Raising Summer Readers: Tip-a-Day series

Last summer, I wrote a Raising Summer Readers blog series with many posts throughout July and August about making reading part of kids’ everyday summer lives. Along with regular reading aloud, encouraging our kids to read over the summer is one of the most significant ways we can promote our kids’ reading achievement, overall academic achievement, and their development into lifelong readers and learners. This summer, I had planned to write a again with a different twist, but sadly my life doesn’t have room in it right now for much blogging (beyond Ethan’s Leukemia blog). At some point I’ll return again to my reading blog. For now, I’m re-posting my first post from last summer’s series for readers who never saw it and are interested. At the top right of each post in the series, there is a link to the subsequent post so that readers can easily access all of the tips. June is done and summer is well on its way — if your kids haven’t been reading, take a look at some of the information in this series and try to choose a few ideas that work for your family. And remember, reading aloud to your kids, as well as all kinds of texts (including audio books, e-books, picture books, magazines, museum guides, and comic books), “counts” as beneficial summer reading. So helping your child create a summer that includes reading should be do-able even for kids who are not competent or avid readers.


Our “Summer Reading Orchard”

Below is last summer’s first post. As you’ll see, in our family we have enjoyed documenting our reading in ways that are fun for the kids (as opposed to traditional reading logs). Two years ago, we made a “family summer reading tree” (see below). Last year, we had fun with Summer Reading Timelines (also shown below; see post #54 for the end-of-summer version).  This summer, my kids each wanted their own trees (we have a “lego tree”, a “technology tree”, and a “tennis ball tree”, with the “leaves” on each tree representing books and pages read). Dad has clouds with raindrops for each book, and I have a sun with rays (as you can see, I need to get going!).

(Originally posted 6/22/2014)
Around the U.S., most of our kids are now out of school for the summer, and those who are not are just one week away. As we eagerly embrace a break from homework, schedules, and early mornings, please remember that time away from the classroom should not mean a break from reading! Children who do not read over the summer lose 2-3 months of reading development, compared to children who do read and tend to gain about a month or more of reading proficiency. This difference creates a 3-4 month gap every year, which results in a cumulative gap of several years or more. Which is huge! Further, summer is the best opportunity to help your child develop the reading habits of lifelong readers. As your children ease into summer, try to disconnect “reading” from “schoolwork”, especially if they are strongly linked in your family. Emphasize the many bigger-than-school reasons to read, such as for pleasure, to relax, to learn, and to connect to worlds beyond your own. Lead by example, and show your child from the start of summer that reading (and writing and learning) is a regular part of daily summer life!

Last summer, I wrote a summer reading series (see “Summer Slide” posts), which included 13 suggestions for helping our kids create a summer reading life. This summer, I am aiming to write a “tip-a-day” to help give parents ideas for encouraging reading over the summer. Some tips may repeat those from last summer, though the intent is to have many new ideas and recommendations. Except for this first one, I plan to write super brief tips (just a few sentences) that parents can read quickly and implement the ones they like. I hope you find some helpful ideas in here! Here goes…

Raising Summer Readers: Tip #1
Help your children develop a summer reading plan.

As close to the start of summer as possible, help your child develop a summer reading plan. Whether your child is a preschooler who “reads” pictures or a proficient independent reader, he/she will benefit most from a plan that includes one, two, or all three of these components: (A) a specific summer reading goal to strive towards, (B) a method for documenting summer reading, and (C) a method for written response to books/reading experiences. Having an agreed-up system in place from the start of summer makes reading an expected and even integral part of summer, rather than a difficult-to-fit in after-thought. Kids are also more likely to read if they have a say in what their reading life looks like, so discuss options together and let them create a plan that is exciting to them. Listed below are some ideas for each of the above components of a summer reading plan:

(A) Possible summer reading goals include:

  • Read every day of summer
  • Finish a book a day for every day of summer (“Books” may be anything from chapter books, picture books, comic books, magazines, poetry anthologies, audiobooks). Click here to read expert reading teacher Donalyn Miller’s post about her Book-a-Day challenge.
  • Read 20 minutes for every day of summer (approximately 1200 total minutes)
  • Read every book in a particular series
  • Read X number of chapter books on the Newbery Medal winners list
  • Read every picture book on the Caldecott Metal winners list
  • Read every book that can be found by a particular author
  • Read in 50 different locations this summer
  • Read and watch as many book/movie pairs as possible
  • Attempt to get through a large pile of must-read books
  • Make a list of “top topics” to investigate and then read as many nonfiction and fiction books on each topic that you can.
  • Help your child choose another goal that is personal and exciting to him/her!

(B) Possible methods for documenting summer reading include:

  • Use a traditional reading log that tracks number of minutes, number of pages, or titles completed. Established summer reading programs (e.g., through Scholastic, Barnes & Noble, or a public library) often provide these logs, or you can help your child create his/her own.
  • Use a minute tracker app, which is exciting for kids who like to use technology (e.g., Scholastic has an app called Scholastic Reading Timer)
  • Dedicate a wall or a door in your house as a “Summer Reading Door”, and add photographs of covers of books read as they are completed.
  • Create a Summer Reading Timeline that shows off the chronology of the child’s summer reading, with dates, book titles, and even book covers or ratings.
  • Create a “summer reading tree” with leaves added for each book read, or an “ocean of summer reading” with fish added for each book, or a “sizzling hot summer of reading” mural with suns added for each book read. For families, 1 mural with color-coded items (e.g., leaves, fish, suns) works great!
  • Brainstorm a “Summer Reading Bucket List”, with book titles/topics/ reading experiences that kids check off and date as each item is completed. Examples of bucket list items include: read in a tent, write to an author, read at the beach, read a book that makes you laugh, read a chapter book aloud as a family, visit a library in another city, read a comic book, have an outdoor read-aloud party, etc.
  • Create a summer reading photo album, with photos that show off books as they are read, places where reading occurs, and “action shots” of summer reading.
  • Help your child create his/her own method for documenting reading during the summer. Have fun with it, and be as creative as you/your child wants!

