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Your kids are likely a little more than half way through their summer vacation. You and kiddos resolved that this summer would be different–they would read and they would read consistently throughout the summer. Cuz you know it’s good for them (and tastes better than spinach).

But here it is, mid-summer, and everyone’s resolve is wavering. How do you jump start the reading? It’s an easy, one-step trick.

Let your kid pick the reading material.

Oh no, you wail, tearing into the street, heedless of oncoming traffic. But what if…

  • My kid chooses comic books;
  • My kid chooses books of less than stellar literary merit;
  • My kid chooses a cookbook or a how-to book;
  • My kid chooses a book with a lot of pictures;
  • My kid choose a book that’s not on the AR (or substitute your school’s reading program) list;
  • My kid chooses a book he or she has already read…
  • or a book too easy or a book too hard or a magazine or (fill in the blank with your concern).

What if? Well, bottom line, it does not matter. Really truly, it does not matter what they read. Research shows that what matters is the number of words they read and that they read consistently.

Remember that there are many purposes for reading and therefore many reasons for “teaching” reading. Summer reading, leisure reading, vacation reading, non-school reading develops the fluency and skills that lead to lifelong reading.

Reading is not merely an academic endeavor. Think about it: How would you like it if

  1. someone always dictated to you what you could and could not read,
  2. someone always “quizzed” you on it, either formally or informally, and
  3. someone was always handing you books like Moby Dick (I’d run out screaming into the street!)

You wouldn’t like it one bit, would you? And would you want to read very much if that’s what always happened when you tried? You betcha wouldn’t! πŸ™‚

Your kid’s no different.

So recharge summer reading. Let the kiddos do the choosing!

It’s what summer’s for,


Ramona and Ralph the Mouse love DEAR!

Yeah, you can sing that to Aretha’s RESPECT and I won’t tell.

But DEAR and TCH really are not the latest in pop tunes. They are two great websites I discovered and wanted to pass on to you.

DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) has been around a while and is officially celebrated on Beverly Cleary’s birthday, April 12. But this video (1 minutes long) does a great job of showing how it can become a regular part of a school day–and the same can be done at home, of course!

Some of the things I love about this video are:

  • it’s noisy: reading and storytimes do not need to be quiet; reading aloud and the conversation that goes with it is a noisy kind of learning;
  • it’s wiggly: reading and storytimes do not need to be still; some kids like to sit and some like to move around or stand; they are all soaking it up;
  • it’s fairly unstructured: while reading (and more so storytimes) sometimes need planning and care, just as often all it takes is to pick up a book; some kids are read to solo, some are in pairs, some are in groups and these “reading groups” are not assigned or planned;
  • it’s easy: anyone can pick up a book and read to a child (and even if you can’t read, you can talk about the pictures or make up a story to go along with the pictures–it’s still “reading” for young children).

Finally, TCH Teaching Channel is one of the best sites for teaching and education ideas I’ve run across. Quality stuff! It’s worth exploring.

How could you adapt DEAR in your school, home, or library? Share your ideas with others!




Teach Your Monster to Read is a free online game for beginning readers. It starts with individual letter sounds, first consonants, then vowels, and then blending into words. Kids who are drawn to learning on the computer will likely enjoy the game. Each player creates his or her own monster who crash lands his space ship in a land of islands. Each island king helps to repair a part of the space ship if the monster can find the king’s missing letters.

Things that work well:

  • Graphics and sounds are fun and colorful without being obnoxious or overwhelming.
  • Tasks are fairly intuitive if you have played any other computer games.
  • You can stop and start the game; it will re-start you where you last stopped.
  • If a child makes a mistake, the game allows him or her to repeat the activity until it is correct.

