Tuesday, December 22, 2009
And it's something parents could do, too.
I just asked my son and his friend if they've finished their homework (it's just two days into the winter break). They both said yes. Even though there was a lot of reading involved, and some math. Here's why.
It's a detective story. It covers about three pages (yours could be shorter), and leads the reader through several interesting "logic puzzles."
Here's a sample plot:
A detective receives a note.
The note says there's going to be a bank robbery.
The reader (child) has to figure out when the robbery is going to take place, at which bank, and who the culprit is.
The clues, and the steps to solve them, are in the story.
For instance, the note can say, "A robbery is going to take place at 1 2-1-14-11 9-14 20-15-18-15-14-20-15."
Detective Bill thought, "I can figure out the blanks by substituting letters for each number. For instance, "A" is "1"."
So now, the message says: "A robbery is going to take place at A BANK IN TORONTO."
Then the detective had to figure out which bank.
He got a list of banks like this:
Bank of Montreal, 24 Quebec St., 431-1435
Royal Bank, 91 Queen St., 987-1243
TD Bank, 43 Canada St., 332-1322
The note told the detective the robbery would be at bank #428.
The detective decides to use a formula for figuring out which one was #428. (Something like, add all of the numbers in each phone number and multiply them by the street number).
You get the idea.
The last clue was about whodunnit.
The note was signed, "Raymo."
The reader had to rearrange the letters to figure out that the culprit was the city's "Mayor."
Kids will get excited about reading and math when the story is about them, and lets them figure things out. Your story could be about a detective who has to solve a mystery surrounding a baseball team. Or with Hannah Montanna. Or in a dinosaur museum. Or a video game parlour. Or whatever your kid's into.
Use your child's name in the story, the names of siblings, pets, her school - whatever will catch her eye as she's reading. She'll love it!
So right now you're surfing the net. You're reading this blog (way to go, you rock, incidentally). But obviously you've got a few minutes before the boss comes back. So use this time to write a quick story. Steal liberally from my ideas, above (after all, I stole them from my son's teacher, a-hem). Don't even worry about including a "mystery" if you want - just make it a story. Don't worry if it's simple, if it's not as good as Robert Munsch would do. Your kid will love it - and she'll be reading.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
He has an equally diminuitive and bratty cousin Sigismund, with whom he feuds, and there are some adult handlers who keep the mayhem from getting too out of control.
Even better than the plots - which are silly enough for any kid - are the gorgeous illustrations. They're simple and clean, in the best French tradition (think Asterix), and rendered in beautiful, rich colours.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Our family recently travelled to Ottawa. Early one morning, we broke out a game we'd brought called Scrabble Apple.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Children of all ages are motivated to read a book about their favourite subject - themselves.
*Buy a small scrapbook with stiff pages. (Craft stores have them. You can also use a photo album.)
*Select five to 20 photos of the child, her favourite activities, family and friends, and events from the year. I usually print them out on one of those machines in Shopper's Drug Store - they're just $.23 per print, or so and I don't have to wait.
*Put them in some kind of logical order.
*Tape them into the book.
It's best to type the text for the book on your computer, print it out, and cut it into lines that you can paste below each photo. Use a simple font like Times New Roman (don't get fancy - the goal is legibility.)
For really young children, print one or two words in a large font under each picture:
For slightly older children, try one-liners:
"Sebastian turned 4 this year!"
"Sebastian loves to play hockey."
"Daddy and Sebastian at the museum."
For kids who are reading, try writing your own short story.
Each page can have a few lines or a paragraph, with pictures on some pages. Reflect on the year, and write about some of the highlights:
"Our trip to Hawaii was incredible. Dad got seasick on the boat, and Mom lost her wedding ring - but she found it again! I couldn't wait to try Mahi-Mahi - it was delicious."
Another idea is a book that shares some of your insights about your child.
"Daddy and I love you, and we are so proud of you for always trying to do the right thing. Remember when Bradley at school was getting bothered by that boy? We were so proud when you stepped in and stood up for your friend. That took courage!"
Or, help your child keep track of milestones.
"I am a good hockey player. Just two years ago, I was barely skating... now I'm a fast skater and I can do a hockey-stop. I played in goal twice this year; I've scored six goals and gotten a whole bunch of assists. The coach says I'm a good team player. Next year, I want to join the Select team."
In your captions, try to go beyond what's obvious in the picture: "At the beach," could be "This is where we found the big orange conch shell."
Write from the child's perspective, "I, I'm" and the book will be more interesting to them.
Include the names of your child's friends. Wouldn't you love a record of names and photos of your friends from when you were really young? Do it for your child.
Cut some of your photos into shapes if they don't fit on the page.
Pick a great photo for the front of the album, and don't forget to date your book.
A book about your child will be something that fascinates him, and makes him want to read every word. He'll pick it up again and again - and for years to come.
The book in the picture is one that I started for my son this time last Christmas, but never finished. I picked it up, blew off the dust (literally) and flipped through it. I teared up - you forget how fast they grow, and how small they were last year! I'm going add the captions and a photo on the front and give it to him this year.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Kids get frustrated because they can think up story ideas faster than they can write them. Unfortunately, they may give up on writing stories, or end up writing one- or two-line stories because their hands get sore or tired.