(C) Possible methods for written response to summer reading include:

  • Using the Summer Reading Bucket List (above), add written reflections for each item with details about the book/reading experience.
  • Using the Summer Reading Timeline (above), add mini summaries or reviews/recommendations/insights for each entry.
  • Start a summer reading journal with reflections on the books read and reading-related experiences over the summer. For example, the child might journal about specific books as they are read or write  “recommendations of the week” for each week of summer.
  • Find a reading buddy (could be a parent, sibling, or friend) and write back and forth about books read.
  • Start a book club with friends and journal about the club’s reading experiences and group discussion.
  • Start a family “book versus movie comparison chart”, where the family watches as many book/movie pairs as possible and analyzes similarities/differences. It can be fun to include ratings for each pair that evaluate whether the book or movie was better. A helpful rule is to require the reading to happen before the movie!
  • Link reading with art by keeping a “reading sketchbook”, with drawings/paintings of summer reading that visually represent a response to each book through art, perhaps with titles/captions.
  • Write (and possibly illustrate) additional pages, chapters, or sequels to a handful of favorite summer reads.
  • Review/recommend books online — this coupling of technology and written response might be appealing for some kids. A fantastic website for this is www.dogobooks.com, a free online book (and movie) reviewing community for kids by kids. Kids book can look up other kid-written reviews, rate and review books, earn badges and points for reviews written, and follow other book reviewers. The site even includes a built-in incentive program for reviewing books over the summer!
  • Also for tech lovers — help your child author his/her own reading blog, with posts that include books recommendations or reviews. Check out www.kidsblogclub.com which is an online community of kid bloggers (especially bloggers about books) and has some good tips about starting a child-authored blog.
  • Create a scrapbook that shows off varied written responses to books read and reading experiences, such as letters to authors; book reviews; drawings/paintings inspired by a book; and reflections on book-experience connections such as museum trips, book/movie comparisons, book-inspired crafts and cooking , and book-related outings.

While regular/substantial reading over the summer is super helpful in and of itself, written response to reading boosts cognitive engagement with the text, comprehension, learning of world knowledge, and writing skills. If you can, join in on the reading goals your child has set. It can be extra fun if the entire family co-constructs a summer reading plan together, pursuing the same reading goals and documentation method!

Last summer’s “Summer Reading Tree”

In Our Family… Last summer, we made a family “summer reading tree”, where we all added leaves with titles for each book they read. While we didn’t set a specific goal, we all read a ton and were proud of this full tree at the end of summer:

photo 1

Our Summer Reading Timeline

This year, inspired by Donalyn Miller’s Book-a-Day challenge, we agreed on a family goal to each read (finish!) a book for each of our 74 days of summer. To document our reading, we are creating a Summer Reading Timeline, with duct tape timelines for each family member and Sharpie date marks on each timeline for each day of summer. For my child who is entering kindergarten and just starting to sound out words, his reading for the timeline includes “pretend reading” of picture books, the reading of wordless picture books, and our co-reading of beginning reading books and easy picture books. For Mom and Dad, our reading aloud to the kids counts as daily reading. The kids seem to love our shared reading plans! Here’s a picture of our timelines as we start the summer:


Writing book reviews on http://www.DOGObooks.com

For the written response component, last summer my daughter started a blog and wrote in it frequently. While she still adds to it intermittently, her enthusiasm for it has faded (I think largely because the technical difficulty of blogging limits her independence with it). This summer, she and her brother (finishing 2nd and 1st grade, respectively) have discovered DOGO Books and are super excited to use that as the vehicle for their written response to books. They are avid readers already, but the interactive environment is drawing them into a community of kids who rate and review books together. The downside is they are fighting over the computer for the first time in their lives…over who gets to write a book review…can’t really complain!

photo 2

My little guy’s method for written response to books this summer

My little one (entering kinder) has chosen to keep a “Summer Reading Journal” to write about his summer reading. His journal will include mostly drawings in response to books, with writing about books in the form of dictation and phonetic spelling. Here’s his simple cover to his journal:

What fun or unique plans does your family/child have for summer reading? Send me a photo at aliposner@me.com, and I’ll share it on this blog!

Click here for the next post in this series, Raising Summer Readers Tip #2.

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Raising Summer Readers Tip #54: Reflect with your kids on their summer reading life, and talk about how you all might do it differently next summer!

Unknown-3This can be done during kids last week of summer, or even after the kids have been back in school for a few days. But don’t wait too long! Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Did you meet your beginning of summer reading goals? If kids were documenting their reading, actually take a look at the evidence (e.g., logs, scrapbooks, bucket lists, online reviews) so that kids can consider how they did. Make sure kids are aware of whether or not they met their goals, and if not, talk about what got in the way and how things might be tweaked for next summer.
  • What was your favorite book this summer? What kind of books/texts did you read mostly? Is there a type of text or genre that you might give more attention to next summer?
  • Are there any books or types of books on your summer reading list that you didn’t get to? What are they? Discuss whether you would like to try to read them once school starts, or hold on to them for the next break from school.
  • What did you like about reading this summer? Discuss favorite reading-related activities and experiences from the summer, and even decide on what experiences the family might want to make annual summer reading traditions. In our family, this reflecting has resulted in numerous summer reading and writing rituals, including the use of our large wall in the playroom to document the family’s summer reading in a fun way; writing vacation books for at least one summer vacation; and having one “all ice cream day” with related reading and writing about ice cream. These discussions help to create the expectation and the anticipation of the reading rituals for the following summer…which goes a long way!
  • Talk about how avid adult readers often write reviews for books they feel strongly about, and ask your kids whether they want to write about their favorite reads of the summer. This might be an entry in a summer or daily journal, or, for  audience and more authenticity, kids can write “real” reviews on Amazon.com, Goodreads.com, or DOGObooks.com.

