Post Tagged with: "reluctant readers"

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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Media Literacy and “Teaching Kids News”

TKN_logoI’m a freelance journalist who is also involved in children’s literacy.

A few years ago, I brought those two aspects of my life together to co-create: TeachingKidsNews.com (TKN).

(Here’s the story of how TKN got started: an interested parent + an enthusiastic teacher.)

TKN provides daily, kid-friendly news. For each article we add teaching questions taken from the school curriculum.

So, kids can find out what’s happening in the “real” news–and teachers/homeschool parents can cover off the curriculum.

Recently, TVOParents talked to the founders of TKN about media literacy and why it’s so important for kids to develop critical media literacy skills.

Here is TVO’s wonderful piece on TKN and media literacy.

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

  • September 30, 2013 at 11:59 am
  • Great books
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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 Hypnotists” by Gordon Korman

The Hypnotists by Gordon KormanEver since he was a teenager and winning awards for his fabulous Macdonald Hall series, Canadian author Gordon Korman has been getting kids reading, and turning them into life-long readers.

Korman has a knack for creating likeable, memorable characters, interesting worlds and unique situations.

His new The Hypnotists is no exception.

Like a playful punch in the arm exchanged between pals, Korman’s books will be enjoyed particularly by boys.

They will be instantly drawn to young Jackson Opus who, we discover, is descended from two families, each with the powerful ability to hypnotize.

As Opus’s gift becomes known he is enrolled in a special school and, ultimately, used as a pawn to create city-wide mischief.

Opus must recognize who the bad guys are, and then come to understand that he is much more powerful than they are, if much less experienced at using his gift.

We love The Hypnotists because the answers to problems aren’t immediately obvious. Korman is a master story-teller and as such, leads us to conclusions rather than simply dropping us into them.

An English teacher once told me that the best books have characters you will remember long after you have closed the back cover.

Jackson Opus now takes his place among the many Korman characters who will always occupy a happy corner of my memory.

Gordon Korman

Gordon Korman

And The Hypnotists takes its place among the very best of middle-grade books.

——————————————————————————-

The Hypnotists is the first book in a series.
Visit Korman’s website for more information about his many novels.
The Macdonald Hall series on Getting Kids Reading.

 

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More about the three important literacy boosters

49th shelf logoWe’ve talked before on GKR about the three most important things you can do for your kids to get them reading.

(Hint – there’re in the sidebar, over there on the right-hand side!)

The fine people at 49th Shelf, a Canadian literature site, have allowed me to talk a bit about them. Just in time for Family Literacy Day, Jan. 27.

(If you’re not familiar with 49th Shelf, get yerself on over there and check it out. It’s a terrific website that promotes Canadian literature.)

And by the way, if you’re looking for something to do to celebrate Literacy Day this weekend, come on down to my book launch for Gabby.

It’s this Sunday at 1:00 at the International Travel Authority cafe, 1165 Bloor St. W., Toronto. There’ll be cake!

 

Here’s the article on 49th Shelf.

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Baseball books for a baseball kid

Baseball books for a baseball kidMy son had run out of books. Already read the new Rick Riordan. Finished his school-assigned books. Bored of reading.

I needed to rekindle his interest in reading, but how?

I looked to his main hobby–nay, obsession–baseball.

I’d already done something I thought was pretty darned clever. I found a couple of novels written by former baseball player Cal Ripken Jr. (Super-sized Slugger and Hothead). My son loved them because not only were the protagonists his age and baseball players, but the novel was written by a baseball player so it was authentic. It spoke his language.

He read them and loved them. But after that, I was tapped out.

So I went to the library and asked the librarian if she knew any baseball novels.

She did. In fact, one of her favourite books as a young girl was E. L. Konigsburg’s About The B’nai Bagels. It’s the story of a kid whose mother ends up being his baseball team’s manager. (Awwwkward.)

She put that one one hold for me and while it was working its way toward my library branch, she ferretted out a couple more: Haunting at Home Plate by David Patneaude and Throwing Smoke by Bruce Brooks.

My son loved them!

