Posts Tagged ‘middle grade readers’

At the Heart of things… Engagement and Capturing Attention

Posted on February 15th, 2012 by Jody

Storytime Standouts contributor writes about Middle Grade Readers - Engagement and Capturing Attention

Storytime Standouts’ guest contributor looks at engagement and capturing attention – two keys when working with middle grade readers.



After Christmas break, I started reading Inkheart by Cornelia Funke to my class. My book club had not gone well in the first term and I was determined to recapture their attention. I keep going back to the ideas of engagement and capturing attention because I believe that those things are essential for helping kids pick their paths. My goal with Inkheart was to read the kids an interesting novel while teaching them different reading response strategies so that in third term, they could work independently on novel studies. A few of the kids had read the book, but not many. It’s quite a big book, which almost made me change my mind. But the world the author creates within her book is so fascinating and enthralling, that it didn’t seem to matter.

Storytime Standouts guest contributor shares Inkheart with her classWe are now almost half way through the book. There are wonderful characters; Meggie, her father Mo, the quiet and strange Dustfinger, book loving Aunt Elinor, and the malicious villain Capricorn. I knew there was a movie of the book but did not want to watch it until we had finished. The kids did NOT feel the same and so, when they played it on television two weeks ago, most of my class watched it.

Upon learning they watched it, I wondered: would this ruin it? Would their interest drop because they had seen it? Would they use their imaginations now that they knew what the characters looked like? Would they engage? Question? Predict? I admit, I didn’t pick up the book for a couple days because I thought, well, they’re done with that. But I was wrong. It seems that seeing the movie only enhanced their interest. Instead of being “finished” they started discussing how their images of Capricorn and Dustfinger were different from the movie portrayals. For some of them, it’s even strengthened the read aloud because they can picture someone in the role with no effort. Yes, they know how it ends, but I was so pleased to see that when they were read a chapter this week and we ran out of time, they expressed great disappointment.

They are invested in the characters and the book contains things (as always) that the movie does not. They love being read to and they love hearing about characters that matter to them. So while I wouldn’t have recommended that they watch the movie so soon, it doesn’t seem to have deterred them from staying connected to the story.

This story tells about how Dustfinger and Capricorn came to exist. Funke does an amazing job setting the stage and making you fall in love with her characters. My favorite part of the book is that at the beginning of every chapter, she has included a quote from another book or story. This has been very powerful for the students as well because they may have read the story she quotes. Though we are a ways from being done, the kids are already excited about reading the next books in the series as well: Inkspell and Inkdeath .

Definitely worth the read.

Inkheart at Amazon.com

Inkheart at Amazon.ca

Journey of a Reluctant reader…Re-evaluating Reluctance

Posted on January 20th, 2012 by Jody

I’ve realized a few things about reluctance this year: 1 is that it can be subjective; 2 is that it exists in all of us; and 3 is that it can tell us a lot about ourselves, as readers and as individuals.

My reluctant-but-not-really-reluctant reader, Johnny, informed me the other day that he LOVES Gordon Korman. So much so, that he has read a number of Korman’s books. Based on this, he decided to try Titanic. He actually ended up returning the book the next day because he didn’t like it, but it was at this point that I realized his reluctance applies less to reading and more to WHAT he is reading. He’s more than willing to read (or try) Korman books, anything by Sachar, and books recommended by myself or friends. So while he says he doesn’t like to read, I think that really, he doesn’t like wasting time reading books that don’t pull him in. His reluctance is an ever changing thing, based on what he happens to be reading at the time. This led me to realization number 2.

If reluctance applies to what we are reading and not reading itself, then it exists in all of us. My best friend often reminds me, when she’s trying to get me to read a great book, how long I resisted reading Harry Potter. She has read the books more times than I can count and had praised them repeatedly for years. All 7 were out by the time I finally opened the Philosophers Stone. I couldn’t put it down and was very grateful to have 6 more to read when I finished it. But, I had definitely been reluctant. What makes us, and students, so sure that we won’t enjoy something? What makes us want to give some books a chance and not others? I continue to be a reluctant, or perhaps choosey, reader. This same friend had a hard time convincing me to try Hunger Games, which I also loved. However, when it came to book 3 of that series, my reluctance once again surfaced and the reason, I believe, is linked to my third realization.

My reluctance to read Mockingjay, and even my approach to Hunger Games and Catching Fire, reflects aspects of my personality. I think that if we look at what hooks students and what doesn’t, we can get some insight into their personalities as well. While reading Hunger Games, I needed verbal reassurance from my friend that things were going to be okay; that Katniss was going to be okay. I couldn’t truly invest myself in the novel if she wasn’t. Though she was okay, both in this book and the next, I still couldn’t read the third because there was too much sadness for me. There were so many powerful aspects of the books; the characters, the fight for a better world, the relationships, the physical and mental challenges. But in the end, it still involved losing people and making horribly difficult choices. For me, it was too emotional. This relates to who I am as a person and made me realize that the books our students choose, likely relate to who they are as people.

