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1. The Children's & Teen Choice Book Award

This will be the seventh year in which you can choose a favorite book to win the CHILDREN'S CHOICE BOOK AWARD. The award is given by the Children's Book Council.

You'll find the list of books in the running for the award at the link above. The voting continues into May, so you have plenty of time to read all of the books in your age bracket. The winners will be announced during Children's Book Week, May 12-18. When you visit the Children's Book Week site, you'll find cool freebies:

the official bookmark you can print out by nonfiction illustrator, Steve Jenkins

the official poster by Fancy Nancy artist, Robin Priess Glasser. You can request as many of these as you need.

 You can also find out above local events that you can participate in. Most likely your school or a local library will be planning something special during Children's Book Week--because we all know how very special both books and children are!

And books for kids are the absolute best!!!

Happy reading. :)


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2. Conflict and Tension



Today we had a break from the cold winter temps, so my dog Holly and I enjoyed a long walk.
But we'd barely made it back inside, when it started pouring rain.

Now if I'd been writing a story, this would have been much too easy a course for my characters. They took a nice walk and escaped the drenching rain without batting an eye. Absolutely no TENSION or CONFLICT.

In a real story, poor Holly and I would have been bent over double, battling the high winds. The thunder would have rumbled around us, lightening sparked. And of course, we would have scrambled and scraped to make it back in time--only to have been walloped with a downpour mere steps from safety.

A good story needs plenty of TENSION and CONFLICT. Here's some examples in books I've been reading:

DIRTY GERT by Tedd Arnold. A young child adores dirt, so much so that she finally starts to sprout.

THE DARK by Lemony Snicket. A young boy is terribly scared of the dark, and one night it invites him into the basement.

FOG ISLAND by Tomi Ungerer. A boy and girl become lost in their boat during the fog. When they land on Fog Island, they climb the slippery stairs and meet an enchanted wizard.

Can you find examples of TENSION and CONFLICT in one of your favorite stories?
Can you write a story filled with TENSION and CONFLICT?

I think it's quite fun to amp up wattage in a story. Give it a try. It's nice for your characters to arrive eventually at a happy ending--but don't make it too easy for them.

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3. Writing and Drawing

I'm in the middle of revising one of my fantasy novels. This one involves fairy tale characters, so there has to be at least one castle, right? And a giant and...yeah, lots of fun characters and settings.

When one of Rich Davis' drawing posts came into my mailbox last week, it reminded me how fun the illustrations will be for this story I'm working on. Too bad I'm not a super illustrator like Rich. But with his step-by-step instructions, most anyone can become an artist.

Here's the link to his "Draw a Castle."  I hope you'll give this picture a try--or try one of the other drawing lessons on Rich's site.


As you can see below, I truly do have a CASTLE in my very own backyard. And a friendly GIANT lives there. He loves to go sledding with the children who drop by. :)




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4. Saying Goodbye to 2013

It's fun to take a look at my 2013 through photos. Come along with me, if you'd like to take a peak.

The year had some big stuff--like circus elephants


and a winter wedding...


Plus more fun-- visits from the Easter Bunny


and puddle splashing...

There were zebras ...


and chocolate birthday cupcakes...

There were New Mexico hummingbirds and ....

California "Hummers"--signing with Mira Reisberg at Hummingbird Literary

There were Cardinal Playoff Games

and new books...

and book signings...


and my writer buddies...

As you can see, it was a wonderful year. 

Lots of new adventures
And lots of writing...

Here's wishing you and yours A Wonderful 2014!


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5. Holiday Poetry

A fun way to celebrate the holiday season for children of all ages is to create poetry. The poetry could be part of a Christmas card greeting, or a decoration to hang on the tree, or just a celebration of the winter season.

For young children, the poem can be a simple free verse phrase or two.
For older children, rhyme and rhythm can be incorporated.
For all, the choice of subjects abounds from wintery scenes, to well-known Christmas themes, or  even end of year reminiscing.

