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)

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.