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!

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Raising Summer Readers Tip #40: Use comics and graphic novels as inspiration for some fun summer writing!

Ethan and his cousin collaborating to write a comic book, using a Barebooks.com blank comic book

Ethan and his cousin collaborating to write a comic book, using a Barebooks.com blank comic book

Graphic novels can be a powerful motivator of summer reading, which can be especially helpful for boys and reluctant readers. In Tip #39, I mentioned that the best graphic novels demand many of the same skills that are needed to understand traditional works of prose fiction, so reading them has not just affective but also cognitive benefits for kids. Comics and graphic novels are also a great way to inspire summer writing and creativity, especially for kids who already love to read them. Writing in comic-style can be especially enticing for reluctant writers or kids who prefer drawing to writing, because this form is less text heavy and writing with dialogue bubbles tends to be perceived as less daunting and more fun.

There are so many ways that kids can write stories in graphic/comic book style. They can write their own original graphic story, or they can use specific comics/graphic novels as a springboard for their own writing. For example, kids can write their own “different” ending or add another chapter or prequel chapter.  They can be encouraged to add a twist to the middle of the story in order to embellish the plot, or they can change the text in the dialogue bubbles. They can even take a favorite picture book, chapter book, poem, play, or even song lyrics and re-write it as a graphic story! Since many of these forms tend to be text-heavy and lacking visual elements, interpreting them into a visual form requires lots of imagination.

To gear up for writing, talk together about the features specific to comics as well as those shared with prose. Through discussion, make the special features of comics explicit so that your child can easily identify and use them in his/her own comics writing. Here are some features of comic-style stories to guide your child towards including them in his/her own writing:

  • use of a specific genre, which can be the range of genres used for prose, such as mystery, realistic fiction, western, science fiction, superhero, and comedy.
  • a beginning, a middle, and an ending
  • a vivid setting and a main character or group of characters
  • a central problem or conflict, and a resolution to the problem
  • character goals, feelings, and thoughts throughout the story
  • a central theme or message
  • characters drawn so that they look very different from each other (so they are easy for readers to distinguish), with the look of the character matching the personality.
  • drawings of characters have exaggerated body language and facial expressions.
  • Use of a comic strip layout, with panels, pictures for each panel, captions/dialogue, and word bubbles with “tails” that point to the appropriate character doing the talking.
  • Word bubbles are in one of two forms: speech bubbles that show what characters are saying (smooth and curved, such as an oval) or thinking bubbles that show what characters are thinking (wavy, shaped like a cloud)
  • the form of the text might communicate meaning as well — words or letters might shrink from left to right to show that speaking is getting quieter, or increasing volume might be conveyed with letters that get larger in size or that are capitalized or put in bold.

Of course, kids can draw their own panels as needed for their story, though templates with already-existing frames can provide some minimal assistance that gets them started. http://www.Barebooks.com provides eight-page blank “books” for writing authentic books in graphic style. Or, you can find free printable comic strip templates online, such as at http://donnayoung.org/art/comics.htm,  which has many formats from which to chose and print. There are also many online comic creators with varying levels of complexity and some with specific themes. A few to check out include:

After your child completes his/her comic style story, encourage it to be shared with others, read it aloud, and add it to the home library for later reading. And maybe inspire even more summer writing by expressing your eagerness for a sequel!

Posted in Boys and reading, graphic novels, Summer reading, Writing | Leave a comment

Raising Summer Readers Tip #39: Consider motivating summer reading with some great graphic novels!

imagesDuring the school year, comics and graphic novels (stories written in comic style) are often discouraged by teachers as well as parents, deemed as not being quality literature worthy of taking up space in kids’ reading diets. This is unfortunate, because comics and graphic novels:

  • are written and read for the pure ‘fun’ factor, so they have the potential to instill an approach to reading for pleasure that eventually gets internalized and applied to other types of texts
  • are often a hook specifically for reluctant readers and boys that leads to broader and lifelong reading, without which may not have ever occurred.
  • actually require complex thinking and visual literacy skills for good comprehension. They also contain the same story elements and literary devices as narrative stories (such as characters and settings, central conflicts, themes, and points of view), so readers must apply many of the same strategies as they do for stories, such as making inferences about character thoughts and emotions, predicting, and identifying key plot elements and events. Many also contain complex plots and narrative structures, often with vocabularies more advanced than traditional books — so they can be satisfying and beneficial for advanced and avid readers as well!