A simple poem exploring a winter scene is Winter Treats, found on my website. Use this poem to encourage children to look outside and describe a scene they see. Can they bring the scene to life with their words?

An example of a Santa poem at Essential Learning Products is Hip! Hip! Hooray! by Beverly McLoughland. This poem could be used with children to jump start their poetry writing. It also could be used as a geography lesson, traveling the globe with Santa.

For a more spiritual poem, read Christmas Day, also found on my website. Have the child find a Christmas card picture or perhaps an ornament that he likes. Then have the child use this image to create a poem in rhyme, free verse, or haiku.

Poetry should be a fun and creative process. There are no rights or wrongs--only writes!




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6. Webster Groves Library Author Event

I hope you can join me this Friday evening at the first annual Missouri Author Expo at the Webster Groves Public Library. This event is designed for readers of all ages with authors of both adult and children's works. Numerous authors will be doing readings from their books, as well as selling copies. What a fun way to meet some local authors and perhaps start your holiday shopping.
Here are the details:


Fri, November 8, 6pm – 9pm
Webster Groves Public Library – Adult and Teen Events
Come meet local authors! Enjoy readings from their books! Get a head start on holiday shopping! Fiction, non-fiction and children’s books! Refreshments!


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7. October Reading Fun

Here it is October already and, of course, Halloween is just around the corner. But if you are looking for some fun reads besides ghosts and goblins, then Guardian Angel Kids new online magazine is waiting for you!

In the DOWN ON THE FARM issue, you'll find chicks, and pigs, and even alpacas. There are stories, poems, and articles about farming and farm animals. Plus, a recipe for making your own butter--no churn required! You'll find lots of other activities included as well--games, videos, and coloring pages to download.


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8. An Alligator at Story Time

A very courageous librarian in Whitestone, New York--Susan Scatena at the Queens Library--promised eager summer readers that if they read at least 4,000 books she would read to a real life alligator. Well, close to 350 students signed up and read nearly 5,000 books, so Ms. Scatena did what she promised.

She read "There's An Alligator Under My Bed" to five-foot Wally, a female alligator--and to hundreds of amazed children. Wally made no comment about the Mercer Mayer picture book, but she seemed mesmerized during the story time. A good book will do that to a reader.


I must admit that I'm much braver reading or writing a story ABOUT an alligator than actually reading TO one. But my hat is off to brave Ms. Scatena. She proved just how important children's literacy is to her. Hopefully, you'll be just as committed in helping the children you know--or yourself--be the best reader(s) possible.

The library--at your school or at the public library--is always a great place to start. There are so many choices of interesting, exciting, funny books that you can choose from. And I bet you can find a helpful librarian there as well.

Here's to COURAGEOUS reading!

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9. Jonathan Stroud Interview

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend an evening listening to Patricia Polacco--the incredible children's picture book author and illustrator. And this week, I was quite excited to have the opportunity for a live presentation with British children's author, Jonathan Stroud--the creator of the Bartemaeus Sequence. I'd read the books some time ago and loved their rich storytelling, adventures, and humor. I thought it would be quite a treat to meet Mr. Stroud in person, as well as learn of his new series--LOCKWOOD & CO: The Screaming Staircase.



But alas, this author event was forced to be cancelled due to some misfortune with Mr. Stroud. It seemed rather like one of the blocked avenues in his tales when the protagonist's best laid plans goes awry. Lucky for me, however, I stumbled upon an online interview with Mr. Stroud, via PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. In fact, they have a number of interviews with various children's authors available for a listen.

So while the online interview couldn't take the place of a live author sighting, it was great to hear Mr. Stroud. I enjoyed his enthusiasm for his books and characters and felt privileged that he shared some of his writing insights.

