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1. An Interview with Elli Woollard, creator of Woozy the Wizard

woozyWoozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well written by Elli Woollard and Al Murphy is the first in a new and very funny series of readers for children just gaining confidence in reading alone.

Woozy is a terribly well-meaning wizard who’s keen to help his friends, but more often than not he gets somewhat mixed up and his spells don’t quite do what they’re meant to. With the help of his pet pig Woozy flies around trying to sort things out, and in the process it becomes clear that whilst it may not be magic, it is certainly something quite magical that helps put the world to rights.

Lots of humour, great rhythm and rhyme (enormous aids when practising reading because they help with scanning a line, and predicting how words should be pronounced), and clear, bright and colourful illustrations all add up to a lovely book perfect to give to your emerging reader.

To celebrate the publication of I interviewed the author of Woozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well, Elli Woollard, about her work. Given Elli is a poet, I challenged her to answer me in rhyme….

Zoe: Rhyming seems to be in your blood. Where did this passion come from?

Elli Woollard: The thing about me is I sing quite a lot
(I rather enjoy it; the neighbours might not),
And I guess if you’re singing for much of the time
Your mind sort of slips into thinking in rhyme.

Zoe: How does your blog, where you regularly publish poems/works in progress, help you with your writing?

Elli Woollard: My blog’s like a sketchbook for scribbles and scrawls
And all of my mind’s muddly mess.
I write them all down, and sometimes I frown,
But some make me want to go ‘YES!’

Elli on the Dr Seuss book bench that was recently on view in London.

Elli on the Dr Seuss book bench that was recently on view in London.

Zoe: What would your ideal writing location/environment be like and why?

Elli Woollard: A hot cup of coffee, a warm purring cat;
There’s not much more that I need than that.
Working at home is really quite nice
(Except when the cat thinks my fingers are mice).

Zoe: What was the most magical part for you in the process of seeing Woozy the Wizard come to life as a printed book?

Elli Woollard: Writing, writing, is ever so exciting,
Especially when you’ve finished and say ‘Look!
All of my creations now come with illustrations!
Bloomin’ heck, I think I wrote a book!’

Zoe: What tips do you have for kids who love to write poetry?

Elli Woollard: Use your ears, use your eyes, use your heads, use your feet,
Stand up proud, read aloud, and just listen to that beat.
Feel the rhythm, feel the vibes of the poetry you’ve heard,
And think about the magic that’s in every single word.

Zoe: Which poets for children do you like to read?

Elli Woollard: Donaldson (Julia), Rosen (Mike),
Lear (Edward) and Milligan (Spike),
I could go on, and write a long list,
But so many good ones I know would get missed.

Zoe: Thanks Elli! I’m already looking forward to the next outing for Woozy, in spring 2015!

2 Comments on An Interview with Elli Woollard, creator of Woozy the Wizard, last added: 10/20/2014
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2. A Look at the 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal Award Winner and Honor Books

A Look at the 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal Award Winner and Honor Books | Storytime Standouts

Storytime Standouts Shares Wonderful Choices for Beginning Readers












The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli 2014  Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal Award WinnerThe Watermelon Seed written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
Picture book for beginning readers published by Disney Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group





When a charming and exuberant crocodile explains that he loves watermelon, we are utterly convinced,

Ever since I was a teeny, tiny baby cocodile, it’s been my favorite.
CHOMP! SLURP! CHOMP!

While enthusiastically devouring his favorite fruit, the crocodile accidentally ingests a seed, his imagination runs wild and he assumes a variety of terrible outcomes.

Repetitive text, limited use of long vowel words and very good supporting illustrations make this a great choice for beginning readers.

The Watermelon Seed at Amazon.com

The Watermelon Seed at Amazon.ca



Ball by Mary Sullivan a 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Honor BookBall written and illustrated by Mary Sullivan
Picture book for beginning readers published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children





There is little doubt that this dog loves his small, red ball. From the moment he wakes up, he is focused on only one thing: playing with the ball. He especially loves when the ball is thrown by a young girl but when she leaves for school there is no one available to throw it.

This is a terrific picture book that relies heavily on the illustrations for the narrative. Apart from one repeated word (ball) it could be classified as a wordless picture book.

It will be thoroughly enjoyed by dog lovers and young children – especially those who are eager for an opportunity to read independently.

Ball at Amazon.com

Ball at Amazon.ca



A Big Guy Took My Ball by Mo Willems a 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Honor BookA Big Guy Took My Ball written and illustrated by Mo Willems
Series for beginning readers published by Hyperion Books for Children





This charming story will remind readers that appearances can be deceiving and perspective is everything! Gerald and Piggie’s friendship is solid and Gerald is more than willing to stand up for Piggie when her ball is taken by a big guy.

Delightful illustrations will appeal to young readers as they effectively portray a range of emotions. The text is perfect for children who are beginning to read – lots of repetition and very few long vowel words.

A Big Guy Took My Ball! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) at Amazon.com

A Big Guy Took My Ball! at Amazon.ca



Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes a 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Honor BookPenny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes
Generously illustrated chapter book series for beginning readers published by Greenwillow Books An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers





It truly is a treat to read such a beautifully-written chapter book for beginning readers. Kevin Henkes has created a new character: Penny. She is a young mouse with a sense of right and wrong. In this book, she is out with her sister when she “finds” a beautiful blue marble. She excitedly puts it into her pocket and later wonders if she did the right thing.

