage out of the latest Lee Child novel. It would be easier if the highlights document (called Clippings on the Kindle) could hyperlink back to the original document (or be part of the original document). But even that would be more awkward than just flipping back through post-it flags in a printed book. This may change in the future, of course, as eBook readers improve, and other eBook readers may do a better job of this. But it will still be hard to improve upon the convenience of just taking the book down from the shelf.  

Another issue for me right now is that while narrative fiction tends to do fine on the Kindle, formatting issues make some nonfiction harder to read. In the case of Raising Bookworms, Hamilton sprinkles the book with quotes about the joys of reading. I presume that in the printed book, these are set off from the text in some way. But in the eBook version, they just appear within the text. In italic font, sure. I can tell what's happening. But they interrupt the flow of the text more, somehow. In Book Love, placement of images caused gaps in the text (since the images often needed to appear on a fresh page).

This is not to say that I think either author/publisher should have done a better job with the translation. More that there's an inherent issue with eBooks, the loss of the fixed formatting of the printed books, which I find more distracting when reading (some) nonfiction than when reading fiction. This was less of an issue for me when reading SuperFreakonomics, which is more narrative in form. I know that there are other formats, like PDF, which make this less of a problem - but I love the portability of the Kindle, so I'm a bit stuck. 

In light of these issues, I believe that, at least for now, when I am reading nonfiction, particularly nonfiction that I expect to review and/or refer back to, I will be more likely to go ahead and purchase the print copy, rather than take the slightly easier (immediate download, no books to pack up), lighter, and (usually) cheaper solution of buying a Kindle book. For fiction, particularly fiction that I wouldn't expect to re-read or review (such as mysteries published for adults), Kindle will continue to be the winner for me for travel (I wish my library had more books available for Kindle, but that's a topic for another day).

This post © 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.


Return of the Library Dragon: Carmen Agra Deedy and Michael P. White

Book: Return of the Library Dragon
Author: Carmen Agra Deedy
Illustrator: Michael P. White
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8 

Return of the Library Dragon is the sequel to Carmen Agra Deedy and Michael P. White's The Library Dragon. I somehow missed the first book, but I enjoyed this second one. The premise is that Miss Lotty, long-time librarian of Sunrise Elementary, is part dragon. Most of the time she looks pretty normal (except for a green tail that sticks out the back of her dress). But when she gets riled up ... watch out! Return of the Library Dragon begins as Miss Lotty has decided to retire. But when the school immediately makes plans to replace all of the books in the library with technology, the fire-breathing dragon returns.

Return of the Library Dragon is an homage to librarians from start to finish. The book opens with an article from School Library Times about the retiring Miss Lotty. Here's a snippet:

"Students had hoped that she would shelve plans for retirement, but Miss Lotty says her departure is long overdue... When asked to recall her fondest memory as a librarian, she replied, Dewey-eyed..."

When the story itself begins, we find Miss Lotty in bed, "counting children's books instead of sheep." Miss Lotty's nemesis in the book, the man who takes all of the books out of the library as soon as her back is turned, is named Mike Krochip. C'mon, you want to laugh. I know you do.

Return of the Library Dragon is a staunch and unabashed defense of books. Real, printed books. When Mike Krochip suggests than an all-digital library with 10,000 books would be better than their library of books that "stain and tear and take up room", the children offer up a variety of reasons why they prefer real books. But when the children's heads are turned by the coolness of Krochip's technology, the Library Dragon takes a stand.

I love the end pages of this book, which are papered with quotes about books, reading, and librarians. Like "To me, nothing can be more important than giving children books" -- Fran Lebowitz. I almost didn't want to turn past the end pages to even read the book. But I'm glad that I did.

Return of the Library Dragon is a picture book for early school age kids, with plenty of text on each page, and a fairly advanced vocabulary ("stampeding", "wisp", "gloat"). The text is mainly dialog, with short, declarative sentences, and an endless array of puns. 

White's illustrations are airbrush on cotton watercolor paper. They aren't strictly realistic (there being a dragon and all). The characters have oddly elongated faces and wavy, wrinkled outlines. But something in White's use of color and shadow makes the characters step, three-dimensional, from the page. The humor continues in the titles of the books shown throughout the text, from "Where the Wild Pigs Are" to "Furious George".

While Return of the Library Dragon certainly has a message to convey, Deedy's story transcends the message, and offers a fun-filled romp for young readers. White's lively illustrations add to the entertainment, and make Return of the Library Dragon a keeper (and a must for school library purchase). This would probably also make a good read-aloud for a first or second grade classroom. (Has anyone tried it?) Recommended.