If I take a look at Johnny’s choices this year, I can definitely find links to his personality. Some of the books he has chosen are Lemonade War, Lemonade Crime, Holes ,and Small Steps. Each of these books has a strong male character, humor, struggles and challenges for the male character to overcome and interesting interactions between the characters. In my class, Johnny has the ability to take a ‘lead role’ in classroom activities. The other students enjoy working with him and playing with him. He’s a people person, much like Evan in Lemonade War. He has a good sense of humor, which likely makes it easy for him to relate to books such as these. The strongest link I recognize however, is that each of the male characters in these books feel comfortable with the decisions they make. They know right from wrong and though they don’t always make the best choice, they look for ways to please the people around them because they care.

Over the next little while, I’m going to watch the book selections of my students more closely. I’m going to try to find links between what they choose and what I see in them. Does the choice for fantasy and magic tell me something about them or link to their writing style perhaps? What about the students who choose books about power struggles and facing fears? Do they back away from books, like I do, that pull out too much of themselves or are those the books they seek? It’ll be interesting to track what books some of my other reluctant readers are choosing or avoiding. The more we know about ourselves as readers, the better we can teach our students to get to know themselves through their choices.

Happy New Year…here’s to starting over with middle grade readers

Posted on January 9th, 2012 by Jody

Guest contributor Jody looks at welcoming middle grade readers back to school in January.

I ended 2011 in the middle or near the end of too many projects. It’s always a dilmena to me; do I start fresh, trying to re-engergize and engage the kids all over, or do I carry on from where we left off and show them the value and necessity in finishing what we start?

I did a little of both. When holidays started, I had only read 1/3 of a book called Lady in a Box, by Ann McGovern. It ties in so nicely to the holiday season, giving, and caring for others. It’s a great way to connect the kids to the outside world and to learn a number of powerful strategies in reading and writing. I was also reading Lemonade War, by Jacqueline Davies, as my read aloud. As well, the students were each in 1 of 5 reading groups, which were not going well. In addition to all of this, we were reading an assortment of Christmas picture books because the kids were creating their own children’s stories.

It’s difficult to walk away from some things, but on the other hand, if the students aren’t getting enough out of it, or if the teaching is not having the effect you thought it would, sometimes it’s better to cut and run. So, I fast tracked Lady in A Box because the story is worthwhile and the message applies to life in general and not just a season. One down. I took the kids out of their reading groups because it was not going at all the way I planned and it was putting some of the kids off reading. Two down. I also gave up on Lemonade War because we have been talking about this book since September and many of the kids had read it. Three down. Then, I had to re-evaluate what it is I want and need the kids to know and decide how to help them get there. Eliminating the first two things was the first step.

The second step was to revitalize and re-energize the students. January is a new year, a fresh start, and in many ways, another September. We have to re-teach and review routines and expectations and we have to “hook” them again. I needed something that would immediately draw them in and help me re-work my book club as well. I found and started Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. I’m going to have to do a whole post dedicated just to Inkheart because it’s so good. For now though, I won’t go into too much detail about the novel. Just let me say that it has given my new year a definite push in the right direction.

The kids are are hooked on the novel (some have read it but are being awesome and not giving any information away). They’re settling into routine quicker because in order to squeeze in a whole chapter each day, I have to start the read aloud right after recess. In addition to this, they’re already, in just four days, becoming more proficient at recognizing and asking lower level questions. What a great start to 2012 in the classroom!!

So, while I was sorry to put Lemonade War aside because I hate to leave things unfinished, I think it’s important to recognize when we need to do just that. Some things just don’t work the way you want them to. Part of learning and being successful, for us and for the students, is knowing when you need to step back and try another route. Sometimes giving up one thing in favor of spending your time and energy on something else is a better way to achieve your goal. For me, I gave up Lemonade War to allow for time to read Inkheart. I gave up my small book club groups to do whole group instruction, which is turning out way better.

So, whether it’s giving up on something, trading off, or trying a completely different approach, the important thing is to keep the end in mind. In the end, I want students to be engaged in what we are reading, to be thoughtful writers, and to know that when something just isn’t working, it’s okay to try a different tactic. We learn by doing. Sometimes what we learn, is that we have to start over. Happy New Year.

The Lady in the Box at Amazon.com

The Lady in the Box at Amazon.ca

Inkheart at Amazon.com

Inkheart at Amazon.ca

Journey of a Reluctant Reader…Small Steps

Posted on December 10th, 2011 by Jody

We found another book this week and once again, I found myself being thankful for sequels. My reluctant reader, Johnny decided to give Small Steps by Louios Sachar a try this week. Knowing that he loved Holes enough to read it twice made it an easy suggestion. He easily agreed to give it a try. I find that even as an adult, I love books that connect and carry on. When you really love a book, chances are you really love the characters. When you love the characters, you want more. You want to know what happens to them and to their friends. Sequels make this possible. There’s a comfort, for me at least, knowing that even if the end of a book is coming (which always makes me a little sad if I’m really enjoying it) there is another one to follow that will update me on what’s happened to those characters.

Though every series can’t be Harry Potter, which allows us to follow much beloved characters for years, it’s wonderful when there’s at least a second. Lemonade War offered this with Lemonade Crime. Holes is followed by Small Steps. Then there’s other series, such as Ramona, which is followed by many books about her family, adventures, and friends. Series of Unfortunate Events, Fudge, Warriors; there are too many to list.

