Archive for category: Reading theory

Connect with books by attending a book launch

This picture was taken at my first book launch, for Gabby, at the Intergalactic Travel Authority (cafe and literacy centre) in Toronto.

This picture was taken at my first book launch, for “Gabby,” at the Intergalactic Travel Authority (cafe and literacy centre) in Toronto. Kids also got to meet Gabby’s illustrator, Jan Dolby, who signed books and talked about her process.

If you’re trying to get your kid to read more, a great way to do that is to connect them to the book, in real life. And one of the best ways to do that is to attend a book launch.

Some facts about book launches
1) They’re free! (And they even sometimes have cake! And it’s free!)

2) You don’t need an invitation! Authors want you there–in fact, the more the merrier.

3) If it’s a launch for a children’s book, there will almost certainly be great children’s crafts or other activities there. (Yep, for free!)

4) You should probably plan on buying a copy of the book (although it’s not mandatory). But bring a twenty.

5) After you buy the book, you can get the author to sign it! And personalize it for your child.

So now your child has a brand-new book with a personalized message to them, they’ll have the author’s autograph, they’ll have eaten cake, and they will probably come away with a bookmark or a sticker as well and maybe they’ll even have done a book-related craft. Think they’ll read that book? Heck, you’ll be lucky if they haven’t read the whole thing by the time you get home! And you may as well just turn the car around because you’ll need to go back to the bookstore to buy the rest of the books in the series because your kid will be clamouring for them as well.

Oh heck, ya, there's gonna be cake! At my second launch (for Gabby: Drama Queen) the cake featured toppers by plasticine artist Suzanne Del Rizzo.

Oh heck, ya, there’s gonna be cake! At my second launch (for Gabby: Drama Queen) the cake featured toppers by plasticine artist Suzanne Del Rizzo.

Where can you find out about book launches?
1) Follow your child’s favourite authors and illustrators on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads or through their author site. They’ll let you know when they have a new book coming out.

2) Follow some kidlit publishers on social media, such as: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Lorimer, Owlkids, Groundwood, Scholastic and there are zillions more. Just search for them on Facebook and Like their pages–you’ll soon hear about upcoming book launches. Check your child’s favourite books to see who published them, and then follow them on Twitter or Facebook. For instance, I just went to the Fitzhenry & Whiteside (my “Gabby” publisher) FB page and found this upcoming book launch for a picture book called The Old Ways, which will be at Mabel’s Fables in Toronto on April 22.

3) Ask at your local bookstore about what children’s book launches they’ve got coming up.

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Pediatricians recognize importance of reading aloud to babies

Photographer: Linda Bartlett

Photographer: Linda Bartlett

Reading to children during the first three years of their life is so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics has just included it in recommendations to new parents.

Starting this week, the more than 62,000 pediatricians in the U.S. will not only give the usual breast-feeding and immunization advice to new parents, but they’ll also be talking to them about the need to read aloud to their new baby.

Reading together should be a “daily fun family activity” right from the start, Pamela High (the author of the new policy) told the New York Times.

Reading, talking and singing are important ways to build a child’s vocabulary in their early years.

Researchers say they can recognize gaps between children who have been read to, and those who have not, in children as young as 18 months old.

Those who have been read, sung and talked to regularly “have heard words millions more times,” according to the Times.

Reading aloud to children is particularly important with the advent of new technology. More and more, parents find themselves handing their phones and tablets over to their baby, to swipe and click. It’s a new, high-tech form of babysitting that simply doesn’t do for them what reading aloud does. Pediatricians recommend that children be kept away from screens until they are at least two years old.

The bottom line is what parents (and GKR readers) already know: read to your child, every day.

Here’s a link to the New York Times article.


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Stuffed letters are great for literacy

Letters for GabbyMy picture book, Gabby, is coming out this September.

I’m excited! The illustrations are by Jan Dolby and it’s published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

I’ll be doing some readings in schools, book stores and at Word On The Street to publicize the book.

I sewed and stuffed some fabric letters to use during the readings. It occurred to me that letters like this are also great for new readers, since they can hold them and make words out of them. Making letters and words tactile for kids is a terrific way to get them reading.

There are lots of ways you can do this without making your own fabric letters (trust me, it’s a lot of work). You can use Scrabble tiles, foam letters from the dollar store, letter dice from a game like Jr. Boggle or Alphabet Scoop, or you can cut out letters or words from magazines.

