Thanksgiving & Literacy, the perfect holiday pair

Enjoy this poem meant to honor family literacy month and try some of my suggestions for sharing literacy with your family.

You’ve read together or played a game.                                                                                            Suddenly, things aren’t quite the same.

There’s a closeness between your child and you.                                                                       Your bonds with each other feel strong and new.

Literacy is a bridge where families can gather                                                                               to read, write, and discuss things that matter.

Literacy is a light guiding the way.                                                                                                   Binding you together so you don’t stray.

Literacy is a gift that your family can share.                                                                           Make the time and show how much you care.

Three Suggestions for Family Literacy:

  1. With Thanksgiving on the horizon, it’s the perfect time to hunt down great books about Thanksgiving and share them as a family.  May I recommend:                                                                                                                                                                                       Sarah Gives Thanks by Mike Allegra & David Gardner – This lovely books tells the story of Sarah Joseph Hale, a determined woman who spent many years campaigning for Thanksgiving to become a National Holiday. Family members will enjoy the watercolor pictures, learn more about this holiday and the importance of not giving up.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 This First Thanksgiving Day by Julie Markes beautifully highlights the many reasons for children today to be thankful. You may decide to read it aloud at dinner as a way to infuse the true spirit of Thanksgiving into your holiday.                                                                                                                                                                   Thanksgiving Jokes by Uncle Amon.  Most kids I know love to share jokes. This book provides great material for kids to read aloud and share the jokes with adults. Everyone will relish the laughs.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Thanksgiving Day at Our House, Thanksgiving poems for the very young by              Nancy White Carlstrom & R.W. Alley – The younger set will enjoy these clever, catchy poems about the holiday.

2. This is the perfect time of year to cook or craft with your family.  Enbed literacy by           having your child follow the directions and show you what to do.

3. “Tell us about” – Suggest that children write down what they would like family members to tell them about. For example, “Grandpop, tell us about your first job.” or “Aunt Sue, tell us about what high school was like for you.” When extended family or friends visit (or simply with your immediate family), pull a question and let someone answer your children’s burning questions. Speaking and listening are essential components of literacy. This is an enjoyable way to incorporate both.



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Celebrating National Family Literacy Month

No doubt, you are going about your business today, perhaps glad the excitement of Halloween is behind you and anticipating Thanksgiving as the next holiday. But, today is actually another important day to celebrate. November 1st marks National Family Literacy Day. In fact, the entire month celebrates National Family Literacy. It’s a good time to slow down and think about how you are encouraging literacy in your family.

Since 1994, when Congress passed a joint resolution designating November 1 as National Family Literacy Day, this date has kicked off events and celebrations through schools, libraries and communities encouraging family literacy.

So what is family literacy?  Family literacy is considered any activity that brings two or more generations together to engage in learning activities. The National Center for Families Learning is dedicated to that end. Consider the words of Sharon Darling, Founder and President of this organization:

“When parents and children come together to learn, relationships among family members, neighbors and communities are all strengthened. Educators and families across the country invest time—from hours to moments everyday—to learn together and make real-world connections that make learning stick, and last a lifetime. As we take National Family Literacy Month to reflect on the many successes and breakthroughs we’ve experienced with families learning together over the years, it’s easy to see that learning two generations at a time is a critical, worthwhile investment.”

Most parents and grandparents would agree but, not surprisingly, the difficult part seems to be finding the time to engage in family learning activities. Let’s pay attention to what Sharon says about investing time from hours to moments. It’s so easy to think that you need long blocks of time to make a difference. Truth is, you don’t. During the course of this month, I’ll share websites, short activities, short books and short games you can enjoy with family members. Please chime in with your own suggestions. Happy Family Literacy Day and Month!


  1. Check out this website:…/national-family-literacy-month-resources
  2. Find an engaging picture book and read it as a family
  3. Word of the Day: Take turns choosing a new word each day of November. Teach it to other family members and try to incorporate it into your conversation.
  4. Make a game of finding little known facts about Thanksgiving to share during the holiday meal. Here’s a favorite Thanksgiving book of mine to get you started.