Publisher: Peachtree (@PeachtreePub)
Publication Date: September 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Outdoor Reading: A Booklights Reissue

SNC00048 This is a post that I originally published at Booklights on Memorial Day in 2009. Since then, I've had many changes in my life (had a baby, bought a new house, stopped writing for Booklights). But I've never wavered in my affection for reading out of doors in beautiful locations. In fact, I recently took a two-day reading retreat for myself. I stayed at a hotel in Half Moon Bay, and spent pretty much all of my daylight hours sitting on the balcony reading, looking up at the ocean from time to time (photo to the left).

So I'd like to launch Memorial Day Weekend 2011 with a reissue of the original post.

Outdoor Reading

Happy Memorial Day! In honor of the holiday that marks (in the US, anyway) the start of summer, I'd like to talk about outdoor reading. I was inspired in this by a recent post at Australian blog The Book Chook. Blogger/reading advocate Susan Stephenson (one of the organizers of the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour from earlier this year) shared several of her favorite childhood reading spots (including "halfway up our huge jacaranda tree"). She closed by asked her readers "Where do you read?".

Part of my response (in the comments) was: "when I was a kid I read in the car (for even the shortest of drives), up in a tree in my yard, on the roof of our house (love those dormer windows), and on a raft in the lake (you have to swim with one arm holding the book up, it's a bit awkward, but worth it)." I SO wish I had photos, especially of the skinny little kid swimming out to a raft, holding a book up in the air.

momson.JPGWhat the most memorable of my childhood reading spots have in common, I realize now, is that they are all out of doors. It's been quite a while since I climbed up into a tree to read. But reading out of doors, particularly in some scenic location, remains one of my greatest joys. I'll go a step further, and say that it's how I recharge, how I heal myself, how I do what I love while remaining connected to the world. (Image credit: photo by taliesin, made available for use at MorgueFile.)

One of the best days that I have ever spent was during a vacation to Bar Harbor, Maine not long after college. We stayed at a tiny hotel with individual cabins, right on the ocean. After several days of hiking together, I sent my boyfriend off on his own one day to tackle another mountain. I spent the entire day on a chaise lounge on a little peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by water and trees, reading. Even now, when things are stressful, I travel back in my head to that oasis of a day. It continues to make me happy. And it's perhaps not a coincidence that on the day, quite a few years later, that the same boyfriend asked me to marry him, he left me sitting on a deck facing the Pacific Ocean, reading, while he was off making preparations.

Something about the outdoor reading actually sharpens my memories of my surroundings. I can still remember what beverages I drank that day in Bar Harbor, and what books I was reading. I can feel the wooden raft on Echo Lake, in New Hampshire, and picture the gray water. I can sketch the way the branches came together on the tree in my side yard. I can smell the tar on the roof. And I'm not a person who is generally blessed with a good memory. Reading and spending time out of doors are far from incompatible. And in fact, they can enhance one another.

GirlReading_Carolina_Antunes.jpgSummer is here, and that means that it's time to start talking about summer reading programs for kids. You can find resources about summer reading here at PBS, at Reading Rockets, and all over the Kidlitosphere (I'll follow up with more links in a future post). But to me, summer reading for kids is about much more than lists of recommended books. It's about more than having time to read books outside of school (although that is a wonderful thing). To me, summer reading is about reading out of doors, on a beach, on a raft, on a sun-warmed rock, in a weathered rowboat, or up in a tree. Summer reading is about the smell of sunscreen and salt and chlorine. It's about feeling the sun on your shoulders, and having to angle the book to reduce the glare. It's about shaking the sand out of your book, and having the lower part of the pages get warped from resting on your wet bathing suit. (Image credit: photo by Carool, made available for use at MorgueFile)

IMG_2627.JPGOne of the marvelous things about books (as Susan mentioned in her post) is how portable and sturdy they are. You can take them anywhere. You can read them in bright sunlight. If you're careful, you can even read them in the middle of the lake. Might I suggest, then, as you plan your family's outdoor events for the summer, that you think about bringing along a book or two. Or ten. Wouldn't it be nice, thirty years from now, for your kids to be able to share their memories of the fabulous places that they read books as children? (Image credit: photo by Wallyir, made available at MorgueFile.)

What does summer reading mean to you? Did you ever read outdoors when you were a child? Did you have a favorite spot? Does your child? I would love to hear your feedback! Happy Memorial Day!

