Posts Tagged ‘Contributed by Jody’

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.

Christmas Picture Books – Jody’s List of Holiday Favourites

Posted on December 8th, 2011 by Jody

Christmas picture books are in a class of their own.
At home, we always keep our Christmas picture books separate from the rest of the piles. We pull them out in late November and tuck them away at the end of the season with all of the other decorations. Just like when we unwrap each ornament that has been packed away for a year, pulling out each story is equally exciting. We forget which ones we have over the year or which new ones we may have purchased at the end of the season and stored away. Over the years, we’ve read many different Christmas tales, but some stay with you throughout the season and beyond.



The Night Before Christmas illustration by Christian Birmingham





Storytime Standouts has many free Christmas printables – You will find all of our Christmas and Winter-themed printables grouped together here .






Here are some of my favourite Christmas picture books…

image of cover art for The Night Before Christmas The Night Before Christmas written by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Christian Birmingham
Christmas picture book published by Running Press Kids

The classic tale that we all know; I love reading this every Christmas Eve. It makes me think of my mom, who recites the words along with me as I read because she knows it by heart. I love that the wonderment of Christmas is displayed through an adult’s eyes.

The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Christian Birmingham at Amazon.com

The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Christian Birmingham at Amazon.ca


image of cover art for Are You Grumpy Santa!Are you Grumpy Santa? by Gregg & Evan Spiridellis
Christmas Picture Book published by Disney-Hyperion

This is, hands down, one of the cutest Christmas books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Just like anyone else, Santa can only take so much and finally becomes grumpy when nothing goes his way. The rhyme and the pictures are great. It never fails to amuse me, regardless of how many times I read it.

Are You Grumpy Santa? at Amazon.com

Are Your Grumpy Santa? At Amazon.ca




image of cover art for Queen of ChristmasQueen of Christmas by Mary Engelbreit
Christmas picture book published by HarperCollins

I have always enjoyed Mary Engelbreit’s illustrations. I often buy calendars with her pictures because they are sweet and have nice phrases on them. I purchased this book a few years ago and the illustrations are beautiful. It’s the story of a young girl who is working hard to finish her incredibly long Christmas list before Christmas Eve. Of course, in the end, she learns it’s not what’s on the list that counts. When I purchased this book, it came with a paper doll and clothes, which my children love as much as the book.

Queen of Christmas at Amazon.com

Queen of Christmas at Amazon.ca


image of cover art for Christmas Around the WorldChristmas Around the World by Chuck Fischer
Christmas Pop Up Book published by Little, Brown and Company

My mom gave me this book a couple years ago. You are never too old for a good pop up book. Just this morning, my youngest opened one of the pages and said, “Wow! Mommy, look at this Christmassy page!” Featuring a number of different countries, it includes pull outs, interesting facts, and beautiful images.

Christmas Around the World: A Pop Up Book at Amazon.com

Christmas Around the World: A Pop Up Book at Amazon.ca






image of cover art for Snowmen at NightSnowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner
Snowman Picture Book published by Harcourt

The illustrations in this story are very fun. It’s a favourite with my classroom kids, who like to imagine what a snowman could possibly do when no one is looking!

Snowmen at Night at Amazon.com

Snowmen at Night at Amazon.ca



image of cover art for Olivia Helps with ChristmasOlivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer
Christmas Picture Book published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

I can’t help but love every Olivia book and pairing her with my favourite holiday is just a bonus. As they wait for Santa to finally arrive, Olivia finds many ways to help her mom. My favourite part is when she makes a special mini Christmas tree “centre piece”.

Olivia Helps with Christmas at Amazon.com

Olivia Helps with Christmas at Amazon.ca



image of cover art for How the Grinch Stole ChristmasHow the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Christmas Picture Book published by Random House Books for Young Readers

I love the rhyme, the characters, and I absolutely love when the Grinch’s heart grows! It’s such a cute and fun story. I’m very glad that my kids are no longer scared of it!

Grinch Printables from Seussville.com

How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Amazon.com

How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Amazon.ca

Aside from reading to my own children, I love the joy my students get from these picture books. Though we teach differently in the intermediate grades, there is no age, or grade, limit for enjoying these stories.


Secret World of Og

Posted on November 24th, 2011 by Jody

Storytime Standouts' guest contributor recommends middle grade fiction,  The Secret World of Og by Pierre BertonThe Secret World of Og written by Pierre Berton
Middle grade fiction published by McClelland & Stewart





Many of you might remember this tale as one of your own childhood favorites; I do. It’s been delightful to learn that this fun adventure story continues to entertain and engage audiences.