The principal at our school had a great idea. If our son could learn to type, he'd be allowed to use the computer in the school (at appropriate times) to write stories.
This is also a good idea for kids who are into computers (and video games) but who aren't yet interested in creating stories. It hooks them on a different level - they get to use the computer.
I searched all over and tried various "fun" software applications, until a teacher told me about "Dance Mat Typing," a learn-to-type program created by the BBC.
It's a bit silly, a bit loud, a bit nerdy - and kids love it. And it worked for my son.
The reason I like it, is that within a few times of using it my son is typing using the home row, and without looking at his fingers. In others words, he's doing "real" typing.
Some of those "game" typing software programs can be fun, but the kids end up hunting and pecking, which isn't what you ultimately want.
When my son wants to play a computer game, but it's during one of his "non-video-game" times - for instance, mid-week - I let him do Dance Mat Typing. He enjoys it, and he's using the computer for something fun and educational.
I realize that of course, kids have to learn to write. This isn't taking anything away from that. But typing is going to be one of those skills that will be necessary in the business world our kids will one day enter. I think it'll separate the cans from the can-nots. (OK, that sounds like a recycling program, separating the cans. But you know what I mean.)
Friday, November 27, 2009
OK, here are some final highlights from the Leonard Sax seminar:
1) Many more girls than boys graduate from university. This is true for Canada, the UK, and the US. Sax says boys have given up on school and on marks - they been given the unintentional message that "school is for girls." His theory is that boys have been marked according to girl-based systems. When boys get low marks because they haven't put enough colour in a drawing, or because the drawing is violent, they give up; they figure they just can't do it. Then they say, "school is for girls."
2) The same applies to reading. When they're faced with a book like Jane Eyre, which doesn't immediately appeal to the "boy brain" they say, "reading is for girls."
3) And writing: When a boy writes a story that contains action (and/or violence) and limited character development, they get marked down for it. So they say, "Writing is for girls."
4) It's our job - as parents and educators - to find a way to make boys find reading, writing and studying relevant to them. Sax says, "want to hear the story your boy wants to tell." They want to tell a story that has action, excitement, car crashes! Why do we insist they tell stories the "girl way"?
5) The top three factors at age 15 that determine who will graduate:
-grades at age 15
Gender in ability isn't a factor! So boys can do it - they've just become demotivated to do it. (See 1-3, above.) They think that "school is for girls."
6) This isn't to say that girls don't have problems. They do. They're more likely to have an eating disorder, be clinically anxious or depressed and become moody.
7) Boys understand boundaries. Instead of saying, "no throwing snowballs," make some boundaries. "Snowball throwing within this area only." Boys get "inbounds vs. out-of-bounds." And they're good with it.
8) Boys like action and that includes violence. Give them boundaries, says Sax. "generic and classic violence (wars, car crashes) is allowed; personal/threatening (specific to a person) violence is not allowed."
9) 40-year-old men and women can sit still for the same amount of time. But a six-year-old girl can sit still and pay attention about twice as long as the average six-year-old boy.
10) There are boy-oriented teachers, and girl-oriented teachers. Sax says very few teachers are both - nearly all teachers prefer to teach one gender over the other. And it has nothing to do with the gender of the teacher.
11) Boys learn better when they're standing. It's been researched. (At our school, one grade-six teacher offers exercise balls rather than chairs if kids want to use them. Great idea.)
12) When girls have a personal bond with a teacher, they'll work harder for them, so as not to disappoint them.
13) Girls' eyes and brains process colour and texture earlier than boys. Boys' brains process movement. It explains why girls use 10+ crayons in drawings, while boys use one or two. It explains why boys' drawings have scribbles (it's hard to draw action!) and car crashes. It explains why girls like dolls and boys like trucks.
I talked to my son about colour. Without prompting, he said, "Mom, when I draw at home I use one colour. But if I'm at school and I want to get a good mark, I use lots of colours." That could have come right from Sax's lecture. Boys prefer to use one colour, but are graded on using many colours. (Having said that, my son's teachers are awesome - and very empathetic to boys, so I'm definitely not dissing anyone here. But he definitely has gotten the message that more colour is better.)
Thursday, November 26, 2009
It's not that boys' brains develop more slowly than girls' brains, according to Leonard Sax. "It's more nuanced than that."
Researchers have found that:
* the areas of the brain involved in language and fine motor skills mature about six years earlier in girls than in boys;
* the areas of the brain involved in targetting and spatial memory mature about four years earlier in boys than in girls.
Boys mature faster in some areas than girls (for instance, at age two, a boy is likely to be able to build a bridge out of blocks more easily than a two-year-old girl).
And girls mature faster in some areas than boys (3.5-year-old girls may be able to interpret facial expressions than boys who are five years old).
The bottom line - rather than getting frustrated that your son is "being lazy" or "not trying hard enough," it may simply be that his brain just isn't ready for that particular skill.
