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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. 😉
  • 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.


Some books are so amazingly put together that one can’t help but wonder if the author and illustrator were totally aware of what they were doing–or if they got a little lucky.

I know they most likely knew what they were doing; people who are great at what they do make it look so simple and easy.

Yet I am still blown away by the book Maggie’s Ball by Lindsay Barrett George for the seamless way it puts together a good story with several early literacy skills.

Maggie is a dog with a yellow ball who is looking for someone to play with. The ball gets away from her, though, and rolls into town. Here’s where the fun begins.

The double page spread of the town has four shops around a circle. Lots of people are in town, doing and carrying a variety of “things”–hoops, scooters, dumbbells, wheelchairs. There are poodles, balloons, drums, easels, lollipops, monkeys. These illustrations provide lots and lots of “things” to talk about, encouraging conversation and building vocabulary.

What makes the picture different, though, is that virtually every image involves circles.

What’s special about circles? A circle is a shape and letters are made of shapes. As a child plays with, talks about, and recognizes shapes, he or she lays the foundation for recognizing letters years down the road.

Maggie goes to town to look for her ball and visits each shop. At each one there are many more circular “things” to talk about and name. There’s cakes, cookies, clocks, pizzas, pets, balloons. There’s also practice with discrimination skills. Is the lemon her ball? It’s yellow, and it’s mostly round. How do we know a lemon is not a ball?

Print on these pages is very succinct and very clear, building print awareness on each page, until finally a girl finds the ball and asks Maggie to play.

Remember how I mentioned that shapes build the skill of letter knowledge? Here it’s masterful: The girl has the round yellow ball in her hand. She says “Go fetch” across four pages. The “O’s” in “Go” are stretched out though, each letter “O” set clearly and distinctly across the four pages, even bouncing like a ball until the last “O” turns into Maggie’s “O” shaped, yellow ball.

The girl and dog play ball, become friends, and end the story by sitting together reading a book, an ending tying it all up with a dash of print motivation. I mean, if I could play and read with a dog as darling and expressive as Maggie (pages where where she is sad about losing her ball and then the ones where she is happy finding her ball just tug at you), I’d certainly want to read!

So there you have it: five of the six early literacy skills effortlessly wrapped up in one fun book. (Recap of the skills included: print motivation, vocabulary, print awareness, narrative skills, and letter knowledge).

Maggie’s Ball works on so many levels. I hope you’re kids will enjoy too!


And the prize goes to Zoopa by Gianna Marino! What’s Zoopa?

Zoopa is a yummy looking bowl of tomato based alphabet soup that attracts first an ant to the table–and then a whole alphabet’s worth of animals! And it’s the “funnest” alphabet book I’ve seen in ages.

Each double page spread shows a bowl of soup on a placemat. Each new spread shows the next alphabet letter floating in the soup. For each letter, there is a picture of an animal whose name begins with that letter. None of the animals leave the pages so as the story progresses, things get a little chaotic and crowded.

And did I mention Zoopa wordless? So you and your kiddos can find lots and lots to talk about from page to page. What’s that letter? What’s that animal? What’s he doing? What’s she carrying? What’s different? (On one spread the baby elephants that decorate the edge of the soup bowl come to life and start spraying each other with tomato soup.) Where is the (blank) now?

Something new catches my eye every time I look at this book. Hope it catches yours too!


Want to share with parents and caregiver adults what encourages early literacy? Don’t quite know what to say?

The American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library website has taken all the work and worry out of the process for you!

Research based tips with scripts have been written for all six early literacy skill areas. They are available on the website free for your use. Stories, rhymes, and songs are suggested and tips are organized by age groups as well (babies to 2 year olds, two’s and three’s, four’s and five’s).

As with all teaching helps, you do not have to feel locked in by the script. Try it in your own words. Adapt it to your audience. And keep your eyes open for when “teachable TIP moments” happen–and point them out! They are some of the most exciting (oh, this stuff really happens! it really works!).

