Showing posts with label literacy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label literacy. Show all posts

Friday, February 28, 2014

Why Don't Boys Read

A children’s author friend of mine is writing an article for a local newspaper about getting boys to read. In her research for the article, she posed a few questions on a forum of local published children’s authors that I participate in. Below are my responses to her questions.

1. A lot of people who work with kids will tell you that it's harder to get young boys to read than it is to get young girls to.  If you agree, why is this the case?

I agree, and I believe one of the main reasons is that so often at school (even at home) books are pushed onto boys that just are not interesting to them. Every boy is different, and every boy will have different tastes, but most boys want books that are fast-paced, exciting, adventurous or humorous, which typically does not fall into the same category as the more literary types of books that they are assigned at school. If all the books they are made aware of are books that bore them to tears, they will have the sentiment that all books are boring.

In some cases boys will find books that do appeal to them, only to have teachers or parents turn their nose up at those books or tell the boy that those books are trash, a waste of time or aren’t real books. At times, those who can play a role in inspiring a boy to read, unknowingly turn the boy off of reading by their attitude towards the books a boy wants to read, whether it be fantasy, comic books/graphic novels, or whatever.

2. How do you get boys to read?

The best way to get a boy to read is to read to them when they are very young. After that, it’s to let them choose the books they want to read – give them options and help them find books that might be of interest to them. An indirect way to get boys to read is for them to see male role models reading and enjoying reading. Sometimes boys might get the feeling that reading is not cool, but seeing a positive role model reading helps dispel that notion.

3. What titles would you recommend?
It’s a little over a year old, but on my blog I have a list 70 books to help get boys reading. You can take a look at it at New Books to Get Boys Reading.

I have also written few posts in the past on getting children to read. Check them out below;

# 1 Way to Get Children to Read
# 2 Way to Get Children to Read
# 3 Way to Get Children to Read
# 4 Way to Get Children to Read
# 5 Way to Get Children to Read

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What About Early Readers?

Librarian extraordinaire Travis Jonker always has insightful posts at SLJ's 100 Scope Notes. I especially like his post today where he talks about the constant demand he gets from grade school students asking for more early reader books like Tedd Arnold's Fly Guy. Travis talks about how insanely popular Fly Guy is among his young patrons and wonders why there aren't more new books like it.

I often have that same question. The truth is that early readers are a hard sell to most children's book publishers. Not many pursue them. Of the handful of publishers that do, most don't seem to have the desire to expand their line beyond what they call their "current properties". Translation: movie tie-ins or proven best sellers. You can't expect many new early reader lines from publishers with that kind of strategy.

But a few publishers get it. In fact, I recently had a publisher ask me to submit a series proposal on an early reader I submitted to them. It went a couple of rounds through their acquisition committee, with some editors very excited about it, but ultimately they decided to pass on it. However, they invited me to submit some other early reader book manuscripts and proposals. We'll see what happens. But I applaud publishers like that who aggressively seek to publish early readers, not only their current line of books, but new and exciting fresh ones too.

As Travis Jonker states in his post, "The world needs more early readers with very basic vocab and an attention-grabbing main character. I know it ain’t an easy order, but there are some eager young readers out there."

I agree with Travis and I hope there end up being a few more publishers that do too.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How eReaders Combat Dyslexia

Technology is a wonderful thing. I'm still not an eReader user, but I definitely see many of the benefits; convenience, library all in one place, easier access to books, lighter weight, cost, great on a commute or traveling, and so on. With all those benefits I'm very certain, one day I'll take the eReader plunge - or at least tip my toe in the water deeper.

I'm certain the benefits of eReaders will continue to grow, especially as technology improves. To this point, researchers at the Smithsonian have discovered that the use of eReaders can in some cases improve the reading capability of some individuals with dyslexia. Particularly, it can helps those individuals with visual attention deficit and visual crowding.