And in that case, it's more helpful to focus on what he is doing well, and help him work on those areas.
In reading, it's often best to take a step back - and breathe. If he has a parent who cares enough to be reading a blog like this, then chances are he'll be fine. Scatter books around the house. Read to him every day. Let him see you reading. These are the single most important elements that help to build a great reader.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
This was Leonard Sax’s counter-intuitive (and possibly brilliant) suggestion to English teachers who want boys to enjoy great literature.
Boys’ and girls’ brains process information differently. Girls process emotional information throughout their cerebral cortex, where language and analysis are also processed.
So girls take in emotional scenes and can talk about them, analyse the characters, and empathise easily. The boy's brain is more attracted to action.
And if there’s nothing “happening” in a book, boys’ brains aren’t going to find it engaging. So Dr. Sax says, skip right to the action. In Jane Eyre, that’s page 233, when Mason is having his shoulder bandaged – for teeth marks that have punctured his skin.
The boys will be instantly hooked by the action and the mystery. Ask them, “why would someone bite a person, rather than use a knife, which would be more efficient?”
“Maybe the person didn’t have a knife!” one boy will offer. “Maybe the person was crazy!” another might say.
A-ha… now you have them. And now you can take them back to the beginning of the novel, looking for signs of the crazy person who, you know, bites Mason on page 233. Now the boy is engaged in the action of Jane Eyre, rather than having been turned off during the actionless opening scenes.
Monday, November 23, 2009
People who read a lot will come across uncommon words that aren’t normally used in conversation. So they won’t know their correct pronunciation—just the one that’s in their head.
The other day my son said, “Tan-za-NEE-a? I thought it was Tan-ZANE-ee-ah.”
That was how I pronounced Tanzania when I was a child too, because I’d only ever read the word.
Here are some others:
I always thought there were two words meaning pinnacle: “EP-i-tome” in books, and “e-PI-to-mee” in spoken English. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I realized those were the same word: epitome.
My friend always read that people were “MI-zled” – sent astray. In fact they were misled.
In my grade 6 classroom, there was a sign that said:
For years, I thought that sign said “DISCO-very” and had no clue what they meant by that.
If your child mispronounces a word, she will likely be embarrassed. Explain to her that if it’s a word she has only ever read, she would have no reason to know the correct pronunciation. And tell her that you’re proud of her for reading.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I’m working with a six-year-old.
I’m really excited about it, because he’s totally into reading. In fact, he’s frustrated because he says he’s learning too slowly. What a great problem to have – a child who wants to push himself to read faster!
Here’s how I prepared for our first reading session (and I’m hoping you’ll find something helpful here to apply to reading with your child):
* I asked his mom what his interests are (Lego, Star Wars, soccer, basketball, dinosaurs, animals).
* I asked what he’s reading now.
* I went to the library and asked the librarian for advice on books for a six-year-old. I thought I knew a lot about books, but getting the librarian involved was very helpful. She brought her own likes to the table, and made a couple of great suggestions like using the early-reader I Spy books.
I took out 15 books, to offer my friend as wide a range as possible including:
-a Spider-Man early reader (very cool – makes a little guy feel like a big kid);
-a scary book (“The Hairy-Scary Monster” – not really scary);
-a book about baseball (“The Littlest Leaguer”);
-Inspector Hopper (the cricket sleuth – because I love him);
-a dinosaur book (“Magic Matt and the Dinosaur”);
-a Mr. Putter & Tabby book (lovely, endearing, charming);
-a SpongeBob adventure (I know, I know);
-a Frog and Toad adventure (characters you will never forget – plus, you can read them as short stories);
-the I Spy book;
-“Drip Drop,” by Sarah Weeks (the librarian uses it often with groups); and
-two new Mo Willems books.
Because this boy is staunchly independent, I’m going to let him choose the first book, and we’ll take it from there. Besides reading together, I’m going to try to work on some consonant blends (th, sh).
I have another trick up my sleeve, which I’ll use in a future session. I’m going to write him a short story about himself, based on his interests. It will be very simple… and you know, I might include some photos of him in it as well. I’ll have to talk to his mom about it. Hmmm, this could be fun!
Sorry I haven't blogged recently - I've had writer's block. Mo Willems is the specific writer who has blocked me, actually. Well, him and/or his publicist. Last week, I approached his publisher for rights to put a little picture of one of his bookjackets with this post. She said I'd have to call his publicist, which I did. He said he'd have to ask Mo Willems. I don't know if he did or didn't, but they haven't gotten back to me and it's been a week. I give up, and I'm posting without them. Boo!
Monday, November 9, 2009
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
I know him fairly well, so I know he’s into Lego, and computers and art.
So I’ve come up with some activities that take advantage of those interests. I’m going to start by asking him (ahead of time) to make a big S and L from Lego. That will give us our categories – long and short vowels.
Then I’m going to bring some drawing materials and get him to draw, very quickly, the things I shout out – like, “Tree!” “Ball!” “Table!” “Snake!”
After every drawing, I’m going to have him put it under the Lego L or the Lego S, depending on whether its vowel is short or long. We’ll discuss each one as we go.