I think for “reluctant readers”, like Johnny, sequels are a critical component of ‘keeping them hooked’. His willingness to read allows for him to get attached to a character and the sequel keeps him coming back and keeps him reading. Often, it’s what keeps me reading.

So for now, I’m really happy with how Johnny’s journey is going.  He may be reluctant to choose the activity (although this is becoming less true), but he’s reading. In the end, whether it’s sequels, Harry Potter, comic books, or the newspaper, we just want them reading.

We’ll see where Johnny’s journey takes us in the new year.

Journey of a Reluctant Reader…apparently, “it’s on”

Posted on November 21st, 2011 by Jody

Maybe reluctant reader is not the term I’m looking for…

I’m beginning to think that reluctant is not the best term to define my reader. While some synonyms of this word, such as wary or opposed, might apply to his overall attitude toward reading, this last week assured me that he is not, as the definition states, unenthusiastic or unwilling.

Many of the kids were very excited by the arrival of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Cabin Fever this last week. Some had ordered it as far back as September, myself included. I was quietly happy when Johnny asked if he could borrow my copy to read. When I commented about the fact that he was asking to read yet another book, he ammended his request to, “Actually, can I just borrow the book to look at the pictures?” He’s clever.

But so am I. On Friday afternoon, I asked Johnny if he’d like to borrow my copy of Cabin Fever.

Johnny: For the weekend?

Me: Yes, but I haven’t even read it yet. It’s brand new so you have to promise to be extra careful. And you have to promise to return it.

Johnny: Ok.

Me: You have to bring it back Monday. Even if you’re not done.

Johnny: Oh, I can finish it by Monday (he was only a chapter or so into it at this point)

Me: The whole book?

Johnny: I totally can! I bet you I can!

Me: Ok. You want to read the whole book this weekend?

Johnny: I will. I’ll be finished by Monday. I bet you.

Me: Ok. You finish it by Monday and I’ll give you a bonus AR sticker (I give one sticker for every 5 Accelerated Reader points and every 5 stickers gets a prize)

Johnny: Okay!!! It’s on!!

Me: It’s on?

Johnny: Yup~it’s on!!!

Me: Okay then. It’s on like Donkey Kong.

Other students: It’s on like Donkey Kong! It’s on like Donkey Kong! It’s on like Donkey Kong!

This morning, five minutes after walking in, Johnny returned my copy of the book, in perfect condition, telling me that he had, just like he said he would, finished the book. He even offered to tell the class about it, which I may let him do tomorrow.

If you remember my earlier posts about Johnny, you’ll know that he had once said he’d rather sleep, or do anything else, than read. So I can’t help wondering if he realizes that he not only chose to spend his free time reading, committed part of his weekend to the activity, but met a self-issued challenge that may cause him to lose his ‘reluctant’ title. I won’t tell him just yet, that he may gain something far more valuable.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever at Amazon.com

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever at Amazon.ca


World War I Historical Fiction for Youth – I Am Canada: Shot at Dawn

Posted on November 5th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Shot at Dawn by John Wilson Historical Fiction for YouthShot at Dawn by John Wilson
Published by Scholastic Canada



I Am Canada: Shot at Dawn is the intense, thrilling and tragic story of Allan McBride, a young Canadian who, during World War I, wanted to follow in the footsteps of his childhood hero and friend, Ken Harrison. Whilst growing up together on Vancouver Island, McBride and Harrison had enjoyed many childhood adventures. Just seventeen and very naive, McBride is certain that joining his friend on a World War I battlefield in France will lead to further pleasurable escapades. Harrison, who has already experienced the horrors of combat, is not at all enthusiastic about McBride’s enlistment and subsequent arrival in France. Eventually, at McBride’s insistence, the two go to battle together. The horrors of World War I trench warfare are too much for both men. Harrison is shot and presumed to have been killed. McBride suffers shell-shock and, while confused and delusional, leaves his unit. He intends to walk home. Eventually, after finding other fugitives in a forested area, he hides until he is taken into custody by his childhood friend. Clearly unwell, McBride is accused of desertion. While awaiting dawn arrival of an the executioner, Allan McBride describes his horrifying experiences in the trenches near Amiens, France.

Although the I Am Canada series is suggested for nine to twelve year olds, be advised that Shot at Dawn depicts the grim reality of trench warfare. Although fascinating, it may be disturbing to some readers.

Update June 18, 2012, Shot at Dawn is nominated for the Geoffrey Bilson Award For Historical Fiction For Young People

The I Am Canada series website includes discussion guides, book excerpts, activities and video clips.

Shot at Dawn: World War I at Amazon.com

Shot at Dawn: World War I at Amazon.ca



You can be whoever you want to be – The Boy in the Dress

Posted on November 3rd, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Storytime Standouts writes about middle grade fiction, The Boy in the DressThe Boy in the Dress written by David Walliams





I really didn’t know quite what to expect when I picked up The Boy in the Dress. I guess you could say I was pretty much, ‘ready for anything.’ What I discovered was a thoughtful, poignant and humorous look at the life of a twelve year old boy who loves to play football (soccer) and whose best friend is a young Sikh. Dennis lives with his older brother and his heartbroken father. He misses his mum (mom) terribly and can’t seem to come to grips with the idea that she won’t be coming back to the family. Dennis enjoys sports and has many friends but he finds his day to day existence extremely ‘ordinary.’

