Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer reading tips

How's your summer going?

Have the kids been reading? It's mid-summer; now's the time to encourage them to pick up a book. You know the research - kids who don't read during the summer experience a big slip when they get back to school in September. Let's make sure that doesn't happen this year.

The kids have done some camp, they've done some cottage, they've done some staying up late and watching extra TV, going to movies. C'mon, it's time to get those kids reading.

In many libraries, you can sign your children up for a summer reading program. You child gets a big poster for his wall, and every time he reads a book the librarian gives him a sticker.

The wonderful part for you is that you get to overhear him telling the librarian about the book he's read. Or, since my son didn't want to tell the librarian, he told me - outlined the entire plot of The Wizard of Oz the whole way to the library. It was a special moment that I'll remember for a long time.

So c'mon - no excuses! Turn off the TV. Let them get mad at you. And then let them stumble across the pile of interesting books you've just happened to put on their bed.

For some excellent summer reading tips, take a look at this article.

And here's information about the Toronto library's summer reading program. You don't even need a library card to sign up - just walk in. And you get a great booklet with games, mazes and stories.

I know they'd rather be playing on the Wii. I know they're going to be mad at you (at first). But it's time. It's tiiiiime. Check the categories on this blog for fun activities and books that will make reading less like punishment and more like fun. Like, maybe you can read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory together and then watch the movie? That's fun!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Alice in Wonderland - the trailer

Click on this image for a larger version. (It's worth the click.)

Disney has put its trailer for Alice back on YouTube.

(They musta read my blog post telling them to put it back...)

The trailer is quite something. Very exciting and Burton-esque, dark and whimsical, with that heart-pumping music that gets you going.

I predict that the movie is going to spark a run on the book, so get yours now while the gettin's good.

The movie is due out March 2010.

I told my son that Johnny Depp is doing the movie, and he's already excited about us reading the book together. It didn't hurt that I also mentioned that Helena Bonham Carter - the kids know her as Bellatrix Lastrange from the Harry Potter movies - is playing the Red Queen.

Thanks, Burton and Depp, for getting my kid (and countless others, I'm sure) reading!
Here's a link to the trailer.
And here's a link to more stills from the movie.
Oh, and OK, just for fun here's a link to the trailer for New Moon, the next Twilight film they're making.
Thanks to ComingSoon.net for these pictures.
Oh, and I'm filing this under "five-minute ideas" as well, because I think a wonderful way to "get your kid reading" would be to share the trailer with her and show her the stills. Talk about the book, and the characters, and soon she'll be champing at the bit to read it. And then it won't be a five-minute activity, it'll be an every-night-reading activity. "O frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!" (And if you don't know what that means, you need to read the book again yourself.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Alice in Wonderland

Alice may be the next Willy Wonka.

I'm excited! I think I may have just found the next book we're going to read aloud.
It's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.

Here's why. Tim Burton is directing a movie of the classic, which will star Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen.
I'd love to give you a link to the trailer, which was leaked to YouTube, but Disney pulled it. Yes, that's right, they pulled their own trailer off YouTube. Hey, I'm no marketing genius but...
Anyway, this has the potential to be as big in our house as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and that's saying something! The movie's not due out until 2010, so that gives us some time to read the book and get ready for the movie.
Alice is being played by Mia Wasikowska, but I'm not familiar with her so I'm putting her in the fine print only. I'm sure we'll soon come to know and love her, though - Alice is a pretty great role.
I borrowed this amazing picture of Johnny Depp from JustJared.com, a trend-spotting, pop culture-y kind of blog.

Willy Wonka to the rescue

Willy Wonka has been a huge success.

As you may remember from a previous post, my son and I were looking for a book to read aloud, and I stumbled upon Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Raold Dahl.

We read it in the course of about five nights and it was great fun, from beginning to end.

That led to us finding the soundtrack at the library, and after my son had listened to that a few million times (and we were both stuck with the "Augustus Gloop" song in our heads), we rented the films. Both of them.

The original version stars Gene Wilder, who plays Willy Wonka basically as written - slightly dark, but mostly whimsical. And then we watched the one with Johnny Depp as Wonka, who was a bit more disturbed. And, director Tim Burton added a whole back-story about Wonka's father, which wasn't in the book.

