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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Reasons to Read Aloud

Most of the time, I eat well but when I find myself getting off-track, I seek out books and articles about nutrition. Typically, this little strategy infuses me with enough motivation and nuggets of new knowledge to help me resume good eating habits.

We all know the benefits of eating a healthy diet. Similarly, most people know the benefits of reading aloud to kids. However, just like nutrition, we need to be reminded of those benefits so we have an incentive to start or resume this essential practice. Hopefully, these reminders will do just that.

In 1985, the report, Becoming a Nation of Readers, stated “The single most important activity for building knowledge for their eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” Subsequent research only reinforced this fact and revealed tons of positive effects associated with reading aloud to children of all ages. Consider these positive effects:

  • Reading aloud builds vocabulary. Literature for youngsters usually includes rich vocabulary and if you add explanation and discussion about words encountered in text, the read-aloud becomes even more powerful.
  • Since a child’s listening level is higher than their independent reading level, reading aloud allows kids to experience texts that they would be unable to enjoy on their own.
  • Reading aloud provides a model of fluent reading. Kids learn how good reading sounds, developing awareness of pacing, phrasing, attention to punctuation and proper pronunciation.
  • Reading aloud builds background knowledge. Any teacher will tell you the important role that strong background knowledge plays in the reading experience.
  • Reading aloud provides opportunity for questioning, discussion, and explanations – important parts of active reading.
  • Reading aloud enhances familiarity with book language and story structure. Knowing how a story is built and how it “sounds” builds confidence as youngsters progress to higher levels of independent reading.
  • Reading aloud provides opportunities to model reading strategies, such as Previewing, Predicting, Chunking text and Synthesizing information.
  • Reading aloud Creates a positive attitude towards reading.
  • Reading aloud Sets kids up for success in school.
  • Reading aloud enhances communication skills.
  • Reading aloud fosters critical thinking skills.
  • Reading aloud creates a bond with the reader.

As though that’s not enough, reading aloud to young children (even newborns) helps kids learn skills needed to learn to read, such as…

  • Story structure (concept of a beginning, a middle and an end)
  • Directionality (pointing as you read enables kids to see that we read from left to right)
  • Ability to differentiate between letters and words
  • Recognition of punctuation
  • Basic sounds

Author Jim Trelease became famous many years ago for his book, The Read-Aloud Handbook. Delve into this text and some of Jim’s others books to learn even more about reading aloud. Read Aloud Handbook

The relaxing days of summer lend themselves to initiating this practice with your kids. Just like a balanced diet, reading aloud is an important component of a balanced reading life. Please voice your questions and ideas about reading aloud and I’ll be back on Wednesday with some specific tips.

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A Look Ahead

Dad and kids

Summer’s arrival is the perfect season  to add more “read alouds” to your time with kids. Three important aspects of reading aloud will be discussed in this week’s posts…

  • Monday – Learn about why reading aloud is so important for kids of any age.
  • Wednesday – Enjoy tips to enhance your read alouds.
  • Friday – Discover several perfect read-aloud books to get you started.

Hope you enjoy and please share your own book ideas, tips, and experiences about reading aloud.

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Just Joking

chooseadearbook    In April, “Pop-Pop” and I decided to give Patrick (our grandson) a shopping spree for his seventh birthday. We set an amount and told Patrick we would take him to Toys R Us and Barnes and Noble. He could spend half the money at the toy store and other half at the book store. Needless to say, it was an enjoyable adventure, offering not just a gift to Patrick, but the gift of time with Patrick to us.

  • First stop was Barnes and Noble.  Patrick had begun reading The Magic Treehouse series of books, so we checked them out first. As we traipsed around the other section, Patrick spied some joke books. We sat on the floor and read through a few together. Patrick chose one of the colorful creations published by National Geographic. Little did I realize what a popular and powerful gift that would become.Next time I saw Patrick, the first thing he did was say, “Want to hear a joke, Mimi?” He proceeded to tell me several that he had memorized from the book, then ran upstairs to retrieve the book so he could share more of them with me. As he read, and as I explained some of the ones that were tricky to understand, I realized how many literacy skills (and life skills) he was practicing by reading and reciting these jokes. Here are a few of the powerful skills kids can learn by reading joke books:
  • Fluency: Pacing, Phrasing, expression and attention to punctuation all come into play when kids read these humorous tidbits aloud. Repetitive reading has long been touted as valuable way to build fluency and you will see, kids love to read their favorite jokes to anyone who will listen.
  • Vocabulary Development: Think about it…many jokes and riddle (especially those for youngsters) depend on the use of homophones, multi-meaning words, puns and idioms. Joke books offer a natural opportunity to teach the meaning of different words and explain expressions and word play that create the humor. Lots to learn in a fun way!
  • Confidence: You won’t have to beg your child to read a joke book and every time he reads aloud to friends or family, he is building confidence in his oral reading skills.
  • Memorization: Today, students are not asked to memorize as much as in the past. Kids will easily commit these jokes to memory, surprising themselves and others with a stash that will come in handy in many social situations.

Who knew a little joke book could also be a powerhouse of learning?  Grab a few jokes books for your kids and you’ll add humor and reading practice to your summer days. A winning combination!

Here are a few examples from the series Patrick (and now his younger sister, Shannon) love!

joke book                              joke book 3

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Soar into Summer

sunWelcome to a new season and a new addition to this blog. Several friends and fellow grandparents have requested that I provide some tips and book suggestions for younger kids. The start of summer seems like a good time to honor this request. Summer offers the space to try out some new ideas and explore books that will motivate and support our kids. Together, let’s avoid the “summer slide” and help our kids soar as readers this summer. Hope you find this new content useful. As always, I welcome your comments.

If your child is in pre-school or the primary grades, taking a “picture walk” before reading is a great way to motivate and begin to help them make predications (an important reading skill). The process is simple but powerful:

  1. Choose an appropriate picture book that is new to the child.
  2. Read the title aloud and encourage the child to view the cover and share his reaction.
  3. “Walk” through most of the pages in the book. If the book has a surprise ending, I would try not to spoil it. As you page through the book, focus on the illustrations, encouraging the child to share what he thinks is happening, how a character might be feeling, where the story occurs and what he predicts might happen.

These three simple steps can prepare your child to be more focused and engaged as you (or the child) begin to read.

You can’t go wrong offering these favorites from Eve Bunting and Cynthia Rylant…

Yard Sale  and Pirate Boy by Eve Bunting

 The Day the Relatives Came and The Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant




Posted in Picture book recommendation, Summer Reading, Young Children | 3 Comments

Books to Give, Books to Share

Seems to me, Spring is almost as much a season of celebration as the winter holidays.  Recently, I’ve come across a few remarkable books that are great to read with your elementary children, and would also make a thoughtful gifts for the many special occasions that occur this time of year. Check them out…

I Wish You More by Amy Krause Rosenthal    I Wish YOu      is a clever book that will help you express a myriad of wishes to the luckly recipient.

Old Turtle, Questions of the Heart by Douglas Wood Old TurtleOld Turtle’s words of wisdom will inspire people of any age to consider life’s purpose a find a promising path. What a special volume to share with those on the cusp of a new beginning.


Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead –    Samson in the Snow                       Themes of friendship, persistence and compassion form the basis for this unique and beautifully illustrated picture book. Whether you’re looking for a thoughtful           read-aloud to share with your child or a message of hope to share with a struggling friends, look knew further than this beautifully illustrated new publication.




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  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, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3eZvEIdmq4, 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 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/style/modern-love-you-may-want-to-marry-my-husband.html. 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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