Post Tagged with: "reading extensions"

Books to read before the movies come out

Vampire Academy book cover (by Richelle Mead, published by Razorbill)Buzzfeed has produced a terrific list of books to read this year before their corresponding movies come out.

I’m a huge proponent of movies based on books because I think it helps to get kids reading.

I call them “book extensions.” There are many other “book extensions,” including video games, websites and games based on books. Whatever will bring a kid back to the original book is great, as far as I’m concerned.

Harry Potter and Hunger Games are excellent examples of books that have gotten many kids turned on to reading.

The Buzzfeed list includes some adult-oriented films, but a few noteworthy Young Adult (YA) books including the very popular Vampire Academy series and the Divergent series.

Here’s Buzzfeed’s list of books to read.

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“Spirit Animals,” a new multi-author book series with an online game

Wild Born Book 1 Spirit Animals Books in series are popular with kids because, once they’ve found a book they love, they can keep reading as long as the author keeps writing.

Sometimes, of course, that’s not often enough. After all, there are only so many books a writer can produce in a year. Kids can read ’em faster than writers can write ’em.

That’s one reason why multi-author series are so popular.

39 Clues, of course, is one of the best and most popular multi-author series, with some big-name children’s authors including Gordan Korman and Rick Riordan.

Scholastic recently launched a new multi-author series called Spirit Animals. Book I is Wild Born, by best-selling author Brandon Mull.

The series is almost certain to be a hit with kids. It deliberately hits all the right buttons—an interesting fantasy world in which kids are the heroes, likeable, imperfect protagonists that kids can identify with, and… animals. Kids love books about animals, there is no doubt of that.

But these are not just any animals. In Wild Born, certain children can conjure up a “spirit animal,” with whom they then bond for life. That spirit animal gives the child powers—but only after the child has already proven himself capable.

Wild Born’s world is Erdas (which, naturally, is in peril and will require the kids and their spirit animals to save it.)Hunted Spirit Animals Book II Maggie Stiefvater

Erdas is similar enough to Earth that kids don’t have to mentally venture too far from home. Relatability is important for middle-grade readers, some of whom may get turned off something that is just too “out there.”

Erdas’s continents are given relatively recognizable names: Arctica, Eura, Amaya (“America”) and Zhong (“Asia”) – in real life, the Chinese word for China is Zhong Guo.

Brandon Mull scoped out the plot for the whole series, which the other writers will follow and embellish. The uber-popular children’s author Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Boys) picks up the torch for book two in the series, Hunted, which comes out in January. There will be seven books in the series; the last one comes out in April 2015.

Another plus for a middle-grade book is a plot that clips right along and Wild Born has that in spades. The reader is introduced to each child in turn and his or her spirit animal; the children are quickly united in a massive, action-packed save-the-world adventure.

While there is a lot going on—with four main characters and four spirit animals, it’s a lot for the reader to keep track of—kids love that kind of mental juggling.

The animals, incidentally, are an eagle, a cheetah, a wolf and a panda (whose bonded child never quite appreciates it in Book I: “What skills would it bestow on a fighter? The ability to eat bamboo,” Meilin asks herself.).

The Spirit Animals series is known as a “multi-platform fantasy adventure series” because it includes an online game kids can access using a code in their book. Kids create an adventurer and conjure their own spirit animal. In fairly short order, enemies start attacking–I was bitten by a magic rattlesnake quite a few times before I could find a way to right-click him into oblivion–and the Greencloaks waste no time in ushering your character into Erdas.

It’s not necessary to go online to enjoy the books. It’s just an added bonus to help get—and keep—kids reading.

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The Hunger Games – not for me

mockingjay pinI think I now have a better understanding of kids who don’t enjoy reading.

Sometimes, it’s the subject matter that puts them off.

Take me and The Hunger Games, for instance.

I have tried to read it several times. But every time I picked up the book… yep, still about children killing each other.

It’s not for me.

I don’t get the whole dystopian thing. I find it creepy, depressing and scary.

But I also get that The Hunger Games, and the whole dystopian genre, is hugely popular with kids. They love it.

The Hunger Games is well-written and compelling. The characters are well-rounded, the world itself intricate and thoroughly thought-out.

But… it’s about children killing each other.

I saw the movie on the weekend.

When the lights went down, it felt like I was on a rollercoaster to a scary destination, from which I couldn’t disembark. And essentially that’s what happened.