It’s the tale of four children, Penny, Pamela, Peter, and Paul who they affectionately call Pollywog. They love to make believe and a trip through the floor of their playhouse leads them on an amazing journey to a place called Og.

Between the adorable humor and the endearing characters, the tale stays with you. When I read it to my daughter this summer, I had fond memories of reading it when I was only a bit older than her. My student teacher asked if she could read it aloud to our class because it had been a favourite of hers. The students are loving it and creating vivid comic strips that highlight the best parts of the book. We decided to do a bulletin board to display the comics and many of the adults at our school commented on how much they loved the book when they were little. It is simply one of those classics that any generation can relate to and enjoy.

The four children, each with their own unique personality traits, discover a hidden world under their playhouse, filled with all of the toys, clothes, and random items they thought they had lost over the years. They find themselves surrounded by small green people who only speak one word: “Og”.

The children soon find out that the people of Og can use real words, but their style of speech resembles the comic books that the kids love. Somewhere along the way, the kids have left books out in the yard that have made their way down to Og. The result is a bunch of Og people living a parallel life to the four children. They all enjoy comics, make believe, and dressing up.

Some of my favourite parts of the book include the Pollywog’s continuous jailbreaks, Earless Osdick (the cat that thinks it’s a dog) being mistaken at the Og market as a rabbit, and Peter disguising himself as a little green man.

Published in 1961, it represents the meaning of “timeless tale”. If you haven’t read it before, or even if you have, it is worth the read.

The Secret World of Og at Amazon.com

The Secret World of Og at Amazon.ca

Check out this 1991 Front Page Challenge episode with Pierre Berton and his daughter, Patsy talking about the 30th anniversary of the book. Patsy illustrated the original version of The Secret World of Og.

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


Journey of a Reluctant Reader…he’s not alone

Posted on November 1st, 2011 by Jody

Journey of a Reluctant Reader He is Not Alone a Guest Post by @1prncs





I chose a different approach this year when I found an openly reluctant reader. Normally, I would try to get to know the student, figure out their interests, ask for suggestions from the librarian or do some online research about popular books. This year, instead of approaching my goal of changing Johnny’s mind about reading alone, I’ve included the entire class in the process. Establishing a strong classroom community is essential for academic, social, and behavioral success. By enlisting my class in the goal to change Johnny’s mind, we’ve become stronger as a group. Last week I mentioned that other students were now recommending books for him. While this sense of community and caring for others is exactly what I want in my classroom, I also want to be sure that the students, including Johnny, understand the importance of making that shift from being a reluctant reader to being an avid reader or at least having an open mind and a willingness to try.

Noticing the way the students laugh when Johnny makes comments about not reading, I also want to be sure that this journey doesn’t become a form of amusement. One other concern I’m beginning to have is that the other students, particularly the other less than enthusiastic readers, may use this as an opportunity to blend into the background. If I’m focused on showing the class that Johnny’s mind can be changed, then I might not make a big deal, or even notice, that others are practicing avoidance. So far, I’m hoping this isn’t the case.

Any teacher knows that all students are different and thus, require a different approach. So while it may be entertaining, powerful, and even successful to allow Johnny’s reading journey to be public, I am quietly aware of the other journeys taking place. I wonder if these students notice the subtle push I hope that I am giving when I offer or suggest books in the library or the classroom. Does the classroom awareness of our reluctant reader’s journey make these others want to read more or less or have any impact at all? Are there ingredients I’m missing to help push the others forward in their own journeys? Is knowing their reading level and interests enough? What about those students who want to read more but struggle?

I’m still working on answers to some of these questions. What I do hope, is that those students who aren’t having their journeys made public, recognize that I’m aware of their academic needs as well. I’m hoping that the students are getting the right message from my decision to talk more publicly about Johnny’s journey. That message is that every journey is different and my goal as a teacher is to help each student find the tools and confidence to make their own journey successful and hopefully, enjoyable.

Making words powerful

Posted on October 22nd, 2011 by Jody

When I was in elementary school, spelling programs were a large part of our Language Arts lessons each week. On Mondays, we would do a pretest, mark it, correct it, and write out each of the words. In the next few days, we would complete numerous activities, including writing each word in a sentence, doing the dictionary definitions, perhaps a crossword, and filling in the blanks using the correct word. On Fridays, we had our test. It was on long, skinny, full scap paper. The next week, we would begin the entire process again with new words. I’m not certain that any of us could necessarily spell these words correctly from then on, but we definitely knew them for Friday’s test.


For the past several years, I’ve avoided this traditional type of program. I believe it has valuable components, such as understanding the meaning of words, being able to use it in the right context, and improving our ability to learn how the word is created between the pre and post tests. What I worry about though, is whether there is a  connection between learning how to spell in this fashion and improving your oral, written, and reading vocabulary. Does rote memorization of word lists truly impact a child’s reading and writing? I think the answer is both yes and no.