Visual attention deficit is when the reader has a difficult time concentrating on letters within words or words within lines of text. Visual crowding is when the reader struggles to recognize letters when they are cluttered within a word. eReaders can address both of these issues when they are set up to display shorter lines. The shorter lines reduce the visual distractions, which ultimately led to significantly improved reading speed and comprehension with students who exhibit these forms of dyslexia.

The researchers' findings are covered in an article published by Science Daily, appropriately entitled E-Readers Can Make Reading Easier for Those With Dyslexia. As I said before, technology is a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why Reading for Pleasure Makes Kids Smarter

A great article in The Guardian talks about how children who read for pleasure do better not only in vocabulary and spelling, but also mathematics. The article cites a study of 17,000 people, who The Guardian has interviewed over the years to gain insights into the different issues that affected participants' individual development. The article suggests two main reasons why pleasure readers excel over their peers.The first is that reading "introduces young people to new words", explaining their vocabulary success. The second is "that reading also introduces young people to new ideas."

I agree with both of these, but I think there is an even more compelling reason. Simply put, children master the skill of reading the more they read. Children who read when they don't have to, develop reading skills far greater than those who only read when they have to read. The greater the reading skills, the better the child will be able to understand and comprehend concepts in their text books. As a result, master readers have a greater ability to master other subjects.

Any other thoughts on why reading for fun makes kids smarter?

Image courtesy of jannoon028 /

Image courtesy of Ambro /


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Favorite Children's Books - A Harm or Help?

When I was little - even before I could read - one of my favorite books was Curious George. There were other books that I liked, but there was something about that curious monkey and the book’s illustrations that really appealed to me. When my mom took me to our public library, I’d head straight to the children’s section and grab some Curious George books. I might have checked out other books too, but I don’t remember them. I remember wanting Curious George. That’s what made me want to go to the library. That’s what helped fuel my love of books.

That memory raises certain questions in my mind.

  • How important is it for young children to discover their own favorite book or books?
  • Is it harmful or helpful for parents, teachers, and librarians to discourage children to fixate on a specific book?
  • Does focusing on a favorite book limit a child’s reading world in the long-run or just short term, or does it help create an early love for reading that will ultimately open the child to a much broader world of books?

Personally, I think having a favorite book can be a good thing for a child. Is it essential? No, but I think when a child finds a favorite book or favorite books, it definitely fuels their love for reading. I think the same can be said when a child discovers a favorite genre. When they find books they love, they’ll love to read.

While I think it’s fine for parents, teachers and librarians to encourage children to read a wide variety of books and genres, it can be harmful if too much pressure is put on a child not to stick with a favorite book or genre. Children need to be empowered with choice in reading. Over time their tastes will vary and change, and they will naturally branch out into other books. The important thing is to get them reading and to help them find books that will inspire them to read and learn more.

Monday, July 8, 2013

When is the best time to read to your children?

The simple answer. Whenever you can. Every family situation is different. For us, right before bedtime always worked best. It was a great time to help settle the kids down before putting them to bed. It also made bedtime more enjoyable for us and the kids. Often I had chief bedtime reading responsibilities. Sometimes my wife did. Frequently we shared the responsibility with a divide and conquer approach to bedtime reading.

Reading at bedtime doesn’t work for everyone. Maybe the best time for some parents to read to their children is right before or right after an afternoon nap. Maybe it’s after your child comes home from school. Perhaps, the best time to read to your child comes while you’re sharing an afternoon snack. Maybe it’s during trips to the library.

The important thing is to read to your children – everyday if possible. Reading often to your children is crucial to the development of their own ability to read. Start young and read often. Find the time and location that works best for you and your children, and then try to make it a habit.

Image courtesy of Ambro /

Monday, June 17, 2013

Reading Comprehension Lesson Plan

I've added a new lesson plan on my website to help teachers help their students develop reading comprehension skills and comprehending key ideas and details in stories. Take a look at it and feel free to share it with others

Reading Comprehension Lesson Plan

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dragon Hits Foreign City

Old MacDonald had a Dragon made it's way onto the shelves of a library in Leipzig, Germany where it will be used to help German children learn English. That's pretty awesome I must say.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

How to Open Doors to Learning

I love libraries. Before I could read my mom would often take me to our local public library. I would check out my favorite picture books, which usually consisted of various Curious George books. I would take them home, turn the pages, look at the pictures and pretend I could read the words. It established in me a love of books and a desire to read. It also made the library a comfortable place for me to visit.