From the first moment, when we see how the people in District 12 are living – and all throughout the movie – it’s my version of hell. Watching children living in horrible distress, being set up by adults, and ultimately watching some of them die.

It’s the reason I walked out of Slumdog Millionaire. (Which was billed as “uplifting” – a marketing lie I still haven’t forgiven.)

I didn’t want to see the The Hunger Games, but as a children’s literacy blogger and writer I could no longer avoid this literary juggernaut. I had to get into that rollercoaster and buckle up. (With my 10-year-old, who thoroughly enjoyed every second, wasn’t very disturbed by it, and helped me through the scary bits. “Remember, it’s just a movie, mom!”)

All of this has given me insight into kids who are forced to read material they haven’t chosen for themselves.

No matter how well-written or popular it is, sometimes you’re just not into certain books.

If I were a kid and The Hunger Games was on the curriculum, I can imagine the teacher saying, “it’s a great book! Millions of kids love it!” But it wouldn’t be my choice and all those other kids loving it still wouldn’t make me want to read it.

I’m glad I saw the movie. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to get through the books – although now that I’ve met Katniss Everdeen I do kind of want to know her better.

In the meantime, where did I put my copy of Scott Pilgrim? I need a chaser.

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Get your kid excited about the news

newspapersEvery week, I do a half-hour presentation at my son’s school on “the news.”

It’s often the best half-hour of my week. And a lot of the kids – and the parents – tell me they look forward to the class.

What I do is pretty simple; you can do it, too. Either at your kids’ school (especially if they’ve got an open-minded teacher like ours) or just at home.

What it will do for your kid is to get him interested in reading the newspaper, following news stories and learning about what’s going on in the world. You’ll be helping him develop a life-long habit of curiosity and general knowledge.

Here’s what I do
I read the newspapers for a week. Simple – most of us do it anyway. So at the end of the week I know stuff, like that Kim Jong-Il died, and that there’s a problem in Syria, and that Sidney Crosby’s out of the game again, and that Justin Bieber’s in Toronto doing a charity concert. In other words – the news.

Then, once a week, I tell the kids about it.

And although it’s a class of grade fours and fives, when I’m talking about the news you can hear a pin drop. That’s because kids are very interested in knowing what’s happening.

In half an hour I might do six or seven stories. The most important thing I do is to use my “adult” knowledge of the world and put events in context. For instance, when an adult reads “Kim Jong-Il has died,” we think “uh-oh – what will that mean for South Korea?” Whereas kids think, “What is a Kim Jong-Il?”

So I open by explaining that there’s a country in Asia called North Korea, and for 17 years it’s been run by guy named Kim Jong-Il… and I explain. I don’t get too graphic and I certainly avoid scary stuff – and I try to point out the positives. For instance, in this case to illustrate his eccentric nature I tell them about how Kim Jong-Il used to dress up as Elvis and sing Blue Suede Shoes. The kids laugh but then they quickly jump to the understanding that if the leader of your country is doing that stuff, it may be amusing but it’s probably not good.

One of the kids in the class is now working on a news website himself. He wants to become a journalist. My son is thinking about a career as a sports journalist. Other kids in the class go home and talk about the news with their parents. One time, I had a parent come up to me and say, “my son explained to me what the G8 is!” So that’s pretty fun.

More than that, the kids are reading. Reading. Seeing newspapers as relevant to them, and not just boring adult stuff.

Since newspapers are not specifically kid-friendly, I point kids to our website,, which offers daily kid-friendly news articles. You certainly don’t have to use this website, but if you need kid-friendly news articles, it’s always appropriate. Plus, it’s free.

However you do it, introduce your kids to the news. You’ll quickly find out that they want to know what’s happening in the world, and not just what the toy companies tell them is important. And it’ll get them reading.


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Test your Potter fan with these clues

Harry Potter, magical quills; image: www.pottermore.comWe’ve all been missing Harry and the Gang, of course, which is why we were so excited to see the new website, Pottermore.

Getting Kids Reading has qualified to be an early, beta-tester of the new Harry Potter site.
That means we’ll be able to bring you an insider’s view of all of the magical outpourings of J. K. Rowling’s imagination, a month or so before the site is open to everyone in October.

(There are one million other beta-testers, incidentally, so we’re not exactly letting our special status go to our heads.)