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Help your child understand what he’s reading

Chocolate_chip_cookies; photo by Dan Smith, Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Dan Smith, Wikimedia Commons

I was talking to a mom today about a child who is having some trouble with reading comprehension. In other words, he reads a paragraph and has trouble understanding and summarizing what he’s just read.

He also isn’t reading a lot—possibly he doesn’t enjoy reading because of his difficulties with comprehension.

There are lots of fun activities to help with that and here are a few that I suggested.

1) Take a newspaper and turn to an interesting story. Reading just the headline and looking at the pictures, ask him what he thinks the news story will be about. If he’s having trouble, get him to identify and circle the verbs in the headline and/or the nouns. Use those key words as “hints” as to what the article will be about.

Make sure you pick a headline that’s not too convoluted, and that’s about something interesting for him. If he likes sports, turn to a sports story. (Our sister website, TeachingKidsNews has hundreds of kid-friendly news articles and headlines.)

2) Ask your child to tell you about a video game he likes to play or movie he just saw. Ask him a specific question about it, that encourages him to explain it—for instance, “what scene in the movie made you laugh out loud?” or, “what powers does the main character in the video game have?”

This is part of a process known as “retelling.” Gradually, you can build the activity to the point where he’s retelling the whole movie or video game.

Incidentally, if you’ve got a super active kid, walk around outside with him while having this conversation. Sometimes a kid thinks better when his body is moving. (You’re not his teacher—you don’t have to confine your interactions to a classroom or a desk!)

3) Do a simple recipe together. Bake some chocolate chip cookies (after you’ve simplified the recipe and made it easy to read). While the cookies are in the oven, get him to describe what you did to make the cookies. “First, we melted the butter…” Don’t worry if he misses steps or goes into too much, or too little, detail.

Just have him hit the highlights: We mixed the ingredients together, put it in the oven and baked the cookies. That gives you something to work with; you can fine-tune his retelling skills with questions like, “wasn’t there something before we put them in the oven? Didn’t we have to scoop something?”

Of course, watch for his cues to make sure he isn’t getting frustrated. If he’s done with the whole exercise, then just go and have a cookie together. He’ll get better at it over time.

4) Try a story-building game like GROSS-ABULARY (we just did a review on this terrific game) or Rory’s Story Cubes (we’re about to review it in the next week or so, but if you’re interested now, here’s a link to their website).

5) Write a three-sentence story on a long piece of paper. Make sure it has a beginning, a middle and an end. For instance:

We went to the zoo. We saw some monkeys. The monkey tried to steal my ice cream cone.

This activity can work for older kids as well:

Obi-Wan was driving past a Stormtrooper with C3PO and R2D2. He used a Jedi mind-trick to convince the Stormtrooper, “these are not the droids you’re looking for.” The Stormtrooper let them pass.

Cut the sentences apart and mix them up; have him put the sentences back in the right order. If that’s too easy, take two stories and mix all six sentences up. Have him sort them into individual stories and then put them in the right ordeuKloo scavenger hunt gamer.

6) Reading comprehension can bring instant rewards. Play a game in which reading and understanding what you’ve read brings a quick and fun reward. For instance, give him a paragraph that says something like, “If you look in your shoe by the front door, you will find a clue.” Then, in his shoe hide a second instruction, “Look under the sink for your next instructions.” And of course under the sink there’s another clue. Do as many or as few as you think he’ll enjoy… the last one is accompanied by a treat like a small present or a Hershey’s Kiss.

If you’d rather not create your own scavenger hunt, UKloo is a wonderful scavenger hunt that’s all ready to go. Here’s my review of this excellent game.

Two more things you need to know: First, I’m baking cookies as I write this post, so my whole house smells like literacy. Yum. And second, you know that I don’t get paid by any companies to endorse products, right? I’m just always on the lookout for excellent literacy games and toys. And I find ’em, oh yes, I find ’em!

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Picture is worth 1,000 words to a toddler

The Crown On Your Head, by Nancy Tillman

A beautiful illustration from The Crown On Your Head, by Nancy Tillman

To a pre-reader, words aren’t the main attraction.

As a parent, you can read the words to your child sometimes… and then other times, don’t be afraid to ignore the words.

You can go through an entire picture book with your toddler, pointing to the pictures and talking about them.