After accidentally heading a ball through a school window and into the headmaster’s office, Dennis is told he must go to detention after school. When he arrives in detention, he discovers that he won’t be alone. Lisa, the most beautiful girl in the school, is also in the room. Dennis finds Lisa extremely attractive. He is delighted when they become friends and he has an opportunity to walk her home after school. Lisa and Dennis discover a mutual love of fashion and Vogue magazine which leads to Dennis attempting to disguise himself as a girl and assuming a rather extraordinary identity at school.

Superbly illustrated by Quentin Blake, The Boy in the Dress is very reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s wonderful books. It provides a humorous, thoughtful affirmation that, “You can be whoever you want to be.”

The Boy in the Dress at Amazon.com

The Boy In The Dress at Amazon.ca

You may also be interested in our page titled “Diversity.” We highlight picture books and chapter books that celebrate and inform us about human diversity including learning disabilities, physical disabilities, allergies, single parent families, interracial families, same sex parents, aging, death and more.

Don’t miss our page of quotes about diversity.


Exploring Themes of Adoption and Family in Post War Italy

Posted on October 30th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Storytime Standouts looks at Take Me With You by Carolyn Harsden, middle grade historical fiction about adoption and familyTake Me With You written by Carolyn Marsden
Chapter book for middle grades published by Candlewick Press





Last evening I finished the last few chapters of Take Me With You by Carolyn Marsden. It was a particularly satisfying ending to an enjoyable “read.” The concluding chapters left some questions unanswered but were both positive and hopeful in tone.

Take Me With You tells the story of two orphaned young girls who both live at Istituto di Gesu in post-war Naples, Italy. The girls are best friends who each long for life as part of a family. Susanna and Pina live in poverty within the four walls of church-run orphanage, seldom venturing into town.

Susanna is referred to as a mulatta. Her mother was an Italian, her father was an American soldier. Susanna fears that her hair and skin tone will deter potential adoptive parents as she does not look like other young Italian girls.

Pretty, blond, Pina wants deperately to be adopted but discovers that her mother has not yet signed the documentation that would allow an adoption to go ahead. Pina is heartbroken when she finally meets the woman who abandoned her. She is forced to come to terms with her mother’s indifference and does so with the help of her friend and one of the nuns at the orphanage.

Recommended for middle grade readers, Take Me With You deals with serious issues with tenderness and sensitivity. The outcome is optimistic while remaining realistic. The book will primarily appeal to girls although it is entirely suitable for both boys and girls.

Take Me with You at Amazon.com

Take Me with You at Amazon.ca



Unexpected Twists and Turns in Measle and the Wrathmonk Will Engage Reluctant Readers

Posted on October 27th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Measle and the Wrathmonk will appeal to reluctant readersMeasle and the Wrathmonk written by Ian Ogilvy
Chapter book for middle grade and reluctant readers published by Oxford University Press





Measle and the Wrathmonk is one of my new favourite chapter book series for middle grade readers. Ten year old Measle lives a deplorable life. He is hungry most of the time, he is fifthy and lives in a wretched house with a menacing guardian. He has been told that his parents were killed by a snake but Measle is unconvinced and hopes he will be reunited one day.

Although the set up of Measle and the Wrathmonk seems all too familiar (orphaned child, deplorable conditions), Ogilvy creates unexpected and exciting twists and turns that are sure to engage young readers. Measle is a winner and well worth trying with reluctant readers. Additional books in the series include Measle and the Dragodon, Measle and the Mallockee.

Measle and the Wrathmonk at Amazon.com

Measle and the Wrathmonk at Amazon.ca

Visit our page about reluctant readers for more information.


Three Cheers for Rick Riordan and The Lightning Thief

Posted on October 22nd, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

A while back, I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of about 60 enthusiastic parents. Their children attend North Delta Parent Participation Preschool and I talked to them about ways to promote phonemic awareness, alphabet recognition and reading in general. One of the things I said was that even when we do everything “right” and lay a solid foundation for reading success, sometimes children just aren’t keen to read. Some children are much more enthusiastic about “doing.” As I said those words, I thought about my ten year old. He loves good books, is a good reader and has heard many fine books but we almost never catch him reading. He prefers non fiction to fiction and has a shelf full of books about animals.


When I arrived home last night, the house was awfully quiet. My husband was sitting at the computer and I had to ask him where the boys were. I was stunned to discover that they were both on top of their beds engrossed in chapter books. For my eldest, this is not at all unusual but for my ten year old it was momentous. Truly, I can’t recall it ever happening before.

My eldest son is rereading the Harry Potter series and enjoying every minute. He is fascinated by the small, seemingly insignificant details that are mentioned in one book, “forgotten” for awhile and then resurface two books later. I laughed when a casual acquaintance remarked on the fact that he was only reading the fifth book because I know he has devoured alll the books at least once and most of them two or three times.