And at the end of it all, I’m going to teach him a “trick” about the silent “e” (how it makes vowels long) – and I’m hoping I’ll be able to bring a silent e made out of clear plastic.
Oh, and before we start, I’m going to talk to him about nicknames (he loves nicknames). I’m going to discuss how every vowel has a “name” and a “nickname.” In other words, the long sound that is the vowel’s name, and its short sound, that is its nickname.
I think that should be a good 20-minute first lesson, don’t you?
Update: The lesson went really well. He caught on really quickly. At first he didn't want to do the lesson at all, but his parents persuaded him. After we chatted for about two minutes (mostly about Star Wars), he was fine with it, and even enthusiastic.
Used the walk over to my house to talk about "nicknames" for letters - boys learn best when they're able to move their bodies at the same time. He got the concept immediately. Afterwards, instead of cookies, we played checkers. We're both looking forward to next week.
I have to think of a reward, after the lesson's done. Maybe we'll play with the Lego. Yeah, who am I kidding - more likely I'll bring cookies!
Oh, and that picture is Einstein built out of Lego (from Wikimedia Commons). Rather fitting, I thought, don't you?
Thursday, October 22, 2009
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is proposing a boys-only public school and boy-friendly teaching strategies. The TDSB is Canada’s largest school board.
“When every bone in your body is telling you to get up and move around, we’re telling (boys) to sit down,” Chris Spence, the TDSB’s education director, told the CBC yesterday.
An editorial in today’s Globe and Mail noted that, “26 per cent of (Canadian) girls scored at the top level in reading, compared with just 19 per cent of boys.” And there were many more boys than girls at the bottom level. I suspect these statistics would bear out for other countries as well.
It gets worse. Only 57 per cent of boys were at the national standard on Ontario’s Grade 6 writing exam (compared with 78 per cent of girls). And the Globe points out that “the testing arm of the Education Ministry says it has no publicly available research on the reasons” for that.
Well, I think we know. Spence was right on the money when he said that boys have to move around when they learn, which is the polar opposite of what the school system generally demands of them.
But that's fine. Because if our schools can't handle it, then parents can just fill the gap.
Walk outside with your boy – let him read the signs and ads that are all around us. When you’re reading to him, give him a ball to quietly toss from hand to hand. Talk to him about long and short vowel sounds while you’re kicking a soccer ball. "That tree - short or long vowel? This ball - short or long?"
The new boy-centric school could be open as early as next year. In the meantime, there’s a ton that parents can do to get their boys reading.
By the way, Chris Spence is the author of a number of books, including The Joys of Teaching Boys and Creating a Literacy Environment for Boys. He also has a blog.
The props for this picture were immediately at hand. They're six of the ba-zillion balls we have around the house. Boys need to bounce, toss, throw, catch and generally move around. They just do. And if you're smart, you'll use that moving-around time to discuss important stuff with them, because when their bodies are in gear, so are their minds.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
If you're looking for great kids' books, look no further.
Here are two lists of books that have been nominated for top prizes - so you know they're the cream of the crop.
Here are the five books nominated for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award.
The site has a review for each book, and information about the author(s).
And here is a list of books nominated for the 2009 Governor General’s Literary Awards. The winners will be announced on November 17 (stay tuned).
The website has the list of finalists for children's literature - English and children's literature - French, with a very brief (one-sentence) description for each. There are 70 books on the shortlist.
I got nothin' for the fine print today. Nothin'. Thanks for reading it, though. I always appreciate readers who go that extra mile.
Friday, October 16, 2009
PizzaPizza’s ad said, simply:
and Bell’s said:
More 3G coverage.
So let’s say you’re a child who’s just learning to read.
These examples do two things:
1) They illustrate just how difficult reading can be. And tricky!
2) They’re a terrific learning opportunity.
You can talk about how XL means “extra-large,” and that it’s usually a label for clothing. But here, they’re applying it to – not pizza, but appetite. You can talk about how X can refer to other things like “a kiss” or even “Christ” (as in Xmas).
Ask your child what they think the ad means, and why PizzaPizza would use the short form rather than the whole phrase “extra-large.”
Bell’s ad is more cryptic, and requires the reader to know a lot more about what’s being sold. You can talk about how some ads are written just to appeal to certain audiences, like teenagers. So if someone doesn’t understand an ad, it may just be that it’s not targeting them.
And then you can both go out and get an XL pizza.
I actually just had pizza for lunch. Come to think of it, in our household it’s not really that tough to encounter that particular co-incidence. Clearly, we eat too much pizza chez nous.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
She said she wanted some help getting her child reading. Her son is six years old and in grade one.
He’s frustrated because he’s not picking up reading a bit faster – so he’s clearly motivated to read.
I know there are lots of other parents out there in the same dilemma.
Here’s some basic advice to start with:
1) Most kids in grade one aren’t reading by October. In any grade one class, you’ll find a very wide range – from kids who can’t yet sound out the letters, to (a very few) kids who are reading books by themselves. So don’t panic.
2) Read to your child every night. Every single night. Studies show that this is the number-one most important thing.