This post was originally published at Booklights on May 25, 2009. Since Booklights has ended, I am republishing selected posts here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, with permission from PBS Parents. Booklights was funded by the PBS Kids Raising Readers initiative. All rights reserved.


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #2 Read the Books Your Children Read: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on November 16, 2009.

Tips for Growing Bookworms: #2 Read the Books Your Children Read

This is Part 2 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information where I have them. You can find Tip #1: Read Aloud here.

AdultReading.jpgTip #2: Read the books that your children read, even after you are no longer reading aloud with them (or along with books you're reading together). Talk to them about these books. Let them recommend books to you. By reading the books your children read, you show them that you value them, and the books, and you open up untold avenues for important discussions. I personally think that if more parents and other adults did this, there would be less of a drop-off in reading for pleasure as kids get older (though I have no formal data to back this up). I wrote about this in more detail in a very early post on my blog. But here are three good reasons to read the books your children read:

A. Reading the books that your kids are reading will give you a much better idea of what they like, and what their reading level is. This will make it easier to help them pick out other books, to buy books for them as gifts, etc. Some parents take this approach a step further, and read certain books before their children do, so that they can help decide when the child is ready for the book. The more you know first-hand what your kids are reading, the more you can help.

B. If you and your child are reading the same books, you'll open up all sorts of doors for discussion. This is especially true for parents of teens and tweens. Today's YA titles cover a wide range of issues, and sometimes it's easier to talk in hypotheticals than in actuals. As in "hmmm, I wonder what you would do in that situation." It's a thought, anyway. I do know parents who have found this to work well.

C. Reading the books that your children are reading sends a strong message to your kids that reading in general, and specifically what they are reading, is important to you. This tells them a) that they are important to you, and b) that you value books and reading. And I can't emphasize enough how important this last point is. There are all sorts of reasons why many kids' interest in reading for pleasure drops off as they get older. All of the distractions of television and computers. All of their activities at school. A perception that reading isn't "cool" in some cases. And so on. But if you are as excited as they are about the release of the new Rick Riordan series featuring Egyptian mythology - surely that has to help.

AnotherAdultReading.jpgI'll also add a side benefit of reading the books that your kids are reading - it's a tremendous amount of fun. I know lots of people who got back into reading children's and young adult literature because of their children, and then simply never stopped, because the books were so good.

One thing I'm not sure of with this whole "read the books your children read" idea is what you do when you are flat out not interested in the type of books that your child is reading. The most common example is mothers who enjoy fiction, confronted with sons who want to read about planes, trains, and war. Any parents out there have suggestions for handling this one? All I can say is that even a little bit of effort probably goes a long way here.

Of course I'm not suggesting that you try to read everything that your kids are reading in any case. If your child is a real bookworm, this will be impossible. And some teens might resist the idea that their parents want to read all of the books that they're reading. But I'll say this: if your son or daughter (or niece or nephew or grandchild) has a favorite series, it's worth checking out an installment or two. If "everybody" in your child's class is reading Twilight, then perhaps you should, too. I think that you'll find the experience rewarding. You may help keep your older child interested in reading. And perhaps you'll find yourself hooked on children's literature, too.

This post was originally published at Booklights on November 16, 2009. Since Booklights has ended, I am republishing selected posts here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, with permission from PBS Parents. Booklights was funded by the PBS Kids Raising Readers initiative. All rights reserved.


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #1 Read Aloud: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on November 2, 2009. It was the first of a 10-post series on Tips for Growing Bookworms. Each of the Booklights posts was actually an extended discussion of a tip originally proposed here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page. Thus I am especially happy to be bringing these detailed tips home by republishing them here.

Jpg_book007 Tips for Growing Bookworms: #1 Read Aloud

Back in 2007 I wrote a post on my own blog called 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. This has remained a popular post, and people have suggested several other tips in the comments there. I've decided to expand upon each of these tips, and create a new Tips for Growing Bookworms series here at Booklights. Of course other Booklights contributors talk about tips for encouraging young readers here, too, as in Terry's Bedtime from Afar post from last week. But I say, we can't focus on this important topic too much. So, without further ado:

MomReading.jpgTip #1: Read aloud to your children from (or even before) birth, as often as possible, and keep reading aloud to them even after they can read on their own. Reading aloud has been shown to have a huge impact in raising readers, and is the number one thing that parents and other concerned adults can do to help grow bookworms. By reading to kids in a comfortable, safe environment, you help them to think of reading as a pleasurable activity. You also increase their vocabularies and attention spans, and show them that you think that books are important. And with all of the many wonderful books out there, reading together should be enjoyable for you and the kids.