But, back to the shocking events of last night. It just goes to show the importance of finding the “right” book. Our house is jammed with books but not one of them has captivated my ten year old like The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. It is the first book in a series about Percy Jackson & The Olympians My son started reading it at school, used holiday money to buy Book One and Book Two and now can’t put it down. He tells me I will have to wait until he finishes before I can read The Lightning Thief. Trust me, I can’t wait to discover the magic.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians Paperback Boxed Set (Books 1-3) at Amazon.com

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians Boxed Set at Amazon.ca



The Wave Walkers – This Series Will Draw Middle Grade Readers Like Pirates to Treasure

Posted on October 21st, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Storytime Standouts Recommends Middle Grade Fiction The Wave Runners, book one of the Wave Walkers seriesThe Wave Runners by Kai Meyer
Teen fiction published by Egmont UK Ltd.





The Wave Runner is the first book in an exciting, fantasy-adventure trilogy for middle grade readers. Mr. Meyer meshes an exotic Caribbean setting, dangerous, swash-buckling pirates and intriguing fantastical creatures to create an exciting tale.

We follow the story of Jolly, a 14 year old polliwiggle (someone who can walk on water). Jolly could be the last surviving polliwiggle and is certainly a key to to defeating evil forces that threaten the Caribbean.

Be warned, the ending of this book leaves many questions unanswered and will draw readers to (Part 2) The Shell Magicians like pirates to treasure.

Pirate Curse (The Wave Walkers Book One)
The Wave Runners at Amazon.ca



Journey of a reluctant reader…Two weeks, three books, one closet reader

Posted on October 21st, 2011 by Jody

If you ask Johnny if he likes to read, he’ll say no. He’s been honest from the start; reading is not his favored choice of activity. I too have been honest with the class; they know that my goal is for Johnny to love books. Of course, all of my energy is not focussed just on him. In fact, being in the Library with my students is one of my favourite weekly activities. I pour through the shelves with them, asking them about their choices, finding books from my childhood, and reading the summaries of new books that my students might enjoy. The students know that reading is more than just an important skill for me to teach them. I think they really get the idea that, to me, reading is the portal to so many other great things~characters, places, struggles, triumphs, memories, and lessons. They also know that I am just persistant enough to keep harping at them about how powerful books can be in their lives.

So what I’m saying is: they humor me. They let me show them all the books I think they’d like; they even say they’ll try them and return them quietly on their book exchange day. And I adore students for their willingness to please their teacher by trying something new. However, I’m feeing quite triumphant this week because not only has Johnny chosen three novels in the last couple of weeks, but the other students have joined my quest to hook him on books!

Walking by Johnny’s desk today, I noticed a Warriors book, a favourite among many of the students I have taught over the past few years. I tried to hide my excitement as I asked “What is THIS?”. He laughed and shook his head and said “I’m just trying it”. His friend, who also took out this book responded, “Ya, we’re reading the kitty books together”. Yet another friend said, “That’s because of me! I told them to read those books so they are. We told them how good they are”. So I realized that two hugely exciting things are happening and I’m not sure which one is better. Johnny is choosing to read, without any prompting on my part and secondly, our sense of community is coming together so well, that they are pushing each other for better things. It’s not just that they’re recommending literature or following through with a peer’s book recommendation. It’s the fact that they care about each other enough to share their interests, to listen to each other, to take advice from one another, and to push each other forward in a positive way.

Today is one of those days where I am so grateful to be a teacher. Some days I get caught up in all of the sadness that exists around us and days like today remind me of all the goodness that is right in front of us. Kids are amazing.


Journey of a Reader…Bits of resistance

Posted on October 4th, 2011 by Jody

I knew it wouldn’t all be smooth sailing turning Johnny into someone who enjoys reading. Two things are on my side at the moment, however; he’s willing to try and he’s already had one good read that he enjoyed this school year. I will continue to build on these two positives, but he’s made it clear, in actions and words, that he’s in charge of the journey. I think that’s important for us to remember: we can teach them, we can model, we can preach, and we can show them the way, but in the end, the choice is theirs. If they truly don’t want to be readers, do we have the power to change that? At this point, I’m still optimistically going to say YES.

In his school wide write this week, Johnny wrote about setting goals and learning new things. Providing further proof that he is not avoiding reading due to difficulty decoding or comprehending, Johnny’s school wide write was well written, grammatically correct, and properly organized.  When he wrote about some of the things he was willing to try this year, he mentioned that he was “even going to try to like reading”. At this point, I smiled, thinking, “He really does want to try”. Then I read the next sentence, neatly put in brackets: “(like that’s going to happen)”.