Lovely, full color illustrations and a thought-provoking dilemma make this a great choice for newly independent readers.

Penny and Her Marble at Amazon.com

Penny And Her Marble at Amazon.ca

Storytime Standouts - Raising Children Who Love to Read

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3. you just never know

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

At the close of the SCBWI – Michigan conference on Mackinac Island, book reviewer, blogger and first grade teacher extraordinaire Ed Spicer (I know cheers will erupt at the mention of his name!) shared about one of his students. Brycen struggled with reading. He simply could not decipher those black squiggles on the page. That is, until he found a book that unlocked the magic for him. The title of the book isn’t significant to Brycen’s story. It was well reviewed and nicely illustrated, but it was not a groundbreaker or a bestseller. That didn’t matter to Brycen. He simply loved that book, and it loved him back by patiently waiting for him to decode it word-by-word until he could read it with ease. By reading it over and over and over, that story gave him the confidence to select more titles.

He’s such a book lover now that, well, why don’t I let Brycen tell you . . .

Ed Spicer shared Brycen’s story to remind authors and would-be authors that our stories make a difference regardless of critical acclaim or popularity. We may never know how one of our stories set up camp in a child’s heart and made a forever home there. And that’s okay. We just need to make the best stories we know how and trust they’ll find the hearts that need them, hearts like Brycen’s.

Feeling small or discouraged today? Keep crafting your stories with love and care. Because you just never know.

There’s so much more to a book than just the reading. ~ Maurice Sendak


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4. Help your child love reading

Seeing as you’re reading this blog I’m willing to bet that you hope the children in your life will develop a love of reading.

But is hope good enough?

What practical steps can you take to encourage a lifelong passion for books?

indexHelp your Child Love Reading: A Parent’s Guide by Alison David provides interesting, forthright answers to this question. It is written in an accessible, encouraging way, full of clear lists of “Dos and Don’ts” and real-life Q&As from parents looking for reading advice.

David outlines concrete suggestions to help create a reading culture within your family, with targeted strategies for each age range; 4 core chapters focus on the 0-4s, 5-7s, 8-11, and finally 12-16s. The focus is solely on reading for enjoyment and is not about the technicalities of learning to read. And it is about reading for pleasure in a family setting; whilst teachers and librarians may also want to read this book, it is written primarily with the parent in mind.

The most important message for me in David’s book is about a glorious side effect of promoting an enthusiastic reading culture at home; reading acts as family glue, enabling better, deeper and easier relations between parent and child. She rightly quotes from research showing the benefits to the child who loves reading. Not only does that child have an enriched interior world, enlivened imagination, strengthened empathy and better self-understanding, there is also a measurable positive impact on that child’s academic achievement. Yet it is David’s novel focus on family reading as a tool for building strong families that I found most exciting; it’s a message I hadn’t heard loudly before, but one which really resonated with me.

A key plank of David’s approach to helping your child love reading is the restriction of screen time. I am 100% with her on this (for my family it has been a very deliberate decision to have no TV, no smart phone, no Wii or tablet at home), but I do wonder if some families may find the vigour of her arguments unpalatable, or at least (perceived to be) impractical and a challenge to follow through. Again I’m with David who believes parents can and should set firm boundaries (though where these are located will vary from family to family) and I hope parents who read this book will feel empowered to do so. I’d love to hear what you think about screentime and its interaction with reading.

Another area where David argues very clearly for a particular strategy (and one I haven’t seen so enthusiastically promoted in other reading-for-pleasure books) is when it comes to co-reading. Co-reading, ie where parent and child alternate reading aloud, is clearly something David and her son have enjoyed and so it is no surprise she strongly recommends it. I, however, don’t share her position on this.

Co-reading has always been an unpleasant experience for me and my kids (I shall admit that more often than not I have “forgotten” to make M and J do their reading aloud set by school). When I read aloud to my girls I want it to be an unadulterated pleasure for them, and asking them to read a paragraph or a chapter aloud before I continue strikes me as punitary. Of course IF your child wants to read aloud, be happy to listen to them, but I’d debate with David as to how essential it is as a device to foster a love for reading.

[If anyone can point me to research showing reading aloud having a beneficial impact on learning to read and/or becoming an avid reader I'd be most grateful if you would share it. I can see it as a useful tool for monitoring a child's progress whilst they are learning the mechanics, but my kids are living examples of it not being as necessary as some would have us believe. Could reading aloud regularly to your kids be just as beneficial in helping them learn to read as making them read aloud themselves?]

As a mother to a son David is keen to stress that a love of reading can be fostered equally well in boys as in girls, despite widespread misconceptions to the contrary. I’m delighted to see this tackled head on in her book, but it then comes as a disappointment that gender stereotypes in family reading for pleasure do appear elsewhere: there is a focus on what the mother can/should do in the family.

Whilst Dads/spouses are mentioned on the odd occasion, I would strongly argue that both parents can and should be at the heart of making the family home a hotbed for reading. One particular case in point is when David discusses strategies for reading to siblings of different ages. At no point does she suggest what seems to me the easiest and best solution for everyone involved; that one parent read to one child whilst the other reads to the second child. Why should spouses miss out on the “relationship glue”? If you’re arguing a family should think structurally and boldly about screentime, I think you could also encourage them to think about managing reading time so that the every member of the family can be involved, and not just the mother. Yes one parent or the other may work late, but this book is partly about blue-sky thinking, and about deciding what matters to you as a family – about making the effort to create time for reading… or not.