What I do believe, is that there is a connection between a child`s understanding of how words are made up and their ability to decode, read, and comprehend. I am a big fan of the activities that come along with Word Work and think they are important to retaining vowel sounds, word chunks, understanding of syllables, and knowledge of prefixes and suffixes. I use the term Word Work, both here and at school, in place of the word Spelling. It is more than spelling a word correctly that I am after.

Powerful readers make connections and I think that students need to connect the words they are learning to what they are reading and writing. While many spelling programs offer word lists that compliment the curriculum, I think that the important feature is that the activities that students engage in must help them further understand the word. They need to be able to see and understand the letters, sounds, parts, and the whole. They need to understand it in context and out. They need to recognize small pieces of words so they can identify sound patterns. This means going beyond rote memorization of word lists.

Having said that, in the early grades, memorization of Sight Words (they may be called Dolch, Primer, No Excuse, or Red words) is a building block to reading success. These words don’t conform to the conventions that we teach. Using rote memorization in combination with “spelling” and writing activities is a great way to reinforce these unconventional words that are such a huge part of our oral and written vocabulary.

As we move up through the grades and try to move toward reading for understanding, the students need to extend and strengthen these skills. Programs such as Rewards, Words Their Way, or Making Words are great ways to get students to extend and strengthen their word recognition abilities. I have been using a new book that I recently purchased from Scholastic, called Systematic Word Study. It’s a sequential, daily word program that highlights prefixes, suffixes, meaning, parts, antonymns, and syllables. The more kids understand how to break these words apart, categorize them, put them back together, or see them in different ways, the better chance we have at them transfering this recognition to their writing and reading. The best part of this program is that it is fun. It’s got really great activities, such as building mystery words using parts of other words, that the kids get really involved in. The activities are short, specific, and powerful.

So while I don’t think that the spelling programs of my youth are what we need to boost strugging and proficient learners, I do recognize the value in Word Work. The more connections and transfer skills that we can arm our students with, the greater chance they have for success in all curricular areas.

Systematic Word Study for Grades 4-6: An Easy Weekly Routine for Teaching Hundreds of New Words to Develop Strong Readers, Writers, and Spellers at Amazon.com

Systematic Word Study For Grades 4-6 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.

Journey of a Reader…Lemonade War

Posted on September 30th, 2011 by Jody

Last time, I introduced you to Johnny, my “I’d-rather-do-anything-other-than-read-even-though-I’m-totally-capable” student. He mentioned that he’s not opposed to reading, he just doesn’t care much for it and certainly doesn’t see it as a passtime or escape. Once I found out he was really enjoying have me read Fudge-a-Mania to the class, I knew I had a book for him. The Lemonade War is a book I read with my daughters over the summer. It’s a great read and actually, my very first post for Carolyn’s site was a review of this book. It definitely has humor and it has a great sibling rivalry that leaves you torn between which character to root for in the end.

Johnny knows all about my plans to make him like reading and he’s very receptive. I gave him a short summary and he said he’d try the book. I have to admit, I thought he was just messing with me when he said he’d read several chapters later that day. He was picking up the book when he had time and before I knew it, he told me he was finished. He loved it! He said it was funny and great and part way through he said he couldn’t wait to see what happened. So~success right? That day, when I signed his planner, I said I was so happy he liked it so much and wasn’t reading great? Sadly, he said, “It was a really good book. But I still don’t like reading”. While I did not achieve a quick victory, I do have every reason to be hopeful. My “chosen” student for this year is an above average reader with a very open mind and a good sense of humor. He won’t simply tell me he now loves reading so I’ll leave him. I think he might want to know if I can change his mind. For now though, I’ll take the small victories. He really, really liked the book. He was excited to have finished it and his Accelerated Reading test confirmed that he also understood it. It’s still early days yet, but at least we started the year off with him enjoying a book. I want more though. I want him to love a book so much he can’t put it down. I want him to read before bed by choice or take a good book on a long car ride. I want him to see what worlds he can open up by finding new authors. However, for now, I’ll accept this small gain. Coincidently, the first book I get him to enjoy? It’s sequel just came out last month! Guess I’ll be purchasing The Lemonade Crime this weekend.

