Sunday, September 28, 2008

Word on the Street - over for another year

It was a crush, but I got a lot of great books.

Here's the Scholastic booth, which is where I spend most of my time - and money - at Word on the Street.

It looks crowded, and it is, but you get to the front pretty quickly.

The Scholastic people offer these great "book bundles" - five or six books from a series for one low price. I got a set of Geronimo Stilton for 10 bucks, for instance. (That's going to be a Christmas gift.)

Half the Scholastic booth is French, which is perfect for me, because I've just started teaching my son some French. For some reason, though, every book I bought in French is about a dog.

This year I bought more than a dozen books for what I would normally spend on one or two books. A pretty great deal.
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nancy's Book of Poems

You may remember Nancy, from our Sept. 18 post. She's the little girl who wasn't terribly keen on reading.

Her mom and I discussed getting her to write about something she's interested in.

Well, Nancy and her mom took the idea and ran with it! We're pleased to present her first-ever book of poetry.

Here's a sample of one of her wonderful poems:

The leaves are falling
It's almost winter
And I see you
In the trees

I look outside
And all I can see
is flying leaves

So rest your head
On the pillow
It's time to go to bed
Throw the blanket
Over your head

She wrote four other poems as well, and illustrated them. And, she's been reading them out loud to her mom.

Her mom plans on getting the book cerlox bound (after first taking a colour photocopy). Nancy's school has an incredibly supportive librarian, who lets children put their books into the school's circulation system, with a bar code and everything, so other kids can check it out.

Way to go Nancy, and her incredible mother!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Word on the Street - Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This Sunday, a tribute to the written word arrives in Toronto.

We're so fortunate to have Word on the Street each year.

Children can play games (and win books), meet some of their favourite TVO personalities, and generally see how many people are excited about books and reading.

It's a celebration of reading, in a fun atmosphere.

My favourite booth each year is the Scholastic booth, where you can buy very inexpensive children's books, often packaged together for, say, 5 books for $3. I regularly come home with 50 or 60 children's books, not only for my son but for future birthday and Christmas gifts.

Here's what to expect:
*258 book and magazine exhibits;
*248 authors, poets and presenters;
*198 readings, presentations and workshops.

Word on the Street also comes to Calgary, Halifax, Kitchener and Vancouver. Check their website for details.

Photo: Word on the Street, Jen Cooper.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Share your favourite book

What was your favourite book as a child?

What were the books that soothed you, that made you laugh, that were your friends?

One great idea that will help your child (and you), is to revisit them at the library, and then share them with your child.

Your child will experience your emotional response to the book, and you'll not only share a special moment, but it may help him to see what an amazing thing a book is.

Thanks to Michele for this great idea.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Great Read: Winnie the Witch

What is it about Winnie?

I don't know for sure, but she captivates her audience, and she'll capture your heart. From the first time I met her, she had me scrambling to find more. Fortunately, there is a whole series of Winnie books. Winnie is not your typical witch. She doesn’t cackle, or wear black, or cast spells. Except sometimes, when she does. But then she does something un-witch-ey… like accidentally toss her wand in the washing machine.

And when that happens, the colours just explode! They’re practically running all over the page! What will happen next!?

If you're looking for something to entertain your reluctant reader - boy or girl - try Winnie and see if she doesn't light a spark.

The Winnie series is written by Valerie Thomas and illustrated by Korky Paul.
There's more Winnie at her website.
You can buy the 6 in 1 Winnie collection from Amazon for $18.87 Cdn.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hannah Montana to the rescue!

I just had a playground conversation with a mom who said that her daughter just isn’t motivated to read. Her sons are avid readers, but her seven-year-old daughter, not so much.

The first thing to think about is, “What will motivate her to read?”

So we talked about what she likes. She’s a bit of a girly-girl, the mom said, and the only “reading material” she’s been interested in lately are those celebrity magazines with Hannah Montana in them. She doesn't read the articles, but she does look at the pictures. The mom wasn’t too thrilled that her daughter was getting into them, but we all know that with kids, you’ve just gotta go with the flow.

But this sparked a great idea. How about making up a small book, entitled, “The day Hannah Montana met Nancy”? How motivated would that little girl be, to read about the day she met her hero?

The mom said she could see her daughter getting excited about a book like that.

Two 8.5” x 11” sheets of paper or cardboard, sideways, and folded down the middle makes a cheap and simple book. The mom’s going to stick with simple sentences, and the whole story can be told in the six pages (not including the front and back covers).

“One day, Hannah Montana visited Sunnyvale School. While she was backstage, she realized her hair clip was missing. “Oh no,” she said, “I can’t sing with hair flying all over my face!” A little girl with curly hair came forward from the audience. “Why don’t you use mine?” she said, taking a clip from her hair. “Thanks so much!” said Hannah Montana. “What’s your name?” “Nancy,” she said. “Nancy – stick around after the concert and I’ll sign a special autograph just for you!”

We discussed illustrations, and came up with a great idea—her daughter can illustrate it herself. She can cut out pictures from her magazines, and draw pictures. Illustrating the book will not only give her a sense of ownership, but it will ensure greater understanding of the words by providing a context for them.

We’ll let you know how the project goes, and whether it does encourage Nancy to see reading in a new light.