After that, we watched the behind-the-scenes stuff, including a look at what the characters from the original movie are doing now (they're mostly accountants), and a documentary about the technology behind the Johnny Depp version.

We found out that the film was originally created to launch a Willy Wonka candy bar by Quaker Oats. Unfortunately for Quaker, the candy bar tended to melt on the shelves, so it had to be recalled. The movie, however, went on to become a great success.

It gave my son and I a good chance to talk about how both films interpreted the book, and what they'd added or left out. And it really added to our enjoyment of the book.
So that's that. All we have to do now... is find a new book to read.

"Augustus Gloop, Augustus Gloop, you great big greedy nincompoop." Watch the video here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Getting boys reading

I know what boys like.*
I've been following the website and tweets of a librarian whose speciality is helping boys become great readers. He's definitely an expert in what appeals to boys. Here, I've distilled (*cough* ripped off) some of his best ideas about how to make reading fun for boys.

Here's what boys like, and like to read about:

Gross stuff
Boys like things that are gross. Farts, and boogers, and burps and puke. Who knows why, but they do.

Boys like to read about violent things (wars, fighting).

As much as they like violent things, boys also naturally tend towards humorous books, including joke books.

Less talk…
If you’re going to talk to your son about reading, don’t lecture him and keep it short. Three minutes, as opposed to 15. If you want reading to be a fun activity for your son, more doing and less talking is the key.

…More action
Boys need to move. It may be difficult for some boys to sit quietly while you’re reading to them. Don’t be thrown off if he moves around the room while you’re reading – he’s still listening. In fact, it’s probably easier for him to listen while he’s moving.

Engaging physically with books
Get a bunch of books, and pile them up. Let your son root through the pile of books until he finds what he wants to read. Let him engage physically with the books.

Boys need to have choice in their topic, for both writing and reading. Let them choose something that’s interesting to them (as opposed to what you think they should be reading).

Boys often read for a purpose, not just for entertainment. They like to read about facts. Sports. Computers. History. Music. Jokes. Hobbies. Magic. Biographies.

Books with pictures (and facts) such as reference books, can be excellent for boys.

Boys love action, and who is more active than a superhero, who spends his days fighting crime? You can talk to your boy about good vs. evil; symbolism (why does Batman dress like a bat?); ethical dilemmas faced by superheroes; and you can encourage your child to invent and write about his own superhero.

The Internet
Many boys naturally love computers, and there are tons of websites that encourage reading. Boys love to research things, for instance, so Google may be an excellent reading tool. As well, any Internet game that has rules and explanations that a boy has to read in order to use, will get him reading. And e-mailing a friend encourages a kid to read and to write.

For more information about boys and reading, activities for active boys and boys who love video games, and superhero books that aren’t comics, please check out the topic "boys" on the right-hand side of this blog.

Also, check out Mike McQueen's excellent website, Getting Boys to Read. (That's where these ideas came from, mostly.)

In an upcoming post, I'll be going through the above categories and giving you book suggestions for them. If you have any book suggestions, please post them in the Comments. Thanks!

*So, did you get that 80s music reference? Please tell me you did. Oh, I'm so old! If you didn't, check out the music video. Has absolutely nothing to do with this blog, or post, mind you, but there you go.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Potter Puppet Pals

Here's something cool you can share with your child.

It's unique, cool and fun - and it's related to reading. And maybe your kid already knows about it, or maybe you're about to be the coolest parent ever.

It's Potter Puppet Pals.
It's a series of videos on YouTube, and I'm not kidding they have, like, two million views each. Million. As your kid would say, "it's siiiiick."

I have no idea why these utterly ridiculous puppet shows, each one to three minutes long, featuring characters from the Harry Potter series, are so darned compelling. But they are. And funny!

Actually, you know what? I can't explain. Check it out for yourself.
Start with The Mysterious Ticking Noise, and then Wizard Swears (there's no swearing), and then School is for Losers (not as bad as it sounds - and just 30 seconds long).