Help your Child Love Reading is a thought-provoking and supportive read. Whilst it doesn’t include a bibliography or further reading section for adults wanting to read more (there are plenty of interesting, well written books about promoting reading for pleasure out there, although few of them have been written – like this one – specifically for parents in the UK), it does contain a list of children’s books, sorted by age, which David has found very useful in supporting her son develop the reading bug. It’s great to see her include poetry and non-fiction, and to read how passionate she is about reading in all its guises including comics, newspapers and magazines.

I ended David’s book feeling bolstered, hopeful AND also armed with real-life strategies to help my children love reading. Perhaps this book should be given to every set of new parents by their midwife, so more parents can be equally encourage and enthused?

4 Comments on Help your child love reading, last added: 9/4/2014
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5. A Tip for Nurturing Developing Readers: Take Away A Possible Fear

My daughter just turned four in April. She loves to be read to, and we are in no rush whatsoever for her to learn to read on her own. But I've noticed lately that she's sometimes resistant to even flipping through the pages of a book on her own (say, in the car). She'll say: "I can't read yet, Mommy." And it struck me that there was something defensive about this.

So this morning something came up about books (as is not uncommon in our house), and she remarked that if she was going to read a book it would have to be easy. I was inspired to say: "You know, even if you learn to read, we will still read to you. Whenever you like, for as long as you like." Huge smile, big hug, and, perhaps, a look of relief. 

I may be projecting here. It's not that she came out and said: "I'm afraid that if I learn to read you guys won't read to me anymore. And I like it when you read to me." Rather, I've put together fleeing impressions based on her responses to things (including a diminishing interest when I point out individual words when we are reading together). But it's certainly possible that I'm right, and that she's been cautious about the idea of learning more words because she doesn't want us to stop reading to her. This is a fear that I am more than happy to take away.  

So, that is my tip for other parents of developing young readers:

Take a moment to assure your child that even if he learns to read on his own, you will still read to him. 

Then, of course, stay true to your word. There are so many benefits to continuing to read aloud to your children after they can read on their own. You can read them more advanced titles, thus enhancing their vocabularies and giving them exposure to ideas. You can use the books as a springboard to discussions about all sorts of things. And you can experience parent-child closeness, snuggled up together over the pages of a book. 

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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6. The Vast Majority of the Struggling Readers will Never Catch Up

Learning to read is a transformative moment in the life of any child. But for one who has been struggling, it's particularly powerful.

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7. iRead With: Interactive Stories for Kids in Preschool

iRead With is an innovative shared reading program on iPad designed to foster language development and help preschoolers get ready to read. iRead With animated stories encourage a participative reading experience engaging both child and parent.

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8. Emerging Literacy Skills for My Baby Bookworm

I'm back with a few more recent moments in my daughter's journey towards literacy (and hopefully towards the love of books). She'll be four in about 2 months, and she is developing a few early literacy skills. These days she is: 

Appreciating new formats: We read Herve Tullet's Press Here together for the first time the other night. I learned that Press Here is actually not the best bedtime book. It is too exciting and interactive. But my daughter adores it! I also discovered that Press Here is even better than I thought it was when I reviewed it a couple of years ago. By mid-way through the book on our first reading, my daughter could anticipate what the book was going to ask her to do next, and was eager to do it. She was excited and engaged, and couldn't wait to read the book again with my husband. That is a successful book. Baby Bookworm's take: "This is a really crazy book!" (said with admiration).

Making Connections between Books and Life: On her first wearing of a new dress received from Nana, my daughter said: "I love it already." Then she laughed. "Just like Penny." She was, of course, referencing Penny and Her Doll, by Kevin Henkes. Penny receives a new doll from her grandmother, and says right away: "I love it already." 

Playing with Language: after reading Cool Dog, School Dog by Deborah Heiligman and Tim Bowers, my daughter wanted to make up her own rhymes in the same rhyming scheme ("Tinka is a fun dog, / a sun dog, / a run-and run-and-run dog."). Her results were not eloquent, perhaps, but I liked that she understood that there was a scheme, and wanted to try to follow it. I wish I had written some of them down. 

Acting Out Books: We regularly act out scenes from Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton's Bear and Mouse books, and add our own Bear and Mouse scenes. She's pretty good at channeling Bear. 

Learning New Vocabulary (Painlessly): I mentioned that it was drizzling as we drove to school the other day, and asked her if she knew what the word "drizzle" meant. She said, "Of course. Brother and Sister were at school one day and they couldn't play outside because it was drizzling." She was clearly referring to some Berenstain Bears story, though I don't know which one. She talks about Brother and Sister Bear as though they are people she knows. 

Assessing and Recommending Books: She just came in to show me the book that her babysitter had read to her, The Berenstain Bears Come Clean for School, a new selection from the library. She flipped it open to tell me what happened on the last page (something involving everyone washing their hands), and pronounced "It's pretty funny. Did you hear me laughing?" 