Journey of a Relutant Reader…The Chosen One

Posted on September 30th, 2011 by Jody

Journey of a Reluctant Reader - a series of posts by Storytime Standouts' Guest ContributorIn one of my summer posts, I talked about how I love the challenge of finding that “one” student who is NOT a reader. The student that can read, but would rather not; the one that doesn’t make an effort to engage with the text; the one that feels there are far better ways to spend time than reading. In the second week of September, I found my student. He laughed at the shock on my face when he muttered the words “I don’t like reading”. I decided to tell him that he was my new project and explained to him how I’d like to change his mind. His response? “Good luck” he said. I have plans and ideas, and surprisingly, I’ve already made some head way. So these posts will be a little different; these will be about his journey, and mine, as I try to change his mind about the world of reading. Some of my ideas might work and others might not. I’ll happily take suggestions if you think of something that might further engage him. I thought it would be very informative to track his progress and attitude throughout the year. Obviously, my hope is that his journey will lead him to finding the joy in reading. These posts will be slightly shorter, as I will basically “journal” about my efforts and his responses. When he told me he didn’t like to read, I thought it might be informative, if not entertaining, to see where his journey takes us.





So, the Chosen One? We’ll call him Johnny because obviously I can’t use his real name and Johnny seems to be the go-to name in nursery rhymes, references to school, and in basal readers. To give you a little bit of background, “Johnny” was tested yesterday and is currently reading at a grade level of 7.7 in grade 5. There is nothing, academically, stopping him from reading. Before I had him take the reading test on the computer, I had done my own reading assessment and knew he was at the higher end of the spectrum. He’s a good kid. He can be chatty, but since my last post was on the benefits of oral language, I can’t really complain too much there. What I really like about Johnny is that he knows I’m going to try to change his mind about reading. He won’t try to stop me, but he’ll be honest about how he feels too. He’s got a good sense of humor. When he told me he had started a Christmas List already, I asked if he had books on it. He replied in a deadpan voice, “Yes. That’s my whole list. Just a bunch of books”. Back in week two of school, when I had thought about this project, I had Johnny humor me and I interviewed him.

Me: Why don’t you like to read?

J: It’s boring

Me: But what if the book is really good? Then it’s not boring.

J: Well, then I can read it.

Me: You laugh when I’m reading. Do you like our read aloud book? (We are doing Fudge-a-mania by Judy Blume)

J: Ya. It’s funny.

Me: Do you like funny books? You like humor?

J: Funny books are good. I like that one.

Me: What else do you like to do?

J: Anything

Me: Except read?

J: (laughing- I suspect AT me) Ya.

Me: What if mom said, go to your room and stay there for a while? What would you do to pass time?

J: Go to sleep.

Me: Will you let me try to change your mind about reading?

J: Okay

Me: You know I’ll change your mind right?

J: Okay. Good luck with that.

Hopefully you’ll join me and Johnny as I try to reach my goal.

Read the entire series by Jody

Oral Language Learning in a Middle Grade Classroom

Posted on September 24th, 2011 by Jody

Storytime Standouts' Guest Contributor Writes About Oral Language Learning




Having students talk to each other is a great way to keep them engaged in a lesson. They love to do anything that involves chatting with their friends and neighbors. There are a number of great oral language tools to get kids sharing information, including AB partners, walk and talk, whip around, and sentence frames. I tell my students that in order for us to process what we are learning, we need to make a connection between our brains, our mouths, and our hands. Basically, we need to think it, say it, and write it. Not all students need each of these steps to process, but they are beneficial to all learners. Though not every lesson can include talk time or partner time, oral language learning can still play a large role. During a vocabulary lesson on adjectives today, the students struggled to understand the concept and use the words in different types of sentences. Writing it down wasn’t working for them, even though there were clear examples and we had gone over the work. Asking the students to take a break from the writing, we simplified. I asked the kids to repeat the words after me. Most do this with that monotone-couldn’t-be-more-bored voice. That drives me crazy! So, I told them that when they repeated the word back to me, they had to yell. They were happy to comply. Then we whispered them, broke them into syllables, drew them out as l-o-n-g as we could, and finally, said them as quickly as we could. When it came time to use these words in three types of sentences, declarative, interrogative, and exclamatory, the kids really enjoyed repeating one sentence in the different ways. All of this only added about 5 minutes to my lesson but it changed the overall tone. No, everyone didn’t suddenly LOVE learning adjectives, but they were able to play around with the words a little more and build different sentences. I heard them saying their sentences to their neighbors in different ways.

We know oral language is an essential element in the curriculum. Sometimes though, I forget how truly powerful it can be. My husband is taking a course on Teaching English as a Second Language. To give himself a better understanding, he observed an ESL lesson today. He said that he was very impressed with the tone of the room and the way the students conversed with each other. We might feel like we have too much curriculum to get through to allow the kids so much talk time, but his observation of the ESL class further reminded me of the value of these conversations. Not just for ESL learners, but for all learners. Their ability to have strong verbal interactions with peers influences their writing, their reading, and their confidence. In the early years, we place a huge emphasis on oral language, but I think it’s important that we continue this trend in the upper grades as well. Letting the kids play around with the words, be expressive, and even be silly, lets them make stronger connections to what they are learning and increases their retention.

