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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The Gift the Keeps on Giving: Part 2

Hope you enjoyed learning about the many  types of kids’ magazine out there. As promised, here are some more subcription suggestions that may appeal to the kids on your list:

American Girl:  This classic magazine will be a welcome treat for the young lady in your life. It offers a variety of stories, articles, projects and poems that appeal to girls 8 and up.

Sports Illustrated for Kids: So many youngsters play sports and enjoy watching them that this magazine is a sure winner. Within its covers, they will find a plethora of entertainment that includes articles on both various sports and the players themselves, sports previews, cartoons, puzzles, question and answer articles, and trivia. In addition, readers will love the sports cards and Tips from the Pros. This is the perfect gift for the sports buff from 8 to 13. Web site:

National Geographic for Kids:  In the tradition of National Geographic, this publication includes amazing photos that accompany informative articles on animals, plants, technology along with activities and biographical pieces. Youngsters from 8 to 14 will enjoy enhancing their geographical awareness by reading this magazine.                               Web site:

Ranger Rick: The 6 to 12 year olds on your list that enjoy nature and outdoor activities will love this magazine. Varied stories, articles, activities, and crafts entice youngsters and will provide hours of enjoyable reading and fun. Subscribers also become members of the Ranger Rick Nature Club. Web site:

I’m sure there are many more wonderful publications out there for kids. Please add your  favorites in the comments section.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: With Thanksgivin just a week away, I wanted to mention a beautifully designed and informative book that would make a great hostess gift or a wonderful addition to your collection of holiday books or a classroom library.

1621 – A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac with Plimouth Plantation (published by National Geographic Society)  Initially, the incredible photography will grab your attention. Photos taken at the Plimouth Plantation living history museum in Massachusetts provide a realistic backdrop for this factual book. In this well-researched text, we learn the importance of the Wampanoag tribe and their role in the first Thanksgiving. This book dispells many of our Thanksgiving myths and offers a new, insightful perspective.  1621-thanksgiving







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The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Don’t you just love it when you unexpectedly happen upon a tresure trove of great gifts to give? This morning, I attended a meeting in the upper room at Shady Brook Farm in Yardley. When it was over, I decided to spend a few minutes browsing around the shop, the shop that included everything from fresh produce, to meats, cheese, baked goods and GIFTS. About an hour later, I walked out of there with beautiful gifts for four of the trickiest people on my holiday shopping list. I also picked up several ornaments for the grandkids. It was a successful start to my seasonal shopping.

Since I’m in the holiday spirit, I’ll share some reading gift suggestions that may enable you to easily check off some of the youngsters on your holiday list. I love to give magazine subscriptions because a subscription is truly the gift that keeps on giving. As you know, most kids love to receive mail. When that mail is a gift, it’s even more thrilling. A subscription is a regular reminder of your kindness and of course, provides a great incentive for the recipient to sit down and read. That’s a lot of bang for your buck. What’s more, it’s an easy gift to give…no shopping, no wrapping, just a little form to complete and you’re done.

The challenging part is choosing a magazine that your child, grandchild, neice, nephew, or friend will truly enjoy. To that end, I’m providing a list of magazines with a short description of each and a link to the site where you can order it. Have fun finding a great pick and feel good that you are giving the gift of reading.

Ask:  A Smithsonian magazine appropriate for or children ages 8 and up, this magazine focuses on Arts and Sciences.  Themed issues provide informative, interesting articles on many aspects of the topic. For example, the magazine I reviewed was all about about sugar. The articles spanned the gamut from various kinds of sweeteners to informational articles on diabetes and sugar birds. In addition to wonderful pictures and text supports, the magazine offers tricks and contests. Great choice for the inquisitive child on your list.   Web site:

Boys Life: This well-known magazine, published by the Boy Scouts of America, offers a variety of articles accompanied by beautiful photography and helpful graphics. In addition to articles on history, outdoor life, sports, hobbies and other topics, the magazine varies the length and type of articles so that much of it can be enjoyed in small bites. The young man on your list doesn’t have to be a boy scout to enjoy this fine publication, which appeals to boys ages 8 to 17.   Web site:

Cricket:  This magazine is for anyone who wants to nurture a child’s imagination with a regular dose of rich literature. Content includes fictional stories (some in a serial format), interactive stories (where kids can participate online), poetry, non-fiction, crossword puzzles and contests.This is a unique gift for a 9 to 14 year old.                                                  Web site:

Cobblestone:  Themed issues will provide the perfect gift for the young history buff. The magazine is focused on American History and each issue comprehensively covers a selected topic. The magazine uses many interesting formats to hold readers’ attention and includes useful text features such as photos, maps, and question and answer formats. Poems, crafts and puzzles are also regularly featured.  I was impressed with the variety of texts and the range of information offered in each issue. For kids from 9 to 15, this is a great periodical to jump start or enrich an interest in history.                                                            Web site: http://

Muse:  Another Smithsonian magazine by the editors and publishers of Cricket Magazine, this beautifully put together publication that includes a wide-range of topics (based on Smithsonian collections) is sure to interest most youngsters ages 10 and up. You can’t go wrong buying a subscription to this  publication.                                                                                   Web site:

Check out these great pubs, start your holiday shopping and offer the kids on your list a wealth of knowledge and entertainment for a modest price. Check back on Friday, when I continue this list. In the meantime, please let us know if you and your kids have a favorite magazine to recommend.



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Helping our youngsters in the aftermath of the election

After one of the most contentious campaigns in the history of our country, the die was cast, the people spoke and early Wednesday morning, Hillary Clinton conceded the election to Donald Trump. No matter how you felt about the result, it is clear that our nation is witnessing history and is witnessing our democracy in action. Newspapers and news stations across the country show sequential images of election results and peaceful protests – our democracy in action!

It is our constitutional right to feel elated or dismayed. It is our constitutional right to peacefully express our feelings and opinions. As adults, most of us understand both the privileges and constraints that we must exercise at this time. Most of us are eager to move on and work together to unify our country, to seek areas of commonality, and to engage in respectful discussions regarding those issues where we disagree. Most of us will remember the words of President Obama…”This was an intramural scrimmage. We are all on the same team. We are all Americans.”

However, our desire to move forward with peace and acceptance is not an easy task. Even for adults, a large measure of maturity is required to move beyond the hurtful rhetoric and accusations. So how difficult must it be for our children to make sense of the unrest surrounding this election? As parents and teachers, it is essential that we come up strong and take the time to discuss, explain, answer questions, and support our children in their quest to make sense of it all. “Attitudes are caught not taught.” What we model at this time will be internalized by our youngsters.

Today, may I respectfully suggest that you seek out appropriate books, articles and even movies to help you explain the workings of our country, sooth your child’s emotions, answer their questions, and emphasize the values that underlie our democracy. How you support your child during this tumultuous time is a personal decision so I’m not going to suggest specific resources. Knowledge empowers, knowledge heals, knowledge opens the door to respect and acceptance. My hope is to encourage you to head to your library, bookstore or  Amazon to hunt down materials that will enable you to foster knowledge, understanding, empowerment, and peace in the hearts of our children.

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Five Reasons to Give Books as Gifts

Last week the first toy catalog arrived in the mail. Immediately, I stashed it in a safe place so that when the “grands” came over later in the week, they could have the fun of going through it. They were delighted to see it and spent at least a half hour checking out the seasons’ newest gifts for kids. Admittedly, receiving flashy, new toys is one of the best parts of the holiday for youngsters. So let’s get this straight from the start…I’m not a Scrooge. May I, however, suggest that you add a few books into that mix of toys. Here are five reasons books make great gifts for the young people in your life:

  1. Books Entertain:  We all like to give and receive presents that entertain us. Books top the list. Think about the amount of time it takes to read a book. Think about the hours of enjoyment a child receives when he delves into a fiction or non-fiction book that piques his interest. In terms of pleasure, I’d put an intriguing book up against the season’s most popular toys, wouldn’t you?
  2. Books Educate:  The array of books available for kids of all ages is astonishing and fiction as well as non-fiction opens new worlds to the reader. Only within the pages of a book can you visit new places, meet new people, take on a new identity, hone your problem solving and critical thinking skills, learn new words and experience a variety of emotions all from the comfort of your own home.  Quite a gift, don’t you agree?
  3. Books Empower:  “Reading is thinking.” Few people would deny the importance of offering kids lots of opportunties to think critically. Few people would deny the importance of emboldening youngsters ability to consider multiple viewpoints and make good decisions. Few people would deny the need to empower kids with knowledge and confidence. Reading reinforces the lifeskills necessary to survive and succeed in today’s world.
  4. Books Last:                                                                                                                                                        Among the many books that live in our home are many treasured texts that have been given as gifts to someone in our family. Here’s just a sampling… When our two youngest children were little, we used to purchase the paperback Bernstein Bear Books for Rose and Joe as gifts or a reward. Now the collection of over twenty-five Bernstein Bear books are a huge hit with all our grandchildren. The kids love to see their parent’s or uncle’s name scribbled on the inside in their childish print. Some have stickers or drawings on the inside cover. The fact that the books are not in topnotch condition only conveys how much they were read and loved. It’s wonderful to revisit these timeless tales with the grandkids.                                                               I                I own a beautiful missal inscribed by my Godfather. Everytime I use it, I think about Uncle Gerry and the good man he was. There’s a well-worn copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends that my sister gave to our son, Jack. Jack lets me keep it at our house because he knows I regularly read the funny poems to all the grandkids. But some day, when my sister passes, I know Jack will cherish this book as a reminder of her love.                                                                                                                                                                      Inscribe the books you give with the date and a little note. They will become reminders of your love and wish to present the recipient with a meaningful gift that will withstand the text of time.
  5. Books are Inexpensive:  Based on all of the above, I challenge you to find a gift that offers as much “bang for your buck” as a book.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION:   The Christmas Menorahs by Janice Cohn             christmas-menorahs              A rock is thrown through the window of  Isaac’s room where a menorah is displayed. This incident sets the stage for a thought-provoking story based on a true occurrence in Billings, Montana. If you are looking for a book to discuss prejudice and prompt discussion, this tale of how a town came together to fight hate is just the ticket. Complete with beautiful illustrations and a non-fictional summary of the real event, this is great book to share with youngsters in Grades 3 and up.




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The Gift of Reading

I’m not trying to jump the gun, like most of the stores do, but in a few short weeks, the holiday season and gift-buying frenzy that accompanies it, will begin. The next few posts will focus on reading as a gift. I’ll discuss why books make such great gifts and also provide titles of books that may be perfect for the youngsters on your list. But in addition to offering gift suggestions, I want to encourage you to incorporate literature into your holiday traditions. Seasonal stories can live in our hearts, influencing us in positive ways throughout our lives and helping us remember the holidays of our youth. I’ll start these posts by sharing how we enbedded literature in our family and ask you to join in with stories and ideas of your own.

When I was a little girl, my mother always read The Night Before Christmas after we hung our stockings. I welcomed this ritual and when I became a mother myself, decided continue it with my own children. Somehow, the number of stories grew. By the time all five of our children were born, I was reading The Night Before Christmas and The Story of the Nativity and several others before the stockings were hung. Of course, when the kids were very young, I collected a slew of holiday books that I read throughout the days leading up to Christmas. Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, and many other less known ones were read and reread throughout the season. Although it was a small thing, I hope that when my kids hear these tales today, it sparks a memory and transports them back to a happy time in their childhood. Good literature is a link to the past and beacon for the future. Do you have any traditions that involve books that you can share with us?

BOOK RECOMMENDATION:  Wonder by R. J. Palacio   (Grades 4 and up)

For the last few days, I have been listening to the audio book of Wonder. Although I’m not even finished it, I am heartily recommending this touching story. August is a lovable fifth grade boy who is attending school for the first time in his life, having been home-schooled by his mother. Entering middle school when you’ve never even been to school is a challenging situation in itself. But for Auggie, who was born with severe facial abnormalities, the situation is almost unbearable. Told from the perspectives of many major characters, this believable tale is compelling and heart-wrenching. This is a book to share with your family. This is a book to listen to on tape because the various voices of the characters add to the realism and impact of the character’s actions and emotions. This is a book with the potential to evoke meaningful discussions and this is a book that will heighten everyone’s empathy for people unlike themselves. Wonder is quickly becoming one of my favorite young adult novels and a book I am eager to share with my grown children and my grandchildren. Don’t miss it!

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Are You a Good Salesman?

Rose Birkhead is a Reading specialist who has worked at both the elementary and secondary level. As a passionate teacher, Rose is always striving for new ways to motivate and engage her seventh and eighth grade students. When not teaching, Rose enjoys spending time with her husband and two children, ages five and six, visiting with friends, golfing and reading. Additionally, I am proud to say that Rose is my daughter. 