Things that didn’t work so well:

  • Many of the letters sounds demonstrated were too soft even though other sounds were plenty loud enough.
  • I didn’t work all the way through the game but I did make it to the second island. The routine and the activities were getting a bit repetitive. You seven year old’s mileage might vary.
  • The prizes were on the odd side–clothing pieces for your monster, oh-kay, but underwear? And I really have a thing against good as prizes even if it’s pretend molded jello. πŸ˜‰
  • And some child (read–boy) is probably going to point out to great hilarity all around that the monsters seem to “poop” their stars. (Play, you’ll see what I mean. Or maybe it’s just me!) Not a prob at home but if you had your whole classroom playing, this observation could lead to a bit of a class management struggle!

It’s hard to find really excellent computer games and Teach Your Monster to Read is certainly not a bad one–but neither is it an outstanding one. It won’t really teach a child to read but it is free and it may help some children who need a bit more practice and need it in a novel format.

If you try it with your children, post here and let us know what you think.


If you love to read, you probably can’t imagine why someone would not like to read. But if you talk with kids, or the grown ups they’ve become, it’s not hard to find out why they don’t. Often you’ll find they were treated something like the following when they were learning to read:

First misstep is when we treat kids as little passive dummies that we adults pour “stuff” into. Ain’t so! They have lives, they have interests, they have concerns, they have thoughts about their world. They are involved.

If that’s the case, what happens when we read aloud to them or give them a “bad” book–one that’s poorly written, one that has nothing to do with their lives or worlds, one that in uninteresting? The sheer mechanical act of reading is not enough to make a reader. They probably have the same reaction that children’s book author Jon Scieszka had:

“At school I was trying to learn to read by deciphering stories featuring two lame kids named Dick and Jane. They never did much of anything exciting. And they talked funny. If this was reading, I wondered why anyone would bother.”

“Bad” books would make any thinking child wonder, “WHY bother!” Or to put the shoe on the other foot, what if you were in their position? What if someone gave you books with bad, uninteresting stories to read? After you read one, would you want to read another? Why do we ask our kids to do something that we wouldn’t even do?

There’s too many good books out there with good stories to risk losing a child’s interest in reading by insisting they read a bad one or one they don’t like. Those first years of being read to and then learning and practicing reading are just too critical.

Thanks to Anita Silvey for the Scieszka quote and check out her blog, Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac for a daily dose of “good” stories and books for kids of all ages.

Off my soapbox now, πŸ˜‰


If you are a Colorado librarian and you were at the state CAL conference last year and you heard keynote speaker Stephen Krashen, you already know this.

But for those of you who missed out (and you really did miss out on a stellar speech), research looking at 250 in Florida shows that–

Poverty is the biggest predictor of a child’s reading level. The higher the poverty, the lower the reading level.

Join Krashen’s Twitter feed, read his book The Power of Reading, hear him speak and you will hear him say it over and over again–It’s the poverty. Krashen’s been preaching this for years.

It’s not how early or late we start the reading instruction, it’s not how or how often children are assessed, it’s not class size, teacher resources, ethnicity–It’s the poverty.

Read more here, Poverty, Reading Scores, and Resilient Schools. It confirms what we know. It’s clear and straightforward. It’s our challenge as a society to be truthful and focus on the real problem and not be sidetracked.

Spread the word,


Now that all the hoopla has died down–and since you asked–here’s my take on the supposed demise of the children’s picture book (read the NYT article that started it all here).

My take? It’s much ado over nothing (except on two points). Here’s why:

  • The article’s point is a business point. Sales have dropped. The most obvious reason should be the economy. Did anyone check the sales on other goods purchased with disposable income? Are the figures on picture book sales really that much different from those of skateboards or barbies?
  • Second, why does it sound likeΒ  consumers are such dumb sheep that they will only buy what is on display right under their noses? If you want to buy a picture book, shop for a picture book, no matter what marketing ploys the seller is utilizing.
  • Third, if we buy them, publishers will print them. If we don’t, they won’t.

So why should adults purchase (or check out of their friendly neighborhood library ;-)) picture books for kids?

The two most important reasons are:

First, for most of the time, for most kids ages birth through six-ish to seven-ish, picture books are developmentally the most appropriate reading format.