Identify the colours. Name some of the items in the picture. Ask her, “what do you see?” or “what’s that?” Let her point something out. (Make a big deal out of it when she does.)

Going through a picture book this way can also help to prevent some of the parent burnout that can come with reading the same picture book over and over with your child.

I recently came across a picture book whose pictures I absolutely adore… but I wasn’t that taken with the words.

It’s called The Crown On Your Head, by Nancy Tillman. It’s got a great premise, too – it talks about a “crown” each of us is born with, that we wear all our lives. The “crown” signifies that we are important and special.

The book’s message about self-esteem and equality is lovely, and the illustrations are rich and luscious.

It’s a book parents could look at with a baby or a toddler and they wouldn’t necessarily even have to read the words. You could use the premise, point to the crowns on each page, and talk about how your child is special, too. And how we all have a crown, how each person is wearing one and it means that everyone can shine. So nice.

Thank you to Maile Carpenter for inspiring this blog post.

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Bubbles are fragile things

bubble-pin; image at resolve not to burst my kid’s bubble.

I’ve been noticing lately that kids are subjected to a lot of scolding.

The problem with scolding is that it can so easily be the cold bucket of water that douses the flames of creativity.

Here’s what I mean.

Kid: “Hey mom, flies spit stuff on their food that makes it dissolve!”
(This kid is excited, he’s sparkling, he’s on fire, beautiful bubbles are rising from his brain.)

Mom: “Wow, that’s cool!”
(The mom is kind of grossed out, but wants to share her kid’s excitement.)

She continues:
Mom: “Where did you learn that?

Kid: “This really cool comic book called Zombies And Things That Kill. It’s so cool—”

Mom: “Where did you get that comic book? You know you’re not allowed to have comics with violence in them!”


The mom just wants to be a good mom. She wants to uphold the rules she’s laid down for her family. She doesn’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble. But there it is.

The kid’s excitement is gone. Now he’s a “bad kid” because he broke a rule. Now, instead of going back to reading—or reading something else—reading has pretty much been ruined for him today. Hopefully only for today.

And the moment he was about to share with his mom, that fragile beautiful thing, has been ruined as well.

I scold, of course I do. We all scold from time to time. But from now on before I scold, or even get the urge to scold, I’m going to look for the bubble and make sure I’m not the one to burst it before it can even be enjoyed.

By the way, this bubble isn’t the “reading bubble.” That’s another beautiful bubble that we don’t want to shred. Apparently I’m a bit light on new metaphors. Read about the reading bubble here.

And while you’re at it, check out this thoughtful blog post on a similar subject, over at Storytiming.

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Remarkable research on kids’ ability to self-instruct

Sugata Mitra's hole-in-the-wall experiment; some children using a computer embedded into a wall.

Image: D.Salhundi, Karnatak, India

Here’s why we say you should “scatter books around the house.”

I want you to watch this exciting speech by Sugata Mitra on that illustrates the extent to which kids can teach themselves.

Through his “Hole in the Wall” project he conducted a series of experiments in 1999. He went to a slum in New Delhi, India and secured computers, hooked up to the Internet, into a wall so they could be used. And then he left.

The kids there had never used a computer before. And, the computer was completely in English—a language the kids didn’t speak or understand.

Within eight hours, an eight-year-old boy was not only surfing the Internet, but he was teaching a six-year-old friend how to browse.

The kids taught themselves how to use the PC, and the Internet—in English—and they began teaching each other.

He conducted the many more experiments which supported his theory that when they’re left alone, with the right resources, children are able to self-instruct to an incredible degree.

So how does this apply to literacy? It’s simple: Scatter books around your house. Put a book on his bed. Put a book in the bathroom. Leave a book poking out from under his dresser. Leave a book on the kitchen table.

If you leave a kid alone with a good book, he will pick up the book and start flipping through it. Soon, he will become interested in it. He will read.

Here is the speech (it gets really interesting at about 7:33).

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Give your kid more – he can handle it

A boy, thinking about something in front of him.

Every new mom knows that her baby understands more than he can say. You say to a baby, “milk!” and that baby brightens right up. Long before he can speak, he understands.

That amazing, ahead-of-the-curve process never stops, as long as kids are constantly challenged with new ideas and offered the chance to learn new skills.

I’m not advocating French flash cards for infants or War and Peace for a toddler. But I am saying that our kids can handle more than we think.