3) Scatter books all around the house. In the bathroom. On his bed. On the floor. In the kitchen. On the couch. In the basement. On your bed. Have them available everywhere.
4) Read, yourself. Let him see you and your husband and other children reading - a lot.
The above steps create a “reading environment” for your child. It’s very important that your home be a reading environment.
The next step, at his age, is to make sure he knows his alphabet and the sounds each letter makes. There are lots of fun ways of doing that, including making up songs about each letter (B says Buh!) to simply pointing to pictures and saying “What letter does dog start with? Duh – Dog! What letter is that? Right! D!”
Stay with this step for as long as it takes – it’s fundamental. Spend days, weeks, months working on the sounds the letters make. Point out letters on outdoor signs. In books. On T-shirts. On the cereal box. Everywhere!
The next step is understanding what your child’s interests are, and then teaching him that he can find out information about that interest in… books. This will create a sustainable, life-long attraction to books because there will be a pay-off to his reading.
The picture? It's supposed to represent "books scattered all over the house." Yeah, I'm a writer not a photographer, that's for sure...
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Last month, I talked to a mom whose son wasn’t reading.
She was really distraught about it, and was searching for ways to get him interested in picking up a book.
I gave her some suggestions:
*Since her son is active, go for a walk and the read signs and ads outside.
*Let him play with a ball as you read to him.
*Scatter books around the house.
*Make reading its own reward – show him how he can find facts and interesting stuff in books.
*Offer him fact-filled books like the Guinness World Records.
And an e-mail I sent her:
I think the most important thing is to make reading have a pay-off for him – the act of reading will give him information he didn’t have. I used to give my son a book, and I’d say, “Oh, there’s something really cool in here about sharks’ teeth. You’ll see it – it’s on page 19.”
Then he reads it, and then comes down and tells me all about it. Pay-off.
That makes reading really sustainable for him.
It’s what will make him find solace in books, and intrigue, and excitement.
It’s what will make him a great reader.
I also told her that it thought her son was at about the norm for reading, for his age and grade level, and that she didn’t have to worry.
Here’s what she wrote me the other day:
“I wanted to tell you all of your advice has paid off.
Even just setting my mind at ease has really helped to let the tension go, and encourage O. to read at his leisure.
He's really getting it now.”
Now that's exciting.
Read other success stories here.
Until I talked with this mom, I hadn't realized how much pressure we put on ourselves to get our kids reading. And when that pressure is relieved, how easy the whole thing becomes. So like life.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
I’ll start with the best part – the winner gets a home visit from Robert Munsch! How exciting is that? (Extremely.)
To enter, simply write a short story with your family and submit it here.
If you win (and we’re gonna repeat this 'cause it’s awesome) Robert Munsch will come to. your. home. And he’ll read your story. And he’ll do a free reading at a school or library of your choice.
Plus, your story will be published in a newspaper or magazine and posted on the ABC Canada Literacy Foundation’s website.
*A child must be the primary author, but one adult must also be involved.
*250 words or less.
*The story must have a “singing” theme to tie in with the 2010 Literacy Day “Singing for Literacy” event.
*December 11, 2009, 5 p.m. EST.
Family Literacy Day was created by ABC Canada and is held every year on Jan. 27. There’s lots of other stuff happening to celebrate that day.
Well, not only is this a great contest, but this is the first video I've ever embedded on my blog. Good for me! (Let's hope I don't get sued - I assume this video is copyright-free? I mean, it's basically an ad, right? And they'd want as many people to, uh, see it as possible? Gulp.)
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
My friend Julie sent me an article about new US legislation forcing bloggers to disclose when they’ve received products or money from companies they're blogging about.
We don’t have that rule in Canada (yet), but transparency in journalism is always a good thing, so I’d like to address the issue.
First of all, I want to make it clear that I don’t get paid to write this blog. In fact, the darned thing costs me money. (I’m paying a girl to put up some flyers around town – flyers which I paid to have printed. I also buy research materials about literacy to ensure I stay on top of the subject.)
I do hope to turn this blog into a book at some point, but that may be awhile off. But my motivation is, and will always be, just what the title says: to Get Kids Reading.
In my money-making job, I’m a freelance editor and journalist. When I worked for newspapers and magazines in the past and wanted to review a product, the large corporation which owned the publication bought any products I reviewed.
However, my blog obviously doesn’t have a corporation backing it (yet… hint, hint to any of you CEOs who want to back this blog…) So I don’t have a budget to buy products or books I want to review.
So when I review a product like Tag reading products or Crayola writing products, I contact the company and ask them to send me one. Sometimes companies also send me products or books (Scholastic, for instance), unsolicited, to review.
Here’s how I work. I usually find out about a product or book online or through word-of-mouth. If I can’t borrow it, I’ll contact the company and have them send me one. After checking it out, I’ll decide if I think it’s good or not. If it’s good I’ll write a review. In that review, I’ll also list any negative aspects of the product or book. If I think a product or book is not good, I won’t write a review about it.
