Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Getting kids reading: What does work

What does work. (By Getting Kids Reading.)

Reading to your kid every day. The number-one thing you can do to create a reader.

Letting him see you read. Kids do what their parents do. If you don't enjoy reading - fake it. Or read magazines or comic books or something.

Surrounding your kid with books. Access to books gives a kid ownership and once they feel entitled to books they're more likely to casually pick them up - now and throughout their life.

Reading extensions. I'm referring to other media that are associated with certain books - movies, a TV series, cartoons, merchandise - that may interest the child in a book. Who cares what hooks the child into reading? As long as he eventually reads the book, it's all useful.

Letting your kid choose what he reads. Many schools now go by the maxim that "any reading is good reading" and, barring violence or inappropriate content, I agree. If you don't like his choices, then find something similar that you do approve of. For instance, if he's reading Superman comics, find him novels with superheroes.

Treating books like treasures. Books contain: secrets, surprises, gems, rewards, new friends, adventures, useful facts, gross stuff, silliness and lots of other things your kid values. Let your kid see that a book is something precious and exciting and cool.

Turning off the TV. Much as I hate being the bad cop, you've gotta, gotta limit screen-time. Create space for reading time. Here's a GKR article about the reading bubble.

Sharing books with friends. The next time your child's friend is over, casually mention that your kid is reading "....." book, and ask what they're reading. Before you know it, the two will be having a conversation about books. And that will reinforce what you're trying to do in a way that only peers can.

Letting girls be girls and boys be boys. Your boy may want to walk around while he reads. Boys need to move, especially when they're thinking. Your daughter may want to read stuff about dogs and love and celebrities. Girls often gravitate towards books with detailed relationships. (Advice: get your boy an exercise ball to sit on instead of a chair; get your girl a book with an empowered heroine who has sophisticated relationships.)

Never giving up. Don't stop trying to get your kid to read. It's so important. So, so important. If one thing doesn't work, try something else. One day it will click and your kid will be a reader. And spend the rest of his or her life thanking you.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Getting your kid reading: What doesn't work

From the RIF (Reading is Fundamental) website: What doesn't work.

Nagging. Avoid lecturing about the value of reading and hounding a child who is not reading. Your child will only resent it.

Bribing. While there's nothing wrong with rewarding your child's reading efforts, you don't want your youngster to expect a prize after finishing every book. Whenever possible, offer another book or magazine (your child's choice) along with words of praise. You can give other meaningful rewards on occasion, but offer them less and less frequently. In time, your child will experience reading as its own reward.

Judging your child's performance. Separate school performance from reading for pleasure. Helping your child enjoy reading is a worthwhile goal in itself.

Criticizing your child's choices. Reading almost anything is better than reading nothing. Although you may feel your child is choosing books that are too easy or that treat subjects too lightly, hide your disappointment. Reading at any level is valuable practice, and successful reading helps build confidence as well as reading skills. If your differences are simply a matter of personal taste, respect your child's right to his or her own preferences.

Setting unrealistic goals. Look for small signs of progress rather than dramatic changes in your child's reading habits. Don't expect a reluctant reader to finish a book overnight. Maybe over the next week, with your gentle encouragement.

Making a big deal about reading. Don't turn reading into a campaign. Under pressure, children may read only to please their parents rather than themselves, or they may turn around and refuse to read altogether.

Hmmm. So here's an interesting conundrum. I liked this article, which I found on RIF.org a month or two ago. Sometimes when I see a good article, I stash it or its URL in my "edit" file until I can use it. Unfortunately, in this case I don't know whether I parsed/rewrote it before stashing it (to prevent plagiarism) or just stashed the whole article from RIF, intending to rewrite it later (crediting RIF, of course). And now I can't find it on RIF's website. Can't find it anywhere. Searched and searched. So: apologies to RIF if I ripped (or riffed) you off. Just to be safe I'll put a nice big link to RIF right in the headline. There. Good article, though, eh? On second thought, maybe it's RIF's original article after all. I don't think I'd say "youngster." "Kid" is more my style. UPDATE: Oh geez, it's like a week later and I just remembered. I actually contacted RIF and asked them if I could reproduce their article! (They said yes.) Oh phew! Know what made me think of it? I was writing the companion article, "What does work," and I was thinking, "I wonder if RIF would be interested in reading this?" And then I recalled e-mailing them and hearing back from them. Oh geez. Sorry to make you read all of this fine print - but thanks for hanging in there. Wasn't the ending worth it? Well, it was for me. You're awesome, reader.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Take 30 seconds for literacy this holiday

Think about literacy.

Take 30 seconds during the holidays - today - to reflect on how you can help your child become a better reader, enjoy books more and have greater access to books.

Just taking the time to focus on literacy will bring your child one step closer to enjoying reading more.

Here are some ideas to help you answer the question:

"How can I help my child enjoy reading more?"

* Extend your child's bedtime - as long as he's reading, he can stay up a bit later.

* Take your child to the library.

* Buy a great book and put it on your child's pillow for her to discover tonight.

* Buy yourself a good book. When kids see their parents reading, they're more likely to read themselves. (Have you read Andre Agassi's new biography Open? Even if you don't like sports, biographies or Andre Agassi - you will enjoy this great, fast and engaging read.)

* Read with your child tonight, even if he's already reading by himself.

* Buy books at Goodwill or another second-hand store.

* Rent your child the movie of a famous book. Buy the book too.

* Suggest that the grandparents purchase a magazine subscription for your child.

* Buy your child a booklight. Let him use it tonight after lights-out.

* Get your son a fact-based book like the Guinness Book of Records or one with lots of adventure like Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (the graphic novel has just come out).

* Get your daughter a book with lots of great characters and developed relationships, or one with a wonderful, empowered heroine like Eloise.

* Don't ever give up. Every second you spend with your child on reading is quality time and an investment in his future.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, by this author.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Great game: "No it wasn't"

Here's a great game that can spark an interest in plot and character. (And giggling and goofiness.)

By Jennifer A. Nielsen

A great road trip game is called “No, It Wasn’t.” It’s played with partners. One begins telling a story—any story. The other interrupts as often you like with, “No, it wasn’t”—or any grammatically-correct contradiction.

It may sound like this:
1: One morning, Jane went for a walk.
2: No, she didn’t.
1: That’s right. It wasn’t a walk. She was running. For exercise.
2: No, it wasn't.
1: Actually, it was because someone was chasing her. A bad guy.
2: No, it wasn’t.
1: No, it was the police. Jane is the bad guy.

And so on. The challenge to the storyteller is to instantly change direction, as often as they’re prompted.

As the story continues, the predictable story lines usually fall away, and the requirement to make changes opens the doors to great creativity. A new story begins to emerge, one that goes in radical new directions. In the example with Jane above, it would’ve originally been a story about her going to visit her friends. In only three twists, Jane is on the run from the police.

Choose a main character, any main character, then give them something to do. And so your game begins.
Need a prompt?

Here it is: When (Main Character) came home that day an old friend was waiting.
No, it wasn’t.