Upon reflecting on our Summer Reading Timeline: The kids were proud that they achieved expert reading teacher Donalyn Miller’s Book-a-Day challenge…though they decided that the daily documentation was too tedious. (Us parents — the top 2 lines– didn’t do quite as well!) This led to some talk about what to do instead next summer. No decisions yet, but this year’s reflecting has already started some momentum for next summer’s planning…

The key is to exit summer with some sort of attention to the reading that occurred…it was important enough to keep reading, and it’s important enough to reflect on at the end.  Talking about summer reading, and what it’s like to be a “summer reader”, helps to build awareness of the attitudes and habits of lifelong readers — readers who read beacuse they want to, when they want to, where they want to, what they want to, who think about what they read. Such readers learn to read for the sake of reading, not because of daily reading requirements or tests or book reports or points. And, regardless of whether or not you as parents have done substantial summer reading yourself, be an equal participant in the discussion, sharing your own reflections and insights about your own summer reading life. Share things like, “I love how I got so much reading in at the beach this summer” or “This summer I had the chance to discover the author (insert author name) whom I’d never heard of before; that’s what I love about summer, there’s some more time to read and find new interests.” Sharing thoughts such as these paves the way for kids’ own reflections, making them more likely to chime in too.

In addition to some dialogue about summer reading, kids might enjoy a more formal celebration of all the reading that was done. Some schools and public libraries host parties for kids who participate in their summer reading program. Or, find a way to celebrate in your own way among family and/or friends. This might be a trip to your local bookstore so kids can select some new books as they head into the school year. Instead, you might come up with a special experience related to a favorite summer read, such as visiting gorillas at the zoo for The One and Only Ivan, going to a candy or fudge store if kids read and loved Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, going to/watching a movie based on the book, or visiting a magic shop for kids who discovered Harry Potter over the summer (I just learned about Whimsic Alley, a Harry Potter themed magic shop in L.A.). Another way to celebrate is to host an end-of-summer reading party — which might involve the swapping of favorite summer reads, dressing up as favorite characters from a book read over the summer, or kids coming with a prepared “favorite summer read” page (maybe with review and illustration) to contribute to a “Summer Reads Recommendation Book” (similar to what adults do at recipe parties). What makes all of these celebrations of summer reading great is that they all reward kids with the activity (book-related experiences) that we are trying to promote (reading). Avoid other kinds of rewards if you can — they tend to cheapen reading by sending the wrong message — namely that kids need to be “paid” for their reading because it’s not inherently valuable. End of summer reading celebrations that kids eagerly anticipate also make for great annual rituals!

To conclude this “Raising Summer Readers” series, my bottom-line hope for parents is that they can find a way to help their kids approach reading as a way of life and summer reading as a way of summer life…not as an add-on to be fit in but as an integral and joyful part of summer. It amazes me how many well-intentioned parents say that they their kids’ summer reading is not a priority because they believe that their kids need a break from the requirements of school. This is concerning from a “summer slide” perspective and the cumulative consequences of little summer reading over multiple years, but it is even more concerning from a raising lifelong readers perspective. If kids don’t receive support to develop the habits of lifelong readers during the summer — during the window of greatest opportunity, when they are free from the requirements of school — kids are unlikely to learn that reading is more than just a “schooltime” thing. Which tends to have tremendous consequences, academically and professionally, socially and societally. Especially in our information age, where reading well and critically is vital to meaningful engagement in our world.

As summer comes to an end, if someone were to ask your child, “What were your favorite parts about this summer?”…Will your child include “read” or “listen to my mom/dad read” in her list of favorite summer activities? If yes, you have a lifelong reader in the making!

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Raising Summer Readers Tip #53: Check out a few of these recently and to-be-released books for some great end-of-summer reads

5137OyTqkyL._AA160_Like my last post, I was hoping to write this one much earlier in the summer. There are so many great new books out there as well as some soon-to-be-released books that I’m eager to read, so I want to share my list of top new books to get. If your kids still have a few days left before they go back to school, perhaps getting your hands on a few of these great titles will provide some end of summer reading momentum to carry them through until school begins. Also, whether or not your kids are back at school — rewarding summer reading by letting kids pick out a few great new books is a terrific way to wrap up summer and celebrate the reading that was done.

Here’s a list of 26 of favorite new books — most of which were released Spring or Summer 2014. It also includes books that are due to be released end of August through Septmber; I haven’t read these yet but am very much looking forwrad to their release (based on editorial reviews and knowledge of the authors). Remember, as you build your home library collection, aim to bring diverse text types into your home for kids of all ages and reading levels, including picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, poetry anthologies, informational/nonfiction, etc.

Favorite New Books:

  1. Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas. (By Lynne Cox). Picture book. Based on a true story, this is a great read-aloud about an unusual elephant seal.
  2. Eye to Eye: How Animals See The World. (By Steve Jenkins). Informational nonfiction picture book.  Another captivating work by author Steve Jenkins.
  3. Help! We Need a Title! (By Herve Tulle). Picture book. From the creator of Press Here, another interactive and clever picture book!
  4. Little Melba and Her Big Trombone. (By Katheryn Russell-Brown). Picture book biography about a great but little-known African American female hero of Jazz.
  5. Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece. (By Patricia Polacco). Picture book. Polacco is a favorite in our family — we love to read her personal stories from her past and talk about the lessons that they convey. In this one, Polacco credits a teacher with helping her to conquer a fear of public speaking. Another heartfelt and inspiring tale!
  6. My New Friend Is So Fun! (by Mo Willems). Picture book. Another super fun Elephant & Piggie book!
  7. The Meaning of Maggie. (By Megan Sovern). Middle grade chapter book. An 11-year-old girl’s funny and sensitive “memoir” recounting the “year that changed EVERYTHING!”
  8. The Most Magnificent Thing. (By Ashley Spires). Picture book. A magnificent story about not giving up!
  9. The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. (By Peter Sis). Picture book biography.
  10. The Scarecrows’ Wedding. (By Julia Donaldson).  Picture book. Another rhyming, rollicking read-aloud from this fabulous author.
  11. The Soda Bottle School. (By Laura Kutner). Nonfiction picture book. An inspirational true story about an impoverished community that comes together to solve a problem.
  12. Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond between a Soldier and His Service Dog. (By Luis Montalvan). Nonfiction picture book. A touching story about companionship and loyalty.
  13. Two Parrots. (By Rumi). Picture book. A lively, well-told tale with a valuable lesson.

