Maeve Visser Knoth: 01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Recommendations for a 2nd Grader who needs a nudge

I had such a good time meeting with Leon yesterday. Below are some of my thoughts about his reading, and some specific author and title suggestions.

Leon and I talked about fiction and non-fiction choices. He much prefers reading non-fiction and was interested most in fiction if I found him something with a historical context. For example, he was not interested in reading Lionel in the Spring by Stephen Krensky but was very interested in Sam the Minuteman by Benchley. The books are at about the same level but the first book did not seem worth the effort to him. I would suggest that he read a lot of books that are on level or a little bit easy for him. For the next several months if he works hard to read a lot- quantity over "challenging material"- he will really strengthen his skills.

I asked Leon to read aloud to me from several different books. He seemed pleased when I told him that he has good "word attack skills". He asked what that meant and I told him that I noticed that he broke long words into parts and figured out each part before putting them together. I am also delighted that his family is reading aloud Eragon and that he receives "Ranger Rick" in the mail. Both of these are so appropriate for him right now. He needs to hear stories that are much more complex than he can read himself. He may want to read a history magazine as well as "Ranger Rick". I would recommend either "Appleseeds" or "Ask" magazines, both published by Carus. His family can check these out in the library.

I suggested that Leon read aloud to his mom when she makes dinner. This is often a terrific time to practice skills because the parent can't look over the child's shoulder and correct the child or jump in with a word while the child is still working. Also, the child can have his mom's attention without cutting into bedtime reading. I really want his family to consider the read-aloud time "sacred" and to add new times for Leon to read to them. Maybe he wants to read aloud while they drive here and there? Borrow joke and simple poetry books from the library for this reading aloud. Leon can regale his parents with jokes and silly poems for the next several months.

Jokes and poetry:

Snakey Riddles and the rest of the books in this Dial-easy-to-read joke series
I Saw You in the Bathtub by Alvin Schwartz (Schwartz has other very appealing easy-to-read books)
Any books by Douglas Florian
New Kid on the Block by Jack Prelutsky
Ready, Set Read and Laugh compiled by J. Cole

All of these books will be easy for Leon and that will be great for his sense of accomplishment and fluency.

Other books I recommend:

The "Inside and Outside..." series by Sandra Markle (Leon got so interested in Inside and Outside Snakes that he wanted to stop talking and read.)
Candlewick Press has a series called Read and Wonder that includes Fly Trap! Plants that Bite Back and A Piece of String is a Wonderful Thing
Everything by Gail Gibbons and much by Bruce McMillan
Sponges are Skeletons by Esbensen
Our Wet World by Sneed Collard III
Books by Steve Jenkins

Some fiction:
The Cat Who Got Carried Away by Alan Ahlberg This is just on the top edge of what Leon is comfortable with.
Lady Lollipop by Dick King-Smith
McBroom's Ghost by Sid Fleischman
books by Nathaniel Benchley (easy reading books with hisorical settings)

When you reserve books at the San Mateo County Library web site, you can place holds from home or any computer. If you place a hold for a children's book using a childs library card, the reserve will be free. The computer will still tell you that there is a 75 cent charge on each book, but when you go pick up the books, anyone working at the front desk will waive all the reserve fees. You can sit at home and reserve 15 Gail Gibbons books and go to the library a week later and pick them up.

Let me know how things go with these suggestions. I have more ideas when you have used up all of these.

Good luck,

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Christmas Stories for Ministers

Okay, that is a funny title. Ministers already have a Christmas story, don't they? They have the big one, the Christmas Story that gives us Christmas. Yes, that is true. But now and again I get asked for suggestions of additional stories, stories that might work in a church or a Sunday School to bring help children, and adults in a congregation think about Christmas in a new way.

So, now well into January, I would like to suggest some stories that might work next year. These are great family read-alouds and all suitable for a wide age range.

Cynthia Rylant's Children of Christmas is a lovely collection of six short stories that work well read aloud. Rylant wears her heart on her sleeve in all her writing. You know just where she stands and where her emotions lie. These stories are gentle and sensitive without becoming maudlin.