Learning, growth, and assessment comes in many forms. It doesn’t have to be pen and paper. Listening to your students interact with each other in both formal and informal ways can provide you with new insight into their strengths, their weaknesses, and their point of view. Knowing your students well is part of keeping them motivated and engaged. What better way to get to know them, than through the art of conversation?

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
.

Establishing a sense of community in my split grade classroom, I will try something different this year

Posted on September 4th, 2011 by Jody

One of my favourite parts of the school year is the first few weeks. I love mapping things out and getting to know my students. I love choosing my first read aloud and getting them hooked. In the past I have done Tuck Everlasting (I just love this story), Zebra Wall, and Sixth Grade Secrets (one of the funniest books). This year I have decided, thanks to a great workshop I attended, to try something different.

I generally start with a novel as a way of introducing reading strategies, such as predicting, questioning, and summarizing. However, instead of a novel, I am going to start with a book called,  Shi-shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell and  illustrated by Kim LaFave. It is actually a picture book recommended for ages 4-7. I am teaching grade 4/5 this year but I think that in addition to being able to introduce reading strategies, this story will allow me to establish a stronger sense of community right from the start.

Shi-shi-etko tells about a child’s experience with residential schools. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful. It will give me the opportunity to introduce themes of community, diversity, anxiety, family, and inclusion. These are all topics that need to be present in any classroom, but more so in a split grade classroom I think. In general, split classes are viewed negatively. Parents don’t want their child working below or beyond their capabilities and kids who have waited to experience certain things offered to their grade (like field trips) resent having to share these adventures. These thoughts seem at odds with the growing awareness of the need for differentiation in the classroom. Split grade or straight, more than one level of need is being met in all classrooms. It is important for teachers to find a way to motivate all learners and to do this, a community of acceptance needs to be established as quickly as possible. A classroom that students feel accepted, trusted, and safe in will promote positive learning experiences.

When my students come to my class this year, I want them to worry less about whether or not the work is really grade four work or grade five work. I want them to focus on contributing to a positive community atmosphere. I want them to feel safe to explore what kind of learning best suits them. I want them to accept the ideas, feelings, and beliefs of others and have this reciprocated. While I have grade level curriculum to teach, my hope is that we will go beyond that. I want them to be able to achieve academic success, but more importantly, I want them to acquire the tools that will help them become lifelong learners that accept and appreciate the unique backgrounds of others. I hope that in addition to powerful reading strategies, Shi-shi-etko will pave the way to a safe, strong sense of community in our class, built on trust, tolerance, and acceptance.

Shi-shi-etko at Amazon.com

Shi-shi-etko at Amazon.ca

Storytime Standouts recommends picture books that celebrate diversity

Really reading: what does this involve?

Posted on August 30th, 2011 by Jody

What Does Reading Involve - Effective Reading Strategies for Your Child

Looking at effective reading strategies for your child
















Being able to read encompasses more than you think. With your child getting ready to go back to school, it’s good for parents to know exactly what it means to be a ‘good reader’

The benefit of being a ‘good reader’ is that you don’t even think about all of the actual strategies and tools you are employing to make sense of the words on the page.

When I ask my students “What do good readers do?” they can state any or all of the following: Read ahead, Read back, Look at the pictures, Ask questions, Make Predictions, Summarize, and Re-Read. All of these are powerful strategies that ‘good readers’ use naturally. For a student that doesn’t naturally use these tools, reading is more difficult.

Each of these strategies is taught both independently and with the other strategies until students don’t even realize they are using them. You can reinforce your child’s reading by supporting these tools at home. Reading is the ultimate example of multitasking. For the child that is missing certain tools however, they will feel overwhelmed. Obviously, this is addressed at the classroom level, but at home, reading every day is essential to helping your child become a solid, fluent reader. Ask your child to summarize what is happening, pose questions of your own about what you are wondering, and make guesses with your child about what could happen and why you think that.

You can make these book talks fun and brief; basically just a check in that your child understands what they have read. These strategies can be applied at any reading level, including pre-kindergarten books with no words. When looking at books like these, I’ll ask my youngest daughter what she thinks is happening or if the character seems happy or sad. Start these talks young so your child feels comfortable talking about what they are reading. Oral language is a huge part of reading successfully.

You should be able to tell if your child has picked a book within their reading range by asking them to read aloud to you. Can they read the words without getting stuck on more than five on a page? Do they self-correct when they make mistakes? Do they seem engaged and curious about what they are reading? Do they want to know more? Do they ask questions and make predictions?