I hope to listen to more of these online interviews--hope you can too!
But I plan to keep all the lights on :)

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10. An Evening with Patricia Polacco



I had the wonderful opportunity to listen to the amazing author/illustrator PATRICIA POLACCO on Monday evening. She discussed a few of her books--in particular THE KEEPING QUILT and THE BLESSING CUP. Both of these heartwarming stories are based on her own true family stories.



Ms. Polacco said that she came from a family of "amazing storytellers." Every evening her grandmother would share a story, embellishing them more and more as the years went by. "Of course it's a true story," her grandmother would say when asked. "But it may not have happened."

The author went on to explain that "the truth is the journey one takes through the story." She also shared her feelings on her illustrations. "Art is like breathing," she said. "I can't imagine life without it."



I encourage you to share the journey through one or many of Patricia Polacco's endearing picture book stories. You'll be so glad that you did.

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11. More Great Websites for KIds

The American Library Association has added another batch of fun and educational websites to their list of GREAT WEBSITES FOR KIDS.



CapstoneKids is packed with ideas for recipes, magic tricks, drawing, crafts and more.

Or learn all about an earthworm at The Adventures of Herman: Autobiography of Squirmin' Herman the Worm.

Bedtime Math provides math puzzles on varying levels of challenge.

For pure silliness, try the Online Adventures of Captain Underpants.

So you can see, there is something for everyone!

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12. TAKE AIM!

Continuing with story basics, today I'll talk about Outlining the PLOT.



Sometimes a scene or a story comes into my mind almost whole, so I just need to capture it quickly and write in down. But that’s only sometimes.

More often I discover bits and pieces—character ideas, a hint of a setting, possible problems. For me, this is a good time to do some brainstorming. My best brainstorming happens when I let my mind wander. I take my dog for a walk, or unload the dishwasher, or pull weeds in the garden. In other words, I let my body do something so automatic that it doesn’t really require my brain to be involved in the activity. This frees my brain to wander—to explore the “if’s” and “or maybe’s.” All the possibilities.

After diving into the possibilities, I can usually begin to sort them out. They fall into place—more or less. Then I sit down and do the briefest outline—the taking aim. If it’s a short story, the outline is probably no more than a few sentences—beginning, middle, and end. If it’s a novel, the outline is by chapter—still only a sentence or two for each chapter. Any, or all of this, could change—be totally rearranged, before the story becomes whole. But by taking aim—lining up my shot—I know exactly where I’m trying to go. I rarely become stuck—no writer’s block or running into a wall or lost meandering.

Of course, that doesn’t mean every attempt hits the mark. But it generally comes close and makes the revising much easier. 

So give it a try. Next time before beginning your story, take aim. Who knows—you may hit a hole in one on your first shot! 

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13. Making Waves


Writing a story takes a lot of revisions. Believe me, writers don't get it right the first time. But good writers are excellent at making just the right revisions to take even a so-so story to grand heights!

A new writer friend asked me last week to review a picture book story that she needed to revise quickly for an interested editor. It was a Christmas story that hopefully would go into print in 2014. So she had no time to lose in presenting a polished story to the editor. A story the editor would love.

Well, the story meandered way too much--like a young duckling I recently saw. He strayed far away from Mama and his four other siblings. Yes, he's not in the picture because he refused to join the group--even after Mama left the others behind to coax him back.

Unlike the wayward duckling, my friend handled my suggestions for getting her story back on track. Plus, she added her own touch to create the story that she wanted to tell. After two pretty grueling revisions, she had a polished Christmas story to submit.

And-- so as not to keep you in suspense-- her editor thought it was "fantastic!"

Last week, I suggested ideas to spark children with the writing their own stories. That's the first step. Revising their stories--like my writer friend did--is the second step. Stay tuned and I'll offer some suggestions for helping the child in your life polish his/her story. The changes required will probably stir up some waves but ultimately create a better story.

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14. Getting Into Character

Do you want to encourage a child you know to write a story? Grab a few hats!
Look in your halloween costumes or perhaps toy box. Or if necessary, visit a dollar store. You can usually find cheap play hats there.