As I grew older, libraries became a place of learning for me. I wasn't one who would spend hours holed up in the library reading book after book. But if wanted to learn something new, the library was often the first resource I would turn to. I still remember when I was a teenager and first learning how to snow ski. I went to the library to check out a book on skiing and read about the finer points of the snowplow technique, followed by the parallel ski. Anything I wanted to learn about I could find in the library.

Today, the Internet often becomes the first place that people turn to gain new knowledge. That's okay. But we shouldn't let our children grow up thinking that the worldwide web is the only viable resource beyond their textbooks for research and gaining knowledge. Until the day when all the vast physical collections within libraries become digitized, our children need to learn to feel at home within the walls of their local library and practice the valuable skill of cracking open a physical book. Frequent visits to the library with our children will make that happen. Those frequent library visits will also instill within our children a life-long love of reading.

But don't forget that today's libraries aren't just about physical books and references. The ever-growing digital collections that many libraries work to build provide even greater and easier access to extensive reservoirs of knowledge, opening the doors of learning wider than ever before.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Power of Reading

There is real power in reading. When I present at schools, one of the things I talk about to young students is how when we read a book it powers our imagination in a way that we can become anything or do anything while we read that book. But reading lets us do much more than just imagine we can do anything, it literally gives us the power to become and do. Not only does reading open our eyes to new possibilities, it has the power to transform new possibilities into new realities.

A child that masters reading opens the door to an endless array of opportunities for success and happiness. Their choices become virtually unlimited. To paraphrase William Godwin, reading puts everything within our reach.

Monday, April 29, 2013

How to Create Habits of Reading in Kids

Getting books in the hands of children that they will love is so key to helping them form habits of regular reading. That doesn't mean forcing certain types of books on them. It means being open to their personal tastes and helping them find books that they will want to devour. That could mean graphic novels, classics, non-fiction, adventures, historical fiction, mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, poetry, contemporary, humor, whatever.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What's the Real Value of Author School Visits?

I love it when teachers and librarians understand and recognize the value that author school visits can provide students. Yesterday, I visited Battle Mountain Elementary and Lemaire Elementary in a small mining community in the middle of Nevada. In spite of the five hour drive through the sagebrush covered desert the day before and the five hour drive back after the visit, it ended up being one of my favorite school visits ever.

The school librarian told me ahead of time that the small, out-of-the-way community doesn’t get much in the way of entertainment, so my visit to the school was going to be a big deal. So of course, the teachers, school administration, and students were all excited to have me there. The kids were all engaged in the presentations I gave. They listened. They participated. They laughed when they were supposed to. Even one sweet little girl ran up to me and gave me a hug afterward. All of those were wonderful and added to making it a great experience, but what really made it such a satisfying experience were comments that different teachers made to me at different times after the presentations.

After my Exciting World of Books presentation, one teacher said something to the effect, “The way you read to the kids with such expression is just what we needed to reinforce what we’ve been teaching with fluency. The kids loved it, and now we can say, ‘See, that’s why it’s important to read with expression.’”

After my presentation on Story Creation Fun, one teacher made a comment like, “Your segment on showing versus telling is just what we we’ve been trying to get across to our students. Kids don’t always believe or think what teachers teach is important, but when they hear it from an author, then it makes an impact.” Another teacher said, “Thank you for covering the “try-fail cycle. We’ve been working on that and you reinforced what we’ve been teaching. It was perfect.”

This is the effect that I want all my school visits to have. I want to reinforce in a positive way what teachers are trying to teach. I want kids to get excited about reading. I want to help nurture a love for reading in their lives. I not only want to teach kids some of the key aspects of how to write better stories, but I want them to get a feel for how wonderful and fun the story creation process can be.