Now the bad news. I find them incredibly difficult to find on the website. So here are the links to take you there. 🙂

What can I say? tips (all ages)

Early Talkers tips (birth to 2)

Talkers tips (2 to 3)

Pre-readers tips (4 to 5)

Happy Tipping!





If you look at the headers at the top of the page under Sunglass Gal or scroll down the left-hand column, you’ll see a new header for Storybox Special.

All info and articles about Storybox will located here for your convenience. 🙂

The best part (I hope) is that I have posted the book lists for each box. They aren’t fancy looking, but each book is categorized by the early literacy skill that it encourages. There are also books to help children with development growth points (like potty training, new sibling) as well as bilingual books, seasonal books, and books to support the child care providers.

There are eight boxes now with more on the way so check back over the months for new ones (or subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed or email notification at the top of the page).

And as always, if you’d like more info on Storybox Special, feel free to contact me.

Happy Travels,


This is so cool that Washington State and its law enforcement get the big policepicture here as reported by Molly O’Connor on Birth to Thrive Online. Washington’s definitely to be commended for seeing the larger picture.

Early literacy initiatives see similar results in graduation rates and crime prevention. If children have been read to regularly in the years before they enter school, they are able to learn to read. If not, the vast majority never get the hang of it, leading to everything from dropping out to teen pregnancy to jail time. For kids who are not being read to home, preschools are a lifesaver.

Why does reading aloud work? Reading aloud gives children the chance to develop six early literacy skills that are the groundwork for learning to read. Nothing really has to be “taught” in a formal sense. Read, talk about the pictures and the story, have a good time, and the skills develop.

Here they are:

  • Print motivation (liking and being interested in books)
  • Vocabulary (knowing the words for “stuff”)
  • Print awareness (noticing those “scribbles” on the pages and more)
  • Narrative skills (relating sequences and telling stories)
  • Letter knowledge (familiarity with the alphabet)
  • Phonological awareness (hearing individual sounds and sound units)

Check out my tags for more about the six skills.

Mostly though, go find a kid and read a book!


One of the six early literacy skills children need under their belts before ABC'slearning to read is “Letter Knowledge.” This is the one skill that is a little “teachy” oriented. Do children recognize a fair number of letters, lower and upper case? Do they know their ABC’s? And do they realize, at least a little bit, that those letters stand for sounds?

Here’s a couple of easy ways to encourage letter knowledge:

  • Read ABC books.
  • Sing the ABC song.
  • Make letters with playdoh or cookie dough (the cookie ones you can bake and eat! Yum!).

The best ABC books do more than just show the letters and a correspondi9ng picture; they give you other things to talk about as well, encouraging conversation and vocabulary. For instance, in Alphabet Under Construction, the letter L page shows a level, a scaffold, and a mouse laying bricks, all items worth at least one conversation! Here’s some of my favorite ABC books and the ones that go out in our Storybox Special boxes:

  • Now I Eat My ABC’s by Abrams: Each letter is illustrated with a photo of a food item starting with that letter–and the food’s arranged like the letter!
  • Alphabet Under Construction by Fleming: A mouse builds each letter with different materials; lots of action words here!
  • The Construction Alphabet Book by Pallotta: Each letter stands for a construction machine. Many here I’d never heard of and nice explanations for each.
  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Martin: A classic that children quickly learn to “say/read” with you.
  • A Child’s Day by Pearle: Lovely collage illustrations and lots of action words describing ways to play.
  • Superhero ABC by McLeod: A full page comic hero illustration and rhyme for each letter. My fave? Captian Vomit!
  • ABeCedarios by Weill (bilingual): Photos of Latin American art for each letter and the book  follows the Spanish alphabet!
  • P is for Peanut by Gelber: Black and white photos for each letter, many from the city.
  • A Isn’t for Fox by Ulmer: Tickle those neurons with what the letters are NOT!

Have fun!


So what skills do children need to develop in order to be ready to read?

Print motivation


Print Awareness

Narrative Skills

Letter Knowledge

Phonological Awareness

These sound scary but really aren’t.  They are simple but very, very powerful.  I’ll do individual posts for each in the days ahead.  Stay tuned!

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