Keeping a Positive Spirit Alive

As we say good-bye to the month of March, we also say good-bye to one of the exceptional voices in children’s literature today. Amy Krouse Rosenthal, pass away earlier this month at the age of 51. In her short life, Amy managed to pen 28 picture books, the latest of which is I Wish You More. The buzz on twitter was enough for me to order multiple copies of this book before I ever read it. Once I read it, I realized I hadn’t ordered enough. The delightful illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld underscore the optimism and love embedded in wishes that anyone would share with a loved one. In a New York Times column, Bruce Handy describes Amy’s picture books as “elegant and spirit-lifting”. I concur!

Among her other accomplishments, Amy has given TED talks, produced Youtube videos and written two memoirs which are at the top of my “To Be Read” list. Both Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal promise to be those kind of life-changing books you return to again and again.

Clearly, Amy was a person who used her gifts and talents to inject positive energy into the world. In one of her Youtube videos,, she showed 17 things that she made and then invited folks to join her at Millennium Park to make the 18th thing. Tons of people showed up! Can you imagine the sense of fun that ensued?  Knowing she was dying, Amy wrote a “want ad” for her husband, which appeared int he New York Times Again, her positive approach and appreciation of life and the people in it shine through.

In this time of pessimism, criticism, skepticism, we need voices like Amy’s. Through her work, we can share a positive spirit. Amy’s children’s books are short and appropriate for any age. Do yourself a favor and check them out. Here’s a smattering of titles to get you started. Enjoy!

I Wish You More

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PSSA: A Helpful Strategy

We’re just a few days shy of spring, although you couldn’t tell by the weather here in the northeast. Public school teachers and students are preparing for the dreaded PSSA test, which occurs in April. I’ve long been a believer in acronyms and their value to students. For years, I prepared students in both middle and elementary school students to successfully navigate the PSSA reading test. Early in my career as a reading specialist, I devised this the PCQC approach. Over the years, most of my students agreed that it helped them to stay on task, feel confident, check their work and not panic. So, if you are a parent or teacher who has a stake in helping youngsters do their best on this test, here is a brief synopsis of PCQC. Now is the time to familiarize and practice this with students so that they can easily rely on these steps as they work through the reading portion of the PSSA. I’d be happy to hear your response or answer any questions. 


P – Preview

Students carefully read all the text features (title, heading, sub-headings, sidebars, pictures, captions, charts, graphs, maps, etc.) to activate background knowledge and set themselves up for a successful read. In addition, students are taught to read each test question carefully. At this point, I only want the kids to read the questions, not the answer choices. Since questions typically zero in on important components of the text, this provides more clues to the passage, introduces names and places, and enables a student to know what will be asked.

C – Chunk

Breaking text down into manageable pieces is a beneficial reading strategy. Chunking the long passages offered up in many reading assessments, enables the reader to hone in on one portion, encouraging careful reading and self-monitoring. I tell my students to “Chunk with pencil in hand”. That is, mark up the text by underlining, coding, jotting marginal notes. Chunking the text helps students to feel confident and decreases the overwhelming feeling of having to read the whole text. “Just take one bite at a time,” I tell them, “You don’t have to gulp the whole passage down at once”.

Q – Questions

Ah…the scary part is next. Answering those long, tricky questions can be a stressful experience for many students. In this part of the strategy, students read the questions for the second time. I show them how to read each question carefully and underline what the question is asking. I make sure they circle key words like NOT (which one of these is not…) and tell them to number two-part questions. We practice paraphrasing the questions to help them understand what is being asked. From there, students read each choice carefully. Remind them that they are looking for the best answer and must read every choice. Then, they should eliminate those choices they know to be wrong and return to the text to verify the choice they think is correct.