DadSonReading.jpgIt's especially helpful when Dads or other male caregivers can participate in at least some of the read aloud activity. This shows boys that reading isn't just something that girls do, but rather something that's fun for everyone. A recent survey by UK charity Booktrust found that "some 67% of mothers of four to five-year-olds claim to be the principal reader, compared with 17% of fathers, although many more fathers were said to be reading than in last year's survey." The Booktrust study (as reported by BBC News) found that 96% of children surveyed reported enjoying reading, but also reported that only one in three families read with their children every day. I would personally love to see that last statistic increase.

ReadingOlderKids.jpgIt is, of course, tempting to think that once your child can read on his or her own, you can stop reading aloud. However, if you can find the time and the motivation to continue reading aloud with your older children, your whole family will reap rewards. You'll be able to read books that they aren't ready to read on their own, and share the experience of discovery. You'll be able to introduce your kids first-hand to the books that you loved as a child, and talk about why you loved them. You'll be able to discuss all sorts of topics that are raised in books, allowing you and your kids to learn from and about each other. Andrea Ross from Just One More Book! wrote a wonderful article for Canwest Newspapers last month about the benefits to parents of reading aloud with their children.

Of course sometimes it's hard to find the time for read-aloud. But I promise that if you do, you and your children will find the time well-spent. For parents who aren't comfortable reading aloud, you can listen to audiobooks together (libraries have audiobooks you can check out), or turn the pages of a picture book and make up your own stories. Children, young children especially, are a forgiving audience. They'll find the attention and the closeness and your time much more important than your particular pronunciation of a word, or the fact that you aren't skilled at giving the different characters distinct voices. The more you try, the easier it will get, too. See also Susan Kusel's post at Booklights about the ups and downs of reading aloud.

Reading aloud together. It's enjoyable time for parents and kids. It helps kids to do better in school, and builds family closeness. And it's free (all you need is a library card). It is well worth a try. Do any of you have success stories or tips that you'd like to share about reading aloud with your kids?

This post was originally published at Booklights on November 2, 2009. Since Booklights has ended, I am republishing selected posts here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, with permission from PBS Parents. Booklights was funded by the PBS Kids Raising Readers initiative. All rights reserved.


Five Favorite Fictional Houses from Children's Literature: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on October 19, 2009.

Five Favorite Fictional Houses from Children's Literature

Lots of people responded positively to my recent post about favorite fictional towns from children's literature [here I'm referring to people who responded to the original Booklights post]. A number of people commented and Twittered to share their favorites. Carol Rasco (from RIF) mentioned Misselthwaite Manor from The Secret Garden. And I thought "great suggestion, that's one of my favorite houses from children's literature." And that, naturally enough, led me to thinking about my other favorite fictional houses. In the interest of fairness (or at least of not being overly repetitive), I've excluded any authors who I previous mentioned in my favorite fictional towns or favorite fictional rooms posts. And yes, that excludes Hogwarts, because I've already mentioned Hogsmeade, and Green Gables, because I've already mentioned Avonlea, and the many great houses created by Elizabeth Enright and Zilpha Keatley Snyder. There are still lots of wonderful houses to choose from. In each case, I've decided to let the author describe the house in question. After all, they can do this far better than I could.

Secret Garden.jpg1. Misselthwaite Manor from The Secret Garden (with thanks to Carol Rasco) by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

"Not but that it's a grand big place in a gloomy way, and Mr. Craven's proud of it in his way--and that gloomy enough, too. The house is six hundred years old and it's on the edge of the moor, and there's near a hundred rooms in it, though most of them's shut up and locked. And there's pictures and fine old furniture and things that's been there for ages, and there's a big park round it and gardens and tree with branches trailing to the ground--some of them." (Chapter 2, Mistress Mary Quite Contrary, description by Mrs. Medlock)

2. The Hall family's house in Concord, MA from Jane Langton's The Diamond in the Window (reviewed here).

"All of the other houses on the street were neat square white buildings with dark shutters and simple pitched roofs. Out from among them mushroomed the Halls' house like an exotic tropical plant in a field of New England daisies. It was a great wooden Gothic Byzantine structure, truly in need of painting. Big as it was, it looked airy and light, as though the wind might pick it up and carry it away. Screened porches ballooned and billowed out of it all around, and domes and towers puffer up at the top as though they were filled with air." (Chapter Two, The Hidden Chamber)

Hobbit.jpg3. Bag End, Bilbo's house (later Frodo's house) from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.