Ed: Thanks, Jennifer - it is a great game. My son and I played it and we giggled like idiots the entire time. I found that the game worked best when the adult did the first story-telling, so the child could get the hang of it. All he had to say was, "No it wasn't" and he could sort of see how things changed because of that. Then when it was his turn, he understood what needed to happen in his retelling. Thanks for letting us reprint this from the blog, Writing For Kids.

Jennifer A. Nielsen’s debut novel Elliot and the Goblin War was released in October 2010. And it comes with a warning–as of today, only seven children who have ever read this book have lived to tell about it. If you’re very brave, perhaps you’re willing to take your chance with it. The next book in the series, Elliot and the Pixie Plot will be released in May 2011.
(Ed: As soon as she's able to send us a review copy, we'll post a review about it. But I love the cover - look out, goblin! JG.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Access to printed materials does help

What impact, if any, does access to print materials have on our children's reading?

A lot, according to extensive research by RIF, Reading Is Fundamental, a non-profit children's literacy organization based in Washington, DC.

Owning and borrowing books from the library causes, "positive behavioural, educational and psychological outcomes."

In other words, kids who have access to books do better socially and at school.
(Does this sound familiar to regular GKR readers? But I digress.)

RIF found that having access to printed materials:

...improves children's reading performance. Children, and kindergarten students in particular, read better when they're often surrounded by books.

...is instrumental in helping children learn the basics of reading. Kids who have lots of different books become better at identifying words, being able to sound out words, and read sentences.

...causes children to read more and for longer lengths of time. There is more shared reading between parents and children. Kids read more often and for longer stretches.

...produces improved attitudes toward reading and learning among children. Kids who own, borrow or who are given books say they like reading and schoolwork more than kids who don't have access to books.

So there you have it. It's what this blog has been advocating for more than a year, and I'm thrilled to see another significant study that backs it up: kids who have access to books are much more likely to become great readers, and to love reading.

Scatter books around the house
Please check out these ideas for surrounding your kid with books.
Mom got her son reading!
Percy Jackson and the Olympians (let him find books on his bed)
Get your six-year-old reading
More books = more education

How the RIF study was done
Researchers searched 11,000 reports and analyzed 108 of the most relevant studies. They then chose "the most thorough and carefully conducted 44" of the 108 and did further analysis in order to draw their conclusions. That's a lot of stuff.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Play on Words - literacy action game

By Nancy Miller

Here's a fun activity that can take five minutes, or roll out to 10 or 15.

The goal here is to have fun with words -- and encourage your kid to get reading!

Play on Words
This activity uses three major learning styles:
• visual: they see the words.
• aural: they hear the words.
• kinesthetic: they act out the words

Here's how to play:
1. Ask the child to say his name and what he likes to do. For instance:
“My name is Fraser. I like to swim." (or ride my bike, or run, etc.)

2. Write down the answer in large letters.

3. Then together, pretend you're swimming hard (lie across a chair and kick your feet while stroking with your arms; diving... make sure there's lots of action!)

3. Read the words aloud, pointing to each word. Read the words together.

You can also extend the learning:
*Do the actions again. Then ask your child to pick out the words that go with that action.
*Keep a record of the words.
*Later you can also cut out pictures to go with the activities; this is excellent for reinforcement.

Other times, pretend:
*Animals; "My name is Fraser. I am a lion."
*Vehicles: "My name is Fraser. I am a train."
*Sports: "I like to play baseball."

This will work with whatever your child's interests are.

This activity is a shortened version of a longer learning-to-read program. If you would like more information on the program, please contact: Nancy Miller at millerneighbour@rogers.com.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Save the Words

Won't you adopt a word?

You don't normally think of the Oxford English Dictionary people as silly, but they've developed a project that's pretty goofy, and it's something you can do with your kid to get her thinking about language.

They've rounded up hundreds of words that don't get used much any more. Words like gumfiate (to swell), lambition (licking) and vellicle (something that pinches or holds fast).

They've taken all of these nearly extinct words and knitted them into a virtual quilt, which you'll find here.

When you move your mouse over the words, they'll call out to you: "Pick me! Pick me!" They want you to adopt them.

You can find a word or two that you like and click on them. That will bring up its definition, and a form that allows you to "adopt" it. (Like all adoptions, you first have to register. Unlike human adoptions, it's free.)

Adopting a word means pledging that you'll try to bring it back into the mainstream. You'll use it in conversation and in writing, and you'll explain it to people.

Save a Word is meant to be a fun concept to get people thinking about words. It's a great resource to use to talk to your child about the fact that words evolve and how our language has changed.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NYTimes 10 best picture books

In time for holiday gift buying, three editors at the New York Times have published their choices for the "top 10" picture books of 2010.

I'm not sure I'm completely with them on this list. I mean, "top 10"? Out of everything, these are the ones? No Jeremy Tankard? So... as with any suggestions, take 'em with a grain of salt. But do check them out because no matter what, these books are no slouches.

The New York Times published excellent synopses for each book, here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

WORDS, an image-and-word poem

WORDS is a brilliant short (1:54) film that blends images to create a flowing "word poem" that is lovely, fun and thought-provoking.
It starts out with "play," which leads to "blow" and then "break" and "split" and then "run."

The images examine all aspects of the words. For instance, "run" is a person running, and then a runny nose, running a red light and running away... which leads to fly, and fly (zipper), and fly (work), and then fall... falling down, falling in love, waterfall, the Fall...

They used YouTube images to produce something really mesmerizing. Watch it with your kid, to bring new sense to some basic words and concepts and what they mean to us.

Re:WORDS from Everynone on Vimeo.

Thank you, Everynone, for this brilliant word poem. And BoingBoing for bringing it to our attention.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How to build reading success

Could this be Snappy the mouse?
Well, no, I made him up.
But if there was a mouse named Snappy,
this would be him. In a bi-plane.
Image: by Dvortygirl.
Here’s a great way to help your child succeed at reading and at the same time develop a love of books… and it starts with one word.

When you’re reading with your child, point out a word or two and help him to memorize it. Every time the child reads that word—and can read that word—he’ll feel successful. And that’s when you praise the heck out of him.

Here’s how it would look
ME: This is a book about a mouse named Snappy. Look at that name, “Snappy.” See the big S at the front? It’s like a snake, isn’t it? How many letters does Snappy’s name have—let’s count them. Six! What else does Snappy’s name have?

KID: Two of these letters. (pointing).

ME: That’s right! Snappy’s name has two ps! And do you know this letter? (Pointing to the y.)

OK, so now the child will recognize that if there’s a word with two ps and a capital S and a y, it’s likely to be “Snappy.”

You’ve shifted his focus from all of the grey text in the book, to looking for just one little word. And you’ve chosen a word that will come up a lot in the book, so there will be lots of successes.

And now as you’re reading out loud, pause whenever the word “Snappy” is in the text. And you know who’s going to read that word? (Right!) The kid.

The first couple of times you’ll pause and point to the word, and maybe point out the capital S and the ps with your finger. And then look pointedly at the child, as if waiting… for… him… to… say…

KID: Snappy!

ME: Good one! That’s right! There’s that word: Snappy! Nice job. I wonder if it’s in here again…

And sure enough, the second time you pause, he’ll notice the capital S and call out, “Snappy!” And you’ll both be delighted. And the next time it will happen faster, and the next time you won’t even have to pause at all.