Although I’ve never worked in sales, as a middle-school Reading specialist, selling is a big part of my job. Day after day, I struggle to sell students on the importance of reading, to sell the latest project so that it will be met with enthusiasm not groans, to sell the value of participation, study, effort. Mostly, however, I sell books. Much like a sales clerk, I assess my customers (the students) and do my best to suggest books they will joyfully embrace so that they are willing to come back for more. Here’s a snippet from a recent conversation with a student to demonstrate what I mean…

When Susan asked me for a book recommendation, I quickly glanced at my shelves and pulled several books.

“Have you read Divergent? What about Legend? Did you ever read The Face on the Milk Carton? Oh, how about Tears of a Tiger? The Bully? Do you want a graphic novel? I have Sisters, Drama, and Ghosts…”

I proceeded to pile about eight books together so that Susan would have plenty to peruse during our independent reading time. At the end of class, I noticed Susan had settled on Divergent. I approached Susan and asked what she thought.

“Honestly, Mrs. Birkhead, I really wasn’t into it. I thought I’d really like it because the movie was cool, but I just couldn’t get into it.”

I smiled knowingly at her and said, “Susan, do you like shopping? Do you ever go in a store and find a slew of clothes to try on?

An instant grin appeared on Susan’s face. “I love to shop!”

“I do, too. But sometimes I feel disappointed, especially after I try on a ton of clothes and discover none of them is what I’m looking for.”

“I know what you mean. It can feel like a big waste of time.”

“Exactly. Sometimes, Susan, the same thing happens with books. Initially, we may be excited and intrigued by a book, but after reading a bit, we realize it’s just not for us. That’s what happened to you today. It’s important to understand that there are a million books out there and many of them will be winners for you. I have two options for you today. You can give Divergent a better chance by reading another twenty pages, or simply abandon it and continue to shop for a book you love, just like you would if you were buying clothes. The important thing is not to give up.”

Like teachers, parents are also salesman in the lives of their children. In the realm of reading, a parent often needs to sell kids on the value of reading and take them shopping for those magic books that will reel them in and transform them into life-long readers.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION:  The Rule of Three by Eric Walter                                                                                                                                 (Recommended for Grades 5 and up)

Imagine – it is 2:45 at school. You are in the computer lab with your best friend, working on an assignment, when POOF! thepower goes off in the entire school. Everyone gathers in the school gym, and the principal dismisses you. When you walk out to the parking lot, you notice no one is leaving. You head over to your 1979 car, and it starts right up. Then, it dawns on you – your classmates’ cars won’t start because they rely on technology. As you travel home, you realize the  power is off everywhere. That’s right, no electricity and no Internet! That’s exactly what happens to Adam in this intriguing novel.

Adam, the main character, a high school student, is responsible for taking care of his younger siblings while his mom leads the community as the chief of police. His dad, who is a pilot, is in Chicago. Even if his dad can’t make it home, at least he has taught Adam some skills that may just come in handy as the community begins to unravel and neighborhood fights break out. Youngsters will love this suspenseful novel as they read to discover if the community can survive weeks without electricity and the technology that has become commonplace.



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Happy National Family Literacy Day

Hope you enjoy some relaxing time to read with your family in celebration of National Family Literacy Day. Sorry for the lack of posts lately…it’s called life!  Check in tomorrow for a guest post by my daughter, Rose Birkhead, a middle-school reading specialist. I’ll return on Friday.

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Tips to Build Inferencing Skills

Who hasn’t been to a Halloween party where one of the costumed characters puzzle everyone. Who is that? we think, rummaging through a list of possibilities in our mind, using the process of elimination and what we know about who we expect to attend the party. If we’re lucky (and good at inferencing), the correct answer dawns on us. With perfect confidence, we shout out the name of the mystery guest. When he unmasks and proves us correct, we feel justifiably proud.

“Effective Teaching of Inferencing Skills”, a Literature Review by Anne Kespal, reviews  research that indicates the importance of developing inferencing skills and classroom activities teachers can use to develop these skills in their students. The literature reviewed in this study also highlights the impact of inferencing skills on comprehension with one study suggesting that “poor inferencing causes poor comprehension, not vice-versa.”

Years of teaching reading convinces me that the ability to make inferences is one of the most important skills a student can possess. We are constantly making inferences, but if we cannot support our thinking, then we are merely jumping to conclusions. Today, I’d like to offer a few ways that you, as a parent, can help develop and reinforce your youngsters ability to make inferences when they read.