To Be Released:

  1. As An Oak Tree Grows. (By G. Brian Karas). Nonfiction picture book. This looks like it will be a fascinating historical recount of transformation and the impact of modernization on the environment. To be released Sept. 2014.
  2. Ben Franklin’s Big Splash: The Mostly True Story of His First Invention. (By Barb Rosenstock). Nonfiction picture book biography. To be released Sept. 2014.
  3. Brown Girl Dreaming. (By Jackueline Woodson). Middle grade nonfiction chapter book. A memoir of a young girl’s life, written in verse. To be released Aug. 28, 2014.
  4. Circle, Square, Moose. (By Kelly Bingham). Picture book. This companion to Z is for Moose looks like it will be an equally hilarious read-aloud, this time about the concept of shapes. To be released Sept. 2014.
  5. Draw! (by Raul Colon). Wordless picture book. To be released Sept. 2014.
  6. Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio. (By Jonah Winter). Nonfiction picture book biography. To be released early Sept. 2014.
  7. Leroy Ninker Saddles Up: Tales from Deckawoo Drive. (by Kate DiCamillo). Transitional chapter book. I can’t wait for this spin-off book from the Mercy Watson series. To be released Aug. 26, 2014.
  8. Mix It Up! (by Herve Tullet). I’m so looking forward to this companion to Press Here. I’m expecting another wonderful interactive journey, this time about color mixing. To be released Sept. 2014.
  9. Quest. (By Aaron Becker). Wordless picture book. I literally can’t wait for the release of this sequel to the stunning wordless fantasy Journey. To be released Aug. 26, 2014.
  10. Remy and Lulu. (By Kevin Hawkes). Picture book. To be released Sept. 2014.
  11. Sisters. (By Raina Telgemeier). Graphic novel. A companion to the fantastic Smile. To be released Aug. 26, 2014.
  12. Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes. (By Nicola Davies). Informational nonfiction picture book. To be released Aug. 26, 2014.
  13. Two (by Kathryn Otoshi). Picture book. A companion to the fabulous books One and Zero. To be released Sept. 2014.
Posted in Informational/nonfiction picture books, narrative picture books, Recommended Book Lists, Summer reading | Tagged | 1 Comment

Raising Summer Readers Tip # 51 and #52: Help your kids integrate writing into their summer by encouraging them to author their own books

These two tips, along with Tip #50, should have come much earlier in the summer, so I apologize for their late arrival. Authoring their own books can be such a great summer writing experience because, unlike books that are written during the school year, kids are not limited by time or parameters of a given assignment. During the summer, kids have the freedom to write whatever type of text they want, about whatver topic, for whatever audeince, on whatever medium, of whatever length, etc. They have the opportunity to truly become real authors.

If your kids have some down time in the last few days of summer, perhaps you can inspire them to write a book! They can make up their own fictional story, put an oral story into written book format, use story starters (see Tip #48) as an entry point to book writing, convert any written story (see Tip #49) into book format, write a nonfiction book about any topic that interests them, or write a book about a specific summer experience. These next two tips describe a couple more fun options that might interest your kids:

how to make a rainbow crayon

My daughter’s “How to Make a Rainbow Crayon” book after they made their own rainbow crayons

Tip #51. Encourage kids to write “how-to” books based on their own summer activities and experiences.
Writing how-to books can be so motivating for kids because they serve a specific purpose that is meaningful and real — to teach someone else how to do something that is interesting or important to the child/author. Children are more invested in writing how-to books when they actually have participated in the step-based activity, have developed a some expertise, and want to share their knowledge with others. For example, when a child makes a new craft, helps to bake a new type of cookie, conducts a neat science experiment, creates a new game (see tip #32), or successfully pulls off a magic trick.

Remember, this type of nonfiction text typically includes a materials/ingredients section, which is followed by a description of the steps (often with numbers, bullets, or connecting words such as “first”, “next”, and “then”). These books also often contain present tense verbs, photographs or labeled diagrams, and tips/reminders for successfully completing the activity.  Try to provide your child with the opportunity to share his/her how-to book with an audience who is eager to read it and try out the activity for him/herself! how to make rainbow crayon2


Tip #52. Encourage kids to use picture books as inspirations for writing their own books.

It can be particularly fun for kids to write their own books based on specific aspects of published picture books — especially books that they find particularly appealing and that have distinct features that are easily borrowable for their own writing. There are a variety of ways that kids can use picture books as a stimulus to author their own books. A few include:

  • Borrowing story elements, such as writing a story with the same characters, the same setting, and/or the same problem/conflict.
  • Writing a sequel or a prequel to a picture book
  • Writing a different story that conveys the same message or theme as a particular picture book
  • Writing a picture book that borrows a standout feature from the published book — such as text written in rhyming couplets, use of hooks and other interactive elements to facilitate engagement, and repeated refrains.
  • Writing a different version of the story with a new ending, a different way to solve the problem, or changing the setting or a key character. Writing “fractured fairy tales” (see tip #49) — where kids write their own version of a well-known story (e.g., the Cinderella story) is an example of this.