          1621 Thanksgiving


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This Book Again? Four Ways Early Readers Benefit from Repeated Readings

If you have an early reader, you are noticing by now that your child hauls home the same books day after day, week after week. What’s with that? You’re probably wondering how rereading the same book will help your child grow as a reader. You’re not alone. These books are called “familiar reads”. Here are four ways repeated readings help your early reader:

1. Familiar reads build vocabulary. When your child rereads a book, it helps him internalize and remember those important sight words. Additionally, it helps him to encounter other vocabulary in the context of the story and begin to learn the meaning and use of a variety of words.

2. Familiar reads build fluency. Fluency is the ability to read smoothly, with expression and accuracy. Repeated practice enables a child to pay attention to punctuation marks and read in an expressive manner that aids comprehension.

3. Familiar reads build comprehension. Rereading allows a child to master fluency and fluency greatly aids comprehension. Comprehension is always the goal of reading. When a child uses appropriate phrasing, is able to quickly decode words, and reads with expression, the meaning of a text becomes clearer and comprehension improves.

4. Familiar reads build confidence. Once a child feels comfortable and confident reading a book, that sets the stage for success at the next level. A confidenct learner eagerly tackles new tasks and learns new skills, so important for an early reader.

Don’t balk when you see those “familiar reads” in your child’s bookbag. The teacher is sending them home for many good reasons and hopes you will support this important process in your budding reader.

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3 Essential Tips for Early Readers

book stars       I know it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me. If you remember, I stopped blogging because I broke my wrist. Truth be told, the wrist has been healed for several weeks now, but somehow writer’s block and a busy life combined to keep me quiet. Sorry about that!

Most schools have been in session for at least a month. This year, three of our nine (soon to be ten) grandchildren, took the big leap into first grade. From all accounts, they are loving it! I thought I would begin blogging again by discussing three important ways to support your early readers when you are listening to them read aloud.

Early readers improve rapidly when they receive support at home and have adults who are willing to listen to them read their independent books. However, that very practice can be counterproductive if adults don’t understand a few basic techniques to build the child’s confidence and help their child get the most out of reading aloud.

Although there are others, the three most important things to remember when you are listening to a novice reader are:

  1. Encourage the child to look at the pictures. Some adults think they should cover the pictures because they provide too many clues for the child. The opposite is true. When the reader has an idea of what is occurring in the story, it sets him up for success. The pictures provide important cues that will enable comprehension and help the child read the words correctly.
  2. “Say a little more” – When your child is stuck on a word, encourage your child to make the first sound, then say a little more. Suppose, for example, your child was stuck on the work “tick” in this sentence: Ben could hear the clock tick.                                   At that point, you could say…”Make the first sound.” Assuming your child made the sound of t, you would. then prompt, “Say a little more.” Hopefully, your child would blend the t and i sounds, getting enough information to come up with the correct word. Perhaps, he will still need to “say a little more” and add the ck ending sound to figure it out. It’s fine if your child is unable to decode the word, but providing a strategy that he can use is invaluable and “say a little more” is an easy, workable one to employ with early readers.
  1. Give a “three-second told” – Keep in mind that comprehension is always the goal of reading. If a young child spends too much time trying to decode a word, often the sense of the story gets lost. Use the process described above if your child is stuck, but don’t allow more than three seconds for the child to decode the word. In your head count one-one hundred, two-one hundred, three-one hundred, slowlyAt that point, tell your child the word and move on.

Opening up the world of reading with your child is a wonderful adventure. Your willingness to listen to your child read will enhance fluency, build confidence and develop a love of reading. Armed with a few essential strategies, reading  time can become a favorite activity for both of you.

It’s natural to have a lot of questions as your child begins learning to read in earnest.  Please share your questions and  I’ll do my best to answer. Your successes and comments will foster learning for others, so bring them on as well. Let’s partner on this reading  journey!

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Be Back Soon – I Hope

No blogging goimg on right now, friends, because I fell and hurt my wrist and wound up in a soft cast. Since it’s my right hand, it takes forever to type. I’ll be back blogging asap. Keep those kids reading–September is right around the corner.

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Tilling the Soil of Background Knowledge

farmer   Today, it occurred to me that I probably should have provided more information about the relationship between background knowledge and reading before sharing the blog post about “match-up books”. Sorry for putting the cart before the horse. This post will elaborate on the topic of background knowledge so you understand how adequate background knowledge can set your child up for a successful reading experience.