I've collected baseball hats, cowboy hats, construction hats, wizard hats, viking helmets, and so on. Have each child choose a hat or you can randomly plop a hat on each one's head. This is the start of building a story. This hatted creature is going to become the main character in each story. 



Of course, the child can choose to write the obvious story--a cowboy story to go with a cowboy hat. (especially for younger children this works well) But for students from maybe third to fifth grades, try to encourage the character to have a problem. What if the cowboy had to move to the city? How does he deal with the noise and all the people? Did he have to leave his horse behind?  How will he make new friends?

WIZARD HAT: What if the wizard can't do magic?
BASEBALL CAP: What if the winning pitcher on the boys' baseball team is a girl?
TIARA: What if the young princess wants to tame dragons instead of learning how to dance?

Check out my website for worksheets that also help with character building. 
For a GIRL character. For a BOY character.
Don't make it too easy on your characters. Problems make for an interesting story. How will your character attempt to solve his or her problem?

Another tip I give young writers is this: decide if each story is realistic fiction--like it could really happen. Or if the story is fantasy--magic, dragons, and unreal stuff like that. This should help keep the story more focused. And I'm not saying that a writer can't mix the two--like in Harry Potter. I just want young writers to be aware of what they are doing. An author is like a chess master--the better she knows how to move her pieces around the board the more effective she'll be in playing the game.

So grab a hat!  
Be creative. 
Let your imagination run wild. (but it may be hard to hold onto your hat if you do that :)

Some great suggestions for books on writing:
Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine
Live Writing by Ralph Fletcher
What's Your Story? by Marion Dane Bauer

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15. Fun FOOD!

I admit to having a sweet tooth. Resisting a delectable cupcake is nearly impossible. As you can see below, Sam thinks so too!


And just in time for summer celebrations is a new children's cupcake cookbook, WHAT'S UP CUPCAKE? by Dana Meachen Rau. The recipes will teach you how to make "food art" with cupcakes. And while you're munching on your cupcakes, you can read one of Ms. Rau's other kids' books--she's written a bunch. Everything from fireworks to how your stomach works.

For more fun kid's recipes, visit my website

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16. Fun Summer Picture Books

I visited the library a few days ago and checked out a huge bag of books. Here are some of my favorites:



WHAT WILL HATCH? by Jennifer Ward & Susie Ghahremani.
This simple nonfiction book explores seven different animal eggs and challenges the reader to guess what's inside. Cut-outs on each two-page spread add to the fun.





PENGUIN and PINECONE by Salina Yoon.
A penguin befriends a little pine cone. After many adventures together, the penguin realizes he must return the pinecone to its warmer home. He does and leaves a sweet reminder of their friendship.



1 + 1 = 5 and Other Unlikely Additions by David LaRochelle and Brenda Sexton.
This math challenge book is a blast! The colorful illustrations hint at the answer to solving each problem. For example: 1 + 1 = hundreds??? I'll not spoil your fun by giving the answer away.





How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans by David LaRochelle and Mark Fearing.
Yes, the story is just as fun as the title. Martha hates green beans and proves that they are up to no good in this silly adventure escapade.




NUGGET & FANG by Tammi Sauer and Michael Slack.
I've been a fan of Ms. Sauer for some time, and her latest book does not dissapoint. Another sweet friendship story, this one packs in plenty of goofy goodness--along with sharp teeth--and proves a minnow and shark can be pals.




BEING FRANK by Donna W. Earnhardt and Andrea Castellani.
While being truthful is an important lesson for everyone to learn, this entertaining tale points out that honesty is often "best served with sugar." A laugh-out-loud read.

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17. A Voice for Kanzas

Congratulations to author, Debra McArthur, for her book--A VOICE FOR KANZAS--which was chosen as one of the 15 Kansas Notable Books by the Kansas Center for the Book. The middle grade story takes place in Lawrence, Kansas in 1855. Kansas is not yet a state. Many in neighboring Missouri don't want Kansas to become a free state. Trouble quickly mounts for 13-year-old Lucy, the book's main character, as she faces the hostile Border Ruffians. Lucy must decide what she stands for--slavery or freedom--and then be brave enough to follow through.