After reading aloud books that might inspire some writing, try to have some discussion about special features of the book (or books, if multiple books were read, such as several books by the same author). Brainstorm together ideas that kids might borrow for their own writing. While good teachers often use picture books as mentor texts for kids’ writing, summer writing needs to be fun — so help your kids choose books with especially fun features! Here are 3 suggestions that allow for a ton of fun and creativity:

  1. IMG_5030

    Kids writing their own Elephant and Piggie books.


    The covers of the kids’ own Elephant & Piggie books

    Read aloud a bunch of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books (which are fun for all grades and reading levels). Talk about similarities that these books share, such as their comic book style, that the stories are all told through dialogue bubbles, they all contain themes related to friendship, and Elephant’s and Piggie’s persistent personality traits. Then, kids can write their own Elephant and Piggie book!

  2. Read aloud a couple books by Herve Tullet, such as Press Here; Help! We Need a Title!; The Book With a Hole; and coming this September — Mix It Up!
    Tulle’s distinct style is simple yet powerful. He talks directly to his readers and energizes them to become active participants, getting them to do something as a result of reading the text. Clever and creative, Tulle’s books set the stage for kids to apply the same creative thinking to their own writing. I LOVE these books for inspiring some fun summer writing!
  3. 51siYnkWZ7L._AA160_Read aloud the super clever book Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett. In this book, the character Alex receives a Little Golden Book-like book for his birthday called Birthday Bunny, which he finds uninteresting and too young for him. So he improves the book by re-naming it and transforming the story, changing the text and embellishing the pictures with his pencil. It’s hilarious, and it celebrates kids as storytellers and storywriters. Kids can read this and talk about their own ideas for changing Birthday Bunny into a more interesting story. Better yet, click here and kids can actually download and print their own copy of Birthday Bunny (the book that fictional character Alex turned into Battle Bunny) and then transform it however they like (For example, they can write “Baseball Bunny” or “Mad Scientist Bunny’). Just as Alex did in the book, kids should be encouraged to change the title, modify the text, and embellish the pictures. What a great summer writing project! tumblr_inline_mwvzzcXcpF1qadzz7

Keep in mind that the authenticity of the actual “book” can make a big difference in kids’ motivation to write, engagement in the bookmaking activity, and in their sense of pride and ownership of their writing. Help them use a “real book” format for their books, and get their input as to what they think that format should be. See Tip #50 for ideas of homemade blank books or see Tip #11 if you’re interested in purchasing some high–quality blank book materials.


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Raising Summer Readers Tip #50: Encourage summer writing by helping kids to create fun handmade blank books

Getting kids excited to author books is one of the best ways to motivate writing. When kids put their writing into book format, they tend to feel like real authors who are proud of what they write and eager to share with others. I’ve already mentioned that kids  can author authentic books using the fantastic blank book products from Barebooks.com, or they can quickly make their own books with paper and staples/rings (see Tip #11). Or, as a craft activity in and of itself, kids can have fun making all sorts of blank books in order to create a supply for later use. Take a morning to create a collection of creative blank books. Perhaps start by brainstorming with your kids about their ideas for possibilities, and share your ideas too. What materials around the house might make for good book covers and pages? Decide on your favorite ideas, take out a variety of materials, and go to town. Here are a few ideas that we’ve enjoyed making at home:

  • Fun cardstock or scrapbook paper for front and back covers, filled with printer paper and staple.


    Cardstock paper book

  • Coffee holder books. We love these! Grab some coffee sleeves next time you’re buying coffee. Cut one side, and the holder becomes the front and back covers of the book. Insert your own paper, and bind with rings or staples.


    Coffee holder books

  • Book-in-a-book-in-a-book. My kids have loved these too! It essentially involves folding a variety of sizes of paper, and glueing the back of each small size inside the larger size.



  • Accordion book

    Simple accordion book. Kids can learn how to do these quite easily, and they can make them out of any paper (simple or fancy) at home in just a few minutes.

  • cereal box books

    Cereal box books

    Cereal box book. Even favorite cereal boxes can be used to make fun blank books!

  • Miniature matchbox booksThis teacher shows various ways to make miniature books that fit inside matchboxes. My kids love miniature versions of things so this is a hit for bookmaking. It’s easy too!


    Miniature matchbox books

  • Brown paper bag book. The kids seem to get a kick out of these, perhaps because of the crinkliness of paper lunch bags. Check out this website for instructions on how to make these fun books.

    brown paper bag books

    Brown paper bag books

  • Tiny paint chip book. These are super cute and super easy! Here’s a good website that shows how to make them.

    Tiny Books

    Tiny paint chip book

  • exploding box book

    Exploding box book

    Super cool exploding box book. We haven’t tried making these yet but they look so cool! Here’s a website with some instructions on how to make it, but if you type google “exploding box book” and check out the images, you’ll see a ton of options!

  • finished-book

    Paper clip books

    Paper clip books. These are so easy — all you need is paper, a paper clip, and a rubber band. Check out this teacher’s instructions for how to make them.

  • Duct tape blank book. Grab any small notebook and cover the front and back with duct tape. Easy for kids, and they look and feel great!

    Duck Tape Journal3 rev.

    Duct tape blank book

  • Accordion envelope book. We love this one too! Grab a handful of envelopes, and glue the envelope fold of one envelope to the backside of another envelope. Click here are some great instructions. Kids can write the text on the envelopes themselves, or they can add paper or cardstock inside each pocket. My kids have also had fun making these as cards for people, with little notes and surprises inside each pocket. 

    Accordion envelope book


    When kids make fun books such as these, they will likely be excited about their creations and want to use them!!!