It will become seamless, like this:

ME: One day when (child: Snappy!) was in his bedroom, his mother called to him. (child: Snappy!) she called. Oh, (child: Snappy!). Come down and eat your dinner!

And then later in the week, the child will see the word in some other context, in another book or in an ad (Snapple) and he’ll be so proud that he knows that word.
Is he sounding out the word using phonics? No, he’s memorizing it by its shape and a couple of cues. And memorizing is an important part of learning to read, especially in the beginning.
But more than that, your child has taken ownership of a word. He’s taken ownership of a book with “his” word in it. He has learned that he can read something, and he’s been successful.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Parents can teach media literacy

The North American House
Hippo exists... right?
Move media literacy up on your curriculum.

The world for kids today is increasingly packed with messages from the media that are contradictory, confusing and overwhelming.

(By media, I mean primarily advertisers, news organizations and the Internet.)

Media literacy—being able to make sense of what advertisers and news organizations are telling us—has been moved up on the curriculum in many school boards, including the massive Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

Parents should also move it up on their “curriculum.” There’s a lot you can do to give your kid a basic foundation in media literacy that will help prepare him to navigate a world full of ad messages, hidden agendas and conflicting ideas.

When you’re walking down the street, point out some ads and talk about them:
For younger kids—Talk about the actual words and pictures on the ad. Ask basic questions like, “why is there a picture of a hamburger on that poster?” “What is being sold?” “How much are they selling it for?”

For older kids—“Who do you think they’re targetting with that ad?” “How much do you think the company spent on that ad? Why?”

Open up a newspaper with your child:
For younger kids—Show them that there are different sections to a newspaper. Explain what a headline is for. Talk about some of the pictures. (Note: It’s tempting to turn to the comics page, but ironically most comics will be too obscure for young kids, so you’re probably better off with Sports or Lifestyle.)

For older kids—Focus on a specific story. Pick one from a section that interests them; perhaps Sports or Fashion. But don’t shy away from current events or politics, either. If there’s an election in your area, explaining what an election is, and who’s up for election can be one of the most engaging conversations you have with your child.

When you’re watching TV, talk to your kids about the program they’re watching. Talk to them about actors and make-believe. Take them mentally out of the program and “behind the camera,” where the show is actually created.

Here’s a great place to start: the North American House Hippo
It’s a one-minute TV “commercial” created by a non-profit group, Concerned Children’s Advertisers. It advertises “the North American House Hippo,” a supposed nocturnal, rodent-like creature.

The message at the end of the ad is that of course there’s no such animal, but didn’t the ad make you feel as if the hippo really existed?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Superhero School

Kids love superheroes. But...

...superheroes are usually found in comics. And parents want kids to read books. Plus, superhero comics are often too violent for younger children.

Solution: books with superheroes.

Superhero School, by Aaron Reynolds, is just such a book, and it's terrific.

Protagonist Leonard is a kid with super-strength and super-speed. When he gets sent to superhero school, he can't wait. He looks forward to learning how to stop trains, and bend iron and clobber bad guys.

So he's more than a little disappointed when the teacher at superhero school teaches them boring stuff like fractions, and division instead of flying and clobbering.

But when the ice zombies kidnap the teachers and threaten to take over the world, Leonard and his classmates sure are glad they have the math skills they'll need to divide and conquer!

A terrific book, with a nice twist that kids might not see coming.

The illustrations are quirky-great; there's only one illustration of clobbering and it's just silly rather than violent.

Other great superhero books we've reviewed:
So your kid loves superheroes? No problem.
More superheroes.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Promote literacy: four important activities

There’s a fourth promoter of literacy.

You know that I’m always going on about the three most important things you can do to turn your kid into a great reader:

1) Read to her every day.
2) Have lots of books scattered throughout your house.
3) Let her see you reading.

Research tells us that if you do those three things, you’re more likely to have a kid who loves to read.

A Grade 1 - 2 teacher at my son’s school told me about another one: The number of books she reads/looks at/has read to her.

Mr. Remisch told me that kids who “go through” books at a fairly good clip tend to be lifelong readers. It makes sense; it’s kind of an extension of #2—exposing her to books, having them around her.

Mr. Remisch has a wonderful plan to get the kids in his class to “get through” a lot of books. He uses an incentive.

The kids in his class will write down the title of every book they read, along with as much as they can or want to say about the book. When they get to 30, they’ll get a certificate.

For a six-year-old, that’s a pretty solid incentive. In fact, just keeping track—or having your teacher keep track—of the books you’re reading is enough to keep a kid reading.

In this exercise, Mr. Remisch isn't concerned as much about the quality of the reading material, as the quantity. He’s not trying to make kids read specific things, here; he’s trying to expose them to books. Lots of books.

He’s setting the stage for later years, when the quality of the reading material will become more important.

He doesn’t want kids going home and staying up until two in the morning, reading all 30 books in one week, so he’ll probably set a limit of three books a day.

And he says it is important that the child understand what she’s reading, so there will be some discussions about the books. And for every, say, dozen or so books, he’ll ask the child for a bit more detail.

A reading incentive chart with a nice reward is a great way to expose your child to books and get her reading.

Here’s an earlier article we wrote on Reading Reward Charts.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Winner of PictureIt Contest

Thank you to everyone who entered our contest for free PictureIt books.

We have a winner! We put all of the names in a (virtual) hat and randomly chose a winner. Congratulations to Maria Butcher, who should be receiving the books right... about... now.

Maria mentioned in her comment that her son has Asperger's - these books, in which the child draws his own illustrations, may be an excellent resource for him. I hope Maria will let us know if he enjoys the books (or not - either way, we wanna know!).

Now, for all of you who entered but didn't win
I can't bear to see anyone walk away empty-handed! So I went back to PictureIt and asked if they could offer some small discount to anyone who entered but didn't win.

They're not set up to offer discounts, but here's what they generously offered to do: If you entered the contest, they will give you free shipping if you purchase the books through their website directly.

So if you entered the contest and want to buy the books and take advantage of this offer, you'll need to e-mail Alicia and Leanne (the creators) directly and mention Getting Kids Reading. They can be reached at creators at pictureitpicturebooks dot com.

Thank you to PictureIt for supplying the six free books. And congratulations on having recently been picked up by Chapters/Indigo!

If you don't know what I'm talking about, here are the links to our contest (which, as I say, is now over). Thanks everyone!
PictureIt book giveaway
Win free PictureIt books

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mother-Son bookclub part II

Our mother-son book club met again this week.

It’s a great example of parents taking their children’s literacy into their own hands. And anyone can do it – you can do it.

The boys drew, read, wrote, ate,
chatted, answered quiz questions
and had an amazing time.
Once again, the evening was total chaos… and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. There were boys writing, boys reading, boys drawing maps of faerie sightings in their neighbourhood, boys eating cupcakes, boys talking (in very loud voices—ok, shouting) about books, boys presenting at the front of the room, boys running around and overall, boys enjoying and sharing their experiences with books.

There were about half a dozen moms wondering what the heck was going on. (The one dad remained very calm, taking it all in stride.) The moms all had the same expression on our faces. It said: “This is chaos!”

