I’m recording some books on CD for our school.

It (and another mom in the schoolyard) reminded me that the Metro Toronto Public Library has a wonderful service. It’s Dial-a-Story, and all you have to do is phone a number — and let your child listen.

Every day there is a new story for little kids and older kids.

Stories are available in English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, Polish and “other languages.” Currently, you can also hear a story geared to black history month.

Even if you’re not in Toronto, give it a try.
(416) 395-5400

This is the cool microphone my husband bought me to record the books on CD. I want to burst into song (and sometimes, I do).
Thanks, Kerry, for clarifying that new stories are posted every day (previously, this post said they changed every week). BTW, the “other mom”? Kerry!

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The three main factors

Your attitude shapes your kids’ attitudes.

Researchers recorded years’ worth of everyday interactions across a wide range of families. They discovered three main factors that predict whether a child will be a successful reader.

1) Parents’ attitudes about reading
Even in communities without bookstores or libraries, if the parents showed children in many different ways that reading is essential, the kids were more successful. The parents also read to their children daily.

2) Having books around
The kids who had an ever-present supply of books were more likely to succeed at reading. This finding is also supported in the book, “Freakonomics.”

3) Affirmation
Parents and caregivers who regularly supported their kids through positive statements like, “I’m glad to see you reading,” or “What a great book!” helped ensure that their children would be successful readers.

Children succeed when you expect them to succeed. Foster a reading culture in your home, and keep your attitude about reading upbeat, and they’ll want to read because it’ll be fun.

Source: This research study was cited in the booklet, “Raising Kids Who Read,” by Carolyn Munson-Benson, funded by the National Literacy Secretariat, Social Development Canada and YMCA Canada. I wish I had more specifics about this particular research study. I can tell you that these findings are reflected in much of the literature I’ve read about creating successful readers.

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A cool way to get kids reading

Your child’s Nintendo DS is a reading tool.

Betchya didn’t know that. And maybe your child doesn’t either. And just maybe you’re about to be the coolest parent ever. Well, this week.

Your child loves the DS, right? Well, there’s a “PICTOCHAT” function that lets two DSs talk back and forth. It’s like instant messaging, and you don’t need any software. After the main menu (the DS on the right), click on PICTOCHAT (see the DS on the left).

Then you enter a “chat room” – don’t worry, it’s private and it’s not on the Internet. Then you use the stylus and the virtual keyboard to type and send messages back and forth between the two units. You can also draw pictures and send them to each other.

On your child’s next playdate, imagine how excited they’ll be when you show them how to send cool messages back and forth, like spies! Put one kid in one room and another down the hall, and they’ll have a great time. You’ll hear the giggling.

You can also stash a DS in your child’s room, and send him a message when he walks in. He’ll hear a little tinkling bell and wonder what the heck’s going on. Send him goofy messages, or better yet, send him on a hunt to find cookies.

It’s one-on-one time, on his terms. And yours.

You don’t have two DSs? OK, so you can’t send him messages – but you can suggest that other kids bring their DSs over. If your child’s not a great reader you might not think this will work, but the “drawing” function levels the playing field. So one kid can type and the other one can draw. They’re kids – they make it fun.

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How to get mail

Getting mail is fun.

Remember when you were little, and some mail came addressed to you? It was fantastic! And of course, when kids get mail… they read it.

Here are some ways to help your child get some mail:

*You get mail when you send mail. Help your child send a letter or even a drawing to one of her friends, relatives or neighbours. (Neighbours don’t even require stamps.)

*Send him a letter yourself. Let him get it from the mailbox when it comes.

*Subscribe to a kids’ magazine. He’ll get mail every month.

*Encourage your child to write to an author or even a politician. OK, a celebrity then.

*Help your child join a club, like the Toronto Blue Jays Kids’ Club. They send regular newsletters. And tickets.

*Put in a call to gramma or grampa. They’re usually good for a letter.

*Write to Santa. He always writes back.

Actually, do you know if Santa writes back in the off-season? Me neither. I think we’ll give it a try. After all, he must be getting a bit bored around now…

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Another reason to read to your child

Books have their own language.

You’d never say, in conversation, “once upon a time,” or “her flaxen locks.” And yet, when we read those phrases in books, not only do they seem perfectly normal, but they’re part of a fantastic language that contributes to a whole and magical childhood.

Here are some more book phrases:
* …and they lived happily ever after.
* the word “for” used like this: “…for no light ever touched his skin.”
* …there lived an elfin creature…

When’s the last time you described someone as “elfin”? (Unless you’re a RPGer.)

Books have a language all their own, and it’s an important one for children to learn. The only way kids can learn the language of books is to read, or be read to.

Another reason why reading to your child is so, so important.

Research source: Proust and the Squid, by Maryanne Wolf.

I knew you’d ask about RPG. Role-playing gamer, like Dungeons and Dragons. And by the way, if you are one, check out the extremely entertaining web-com, The Guild. I’m not one, by the way. Just in case you were wondering.
The cute elf image came from a “free colouring book pages” site, here.

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Writing in light

So, here’s a pretty cool product.