"It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats -- the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill -- The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it -- and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another." (Chapter 1: An Unexpected Party, The Hobbit)

LionWitchWardrobe.jpg4. The Professor's house from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.

"It was the sort of house that you never seem to come to the end of, and it was full of unexpected places. The first few doors they tried led only into spare bedrooms, as everyone had expected that they would; but soon they came to a very long room full of pictures and there they found a suit of armor; and after that was a room all hung with green, with a harp in one corner; and then came three steps down and five steps up, and then a kind of little upstairs hall and a door that led out onto a balcony, and then a whole series of rooms that led into each other and were lined with books--most of them very old books and some bigger than a Bible in a church." (Chapter One, Lucy Looks Into a Wardrobe)

LittleHouseBigWoods.jpg5. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. (This house is technically not fictional, but since the series is generally shelved as fiction, I'm going to allow it.)

"Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.

The great, dark trees of the Big Woods stood all around the house, and beyond them were other trees and beyond them were more trees. As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week, or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses. There were no roads. There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them." (Page 1-2)

I think it's telling that all five of the passages quoted above are from the first chapter or two. These houses play a central part in the books in question. In thinking about these houses (and the ones from my other posts), it's clear that my favorite fictional houses fall into two basic categories: big houses with lots of corridors and cupolas and hidden surprises, and homes that evoke a cozy, safe feeling. How about you? What do you look for in a favorite fictional house? Do you crave turrets and long passageways to explore? Or do you care more about finding a cozy nest?

This post was originally published at Booklights on October 19, 2009. Since Booklights has ended, I am republishing selected posts here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, with permission from PBS Parents. Booklights was funded by the PBS Kids Raising Readers initiative. All rights reserved.


Five Favorite Fictional Towns from Children's Literature: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on September 28, 2009.

Five Favorite Fictional Towns from Children's Literature

Charlie.jpgLast fall, inspired by a post at Charlotte's Library, I wrote about my Five Favorite Fictional Rooms from Children's Literature. That post remains one of my favorites, because it makes me happy just thinking about these favorite fictional rooms (like the chocolate room from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

This weekend, I got to thinking about some of favorite fictional towns from children's literature. These are towns described so perfectly on the page that they feel real. Town that stand out in my memory, and that my childhood self would have loved to visit. Some of my favorites are realistic towns. The only magic that you'll find there is the magic of community. Others are clearly fantastic, from a town for wizards to an underground city to a city in the clouds. But they're all special, in one way or another. Here are my personal top five fictional towns from children's literature, with a couple of honorable mentions at the end.

anneshirleyboxedset.jpg#1: Avonlea, Price Edward Island, Canada. Avonlea is home, of course, of Anne Shirley of Green Gables. Avonlea is a fictional community, albeit one closely based on the towns of L. M. Montgomery's childhood (or so Wikipedia says). Avonlea features Green Gables, Mrs. Rachel Lynde's farm, the school where Anne was first pupil then teacher, and Marilla's church. Avonlea really shines in Anne of Avonlea, as you might expect. Remember the village improvement society, and their mishap with the wrong color paint? I think that my fondness for Avonlea is a side effect of my general fondness for Anne, Marilla, Matthew, Diana, and, of course, Gilbert. When I started thinking about favorite towns from literature, Avonlea was the first to come to mind.

#2: Gone-Away from Elizabeth Enright's Gone-Away Lake books. I wrote about the second Gone-Away book, Return to Gone-Away, recently at Booklights, and also reviewed it here. Gone-Away is a former summer community, located on the shores of a lake degenerated into a swamp, populated by two elderly residents. Here is the reader's first glimpse of Gone-Away: "They both climbed up on the little hulk and looked out over the tops of the reeds, a sea of reeds, beyond which, and around, grew the dark woods. But that was not all. Portia and Julian drew in a breath of surprise at exactly the same instant, because at the northeast end of the swamp, between the reeds and the woods, and quite near to them, they saw a row of wrecked old houses. There were perhaps a dozen of them; all large and shabby, though once they must have been quite elaborate, adorned as they were with balconies, turrets, widows' walks, and lacy wooden trimming. But now the balconies were sagging and the turrets tipsy; the shutters were crooked or gone, and large sections of wooden trimming had broken off. There was a tree sticking out of one of the windows, not into it but out of it. And everything was as still as death." (Chapter 2, Gone-Away Lake). Of course the children learn that Gone-Away is far less forbidding than it first appears. Gone-Away epitomizes summer for me. It will always have a special place in my heart.