Yes, it was chaos. It was wonderful chaos.

It was the way boys often need to learn, to connect, to delve into books, to share. Touching things and doing things and running around occasionally and eating snacks—while they were learning.

Every boy there walked away knowing that for a month, while they were living in “The Spiderwick” world—there were a dozen other boys in exactly the same world. And that’s the whole point of the bookclub.

Our itinerary:
Amongst the chaos, quite a lot was accomplished.

The book this month was The Spiderwick Chronicles (Book I), about three siblings who move into an old house and discover a secret world of faeries and goblins.

Two families hosted; their boys created a quiz about the book and its characters. They called out questions and the audience members answered.

They also gave out hand-outs: one asked kids to draw a map of their neighbourhood, showing where faeries and goblins could be found; another had kids draw their own “field guide” book cover; another gave the first three lines of a poem and had the child create the final line; still another taught “deductive reasoning.” So there was something at both ends of the spectrum, for kids who prefer drawing and kids who prefer writing.

Joulie handed out our special shrinky-dink I.D. badges that we’d created last month. They looked fantastic and the kids were excited to see their creations turn out so well.

And then Joulie created special I.D. cards for each child, which she’s brought home to laminate. (Yes, Joulie is our neighbourhood supermom who not only has a shrinky-dink machine, but apparently a laminator as well!) Each card has a photo of the child, which Joulie must have taken last month, wearing a fake moustache. I completely missed that she did that – when does she do these things?!

We read out a couple of the stories the kids started last month. Remember the envelopes, on which each child wrote the beginning of a story – we each took one home to continue the story. They were handed out yet again, for the kids to develop the story a bit further at home.

There was a lot going on, all the time. The boys could draw or read or write or eat or answer trivia questions—sometimes all at once. It was so great, I can’t even tell you.

You’ve got to start up a kids’ book club in your neighbourhood. (Just don’t ask to borrow Joulie, ’cause you can’t have her.)

Next month:
Our book selection for next month is Big Nate: In a Class by Himself.

In December, we're doing The Red Pyramid, which is a really big book so we're giving two months' notice. We're also suggesting that parents check the audio version of the book out of the library (you can get the CDs or download an MP3) because the book will be a bit too ambitious for some kids to read.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Teen says reading helped save him

Haille Bailey-Harris is an amazing teenager.
His mom helped him get on the right path,
in part by nurturing his love of reading.
An incredible success story

In the Globe and Mail's coverage of "boys and education" this week, a very moving column by a boy named Haille Bailey-Harris caught my attention.

He's a 16-year-old high school student, and he's determined not to become one of the statistics the Globe has been writing about - boys who don't do well in school and don't go on to university.

He's an amazing kid. Just Googling him for this article uncovers a whole series of articles he's had published in major newspapers. Clearly, he has brains, initiative and goals (including arguing a case before the Supreme Court and publishing a book). I have no doubt he will achieve his goals.

However, it wasn't always like that. The deck was stacked against him from day one. He hasn't seen his father in 10 years - he's being raised by his mother alone; he's an avid video gamer; and he's dark-skinned. He was bullied in school, full of anger and got into lots of trouble.

As he says in his column, "according to the research, I should be failing in school, a non-reader and basically a loser... hell, I should just throw in the towel!"

Instead, his mother intervened. She developed a plan with his school's principal, and it worked.

I'll direct you to his beautifully written Globe column for the whole story, but basically, here's the plan that worked for him:

1) Find other role models. Teachers, relatives - both male and female.

2) Create a community family. For instance, Big Brothers and Big Sisters provided him with a mentor.

3) Nurture a love of reading. "Instead of banning me from video games, my mom got me games that also required me to read (like Pokemon) and encouraged me to get books (even comics) that interested me. Gradually, I wanted to read books and, eventually, I wanted to read everything, all the time."

4) Do community service. He and his mom volunteer at the public library and a homeless shelter.

His "battle plan," as he calls it, helped him realize that he had potential, "as do all children, no matter what the circumstances." He tried harder in school, found better friends and, "suddenly, before I realized it, my life was right-side up."

Now that's a great success story.

The column Haille wrote touches on a couple of themes that I've been espousing for a long time. First, that parents can offset poor schooling, bad teachers, lack of resources and just about any obstacle that stands between a kid and the love of reading. Parents can accomplish just about anything. And second, that no matter what a boy wants to read - embrace it! Haille was reading Pokemon video games, for crying out loud. He says he's now "a happy, well-adjusted 16-year-old who really loves to read." Lots of people say that boys need to choose their literature carefully and shouldn't read "just anything." Haille and I disagree.

I couldn't find a copyright-free picture of Haille Bailey-Harris and I wanted to show you what he looks like, because this is his story. Haille, if you object to me using this photo (which I found on Globe.com) then let me know and I'll take it down. But I hope you don't - because people need to know you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Series on "how school is failing boys"

The Globe and Mail is beginning a new series tomorrow, taking a look at “why school is failing boys.”

They say that boys earn lower grades overall than girls in elementary school and high school. They do more poorly than girls in reading and writing and they are more likely to have to repeat a grade or to drop out of school.

Girls are also more likely to go to university: they make up 60 per cent of undergraduates.

Boys are more likely to say they feel disengaged with school, they spend less time studying (or none at all) and to report that neither they nor their friends plan to go to university.

The Globe plans to examine reasons for these statistics including:
  • Textbooks, long criticized for being sexist, have been revised but the pendulum may have swung too far. Most of the “smart” pictures of happy and productive kids are girls and the “bad” pictures are of boys doing destructive or ill-advised activities.
  • Parental expectations for boys are too low. Only 60 per cent of parents said they expect their son to get a degree. (Ten per cent lower than for daughters.)
An article by Carolyn Abraham which will be published in tomorrow’s Globe and Mail, notes that a recent wide-ranging study of youths found that the top four predictors of which teenager will go to university are, in order:
1) Overall marks
2) Reading ability
3) Study habits
4) Parental expectations.

The article says that parents and schools don’t take boys’ interests seriously enough, understand what motivates them, or pay enough attention to their needs or aspirations.

The societal factors may all be true, but I think one should never underestimate the power of parents to change the course of their kids' lives, to encourage boys to do better in school and to help make it a place where he feels engaged.

Never underestimate the power of parents.

Related links
We’ve covered many of these issues in GKR before. Here are some links to previous articles. Also, click on “Boys” in the Labels to get ideas to help get your video-loving or active boy reading, as well as great books for boys:
Boys don’t like school
Boys' and girls' brains develop differently
Getting boys reading: start in the middle

Friday, October 8, 2010

Halo by Alexandra Adornetto

I’m not so sure it’s a great book… but I can’t seem to put it down.

Halo hits all the right buttons for today’s modern tween girl: the main characters are supernatural (angels); there’s a romance; cute and enigmatic boy characters; a spunky yet conflicted girl protagonist.

Halo tells the story of three angels who have been sent to earth to set things right. Apparently evil is overtaking us, and enough is enough for the Guy upstairs. One of the angels is 17-year-old Beth, who is more susceptible to her new human form than her two older and wiser siblings. She succumbs to the temptations of human emotion and falls in love with a human boy. This sets up a conflict, since she finds herself too busy dating to pay attention to the more charitable pursuits she has been put on earth to fulfill. The whole thing comes to a climax when a sexy male devil character sets his sights on her.