(Photo source:

Monday, September 15, 2008


Would your child read a sentence if he knew he'd be rewarded with a Hershey's Kiss?

For kids who are really resisting reading, here's an idea that makes reading instantly fun and rewarding.

Hide a Hershey's Kiss in the child's room. Then, put a note on his pillow that says something like: There is a Kiss for you under your bed. Or, even more simply: Look under your bed.

Using words to find a Kiss gives your child an immediate reward for reading, and for kids who have never known that "reading pays off," it's a really visceral way to give them that feeling.

They may need you to help them sound out your notes the first couple of times, and that's fine - you've gotten over the hurdle of them not wanting to read at all. Try this whenever you feel like it - don't lock yourself into a weekly thing or it won't be fun for you any more.

If you don't like the idea of using chocolate, you can hide a non-food treat like stickers, Play-Doh or a Hot Wheels car. Or even just another note that says, "Congratulations!"

Of course, eventually reading will be its own reward.

But in the meantime - there are Kisses.
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Friday, September 12, 2008

Learning to read the signs.

One of the first words my son learned to read was "Stop."

He didn't learn it from a book, but from the neighbourhood stop signs.

When I was an ESL tutor, I learned that one of the biggest motivators for new readers is relevance. People are more apt to want to read something when it is relevant to them.

Signs are great because they're relevant, they're usually fairly simple, and they provide a context that helps the beginning reader. For instance, the word Stop is at the end of a road.

Literacy isn't all about words, however. It's important - and kind of fun - to teach kids the non-verbal signs as well. I ask, "What do you think that sign means?" Usually, the ideas kids come up with are more interesting than what the sign is really all about. And children are generally interested in knowing what the sign really does mean.

As they get a little older, we talk about how signs can be miscontrued. These two signs are across from each other on the same road. The one on the left implies "no parking on Thursdays" but the other sign clarifies "no parking except on Thursdays." My son and I had a laugh trying to figure them out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A book about Me.

For a child, the most exciting thing to read about is - himself.

One of the best ways to get a child excited about reading is to give him a book that he opens to discover it's all about him. What could be better?

And it's really simple to do. (This isn't one of those "scrapbooking, super-mom" projects.) I found this mini-scrapbook at a Goodwill for about a dollar, but you can get them at Chapters/Indigo as well.

Then, I picked out 10 of my favourite photos and taped them onto every other page. The pictures were mostly about my son's favourite activities, his friends and relatives, or places we'd been.

I made captions in Word - using a large font - cut them out and pasted them in place. I didn't complete the whole book at once. I did as much as I felt like doing, and then I gave it to him for his birthday. For his next birthday, I added another chapter to the book.

I used age-appropriate language and words, keeping it very simple at first ("I am two years old.") and using slightly longer words as he got a bit older (" is my favourite.").

When he was very young, we read the book together. Eventually, he memorized it and could "read" it himself. Later, he was able to read new entries all by himself. Being very familiar with the content of the photos helped him figure out what the captions said, and made his guesses about the words much more accurate. (Beginning readers make guesses about some words at first, and later begin sounding them out.)

The book has an added bonus - it's a time capsule for him, and for me. Plus, I can add to it - or not - or start a new one any time.

It's been about four years since I worked on this one, but I'm planning on doing a new one for next Christmas. It will have more complicated captions and words, commensurate with the way he's reading now.

But the most important thing won't change - it will be all about him.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Surround your child with books.

Children feel excited about reading when they feel entitled to books.
Our lives are full of cliques. There are the athletes. The computer geeks. The artists. When someone who is athletic walks into a sporting situation, he feels at home. That's because he's regularly surrounded by sports - he watches it on TV, plays sports, goes to sporting events, reads the sports section of the newspaper, talks to his friends about sports.

Reading is like that. The child who is surrounded by books, who is read to every night, is encouraged to take books out of the library, reads in bed, and sees books as things to be touched, looked at, enjoyed - becomes comfortable in reading situations.

In the wonderful best-seller Freakonomics, they note that there is a correlation between kids who have lots of books in their homes and kids who get good grades. Not "kids who read books," but "kids who have books in their homes." That's because kids who are surrounded by books feel entitled to books and reading.

So whenever they see books outside the home, they feel comfortable picking them up and flipping through them. When the teacher opens a book to read to the class, their eyes light up because they know what's coming (something exciting).

Children who feel entitled to books will read more and enjoy it more. So one simple way to encourage a life-long reading habit is to fill your child's bookshelves so he always has lots of choices, and develops a sense of entitlement about reading.

Monday, September 8, 2008


Welcome to the Getting Kids Reading blog!

I'm passionate about reading, and believe that kids can feel passionate about it, too - with a little help from their parents. My son has been reading since he was very young, and now, at age 7, it's almost as natural for him to pick up as book as it is to play a video game. Almost.

For him, books are an escape - a source of excitement - a place to go to relax - a way to find out about stuff - a conduit to unlocking the secrets of life.

My husband and I have helped encourage this excitement about reading from an early age. We used a wide variety of really simple techniques. I strongly believe there isn't one "right way" to teach reading. There are a whole bunch of things you can do, depending on your child and how much energy and time you have to invest on any particular day.

The purpose of this blog is to encourage other parents, caregivers and teachers - especially those whose kids may be resisting reading as a fun activity - to help their children feel great about reading and writing.