C – Check

The job’s not finished!  As teachers, we all know how easy it is for students to finish the last question, close the booklet and relax. Teach students to read each question again (yes, it is the 3rd tie they will read the questions) and then read only the answer they have chosen. Does it make sense?  Did I mark the answer sheet correctly? If they can answer yes to both these questions, then they really are finished and can relax knowing they have taken a deliberate approach and done their best.

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Favorite Genres – Share the Love


Hey, Everyone. It’s February, the month that tantalizes us with thoughts of Spring, touches our heart with thoughts of love and reminds us to celebrate the rich history and many contributions of Black Americans.

During my days in the classroom, I always took advantage of February to relate the love aspects of February to literacy. Students and I would collect and discuss genres we loved, lines we loved and those very precious books that were close to our hearts. So…since this is my first February as a retired teacher, I’m asking you to fill the gap. Let’s collaborate by sharing the varied dimensions of literacy that we love. If we focus on genres, books and lines from literature that can speak to our children, we will end the month with a ton of ideas for reading and discussion that we can share in our homes or in our classrooms. Are you game? Let’s go.

This week, my posts will focus on two genres I love. I’ll explain the personal appeal these favorites have for me and offer several books that, in my opinion, epitomize that genre. Please join in and help create a rich conversation on this topic.

Realistic Fiction

Reading has always helped me navigate the various states and situations of my life. By definition, realistic fiction weaves a narrative using characters and situations that could really happen. I love it because it enables me to constantly ask myself, “What would I do?” Realistic fiction also allows me to consider the appeal of the characters. I can consider who I really admire and why, as well as peek into the motivation and emotional life of many composites of real people. When I close the book on a well-written realistic tale, it sticks with me for years to come. In my mind I return to the characters, the setting, the problem and allow it to color my real-life choices and opinions. Pretty powerful stuff.

Here are three realistic fiction books I’ve read with youngsters that linger long after the story has ended:

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper             out-of-my-mind

This is an amazing book. It made me laugh, it made me cry and it brought me into a world quite foreign to me. Told from the perspective of Melody, a fifth-grade girl who suffers from cerebral palsy, this book reeled me in on the first page. Melody can neither walk nor talk. We journey with her as her school institutes inclusion classes and Melody joins the other fifth graders. Draper’s realistic descriptions and dialogue, humor and pathos unveiled the reality of a child with a serious diability. This book not only educated me, but fostered an understanding and empathy that I lacked before devouring it. This book is a great example of why I love realistic fiction.

The Hundred Dressesthe-hundred-dresses

This book is a prime example of a short, simple text that packs a wallop. Set in a small school like the ones that existed many years ago, it creates a story about the insidiousness of bullying and the conflict it creates for both the victim and the bully. I recommended this book in an earlier post but can’t write about my favorite realistic fiction tales without mentioning this once again.

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer         on-my-honor  

Year after year, I turned to this book when I was stymied trying to find a tale that would prompt students to think and to discuss. This is a moving story of a twelve-year-old boy’s guilt when an adventure he has with his best friend turns tragic. Having read this with at least five groups of students, I can attest to its lasting impact.

Your turn. Let’s generate hearty discussion. Share the genre that touches your heart.








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Bring on the Questions

Questioning is an essential reading strategy. Studies show that when students learn to monitor their thinking and generate questions as they read, enhanced comprehension results. Creating questions as they read helps students to become active and thoughtful readers.

Two Kinds of Questions

When I teach the strategy of questioning, I discuss two kinds of questions with students. I’ve named them “Red Flag Questions” and “What Do I Wonder” questions.

Red Flag Questions

Red Flag Questions are those questions that pop up while reading and indicate confusion. As an adult, I’m sure you are familiar with reading a book that introduces lots of characters at the beginning and then allows many of them to disappear for pages. When a character introduced early in the text appears in a later chapter, you may be thinking, Who is that character?  What is his relationship to…”? Smart readers will recognize confusion and take steps to correct it. Most likely, you’ll thumb back to the part where the character first appeared, clear up the confusion and move on.