Kinda like Twilight
Whereas Twilight, the hugely popular teen-girl-fantasy novel against which all others must now be measured, had vampires, Halo has angels. Twilight is set in a quiet, nondescript town in the U.S.; so is Halo. Both have strong female lead characters. Both books feature gentle (yet strong) male love interests. In both books, the female lead characters must battle supernatural forces. And in both books the main character is quickly swept off her feet by a boy with whom she falls irrevocably in love, a love she puts beyond all else – including common sense and her responsibilities.

If your teen or tween girl liked Twilight, I’m going to bet that she’ll enjoy Halo.

It’s a gentle love story, an easy read, with just enough action to keep the pages turning. And it's clean. Angel-clean.

However, I would have liked the book to have been edited a bit more carefully. Not only are there occasional grammatical errors, but some of the dialogue is stilted, especially when the kids are tryin’ to talk hip-like. That’s the writer’s fault but also the editor’s, who should have pointed it out and asked for rewrites.

I once had an editor who talked about an author who “worries every word.” Halo feels like it was written a bit hastily, without the words having been sufficiently “worried” by this young author (Alexandra Adornetto is 19.)

But it doesn’t really matter, because the kids are reading the book in droves and loving it, with or without clunky dialogue.

Adornetto is already working on the second book in what will be a trilogy: Hades, due out next year. The third book will be entitled Heaven.

She is also working on a website for young aspiring authors which will offer writing tips. Now, that is something to really look forward to, and something that will undoubtedly help to get kids writing. Good for her.

Related Links
Here's the video trailer for Halo.
And here's a nice video interview (1:30) with author Alexandra Adornetto.

Previous articles posted on Getting Kids Reading
The Twilight Series.
New Twilight Book.
Newest Twilight Book - Free.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Contest: Win free Picture It books

We've only had two contest entries so far.

And while it's great that two people have entered (thank you, M and K!)... I ask myself, "why haven't more people entered?"

I figure it could be for two reasons (both of which have to do with the fact that I'm a neophyte at offering contests):

1) You don't want to have to worry about picking the books up or paying for postage. Fair enough - I get that. Can't change it, though.

2) You don't want to have to put your e-mail address (as asked in my original post) on the Internet. This one I can fix.

So now if you want to enter the contest, just e-mail me your information at joycegrant at sympatico dot ca and I'll enter you!

3) Don't know what contest I'm talking about? Read this. And then enter, please.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mother-Son book club

My friend Joulie is a supermom.

That needs to be said right off the bat. There is no way to live up to the things that Joulie does with her kids. And for the kids at the school. And for the neighbourhood kids.

Luckily, I don't have to be as good as Joulie - I can just wait until she organizes something, and jump right in. (And now thanks to this post you can, too.)

Her latest venture is a mother-son book club. It's a fantastic way to get kids reading. It's also a boy-celebration of books and of reading.

I wasn't sure what to expect from a mother-son book club. The book clubs I've been to have been calm, thoughtful, philosophical affairs (with wine). This was not that kind of book club.

About a dozen boys and their moms (and one dad) gathered in a room in our local library. Each boy was given a T-shirt with a Star Wars character on it with the caption, "Reading is strong in this one." Their first task was to colour the shirt with fabric markers.
I love this shot of Joulie as she tries to say something over the
din of boys drawing, and eating, and laughing - in short,
celebrating books in a way that only boys can!
At the same time, a boy was asked to come to the front and talk about his favourite book. My son gave a heartfelt speech about Rick Riordan's "The Red Pyramid."

After that came the trivia questions about Diary of A Wimpy Kid. "What was the main character's father's name?" Hands go up. "Frank!" Correct.

Fun, fun, fun.

Then, each boy and each mom made a shrinkey-dink name tag, which Joulie (of course supermom has a shrinkey-dink machine, it's one of the many things we love about her) will shrink down for next month's club meeting.

While we drew our name tags, another boy presented his book and more trivia questions were read out. We kept going that way until each boy had presented. The list of books presented was varied and interesting: How to Train Your Dragon; Hamish X and the Cheese Pirates; The Hardy Boys; and Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief, among others.

While the presentations were being made, some kids were listening attentively. Some were eating cupcakes. Some were drawing. Some were wandering around, listening but moving. That's boys! A boy book club is not going to be about perfect silence, waiting turns, putting hands up. No, a boy book club is about doing, and calling out, and giggling, and moving around, and challenging each other. And that's perfectly fine.

Our boy book club had everything that boys like - including poop jokes, and stories that end with "and then he died," and swords and questions and laughter and physicality.

It was by far the noisiest book club meeting I've ever been to. And probably the most fun.

After the presentations and name tags and cupcakes and t-shirts, Joulie handed each child and each parent an 8x10 envelope. She instructed us to write the beginning of a story on one side of the envelope. Why an envelope? Why not? Next month we'll use wood to write on, she said, or cloth or whatever else is an interesting medium for writing.

After everyone had started their story, Joulie shuffled them and everyone took someone else's home. Our "homework assignment" is to continue the person's story on the other side of the envelope.

Then each child submitted the title of a book they would like us all to read for next month. We chose one by random draw: The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book I. Next month we'll all have read the book and Max's mom will be the one to come up with the trivia questions and to bring the snacks. Joulie's going to supply another craft, because she's amazing at it.

The first meeting of our mother-son (and one father-son) book club was a noisy, lively, celebratory, exciting... success! We all gave Joulie a passionate round of applause and a big hug.

This book club is going to be the start of something big for our kids.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Picture It" book giveaway

"Picture It" picture book giveaway.

Toronto hosted Word on the Street on Sunday.

I'm always blown away by the sheer number of people who come out to the one-day festival. There are kids' literature lovers, fantasy and sci-fi afficiandoes, magazines, alt literature - even Harlequin had a booth.

I picked up some fantastic ideas for kids' literacy. One of the best was a brand-new series of books called "Picture It picture books." They're the brainchild of Leanne Milech and Alicia Belvedere.

They're picture books with text on each page, with a big blank space for kids to illustrate them themselves. So for instance, a page will say "I have many toys, but this one is very special to me." And then room above for the child to draw their special toy.

It's a brilliant idea, because some kids are more into art than words. This draws them into the language as they explore their artistic side.

There are six books so far. "Goodnight Dreams" is about a girl who doesn't dream and sets out to discover why. "Captain Zane" takes kids on a sea adventure. There's also an alphabet book and a number book as well as a book about the child and their family.

The women have sold their idea to Chapters Indigo so it's certain to take off. It's also been featured on TV on CityLine.

Here's the Picture It website with more information.

We're giving six books away
Getting Kids Reading is proud to be giving a series of these wonderful books away to one lucky GKR reader. I'll be doing a random draw, selecting one name to win.

If you live in the Toronto area and can pick up the books, that's great. If you're outside the city that's fine but you'll have to be willing to pay for postage. (I don't think it'll cost that much, but I'm no postal expert, so I can't say for sure yet. Update: Under 10 bucks, the Picture It people tell me.)