They chose the beta-testers through a special contest. For one week, asked a question a day to elicit a clue which we then used to “find” a magical quill.

Test your little Potter fan and see how many he or she would have gotten correct!
Here are the clues they asked:

Day 1 Clue
How many breeds of owl are featured on the Eeylops Owl Emporium sign? Answer: 5

Day 2 Clue
What is the number of the chapter in which Professor McGonagall cancels the Quidditch match between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff? Answer: 14

Day 3 Clue
In the Gryffindor versus Slytherin Quidditch match, in Harry’s third year, how many points is Gryffindor leading by before Harry catches the golden snitch? Answer: 60

Day 4 Clue
How many students take part in the Triwizard Tournament during Harry’s fourth year? Answer: 4

Day 5 Clue
What is the house number of the Headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix in Grimmauld Place? Answer: 12

Day 6 Clue
How many chapters are there in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? 
 Answer: 30

Day 7 Clue
How many deathly hallows are there? Answer: 3

The image of the magical quills came from the “Pottermore Insider’s Blog,” which magically disappeared after I clicked on it. OK, maybe I’m not so much “magical” as I am “technically incompetent” – but my point is, I’d love to know who the artist is. These are beautiful. And, clearly, magical.

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Mother-Son bookclub part II

Our mother-son book club met again this week.

It’s a great example of parents taking their children’s literacy into their own hands. And anyone can do it – you can do it.

The boys drew, read, wrote, ate,
chatted, answered quiz questions
and had an amazing time.

Once again, the evening was total chaos… and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. There were boys writing, boys reading, boys drawing maps of faerie sightings in their neighbourhood, boys eating cupcakes, boys talking (in very loud voices—ok, shouting) about books, boys presenting at the front of the room, boys running around and overall, boys enjoying and sharing their experiences with books.

There were about half a dozen moms wondering what the heck was going on. (The one dad remained very calm, taking it all in stride.) The moms all had the same expression on our faces. It said: “This is chaos!”

Yes, it was chaos. It was wonderful chaos.

It was the way boys often need to learn, to connect, to delve into books, to share. Touching things and doing things and running around occasionally and eating snacks—while they were learning.

Every boy there walked away knowing that for a month, while they were living in “The Spiderwick” world—there were a dozen other boys in exactly the same world. And that’s the whole point of the bookclub.

Our itinerary:
Amongst the chaos, quite a lot was accomplished.

The book this month was The Spiderwick Chronicles (Book I), about three siblings who move into an old house and discover a secret world of faeries and goblins.

Two families hosted; their boys created a quiz about the book and its characters. They called out questions and the audience members answered.

They also gave out hand-outs: one asked kids to draw a map of their neighbourhood, showing where faeries and goblins could be found; another had kids draw their own “field guide” book cover; another gave the first three lines of a poem and had the child create the final line; still another taught “deductive reasoning.” So there was something at both ends of the spectrum, for kids who prefer drawing and kids who prefer writing.

Joulie handed out our special shrinky-dink I.D. badges that we’d created last month. They looked fantastic and the kids were excited to see their creations turn out so well.

And then Joulie created special I.D. cards for each child, which she’s brought home to laminate. (Yes, Joulie is our neighbourhood supermom who not only has a shrinky-dink machine, but apparently a laminator as well!) Each card has a photo of the child, which Joulie must have taken last month, wearing a fake moustache. I completely missed that she did that – when does she do these things?!

We read out a couple of the stories the kids started last month. Remember the envelopes, on which each child wrote the beginning of a story – we each took one home to continue the story. They were handed out yet again, for the kids to develop the story a bit further at home.

There was a lot going on, all the time. The boys could draw or read or write or eat or answer trivia questions—sometimes all at once. It was so great, I can’t even tell you.

You’ve got to start up a kids’ book club in your neighbourhood. (Just don’t ask to borrow Joulie, ’cause you can’t have her.)

Next month:

Our book selection for next month is Big Nate: In a Class by Himself.

In December, we’re doing The Red Pyramid, which is a really big book so we’re giving two months’ notice. We’re also suggesting that parents check the audio version of the book out of the library (you can get the CDs or download an MP3) because the book will be a bit too ambitious for some kids to read.

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The Red Pyramid

Looking for the next great book?

Here’s a conversation I’ve had a couple of times recently:

Parent: “I need a good book for my son.”

Me: “What books has he already enjoyed?”

