Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reading as a part-time job

One mom found an interesting way to get her daughter reading.

She paid her.

I think that’s really interesting.

Now, as this mom told us about what she'd done, she cringed a little—she knew full well that bribery is not the best way to hook a kid on reading. She knew it was a short-term solution… a Hail Mary pass, if you will, when you’re really desperate.

But the intriguing thing is, it worked. Her daughter started reading. (I’m not sure if she’s still being paid to read or if she’s now reading on her own—I’ll find out and update you.)
Update: Yep, she's become a reader! The mom said she originally paid her daughter $20 once to read a specific book. That incentive got her over the hump; the girl got through that book and carried on, reading the rest of the books in that series... and now she reads for her own enjoyment.

Another mom said that her kids are always clamouring for books when they visit a bookstore. Her solution? The kids buy the books out of their allowance, but she reimburses them for the book once they’ve read it.

Now, obviously she’s in a pretty positive situation; her kids already love books. But her idea about reimbursing them ensures that the books actually get read, rather than just sit on a shelf.

I’d like to know what you think about paying kids to read. Could it be a positive way to get kids into reading, when combined with other more sustainable activities—like reading to your child, letting them see you reading, and generally reinforcing the value of reading?

Or is bribery just out of the question, even if you’re super desperate? Should we take it out the equation altogether?

And lastly, if we say that paying a child to read might be OK… how much are we talkin’ about, here?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Family Literacy Day - Jan. 27

Today is Family Literacy Day.

This is the day!

It's the day you and your kid:

1) Read together.

2) Talk about your favourite book.

3) Listen to a book on tape.

4) Write each other a letter, which you drop in the mail for each other. Surprise!

5) Vote for your favourite children's books here.

6) Go to the library.

7) Create a storybook about your child. (Here's how.)

8) Cook something together - your child reads the recipe as you go along.

9) Read together.

Happy Family Literacy Day.
I hope you enjoy celebrating it with your family.

We will celebrate by continuing to read The Mysterious Benedict Society (the second book) together, just before my son... falls.... asleep... to dream mysterious dreams.
The picture - no, it's not me and my son but I just love it. They're so into reading together! Ooooh, Family Literacy Day. It's such a cosy celebration.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Profile: Girl, 8, likes nature, poetry, art

Pippi meets Wednesday.

Here we have a likeable, creative, nature-loving and artistic eight-year-old girl.

She's a little bit Pippi Longstocking and a little bit Wednesday Adams.

Sound like someone you know? If so, she might enjoy the same books this girl enjoys.

Female, age 8 (almost 9), Canadian, enjoys reading (smaller books)

Attentive, caring, nature lover

Nature, poetry, writing, art

1) Journey to the River Sea, by Eva Ibbotson
(Take a look at Eva Ibbotson's bio - it's fascinating.)

2) The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall

3) The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

4) Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Dog Days, by Jeff Kinney

5) The Fog Mound series, by Susan Schade and Jon Buller
(The rights have just been purchased, to create an animated feature film of these great books.)

What the heck is this post about? This'll explain it.
The mom who interviewed her daughter said she was really interested to hear how her daughter described herself, and the thoughtful list of books she came up with. Great job! Thanks, S and L.
The image is a picture of Pippi Longstocking and I think it conveys this girl's spirit pretty well. This is the illustrator.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mysterious Benedict logic puzzles

If your child loves puzzles, click here.

I've been raving about The Mysterious Benedict Society books.
My son is loving them and frankly, so am I.

They're about four unusual children who are called upon by Mr. Benedict to solve a threatening, decidedly adult problem. The impending utter breakdown of society by an evildoer, to be specific.

The books are great because they're focussed on the children, and their very diverse and unique gifts. Each of the children is brilliant in his or her own way, and each is a bit of a misfit. Working together, they pool their gifts to solve mysteries and save the world.

The reader gets in on the fun, since many of the puzzles faced by the children are posed in such a way that the reader of the book can attempt to figure them out as well.

A great website
The website that accompanies the book has a series of logic puzzles, like the ones found in the book. In one instance, you'll face four doors, each with a number and a letter. You have to figure out which one to open. (And I love that the instruction isn't, "which door doesn't belong?" it's "which door should you open?")

Kids have to figure out for themselves that on one of the doors, the number of letters matches the number. For instance six-3 would be the answer since "six" has 3 letters.

There is a whole series of delightful puzzles that should prove fun for kids who enjoy thinking things through, and get a kick out of getting the answer right.

Try the website for yourself - the great thing about these books, and the website, is that the puzzles are intended for kids but could easily stump an adult. The other great thing is that hints are provided, so if your child is stuck she can click on up to five solid hints that should lead her logically to the answer.