The books are for kids 6 and up, although I'm sure that younger kids would enjoy them too. They're listed at $7.99 each.

To enter the draw, write a Comment with your name and e-mail address. I'll put all the names in a hat and pick a winner! The winner will be notified on Tuesday, October 12. (If I haven't had enough entrants by then I might extend the deadline a bit, but let's see what happens.) Good luck!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Awesome book review - The Hobbit (by Luke, 10)

Image: Amazon.ca
Not sure if your kid would be interested in reading The Hobbit? Don't take it from me – here's a review written by 10-year-old Luke, who has read the book (wait for it) 15 times.

The Hobbit
By: Luke (Grade 5)

Peace-loving Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit (or halfling) is living in the country of the shire in Middle Earth (more on that later). He meets a strange wandering wizard talking of adventures; Bilbo invites him to afternoon tea and thinks nothing more of it. But instead of just one wizard arriving at Bilbo’s house, 13 dwarves arrive as well.

And so begins an adventure beyond Bilbo’s wildest imaginings. An adventure that takes him to the Grand House of Elrond, through the dangerous orc-infested Misty Mountains, past the mazes of Mirkwood and to many other places as well.

The author, J.R.R. Tolkien, was a professor of mythology at Oxford, so he knew a lot about myths. He created a world from his imagination – Middle Earth – in which all of his stories took place. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as stories for his children and not to publish as a book. Later, he was convinced to publish the stories as a book – which has never been out of print to this day.

The Hobbit is a great adventure story and is a classic as well as a must-read. I have read it 15 times. You heard me, 15 times! I don’t often read a book more than once.

It submerges you into another world and it captures your imagination – taking you to another realm. It paints a perfect picture in your head and it has a really good story line. And when you get that combination in a book, you can read it over and over.

The Hobbit was so successful when it was published that Tolkien was encouraged to write a sequel, which became his masterpiece: Lord of the Rings. I love Lord of the Rings, but I haven’t read it 15 times. I think it is because there is a charm in The Hobbit that is not matched in the sequel.

So if you haven’t read Lord of the Rings yet, read The Hobbit first. And if you have, read The Hobbit anyway.

Luke is a student at Hillcrest Community School. This review was originally published in the school's online newspaper.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Blocks With Letters On 3

Oh my, this one's tricky!

If you have a kid who's a real fan of puzzles, he'll love the newest Blocks With Letters On online game - their third in the series.

Once again, you have to figure out what word the jumbled letters spell, and then try to manipulate the blocks into the yellow squares.

Sometimes you need to flip the blocks and sometimes you need to temporarily fill a hole with one block and then slide another block over it. You always need to plan ahead, thinking about how the letters need to line up in order to spell the word.

The graphics are very silly and cool, and after every time you spell a word correctly, a little animation plays that depicts the word.

This version of the game is very tricky, so it's not for young kids but teens who love puzzles will definitely find it intriguing. I noticed that on the BLWO games website they also have a version for the iPhone. Fun!

Here's an earlier post about the previous two BLWO games.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Vote on Munsch's next book

What's Robert Munsch going to write about next?

You (or your kid) can help him decide.

Munsch has three outlines for new books. Kids can pick which one they'd most like to see made into a book by clicking on the voting button.

Go to Pick-A-Munsch on Scholastic's website and vote for #1, #2 or #3.

#1 is about a pet rat that escapes; #2 is about a kid who goes ice fishing; and #3 is about a family that lives in a temporarily overcrowded trailer.

You can vote from now until Hallowe'en (Oct. 31) and the book that's chosen will be published in May 2011.

This little voting game is a great way to connect kids to the writing process and help them to understand how a book comes together.

Actually, it's going to help me with a children's book I'm working on. I've been trying to figure out how to do an outline of my book--well, here are three great outlines by one of the most famous and successful children's authors in the world. Great examples of how to sketch out a book outline.

Thanks, Robert! (Er, Mr. Munsch.)

After you're finished voting, put your mouse over the image that says "Which story is in the lead" and you'll see which one's winning at the moment. (Not the one I picked.)

I took this picture when Munsch was at the Mississauga Living Arts Centre doing a presentation and signing autographs. Doesn't it look like he's asking that kid, "Which outline should I develop into a book? Really? That one, you think? That one?" But he's actually just signing an autograph. Psyche!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Scrabble Flash (Boggle Flash)

Don't you wish there was a board game that encourages literacy - but which your kid would actually enjoy?

Scrabble Flash goes one better... it's also electronic, which kids love. And it's completely portable, packing down into a little holder about the size of a small TV remote. (Which parents love.)

You get five electronic Scrabble tiles. Line them up so they're touching at the sides (they "talk" to each other electronically this way). Turn them on, and select Game 1, 2 or 3.

Game 1, Scrabble Flash
The five tiles each display a letter. You have to arrange them into words. For instance, if you get P-A-C-E-S you could make PACE, PACES, ACE, ACES, SEA, APE, APES and so on. You shuffle the tiles around to make as many words as you can in 60 seconds. After you make a word, the tiles flash to signify that your word is acceptable. If it's not a word, it won't flash and it won't count. You can create three, four or five-letter words, although five seconds are added to the clock every time you create a five-letter word.

When the time runs out, you're given your score ("SCR08") and the highest score you could have gotten if you'd guessed all the possible words.

Game 2, Five-Letter Flash
Use the letters to create five-letter words. When you create a five-letter word, you're given five new letters. You keep going until you can't think of a word and the time runs out. It's a great one-person game.

Game 3, Pass Flash (for two or more players)
Just like in Game 2, you have to create five-letter words. When you've got your word, the tiles will say NEXT and you pass them to the next player, who tries to get a five-letter word. If someone misses, they're out and the tiles will tell you what the word was before encouraging you to pass them to the NEXT person. Last one standing is the winner.
Bring out Scrabble Flash the next time your family is waiting for their meal at a restaurant. It's not noisy, so you won't disturb anyone, and it's truly portable.

In our family, Scrabble Flash has been an instant hit, not just with our son but with the adults as well. And it's kind of addictive, actually. You want to keep challenging yourself, keep making words.
It's extremely easy to use and the rules are simple. It's not one of those games that has pages of arcane rules - it's as simple as, or simpler than, Scrabble. You can play for five minutes or you can play for an hour. It's probably best with one or two people, but theoretically you can play game 3 with a whole bunch of people.

And it will help improve kids' literacy skills, because the more they play with letters and words, they more they will understand how they work together. For instance, every time you get an S, kids will pretty quickly figure out that they should try it at the end of the word. And then try the word without the S for a second point. Same thing when they get an E or an ES. And from there, other combinations like EA or OU.

This is a seriously good game, and I give it two thumbs up. It sells for about $30 and if you're buying it somewhere other than Canada or the US, it's called Boggle Flash.

Here are a couple of other reviews of Scrabble Flash.

I should mention that Hasbro gave me a "review" game of Scrabble Flash for free after I'd requested it. I mention it in case you think that my getting the game for free might skew my review. I don't think it does, because they also sent me another game that was OK but which I didn't think had tons of literacy potential, so I simply didn't review it. Dat's mah policy.