Recognizing Authors: The other night my daughter said, pointing to the stack of books we had selected: "I want to read the Mo Willems book, Mom." I'm not at all surprised that Mo is the first author that she recognizes. He does a nice job of linking his books together. (The Pigeon makes cameos in other books, for instance.) This particular title was an Elephant & Piggie book, Elephants Cannot Dance

 My conclusion from tracking these little book-filled moments is this: the path to literacy can be an awfully fun place. Thanks for sharing it with us!

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate.

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9. Literacy Milestone: Reading Aloud Together

This weekend my daughter and I experienced a new literacy milestone. We read our first book aloud together. She had requested Duck and Goose Find a Pumpkin by Tad Hills. (We are not hung up on seasonally appropriate literature in our house.) On each page spread of this fun book, reviewed here, Duck or Goose will ask his friend a question ("Is our pumpkin in the log, Goose?", etc.). Then the other will say: "No". It's the illustrations and the deadpan delivery together that make this book funny.

LiteracyMilestoneAMy daughter pointed to the word "No" the first time it appeared, and said: "That says no." It's unclear if she already knew how to spell "no" or was getting it from context, but she was correct either way. So I told her she could read the "No" parts the rest of the way through. And she did. She took pride later in telling Daddy that we had read the book together. As I take pride in telling all of you.

This makes four words that she can spell aloud and recognize by sight: her name, her friend's name, Mom, and No. It's a good start, I think!

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate.

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10. Literacy Milestone: Child "Reading" A Book Aloud to Me

LiteracyMilestoneAYesterday my daughter eagerly called to me to tell me that she had just read a book by herself, not just looking at the pictures but reading the words. And she wanted to read it to me. We were running late for a holiday party, but I was naturally unable to resist saying "OK, read the book to me."

She had a little pile of books from the Little Critter Phonics Fun Set, which I received from HarperCollins, and which she adores. These books are much-simplied versions of existing Little Critter titles, each focusing on a particular series of sounds. They are tiny square paperbacks, ~5" in size, and easy to hold. She shuffled through the stack until she came to the one she wanted, and then she began:

"Going to the Sea Park. By Mercer Mayer." 

Then she "read" the book to me. She didn't actually look at the text at all, so I know that she wasn't technically reading. And she wasn't letter-perfect - this wasn't a book that she had memorized, word for word. But she knew it well enough to come up with the gist for each page. 

Then, even though we were getting later and later for the party, I let her read me another (A Green, Green Garden). I especially loved that she shared the title and author before opening each book, as I do when I read to her. She's learned that this is the proper way to read a book to someone. 

I suggested that she read me more of the books on our way to the party, but she wanted me to be able to see the pictures, so we had to stop. But I was happy that even in the midst of a weekend of holiday craziness, we made time for another little literacy milestone. (And don't tell Baby Bookworm, but she's receiving the Ramona boxed set from her godparents for Christmas. Looking forward to giving those a try as a read-aloud.) Wishing you all quiet moments for books over the holiday season. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 

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11. Literacy Milestone: Writing "Mom"

LiteracyMilestoneAMy daughter had another little literacy milestone last week that I wanted to share. We had been drawing pictures (with her supervising, and telling me how to draw a pig). I left the room for a minute, but I could hear her, and she said:

"I'm going to write Mom on your picture."

And sure enough, when I came back, there was my picture, labeled "MOM" in pencil. 

She's been writing her own name for a while now, with reasonable legibility, and, well, her name does have an M in it. So writing Mom wasn't a huge stretch. But still, she:

  • Knew that it would make sense to write the name of the person who had drawn the picture.
  • Knew how to spell Mom.
  • And wrote the letters, legibly and without help, on her own initiative. 

She'll be reading the Junie B. Jones and Ramona books before I know it! 

Actually, she is pretend-reading Robert Parker's Widow's Walk even as I speak. She just came in and asked for a bookmark. It's a bit violent for a 3 1/2 year old, but fortunately, she can't actually read. At least as far as I know. 

[I hope these posts don't come across as bragging. Each child follows his or her own path to literacy, and I know that these paths can meander and diverge. It's just that for me, having spent so many years thinking about how to grow bookworms in the abstract, I find observing the actual process fascinating. And sharing is what we bloggers do.]

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 

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12. Literacy Milestone: Memorization

LiteracyMilestoneAMy three-year-old's latest literacy milestone involves memorizing books. This is not exactly a brand-new behavior, but it has accelerated greatly in recent weeks. A year ago, when I'd read one of her favorites aloud, she might chime in with a punchline here and there. But now? If I get a single word wrong when reading aloud a book we've read a few times, she swoops in to correct me. Often with peals of laughter and exclamations of "Silly Mommy!". And as regular bedtime readers-aloud know, it is very, very easy to get a word wrong when one is sleepy...  

I know that this sort of memorization is common, but her level of detail surprises me sometimes. I mean, how many books can she hold, word-for-word, in that little head of hers? More than I, certainly. 

A side benefit of this memorization is that my daughter can "read" to herself, when no adult reader is available. I have a delightful iPhone video of her quietly reading a book to herself in the back of the car. (My husband was driving - I suffer from motion sickness and can't read in the car.) I've also enjoyed seeing her "read aloud" to her dolls from time to time. 