Photo: This is a picture of the author, Trenton Lee Stewart. I snagged it from, but since it's also the one featured on the book's website I figured it was probably an officially sanctioned photo so I won't get sued.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Profile: Male, 14, likes movies, skiing

Some great teen fantasy reads

Do you know a teenaged boy who's into movies, skiing and video games? Maybe he'll like the same books as this young man.

Male, 14, enjoys reading

Funny, tall, smart, athletic

Video games, books, movies, skiing

1) Percy Jackson and the Olympians (all 5 books in series)
(Here's a cool 15-second video that gives you a good sense of what the Percy Jackson books are like.)

2) Entire CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore

3) Deltora Quest Series by Emily Rodda

4) Daniel X by James Patterson

5) The Heir books - Wizard Heir, Warrior Heir and Dragon Heir

Are you wondering what the heck this post is all about? This will explain everything.
Thanks, F and T, for sending in your profile!

Monday, January 18, 2010

The argument for making Harry wait

There’s an interesting post on a blog called Kidliterate - here.

The author, Melissa, argues that parents shouldn’t be in a big hurry to read the Harry Potter books to their children.

She says there are lots of books kids should experience first, and if they dive into Harry Potter too early:

1) around book three the series gets quite scary as “Voldemort starts picking off Harry’s friends and family one at a time”;

2) while young children may be ready for the “happier” themes in the book such as loyalty and magic, they’re likely not sophisticated enough for the darker themes such as racism, self-loathing and evil.

3) If they hear Harry Potter read aloud at a young age, they will likely not go back and read the books themselves, later.

She suggests starting kids on books such as the Ramona series, Stuart Little and Roald Dahl.

While she doesn't recommend a specific age at which Harry Potter is appropriate (probably because it depends on the individual child), she does say that 6 is too young.

She then offers a terrific list of 14 great fantasy-type books, and reasons why she recommends them.

If you can ride out the author’s occasionally condescending tone (“Usually these parents did not listen to my careful, polite warnings that this would happen.”), she makes a pretty interesting point.

The article is worth a read.

Thanks to Jen Robinson’s Book Page, where I learned about the Kidliterate article.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Profile: Boy, 8, active, likes video games

Parents are always asking each other for book suggestions.
It’s a good idea, because what one child likes will often appeal to other kids of the same age and interests.

I’ve decided to profile some very different kids and ask them to share their top five books. When kids are forced to only list their top five, you get the absolute cream of the crop.

GKR readers will be able to compare their child’s interests to those of the profiled kids and they might find a new book that child would like, based on their top-five list.

I am sending out a request for profiles to my friends and neighbours. I’ve started with my son, getting him (rather than me) to describe himself. I think that his description is pretty accurate.

Interviewing him was really fun for both of us, and revealed some things about him that I didn’t know. For instance, he thinks he’s “a little lazy,” and “likes to show off.” I mean, I knew that but I didn’t realize he did.

I encourage you to interview your child(ren) using the categories below. Send us your results and we’ll post them on GKR. Not only will you find out what your child’s top five books are – a list that may surprise you – but you’ll likely learn some other things about your child in the process.

So here’s the first profile and his top five books.

Boy, 8 – reading level: above average/enjoys reading; Canadian

Athletic, energetic, a little lazy, I like to watch TV and play video games, I like to show off, I like to dance, I like eating, gracious, brave (ie, can perform in front of people).

Physical activities, music (rock, pop and metal), TV and video games

1) Harry Potter
2) Mysterious Benedict Society (there are three)
3) Hamish X
4) My Weird School (series)
5) Archie comics

If you know a child you'd like to profile, please send me an e-mail (joycegrant (at) sympatico (dot) ca) and I will send you the questionnaire. Interviews take about five minutes, and are really fun. I'd love to have kids from all over the world profiled - we'll all get some great book suggestions from each other!

It's not your imagination - I've changed this post slightly. I've added links to the books, above. A couple of the websites have related games and activities, so they're worth a look. -JG

Kids love to talk about themselves. Can you imagine how special a child feels when you sit down and ask him to describe himself - without interrupting or questioning his description of himself. And you'll learn more than you thought about your kid and about yourself.
Photo: iStock photos.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Idioms are helpful

My son loves idioms.

When he was in junior kindergarten, a wonderful school librarian took him under her wing to give him some learning extensions.

She taught him about idioms – phrases that can’t be taken literally, like “break a leg” or “you run like a cheetah.”

He had great fun creating his own, world-of-a-five-year-old idioms.

That lesson helped him enjoy school more and challenged his imagination. It was also a great literacy activity, since it involved reading and writing. (They used books to get inspiration for new idioms, and they wrote them down.)