Oftentimes, Red Flag Questions pop up even more frequently when reading informational text. When students recognize confusion, clarify their question and immediately try to untangle the problem, reading can continue with a high-level of comprehension. Urge youngsters to pay attention to these Red Flag Questions that occur as they read. Assure them that this is what good readers do and that this strategy will have a big payoff in terms of comprehension.

What Do I Wonder Questions

On the other hand, What Do I Wonder Questions, help a reader to go deeper into the text. By actively reading and attending to the “wonderings” that occur, a reader becomes more immersed in the text and attains a deeper level of interest and understanding. Using this strategy allows the reader to truly have a conversation with the author. It helps them to not only read the text, but to “read between the lines and read beyond the lines”, bringing their own interest and background knowledge to bear on the topic.

Try It At Home

It’s fun to teach kids to pay attention to their Red Flag Questions. First be sure the child knows that a red flag indicates danger. Then explain that when you ignore Red Flag Questions as you read, you are endangering your comprehension. Choose a challenging text, have your child read it and see if he comes up with any red flag questions. Have him read further, holding the question in his head to see if it is answered as he goes on. If not, he may have to go back in the text or simply look it up or ask someone for help. No matter how he gets himself untangled, this definitely encourages active reading.

An enjoyable way to approach What Do I Wonder Questions is to both read the same text, jotting down your wonderings as you proceed. Share and discuss when you finish reading.

Strategies like this can empower young readers and provide concrete way for them to tackle text. Kids often think that questioning is a bad thing. They tend to equate questions with incompetence or failure. Youngsters will not only increase comprehension, they will also gain confidence when they see how their questions can actually help them better understand what they read.











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Chunking Text: 3 Simple Steps

Out of the many valuable strategies we use to enhance reading comprehension, “Chunking the text” is my favorite one. Chunking text simply means you take it a little bit at a time. When I teach this strategy, I like to bring in a Hershey Bar. Now that gets attention…so yummy. I ask students if they typically shove the whole candy into their mouths or if they break off chunks at a time and savor the flavor. Most of the kids like the idea of making the treat last and enjoying it a bite at a time.

This is a natural lead-in to explaining that text is more enjoyable and more easily understood if we break it into chunks. Together, we preview a challenging piece of text (usually non-fiction). Then, I demonstrate how to read just a paragraph or two at a time, stopping at that point to identify the main idea, consider any questions that pop up, and return to parts that may be confusing. I model how I often underline words or phrases that seem important or confusing or jot down my response on the side. In other words, I actively interact with the text before moving on.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting that students use this strategy every time they read. I am suggesting that slowing down and thinking about small chunks of tricky text, often helps students to get the gist more quickly and move through a piece of text with a higher degree of comprehension.

To return to the food analogy, I tell students not to gulp it down in one bite. Although that is tempting (like when they are eating pizza) it is not wise in the long run. Breaking difficult text into chunks and chewing on the ideas  will enable readers to more easily digest the entire piece.

Let’s break this process down into three simple steps:

  1. After previewing the text, begin to read one or two paragraphs at a time.
  2. Stop after reading a chunk of text to consider: main ideas, confusions, questions, reactions. You may want to underline or take short notes.
  3. Hold your ideas and questions in your head as you continue reading, repeating the process.

Try it at Home:  Next time your child is struggling with a challenging piece of text, show him (or remind him, if he has already learned this strategy) to take it a bite at a time. Having a Hershey Bar on hand might provide additional incentive!


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Previewing Informational Text

For most students, informational text (or non-fiction) can be more difficult to comprehend than fictional text. Familiarity with story structure and a clear sequence of events aids understanding of narratives. With its often unfamiliar topics, academic vocabulary, and weighty concepts, non-fiction is often a different story (no pun intended!). However, most academic subjects require students read and assimilate informational text (usually in the form of textbooks and articles) on a regular basis. Furthermore, students must be able to determine essential from non-essential information, take notes, and retain important facts. It’s no secret that in recent years, teachers have been required to increase the volume of informational text that students read. Previewing is an essential strategy for non-fiction reading.