So far we know these facts:

  • He can read above grade level
  • His written output is strong
  • He’s got a good sense of humor and a willingness to try
  • He’s not going to say he loves reading just to please his teacher

This last fact I know for sure because now that he has finished The Lemonade War (and I was unable to find The Lemonade Crime this weekend) he was reluctant to try something new. He is definitely a student that wants to be sure the read is going to be worth the effort. He told me today that he needed something to read. We took a look at This Can’t be happening at Macdonald Hall by Gordon Korman. I felt confident saying that he would know whether or not he liked it within the first few pages. A few pages later, he gave the book back.I offered him Sideways Stories of Wayside School, by Louis Sachar. This book is below his reading level, but sometimes, we just want to keep the kids reading. Better that he read something entertaining while I find him a more suitable book than to have him not read at all. While we were talking about Louis Sachar, he mentioned that he LOVED the book Holes. A previous teacher had read it to him.  I don’t have a copy in my class but said I would get him one by tomorrow. (I didn’t mention that people who love reading often find enjoyment in re-reading an old favorite.) Though not entirely engaged, he was content to read about the kids at Wayside (an extremely funny book if you’ve never read it) for today.

So the journey continues. Even though I haven’t succeeded in making him LOVE reading yet, I think the fact that there are books he does LOVE, is going to make this easier. Often, not being able to find the right style of book can be very discouraging. I’ll take it as a good sign that I know of a few authors already who have peaked his interest.

Tea, Chocolate Chip Cookies and Reading Aloud to Preteens

Posted on September 15th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Storytime Standouts shares ideas about reading aloud to preteens and a great chocolate chip cookie recipe.Summer holidays have come to an end. This morning I am reflecting on how we spent our summers in the past and especially the years we spent reading aloud to preteens.





Often my summer days were filled with work, household chores and trying to keep my two sons reasonably happy. (Somehow the order of that list came out totally backwards!) My eldest boy has always been quite content reading and rereading books like Harry Potter. During the summer, he also enjoys swimming (with some computer time thrown in here and there). He’s an easy-going guy and always enjoys summer vacation. Basically, he is relaxed and happy in almost any situation.

My younger boy prefers activity. In past summers he has done woodworking, painted a birdhouse, worked on a crazy quilt, perfected his slap shot, gone to a basketball camp, gone to soccer camp, taken tennis lessons and played Wii games. He wants to be with his friends and to be kept busy with fun stuff ALL DAY LONG. Some days, it is enough to drive me up the wall. Storytime Standouts bakes chocolate chip books to enjoy while reading aloud to preteens

Anyhow, during our summers, we went to the library every week end exchanged one week’s books for new ones. When choosing books, I often selected books with a movie tie-in. These are perfect for reading aloud to preteens.

Sometimes we were in a situation where each of us was reading a book independently and my husband and I were each reading a book aloud. It doesn’t bother any of us to have so many different books on the go at the same time. As long as the books are engaging, we love it! Books are a huge part of our family life and we often talk about the fun of snuggling into our sleeping bags and sharing a story while in our tent.

Storytime Standouts bakes chocolate chip books to enjoy while reading aloud to preteensIt is wonderful to think back to previous summers and the pleasure of sharing a shaded picnic blanket and a huge stack of picture books or sitting under the stars and listening to spooky ghost stories. We enjoy good books together and the boys still love to hear us read aloud.



Some favorite titles for reading aloud to preteens

  • Michelle Paver‘s series: Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. This is a particularly good series to share with reluctant readers. The chapters are short and exciting. Since sharing this with my own sons, I have recommended to several other moms and some middle grade teachers. Read more about this series here.
  • Wolf Brother at Amazon.com

    Wolf Brother at Amazon.ca

    Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel, an excellent read aloud for preteens

  • The Silverwing Trilogy by Kenneth Oppel – simply magical! I will never forget sharing this fantasy-adventure series with our boys. Highly recommended
  • The Silverwing Trilogy (Boxed Set): Silverwing; Sunwing; Firewing at Amazon.com

    The Silverwing Trilogy (Boxed Set): Silverwing; Sunwing; Firewing at Amazon.ca

    Artemis Fowl - good fun for preteen readers

  • The Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer, a science fiction fantasy that has great appeal for this age group.
  • Artemis Fowl at Amazon.com

    Artemis Fowl at Amazon.ca

    Do not miss the opportunity to read Harry Potter to your children

  • Do not miss the experience of sharing Harry Potter‘s magic with your children. Both of my sons have read the entire series. My husband and I read the first two or three books to them and they did the rest.
  • Harry Potter at Amazon.com

    Harry Potter at Amazon.ca


    Yummy Chocolate Chip Cookies

    – makes about four dozen cookies

    1 C softened butter or margarine
    1 C golden sugar
    1/2 C white sugar
    2 eggs
    1 1/2 Tsp vanilla
    2 1/2 C (all purpose) flour
    1/2 Tsp baking soda
    2 C semi sweet (or other) chocolate chips

    Using an electric mixer, cream together (both) sugars, butter, eggs and vanilla. Add the flour and the baking soda. Mix again. Add chocolate chips and stir by hand. Use a large spoon to drop unto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 or 325 (if convection) for about 12 minutes.

    Recommended Chapter Books – What to Read After E.B. White and Roald Dahl

    Posted on September 15th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

    What to Read After E.B. White and Roald Dahl Chapter Book Suggestions for Preteens

    When you’ve read all the best-known novels for preteens, here are some lesser-known recommended chapter books








    I work with a grade three girl who is a very good reader. She has read almost all of Roald Dahl’s books (James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The B.F.G., etc.) and also E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan. The question posed Wednesday was, “What shall I read next? What are your recommended chapter books for kids like me?”