I try to be unbiased. I truly do love LeapPad products, for instance, and think they’re excellent for literacy. That wouldn’t change if they never gave me their products to try out. (But if they didn’t, I wouldn’t review something I’d never tried.)
I believe in disclosure – I think it’s professional and I think readers appreciate it when you let them know what your biases may be. So going forward, I’m going to add disclosures to posts I write, in which I’ve been given the book or product. Going backwards, I’m going to add disclosures to past blogs in which I’ve been given the product or book. This might take awhile, but I think it’s a good idea.
Oh, one more thing. I don't believe in copyright. I know it's blasphemous for a writer/editor who makes her living from writing to diss copyright, but there you are. I think copyright has become more about lawyers and less about authors, which is why I don't believe in it. Having said that, I do respect other people's copyright. So I search long and hard to find copyright-free images, or I take pictures myself (which typically suck - I'm no photographer, but there you go). From time-to-time I find the perfect photograph and can't figure out if it's copyright-free or not. In that case, I will contact the originator of the image to obtain their permission to use it. Sometimes they don't get back to me, in which case I cite them and post a link to their website. I figure if they ever object, I'll take the image off my blog, and in the meantime it's good publicity for them. Plus, isn't "sharing" what today's web is all about? (Yes, it is.)
So that’s it. I’m glad the US has decided to force bloggers to tell people when they’ve received products or been paid by the company. I’m hoping that my fellow Canadian bloggers (and those in other countries) won’t wait for our government to do that, and will self-disclose before we get legislated to do so.
If this were the Academy Awards, this whole post would be that part where the president of the Academy gets up and bores everyone. If it were a car ad, it would be in mice-type. If it was a drug commercial it would be that weird fast-talk where they list all the creepy side effects. As it is, being a literacy blog, the main side effect is that your kids will be better readers. Suh-nap!
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Hayley did – and I’m so glad.
She e-mailed me about the Dumb Bunnies series, which she is enjoying with her whole family (ages 3, 7, 9, 39 and 39).
If the illustrations look familiar, it’s because author Dav Pilkey also does Capt. Underpants (of which I am not a huge fan - but millions of kids are, of course).
That’s why Dumb Bunnies is such a great series. It’s fun like Capt. Underpants, but without some of the edgier aspects. (Such as, say, a school principal in his underpants.)
Every book Dav Pilkey writes has its own website, with printable crosswords, online activities and behind-the-scenes information about the books. Here’s the website for Dumb Bunnies.
There are four books in the series so far. Here's how Hayley describes her family's reaction to them:
Monday, September 28, 2009
We had another milestone this month too – our 100th post.
(Woo-hoo! Streamers! Horn sounds in the background!)
We also finished 21st out of 178 blogs in our category in the BlogLuxe Awards. Thank you to everyone who voted.
More importantly, we have helped a number of children who weren’t great readers before, start reading. Their parents applied our suggestions and now the kids are reading. You can click on “Successes” to read a couple of the stories, but I know there are many more out there.
We recently started a postering campaign in Toronto and, strangely enough, in Yellowknife, NWT. If you’d like me to send you some Getting Kids Reading posters to post at schools, libraries, churches, grocery stores – just send me your address and I’ll be happy to send them out to you. And I’ll appreciate your help spreading the word.
But in the meantime – I’m gonna celebrate! Woo-hoo!
Thank you to Val, who designed our poster (it looks better in real-life than my crummy photo of it here) and Grace, who is doing most of the postering. And Laura and Patti, in our Yellowknife branch. Thank you so much! (And Michele, in our Scarborough branch.)
Monday, September 21, 2009
Sequencing is important for reading, because it helps you understand what comes first, what comes next, and what’s last. That goes for words, sentences and stories.
One thing you can do to practice sequencing is to take a loooong (two or three feet) piece of paper. Write a sentence on it in marker. Then cut it up into words and mix up the words. Have your child piece the sentence back together. (She can use cues like the word with the period goes at the end; the word with the capital letter goes first.)
Here is an online game about sequencing.
Pick a game that matches your child’s interests.
Click on “Play this game.”
And then ask the child to tell you which activity goes first. Type in the appropriate number in the little box and click on “Check answer” or just hit Return.
Friday, September 18, 2009
In a recent Globe and Mail article, Cera said he is a “rabid Payne fan.”
This is a cool one to tell your teenager about - Cera’s career is smoking-hot right now. He starred in the huge hits Juno and Superbad, and will soon appear in the Toronto-centric film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (also a series of books, btw).
In Youth in Revolt, he’ll be playing two lead characters (Nick and Francois) in the movie based on the cult hit novel.
“The 21-year-old says he first got hooked on the novel when he was 16, and loved the book because, ‘it was the one thing I’d read that didn’t condescend to teenagers’,” the Globe article said.
Here’s how Wikipedia sums up the book.
I must admit that it did occur to me that if some teenagers happened to Google Michael Cera, they might just come up with this website. But if that’s what it takes to draw teens away from the streets and over to literacy – well, hey, I’m willing to get my hands dirty. Guerilla literacy - it's just how I roll, baby. Joyce out!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
CBC Radio recently had two young book aficionados talk about what teens are interested in, and it’s more than just Twilight (although Twilight’s in there as well).