These positives of graphic novels are often overlooked, which can result in a missed opportunity for kids to reap the cognitive and motivational benefits of this type of text. This is especially true for the summer, where graphic novels might potentially be the hook to a summer of reading that otherwise might not occur. And, a summer of reading comics might be a bridge to subsequent summers of eager, more varied reading experiences.

I have not yet read many graphic novels myself, so I cannot provide my own recommendations for this category of kidlit. (Though, per my daughter’s urging, I have read and greatly enjoyed Telgemeier’s middle grade graphic novel Smile and her more teen oriented Drama, and am looking forward to the late August release of Sisters, a follow-up to Smile.) There are some fantastic lists out there recommending graphic novels for kids. Here are my four favorite resources:

  1. The list of nominees and winners of the 2014 Eisner Comic Industry Awards — announced at the end of July and often referred to as the Comic Industry’s equivalent of the Oscar Awards. There are early reader, kids, and teen categories. Click here to check it out: http://www.comic-con.org/awards/will-eisner-comic-industry-award-nominees-2014)
  2. The American Library Association’s comprehensive list of the best currently available graphic novels, broken up into grade-level categories: http://www.ala.org/alsc/graphicnovels2013
  3. Check out the School Library Journal website at www.slj.com and search for “graphic novels”, which will turn up many articles and lists of graphic novels based on specific themes.
  4. Author James Patterson’s terrific list of recommended graphic novels for summer reading, at http://readkiddoread.com/uploads/graphic.php


Posted in Boys and reading, graphic novels, Summer reading | Leave a comment

Raising Summer Readers Tip#38: Parents of boys, pay special attention to your boys’ reading this summer, and provide additional support as necessary

IMG_5803Data show that by 4th grade, boys are a couple of years behind girls in both their reading and their writing skills. One significant factor contributing to the boy/girl achievement gap in reading is that boys tend to (a) read less over the summer and (b) experience greater summer learning loss. In some subsequent posts, I will provide some of my own ideas that specifically target boys. For starters, check out this important article by literacy expert Trevor Cairney — Getting Boys Excited about Reading (http://trevorcairney.blogspot.mx/2014/07/getting-boys-excited-about-reading.html). It is not specific to summer reading, yet I think it has particular relevance for summer, when boys are out of school and are less likely to read. There’s also a great list of literature for boys at the bottom, as well as some good reference books that target boys and reading. Check it out if you have a boy who isn’t reading much this summer!

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Raising Summer Readers Tip#37: When in transit to your destination this summer, establish some no technology time…


Our 5 kiddos waiting for the plane to board…we’re more likely to catch our kids “reading in the wild” if technology is limited at “edge” (transitional) times!

… and you just might find your kiddos reading without reminders or pleas!

Getting kids to choose reading during the summer can be a challenge when there are so many competing options. If summer reading has been a difficult sell, take advantage of the captive audience that being in transit from one destination to the next offers. If you can limit technology during these times for at least a part of it, kids might decide that reading is a not-so-bad way to occupy themselves! This also holds for other “edge” times when kids are in transition between activities — such as while waiting in line at the bank or in a doctor’s waiting room. Stop letting your kids expect that you’ll hand them that handheld device all the time, and nudge them to actually come to view edge times as an opportunity to read!

As parents, I think we all struggle to some extent with the amount of screen time to allow our kids. The problem is not in the technology itself, but in the other valuable experiences that screen time often limits or even prevents. Unfortunately, reading tops the list, and technology is one of the key culprits underlying our increasingly growing nation of “schooltime-only” readers.

Remember, reading can only be the activity of choice if kids have easy access to books during these transitional times. Often, that requires some forethought on the part of the parents…if they don’t tend to do it on their own, be sure to grab their book when such times might be available to them! Also, reading is contagious. As did in this photo, sometimes it only takes one kid choosing to read to end up with it rippling to the whole group !

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