Also, the photos on this page were supplied by Hasbro. I thought they'd be better than the lousy ones I'd probably take with my point-and-shoot. But now that I see them on the page they aren't that great, actually. Makes me feel better anyway.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Literacy Lava 6 - e-newsletter

Please check out the 6th edition of Literacy Lava e-newsletter.

I have an article in it ("Newspapers Build Literacy Skills") that I hope you enjoy.

Click here to access the free .pdf, Literacy Lava 6. Scroll down on the page and click on the image of LL6.

You'll find lots of other great literacy articles in this edition of LL, including:
* How to create a father/son book club;
* Telling tales with "story stones";
* Using poetry to support literacy; and
* Revving up reluctant readers.

Our thanks to Susan Stephenson, of The Book Chook, who produces Literacy Lava.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Macdonald Hall

Most of the summer, my son has been absorbed by the Macdonald Hall series, by Gordon Korman.

Set in a Canadian boarding school, it's all about the antics of Bruno Walton and Boots O'Neal, who share a dorm room - and get into a lot of mischievous fun.

The MH books are real page-turners, with lots of action and just enough character development so that you get to know the quirks about the kids who live and study at Macdonald Hall, but not so much that the book gets bogged down.

For instance, there's the clumsy kid who can always be counted on to stumble over his own feet and smash everything to the ground (think Lucille Ball carrying a big chocolate cake); Elmer is the smart one, who can hear a bird in the forest and instantly name it; Bruno is the guy who's never met an adventure he didn't like - and will do anything for his school; and Boots is Bruno's long-suffering best friend who tries to talk sense into Bruno but eventually gets dragged into all of his schemes. And of course, there's Fish (Mr. Sturgeon), the strict but lovable headmaster.

While it's set in a boys' school, Korman also has two feisty female protagonists who attend the girls' finishing school just over the highway. Not only do they assist in many of the boys' schemes, but they start up a few of their own.
What kind of things do the MH kids get up to? In one book, they want to buy a new pool for the school so they hold all kinds of massive fundraisers - without the knowledge of the Fish. In another one, a major movie star (think Justin Bieber) shoots a movie at the school and Bruno tries to get himself into every shot possible.
And in others, the boys try to thwart a new dress code and a change in dorm-room assignments. These may sound like pretty tame plots, but Korman makes them exciting and interesting. Boys, especially, will giggle out loud.

Here's something really cool that you need to know about the first book in the Macdonald Hall series (This Can't be Happening!). Gordon Korman wrote it when he was 12.

Yes, he was 12. As in, at 12 years old he wrote his first book - but not only that, a book that would become an award-winning series. But not only that... a series that would endure to the present day, when it's still every bit as funny and interesting and relevant as the day it was written.

Scholastic has revamped the Macdonald Hall series, giving them new covers and updating some of the information. For instance, the boys use computers and e-mail - something I'm quite certain they didn't do in the original books. But they haven't changed too much (in fact there are still some anachronisms in the books).

The one thing my son and I were a bit miffed about - and I think it's kind of a major error - is that Scholastic listed the books out of order in the frontispiece of each book. For instance, on the back of Beware the Fish! it says it's "The third fearlessly funny book in the Macdonald Hall series." But it appears as number four in the list - in every MH book.

Now, it's not all that important to read them in order, but my son and I both went by that list and we read them out of order when we didn't have to. Just sayin'...

So here's the correct order:
1) This can't be happening!
2) Go jump in the pool
3) Beware the Fish!
4) The wizzle war
5) The zucchini warriors
6) Lights, camera, disaster!
7) The joke's on us

Incidentally, want to know how my son found out about the Macdonald Hall books? They were my husband's favourite books when he was growing up. From father... to son. Way to go, Gordon Korman.

I have to send a shout-out to Scholastic's awesome Nikole Kritikos (who I'm quite certain had nothing to do with the frontispiece mix-up), who just sent me Gordon Korman's latest book, Swindle. My son and I will be gobbling that one up in no time - as soon as he's finished Schooled, by GK.

By the way, did you know that Gordon Korman was named after Gordie Howe? He was.
Lots more information on Gordon Korman's

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back to school 2010

By Julia Mohamed

It’s nearly back-to-school time! Time to go from running wild and free to becoming a studious student once again. Here are a few ideas to help make the transition as smooth as possible:

Goal Journal
Have your kids contribute to a nightly journal. Begin now, with their anticipations and goals for the upcoming year, and continue to use it as the year progresses. It will help get them into the routine of writing again, and it’ll be great to look back on it later in the year. They can do all of the writing, dictate to you, add some pictures or make it a combination of everything.

Great sites
School means reports and essays. Here are great, kid-friendly websites where kids can search for the answers to questions on just about anything.

Homework Helper
This site offers categories like “Science, History, World, Sports and exercise.” From there, kids can drill down until they find answers to questions they have on just about anything. Includes facts and information on Canada, plus a “World” category.

It’s a non-profit website and each category uses a specialist in the field to write the information and answer kids’ questions. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on the site, you can ask their experts a question and they’ll e-mail you back. They'll also send parents links to kid-friendly websites.

Published by Pearson publishing, this site offers information and facts on lots of different subject areas, for kids K to 8. It also has an online atlas, dictionary and encyclopedia and some online games and quizzes (for instance, hangman, Star Wars quizzes, an interactive periodic table, Sudoku, how to write a book report and much more.)

Funschool Kaboose
Funschool Kaboose is a Disney site with great information, games and crafts for kids from preschool to grade 6. It also features sections for parents and educators.

Stock up on school supplies
Before heading out, prepare a list of the school supplies you need. Why not make it a scavenger hunt? Be sure to be specific when you’re writing your list: Number 2 pencils, blue and red ballpoint pens, a calculator, white erasers, a one-inch three-ring binder, etc. Refer to our article, Supermarket Scavenger Hunt for details on how to create the perfect hunt!

Reading - every night
Keep reading to your child every night. Create a reading log for your kids. A simple chart with headings including “Date,” “Title,” “Author,” “Number of Pages Read,” and “Amount of Time Spent Reading” can help keep track of how much they read. For every milestone, give your child a reward. Here’s a past GKR article on Reading Reward Charts.

If you only get a chance to do one thing from this article, check out the websites Julia found - they have a great wealth of information your kids will appreciate when they start getting into essay writing time.

Julia Mohamed is a freelance journalist.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Keeping kids reading

My son reads a lot.

Erm... well, he used to.

It appears that I've been resting on some laurels that have deserted me while I was looking the other way. (To use an overly complicated metaphor.)

Over the summer, I started to notice that my son has been playing more video games and going to bed later and reading less and less.

What got me thinking about it was a book I picked up recently that had a chapter entitled, "Good readers: How to keep your child reading."

I realized that I have been assuming that once he became a good reader, my son would always turn to books. And now I think that isn't necessarily the case. The bond between a boy and his books might actually be more tenuous than I thought.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that lately video games, baseball and TV have been winning - and books are going unread. Like, for weeks.

So here's what I did. First of all, I started reinforcing a more normal bedtime. I told my son when he has to be "in bed," and when he has to be "asleep." There's a half-hour difference in those times - and that's for reading. So he goes to bed before he's completely exhausted and then he gets half an hour to read.