  • Play games, view art work, read cartoons, point out signs and generally find opportunties to help your kids practice inferencing. For example, today I saw a sign on the back of a van used to install custom blinds. It read: CAUTION – Blind Driver. Because I knew two meanings for the word blind, I got the joke. Helping kids hone their inferencing skills can actually be a lot of fun.
  • Remind your child to activate his background knowledge before tackling a text. When I work with kids, I share this equation when teaching inferencing:                                                 Background Knowledge + Author’s clues = Inference                                                       When readers routinely look at the title, pictures, and text features and think about what they already know, it can boost the ability to make inferences while reading.
  • When you are discussing a text, ask Why? or How do you know?  These kinds of questions prompt kids to support their thinking and determine if their conclusion is accurate. Inferencing is a higher-level thinking skills. We need to make children aware of why and how they are using their background knowledge and the clues in the text and help them determine if their thinking makes sense.
  •  Suggest that your child “chunk the text”, reading a few pages and then stopping to think about what has occurred. The ability to make inferences depends on working memory. Particularly in a long text, students need to monitor their thinking so that as the text proceeds, they can remember what has previously happened and put information together to make insightful inferences. Active reading supports accurate inferences.
  • If you preview texts before sharing them with your child you will know what clues the author provides and what the author hopes the reader will infer. With a little forethought, you can tease out the inferences from your child and provide a rich reading experience.

Support the development of your child’s inferencing skills in any way you can. Kids need lots of practice. Reinforcing inferencing skills is sure to pay off in deeper and more meaningful comprehension. I’ll post some great books for practicing inferencing in a future post. For now, please share any helpful hints you may have.









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When is Fake not Funny?

Many of us, especially our kids, consider Halloween the funniest and most enjoyable holiday of the year. During the month of October, fake scarecrows, witches, haunted houses,monsters and costumes are everywhere. Most of the time, this fake is fun!

When is faking not fun? You guessed it…when kids engage in fake reading. In elementary school, most teachers spend enough time with their students and allow enough independent reading time to spot a fake reader easily.

As students move to the middle school level, identifying a fake reader gets a bit trickier. Students are no longer in a self-contained classroom and by now, many of them have figured out how to play the game, becoming expert at reading the synopsis of a book, listening to other students and generally perfecting the ability to sound like they really read and understood the text.

Fake reading is no joke. When students persist in pretending and get away with it, it sets them up for failure. They know they can’t comprehend, but cover up the situation, which results in their failure to get the support they need.

Is you child a “fake reader” and if so, how can you intervene?  Take a little time over the next week or so to observe when your child is reading. Does he fidget constantly, stop reading and gaze into space, turn pages too quickly or too slowly?  Most of all, is your child able to discuss the text?  I don’t mean answer rote questions like who is the main character. I mean really explain the story and share his response with support from the text. If you see a pattern and are concerned, here are a few ways to offer support:

  • Talk to the teacher – Bring you concerns to the teacher and find out what she is seeing in school. Periodically, all of us read without thinking carefully. However, when this becomes a habit and a child tries to hide his lack of comprehension, there is cause for concern.
  • Preview what your child is reading and help him set a purpose for reading. When students have a reason to read, it helps them maintain focus and read with care.
  • Discuss the text with your child and provide background knowledge that will help him more easily understand the text. Oftentimes, a lack of background knowledge is at the core of confusion about the text.
  • Create a plan of attack with your child. For example, chunk the text into manageable parts. Let your child read independently, then discuss the text and return to parts that were difficult, helping your child to make sense of them. It is important for kids to know that rereading is a valuable strategy and often clarifies confusing text.
  • Make sure your child knows how to read dialogue. Remember, authors do not always let us know who is speaking. Show your youngster portions of dialogue that only use indentation to show a different person is speaking. Practice reading snippets of dialogue aloud with your child, alternating parts to help him get the hang of reading dialogue.
  • Pronouns are confusing. Show your child how to return to text and figure out who the pronoun refers to in the text.
  • Remind your child to use reading strategies. Setting a purpose for reading, chunking the text, visualizing, questioning, and synthesizing are all excellent ways to uncover meaning and enhance comprehension. Yes, they take a little time. But with practice, these strategies will become an integral part of your child’s reading repertoire.

October is a month of fun and fakery, but fake reading is one activity that is futile not fun. Let’s intervene and help our fake readers transform into authentic readers as soon as possible.









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