And then the list goes like this, not necessarily in this order:

* The Bone series

* Diary of a Wimpy Kid series

* The Harry Potter series

* The Percy Jackson series
Me: “Great! I know exactly what to recommend.”

The next absorbing reads

First of all, if your kid loved the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, take him to see the movie. It’s heartwarming and every bit as good as the books.

If he’s seen the movie, then make sure to get The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary. It’s the “making of” the Wimpy Kid movie and he will love the book. For more information about it, check out my post – it’ll tell you all about it.
But after that

The Red Pyramid

As you know, the Percy Jackson series was about a modern-day boy dealing with monsters and gods from Greek mythology. Your kid (and you) will be thrilled to know that the author, Rick Riorden, has started a new series – this time drawing on Egyptian mythology.
The Red Pyramid is the first book in the new series The Kane Chronicles. It’s about a brother and a sister who have family bloodlines that go back to ancient Egypt. That makes them, it turns out, very powerful magicians and it gives them mystical abilities which they discover throughout the course of the book.

The Red Pyramid has the same rollercoaster excitement of the Percy Jackson series, it’s action packed and it’s one of those books you just can’t put down. I found it much more fact-heavy than Percy Jackson – which I found impeded my enjoyment of it a bit, but which actually makes it more attractive to boys. Boys love facts. They love to collect information about things that are interesting to them, and The Red Pyramid gives them tons of useful information about Egyptian gods, goddesses and monsters.

My son is in the middle of The Red Pyramid right now and he’s eating it up like candy. His reaction seems to be typical amongst boys.
The other day he was on a playdate and suggested to his friend, “Uh, let’s take a break and, um, maybe read a bit?” Basically, he was thinking about his book and wanted to get back to it – in spite of the fact that he was in the middle of a fun playdate. His friend said, “Whaa-?” And my son tried to recover: “No, that’s silly – we can read later. We’ll just play a video game or something.” A-heh.

I love that little exchange because it illustrates the kind of pull a really great book can have on you. It becomes like a little obsession that you think about and want to get back to as soon as possible.
Here’s the official website for The Red Pyramid/The Kane Chronicles. It gives you a great overview of the book. Links to related information are “coming soon.” The site says that book 2 in this series will be coming out in Spring 2011 and book 3 in Spring 2012.

Rick Riordan’s website
Here’s Rick Riordan’s website, which is surprisingly content-rich in terms of Greek mythology, teachers’ guides for his children’s books, online research websites where kids can learn more about Greek mythology, links to relevant online games and lots more information for kids who don’t want the Percy Jackson series to end. They can look at maps supposedly drawn by Percy Jackson and Grover and get tons more behind-the-scenes information.

A few kids have asked me how to pronounce Rick Riordan’s name. It’s like Ryer-din, where Ryer rhymes with fire. There’s even a link on Riordan’s website where he pronounces his own name for you and then reads a bit of one of his books.
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Get involved in your child’s school

Enrich your child’s learning, help your teacher, get involved.

I despair when parents complain that their kids aren’t getting what they need from their school.

I despair, not because the children aren’t getting what they need from their school, but because we parents have been conditioned to accept those terms lying down. And I strongly believe that if your child is not getting what he needs from school, you can change things.

We parents need to recognize our power. We need to ignore the “stop” signs that have been put up around us—Stop! You can’t participate in school. Stop! You we can’t go into the classroom. Stop! You can’t change the curriculum.

School is not some sacrosanct chamber. It’s where our children spend the vast majority of their time during the day. School is where our children are living their lives.

And if they’re not getting what they need from school, we can change that. As parents, we need to change that. We need to add stuff, we need to get the teachers to add stuff, we need to change stuff.

We can raise money for great books if that’s what’s needed—or just make a donation to the classroom of appropriate books (with input from the teacher, of course). We can find interesting programs that are being offered and get them incorporated into our school’s curriculum. At our school, for instance, the parent council funded a chess program so now all of our kids, from grades 1 to 6, get instruction in chess once a week.

We can talk to the teacher and the principal to find out how we can help. Taking a look at our own skill set is a good place to start. That’s how I arrived at the idea to do a weekly current events session in my child’s class. I’m a journalist and I love the news, so I simply asked the teacher if he’d be interested in my bringing newspapers to the kids once a week.