I'm not sure exactly how this memorization plays in to learning to read, but I'm sure that it's a step along the way. Not that we're in any rush. We're having a great time just as things are. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 

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13. review#408 – Smith: The Story of a Pickpocket by Leon Garfield

.. Smith: The Story of a Pickpocket by Leon Garfield The New York Review Children’s Collection 5 Stars . . . . . .   .   .   ..   .   .   .(illustration free). Back Cover:  Twelve-year-old Smith is a denizen of the mean streets of eighteenth-century London, living hand to mouth …

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14. The Shark King, a Toon Book by R. Kikuo Johnson

The Shark King, a Toon Book by R. Kikuo Johnson (April, 2012, 40 pages), is an easy reader graphic novel that's multicultural, intellectually interesting, and emotionally engaging, which is just about the swellest combination of descriptive phrases I can imagine combining (and the pictures are nice too!).

It's the story of Kalei, a girl in long ago Hawaii, who all unwittingly marries the Shark King, a shape-shifting deity. On the night before their child is born, her husband returns to the sea, leaving her to raise the boy alone. But Nanaue is no ordinary child. His inherited enough of his father's shape shifting magic so as to appear monstrous at times (jaws snapping from his back!), and his appetite is insatiable. So much so that the fisher folk of the nearby village grow hungry....and when they realize Nanaue is to blame, they try to hunt him down.

But the father Nanaue longed to meet is waiting for him, and so all ends well. Except that poor Kalei is left alone, which I found sad (in as much as I automatically relate, quite naturally, to the mother. I would be very sad if my boys dove off into the sea and I never saw them again, and the handful of shells Kalei gets as a memento would not be much comfort. Young readers doubtless won't have this particular issue).

The story is simple enough so that the young reader can read it independently, and enjoy it as an adventure story, but complex enough, with it's themes of finding one's true self, parent/child relationships, and being different, that the young mind will be fed on a deeper level. As a bonus feature, there's a little guide at the end on how to read comics with kids.

I'd have loved another bonus feature giving more information about the original myth, but that's my only complaint.



disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

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15. Cybils nominee: The One and Only Stuey Lewis

The One and Only Stuey Lewis by Jane Schoenberg, illustrated by Cambria Evans (nominated for the Cybils by Sarah Wendorf at Page in Training) is the first book I’ve read with my book-judging hat on, and if all the books I read as part of the Cybils judging process are as good as this, I’m in for a really wonderful next few months.

Four perceptive, funny stories following a school year in the life of The One and Only Stuey Lewis make up this Early Chapter Book. The book opens at the start of Stuey’s second school year with him full of worries about what the year, his school, his teacher will be like. All his fears are magnified because he feels he’s not a great reader and doesn’t want anyone to know this secret of his.

Later in the school year we meet Stuey conjuring up schemes to collect as much Halloween candy as possible, and then learning tough lessons about being his own man, stepping out of the shadow of his big and brilliant brother Anthony. By the time the school year draws to a close, Stuey is actually sorry to see the summer holidays start: It’s been a great year for him, he’s learned to read well, he’s been brave and found his own way, and he’s discovered that he can survive, that he can actually make anything work.

This book has many strengths but I particularly enjoyed it for its humour, its warmth and lightness of touch. It’s a book full of love and optimism, without ever being patronising or sickly sweet. I think its an ideal book for a kid in his or her second year in school to read themselves, although perhaps at the start of the year it will still be a little challenging a read for many children.

The physical book is a very nice thing too – just the right size and weight for young hands to hold and feel like they’ve got a “proper” book in their mitts; hardback but pocket sized, with a sprinkling of fun illustrations that match the tenor of the text to a T.

Although with a clearly American setting (Stuey is a second grade student, football is called soccer, the tradition of Halloween candy collecting plays a major role) I think this book will be enjoyed by 6/7/8 year old kids across the world – kids whether in Sydney, Nova Scotia or Sydney, Australia may worry about what their teachers will be like, how they are going to deal with kids in their classes they don’t get on with, and what skills they’re going to need to survive school. With The One and Only Stuey Lewis in their hands and heads, they’ll feel more confident, more reassured, and will no doubt have a good giggle along the way.

Disclaimer: This revie

2 Comments on Cybils nominee: The One and Only Stuey Lewis, last added: 10/13/2011
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16. Charlie and Kiwi: an Evolutionary Adventure, for Timeslip Tuesday

Looking for a great book to use to help your young child understand the driving force behind evolution? Try Charlie and Kiwi: an Evolutionary Adventure (Atheneum, June, 2011, 48 pages). Peter H. Reynolds, Fablevision, and the New York Hall of Science teamed up to create a picture book that does a brilliant job clearly explaining the principle of survival of the fittest, with the science set in an engaging narrative of a time-travel adventure.

Young Charlie picks the kiwi as the subject of his bird report in school, bringing in his own newly acquired stuffed kiwi as an example. But the other children are doubtful--"Izzat a bird? Where's the wings?" asks one. And Charlie, when asked why the kiwi is so very different from other birds, draws a blank.

Fortunately, his stuffed kiwi is ready to help out, taking Charlie back in time (the box Kiwi came in magically becomes a time travel machine) to meet his many times great grandfather. Together Charles Darwin, Kiwi, and Charlie go on an evolutionary adventure, to observe first hand the ancestral proto-kiwis of New Zealand. And then they head back even further in time, to see for themselves how birds evolved from dinosaurs.