Teachers often use the phrase, “activate background knowledge”. This simply means to think about what you already know about a topic before delving into a book or article related to the topic. Whether beginning to read fiction or non-fictional text, good readers activate their background knowledge. Typically students are taught to preview the text and think about what they already know. If their knowledge of a topic is limited, a student may have to do some research or ask some questions before they read or the text will not be accessible…that is, it won’t make sense to them.

Imagine that you decide to plant flower seeds in the middle of March. You go outside and sprinkle the seeds on the hard ground. The hard ground is not a fertile environment and these seeds are not likely to grow. On the other hand, if you wait until the ground is softer and till the soil before planting the seeds, there is a much better chance that the seeds will take root and grow.  Activating background knowledge before you read is like tilling the soil. By recalling what you know about a topic, the reading that you do is more likely to take root then if you simply jump right in and begin to read.

Now this may all sound like teacher talk to you.  Not so. You are building your child’s background knowledge every day. From the day your child was born, you have facilitated his learning and opened the door to millions of new experiences for him. These experiences are a vital part of reading readiness for young children and that doesn’t stop once a child has learned to read. So, if you have taken your child to the zoo, for a ride on a train, to an amusement park, a farm, or even the grocery story, you have built valuable background knowledge. Pat yourself on the back and keep exposing your child to new people, places and things. It’s one of the best ways you can set him up for reading success.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to remind kids to think about what they already know or engage them in a little discussion before they begin to read something new.  Once a reader is grounded in the context of a story, article or book, the challenging parts will be much more manageable.

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Match-up Books

NtStars   Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is one of my favorite books. Not only is it an intriguing story, but it offers a wonderful opportunity to develop students’ background knowledge about World War II. Kids as young as fifth grade can read and enjoy this book, but it is essential to first develop adequate background knowledge about World War II. As you can imagine, most ten to thirteen year-olds have little knowledge of this era. That’s why it’s so much fun to build their background knowledge and watch how it enhances their comprehension as they read this historical fiction book. To this do, I use what I call “match-up” books.

Using match-up books has several advantages…

  1. Using match-up books encourages kids to read non-fictional material. With the advent of the Common Core standards, there’s been a huge push to get kids to read more  non-fiction.
  2. Using match-up books enables kids to see the importance of activating their background knowledge when reading.
  3. Using match-up books is an easy, enjoyable way to help youngsters learn about a topic.
  4. When youngsters realize how much they have learned, it boosts their self-confidence and helps them to understand how reading can empower them.

Give it try with your kids this summer. Here’s how…

  1. Find a fictional book based on a subject that requires essential background information. Historical fiction or adventure stories set in unusual places often lend themselves to this.
  2. Search out informational books on the same topic in the children’s section of the library. You will want to choose short books, with plenty of pictures that will easily convey information.
  3. Before reading the books, talk with your child about what he already knows about the topic. For example, before reading Number the Stars, I brainstorm information with the kids and usually it’s obvious that there is a lot to learn.
  4. Introduce the information books. Read together or let your youngster read them independently but be sure that you discuss what he’s learned together so you can expand on his knowledge, clarify confusions and answer questions.
  5. Armed with adequate background knowledge, your youngster is ready to read and enjoy the fictional book.
  6. When he/she finishes the book, talk about all he/she learned to help your child appreciate the value of reading both non-fiction and fictional books.

Here are the “match-up” books I choose to use with Number the Stars. Look for more match-up possibilities in future posts and feel free to share your own. The bit of effort it takes to hunt down related books is small price to pay for the knowledge and motivation this strategy can offer your child.

WW 2                                       By the numbers

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Book Series for Grades Four to Eight

stack_of_book_clipartComputers are great…when they work. A glitch in my WordPress  account  prevented me from posting last week. So today, take a look at some terrific book series that appeal to kids in the intermediate grades.