The real value of an author school visit is not its entertainment value. The real value of an author school visit is the positive, life-changing impact it can have on students, while reinforcing the schools, teachers and librarians’ efforts in a way that no other activity or assembly can.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Why I Write

Best-selling author, Jeff Rivera, interviewed me the other day. In the interview I talk about why I write and how I hope to help kids, among other things. You can find the interview on his site at

Thursday, January 31, 2013

How to Stop Kids from Reading :)

Once a child gets hooked on reading, it’s hard to get them to put a book down. They won’t come to dinner. They stay up late. You can’t get them to watch TV or play video games. On road trips they stop asking “Are we almost there?” They smuggle books into the bathroom, creating long lines, impatient siblings and unfortunate accidents. The problems are endless.

One method that has had limited success in our household is to simply ground them from books when they sneak a read when they’re not supposed to. However, I’ve heard there are much more effective ways to stop kids from reading. High on the list is, if they ask you to read to them, refuse. Tell them you don’t have time. Put them off until you’re done watching your favorite TV show and hope they’ll get tired of waiting. Better yet, tell them books are dumb.

Other top ways to kill a child’s interest in reading is forbid trips to the library. Don’t let them choose what books they want to read. Only let them read books you like. Of course, that’s not a good idea if they like the books you like. So, better yet, force them to read only books that they hate. That will really convince them that books have nothing to offer.

If you’re lucky enough that none of your children have caught the reading bug, be sure to never let them catch you reading. That would be a catastrophe. They might get the idea that reading is fun, educational and even interesting. Then before you know it, they’re addicted to reading and the battle to get them to stop begins.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Top 5 Ways to Get Children to Read - #1

Read Frequently To Your Children

The best way to get children to want to read is to create an interest in books before they’re even old enough to read. Part of creating this interest is to simply have a wide variety of picture books in the house for them to look at and explore. But an even bigger part is to read to them from those books on a regular basis. Reading stories at bedtime is a great tradition that not only helps children to settle down for the night, but it helps foster a love for books and reading.

Even when children are past bedtime story age, it doesn’t mean it’s too late to begin reading to them. Reading aloud to your children can become a family activity on weekday evenings, a Saturday afternoon or to help pass the time when going on a long road trip. When my two oldest children were in grade school we began reading the Harry Potter series together. Even though we were all anxious to get to the end of the books, we made a rule that none of us could read ahead. That time reading together became a special time for us that strengthened our relationships and further fostered their love for reading.

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, studies have shown that children who love reading often have that love for reading continually nurtured by their parents and other family members. One of the best ways to nurture that love, if not the best way, is to read aloud to your children on a regular basis. If it’s not a tradition in your house today, make it one starting tonight.

For more insights into the benefits of reading aloud to children, read my booktalk interview with Lisa Von Drasek on The Importance of Reading Aloud to Children.

# 2 Way to Get Children to Read
# 3 Way to Get Children to Read
# 4 Way to Get Children to Read
# 5 Way to Get Children to Read

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Top 5 Ways to Get Children to Read - #2

Find Books that Appeal to Children's Unique Tastes

Every child's tastes are different. Too often adults, and even kids’ peers, try to push their own reading interests onto them. Sometimes I would get frustrated when I would see the classics pushed onto one of my sons because it was driving him to boredom and a dislike for reading. Ironically, I would often try to get that same son more interested in reading by finding adventure books and fantasy books for him to read. He liked them okay, but they weren’t his thing. That was puzzling to me since I loved those books and so did my older son. Ultimately, I discovered that he really enjoyed reading about sports. For awhile he read sports books, but now most of his reading is in the sports section of the newspaper or on web sites, and that’s great, because he’s reading.

All my children are readers, but they all have different tastes, which range from the classics to fantasy and adventure to contemporary thought provoking literature and to non-fiction or historical books. Many times children don’t consider themselves readers simply because the world’s supposed view of what reading is doesn’t mesh with their own. The other day my adult niece mentioned that she’s not a reader and that she’s read probably less than 5 books in her life. She listed the books, which were all fiction, but then went on say how she loves to read books that you can learn about things, such as rock climbing and similar things. She’s definitely a reader.