My kids and I thought this was a great book--we were charmed by the stuffed kiwi, and thought the explanation of natural selection/survival of the fittest was interesting and clearly explained. It might be a bit wordy for some picture book affectionados, but for kids with an interest in science and nature, I recommend it highly.

Here's Grandpa Charles beginning his explanation of natural selection:

"Long ago, maybe kiwis were more like regular birds.
Maybe they had wings and flew.
But say one family was a little bit different.
Say some stayed on the ground a little more and smelled bugs
a little better. They'd be safer, and catch more dinner...."

I love the idea of using a time-travel story in an educational way--I vaguely feel that lots of books say "let's go back in time," but one like this, that uses a fictional narrative, with engaging characters and touches of humor, is very rare indeed. (It's the first time I've ever applied my fantasy label and my non-fiction label simultaneously!)

(and it's awfully nice that Charlie is a kid of color)

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17. “Reading is an invitation to dream”

In a little departure from the norm, today I’m not reviewing a book, but rather a film, Eleanor’s Secret, directed by Dominique Monfery.

The reason why I’ve wanted to share Eleanor’s Secret with you is because it is a celebration of the joy of reading and a tribute to the power and magic of stories.

Seven year old Nat cannot yet read and is terribly disappointed when he discovers he has inherited his Aunt’s library. Although he adored having stories read to him by his Aunt, when Nat himself opens a book he almost drowns in a jumble of letters. Understandably Nat wants nothing to do with what makes him feel so uncomfortable.

Only after his parents sell the collection to a dealer who has realised the library is packed with first editions does Nat learn that he has an important responsibility. He must save all the characters in the stories read to him by Aunt Eleanor from disappearing forever by reading aloud a magic inscription. If the spell is not read by midday, all his storybook favourites will be lost for eternity, and children the world over will only ever be read true tales.

Eleanor's Secret - Aunt Eleanor's house

Alice in Wonderland, the Match Girl, Peter Pan, Rapunzel, Mowgli and many other colourful characters climb out of their books and beg Nat to help them before it is too late. Only the wicked fairy, Carabosse from Sleeping Beauty, throws a spanner in the works. She refuses to believe that Nat is the true inheritor of the library – after all he cannot read. In a puff of magic she shrinks him and in doing so makes his race against time to return the books to the library, and to learn to read, even more difficult.

I was instantly entranced by the story in this film – swept up in its passion for developing a love of reading, for wearing its heart on its sleeve. “Mankind can never live without dreams” says Aunt Eleanor, whilst the inscription Nat must read before the clock strikes 12 is “Just because it’s a story doesn’t mean it’s not real“.

The look of the film is utterly gorgeous. The colours and textures at times reminded me of Shaun Tan’s illustrations whilst the library and magical characters made me happily remember How to Live Forever by Colin Thompson. It was only after I’d seen the film did I discover that its art work is based on drawings by French illustrator Rebecca Dautremer whose The Secret Lives of Princesses has been well received in the English speaking world.

As well as being a pleasure to look at, the characterization is great. I think the animation of what Nat feels when he’s presented with a text he can’t read is acutely, brilliantly imaginatively observed. The tricky, teasing but ultimately supportive and loving relationship between Nat and his older sister is also very believable.

3 Comments on “Reading is an invitation to dream”, last added: 6/23/2011
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18. Inspiring a future storyteller

I’ve been itching to review The Beasties by Jenny Nimmo, illustrated by Gwen Millward ever since we discovered it at the start of the year. It’s one of those books that we’ve renewed the maximum times possible from the library because we just can’t let it go.

Photo: betsssssy

Daisy has moved house and is finding it hard to fall asleep in her new room. She lies awake listening to unfamiliar noises.

What was that?
Daisy’s heart went pit-a-pat.

Was it a truck in the street?

No.
It sounded like…

… a story!

From out of the darkness a growly voice tells Daisy an exciting story about a faraway king and his ring.

Daisy wondered about that ring.
Was it gold or silver
or studded with jewels?
She wondered
and wondered until
she fell asleep.

The next night again there are again strange noises Daisy is not yet used to. But this time a clickety voice cuts through the darkness to tell a captivating story about a beautiful bird. Before Daisy knows it she’s transported, and happily dreaming.

The third night it’s a musical voice with a sing-song story that lulls Daisy to sleep, but on the fourth night everything is silent. Daisy can’t sleep and longs for a story.

And then there is the faintest of growls. Daisy summons up all her courage and looks under her bed and almost screams – there are The Beasties.

But the Beasties are so very small and so very friendly and it turns out that they are the secretive storytellers who have been visiting Daisy each night, leaving treasures under her bed to inspire stories.

Photo: wildxplorer

And when Daisy asks for another story, Floot (the Beastie with the musical voice) insists that Daisy tell her own story and hands her a shell. At first Daisy doesn’t know what to do but she thinks hard, and slowly begins to weave a story around the shell. As her story ends Daisy smiles, hugs the shell tight and drifts off to sleep imagining herself in her own story.

The Beasties sneak out of Daisy’s room knowing her bed won’t seem so big and her room won’t seem so strange now she can tell her own stories. Their work is done.