Remember that there are two different kinds of book series.  Sequential book series  have the same main characters and basic setting. Through a sequential series, readers develop a close relationship with the characters, which can become a great motivating factor. On the other other, some book series use the same basic structure and are built around a theme, but the characters and plot change, adding a new twist to each book. Both kinds of book series have value, it simply depends on your child preference. Here are some recommendations to get you started…


The I Survived Series by Lauren Tarshis

This series of books uses various historical events as the setting of the story. For example, there are is a book set on the Titanic, a book that takes place on 9/11, even a book about the shark attacks of 1916. The plot of the story is how the main character “survives” these catastrophes. Easy to read, packed with action and appealing to boys and girls alike, this is the perfect series to engage your reluctant reader. The nature of these books will interest strong readers in third grade, all the way up to struggling readers in eighth grade.

Dog Tags Series by C. Alexander London

If your son (or daughter) love dogs and loves adventure, this series is for him. Each book can stand alone and tells the story of a soldier’s relationship with his dog in the midst of a military adventure. Recommended for youngsters from grade 4 to grade 8.

Dear America Series

If you’re looking for a unique way to help your child learn about the history of America from 1600 to 1900, reach for this series. Using a diary-entry structure, each book tells the tale of a boy or girl living at some point during this time. This interesting and relatable series will appeal to most girls (and some boys) from grades four to seven. Also check out My Name is America, a book series featuring  the journals of young men through various points in history.

Vet Volunteer Series by Laurie Halse Anderson

Each book in the series is told in the voice of one of the eleven-year-old volunteers at Wild Heart Animal Clinic. If your child loves animals, this series will reel him/her in as they experience the challenges, rescues, and emergencies of a veterinary clinic.

The 39 Clues Series by Rick Riordan

Popular author, Rick Riordan has created an unusual mystery series for readers from grades four to seven. This unique series mixes mystery, power, and famous people as two orphans compete with members of the Cahill family to untangle the clues leading to a mysterious serum.

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley

In this clever series, peopled by famous fairytale characters, two orphans, Sabrina and Daphne discover they are descendants of the Brothers Grimm. They are charged with keeping the Everafters (a race of magical beings) in linestack_of_book_clipart. For kids who love fantasy, enjoy wry humor, mystery and adventure, this series is sure to please.

Your older youngsters probably have many more suggestions. Please add to this list. Enjoy!

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Book Series for Kindergarten & Primary Grade Students

mercy-watson    On Monday, I took one of my granddaughters for a birthday shopping spree. The deal was that half of the allotted money would be spent on books and the other half on toys. Shannon, my granddaughter is entering first grade in the Fall. She already loves to read and finished the first five books in the Mercy Watson series. Once in Barnes and Noble, we headed right back to the book series section. Luckily, the sixth book of the series was in stock, but I also pulled the first book of about ten series and we headed over to a little table to look them over and decide which ones would make the cut.

After looking at the cover and reading the back summary to Shannon, she quickly decided on ones that appealed to her. Already, this child has a sense of her own reading interests. By choosing the first in several series, Shannon will get a taste of each of them and follow up with the book series she enjoys the most.

There are so many delightful series for this age group. Even if your child is not yet reading, sharing these books together by reading them aloud, will provide all the benefits of book series discussed in the previous post and expose him or her to the delights of following the same character through many adventures. Set aside a block of time, take your child to a library or book store, let him/her sort through numerous books and take home the ones that hold strong appeal. You will build anticipation and warm memories as you share the fun of choosing a just-right book. Here are some ideas to get you started…

The Mercy Watson Series by Kate DiCamillo

Truthfully, I had never heard of this series by the renowned author Kate DiCamillo, until I saw it sitting on the table at my daughter’s home. Of course, I then heard about how Shannon loved it! Mercy Watson, is the endearing main character and each chapter book recounts one of her delightful adventures. They even have a fan club. Check out the Mercy Watson site at

Ballpark Mysteries by David A. Kelly

David Kelly has penned an engaging series, especially appealing to baseball enthusiasts. Each mystery is set in a different ball park. Readers can visit the ball park and solve a mystery at the same time. A winning combination!

Nancy Clancy, Supersleuth by Jane O’Connor

If the little ladies in your life love “Fancy Nancy”, they will be thrilled with this series. In this series, Fancy Nancy has matured a bit, but still is as glamourous as ever.  Equipped with a fancy magnifying glass and pink trench coat, Nancy readily solves the mysteries that come up in these easy-to-read chapter books.