Posted in bookmaking, reading crafts, Summer reading, Writing | Leave a comment

Raising Summer Readers Tip #49: Encourage fun and meaningful writing over the summer

Reading and writing go hand-in-hand — developing skills for one will help the other, so kids will benefit if they can find some time for writing. In a few prior posts, I recommended some ways that my kids have done some summer writing (See tips #21 and #27.). In this tip, I want to point readers to literacy expert Trevor Cairney’s blog post entitled “10 Ways to Get Your Children Writing in the Holidays” because many of his ideas overlap with writing activities that I have enjoyed with my kids. To highlight few of our favorites:

  • Quirky journals. 
    writing in science journal

    Ethan writing in his Science Observation Journal

    These are themed journals that are targeted towards children’s specific interests. They are great because they are personal and meaningful, which motivates writing and results in pride and ownership — which further motivates more writing!  The most long-standing “quirky journal” in our family has been my 7 year old’s Science Observation Journal — where he describes science-related activities and experiences. The journal provides a go-to structure for his science writing: for example, when he recently made a radio with his dad, he naturally pulled the journal out to write down the steps, draw a diagram, and hypothesize about what went wrong. And as a budding scientist, it’s fun for him to watch his science journal grow!

  • Fractured fairy tales. 
    books - fractured fairy tales

    The kids love to write their own versions of fairy tales and other well-known stories

    Creating their own versions of well-known fairy tales has been a favorite writing activity among all the kids. The inspiration usually comes from reading the originals as well as the published “fractured” version, which can be found for just about all of the classics (e.g., there are many creative renditions of The Three Little Pigs and The Boy Who Cried Wolf). We’ve had the most fun reading as many versions as possible of The Gingerbread Man and then writing their own. Part of the fun is the family discussions that occur before the writing about the best way to tweak the stories.

  • Stories in a box.
    story prop box example

    A “Story in a Box”

    I love this one because it is so fun and requires some good creative thinking. The basic idea is that kids are presented with a box of 5-6 interesting objects/photos/artifacts, and then they are challenged to write a story using all of the objects. A variation that we’ve found fun is to first send kids on a scavenger hunt to collect interesting items — which can work in the context of a neighborhood walk, at the beach, or even inside your house. Kids each contribute to the box their “most interesting object(s)”, and the collection of objects becomes the story prompt. Stories can be told individually or collaboratively, and orally or in writing. My kids have enjoyed writing their own stories and then sharing and comparing them, noticing how the same set of objects resulted in tremendously different stories. Want to make it even more fun? Give the kids a plain wooden treasure chest to paint first, send them on a scavenger hunt for a single “best treasure” to be put in the treasure chest, and then kids meet to share their treasures that together become the story box.

  • Start a blog. My daughter started a blog last summer and  it resulted in so much writing. It provided a structure for her to write book reviews as well as a real audience to read her reviews — both of which were motivating and generated momentum to keep writing. This summer, my 7- and 8- year olds both got hooked into DOGOBOOKS.COM, an online book review community for kids that allows kids to write for real purposes (to share opinions about books) and for real audiences (other kids who are also interested in books). If your kids haven’t done any writing this summer, perhaps they’d like to check out this website and write reviews for some of their favorite reads from the summer?

The kids’ bar menu!

tracy reading bar menu

Aunt Tracy really using the bar menu that the kids created — making their writing “matter”!

There are so many more ways to inspire kids to write during the summer, including writing to an author, establishing an e-mail pen pal with a friend or relative, and working on a scrapbook with written captions. Another quite easy way to get kids to write over the summer, which just requires a bit of conscious effort on parents’ part, is to nudge kids to incorporate it into their already-existing play. Often just a simple suggestion can result in writing that is purposeful and fun. For example, when the kids and their cousins wanted to serve us at the swim-up bar in our pool in Mexico, a gentle “Well, how do I know what to order without a menu?” led to all 5 kids writing menus with lists of food and beverage items. Or, when the kids want to put on a show, asking for “a program so I know the order of the acts” motivates some quick writing before the show can begin. These simple requests are usually well-received, because they are authentic, enrich the play, and show kids that their writing matters.

I can’t close out this tip without mentioning this. As Cairney mentions in his post, summer writing should be for real and varied purposes, for real audiences, rooted in kids’ own interests and experiences, and fun. I couldn’t agree more with these principles, and they are the basis for all of the writing activities that I recommend for parents as well as the ones that I do with my own kids. However, he says that summer writing should not look like writing in school — implying that school writing is more, well, “school like” — more boring, less real, less fun. If these principles could be applied all of the time to the classroom during the school year, we’d create better, more motivated young writers!

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Raising Summer Readers Tip #48: Combine art and literacy by encouraging kids to make their own storytelling prompts!

In several earlier posts, I discussed the benefits of frequent storytelling — how it nurtures language, imagination, creativity, and the narrative thinking skills required for comprehending and writing good stories (See tip #22#24#28). As was mentioned in these prior tips, storytelling prompts (aka “story starters”) can help lure children into the fun of storytelling as well as inspire the creation of stories with new ideas/characters/plots. An especially fun summer activity is for kids to make their own story starters. Here are a few of my favorite story starter crafts:

  • popsicle stick puppets

    Popsicle stick puppets

    garden glove puppets

    Gardening glove finger puppets

    Puppet making. Kids can make finger and hand puppets out of paper, popsicle sticks, paper bags, socks, old gardening gloves, old wooden spoons, and even peanut shells! 

    old wooden spoon puppets

    Making puppets out of old wooden spoons

  • Story disks. Get some wooden disks from your local arts and crafts store or online (I like American Woodcrafters Supply.) Kids can paint both sides of the disks in various colors. After drying, pictures can be drawn, painted, or stamped onto the disk. Or online images can be printed and glued. As a final touch, apply a coat of Mod Podge to each side. Disks can be placed in a bag, box, or jar and pulled for storytelling.
  • Story stones. Rock painting is such a fun summer craft — painted rocks can be collected, traded with friends, and even help to generate fun stories. Kids can go on purposeful stone searches, though these seem like they are often not successful when you have plans to paint! We’ve had more success by keeping an eye out for stones when out at places where they might be found (such as the beach, lakes and rivers, parks). You can also purchase river rocks at your local arts and crafts store. Acrylic paints work best, and kids should be encouraged to paint a couple of solid coats before painting their designs. There are some great rock painting books for kids with step-by-step instructions that make it quite easy, or you can search Google Images by typing in “rock painting” and any image you want to paint, and a bunch of examples will come up!