Steps for Previewing Informational Text                                                                                        As a Reading specialist, I usually spent an entire quarter of the school year helping struggling readers learn how to become proficient readers of informational text. The first lessons were always teaching and practicing the strategy of previewing the text. Typically, there are more text features in informational text, so we would begin by identifying the various kinds of text features. Here is a list of the most common ones:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Header (Any description after the title but before the first paragraph)
  • Headings
  • Sub-Headings
  • Sidebars (Short blurbs of info off to the side that provide additional information)
  • Pictures/Captions
  • Maps
  • Graphs
  • Timelines
  • Vocabulary lists
  • Questions

After familiarizing students with these text features and their purpose. I showed them how to use them to their advantage. Text features are there to support the information presented in the body of the text. If kids take the time to actually read and consider the text supports before diving into the text, it definitely sets them up for a successful read.

Consider what would happen if you went out to the garden in late winter and sprinkled seeds on the ground. No doubt they would not take root. However, a few months later, when the soil softens and you are able to till the soil before planting the seeds, new growth will occur. This analogy can help readers understand the importance of “tilling the soil” before you read. When readers use the text supports to activate their background knowledge, begin to ponder questions that they hope the text answers and set a purpose for reading, the ideas in the text have a much greater chance of taking root and growing.

Previewing Protocol                                                                                                                             I’m a big fan of providing students with explicit steps. Usually I would model the steps, then practice them with students and finally allow readers to practice using them independently. My goal was always for students to integrate the steps into their reading repertoire so that they would become habitual. Year after year, I prompted students to use the following protocol before actually reading an informational text:

  1. Read the title and author.
  2. Read the header if there is one.
  3. Look at any pictures, graphs, charts, maps and read captions.
  4. Read sidebars.
  5. Scan headings/sub-headings.
  6. Read vocabulary definitions if they are provided.
  7. Read any questions that appear at the end of the text. Usually questions focus on the most important concepts which helps the reader zero in on them during reading.
  8. Begin to read, turning headings into a question to set a purpose for each section that you read.

Eight steps may seem like a lot, but readers quickly become proficient at this task. The short time that it takes to consider what is being presented, activate background knowledge and set a purpose for reading will pay off dividends in comprehension and retention of text.

At home, take a few minutes to preview text with your child, especially if the text is difficult and he is frustrated. Show him the benefits previewing and guide the process a few times until he becomes competent and committed enough to use it on his own.

Previewing – definitely a positive step on the road to comprehension!

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Previewing Fictional Text

A new week, a new month, a new year and a new series of posts on Nurturing Literacy. I think it’s important for parents to have a general understanding of the “best practices” used in Education today and be able to help their children implement them at home.  Over the next few weeks, I will provide an overview of the current practices used to teach reading comprehension across the country. Consider each post a brief tutorial that will familiarize you with the strategies and provide some ideas of when you may want to prompt your child to use it at home. Please feel free to ask questions and add your thoughts so that we can all engage in discussion and learning.

STRATEGY #1:  Previewing Text    

Although this sounds self-explanatory, there is a definite purpose and protocol to using this strategy. Whether previewing fiction or non-fiction text, the purpose is to begin the thinking process. The purpose is to activate background knowledge and begin to generate questions that you want answered. The purpose it to intentionally set yourself up for success and not simply dive in cold.

Previewing fictional text is relatively simple because there are not as many text features to consider. Be it a fictional book or a short story, students are basically taught to:

1. Look at the cover and consider the title, the author, and the genre.

2. Read the inside blurb (if a book) and review any pictures.

3.  Consider what the story will be about (predict) and support the prediction.

When reading fictional text, the prediction serves as a hook, a reason to stay focused and see if the prediction is confirmed or needs to be revised. Using the strategy of predicting arouses interest, activates background knowledges and provides a level of engagement (so important for proficient comprehension) right at the start. Just a few minutes to warm-up can make a difference and enhance a reader’s ability to follow a story line and comprehend the text.