Reading is more than identifying words on a page. Books are meant to be read, enjoyed, and understood. Working with your child’s teacher, you can make reading more than acquiring information; you can make it a journey, an adventure, an escape and a lifelong pleasure.

Middle Grade Reader Transformed: Discovering a Love of Reading

Posted on August 24th, 2011 by Jody

Though children have to read, they don’t have to love reading. In fact, I have at least one student every year that insists they do not love it. Some even tell me they hate it. This is my favourite challenge of the school year. Watching a middle grade reader make the transition from reading for necessity to reading for pleasure is, quite simply, awesome.

Middle Grade Reader Transformed:  Discovering a Love of Reading, a guest post by @1prncs #middlegrades #reading #reluctantreadersWith the school year fast approaching, I’m wondering who that student will be this year? Which books will hook him/her? What made him/her dislike reading? How difficult will it be to change his/her mind?





Maybe it’s my own love of reading, of character rich stories, that makes me need to see this transition take place. I want all of my students to enjoy books, to learn from them, and to feel connected with them. But it’s those kids that think they can’t find enjoyment in a book, that see reading as a chore, that intrigue me.

I am very fortunate that my own daughters have inherited a love of literature. We foster that love by having books everywhere in our house, reading on our own and with them, and taking them to the library and book stores simply to browse. It must be something more than this, however, that hooks children on reading because I have many friends and colleagues that do the same with their children, yet reading is not their child’s first choice of activity.

For me, books are about the characters and their journey. If I don’t connect to the characters, I’m likely to give up on the book. Children are no different; if we cannot find something that captures their attention, almost immediately, they are likely to give up. If we want to engage children in reading for pleasure, we have to know them well enough to push them in the right direction. To me, this means two things: finding books that interest our children and finding books that are at the correct reading level.

Finding interests is fairly simple because you can talk to kids and easily get a sense of what excites them. Our school librarian is fantastic for helping me find certain “types” of books that I know will appeal to different kids. What I find can be the most challenging, is getting books that interest kids, are at the appropriate level, and look like a book a grade five student should be reading. This is the age where what friends think really matters. My students don’t want to be reading some ‘babyish’ book while their friends are pulling out The Lord of the Rings
and Harry Potter . So to this end, I am eternally grateful for the graphic novel.

Vivid, bright pictures appeal to most people. Graphic novels remind me of great advertisements; they are designed to draw you in and make you feel like you need to know more. They capture the reader’s attention quickly, move at a fast pace, and yet they still retain the story elements that are part of regular novels.

I am amazed by the amount of graphic novels available in a variety of age ranges. There are so many great series, such as Nancy Drew, Bone , Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Amulet. You can find graphic novels that teach history and science or tell tales of favorite super-heroes. This is a huge market and it gets bigger every day. Kids are drawn to the way stories are told in speech bubbles and brief text boxes. For the reluctant reader, this genre can make reading at a lower level more appealing and less intimidating, while still managing to fit within socially acceptable appearances. That is not to say this is the best or the only form of getting kids on board with reading. In fact, it’s important to remember that getting a kid to love reading is going to depend entirely on the child in question. If the interest starts with reading the subtitles in non-fiction while looking at pictures or flipping through Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, so be it. Once they begin gravitating toward reading and changing their feelings toward the activity, making further inroads becomes easier.Engaging Middle Grade Readers Means Matching Interests and Reading Level - A guest post by @1prncs

It’s not always the case that students that don’t like to read are ‘low’ in this area. They may read quite well at grade level or above and simply not enjoy the task. Regardless of the ability or background reasons, I still feel compelled to at least try to change their minds.

I guess it’s natural that when we really love or enjoy something, we want to share it with others. Equally natural, is the desire to become involved in activities that excite others. The students can’t help but sense my enthusiasm for reading and perhaps, that in itself, is the hook.

I hope I haven’t generalized too much or made it sound easy to engage students in areas they’d rather avoid. It’s not easy. But if it works, if you can really hook them you get to be a part of a wonderful transition that can, quite literally, change lives.

For more information, visit our page about reluctant readers.

Laughter is the best medicine…even for writer’s block: Chester’s Masterpiece by Mélanie Watt

Posted on August 16th, 2011 by Jody

Storytime Standout's review of Chester's Masterpiece by Mélanie WattI don’t know if it’s typical for adults to love picture books as much as I do. Many of the adults in my life; my husband, best friend, and co-workers, love them, but we’re all teachers, so maybe it’s just us. However, I think that children’s books are one of the best stress releases ever. The best ones are those that literally make you laugh out loud.