What does that mean? It means the child will enjoy the reading experience more. They will not feel pushed, rushed, or bored as they will with a chapter book or beginning reader. (When’s the last time you read one? They are good for practicing reading. They are not highly motivating.) Children who enjoy reading read more.

The second reason involves choice. Children who are allowed to choose their own books read more. Choice means they can choose anything, even if a grown-up deems it “too easy.” Reading increases reading. The type of reading “matter” is not what increases reading. The quantity of reading is what increases reading (as long as it is enjoyable). So if your child enjoyed hearing the phone book read aloud, that would make him or her a better reader!

Whoever you want to point the finger at for “pushing” kids into beginning readers and chapter books, the deciding factor is you, the parent. You hold the wallet–not the publishers, book sellers, school district, or teacher. Listen to and watch your kid. What is he or she truly turned on to in books? What does he or she choose? Buy it, check it out of the library, get more of it until he or she is ready to move onto something else. Read aloud even after he or she has learned to read. Make reading enjoyable. For most young children, that enjoyment will be through picture books.

Off my soapbox now,


I’m generally not too much into lists of this sort. After a while, they all seem to say the same thing–again.

But this list for making reading fun is worth perusing.

I especially like the first one. Why? Because it works! It’s so simple–but it still works! It’s so enjoyable for everyone–and it still works. Trust in the power of reading aloud (and for more motivation check out Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook). It still works!

I do wish the list makers had clarified in the read aloud tip that reading aloud needs to continue even after a child learns to read.

Even once a child has “figured it out,” learning to read is hard work. It takes lots and lots of practice. And most of that hard work practice time is not much fun and not very motivating.

Reading aloud, on the other hand, is fun–because mom or dad or any fluently reading person can read anything! And that’s fun!

Hearing sentence structure and vocabulary that’s above a child’s current reading level also helps them later when they get to that reading level. It’s not foreign; they’ve heard it before. In fact oral vocabulary and comprehension is directly tied to reading comprehension.

So please, continue reading to your children! For how long, you ask? Well, there’s absolutely no reason to stop. πŸ™‚ (Btw, I’m currently reading aloud Shelley’s Frankenstein to my 14 year old.)

Read on,


Learning to read is hard work. For those of us who are fluent readers, that’s a statement of fact that is easy to forget or to minimize.

Once a child has learned how reading works, though, what helps them get to the next step, to the fluency level? In a nutshell, it’s all about the number of words a child reads. It really doesn’t matter what the words are about (content) or what format they are presented in (comics work just as well as chapter books). It’s the sheer number of words read that builds fluency.

So what happens when, as in South Africa, one child has three books to read in a year–and another has three a day?Β  The probabilty of one of them effectively becoming shut off from reading for the rest of his/her life skyrockets.

There are many injustices and inequalities in life and around the world. But depriving a growing mind of books ranks at the top. It’s one reason why the Biblio Burro in Colombia and the Camel Library in Kenya and Lubuto Library in Zambia are so life changing.

Being able to read goes beyond being able to access information. The ability to read directly affects the ability to think (Story Proof, Kendall Haven).

Children must have “stuff” to read–and libraries must exist for everyone, but especially the most vulnerable, those who have nothing to read.

Check out the links. Consider a donation. And in this day of school and public library closures in this country, tell the decision makers “no.”


As a young girl, I loved biographies. And out of the dozens I read, three water pumpwomen came to hold special places in my heart–Dolley Madison, Marie Curie, and Helen Keller.

So I got weepy-eyed reading today about the statue of Helen Keller that was unveiled at the Capitol on October 6. (Click here for story from CNN).

The personal soft spots of my heart, though, are not enough to warrant a posting here. A connection with literacy is.

The statue depicts Helen at the water pump.

“It’s the moment when Keller realized meanings were hidden in the manual alphabet shapes Sullivan had taught her to make with her hands,” writes CNN.

That’s what literacy is about–unlocking the meaning in the abstract representations, whether they be hand movements or squiggles on a page.