You should definitely watch them first, just to make sure they're appropriate for your child. But while the humour's a teeny bit edgy, it's all in good fun.

Here's the great part - if your child hasn't read the Potter books, he's not going to "get" the videos. So, the videos are a great incentive for reading: "Read the first Harry Potter book and then I'll let you watch some cool YouTube videos I found." Or a reward, "Since you read that Harry Potter book, I'll show you something really funny on YouTube."
Coooool parent.

This is the kind of cool thing that we parents need to have in our hip pockets. And seriously, that Snape puppet? Now that is funny.
I've provided the YouTube links to the videos. There is also a Potter Puppet Pals website that has 'em. The problem with the website is that it has extra stuff that may not - or is definitely not - appropriate for kids, such as users' comments. It's not a bad site, but you need to watch it with your kid to avoid the inappropriate stuff. On the other hand, if your kid is over 15, give them the website and tell them - "go nuts!"

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Robin Hood didn't turn out so well.

Too many thees and thous. It was all, "Robin thou doest" this, and "thou hast not" that. Too much for a seven-year-old, no matter how many bloodthirsty deeds there are. We got two chapters in and had to stop.

In desperation, I went searching on my son's bookshelf and there I found our new read-aloud book: Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

We're only on the third chapter, and already my son is all, "Don't stop, mom, don't stop!" even though he's so tired he can barely keep his eyes open.

Here's why it's so good
It's a fast read, Dahl paints pictures that are easy and fun to visualize, and as you read, there's something pretty exciting around every corner.
Although Charlie is so poor all four of his grandparents have to share the same bed, and they eat cabbage soup every night, and Charlie gets only one chocolate bar a year which he nibbles so slowly it lasts a month -- it's not a scary, dark kind of read. It comes off more as silly and whimsical.
This is the perfect kind of book to read aloud. Thank you, Roald Dahl, you brilliant writer, you.

Say, did you read the last post? If not, you may want to check it out - this one'll make a heck of a lot more sense. Oh, and I've got a pretty fun post I'm preparing for next week. Stay tuned!

And speaking of past posts, remember how Kanye West hates books? Well, it turns out that Michael Jackson looooved them. He had a huge library, and was quite the bookworm. You can tell your kid that, but I'm not sure if it would work for, or against, books. Probably for. Yeah, probably for.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Finding a classic for today

I’m looking for a classic to read to my son.

Although he’s a good reader, I still read to him every night. It’s us-time. And, it gives me a chance to stop and explain certain words or phrases as I read.

A couple of days ago, driving home from vacation, we finished the final Harry Potter book. So I needed something new to read to him.

I want desperately to read him the classics. When I was little I loved Little Women, and Wind in the Willows and Sherlock Holmes.

But you know, when I went to the library and started flipping through some of the books, the language posed a real barrier. The words seem very arcane, and the phrases they used were very complicated and out-of-context for a seven-year-old today.

Tom Sawyer starts out with Aunt Polly looking to smack Tom with a switch, and condemning him to work “with the small coloured boy.” Um, no. Treasure Island’s first page is a quagmire of ancient phrases like, “his tarry pigtail,” and “the capstan bars.” He’ll be turned off the book before it even gets going. Gulliver’s Travels gets exciting pretty quickly, but it’s full of spellings like “lye” and “happen’d”—not great when you’re still teaching your child to spell properly.

So those books will have to wait until he’s a bit older—maybe 12 or 13.

But I’m not giving up! I found a copy of Robin Hood, which has a two-page introduction that explains, in plain English, what’s happening in England at the time it is set (feudalism, lords and serfs, and what’ll happen to you if you kill a King’s hart). That kind of grabbed his interest. Plus, the action gets going pretty quickly on the first page.

I’ll let you know what happens. In the meantime, please check out this New York Times article with their list of great summer reading for kids.

This is an image from Rocket Robin Hood, an old Canadian TV series. Looking back, it's very bizarre--Robin Hood set in the future. But at the time, we all loved it.

Thanks everyone, for voting for Getting Kids Reading in the BlogLuxe Awards. We placed 21 out of 178 blogs in our category. That's pretty great! Readership of GKR has gone up quite a bit since the awards. Welcome, new readers!