How about buying a few sets of Boggle or Scrabble and introducing your child’s class to a weekly game that gets them thinking and spelling? Or researching excellent fun learning websites on the Internet, so that when your child’s computer time comes around, the teacher has some good options to offer the kids.

Or how about introducing chess to your child’s class? Chess is actually extremely easy to play at a beginner level; once you know how each piece is allowed to move, you’ve pretty much got it. (It only gets hard at more advanced levels.) You can teach yourself how to play, buy or borrow a few sets and then – presto – you’re bringing chess to your child’s classroom once a week. And as our chess instructor will readily point out, the game teaches children how to think ahead, which is a valuable life skill.

If you can throw off the shackles of “parents should not interfere in school” and get involved, there are thousands of ways in which you can customize your child’s learning, help the teacher and enrich the school’s curriculum. And that’s a good situation for everyone.

I’m not suggesting some radical, half-cocked approach here. I’m talking about taking your ideas to the teacher or the principal and letting them know what you can offer and why it would benefit the school. Working with them as a partner. And of course, the benefit to you is that your child will then be exposed to new and extended learning. I mean, like, don’t just do stuff for other classrooms – do it for your own kid’s. It’s a win-win.

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The Internet helps kids read

  • April 27, 2010 at 11:30 am
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  • 1 comment

The Internet can help to get kids reading, according to a 2008 Scholastic Kids and Family Reading study. In an article in the Bismarck Tribune (North Dakota), journalist Pamela Krueger says the study shows that:

*Kids who use the Internet are more likely to read a book for fun.
*Two-thirds of children aged 9 to 17 go online in order to broaden their reading experience (in other words, for reading extensions).
*Kids who are low-frequency readers prefer to read online rather than books.

The article suggests that your child look up their favourite author on the Internet to learn more about them and find other books written by them, e-mail family and friends, or visit the American Library Association’s “Great Websites for Kids” page.

Here’s the article in full.
And here’s an article from GKR about how to get your video-loving kid reading books.

(Via a tweet from @JeanetteMcLeod.)

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The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary

  • April 22, 2010 at 3:56 pm
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Just when you thought the Wimpy Kid series couldn’t get any better, author Jeff Kinney has outdone himself.

He’s created The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary—a non-fiction version of the Wimpy Kid books. How great is that?

We know how much kids love the Wimpy Kid books. And then there was the movie, which was a real extension of the books. This “making of” book goes one step further, and may encourage kids to not only read the other books and see the movie, but to take a look at a career in filmmaking.

The Movie Diary is written and illustrated just like the Wimpy Kid books. And it has colour stills (like the movie). It uses that same hand-writing font featured in the books and the movie.

The Movie Diary takes the reader through the making of the Wimpy Kid movie—from the time the book idea and the lead actor are born, until the movie is made.

Along the way it explains how a movie gets made including:
*choosing the actors;
*writing the screenplay;
*blocking the shots;
and tons of other stuff that will be fascinating to any kid who loves movies.

The book tells some wonderful secrets, like the fact that Mr. Winsky’s (the Safety Patrol officer) office has newspaper clippings of him as a young safety patrol member—and that the set designer used actual pictures of the actor when he was younger.

It also shows you all of the “Zoo-Wee Mama” comic strips, which go by too fast in the movie to allow you to enjoy them.

And the fact that the school in the movie is actually three schools in Vancouver, spliced together.

The Movie Diary also explains some things in the books, like the fact that all of the girls in the Wimpy Kid books are drawn to look exactly alike, except for hair colour. That’s because, explains the author, they’re meant to be from Greg’s perspective, and to him all girls look alike.

This book is full of gems, and tells the story about the making of the movie in a way that lets the reader understand the process without overwhelming him with technical details.
Intelligent and not condescending—just like the Wimpy Kid books.

It contains everything boys, in particular, like in books: facts, brief snippits of text and lots of pictures. I can’t imagine there’s a Wimpy Kid fan out there who wouldn’t love this book.

And for pete’s sake, if your kid’s read the Wimpy Kid books and you haven’t taken him to the movie yet? Well, what the heck are you waiting for!?

I’d like to thank Veronica Wasserman, who rushed a review copy of this book to me so that I had it in, like, two days. Some people just do their job really well, and she’s one of those. So thanks.

I filed this article under “gift ideas” because–grandparents, aunts, parents of friends who need a birthday gift suggestion–this book would make an awesome gift.

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