    Let’s take a look at some possibilities…

    Tuck Everlasting
    by Natalie Babbitt
    A great pick for summertime reading, this adventure is set in the 1880s and tells the story of a family who has found a source of eternal life. Very difficult decisions lie ahead as one of the boys falls in love with Winnie. She must decide between eternal life with him and a life that will come to an end.

    Tuck Everlasting at Amazon.com

    Tuck Everlasting at Amazon.ca


    Frindle (plus The Landry News, The Report Card)
    by Andrew Clements
    Nick has loads of ideas – he’s always trying to liven things up. His grade five teacher, known as The Lone Granger, is all business and unlikely to appreciate Nick’s antics. However, an early assignment to look up word definitions may just have potential: why not call a pen something else? How about using frindle instead?

    Frindle at Amazon.com

    Frindle at Amazon.ca


    Owls in the Family
    by Farley Mowat
    I love this depiction of Mr. Mowat’s boyhood. He lived in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and had all manner of pets. His parents must have been amazing – imagine managing a household with a dog, gophers, snakes, owls and more. The chapter that describes the new minister’s tumultuous visit is one I will never forget.

    Owl in the Family at Amazon.com

    Owls in the Family at Amazon.ca


    The Nose from Jupiter (plus A Nose for Adventure & Noses Are Red)
    by Richard Scrimger
    Leave your scepticism at the door and enjoy the fun. Poor Alan is a mess, there is something not quite right. His nose is stuffy, considerably stuffier than usual. Norbert, an alien from Jupiter, is an unexpected, uninvited guest in Alan’s nose.

    The Nose from Jupiter at Amazon.com

    The Nose from Jupiter at Amazon.ca


    The Home and School Connection – Middle Grade Reading

    Posted on September 12th, 2011 by Jody

    Middle Grade Reading

    Middle Grade Reading Depends on What Happens Outside the Classroom





    My students have already figured out a few things about me, which they happily shared with my new student teacher today. They told her that I like diet Pepsi (to the point of obsession), that I’m 35 (not sure she needed this information), and that I love to read. I can’t really complain, since they were correct and also because I was glad they already figured out how much I value reading. From the way they’ve been raiding my book bins, I would say they value it as well. So far, so good. The boys are gravitating toward the graphic novels, making me glad I have plenty. The girls are really seem drawn in by the classics (Oliver Twist, Alice in Wonderland). I love those first few weeks of seeing their preferences. While things feel like they are off to a good start inside the classroom, the importance of what happens outside the classroom cannot be underestimated.

    As much as I would truly LOVE to spend the entire day reading and writing with the kids (and I would), there’s not enough hours in a school day. In a typical day, the students will get to hear me read aloud to them for 15-20 minutes and get to read to themselves for about 25-30. This sounds like a lot of reading in a day but it’s not if you consider that it’s academically directed. The read aloud tends to lead to learning strategies, such as predicting, questioning, and making connections. The 30 minute silent reading block is well liked by students, but hardly ever without at least one or two interruptions.

    It is important that students know reading is not a “school activity”. We teach them how to read, how to connect with what they read, and how to write about what they’ve read. At home, a perfect compliment to this routine, is encouraging them that reading is a great option for down time, car rides, before bed, or in the middle of a rainy day (or a sunny one). Kids need time to read that is uninterrupted. They also need time to read that is not leading to activities that will show what they know. When my oldest daughter is absorbed in a book, it’s amazing what kinds of connections and conversations we have. I know that in school she can perform the reading strategies both orally and on paper. However, it is truly engaging to listen to her rave about a book or character she loves or to see her smile when I agree to “just one more chapter.”

    It’s our job as parents to pass on our values to our children. Perhaps if you are not a reader, there are other ways to support and encourage your child. Take your lap top to the library while they read or ask them to cuddle on the couch, reading, while you do the crossword or watch tv. If you are a reader, READ. Your kids need to see you read. They need to see that you make time for reading and for yourself. This shows them the value, and pleasure, of reading.

    As in many other areas of life, maybe it’s time to go back to basics. Switch family movie night to family reading night. I want to say, show them they don’t need technology to be engaged, but it seems hypocritical since I’m wrapping up this blog now so I can go read my Kindle
    .

    Barnstormers’ Baseball, Will this Author Hit a Home Run Yet?

    Posted on September 12th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

    Game 1 Barnstormers written by Phil Bildner and illustrated by Loren Long

    A while back, I had an opportunity to read and listen to the first book in a new historical fiction series for 7 -10 year olds. Game 1 (Barnstormers) introduces three siblings who travel with a barnstorming baseball team, The Travelin’ Nine.

    Set in 1899, the first book in the series leaves us with more questions than answers: we know the children’s father died in the war and that he possessed a mysterious baseball but it unclear why the ball is significant. We also hear their uncle’s warning that great danger lies ahead but so far have only encountered mysterious visions and sounds.