Chester’s Masterpiece written and illustrated by Mélanie Watt
Picture book published by Kids Can Press






For me, this week, that laugh out loud book was Chester’s Masterpiece by Mélanie Watt. I’ve had writers block all week and just happened to read this to my girls and their two friends. I had read Chester, but not his Masterpiece. If you haven’t read either, Chester is a cat that thinks he is much more capable of writing a great book than his creator, Mélanie Watt.

In this particular book, Chester appears to be struggling with some writer’s block as well! His was much funnier than mine. He hides Mélanie’s writing tools so she cannot do her work. They have a witty back and forth through post it notes and sketches. Chester tries hard to create a Masterpiece with Mélanie trying to offer him helpful hints and strongly suggesting he return her tools so she can actually get to work.

This book is truly funny. I am in awe of authors that can create such rich characters without a lot of back story. I am working on a couple of children’s books myself and I always find myself adding in details that don’t need to be shared. Mélanie’s talent for jumping into the story and attracting you to the larger than life characters is inspiring. You can’t help but love Chester, or Scaredy Squirrel, another of her awesome characters. You jump into these books, laugh out loud, and feel better just for having read them.

So, if you need to laugh out loud this week, or just distract yourself from your own writer’s block, pick up a Mélanie Watt book and you won’t be disappointed.

Kids Can Press Chester’s Masterpiece Free PDF Download learn how to draw Chester plus storytime ideas and a wordsearch

Chester’s Masterpiece at Amazon.com

Chester’s Masterpiece at Amazon.ca


Next to Impossible – Choosing My Top Ten Picture Books

Posted on August 5th, 2011 by Jody

While thinking about what to pack for a mini family vacation next week, it struck me that I should come up with a list of my TOP TEN picture books. As soon as I began trying to choose, it became my TOP TWELVE.  I thought it’d be a good exercise because whenever we go away, we have to be very firm with our youngest child about what she can and cannot pack. If you have ever read Robert Munsch’s Too Much Stuff (see how I snuck an extra book in there that’s great but won’t be on my top ten twelve?) you’d have great insight into how my five year old packs. I don’t like limiting how many books our girls can bring, but if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have enough room to bring our clothes! Hopefully it’ll be a while before they figure out that I have NO limit thanks to my Kindle. But if, like them, I was stuck picking ten stories for bedtime or any other time, I wondered which ones would make my list. These are not in order by favourite because that’s just asking too much of myself.

Olivia written and illustrated by Ian Falconer

Olivia is the funniest pig ever! She’s determined, stubborn, and highly amusing. I love the simplicity and the truth of Olivia. She’s tiring, she’s demanding, but she’s so loved. I only wish that Ian Falconer and Kevin Henkes would write a book together so that Olivia could play with Lilly (see below).

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Lilly is perhaps my favourite story book character. She perfectly encapsulates the ego centric child in such a charming, fun way. I love the way Henkes uses simple sentences in his writing to tell you so much. “Lilly loved school. She loved the pointy pencils. She loved the squeaky chalk”. I love Lilly.

The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Andersen

I’m not sure what makes this story one of my favourite fairy tales, but it is. I love the queen piling on all of the mattresses and bedding and I love the version where the prince realizes he loves her, even if she isn’t a real princess.

Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki and Stephane Jorisch

This is a beautiful story about independence and confidence. It’s not easy for Suki to wear her kimono to school when even her sisters are wearing brand new clothes and all the kids stare at her. But she’s not afraid to be who she is and wear what she wants. I read this book, the first time, years ago and still enjoy it every time I read it to my daughters or to a class.

The Paper Bag Princess written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko

My kids love this book because Elizabeth says Ronald is a “bum”. I love it because Elizabeth is clever and strong and not only defeats the dragon, but gets her happily ever after by NOT getting her happily ever after.

Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb written by Al Perkins and illustrated by Eric Gurney

I love the simple rhyme and rhythm of this book. To this day, whenever I cross a street and say to my kids “Hand”, they both reply “hand, fingers, thumb”. It’s delightful.

You are Special written by Max Lucado and illustrated by Sergio Martinez

This book makes me smile every time I read it. I love the message that believing in oneself comes from inside, not from the beliefs of others. The symbolism of the stickers falling off of the Wemmicks when they stop caring about how others see them is beautiful.

The Seven Silly Eaters written by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Marla Frazee

This book is adorable. The pictures are fantastic and I love the pickiness of the kids. The rhyme is awesome and the chaos and love projected in the words and the pictures are realistic and amusing.

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

Just so you understand how difficult it was for me to pick only 12 favourites, I should mention that I absolutely LOVE,  LOVE,  LOVE every Kevin Henkes book I’ve ever read, including Zebra Wall, which is a novel that I didn’t even know, until last year, that he had written. Wemberly is me. She is my oldest daughter. She is every kid who hates uncertainty and is comforted by the familiar.