    rock painting

    Rock painting/Story stones

  • Story cubes. My kids have enjoyed using Rory’s Story Cubes to tell and write stories (see Tip #24). It can be particularly fun for kids to make their own story cubes. Find small wooden cubes (Arts and crafts stores also has these, as does American Woodcrafters supply and other online shops) — and encourage kids to draw, paint, or stamp images of characters, objects, and places. You can also help your kids decide on categories for each die — such as a characters, places, objects, weather, emotions — so that each die displays only one category. Story cubes lend to fun storytelling games. And, the unique thing about them is that they can lead to so many different combinations…six dice have 36 unique images and 46,656 unique combinations so they provide endless storytelling options!

    story cubes

    Homemade story cubes

  • For more elaborate descriptions of these ideas as well as other great storytelling crafts, check out the fantastic book Show Me a Story: 40 Craft Projects and Activities to Spark Children’s Storytelling by Emily Neuburger!
peanut puppet

Peanut shell finger puppets!

After kids make their story starters, encourage them to use them to tell a story. (See Tip #24 for the story features to help them include). If multiple kids are creating the prompts, it can be fun to tell collaborative stories — for example, everyone puts one stone, cube, or disk in the center and takes turns adding to the story to include each prompt. These also make for great creating writing prompts. And, when paired with a neat journal and set of pens, they can be great gifts or party favors!

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Raising Summer Readers Tips #46 and #47: Before summer ends, visit a library, museum, park, or fair that specifically celebrates reading and children’s books

Tip #46: Take a final (or possibly a first) trip to the library before summer ends! 


Entrance to the children’s area at the Brentwood Library in Tennessee

If you haven’t gone to the library yet, don’t let your kids go all summer without at least one visit! Encourage your kids to check out a stack of books for end of summer reading, and challenge them to get through the stack before they return to school. You might also check out a new library that your kids haven’t been to before — perhaps even search with them online for a local library that looks particularly great for kids (i.e., it has an appealing children’s room or is hosting a fun end-of-summer event such as a puppet show or a book carnival). Take a look at Livability.com’s list of the top 10 libraries for children to see if you’ll be near any of these neat libraries this summer!

Tip #47: Take a family excursion that celebrates children’s literature and reading. 

Bookworm Gardens!

Bookworm Gardens!

A One place that I’ve been wanting to visit with my kids for a long time is Bookworm Gardens, which is a free thematic garden/park that is totally dedicated to children’s literature! Over 60 different books are represented thematically throughout the gardens, with a goal to connect kids to the natural environment, promote environmental science, and celebrate reading and children’s books. If you happen to be near Milwaukee this summer, it looks like it’s worth a trip! Here are some additional kidlit excursions that you might take in the last days of summer:


Posted in Libraries, Places to visit, Summer reading | Leave a comment

Raising Summer Readers Tip #s 42-45: Consider these ways to motivate end-of-summer reading!

Summer is winding down for most American kids; it’s hard to believe that some are going back now, and others have up to a few more weeks at most. While I have enough daily tips left to keep this going until long after Labor Day, I am going to close out this series by consolidating my remaining tips into several posts with multiple tips per post. If you’re looking for a few extra end of summer ideas for encouraging reading and writing, hopefully some of these will appeal to you and your kiddos! While brevity is difficult for me, I will do my best to write abbreviated versions of each tip to try to control the length of these last few posts. If you have any questions on implementation or want elaboration, please comment on the blog and I’ll try to respond.


Dad reading to the kids

Tip #42. Dads — get involved in your kids’ summer reading, especially if you have boys! 

Make an effort to read for pleasure in front of your kids, to read aloud to your kids, to talk about their summer reading, and to take them to the library or bookstore. Data show that dads are significantly less likely than moms to do all of these as well as significantly less likely to do any of these than they are to watch sports with their boys! Fathers who do read with their sons have sons who read more and score higher on reading achievement tests. When dads connect with their boys over reading, the impact can be tremendous.

Tip #43. Motivate summer reading by celebrating reading in a special way.

Three ideas include:
1. Have a “stay in our PJs and read” day/morning.
2. Announce that the family is going to a “mystery reading destination”. “Grab your bags, we’re going somewhere to read”. Pick somewhere that will excite the kids, grab book bags and books, and go! I’ve even heard of one family who does this one morning every week of summer, and the kids eagerly anticipate each new mystery destination.
3. Host a read-a-thon. Let the kids invite a few friends who all bring books, set a reading goal (i.e., read for an hour), and start reading. When the time is over, everyone shares what they read while enjoying a treat. Add a twist by collecting donations for pages or minutes read and giving the proceeds to a local charity.

Tip #44: Take advantage of your remaining homework-free evenings and involve your kids in some of the mealtime cooking (and of course, tie in some reading as well).
SLJ1406w FT FO Elementary Eat, Play, Learn: Food Related Materials to Sink Your Teeth Into | Focus OnGive kids guidelines and let them search for (online or in recipe books) and select the specific recipes to use. Read the recipe aloud, and follow the instructions together. If you can, take the time to let the experience build relevant math skills as well as vocabulary (even looking up words for unknown ingredients and tools). Click here for School Library Journal’s terrific list of cooking books made specifically for kids. 

making flashlight2

Reading together about how to make a flashlight, and doing it!