Try encouraging your child to preview the text the next time he is about to crack open a new book or story. Check back for my next post when I’ll discuss the steps for previewing informational text and feel free to chime in with your questions or comments.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION:  Since modeling reading in the home is so important, I’d like to begin the New Year by recommending an adult book you might enjoy. Happy reading in 2017!

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah is the story of a seemingly cold-hearted mother and the relationship she has with her two daughters. It also explores the relationship that the sister have with one another. All family members suffer from the mother’s lack of affection but when Anya, one of the sisters forces the mother to tell her “fairytale” they learn that there is more to their mother than meets the eye. The reader is transported to war-torn Leningrad as we learn the secrets that have lived within the mother’s heart. A slow start leads to a satisfying ending in this unusual novel.







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Wishing You Blessings and Books

Christmas overtook my life several weeks ago and I haven’t had a minute to even send holiday greetings to the loyal readers of this blog. Hopefully, all of you are relaxing and enjoying the spirit of this holiday season. For many, now that Christmas is past, the stress of preparation will give way to serenity and a chance to slow down and enjoy a respite from your routine. Of course, it has to be said…this is the perfect time to read!  Read alone, read together, pull out old books and enjoy new ones. If you’ve not had a chance to delve into the classic tales of the season with your kids, now is the time to do it. Stories like “The Gift of the Magi” by O’Henry and “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote, never lose their charm. The songs, poems, and movies associated with the holidays are all forms of literature and help enrich children’s “cultural literacy”. That simply means that your child can develop a bank of stories that help him understand the common references that often occur in everyday life. Holiday tales – a great way to enhance these days of celebration.

As the year draws to a close, I thank you for visiting my blog and sincerely hope you have found some ideas that help you nurture literacy in your home. I’ll return to my bi-weekly blogging schedule on January 2nd. In the meantime, please let me know if there are any topics you would like me to address in the months ahead. Happy New Year to all!  May it be filled with blessings and books for you and your loved ones.



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Gifts of Fiction

As promised, today’s post will offer fictional gift suggestions. Let me say at the outset, that most of these books fit into the “classic” category. They are tried and true reads that have delighted readers for years. Check them out and see if they would be a good fit for a youngster (or even adult) on your list.

Keep in mind that rich fictional literature is a mirror to real life. It enables the reader to try on and reflect upon different identities and worlds, to build compassion, to consider another’s perspective and to lose oneself within the pages of an engrossing tale. Lots of bang for your buck with a gift like this!



From One Experience to Another (edited by M. Jerry Weiss and Helen S. Weiss:                              I first became acquainted with this anthology when I taught middle school. Anytime, I was searching for a story that would reel in the kids and keep their attention, anytime I wanted a story that would generate discussion, this was my go-to book. Although these tales were published several years ago, they are chock full of great writing, include humor, and provide food for thought. If you purchase this book, be sure to read “The Truth About Sharks” by Joan Bauer, one of my all-time favorites!

Eight plus 1 by Robert Cormier                                                                                                                         If you’ve ever read The Chocolate War, Cormier’s most famous book, you know that          Robert Cormier is a talented writer of young adult fiction. This anthology contains a mix of poignant and funny tales that take the reader back to an earlier era  (1950’s). The messages, however, are timeless and the stories stay with you long after you close the book. This is a winning gift for youngsters in grade six or above.

Home for Christmas, Stories for Young and Old is a wonderful holiday treasure with stories by a plethora of famous authors.

HISTORICAL FICTION                                                                                                                               The issue of racism still dominates the news. Both of these books, engage readers and paint a realistic picture of being in the minority. They are classic books that handle this sensitive topic with humor and grace. Both of these books would make great family     read-alouds and are guaranteed to spark questions and discussion. Check out Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor and The Watsons Go to Birmingham  by Paul Curtis.