    For children who are fascinated with baseball and how it was played 100+ years ago,this series may yet prove very appealing. Personally, I was frustrated that the author left me stranded on second base – with many, many unanswered questions.

    Game 1 (Barnstormers) at Amazon.com

    Game 1: #1 in The Barnstormers: Tales of the Travelin’ Nine Series at Amazon.ca


    Middle Grade Readers Travel Through Time to the London Blitz

    Posted on September 10th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

    Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve put aside the picture books and early chapter books and read two interesting books for middle grade readers that feature time travel. Suggested for children in grades six through nine, also referred to as middle grade readers, I have some reservations about the age range but enjoyed each of the books thoroughly.

    Storytime Standouts looks at London Calling by Edward BloorLondon Calling written by Edward Bloor
    Middle Grade Fiction published by Alfred A. Knopf





    In London Calling by Edward Bloor, the central character is a seventh grade student at a private school in New Jersey. Hating school and disconnected from his family, Martin is sleeping his life away. When his grandmother dies, he is bequeathed a beautiful Philco Deluxe Art Deco radio. After he “started sleeping with the radio on … A boy – small,thin, dressed in mud-brown clothes – leaned out from behind the radio and whispered, “Johnny, will you help me?”.

    At first fearful of the recurrent dream, through research, Martin confirms that his nighttime visitor is transporting him to 1940 London. Soon his directionless days become purposeful as he works to research dates, places and identities. Repeated visits to the wartorn city help him to understand how he can “help.”

    I thoroughly enjoyed the book and particularly the portions set in the London Blitz. Having said that, I was disappointed by the following exchange,

    I keep it hidden under my bed.” she smiled devilishly. “Perhaps you should check under there.”
    The General stared at her dumbly. Then he smiled back, slowly, acknowledging the joke. “Uh-huh. Sounds like I’d better.”

    As much as I enjoyed the book, I’m just not sure some of the nuances will have meaning for middle grade readers aged 12, 13, 14. Is an allusion like this appropriate or necessary for a book intended for children in grades six through nine?

    London Calling at Amazon.com

    London Calling at Amazon.ca



    Terrific Series For Middle Grade Readers – Chronicles of Ancient Darkness

    Posted on September 9th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

    Need to find a new series for middle grade readers?

    Storytime Standouts looks at a Terrific Series For Middle Grade Readers - Chronicles of Ancient Darkness







    Michelle Paver’s books: Wolf Brother, Spirit Walker and Soul Eater sat unread on my bookshelf for far too long. These days, they are rarely in my office. These are the first three titles in a terrific series for middle grade readers. I have loaned each of them to many, many kids and, without exception, the books are devoured and the series is completed.

    Wolf Brother is captivating, it has the perfect combination of tension and excitement. Set in primitive times, Wolf Brother begins when young Torak’s father is killed by a terrible demon – a huge bear that has been possessed by a creature from the Other World. Now, orphaned, Torak adopts a wolf cub and discovers he can communicate with this new ally. Together, they begin a seemingly impossible quest; to reach the Mountain of the World Spirit.

    The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness is a terrific series for middle grade readers. I strongly recommend it – especially for boys. Relatively short chapters, a fascinating setting and terrific tension make for a series that appeals to many reluctant readers.

    Web Resource: The Clan

    Wolf Brother at Amazon.com

    Wolf Brother at Amazon.ca



    The Grade Four Reading Slump – Steps to Avoid It

    Posted on September 8th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

    Avoiding the Grade 4 Reading Slump Advice from StorytimeStandouts.com

    The Grade Four Reading Slump – parental awareness and action can have a huge impact

    Children, when they reach about grade four, are vulnerable when it comes to reading. Typically, the books grade four children want to read are longer, the print may be smaller, there are fewer illustrations and readers may encounter tougher and/or altogether unfamiliar words.Amulet is a graphic novel that may appeal to otherwise reluctant readersAll of these factors may deter these children from wanting to read.

    To avoid having middle grade children stop reading (or choose to read books that are meant for younger children), remember that it is best for you to continue reading books aloud even when your child is eight, nine or ten years old. Find an exciting children’s novel to share with your child and either alternate reading with your child or let your child sit back, listen, relax and savor the story. Drawn in by a great book and your enthusiasm for it, your child will be motivated to read increasingly challenging books. Series are especially great choices because children will often decide to read subsequent books independently. To a parent, the choice for a child to pick up book 2, 3 and 4 of a series signals, “Mission Accomplished.”Wolf Brother is the first book in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series. It has short, exciting chapters and strong appeal for reluctant readers

    I once shocked a group of parents when I said that if I had a choice of reading to my child or listening to my child read, I would choose reading aloud to him (fortunately, the choice should never be necessary). The fact is, if we read aloud to our children, we will foster an appetite for great books and we will introduce fascinating characters, unusual settings, little-known historical and/or scientific facts and spectacular new vocabulary that will serve our children well. Also remember, the more your children observe you reading, the greater the likelihood that your child will reach for a book when he has an opportunity, successfully avoiding the dreaded Grade Four Reading Slump.

    Inkheart is a very popular series for middle grade readersFor further information on reluctant readers and the grade four reading slump, check out our page about reluctant readers .

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