The key is to give children choices in their reading. Just because they don’t want to read the classics or the latest bestselling novel, doesn’t mean they’re not readers. It’s a mistake to force our own interests or likes on them. Instead, we need to help them discover the books or other reading material that will appeal to their unique tastes.

For more insights on the importance of finding books that target children’s specific interests, take a look at the following Librarian Booktalks:

Also, take a look at these resources for book ideas for children.

# 1 Way to Get Children to Read
# 3 Way to Get Children to Read
# 4 Way to Get Children to Read
# 5 Way to Get Children to Read
Image courtesy of Photostock /

Monday, January 14, 2013

Top 5 Ways to Get Children to Read - #3

Let Your Children See You Reading

The way that children feel that others think about reading’s importance affects their own reading attitudes. If children rarely see their parents read, they gain the perception that reading is not too important. It develops an attitude of “Why should I read, you never do?” The opposite is true as well, the more children see their parents read the more important it becomes in their minds. This can be especially true for boys in father-son relationships. Whether it’s from cultural or social influences, research has shown that many boy “non-readers” view books as feminine or uncool. That same research shows that as boys see their fathers reading (or other significant male role models, such as grandfathers, uncles, brothers, and teachers), they more than likely will overcome this perception.

Regardless of whether you’re talking about boys or girls, the idea is that children need positive role models that will inspire them to read. When they constantly see you enjoying a variety of good books, it sends the message that “Reading is fun!” “Reading is cool!” “Reading is important!” “Reading is just what I need!”

Want your kids to be readers? First, be a reader yourself.

Here are a few resources that talk about the idea of modeling reading to children:
How to get your kid to be a fanatic reader by James Patterson 
Be a Reading Role Model
Ten Tips to Get Kids Reading
How to Model Reading
How Can I Improve My Child's Reading?

# 1 Way to Get Children to Read
# 2 Way to Get Children to Read
# 4 Way to Get Children to Read
# 5 Way to Get Children to Read

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Top 5 Ways to Get Children to Read - #4

Continually Nurture a Love for Reading

Many of the attitudes that children form about reading derive from their relationships with others. One of the most impactful relationships on children’s reading attitudes is the one they have with their parents. Studies have shown that children who love reading often have that love for reading continually nurtured by their parents and other family members.

So, how do you nurture that love for reading? One is to simply make it fun. Have family reading times. Ask your children what they're reading? Tell them about what you are currently reading (This means you actually have to read yourself). Have a family read-a-thon. Take children on frequent trips to the library. Go to storytimes at the library, local bookstores or book fairs. Let children create their own books. Read to your children (This is actually an individual category on its own – watch for it in the countdown). Give books as gifts.

Encouraging positive reading-related interactions with children's peers is important too, such as informal book conversations with friends or book clubs. Of course, librarians can play a vital role in nurturing the love of reading in children. My booktalk interview with Cathy Potter on Cultivating a Strong Reading Community at Schools has a few insights in this area.

There are lots of other ways to nurture a love for reading in children. Some will show up in the remainder of my top 5. But I’d love to hear from you on what you suggest.
# 1 Way to Get Children to Read
# 2 Way to Get Children to Read
# 3 Way to Get Children to Read
# 5 Way to Get Children to Read

Image courtesy of Ambro /

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Top 5 Ways to Get Children to Read - #5

Accept that Everything is Reading

It’s debatable where this concept really ranks. Some might say it’s actually the number one way to get children to read. But the truth is that one of the most powerful ways to get children to read is for parents, teachers, librarians, caregivers and others concerned with helping children become readers is for us adults to simply accept the idea that everything is reading, and then encourage that reading in children.

For parents, this requires making a wide selection of books available and accessible to children, including classics, adventures, mysteries, biographies, fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, sports books, humor, non-fiction, encyclopedias, and yes – even graphic novels and comics. But the idea of Everything is Reading is not limited to just traditional books or ebooks. It includes newspapers, magazines, websites, do-it-yourself manuals, even the back of cereal boxes and more.