The Kissing Hand written by Audrey Penn with illustrations by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak

The first time I read this story, I cried a little. Our oldest daughter was almost three when I bought it and read it to her. It was exactly what I wanted and still want for my children- to know that wherever they go and whatever they do, I love them and I’m with them.

Goodnight Moon written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd

I can recite this book word for word. I love the line “Goodnight nobody”. When our youngest daughter was born, we decorated her bedroom as the ‘great green room’. We had all of the details; “the old lady whispering hush” drawn on the wall,” two kittens and a pair of mittens”. For a border, we wrote the words of the story.  It will forever be one of my favourites.

Guess How Much I love you written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram

I loved this book even before I really understood it. I gave it to my mom before I had kids and she nodded as though she had some sage understanding of something I did not. Then I had kids and I really got it; because even though they love me to the moon, I love them to the moon and back.

There. I did it. I narrowed it down and chose twelve favourites. I’m so very proud of myself for not even mentioning Sleepy Bears by Mem Fox, Pocket Full of Kisses by Audrey Penn, every other Kevin Henkes book, or Hooray for Diffendoofer Day by Dr. Seuss. It’s probably safe to say that I, too, need strict guidelines for what I can and cannot pack.

Finding a Balance – Looking at a Child’s Reading Level and Maturity When Selecting Books

Posted on August 3rd, 2011 by Jody

Finding a Balance - Looking at a Child's Reading Level and Maturity When Selecting Books





As a teacher and a mom, I want to see kids succeed. I want to see them achieve success and push past it to the next level, particularly in reading. When getting kids to fall in love with reading you have to keep a couple things in mind:
a) You have to (help them) find books that interest and appeal to them
b) You need books that they can read and understand independently without frustration

Once you have done both of these things, the chances of success in reading, and in turn, the love of reading, increase greatly. My favourite moment is when it clicks~ they understand what they are reading and they want to read more. It’s been an absolute pleasure to watch our eight year old develop not only a love of reading and books, but to become a strong reader. However, she is now reaching a difficult stage; one I didn’t expect to encounter even though I have watched her excel in reading. What happens when children know what interests them but what they are capable of reading academically and independently surpasses what they should be reading emotionally?

Striving for independence, my daughter recently convinced me to let her go to our school book fair alone, with her own money to make her own choices (By on her own, I mean I didn’t go into the book fair with her but since I work there, I was close by). When she showed me what she had chosen, I knew I was stuck with a dilemma. She had chosen a book that dealt with adolescent friendship, middle school, and a crush on a boy. She used my ‘a/b’ theory and found something that appealed to her and was within her reading range. For some kids though, like my daughter, what she is able to read and what she should be reading are two entirely different things.

While we are ecstatically proud that she is reading at a grade six level in grade two, it does present some problems, even if the grade level and ability level gap is smaller. An author’s goal is to speak to their audience; to engage and captivate them. They build their plots and characters based on their (anticipated) audience. Therefore, an author writing books for the typical grade two/three student would appeal to their developmental stage. Some great books in this age range (at least for my girls) are the Daisy Meadows Rainbow Fairies collections, the Nancy Drew Clue Crew series, or the Bailey School Kids. These books appeal to this audience with their age appropriate characters solving problems, working on mysteries, and going up against mythical or magical figures. In grades two and three, the problems our kids are facing (hopefully) include getting out for recess fast enough, snagging one of the three skipping ropes available, or not being it for tag. It’d be nice if problems could stay this simple, but they don’t and as kids mature, so do the books that appeal to them.

A grade six student, by contrast, is caught up in an entirely different world that includes best friends that come and go, crushes on boys, and dealing with self-image. Accordingly, books that appeal to this age range deal with these issues. Coming of age classics like Little Women by Louisa May Alcott or Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume perfectly highlight some of the trials girls this age face. And while I truly want my daughter to read these books, or even the one she chose from the book fair, I’m not ready for her to wonder about these ‘issues’. So, I’m faced with deciding whether or not to let her read books past her maturity level to accommodate her ability level.

I suppose it’s like anything else with parenting; I take a look at her choices and make the best judgement call I can. For me, I’m hoping that keeping the conversation doorway open is the answer to finding balance. Discussing what your child is reading is a key to helping them develop as fluid readers. So, while I don’t want her to have a crush on a boy, I’m fine (so far) with explaining what it means and talking to her about the issues her characters are facing. Perhaps it’s a plus that right now she’s hooked on the Goddess Girls series by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about any boys from the Underworld popping up with their three headed dog any time soon.

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