I'm reading the book right now, and I had the privilege to attend a workshop by Ms. McArthur earlier this year in Overland Park, Kansas. She talked about her writing and research on the novel. Since I'm working on my own historical fiction novel set in Kansas--although at a different time period and location--I was quite interested in hearing the author's reflections. It was well worth my trip.

Click on the author's name above, and you can watch an interesting book trailer on  A VOICE FOR KANZAS.


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18. HAPPY 4TH OF JULY!!!

I saw a 4th of July Eve fireworks display last night. It lit up the sky with rainbow colors--lots of red, white and blue, of course. For me, the 4th is always a time to relax and enjoy. I hope you have a chance to celebrate as well.

 Of course, reading is a fun way to relax for me. If you'd like some suggestions for holiday reads, here are a few: 

Fourth of July Mice by Bethany Roberts -- an easy reader story in which a group of mice go to the holiday parade.

What Is the Fourth of July by Elaine Landau -- a nonfiction look at the holiday with a craft and party game included.

Apple Pie Fourth of July by Janet S. Wong -- a sweet story of a Chinese American's girl celebration with native food.

Or if you'd like to write your own story or poem to celebrate the holiday, here is a link to some books on writing.
Reading About Writing by Sandy Meagher

Happy Reading and Writing and Happy 4th!!!

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19. Spread Your Wings



Today is the launch date for a fun new collection of fantasy stories--all bound up in one book: SPREAD YOUR WINGS! I'm one of the contributing authors and am very excited to share this press release information with you. My story in the collection is titled, "The Dragon Artist's Tale."

###############################################



Spread Your Wings, written by professional children’s authors from around the world, is a collection of original Princess and Dragon stories will inspire and delight both you and your child. Adventures, love, mysteries, magic, and more wait for you in this exciting collection of timeless treasures.

Designed to be read aloud to children of all ages, these stories teach and instill a love of reading - the most important aspect in developing literacy - as well as create many magical moments spent together in each other’s arms.



Spread Your Wingswill be available as an e-book and paperback on July 1, 2013 from Knowonder!Publishing, LLC., based in Salt Lake City, UT.  Knowonder founder Phillip Chipping calls Spread Your Wings “an exciting project from start to finish, and one that has more than fulfilled my every hope and expectation. The stories are absolutely wonderful and I am very excited for the positive impact this collection will have in improving the literacy and lives of parents and children.”

About Knowonder! Publishing
Knowonder is a leading publisher of engaging, daily content that drives literacy; the most important factor in a child’s success. Parents and educators use Knowonder tools and content to promote reading, creativity, and thinking skills in children from zero to ten. Knowonder’s apps and books deliver original, compelling stories and content, creating an opportunity for parents to connect to their children in ways that significantly improve their children’s success. Ultimately, Knowonder’s mission is to eradicate illiteracy and improve education success through content that is affordable, accessible, and effective.

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20. Blog Hop



Last week, I was invited by my friend, Cheryl Malandrinos, to participate in this “blog hop interview.” The idea is this: She sent me some interview questions, which I answer, and at the end I tag 3 other writers who will in turn answer the same questions on their blogs next week. 


What are you working on right now?

As usual, I’m working on a number of different manuscripts. The first is a middle grade historical fiction set in western Kansas in 1935. I’m also polishing a nonfiction book on wind and looking over some of the artwork from the fourth picture book in my Pet Grammar Parade series. BUNNY BUSINESS is a fun story exploring conjunctions. It's illustrated by Marina Movshina, who also illustrated the first book in the series, KITTY KERPLUNKING


What experiences have influenced you?