Last year I brought newspapers into a grade three classroom – so the kids were eight years old. Every week we discussed a couple of ongoing stories. What were the kids most interested and engaged in? The G20 summit. The G8, and how it differed from the G20. How the oil spill off the coast of Mexico was going to be capped. New species of animals that were being discovered.

Those were their favourite topics. And we didn’t just skim the surface, we talked about real stuff. Like how the CEO of British Petroleum wasn’t being honest. And then later how he got fired… well, reassigned.

They were interested in the nuances. They made connections between the “adult” world and their own world. They thought of solutions. They rejected some of their solutions and thought of new ones. And they went home and discussed the G20 and the oil spill with their parents. Some parents told me they’d even taught them some things about the issues. The kids also learned the importance – and reward – of knowing what’s happening in the world through news and discussion.

Kids can handle more than we think.

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Why adults should read children’s books

Sepia illustration of a bookWhen 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. Try picking up a kid’s book for yourself the next time you’re at the library; the effect on your child will be very interesting.

My literacy colleague, Jen Robinson, has a slew of other great reasons why adults should read children’s literature:

*Re-reading the books you loved as a child will transport you, like a time machine, back to your childhood.

*Some of the new children’s books are fantastic. If you don’t read them, you’ll have missed out on some great reading.

*Bonding. If your child loves books already, you’ll be able to talk to her about what you’re both reading.

*You’ll better understand what your child is interested in (or concerned about) if you read what she’s reading.

*If you didn’t read much as a child, now’s your time to catch up on what you missed.

*Since good tends to triumph in kidslit, children’s books may uplift you and inspire you. It also tends to charge those imagination muscles that may have become slightly dormant in adulthood.

*If you read what your child is reading, you’ll be aware of the kind of content he’s being exposed to–especially if you’re wondering whether a particular book is appropriate for your child. It also gives you a chance to explain, or put into context, any content you think might be confusing for him.

*It’s a great way to show your child that you care about what’s going on in his world. You’re taking the time to be interested in what he’s interested in.

*Children’s books are faster reads than adult literature. Even if you “don’t have time to read,” you do have time to read a children’s book.

*It’s fun. Pick up Percy Jackson–I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down until you’ve finished it.

Children's literacy blogger Jen Robinson

Children's literacy blogger Jen Robinson

How to get started
Ask your child to recommend a good book. (He’ll be proud that you asked him, and it will be a chance for him to show off his knowledge a bit.) If he can’t decide on one, just pick up whatever he’s reading now–you can read it after he’s gone to bed.

Jen Robinson has also put together this handy list of 25 children’s books that adults will enjoy.

Let me add to her list my own favourites:

*The Twilight series;

*The Percy Jackson series;

*The MacDonald Hall series;

*The Encylopedia Brown series; and

*The Mysterious Benedict Society (book one).

Here’s Jen’s original article.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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Access to printed materials does help

What impact, if any, does access to print materials have on our children’s reading?

A lot, according to extensive research by RIF, Reading Is Fundamental, a non-profit children’s literacy organization based in Washington, DC.

Owning and borrowing books from the library causes, “positive behavioural, educational and psychological outcomes.”

In other words, kids who have access to books do better socially and at school.
(Does this sound familiar to regular GKR readers? But I digress.)

RIF found that having access to printed materials:

…improves children’s reading performance. Children, and kindergarten students in particular, read better when they’re often surrounded by books.

…is instrumental in helping children learn the basics of reading. Kids who have lots of different books become better at identifying words, being able to sound out words, and read sentences.

…causes children to read more and for longer lengths of time. There is more shared reading between parents and children. Kids read more often and for longer stretches.

…produces improved attitudes toward reading and learning among children. Kids who own, borrow or who are given books say they like reading and schoolwork more than kids who don’t have access to books.

So there you have it. It’s what this blog has been advocating for more than a year, and I’m thrilled to see another significant study that backs it up: kids who have access to books are much more likely to become great readers, and to love reading.

Scatter books around the house
Please check out these ideas for surrounding your kid with books.
Mom got her son reading!
Percy Jackson and the Olympians (let him find books on his bed)
Get your six-year-old reading
More books = more education

How the RIF study was done
Researchers searched 11,000 reports and analyzed 108 of the most relevant studies. They then chose “the most thorough and carefully conducted 44” of the 108 and did further analysis in order to draw their conclusions. That’s a lot of stuff.

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