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

Posted in American History, Background Knowledge, Book suggestions, Match-up Books, Motivation, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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 http://www.mercywatson.com/

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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A Look Ahead…

turtle and books  I’m guessing that most of you can remember at least one favorite series of books that stole your heart. The right book series can spark the most reluctant reader. Monday’s post will explore the popularity and positive impact of book series. Wednesday’s post will suggest several book series appropriate for early readers and Friday we’ll explore series that may be just the ticket for fourth to eighth graders. Love to hear about your favorite book series and how they impacted your reading life.

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Recommended Read Alouds

It’s time to gather up lots of books that will pique your children’s interest and roll out regular read aloud with your kids and grandkids. Here are some sure-fire winners to get you started…

For Younger Children

pigeon_bus_cover_lg  Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, and the Elephant and Piggie early readers both authored by Mo Willems will not disappoint. These award winning books will introduce you and your kids to this talented author and might just make you laugh out loud. If these are a hit, you can find scores of other awesome books by this author.

Froggy Learns  To Swim by Jonathan London is a perfect summer read for those little ones  who are feeling a bit tentative about learning this new skill.


Seasonal Thunderstorms remind me of a favorite by Patricia Polocco entitled Thundercake. In this story, a grandmother eases her grandaughter’s fear of thunder by teaching her how to make thundercake. Rich language, lovely illustrations and even the actual recipe for thundercake create a tale you and your child will cherish.


Strega Nona by Tomie DePaolo is a humorous tale that depicts what can happen when you don’t do what your told. If your child loves Stega Nona, you’ll want to search out other Tomie DePaolo books that include the delightful character of Stega Nona.

strega nona





For Older Children

A Days Work and The Train to Somewhere, both picture books by acclaimed author Eve Bunting, are  poignant tales that create awareness and empathy for the characters.

In A Days Work, a young boy lies  so he and his grandfather can secure work. The surprising results of that lie teach a powerful lesson.

Few youngsters know about the orphan trains that existed long ago. In Train to Somewhere, Eve Bunting  crafts a story that not only builds awareness but resonates with emotion that touches the heart of the reader.

Train to Somewhere

A Family Read Aloud

Ivan             The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Most youngsters from Kindergarten through middle school, will be able to enjoy this sensitive story told from Ivan’s (a gorilla) point of view. Ivan is confined to his small domain in a mall, along with a few other animals, who attract visitors and earn money for their keeper. The plight of these confined animals, weaves an unusual tale that will generate discussion and keep listeners eager for more.

Enjoy these great books and please add your favorite read alouds to this list.


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Read Aloud Tips


A few years ago, one of our sons called and asked, “Mom, what was that book you used to read to me…the one about the King and his little girl?” Immediately, I knew book he was talking about. It was called, The King Who Was Too Busy…a delightful cautionary tale about the importance of spending time with your children. Because this was one of his favorites, I had tucked it away in a safe place and was quickly able to put my hands on the tattered copy we had savored together so often. You can imagine how touched I was that our son, now a father with daughters of his own, remembered and hoped to replicate this reading experience.

If you’re not doing it already, today is the perfect day to start and sustain reading aloud to your child (or children) no matter what the age. Follow these suggestions and your read-aloud time will feed everyone’s mind and spirit, create warm memories, stretch your youngster’s imagination, and set the stage for a lifetime of reading enjoyment.

Here are some tips to help you create reading experiences that will last a lifetime…


  • Provide choice.  If possible, offer a few different texts and let your child select the one he wants to hear.
  • Choose age-appropriate texts. Young children can only sustain interest for a short time, so start with short texts that include colorful illustrations to keep the child’s attention.
  • Become familiar with the text before reading it aloud. Read through short texts and identify tricky words, appropriate stopping points for discussion and parts that lend themselves to a change in volume, expression or speed.
  • Preview the book with your child before reading aloud. Discuss the title and author, make predictions, build background knowledge if necessary. A few seconds at the start creates  interest and enhances comprehension.
  • Explain any confusing concepts or tricky vocabulary the child needs to know to avoid confusion.
  • Create an atmosphere that signals a special time. Turn off the TV and electronic devices, settle in on a comfortable chair, couch, bed or blanket, consider using a book light so that you can dim the other lights in the room. Attention to detail will send a positive message to your listeners  and heighten anticipation.
  • Attention Fathers:  Since most teachers are women, kids hear lots of read-alouds from females in the classroom setting. Dispel the notion that reading is only for girls, by becoming a regular reader in your child’s life.
  • Most importantly, relax and enjoy this experience with your child!


  • Consider what is happening in the story and vary your tone, volume and pace accordingly. Reading slowly and with expression will engage your child and add to his enjoyment and understanding.
  • If you are able to pull it off, use different voices for the characters. Younger children usually get a big kick out of this.
  • Involve the child when possible. Let little ones turn the pages, fill in a word, or read repetitive text.
  • Don’t rush!  Slowing down enables the child to create pictures in his mind and think about what’s happening.
  • Stop and Think. Stop and Talk. At appropriate points, stop and give the child a few seconds to think about what’s happening or how the story makes him feel.  Encourage questioning, inferencing, predicting, but don’t overdo and make this an academic activity. The goal is simply to encourage thinking and keep your child actively engaged with the text.
  • If you are reading a long text, stop at a cliffhanger so listeners are eager for more.
  • Offer a variety of genres. Poetry, magazine articles, and non-fiction books are great choices.
  • Repetitive readings are fine. If your child falls in love with a special book and enjoys listening to it over and over, go for it. Just remember to offer other choices as well.


  • Sit and savor. Take a minute to simply sit together quietly, savoring the experience.
  • Clarify any confusions   your child may have and again, encourage discussion and wonderings.
  • Responding to text through drawing, writing or acting it out extends the experience. If your child shows an interest in extension activities (this doesn’t have to occur right after the read aloud) encourage him to respond in any way he chooses.
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