It changed Helen’s life, and after that, she was forever changing the world in her own ways, big and small.

We do the same for children and adults alike, every time we take them a step closer to unlocking meaning that’s hidden in language in all its forms.

It’s why Helen still moves us, decades after her death. And why stories of librarians and children move us, like this one from NPR. And stories about camels and burros that carry books into places where no books exist move us (read Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber).

It’s the power of language.


Here’s a good 2 minute summary of the problem from NPR.

Out of 8 million children starting school, a third do not have the basic vocabulary or familiarity with the alphabet to begin learning about reading.

Educational TV is “better than nothing,” states Richard Long of the International Reading Association.

What’s the solution? It’s hinted at in the story, but I’ll be more direct: Reading and having conversations with children for years before they begin school.

With reading and conversations with live human beings who care, children acquire all six skills they need to be ready to learn to read when they begin school.


I taught a class recently and when I mentioned this fact, I was met with some first readingskepticism: “…[In] its 1985 report, Becoming a Nation of Readers, reading aloud to children was singled out as the single most important activity to ensure future classroom success for children” (from Jim Trelease in Peak with Books). And this research has been repeated–and the results are the same.

It sounds soooo simple–and it is.

It perplexes me. We want our children to learn and to have a good education. But we expect it to be way more difficult to achieve than it is. We want a fancy, complicated, technological answer.

Reading a book a day to a child just seems too easy. It is.

It is hard in today’s world to make the time. But the task itself is easy. When children are read to from birth through age 5, they all* are able to learn to read when they begin school. It doesn’t matter what their socioeconomic level is. It doesn’t matter what their parents educational level is. It doesn’t matter, period.

Human brains are made from birth to learn language in all its forms and uses (did you know when babies learn to babble, they make every sound from every language?). Just like with walking, we are geared to language–spoken, read, and written. Give a child what they need and it will happen. Read to them.


(*all children with exceptions such as injuries, congenital problems, etc. that prevent reading)

read aloudSchool’s starting and we’re all–parents, teachers, and librarians alike– thinking about ways to help kids learn. Here’s my number one suggestion to make this your child’s best year yet!

Read aloud to your kidsbefore they learn to read and after they learn to read.

I spoke with a parent last week who was worried (and rightly so) that her sister did not read to her kids, “too busy,” she said. Probably the same sister wants her kids to do well in school. Well, it won’t happen if they are not read to. Period. This one is backed by years of research; it’s really not open to discussion. Am I being a “hard a..” about this? Yep, because it’s that important. Not reading to your kid is up there with not feeding them. And I know you wouldn’t do that. πŸ˜‰ (Check out most of my posts about reading and early literacy to learn more or email me or leave a comment and we can talk more.)

Why continue reading to them after they know how? Because you can read the books they aren’t able to read yet. There’s a space of time between the initial thrill and glow of “getting” how reading works and being able to read fluently. During that time, reading is, quite honestly, hard work (we adults forget that). It’s also pretty dry and boring. Early reader books do the best they can, but there’s only so much one can do with very limited vocabularies.

That’s where YOU come in! You can read above their reading level. You can read the fun books, the exciting books, the good stories. In other words, you can read the books that motivate a child to want to practice and practice and practice their reading so that one day, too, they can walk into the library, pick out any book they want, and read it! What a day! But it takes time to get there and your reading aloud in the meantime is the juice that keeps things going.

An added bonus is that you are secretly preparing your child for the next step in reading. Listening to you they hear new words, new sentence structures, new story patterns. And when they reach that reading level on their own, it all sounds familiar–and therefore, it’s easier to decipher, even the first time around.

If you’re not sure what to read, check out Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook. He reviews hundreds of books that read aloud well (not all books do). He also gives suggested age and grade levels based on emotional development, language, andΒ  interest. I’ve never read a bad one from his suggestions.

You can also ask your friendly neighborhood children’s librarian. πŸ˜‰

Happy New School Year! Happy New Read-Aloud Year!


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