All Harry Potter books.jpg#3: Hogsmeade from the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Hogsmeade is a magic-filled town, located adjacent to Hogwarts. It includes the Three Broomsticks pub, Honeydukes sweetshop, Madam Puddifoot's tearoom, and, of course, the Shrieking Shack. Hogswarts students aren't allowed to visit Hogwarts until their third year, and even then they need permission from a parent or guardian (a sore spot indeed for a boy with toxic guardians). Millions of children around the world would go to the same lengths Harry does, if it meant that they could drink some butterbeer, or pick up magic tricks at Zonko's joke shop. Happily, they'll have a chance to visit a theme park version of Hogsmeade at Universal Studios next spring. I'm sure that's going to be a huge hit. Though me, I always picture Hogsmeade in the snow.

#4: Ember from Jeanne DuPrau's The City of Ember (with an honorable mention for Sparks, location of the second book in the series). Ember is an underground city, built as a last-ditch effort to protect humanity from a nuclear holocaust. The people living in Ember don't know that there ever was an outside world, and are completely dependent on light bulbs. Here's the opening description of Ember: "In the city of Ember, the sky was always dark. The only light came from great flood lamps mounted on the buildings and at the top of poles in the middle of the larger squares. When the lights were on, they cast a yellowish glow over the streets; people walking by threw long shadows that shortened and then stretched out again. When the lights were off, as they were between nine at night and six in the morning, the city was so dark that people might as well have been wearing blindfolds." (Chapter 1, The City of Ember) Who could read that, and not want to know more about Ember?

BelowTheRoot.jpg#5: Green Sky from the Green Sky Trilogy by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Green Sky is a city build high up in the branches of an enormous forest. The people there wear "shubas", which are garments with wide, wing-like panels. The shubas allow them to glide gently downward in Green Sky's heavy atmosphere (they use ladders and stairways to climb back up). Here's a hint of what Green Sky is like: "He stood on the narrow grundbranch, looking down hundreds of feet, through vast open spaces softly lit by filtering rays of greenish light, bordered and intersected by enormous branches, festooned with curtains of graceful Wissenvine. Shaking out the wing panels of his shuba, the long silken robe worn by all except the youngest infants, he launched himself downward into space." (Chapter 1, Below the Root) I've never forgotten Green Sky, first encountered when I was probably 10 years old. I reviewed the Green Sky Trilogy here.

And finally, here are a few honorable mentions: L. Frank Baum's Emerald City, Astrid Lindgren's Noisy Village, and Laini Taylor's Dreamdark. My fondness for these fictional towns is a testament to the power of literature.

How about you? What are your favorite fictional towns from children's literature? (See the comments on the original post for some great responses.)

This post was originally published at Booklights on September 28, 2009. Since Booklights has ended, I am republishing selected posts here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, with permission from PBS Parents. Booklights was funded by the PBS Kids Raising Readers initiative. All rights reserved.


A Must-Read Post on How Reading Aloud Made Read Aloud Dad a Better Father

RADLogo Every once in a while a post comes along that reminds me of why I'm doing this whole blogging thing in the first place. Today, I found such a post at Read Aloud Dad. Read Aloud Dad, father to young twins, shares the story of how reading aloud made him a better father.

He explains that he wasn't comfortable talking with his kids when they were too young to communicate back. He talks about how he left the talking part to his (already overworked) wife. And he talks about how everything changed for his family once he took over the nightly reading sessions. Once he became "Read Aloud Dad."

He explains: "Children's books almost magically opened up the channels of communication. They broke down all the walls." He reviews other benefits that have come from his commitment to reading aloud, and closes with advice for other dads who would like to see this magic happen in their own homes.

I wish that I had a way to share this post with every dad or mom who feels uncomfortable talking with their pre-verbal children. To share it with all the people who think "oh, well, my child isn't old enough to read to yet." By opening up, by sharing his own limitations and struggles, Read Aloud Dad makes a powerful, completely non-judgmental, case for reading aloud to kids. That is what blogging can do.

Go read it! I hope that this post brightens your day, as it did mine.


Revisiting Old Friends: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on August 17, 2009. It is one of my very favorite posts from Booklights, about the joys of revisiting books that have become, through repeat reads, old friends.