They said that some hot teen genres are:
*Speculative fiction (this used to be known as science fiction and fantasy) – including post-apocalyptic fiction where the world has virtually been destroyed and the characters are forced to create a new society with new rules for survival.
*Series – they like to be able to keep reading about the characters, even if it means they’ll have to wait awhile for the next book to be written.
*There’s also a trend in which the classics are being rewritten.
Here are some of the books they presented as great for teens.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart – a fun, smart book set in a school.
The Well, by A. J. Whitten – a horror apparently based on Hamlet.
Hunger, by Michael Grant – the sequel to Gone, and the second in what is to be a six-part series.
The Uninvited, by Tim Wynn-Jones – a mystery set in the Muskokas
Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe, by Bryan Lee O'Malley – Number five in a series; the film (starring Michael Cera) was recently shot in Toronto
A lot of what the teens are reading these days freaks me out. The world has been blown to bits and everyone's fighting over the last remaining jar of relish for dinner. Brrrr. But hey, not understanding teenagers is the price we pay for being an adult, right?
Thursday, September 10, 2009
You know I love the whole LeapFrog system. My son learned so much from it when he was little.
So when I received these book kits, I was excited.
What I discovered, however, is that you have to:
a) Find your Tag reader (difficult enough, if you have the kind of kid I have - which is to say, not particularly organized).
b) Find the original box in which you've kept the Tag cord and CD.
c) Go through the books one at a time and download audio for each one from the LeapFrog website.
d) Save it on your Tag reader, ensuring you don't go over 20 MBs.
I managed to get 13 books on my reader before it told me I was over my limit.
Then I was ready to begin. Now, if I was the child, all of this would be transparent to me. My parent would be doing all the work. (So like life.)
The books look pretty good. Kids can read each one, using the Tag reader (by pointing to the words or letters, or the page icon to let it read an entire page out loud).
There are games in the back of each book that reinforce the ideas from the book. For instance, help a cook find ingredients for his "short-a" cookies - all the ingredients have the short-a sound.
So all-in-all, Tag is a pretty decent value for the money, and worth the up-front work to prepare it for your child.
If you want to know more, here's an awesome, in-depth review on the Tag system by KidsTechReview website. They give it 4.5 stars out of 5.
Disclosure: LeapFrog gave me a Tag system and the books to review. However, I don't work for them or receive monetary compensation from them and I'm free to write whatever I want about their products. If they sucked, I'd tell you - or more likely, I just wouldn't blog about them.
Product review - I'm going to have one or two of the neighbourhood children try this product, and the books, out. Then I'll let you know what they think. Much better than hearing about it from me.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Imagine how much your child will enjoy creating their own story lines.
And afterwards, they can print them out and put them in a binder, or e-mail them to their friends.
Making comics not only ensures that your child will be reading, it means he'll be thinking logically about plot lines, beginning-middle-and-ends, character development and so many other things that are important to budding writers.
It's simple to do - and did I mention it's free (you don't even have to sign in).
The software is very intuitive, so there's no need to "learn" a software program.
You choose one, two or three boxes. Then you pick a character and his or her "mood." Then you choose a balloon and type in the words.
What I like about this is that it's easy enough so that kids can do it themselves, but sophisticated enough to provide lots of options for the child to make the cartoon his own.
Visit Make Beliefs Comix and try one yourself. Then let your child loose on the site.
Oh, and you know you and your spouse are gonna end up as characters in your kid's comic scenarios, right? The sacrifices we make to get our kids reading.
BTW, the image on this post is a bit blurry - but that's because I'm fairly inept at photoshop, not because of the site. It's very crisp.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I don't know if that's true or not, but my son sure wants to read this book.
We were at the library today. I was trying to get my son to check out some books. He was more interested in the computer game the kid next to him was playing.
And then I saw - a-aaah! - this book. "Tell a lie and your butt will grow," by Dan Greenburg. I passed it over to my son, and it got his attention instantly.
He stopped looking at the computer. He started giggling. He got red in the face he was giggling so hard. He couldn't believe they would put that title on a book!
Now, here's another example of why I love series so much. Bless Dan Greenburg's socks, he wrote a number of these "The Zack Files" books, so I was able to get a handful. The first one, with the Butt title, has drawn my son in - and having read one, I know he'll read the others.
Update - Sept. 10, 2009 - OK, so my son didn't take to the Zack Files books. Fortunately, he did read all six of the "My Weird School" series that I got out of the library the same day. Meh. (However, I still think that the "butt" book got him on the reading track.) Anyhoo, I'll do a review of the "My Weird School" series in an upcoming post.
I tossed all of the Zack Files books onto my son's bed. This is a great trick for parents - put new books somewhere really accessible. When he wakes up tomorrow morning, he's going to run across the books, and, well let's just say he'll be delayed for breakfast. In a good way.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Here’s an exercise that Bernadette Tynen (the brain researcher) does with her students. She says that if you do it with your child once a week, it will help to make his thinking more flexible and creative.