A book about how stories can comfort, reassure us and makes us feel at home – this is a fabulous read. Perfect for bedtime, ideal if coming to terms with moving house or rooms, I love how the story acknowledges worries, but turns them round. The girls love joining in with the repeated refrain “What was that? Daisy’s heart went pit-a-pat” and they adore the pictures of trinkets and knick-knacks littering the floor under Daisy’s bed – they know this sort of treasure only too well as it’s exactly the stuff they are always collecting; a feather from here, a round stone from there, a button, a ribbon, a broken earring.

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19. Reading Aloud to Children- True or False Quiz

1. I don't need to read to my baby/toddler.FalseThe foundations of learning to read begins from the moment a baby can hear sounds. People talking, music playing, and the rhythms and repetitions in stories and nursery rhymes. It makes sense then to talk, sing, read and play with our babies, at such a crucial time in their brain development. 2. Children don't need to learn how to read until they

4 Comments on Reading Aloud to Children- True or False Quiz, last added: 2/21/2011
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20. Literacy Lava and becoming a Word Collector

This week saw the release into the wild of the 8th edition of Literacy Lava, a digital magazine full of literacy activities to share with kids, edited by The Book Chook, a beacon in the world of children’s learning, literacy and literature.

I always enjoy reading the magazine (which you can download and distribute for free from here) but this time round I’m honoured to be one of the contributing authors, with a piece all about going out and about with your kids and collecting words.

So, pour yourself a cup of tea, download a copy of Literacy Lava 8 and be inspired – it’s erupting with tips for parents and teachers, suggesting ideas for incorporating literacy and learning into our every day :-)

3 Comments on Literacy Lava and becoming a Word Collector, last added: 3/4/2011
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21. Meet Monster, by Ellen Blance and Ann Cook

Meet Monster: Six Stories About the World's Friendliest Monster, by Ellen Blance and Ann Cook, illustrated by Quentin Blake.

Back in 1973, Blance and Cook teamed up with ordinary kids to create the six stories about a kindly, friendly monster--stories prefect for the young reader just finding their reading feet. Marshall Cavendish has just brought it out again for a new generation to enjoy.

"A monster comes to this city to live.

Monster is not ugly like other monsters. He's very tall, and his head is skinny."

And monster needs a house to live in, so he looks and looks till he finds one that's just right. Some are not right.

"This house is dark all over. Not many things happen in this house.

He can't live here."

(isn't that rather brilliant?)

But he finds a tall, thin house that's perfect for a tall, thin monster.

And monster needs to make his house tidy, and he needs a friend, and it's always nice to meet another monster....

Quentin Blake's illustrations bring Monster to charming life in true Blake style. And the end result is an easy chapter book that seems to me just utterly spot on for a kid learning how to read.

Knowing that this was a reissue of an earlier book, I read with gimlet eyes, looking for things that might seem odd to a reader in 2011. The only thing I noticed was that the authors use "fine" quite a bit, as in "it will look really fine." "Fine" seems to be falling by the wayside these days....nice, I guess, rules supreme!

At any event, if Marshall Cavendish had released this just three years earlier, I would have bought it in a shot for my little one! It is just fine (actually, what with Blake's illustrations, it's considerably more than fine--I'd go so far as to say very nice indeed).

(I'd especially recommend this one to the five year old (or thereabouts) who's moving to the big city. It makes the big city seem like a place in which one might be able to live....although I still have my doubts).

disclaimer: book received (just yesterday! It was the first one I read from the big box I got--I was drawn to it) from the publisher.

3 Comments on Meet Monster, by Ellen Blance and Ann Cook, last added: 4/1/2011
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22. 50+ picture books every child should be read – a non-prescriptive list for inspiration

Last week the UK Secretary for Education Michael Gove suggested that children as young as 11 should be reading 50 books a year as part of a drive to raise literacy standards. This raised a lot of eyebrows amongst the British book-loving public, not least as it comes following large cuts in funding for libraries in the UK.

Whilst most commentators of course agreed that reading should be encouraged, many argued against a prescribed list of set length:

I feel it’s the quality of children’s reading experience that really matters. Pleasure, engagement and enjoyment of books is what counts – not simply meeting targets” ~ Anthony Browne
The important aim is a reading that should be wide and deep rather than numerical” ~Alan Garner
When it comes to reading books children should be allowed – and encouraged – to read as much rubbish as they want to” ~ Philip Pullman

In response to Gove’s 50 books a year suggestion, The Independent newspaper published an article “The 50 books every child should read“, containing books for 11 year olds suggested by Philip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo, Michael Rosen and others. This list gave me lots of food for thought. Of course I want to do all I can to encourage a love of reading in my children, and one of the ways I do this is by reading lots and lots to them – if they don’t love books when they are 6 it’s unlikely they’ll love books when they are 11 or 16.

So I try to let them read whenever or whatever they want, but I also try to ensure they’re surrounded by superb, stimulating, brilliant and breathtaking (picture) books. But how do I, you, or any other person discover and choose such books?

I approached six brilliant UK-based illustrators and asked them to contribute towards a list of books every child should be read. Tim Hopgood, James Mayhew, Jan Pieńkowski, Katie Cleminson, Viviane Schwarz and Clara Vulliamy all very gamely accepted my challenge of producing a list of 10 or so books each that they love.