Next, I asked him why he's not enjoying reading. It turns out he been waiting for the next book in the series he's working on (Macdonald Hall by Gordon Korman). It was sold out at our local bookstore and no one had gotten it for him for his birthday. So he's been waiting.

We could have ordered it online, but when you only buy one book you have to pay shipping, so we tracked it down and then went really, really far to a bookstore that had it. And we bought it for him. All of that seemed a bit crazy at the time, but it paid off: he started reading the book in the car on the way home. Sha-zam!

The third thing I did was start reading to him at bedtime again. As he'd begun reading more and more by himself, I realized I'd been reading to him less and less frequently. My husband bought another book by Gordon Korman (Who is Bugs Potter?), and I started reading that to my son out loud - while he was in the bath. I took advantage of a captive audience, I admit it - but again, it worked. Who is Bugs Potter? is a pretty awesome book. (I'll blog about it soon.)

It piqued his interest and now I'm happy to report that my son is reading again. A lot.

I figure we're good until he runs out of the Macdonald Hall books and finishes Bugs Potter. So Rick Riordan, if you're reading this, could you please hurry up and finish the next book in the Kane Series? Type, darn you! Type!

I've got tons of stuff I want to blog about in the upcoming weeks... great books. A few products I've ordered from Hasbro that look like they'd be great at promoting literacy. Some research I've been reading up on. The results from that study we all took part in. And I'm hoping for a few more articles by Julia. So stay tuned!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Supermarket Scavenger Hunt

By Julia Mohamed

The next time you go grocery shopping, make it a more educational, enjoyable and literate experience for your kids with a Supermarket Scavenger Hunt!

1. Give each child a list of items to gather. Be as specific as possible (include a brand name, size, etc.) For instance, you might put:
□ One 18 oz jar of Kraft Crunchy peanut butter,
□ Three small green zucchinis,
□ One loaf of Dempsters 100% whole wheat bread.

It helps if your list is divided into categories, such as produce, meat, canned foods and, of course, snacks. That way, the kids will be in one specific area of the store at a time and you can keep an eye on them more easily.

For older children, throw in a few challenging items, such as ethnic foods. For instance, One jar of Red Shell Teriyaki sauce.

2. As each child brings you items, check to make sure they’ve picked out the right ones. If not, send your troops back out into the field.

3. Reward your kids with a healthy treat!

You can continue this activity when you get home. Include them when you’re making dinner by asking them to read out the ingredients in your recipe to you.

You're going to have to go grocery shopping anyway, and you know it's always a hassle. This great game is fun, it gives the kids a bit of freedom, and it gets them reading. A win-win! (Just do keep your eye on them, eh? I don't want to be getting any letters from parents saying their kids were lost for days in the zucchini aisle...)

Julia Mohamed is a freelance journalist. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Write your kid a letter

Have you sent your kid a letter this summer?

What a great thing to do!

When you're bored at work - instead of re-checking your e-mail for the tenth time, or surfing, do something that will help your kid... write her a letter.

It takes, like, 10 minutes and it will be one of the most rewarding things you will do all day. Use a big, easy-to-read font like Times 18. (Resist using a cartoon or handwriting font. They may look fun, but they're very hard to read. The easiest ones to read are serif fonts, like Times.)

You don't have to say anything profound. Just chat, let her know what's happening at work, tell her that you're proud of her, ask her what she wants to do this weekend.

A letter from you will let her know that you're thinking of her, it will give her some insight into your day and it's a great way to get your kid reading!

When you're finished your letter, actually mail it - don't just bring it home. Half the excitement is going to the mailbox and getting something that's been sent to you.

It's also a good idea to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope that your child can use to write you back. (And if you use your work address, you'll get something at your desk in a couple of days besides conference flyers and departmental invoices!)

Writing your kid a letter is one of the greatest ways to spend 10 minutes. For you, and for your kid.

Don't have a kid? Write your grandchild a letter. A neighbour. A friend's kid. Santa (don't need a stamp for that one!). Snail-mail is fun... and it's still pretty cheap (especially if you sneak your letter in to the company mailbox and let the firm pay for your postage).

Image: Wikimedia Commons, by Deadhoax.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Red Pyramid

Looking for the next great book?

Here's a conversation I've had a couple of times recently:

Parent: "I need a good book for my son."

Me: "What books has he already enjoyed?"

And then the list goes like this, not necessarily in this order:

* The Bone series

* Diary of a Wimpy Kid series

* The Harry Potter series

* The Percy Jackson series

Me: "Great! I know exactly what to recommend."

The next absorbing reads

First of all, if your kid loved the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, take him to see the movie. It's heartwarming and every bit as good as the books.

If he's seen the movie, then make sure to get The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary. It's the "making of" the Wimpy Kid movie and he will love the book. For more information about it, check out my post - it'll tell you all about it.
But after that...

The Red Pyramid
As you know, the Percy Jackson series was about a modern-day boy dealing with monsters and gods from Greek mythology. Your kid (and you) will be thrilled to know that the author, Rick Riorden, has started a new series - this time drawing on Egyptian mythology.
The Red Pyramid is the first book in the new series The Kane Chronicles. It's about a brother and a sister who have family bloodlines that go back to ancient Egypt. That makes them, it turns out, very powerful magicians and it gives them mystical abilities which they discover throughout the course of the book.

The Red Pyramid has the same rollercoaster excitement of the Percy Jackson series, it's action packed and it's one of those books you just can't put down. I found it much more fact-heavy than Percy Jackson - which I found impeded my enjoyment of it a bit, but which actually makes it more attractive to boys. Boys love facts. They love to collect information about things that are interesting to them, and The Red Pyramid gives them tons of useful information about Egyptian gods, goddesses and monsters.

My son is in the middle of The Red Pyramid right now and he's eating it up like candy. His reaction seems to be typical amongst boys.
The other day he was on a playdate and suggested to his friend, "Uh, let's take a break and, um, maybe read a bit?" Basically, he was thinking about his book and wanted to get back to it - in spite of the fact that he was in the middle of a fun playdate. His friend said, "Whaa-?" And my son tried to recover: "No, that's silly - we can read later. We'll just play a video game or something." A-heh.

I love that little exchange because it illustrates the kind of pull a really great book can have on you. It becomes like a little obsession that you think about and want to get back to as soon as possible.

Here's the official website for The Red Pyramid/The Kane Chronicles. It gives you a great overview of the book. Links to related information are "coming soon." The site says that book 2 in this series will be coming out in Spring 2011 and book 3 in Spring 2012.

Rick Riordan's website
Here's Rick Riordan's website, which is surprisingly content-rich in terms of Greek mythology, teachers' guides for his children's books, online research websites where kids can learn more about Greek mythology, links to relevant online games and lots more information for kids who don't want the Percy Jackson series to end. They can look at maps supposedly drawn by Percy Jackson and Grover and get tons more behind-the-scenes information.

A few kids have asked me how to pronounce Rick Riordan's name. It's like Ryer-din, where Ryer rhymes with fire. There's even a link on Riordan's website where he pronounces his own name for you and then reads a bit of one of his books.