So there’s the idea for you. Think about your kid’s hobbies and then talk to a librarian. It can be kind of hard to Google these things, because you’ll get all manner of how-to books, instructionals… but those librarians, man, they know stuff. Tell them what your kid’s into and before you know it she’ll find you something amazing.

That’s what happened for me.

 

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Fun, active (and profitable!) literacy game

Dollar_sign_(reflective_metallic); from Wikimedia CommonsMy niece told me about a game that her friend’s mom used to set up to get her kids more interested in reading.

She would scatter letters around the room. Each letter had a price on it.

“Easier” letters like E might be worth a penny or five cents, whereas “harder” letters like Q or Z might be worth a quarter.

(Are you seeing where this is going?)

The kids would run around the room, collecting the letters; they would then put them together into words or phrases.

Then they’d add up the “money” they’d earned and… cash them in, using their parents as the bankers.

My niece said the game succeeded in making her friend much more interested in words and in reading.

And, presumably, in banking.

Here’s another case in which a mom successfully bribed her daughter into reading.

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Keeping kids reading all summer

dock sepia; Image: kiwiowner, Wikimedia Commons

Image: kiwiowner, Wikimedia Commons

Studies show that kids who read during the summer jump back into school with a head-start.

Kids who take the summer off (reading, that is), often tend to find September a bit of a struggle.

So for all kinds of reasons, it’s good to keep your kid reading during the summer.

Some of my best memories are of going to the tiny library near our cottage and loading up with a week’s worth of books.

But what if your kid isn’t a super-voracious reader?

Here are some tips:

* See if your library has a summer reading program. Here’s an example. They typically bundle reading incentives into the program – it works! And if you live in Canada, here’s a link to TD’s summer reading club.

* Plan on a quick trip to the library at least once a week. Even if your kid takes out one book, it’s worth it.

* Use books on CD (or MP3) to replace TV time.

* An ebook by the dock? Why not? (Just don’t drop the Kindle in the water…)

* Outdoor time can be reading time. Check out this outdoor literacy suggestion for active kids.

* Alternative reading material counts! Comic books, magazines, ebooks, books on CD… all better than mind-numbing video games.

* Buy your child a book, wrap it up, and hide in in their bed as a bedtime surprise. It’s not a school night, so sure you can stay up and read for a while longer!

* If you’re really serious about breaking some rules for a good cause, include a flashlight with the book you give your child. They’ll figure out pretty quickly that it’s fun to “fool your parents” into thinking you’re sleeping, when you’re really reading in bed with a flashlight. (Of course, you’re one step ahead of them.)

 

 

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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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Big on literacy… big on gross

Gross-abulary, bacteria cardGROSS-ABULARY is very up-front about what it is.

It’s a literacy game that’s gross.

And we all know that kids—okay, especially boys—love gross.

If your kid is “one of those,” then GROSS-ABULARY will be right up his alley.

It’s a game about building gross sentences, using starter concepts like belch, armpit and flu for inspiration.

You take a card with a caption like bacteria and your job is to build a sentence around the word before the three-minute timer runs out.

You’re given a pile of words and word endings (suffixes) to choose from. And your sentence can be as silly, serious, gross or normal as you’d like. The longer the sentence, the better, since you get a point for every word you use.

The winner of each round gets to answer a multiple-choice trivia question on the back of his card:

How many more bacteria are on an office desk than in a toilet, 20 times, 200 times or 400 times? A: 400 times—I think it’s time to clean your desk.

Gross.

If the player answers the question correctly, he wins that card; the player with the most cards wins the game.

My son and I were a bit worried that GROSS-ABULARY would be a bit too gross. But as you play it, you find that the sentences don’t have to be gross–unless you want them to be.GROSS-ABULARY

To add to the literacy angle, my son and I read each other’s sentences out after every round. That also added to the surprise factor, since I could shock my kid a bit with some very ridiculous sentences that unfolded for him as he read them out.

So if you’ve got a kid who loves gross more than reading, GROSS-ABULARY is definitely your game. He’ll be so caught up in the gross, he won’t even realize that he’s building his literacy skills.

GROSS-ABULARY (ages 6+, 2-10 players) sells for $24.99 and is available at Chapters/Indigo and Mastermind stores.

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