The middle grade story I’m working on is set in the same area that I grew up in as a young child. And the wind book ties into that as well. Western Kansas is a windy place. Tornadoes and windy days were common occurrences for me as a child. I guess I feel somewhat rooted in this element—the wind. It intrigued me enough to begin researching the winds around the world.


5. How does your writing process work?

I find ideas all around me—like the wind. Then I begin exploring where I can go with a particular idea. For example, I was intrigued with the people who endured the drought and devastation of the Dust Bowl during the Depression Era. I found myself drawn to creating a young girl character who attempts to help her family during this difficult time, while she is also hard at work to attain her own personal prize. What if the two goals work against each other? Or if she can't accomplish what she sets out to do?

If an idea sticks with me, I continue to explore it and expand on it. Of course, for this historical fiction idea I began to do some research as well, which led to new complications and subplots for the story. That’s the fun part, fleshing the story out. Creating something from nothing.

6. What is the hardest part about writing?

The hardest part is the commitment. So many things can get in the way of accomplishing my writing goals. It takes great discipline and dedication. And great drive, as well, to strive to improve. But the ultimate prize is the writing itself—and it never ceases to amaze and delight me.

So I keep writing! 

*****
Please check out Cheryl's answers to the questions at her blog, The Children's and Teens' Book Connection. Feel free to leave a comment and tell her it's from me. In addition, I am tagging the following authors:


Posting July 2 – Peggy Archer at Peggy's Pages blog: http://www.peggyarcher.com/blog.htm
Posting July 3 – Lori Galaske at her blog : http://www.lorigalaske.com/1/post/2013/07/blog-hop-interview.html?
Posting July 5 – Sue Bradford Edwards at One Writer's Journey: http://suebe.wordpress.com/

Please stop by these blogs next week for glimpses into three authors' worlds. 





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21. Science For The Summer

Do you want some more ideas for summer fun?

Check out all the great links at SCIENCE NET. Not only are there suggestions for interesting books but loads of links to online activities with a scientific hook.

Take a look at a Hurricane.
Or help a hungry frog catch a fly.
Or organize some animals.

Scientific wonders are all around us. Take a look and see what you can find.


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22. Children's Authors

Here is a fun activity for kids this summer. Click on the link to READING ROCKETS, select one of your favorite children's authors, and listen to them talk about their writing adventures. There are dozens of different authors and their books to choose from. The choices range from picture books through young adult.

What a better way to get kids excited about reading!



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23. Can't Sleep Without Sheep



I'm happy to pass on some news from a writer friend of mine, Susanna Hill.


I'm writing today to let you know that Bloomsbury is launching their brand new E-Book line, and Can't Sleep Without Sheep is one of 4 titles they've chosen to get them started!  It is an honor and a privilege that, with all their list to choose from, they've selected Can't Sleep.

Can't Sleep Without Sheep is available for all platforms - iPad, Kindle, Nook, etc.  The E-Book version has the complete full color text and illustrations from the book as well as a read-to-me option.  It is available for $4.99.

iTunes (for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch)
Amazon (for all versions of Kindle)
Barnes&Noble (for Nook)

Susanna Leonard Hill
Children's Author

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24. Free Kids Ezine

GUARDIAN ANGEL KIDS --a free online magazine for kids and their parents-- is now available with the June issue on confidence. Short stories, poetry, and activities for children, as well as informative articles for parents.

Enjoy some quick, easy summer reading with a click on the link above.



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25. Summer Reading

Scholastic kicks off a Free Reading Program with their SUMMER CHALLENGE. Schools can earn prizes for students' reading minutes this summer. Author Dav Pilkey will visit the winning school. Kids will earn digital prizes. They can challenge themselves to reach--and exceed--their reading goals.

Parents can download reading lists for their children, as well as apps to help track their progress. There is even an app to aid with time-keeping.

Whether you choose these aids which Scholastic provides or not, I do hope you'll encourage your children/students this summer with their reading.

Make reading an adventure! A fun goal that's well worth the effort.


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