Two poetry books stand out for me. The Beasts of Bethlehem by X. J. Kennedy is a collection of poems in which the author imagines what nineteen animals might have said if they really could speak on the night Jesus was born.

At Christmastime by Valerie Worth has poems about all different aspects of the season- the tree lot, wreaths, the creche, the Wise Men, and Santa Claus. The poems are quite simple but very wise.

A Certain Small Shepard by Rebecca Caudill, is a novella (maybe really a short story) published as a book with illustrations by William Pene du Bois. Jamie, a boy who has been mute since birth, wishes that he could sing in the annual Christmas pageant. This is a miracle story in its own right.

I am generally much more tolerant of sentimentality in Christmas stories than I am any other time of the year. Still, I want the emotions to ring true and I want the story to be more than just sentiment. When it comes to Christmas stories, Katherine Paterson is the writer for me. Paterson has published two collections of Christmas stories for families. Both collections are made up of stories she wrote to be read at the church where her husband was minister. Of course this makes them eminently suitable for ministers and Sunday School teachers looking for new ways to talk about miracles, love, sacrifice and humanity. Angels and Other Strangers: Family Christmas Stories was first published in 1979 and A Midnight Clear: Stories for the Christmas Season was published in 1995. Both are full of stories that will leave adults and children thinking a bit more deeply about the Christmas season.

Tuck this list away for most of the year, but when you need something new to read aloud come December, try one of these titles.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Chapter Books- Are you ready for something longer than Dr. Seuss?

What is a chapter book? Lots of books have chapters of course so this is a designation that makes little sense to parents. Most often, children and their teachers refer to a book as a chapter book if it is a short novel, a book that suits many 2nd and 3rd graders. Of course 2nd and 3rd graders are themselves as diverse as the 'chapter books" that they like to read. I would not call HENRY AND MUDGE a chapter book even though the book is divided into several short chapters. The following list is of books that might appeal to young readers, children who are accomplished enough to face books that don't have art on every page. Children who can keep track of a story that continues thorugh several chpaters. Some of the books on this list will also appeal to older children (For example, THE HUNDRED DRESSES deals with such universal and important themes that I would happily share it with 6th graders if they had not already read the book!)

Mr Popper’s Penguins by Atwater
The Search For Delicious by Babbitt
Twenty and Ten by Bishop
A Lion to Guard Us by Bulla
The Adventures of Jimmy Skunk by Burgess
Katie John by Calhoun
Julia’s Magic by Cameron
The Stories Julian Tells by Cameron
The Family Under the Bridge by Carlson
Ramona the Pest by Cleary
Muggie Maggie by Cleary
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Coerr
A Case For Jenny Archer by Conford
No Dogs Allowed by Cutler
The Courage of Sarah Noble by Dagliesh
Amber Brown is Not a Crayon by Danziger
Thee, Hannah by DeAngeli
The Twenty-One Balloons by DuBois
Half Magic by Eager
The Hundred Dresses by Estes
Understood Betsy by Fisher
McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm by Fleishman
My Father’s Dragon by Gannett
Stone Fox by Gardiner
The Doll’s House by Godden
Love You, Soldier by Hest
Sophie’s Snail by King-Smith
Rasmus and the Vagabond by Lindgren
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Lord
Mrs Piggywiggle by MacDonald
Sarah Plain and Tall by MacLachlan
Seven Kisses in a Row by MacLachlan
Rats on the Roof by Marshall
Grandmother Bryant’s Pocket by Martin
Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe by Patron
The Littles by Peterson
Fat Fanny, Beanpole Bertha and the Boys by Porte
The Best School Year Ever by Robinson
Ahyoka and the Talking Leaves by Roop
Keep the Lights Burning Abbie by Roop
A Cricket in Times Square by Selden
The Song of the Giraffe by Shannon
The Real Thief by Steig
Go Fish by Stolz
Gemma and Her Sisters by Streatfield
All-of-a-Kind Family by Taylor
Hugh Pine by Van de Wetering
Stuart Little by White
Little House in the Bog Woods by Wilder
Scooter by Williams

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Leisure Reading over the school holidays

The children and I have had two weeks off from school and work and with so much time to lounge around, we have done a lot of reading. So, what is lying around out living room floor?