FANTASY                                                                                                                                                             I must admit, fantasy is not my favorite genre. However, most of the students I’ve had through the years absolutely love it. Today, there is an abundance of creative fantasy out there geared to upper elementary and middle school kids. Many of the popular fantasy texts are series. Purchase the first one and watch even reluctant readers gobble up the rest. Both the Golden Compass series by Phillip Pullman and of course, the Harry Potter series are great gift books that will whet the appetite for more.

CLASSIC TALES                                                                                                                                                   There are just certain books that never go out of date. The writing, the setting, the characters and the theme permanently enbed themselves in the heart and mind of the reader. Treat the kids on your guest list to one of these unforgettable tales:  Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking, Little House on the Prairie, Robin Hood, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table,  and Black Beauty.

Hope these gift suggestions allow you to spend less time shopping and more time reading!











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The Gift of Knowledge

gift-booksThe busyness of the holiday season has already begun for me and probably for you, as well. I’m determined to finish my shopping earlier than usual this year. As a retiree, there’s no reason why I can’t.

As you may have guessed, books are my favorite gift to give. Over the years, the youngsters in my life know to expect at least one special book, along with anything else Pop-Pop and I may offer. If you haven’t done so already, check out my post, Five Reasons to Give Books to Kids. Below are some non-fiction texts that will make great gifts. When I give an informational book, I always feel like I’m offering the gift to knowledge. What could be better than that?  My next post will preview several fictional titles. Hopefully, these suggestions will provide you with some good ideas so you can wrap up your shopping in no time.

                                                                    NON-FICTION BOOKS

Seven Habits of High Effective Teens by Stephen Covey        7habbit-of-highly-effective-teens                                          No need to wait until the recipient is a bona fide “teen”. This classic book encourages even younger kids to weave these important habits into their lives. It’s a great book to read together because the anecdotes and suggestions offer lots of opportunity for discussion. This is a book to own and revisit often. In my opinion, it belongs on the book shelf of every youngster ages ten and up.

How Things Work by T.J. Resler    how-things-work                                                                                      If you have an inquisitive youngster who loves to delve into the nitty-gritty of things, this is the book for them. Graphics, text supports and short informational text make this book accessible and enjoyable for both elementary and middle-school kids.

the-book-of-heroines  The Book of Heroines by Stephen Warren                                                                                                    The author has compiled a fascinating collection of material about many outstanding women. This anthology includes stories of diverse figures ranging from first ladies, politicians and athletes to dare devils and legends. It is sure to be a hit with the young ladies on your gift list.

everything_kids_science_experiments_book_-_specia-robinson_tom-13944874-3346892342-frntlThe Everything Kids Science Experiment Book by Tom Robinson                                                            Although I’ve not personally read and used this book, it generated great reviews. In previewing it, I see that it includes many areas of Science and experiments easy to do with common household items. Your budding scientist will love this gift.

For Boys Only-The Biggest, Baddest Book Ever by Marc Anderson   for-boys-only                            This book will appeal to boys who can’t get enough details and information about everything. It covers a wide range of topics that will keep boys in grades five and up, revisiting its pages again and again.

K is for Kick, J is for Jump Shot, and H is for Home Run    k_is_for_kick_a_soccer_alphabet_0_large                                  These are just a few of the alphabet books published by Sleepy Bear Press. Don’t let the alphabet theme fool you into thinking these books are for little kids. This series includes beautiful photos and short verses, accompanied by informational sidebars that provide a wealth of information. These are books you will be proud to give and will undoubtedly become a favorite of the boy or girl on your shopping list.

Chicken Soup for the Soul books – Older youngsters are intrigued by true stories and benefit from the inspirational messages this series provide. These books lend themselves to read alouds and are a wonderful way to provoke discussion and reflection in our young people.










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