She gives the child an object. It could be a stuffed animal, like a snake or a gorilla, or it could be a hat or a scarf – any kind of object. Then she asks the child to tell her what could be done with the object.
At first, the child may say, “you can sit on it,” or “you can put it on your head,” and his thinking may stall there.
You can prompt him by saying, “what else could it be used for?” and he may start to come up with less conventional uses: “You could wear it as a bracelet,” or “you could use it as a frying pan,” or “it could be a garden decoration.”
In Tynen's documentaries (“Make Your Child Brilliant”), it’s astounding to see how quickly children change their thinking from the usual, normal ways of looking at an object, to finding truly creative and out-of-the-box ideas for things.
We know that brain-training exercises like this help the young brain become more agile, which helps with future learning. Plus, it's fun!
I tried this with my son - I gave him my glasses case. Within a few seconds it became a hat, something you could balance or float, a toy... I was laughing my head off at the crazy and wonderful things he came up with. Playing with your kid like that is better than TV, I tell ya.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
Additional info: I received a very thoughtful response from a contest judge and from one of the Mrs. P. website creators explaining why the contest is limited to Americans only.
It's a legal thing apparently. With gift certificates involved, it would be too difficult to administer internationally (according to their lawyers. Yeah, that's what I said too. A-heh.).
Anyway, they said that if they get a lot of response from non-Americans, they'll consider holding another contest that's not US-exclusive. So there's your homework, everyone!
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
The other day, my son and I went to the library to report four books and get stickers for his poster. (The stickers are the rewards in the library's summer reading program.)
Unfortunately, the librarian would only give my son one sticker. He said we'd have to come in each day for the rest, one at a time.
I understand why he said that, but I think it can be a deterrent to reading. If a kid knows that he's going to have to work that hard for a sticker, he's going to stop reading after one book. Why read more than one a day?
Today, though, a different librarian gave me a whole sheet of stickers, and my son can report the books to me at home. I'm thrilled, because he was really balking at going in to report to the librarian - and yet he wanted his reward.
I really love this summer reading program, especially now that there was a bit of flexibility to it. Every kid is different, and I'm all for tailoring reading plans to suit the child.
While I was at the library, I picked up the Walt Disney soundtrack to Alice in Wonderland (which we just finished reading) and I'm going to rent the Disney video as well.
Now we're reading The Phantom Tollbooth. I started out reading it to him, but he's taken over the job and is reading it to himself every night. I will try to track down the video to that, as well.
The library's program also lets kids write out their book report, or just draw a picture about it. If you haven't yet signed up for a summer reading program in your area, go online and see what there is. It's not too late - and anyway, you could just turn it into a summer-slash-fall reading program.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Lots of boys like to read about wars, especially WWII.
Paschendaele: Canada's Triumph and Tragedy on the Fields of Flanders, by Norman Leach - This book flew off the shelves during our school book fair. (There's also a movie starring Paul Gross.)
Also, see "Superheroes" below. (Superheros spend their days fighting. Punching. Being punched. It's a living.)
Boys love joke books. Joke books are best purchased rather than borrowed from the library, because kids will refer to them again and again. Ask the staff at your local bookstore for a popular one, and then for pete's sake read a few of the jokes before you buy it to make sure that they're age-appropriate but even more importantly, that they're funny - because you'll be hearing them. Again. And again. And again.
Boys also like funny or silly stories. For instance, Chester by Melanie Watt, is a picture book in which the author's cat, Chester, scratches out and rewrites the story to his advantage.
Books that my son confirms are "hilarious," are The Weird School series by Dan Gutman (Miss Daisy is Crazy is the first one) and the extremely popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney.
We've talked before about the Encyclopedia of Immaturity, a Klutz book. It's very funny, and kids will read it over and over.Non-Fiction
Think Superman, Batman and Spiderman - comics and books. But for older boys also consider classics like Beowulf, and Homer’s The Odyssey.
There is a whole list of great superhero books that aren't comics here and here.
Here's a "cool-parent" tip. Get the name of one of the video games your son's playing a lot right now. Then Google it, with "cheats" or "walkthrough" like this: "Mario Super Smash Bros. cheats" or "Zelda walkthrough".
You'll get a big long page of tips that will make your son's gameplaying experiencing more fun and more enriched. (Don't worry - they're not "cheating" - they're called cheats, but it really means hidden extras. On the other hand, the walkthroughs are actually cheating, but games are so complicated these days, everyone uses them.)
Your son will love you and think you're uber-cool, because you're showing him something new about his game. And you'll be happy because boy, there is a ton of reading to those cheats and walkthroughs!
All of the above
Reader’s Digest - It has many of the elements boys love: pictures, short articles, games, jokes, non-fiction, competition and it’s compact so it's portable.
The Sports section of your newspaper.
The Guinness Book of World Records and the Guinness Book of World Records, Gamer's Edition.
Please share with us your favourite gross, factual, humorous, visual or non-fiction books boys love.
Please also check out the "Great books" category on this blog for more suggestions, and for more information about many of the books listed here.
For more gross books for boys, check out the blog, Getting Boys to Read.