Tip #45: Inspire kids (especially reluctant readers) to read so that they can accomplish an activity or task that interests them. 
Sometimes it can be difficult to get kids to read  for the sake of reading. However, when reading is required in order to do something fun, interesting, or meaningful, kids are more likely to embrace it without question. Using their interests as a guide, talk with your kids about things they would like to build, create, make, test, or play. Then, look for nonfiction “how-to” books (public libraries usually have a ton) that can be read aloud together or independently and used as a guide for achieving their goals. Examples include craft books, books of magic tricks, science experiment books, books about how to build different types of things, cookbooks, and even step-based books for playing computer games or apps such as the Minecraft handbooks (e.g., Minecraft: Essential Handbook: An Official Mojang Book is the first one in a set of four). One great series that my kids have enjoyed is the Hands-On Science Fun books, which are great how-to science books for preschool through first graders. Titles include How to Make a Liquid Rainbow (Lori Shores), How to Make a Bouncing Egg (Jennifer Marks), How to Make Slime (Lori Shores), How to Build a Fizzy Rocket (Lori Shores), and How to Make a Mystery Smell Balloon (Lori Shores). Another set of books that my son has had fun with is the Build It Yourself  books by Tammy Enz, which include Build Your Own Periscope, Flashlight, and Other Useful StuffBuild Your Own Car, Rocket, and Other Things that GoBuild Your Own Fort, Igloo, and Other Hangoutsand Build Your Own Mini Golf Course, Lemonade Stand, and Other Things to Do. Doesn’t reading sound purposeful with titles like these? 

Posted in Boys and reading, Informational/nonfiction picture books, Summer reading | 1 Comment

Raising Summer Readers Tip #41 and “Picture Book 10 for 10”: Read wordless picture books with your kids this summer!

The purpose of this post is two-fold: (1) to advise parents to get their hands on some wordless picture books as part of their summer reading with their kids, and (2) to participate in teachers Mandy (Enjoy and Embrace Learning) and Cathy’s (Reflect & Refline) 5th annual “Picture Book 10 for 10” event. This event asks educators, teachers, media specialists, parents, and picture book lovers to compile and post (on August 10) their own list of top 10 picture books that “you cannot live without for whatever reason”. Each of these posts are then compiled into a virtual picture book resource on Jog the Web. I am excited to be participating in this for the 2nd time!

Wordless picture books hold a very special place in my heart, partly because they were the focus of much of my research and publications back when I was teaching. And partly because my own kids have enjoyed them so greatly. They are typically thought of as for preschoolers and kids who can’t yet read, and I don’t believe they receive nearly the attention they deserve by teachers or parents. Good wordless picture books can be entertaining and valuable for a much wider range of kids, emerging and proficient readers, and English and limited-English speakers! They are fun to read, and they can be used to nurture storytelling skills, build the comprehension skills that are needed for reading comprehension, and nurture narrative writing skills.

It’s difficult for me to provide a list of only 10 favorite wordless picture books — so this is my best attempt for now. The titles that I included on this list are my favorites specifically for nurturing the narrative skills required for telling, reading, and writing good stories. That means that I selected only wordless books that have an actual narrative structure with a problem and solution — not just a sequence of events (which define many beautiful wordless picture books but won’t help to build the narrative skills needed for story comprehension). The books I chose also show clear enough sequences that allow preschool and elementary-aged kids to create a coherent storyline. And, they all  have rich content with important themes/messages that can inspire some good discussion.

Here is my list of favorite wordless picture books:

61GBXNwFWdL._AA160_1 .A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog (Mercer Mayer). This is the first book in a fabulous set of 6.


31NkLPEgaiL._SP160,160,0,T_2.Bluebird (Bob Staake)


41Ey9bF78sL._SP160,160,0,T_3. Flood (Alvaro Villa)


512cwKUfX0L._AA160_4. Fossil (Bill Thompson). Equally great is its predecessor Chalk.


51E6d4tYAkL._AA160_5. Hank Finds an Egg (Rebecca Dudley)


51vpzgChkNL._AA160_6.Here I Am (Patti Kim)


Unknown-17. Journey (Aaron Becker) I can’t wait for the release of its sequel later this month, Quest!


51T17JCLL1L._AA160_8.Pancakes for Breakfast (Tomie DePaola)



51VqLm-H9AL._AA160_9.The Chicken Thief  (Beatrice Rodriguez). Don’t miss the two sequels — Fox and Hen Together and Rooster’s Revenge.


51GXB3V4WYL._AA160_10.The Flower Man (Mark Ludy)



Unknown-111. The Girl and the Bicycle (Mark Pett). Almost equally wonderful by the same author is The Boy and the Airplane.


51bwlhjHKtL._AA160_12.Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad (Henry Cole)


OK, I couldn’t eliminate any of these so I guess I have 12. There are so many ways for parents and teachers to use these with their kids to support literacy development, which I plan to address in depth in my blog at a later date. For now, here are a few quick general ways to use wordless picture books:

– Model for your kids how to “read” the story across the pages, even though there are no words (connecting the pages with story language)

– Encourage your kids to “read” the story aloud. For younger kids, help them to create a coherent, connected story rather than simply labeling or describing individual pages.

– Ask your kids questions as you “read” the books, such as “What is the problem in this story?”; “What do you predict will happen next?”; and “How do you think the character is feeling right now?” — the same questions that you would ask while reading aloud a book with text.

– After reading, elicit a retelling of the story: “Can you tell me the story in your own words, from beginning to end?”

– Encourage kids to actually write their own words for the story — to write the text that goes with the pictures. They can dictate for a parent or teacher, or they can write the words themselves. Words can be written on sentence strips that are gently taped to each page, or they can be written directly on a photocopied version of the book.

“Reading” and comprehending wordless picture books actually requires many of the same skills that are required for comprehending stories with words. They demand good thinking. And kids can feel a sense of ownership when they are in charge of constructing the specific text to go with the pictures (choosing words, dialogue, etc). As far as I’m concerned, they should be a given in all home and classroom libraries!

Posted in Summer reading | 6 Comments