Since then, just knowing about idioms has been a really good thing for my son. Whenever someone on TV says a phrase that makes no “literal” sense – but we kind of know what the person means, I can point out that’s it’s an idiom. And he knows exactly what that means.

And, his writing is more colourful and fun because he's good at using idioms now.

But most of all, it’s fun to use the word “idiom” with an eight-year-old.

Here's a link to a definition of idiom.

Yesterday I saw, well not an idiom but somewhere between “pun” and “idiot” comes to mind. It was a phrase written on the windshield of a truck. It said, “King of Pain.” I was taken aback – what kind of sicko publicizes that he’s the king of… wait a minute (I thought to myself) what’s the side of the truck say? And sure enough, it was a window installer’s van. Puns aren’t supposed to use the word that fits, they’re supposed to use the other word. If you’d written “King of Pane,” I would have gotten the joke. And I wouldn’t have been all creeped out. Idiom.
Image: Wikimediacommons, Tltld.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

GKR on Rogers Cable TV

Getting Kids Reading's first television interview!

I was invited to do a brief segment on Rogers Daytime (Peel Region), yesterday, with hosts Travis Dhanraj and Deja Gordon. It was very exciting - and nerve wracking, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to spread the word about Getting Kids Reading.

I want to thank all of the staff members at Rogers Cable in Peel who made the experience easier for me.

For a couple of weeks before the segment, I prepped, got professional make-up tips from my friend (and freelance make-up artist) Kerry O'Hana, loaded up about a dozen literacy games and books and headed to the studio in Mississauga.

There, I waited in the lobby with Fred who was promoting a Cancer awareness event, a professional organizer, a snowboarder promoting a local ski hill, and a woman and her PR rep who were flogging a new Wonder bread.

Deja and Travis kept flitting back and forth between the studio and the offices. Travis shook our hands and asked us who we were and what we'd be talking about. It amused me to see him with one of those tissue collar-protectors to prevent his make-up from smearing his shirt. The last time I saw that, it was on the Mary Tyler Moore show. Remember Ted Baxter?

My eight-minute segment flew by incredibly quickly. We talked about the importance of literacy, and how so many parents are concerned that their kids aren't reading as well as they'd like. We also talked about some games, activities and books that are good for fostering a love of reading. And Deja pointed out that instilling good reading habits is a bit like getting your kids to eat healthy - you've got to have healthy options available, show them by your example, and do healthy activities with them.

Thanks again to everyone at Rogers, including Jake Dheer and Sandra Chabot.

For my first TV appearance, all I can say is I'm glad it's over - it was a bit nerve wracking.. Thank goodness Travis lead the conversation and kept the ball rolling. Anyway, now that I've had one under my belt, I'll know what to expect next time - and I'll leave most of my props at home (there was no time for them!).
Thanks again, Kerry, for giving me an all-important pep talk, and for introducing me to the wonders of concealer.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

School-wide literacy ideas

Most of these ideas can be used in your home.
(Or suggest them to your principal).

Here are some great, inexpensive literacy ideas for teachers from the blog, Choice Literacy.

Currently Reading posters on lockers
Kids post a notice on their locker that says what they’re currently reading, and features a colour photocopy of the bookjacket.

At home, this would be great on the outside of a kid’s bedroom door.

He can be proud of what he’s reading, and the overall effect says that what you’re reading matters to others. Plus, it gives other kids suggestions for good books.

It takes a solitary occupation and makes it shareable with others.

Everyone reads the same book
The Toronto Public Library system did this for the whole city and it can be done in a school, an individual classroom, or with a kid and his friends. You get one great book (“The Mysterious Benedict Society,” for instance) and everyone agrees to read it.

Young kids can have it read to them – older kids can read it themselves.

You can set up a website or a face-to-face forum like a book club to discuss the book.

It’s fun and creates a buzz. There are tons of spin-offs possible, like having the author visit the school or renting the video/movie (for instance for Alice in Wonderland or The Phantom Tollbooth).

READ posters
Remember that awesome poster campaign featuring various celebrities reading, with one word – READ – underneath? How about doing that in your school, featuring local celebrities (the mayor, councilors, teachers, the principal). It sends the message that reading is important.

Reading night
Schools can host a “reading night” once a year. After dinner, kids and parents return to the school where there is an hour or two of fun literacy activities. It could be a readaloud, learning a craft using a how-to book or a book swap. Add baked goods and it could also be a school fundraiser.

For more information on each of these ideas, and other good ideas besides, check out the Choice Literacy website.
I came across Choice Literacy via a tweet from @JensBookPage – thanks Jen!