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows

These two girls are opposites, but when they join together the fun never ends. Young girls will enjoy their wacky adventures and learn about friendship and acceptance at the same time.

The Hardy Boys Secret Files by Franklin Dixon

Frank and Joe are still around!  Boys who like adventure, mystery, sports and fun (and who doesn’t) will enjoy meeting these classic heroes in this series of chapter books for young readers.

Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

If your youngster has not already discovered this series, the popularity of the movie may be just the opening you need to introduce him to this unique superhero and jumpstart a reading journey.

Of course, this list could go on and on.  Don’t forget about the tried and true Junie B. Jones, Cam Jansen and Amelia Bedelia books, among the array of wonderful books series available. Please post your child’s favorites and add to this starting list of book series. Happy Reading!

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Lure into Literature with Book Series

ND PCB box mech.indd        In third grade, I met a new friend–a friend who would change my life! Her name was Nancy Drew. From the  time I opened the first book in this series, I was swept up into Nancy’s world of adventure, mystery and even romance. Book after book, I happily journeyed with Nancy, her two best girlfriends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne, along with Ned Nickerson, Nancy’s tall, handsome, boyfriend. This classic book series gave me my first taste of “losing myself in a book”. This series led me to explore many other popular book series of the day.

cherry ames           sue barton  When I met  Cherry Ames and Judy Barton, I learned about the world of medicine and often imagined myself wearing the crisp, white uniform of a nurse.

betsy-tacy     The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Lovelace Hart, took me to small town America at the turn of the century and helped me understand the value of close friends. The Ingalls family inspired me with their courage, independence and ingenuity as I traveled West right along with them in the series of Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.These were just a few of the book series that cast a spell and worked their magic, ultimately transforming me into a lifelong reader. My experience is not unique. Countless times in my teaching career, I saw reluctant readers transformed into avid readers once they discovered a series of books they enjoyed. At first, it does seem like magic, but when we peek behind the curtain, we can readily see the common factors which create that magical result…

 The Familiarity Factor

By the second book in a series, the reader is familiar with the main characters, the setting and the author’s style of writing. Even if the books are not part of a sequential series of books, readers already understand how the books are structured and have a sense of what to expect.

This familiarity factor provides confidence, frees up a reader’s working memory and enables them to more easily read and comprehend the text. It’s like visiting someone’s home for the second or third time. You feel grounded, you’re more at ease, you know where things are and what to expect, so you can relax and enjoy the visit more each time.

Reading Volume

Once hooked on a series, kids tend to readily pick up the next book, eliminating wasted time deciding on what to read next and providing the motivation to keep going. This equates to an increase in reading volume, which is a very big deal for youngsters who have trouble getting into a book. Research repeatedly proves the power of reading volume. The more kids read, the better their chances of academic success.


Reluctant readers of any age, need a boost of confidence. For the reluctant reader, the ability to read, enjoy, comprehend and complete several books in a timely manner, can be just the boost they need to spur them on.  Encouraging kids to delve into a new series of books may provide the key that opens the door to reading and enables them to see themselves as “readers”.

Entrance into the Community of Readers

Typically, certain book series become popular among members of a class. When a youngster reads books in the series, he gains entrance into this community of readers. In addition to being a solitary experience, reading becomes a social experience. The characters and plot provide fodder for discussion, book swaps and even role play as kids join together to extend the reading experience. Enjoying a book series with family, friends or classmates can lure the most reluctant reader into a life of literacy.

Memorable Experience

Reading several or all books in a series creates a memorable experience. Over time, the reader becomes deeply engaged with the characters and genuinely interested in their lives. Several years ago, I happened upon a Betsy-Tacy book. Immediately, I was transported back to my childhood. I felt like I had run into an old friend and hurriedly purchased the book so I could become reconnected with my pals. I’m sure many of you understand exactly what I mean. I’m sure many of you would lke to recreate those pleasureable reading experiences for your own kids. What are you waiting for? Check out some book series suggestions that I’ll share on Wednesday and Friday, check back in your own mind for those special books you can now share with your kids, and check in here to share your own treasured series with others.

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