Revisiting Old Friends

21WXW4GJCQL._SL500_AA140_.jpgLast week Susan wrote about the gift of reading a wonderful book for the first time. She asked readers: "What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time?". This post inspired a host of thoughtful and (sometimes) nostalgic responses. The next day, Pam wrote about three of her favorite summer books and asked readers to share their favorites. These posts, in part (along with a post by Charlotte from Charlotte's Library), inspired me to re-read one of my own favorite books, one that is for me the very essence of summer: Return to Gone-Away by Elizabeth Enright. I previously listed Return to Gone-Away as one of my favorite children's books, and just reviewed it here. Re-reading Return to Gone-Away last week made me think about something that is, in a way, a mirror image Susan's post. It made me think about the joy that comes from re-reading an old favorite, one in which each character and scene are already familiar.

ForgottenDoor.jpgI was only a few pages in to my re-read of Return to Gone-Away when it literally brought tears to my eyes. It wasn't the content of the book that made me weepy-eyed. It's that I was so happy to be back reading this particular book that my emotions just bubbled over. I can only think of a few books that evoke tears from me, just from being themselves. Return to Gone-Away is one of them. Two others are The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key and Listening Valley by D. E. Stevenson (my all-time favorite book, published for adults). (You can read about some of my other favorite re-reads here.)

I love everything about these cherished books. I love the language, especially when I read particular sentences that I remember verbatim. I love the characters, and the way that they remind me anew of the things that make them special. I love re-visiting my younger self, remembering earlier reads of the same book. I literally give these books a little pat on the cover when I see them on my bedside table - I'm unable to rein in my affection. And why should I? These are the books that made me who I am.

When I read new books, I generally require a considerable amount of plot. The more complex and suspenseful, the better. But I'm reminded by Return to Gone-Away that the books I already love, the books that I read over and over again, don't need suspense at all. The re-reading experience, for me, is all about revisiting beloved characters and settings. It's about visiting old friends. It's about a personal connection between me and the particular book. I don't want the opportunity to read these particular books again as if it was the first time (as Susan discussed). Part of what makes these particular books special for me is the incremental appreciation I've built up over dozens of readings.

I like smiling when Mrs. Blake says, on page 1 of Return to Gone-Away "We'll have to think of a new name for that house right away", because I already know the outcome. I like already knowing whether or not Julian will find the missing safe, and whether or not the rope in the old dumbwaiter will break. I like shaking my head on page 9, because Foster's behavior is just so typically Foster.

This affection for particular books is more than just taking comfort in familiarity (though that's part of it). I don't think that you can just pick any old random book off the shelf, and re-read it once a year for 20 years, and have the book become meaningful to you (though that would be an interesting experiment). I think that there has to be something already in the book that makes you want to re-read it every year. Something that connects you to the book. For those books, the ones that you love enough to revisit throughout your lifetime, the connection just gets stronger every year.

This isn't to say that I disagree with Susan about the wonders of reading a great book for the first time. I envy every single person who hasn't read The Hunger Games yet, because they still have it ahead of them. And I know that sometimes childhood favorites don't hold up at all. But I also think (and I'll bet that Susan will agree) that there's something very special about re-reading a favorite book, one that is loved, in part, because it's so familiar.

HarryPotter1.jpgI'd like to believe that everyone has books like these, books that they can turn to for comfort reading on bleak days. Books that remind them of where they came from, and what mattered to them when they were younger. Parents, what books will bring tears to your children's eyes when they're 40, because they're so happy to be back reading the books again? Will it be Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone? The Penderwicks? The Lord of the Rings? Clementine? Will the teens who have read Twilight seven times already re-read it as they get older? Will reading Twilight when they are 60 help them to recapture that feeling of falling in love with a book at 12? I hope so. Because me, I feel blessed to have my favorite books as part of my life. What do all of you say?

This post was originally published at Booklights on August 17, 2009. Since Booklights has ended, I am republishing selected posts here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, with permission from PBS Parents. Booklights was funded by the PBS Kids Raising Readers initiative. All rights reserved.


Why Adults Should Read Children's Books

Book-illustration-150x150 Today at Getting Kids Reading Joyce Grant has an article that summarizes and expands upon ideas from one of my very earliest blog topics: Why You Should Read Children's Books as an Adult (Joyce's post, my original post). I hope that you'll take a few minutes to check out the new post and admire Joyce's snazzy new look for her blog. Here's a snippet from her post:

"When kids see adults reading they’re more likely to read, themselves. It isn’t just a theory, there’s been research done on this. When a kid sees an adult reading a children’s book, he’s even more likely to read."

I think it's true (not to mention all of the other excellent reasons to read children's books). What say all of you? Have you found that by reading children's books, you've helped to encourage your students and/or your children to read themselves?