Image: Barry Lou Polisar.

Friday, January 8, 2010

PICTOCHAT Hide and Seek

My son and his friend invented a new game.

And it just happens to have a literacy component.

Even better, it uses the Nintendo DS (Gameboy), so for kids who are really into video games, this can be a good alternative.

The game: PICTOCHAT Hide-and-Seek
Each child takes his DS and goes into a different area of the home.

One child hides, and the other has to find him.

The child who is hiding uses the DS's "PICTOCHAT" function to provide clues.

My son hid in his friend's room, under the covers of his bed. For his clue, he wrote "sleep."
Another time he hid in the bathroom and his clue was "pee" - hey, he's eight.

I loved this creative use of technology that would otherwise just be about video games, and it kept them busy for a long time, having fun.

PICTOCHAT is a great feature of the DS that lots of parents - and kids, even - don't know about.

It's a screen that allows you to write or type a message which is then relayed wirelessly to any other DSs in the vicinity.

To access it, touch PICTOCHAT right after you turn on the DS.

(Here's an earlier post about it, with a bit more information.)

Having a hard time telling your Wii from your DS? DS stands for "double screen" - it's the one with an upper and a lower screen. DS. Don't call it a Gameboy - I just did that for clarity's sake. So uncool, maaaaawm!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Thank-you cards

A great literacy activity.

Your kids have probably just received a bunch of gifts, and I'm betting that at least some of the senders weren't in the room when they were opened.

So that means thank-you cards.

They're not optional. In our house if you don't want to write a thank-you card, that's fine - just give back the gift.
(Ooh, that sounds awful, but I do say it with a twinkle in my voice so he never actually chooses that option.)

How do you ensure sending thank-you cards doesn't turn into an activity that he comes to loathe?

Make it fun
* Offer options. Send gramma an e-mail (which the child types). Or text gramma.

* Make it an art project. The note could be a picture, a painting, origami, or just about anything else that you can write "thank-you" on.

* Send a photo. Have her put on the new shirt she got (or hold the toy); take a picture; and print it (at Shoppers Drug Mart or even on your black and white printer). Have the child write a couple of words on the back.

* Keep it short. Don't force your kid to write a two-pager. A couple of sentences will do.

* Give them the words. Tell your child: "Write something like, Dear Grampa, Thank you for the book. I'm thinking of you. Love, Simon." Then, he'll probably add something on his own.

* Younger children will enjoy putting their return address on the envelope, sticking a stamp on it and mailing it. (You can even let the child write gramma's address on the envelope herself - if it's illegible, just write it again, yourself, on the other side.)

* Have you ever explained how mail gets to gramma? Kids love that story, and it makes writing a thank-you note part of something bigger.

* Make sure gramma calls, e-mails or writes back when she receives your child's note. That provides your child with a reward that she'll remember the next time she has to write thank-you notes.

* If you have no one to send a card to, why not send a thank-you note to Santa? You might even get a letter back.

* Write thank-you notes yourself. Let your child see you doing it, too.

* Send a thank-you note to your child. Let him see how fun it is to get one.

* Don't make your child write a million notes. They can do one or two, and just sign any others which you write.

Start slowly, but make sure that every time they get a gift from someone distant, they write a note or send a e-mail. It's a lifelong habit your child will be thankful you passed along.

I used to send gifts to more relatives, but I stopped doing it when I never received a thank-you card or even a phone call. So that's another thing - kids who send thank-you notes tend to get more presents!
The beautiful thank-you notes in this picture are from my son's teachers. I think it's fantastic that teachers give kids thank-you notes; it really helps them see how important and thoughtful thank-you notes are.

Friday, January 1, 2010

His favourite gift - a book

A tiny Christmas miracle.
So we're in the middle of opening Christmas gifts.
Have you ever seen an eight-year-old tear through gifts? You get the idea - that's how it was going.

But then he opens a book, and everything. stops. completely.
No more gifts.
Time to read.

It was awesome.

The book that stopped my son in his tracks is The Encyclopedia of Immaturity, Vol. 2.

It's every bit as silly as Volume 1, with lots of ideas about how to act immature and do really silly things like how to: talk like a pirate, take off your underwear without removing your pants first, pick the lock on your sister's diary, paint a kid's face without him knowing about it. You can see why my son couldn't put it down.

If you have a kid in your life, this is the book. They will love it, and it will get them reading.

You can see for yourself - Santa brought him a bike! And he still sat down and read the book. My mom was already on the phone telling her friends. Was it a Christmas miracle? OK, well not really but almost.
Klutz sent me this book, btw - but I was going to get it anyway. Klutz stuff goooood.