Our eleven-year-old has been reading a pretty wide range of stuff this past week. He re-read Christopher Paolini's ERAGON since he went to see the new movie with a friend. His assessment of the movie was that it "should have been about six hours longer" to fit in everything from the book. He read an Anthony Horowitz thriller- PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER TWO and a Chet Gecko mystery by Burce Hale, THE CHAMELEON WORE CHARTREUSE. He received the book and CD MOUTHSOUNDS: HOW TO WHISTLE, POP, BOING, AND HONK FOR ALL OCCASSIONS AND THEN SOME by Fred Newman as a Christmas gift and reads sections of that as he practices his new skills. As I type, he is reading THE ANYBODIES by N. E. Bode. He received a beautiful edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's TREASURE ISLAND as a gift and is in the middle of that now. He said, after reading the first hundred pages, "I think this might be my new favorite book."

Both he and his eight-year-old sister have read NICHOLAS AGAIN and NICHOLAS ON VACATION by Goscinny and Sempe. These new American editions of books first published in France in the 1950's feature a winsome little boy who gets into one scrape after another. The books are more collections of short stories than true novels. Each episode is illustrated with Sempe's (known for his Asterix comics)lively and very funny cartoon sketches. The stories definitely reflect an earlier time period- parents and teachers dish our punishments that are unpopular, and sometimes illegal today. Still, the stories are very funny, the children delightfully exaggerated and it is fun to read about children who do the daring things that I would never have the nerve to do. I read the first book about Nicholas aloud to the children and they moved on to the others.

Our eight-year-old daughter has been re-reading the Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She owns the entire series and has read each volume probably eight times already. She finds them exciting and comforting. Most of all she loves the details of everyday life. This vacation she has read at least five of the Little House books. She has also read ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L.M. Montgomery. She first read it this past summer in a paperback edition and the small dense print and old-fashioned language gave her a bit of a struggle. Still she got through the book and laughed aloud when she read about Anne dying her hair green. For Christmas, she received a large hardcover edition and the easier format, and of course her familiarity with the story meant that she could get through the novel in just two days. She also read THE GREAT PIRATICAL RUMBUSTIFICATION & THE LIBRARIAN AND THE ROBBERS by Margaret Mahy. These two stories are very funny and very absurd. She picked up this book because we had been reading a different Margaret Mahy novel aloud.

As a family, these past two weeks we have been reading THE PIRATE'S MIXED-UP VOYAGE by Margaret Mahy and ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL by James Herriot. The Margaret Mahy makes a great read-aloud since she constantly plays with language. For example, towards the end of the story the beautiful police detective declares "I have had tremendous triumphs solving mysteries and bring malefactors to justice, so that I have become renowned and recognized everywhere." (p. 177). I love wrapping my tongue around Mahy's sentences. Margaret Mahy writes a crazy, convoluted plot that many a lesser author would lose track of. It is not easy to write a convincing story about pirates, encyclopedia salesmen, a rent-a-librarian service, and stubborn orphans. Somehow Mahy keeps us right with her as she unfolds her fantasy.

I must admit that we started reading aloud ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL by James Herriot long before the winter holidays. These stories, not written for children, work for family reading if the youngest listeners have some experience with and patience for listening to complex language. Herriot's writing is full of British expressions (no surprise since he was a vet in Yorkshire) and medical terminology. Sitll, the storie about delivering calves shile lying on the floor of a stone barn as snowflakes fall on his gbare back, are colorful and engaging. We have not finished the book yet (we don't get to it every night) but the chapters are episodic enough that we can dabble in the book without losing track of the plot.

What have you been reading over the holidays?