Terry_readingtubfinal_1 For more on ways to encourage kids to read, check out part 1 of the January Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup at The Reading Tub. Among other interesting news tidbits, Terry links to a podcast interview between Franki Sibberson and Donalyn Miller at Choice Literacy on Modeling Literate Lives. Two of my favorite literacy champions, talking about how to let kids know that reading is worthwhile. Don't miss it!

I'll be back tomorrow with Part 2 of the January Literacy Roundup. Thanks for reading!


The Power of Social Reading: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights in June of 2009. It discusses the concept of Social Reading (kids recommending books to one another), something I first saw discussed at The Reading Zone. The original post sparked quite a few comments, and I'll be interested to see if this idea still captures people's imaginations. See also this follow-on post at Booklights (which I won't be republishing here) with links to a variety of other posts about social reading and reading and grade levels. I also shared some links to other people's posts in defense of escapist summer reading here.

The Power of Social Reading

A post that I read recently at The Reading Zone inspired me to write about "social reading" for kids. Blogger Sarah Mulhern is "a 6th grade Language Arts teacher who strives to instill a love of reading and writing in her students". Recently, Sarah wrote about a book club that she observed in her classroom between two best friends. The two girls decided, on their own initiative, to read the same book (Gone by Michael Grant). Sarah observed:

"They talk about the book with each other and with me, coming to me to share their responses and exclamations. I LOVE IT! ... It's amazing the power that social reading has. Why don't we harness this in more classrooms and use it? Students reading, recommending, and talking about books is more powerful than any literacy kit, basal reader, or literature set."

I certainly agree with that. I don't remember much about what I was reading in the classroom in 5th or 6th grade, beyond a vague memory of workbooks and reading comprehension questions. But I DO remember talking about books with my friend Holly. We especially enjoyed a book about Gnomes, Fairies, and Elves, and we were thrilled to discover a hidden path to an island of sticks in the swamp behind my house. Surely there was magic there! Holly moved out of the country after fifth grade, and for quite a while we took turns writing a shared story, sending chapters back and forth by airmail. I think that our shared experience with books worked a dual magic - it strengthened my friendship with Holly, while at the same time reinforcing my love of books. And I've been fortunate to have that dynamic with friends in my adult life, too. We benefit from the recommendations that we share with each other, and our friendships grow while we discuss the books.

In The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn Miller talks about the importance of her own shared reading experiences with her husband, her children, and her best friend. Talking about her classroom, she says:

"By setting the expectation that reading is what we do, always, everywhere, it becomes the heart of a class' culture. Even the most resistant readers can't fight if all of their friends comply." (Chapter 3)

I know parents who have had good success with parent-child bookgroups (see MotherDaughterBookClub.com, for example, or read Heather Vogel Frederick's book The Mother-Daughter Book Club). I think that bookclubs are a great idea. There's no doubt that by talking about books with their kids, parents can have a tremendous influence. Last summer, our own MotherReader hosted a wonderful summer book club for her rising seventh-grader's Girl Scout Troop. (You can find all of the posts here.)

I also think that when kids talk about books on their own, and make recommendations to one another, great things can happen. I'm not sure what can be done to encourage this social reading, exactly. I'm sure that the best response comes from the spontaneous bubbling over of genuine enthusiasm, and you can't orchestrate that. But I would be willing to bet that kids whose close friends are avid readers are more likely to be readers themselves (and vice versa).

Surely social reading has been a big part of the Twilight phenomenon, with girls reading the books because their friends rave about them. It was clear when I attended the signing for The Last Olympian this spring that part of the reason that kids were so excited about the Percy Jackson books was because OTHER kids were so excited about them. And that's great. J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Rick Riordan deserve every iota of success, as far as I'm concerned, because their books have turned kids into readers. But what I'd also love to see more of is kids recommending books back and forth that aren't necessarily huge bestsellers. A kid recommending The Magic Thief or Alabama Moon to his best friend because he loves it, and he wants his friend to read it so that they can compare notes, and discuss it. I'd like to peek into Sarah's classroom, just for a moment, to see those two girls, heads bent together over their matching books. I think that social reading is a beautiful thing, something worth cultivating.

What do you all think? Have you observed social reading between your kids and their friends? In their classrooms? Teachers, is this something that you've been able to harness? Do you have any suggestions for how to do it? I would love to hear your feedback.

This post was originally published at Booklights on June 22, 2009. Since Booklights has ended, I am republishing selected posts here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, with permission from PBS Parents. Booklights was funded by the PBS Kids Raising Readers initiative. All rights reserved.