This list is not prescriptive, this list is personal. This list does not claim to be the definitive top 50 picture books of all time, although it certainly would create a fantastic library for any child. This list is merely a starting point and this list, hopefully, will generate lots of discussion; I look forward to hearing what you think about the books, authors and illustrators which have been included (and those which have been left out).

Tim Hopgood

Tim says “This is not my top 10 – that would be impossible! My top 10 changes constantly as I discover more and more new (or sometimes old) picture books to add to my collection. And I don’t claim to be an expert on what makes a great picture book. The list I’ve put together is simply 10 books that I find inspiring and enjoyable to look at time and time again and hope others will too!

3 Comments on 50+ picture books every child should be read – a non-prescriptive list for inspiration, last added: 4/1/2011
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23. Troo's Big Climb - A Review/GIVEAWAY

Troo feels he's big and strong enough to climb the tallest tree in the Rainforest, even if his parents think he's not.  But after an adventurous climb to the top, Troo learns the real reason for his parents' rule.

Troo's Big Climb by Cheryl Crouch is a wonderful book for your level two (developing reader).  It's adventurous and educational - teaching a valuable lesson of God's principle of "Obeying Your Parents."

Troo and his Australian home is brought to life by Kevin Zimmer's wonderful illustrations - they're just the right mix of colours and detail to add to your young reader's experience.

Check out, Troo's Big Climb and all the wonderful books by Zonderkidz part of Zondervan publishing.

Want to win all of Troo's adventures?  Just leave a comment in this or any of the Troo book review spots.  I will do a random draw on Sunday April 24'th.

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24. May 2011 I Can Read Celebration

A big warm welcome to this month’s celebration of early literacy, easy readers and short chapter books! The I Can Read carnival is all about sharing finds, approaches, successes and more when it comes to books aimed at those just beginning to read for themselves, or those consolidating their reading skills.

If you’ve a review, commentary, or an experience you want to share on this topic, please leave a comment on this post including a link to your piece and I’ll add you to the carnival. The carnival will remain open until the evening of Monday 16th May so if you haven’t got a blog post all ready to submit you’ve a few days to write one to be included. Infact we’re happy to accept posts up to a year old – so really there’s every reason to join in :-)

  • Over at Fantastic Reads Claire and her son Liam have reviewed Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf by Catherine Storr. Liam and him Mum took turns in reading parts of this book, which “is split into lots of short stories for easy reading and while each one carries a similar theme of whether Wolf will ever catch Polly, the content is imaginative and varied as he tries every trick in the book.” I’m glad to say I have reserved it at the library on the basis of Claire and Liam’s review!
  • Anita writes beautifully about passing on the book bug, and the importance of adults being excited about reading if their kids are ever to feel the same way.
  • Over at Chez Spud, in New readers…beyond Biff & Chip Spudballoo writes about the (UK) reading schemes which have worked brilliantly for her and her sons, focussing on those that consist of “decodable books”, rather than “look and say” books. I found some useful suggestions there – so do go and check her recommendations out.
  • Julie at Just Playin’ Around has written about Stages of Reading Development and very helpfully has included several (US) book series recommendations for each stage.
  • Catherine speaks the truth (at least in my experience) when she writes Books for emergent readers can be boring over at Adventures with Kids. In her post she shares a tip about making reading more interesting for young learners, a simply thing we could all try if our kids are bored with their books and are loosing focus on the text…
  • Melissa at Imagination Soup reviews Flip a Word Books from Blue Apple Books – she describes them as “the most enticing early readers – colorful, bold, and absolutely perfect for learning to read and learning word fa

    3 Comments on May 2011 I Can Read Celebration, last added: 5/13/2011
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  • 25. Ferret Fun, by Karen Rostoker-Gruber, illustrated by Paul Ratz de Tagyos

    Due to the exigencies* of life, I do not have my beautifully insightful, articulate etc review extolling the virtues (and they are many) of The Midnight Gate, by Helen Stringer, ready to post yet. So some ferrets are filling in.

    As far as I'm concerned, the only drawback to Ferret Fun, by Karen Rostoker-Gruber, illustrated by Paul Ratz de Tagyos (Marshall Cavendish, 2011) is that it will make your child pine for a ferret of their own. This utterly charming picture book, presented in graphic novel-esque panels, tells of two ferret friends who are confronted with a visiting cat. The cat is not a friend; when he sees the ferrets, he sees "double-rat snack pack."

    And so the ferrets must determine just how they can survive the visit of this malevolent predator.

    "We could ignore her." says one.

    "She'll bug us more." says the other.

    "We could run away."

    "Then who would feed us raisins?"

    "It's no use. We're doomed."

    But soon the courage of the ferrets is revitalized, and in a bold full page spread that underlines the power of Determination in the face of Bullying, the ferrets take a stand. (Yay, ferrets!)

    And all becomes well.

    Share this one to your little one who is learning to read. It's perfect for the sort of reading in which your child takes one or two parts to read, and you take the rest. You can also leave this one around for your eight and ten year old boys to read and re-read--my boys got a kick out of it, as did I!

    The pictures of the ferrets are awfully charming. I almost want one, or two, ferret friends myself....

    disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

    *(how is exigencies pronounced, btw? EXigencies or exIgencies?)

    2 Comments on Ferret Fun, by Karen Rostoker-Gruber, illustrated by Paul Ratz de Tagyos, last added: 5/20/2011
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