Crayola’s Glow Station is essentially a flexible white board made of a phosphorescent material. It comes with a pen-flashlight so kids can “write” (or draw) using light.

At first, I thought it was a one-trick pony. My son used it the first time for half an hour and then didn’t really go back to it.

However, as time goes by, I’m liking it more and more. Here’s why. It hangs on his wall, so it’s always handy.

Come bedtime, our family inevitably writes messages to each other.

So actually, it’s becoming a pretty good literacy tool. It’s getting my son to write more, and that’s hard to do. (He loves reading, but writing – not so much.)

The Glow Station also comes with stencils and an adapter that creates little starbusts of light.
But the real genius of the thing is the fact that kids will use it, again and again, to pass messages back and forth. In the dark.

By the way, check out this website that’ll explain why things glow.

I couldn’t take a picture of my son’s Glow Station because it’s, like, really hard to get a picture of stuff that glows. You use a flash and it doesn’t glow – you don’t use a flash and you can’t see it. So you get the Crayola image, and they’re drawing not writing. Your kid will write.
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Great new books – the Bird is back!

Boo Hoo Bird
by Jeremy Tankard

Well, he’s not grumpy any more but really, he should be, since in this sequel to Grumpy Bird, our little blue friend gets bonked in the head.

And, just as in the last book, it’s Bird’s friends who make him feel better.
Beautifully illustrated and lovingly written in a non-condescending yet kid-friendly manner, your child will love this new book by the very talented Jeremy Tankard.

(Here’s a picture of my son five minutes after the book came into our house. Grabbed a glass of juice, and sat right down with it.)

Down the Drain!
by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko

I always think that Munsch’s books are best when they’re illustrated by Michael Martchenko. The two play off each other’s whimsical, weirdilicious style in a way that’s very compelling.

As with his other books, Down the Drain features improbable situations, impossible goings-on and the kids come out on top. Of the parents.

Fun to read out loud, and fun for kids to read alone, Munsch books are always a home run. It’s great when a new one comes out, because you can send it to your grandchildren without worrying that they have it. Do it quick though, because they soon will.

Click to order Boo Hoo Bird and Down the Drain from Chapters/Indigo.

Disclosure – Jeremy Tankard is an acquaintance of mine. Everything I said about his talent and his wonderful books still stands, though. I’d say he’s brilliant even if I didn’t like him so much. Also, did you know that Robert Munsch had a stroke a few months back? He’s OK, and has regained his power of speech, although he says he still can’t write new stories yet. Hang in there Mr. Munsch – it’ll come back. It will.

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France gives teens the gift of reading

Another way in which the French are awesome.

When kids in France turn 18, the government will give them a free one-year subscription to a newspaper of their choice, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Friday.

The free subscriptions are designed to instill in young people the habit of reading the news regularly. Apparently, there are fears that the younger generation isn’t as into daily newspapers as their parents and grandparents.

With falling ad and subscription revenues, it’s hoped that the move will help boost the French economy.

What a great idea. I love it when economics and literacy collide. Oh Mr. Harper…?

I got this picture of N.S. by Google Image-ing him. It’s from Foreign Policy magazine. It’s such a great shot. Can you imagine our leader looking this spritely, this charming? Ya gotta love the French.

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Boys and girls are different

They approach literature differently, too.

Boys use different parts of their brains than girls to process emotions and words. They relate to characters in books differently, and enjoy reading different kinds of things.

Here’s what most boys like to read:
*Accounts of real events
*Books with action
*Illustrated accounts showing how things work
*Gross things – the slimier and more disgusting, the better.
*Books that get to the point. Boys don’t want the explanation—they want to get right to the action. Let your boy skip the book’s introduction and any long-winded, explanatory bits.

What most girls like to read:
*Great characters
*Books that let them analyse characters’ motives or emotions
*Books with relationships between two or three people
*Context. Girls want to know why something is happening, and why the characters are acting the way they are. Before opening the book, give your girl an idea what she can expect from it, and what the characters are all about.

Why is Harry Potter so popular with boys and girls? It’s got the sports and action boys love, and the great, complex character development girls go for. Accio, Potter!
Our source for this research information:

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Lunchbox surprise

Put a note in their lunchbox.

I like to put a little note in with my son’s lunch. Notes are great for kids who aren’t that into reading because they’re short, they’re fun, and they’re from mom. I keep my notes to the point, and very upbeat. Something like: “Hope you had a great morning. I put a treat in the outer pocket. Enjoy! I love you – Mom xoxoxo

I don’t tell him to eat his veggies, or remind him to check the lost-and-found for the mittens he lost. I want him to look forward to my little notes, and that’s good “reading reinforcement” behaviour. When what they’re reading is fun, they’ll look forward to reading.

Check out these Crayola “mini lunchbox messages” I found at a Michaels craft store. They even have a little envelope. But of course, any piece of paper will do – and don’t forget the xoxoxos.

I’ve got a call in to Crayola, to find out if you can purchase these notes online. When I hear from them, I’ll let you know. And yes, I did photograph this on top of snow. Tres Canadian, n’est-ce pas?

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