The idea is to encourage reading of any type. That encouragement and acceptance can help kids to keep reading and might eventually lead them to gain interest in reading a wider variety of other types of reading material. The more a child reads, the more the child develops their reading ability and the better chance they have to succeed in school and life in general. To get them to read, be okay with what they’re already reading or want to read.

For more on the concept that “Everything is Reading”, read my interview with elementary school librarian and SLJ 100 Scope Notes blogger, Travis Jonker.

# 1 Way to Get Children to Read
# 2 Way to Get Children to Read
# 3 Way to Get Children to Read
# 4 Way to Get Children to Read

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Collaboration and Helping Students Navigate Information Resources

Booktalk Interview with Travis Jonker – Part 2
Part 2 of an interview I conducted with Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian in Michigan, founder and blogger of 100 Scope Notes, reviewer for School Library Journal, former judge for CYBILS Awards, and member of the 2014 Caldecott committee.

You talked before about the importance of working with students and teachers in terms of information literacy. Tell me more about that.
Travis: I was telling somebody just the other day that I think this is the craziest time in history to be a librarian. There is so much change going on with technology, especially with eBooks and with resources being available online and for free. It’s just totally changed what the library looks like and what we do.

How do these technology changes tie into information literacy and what you’re trying to teach students?
Travis: Information literacy involves skills that kids will need as they grow up and throughout their lives. So, we’ll work with students doing research projects and I’ll introduce them to some of the different databases that we have online. I also talk to them about formulating guiding questions for their research, such as what exactly is it that they want to answer. I’ll talk to them about being methodical about how they go about answering those questions and being really thorough about it. My goal is to make students self-sufficient in terms of navigating everything that is out there and finding answers to their questions.

What advice do you give other librarians to help students learn how to navigate all the information resources that are available?
Travis: The big thing for me is to just try things. I think a lot of time people are hesitant to try a new project or something with a student because they’re nervous it might not work or the outcome might not be exactly what they want. But I think it’s really important for school librarians to work with students and teachers at every opportunity they can.

 Why is it important for school librarians to work with teachers in terms of teaching information literacy to students?
Travis: Collaboration is such a big part of what we do. Sometimes it’s really difficult to collaborate. Everybody has their own things going on. But making those connections would be one of the first things I would tell a new school librarian. You need to keep working with teachers and getting into the classrooms of students that you’re teaching. You can even collaborate without collaborating. Meaning, you proactively look at what teachers are working on and then you look for resources and suggestions that might help the teachers even if they don’t come to you first.

Tell me a little more about the importance of school librarians collaborating with teachers.

Travis: School librarians really are well versed in doing research. They’re well versed in what books might fit with a particular reading or with the interests kids might have. The more times that you can work with a teacher, the better the students will benefit because you’ll be able to share your expertise and what you’ve learned over the years; whether it be working on research or suggesting a great new book to read.

The students won’t learn those things if you don’t make connections with those teachers. There are a lot of times when I’ll be eating lunch in the lounge and through a normal conversation a teacher will mention something she’s going to be teaching and we’ll end up planning to work on a project together. Even though it sounds simple, if that connection hadn’t happened, the students wouldn’t have benefited as much.

I understand that one such collaboration led to a rather unique experience for you. Please share.
Travis: You never know what you might be doing during the course of a day as a school librarian. But a couple years ago when Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday was coming up, I mentioned to one of the teachers who was coordinating our school’s celebration that a couple years before I had gone as Abe Lincoln to Halloween. She picked right up on that and before you know it, on Lincoln’s 200th birthday I came riding up to the school in a horse drawn carriage and delivered the Gettysburg Address on the front steps to a bunch of students dressed up in period clothing. We even had all the local news and TV cameras there. It was just the kind of thing where one little thing led to another. And it was a lot of fun.

Read part 1 (Everything is Reading) now and watch for part 3 (eBooks and eReaders in the School Library) of this interview to show up the first part of next week.