Tuesday, March 31, 2009

April is Poetry Month

Goodbye to March, hello to April! The month of April is poetry month, and I'm going to try to do something fun--write 30 poems, one for each day. Cinquain, haiku, limericks...I'll try them all, and I'll share the good and not-so-good. We'll see how it goes.

In the meantime, here's a picture of the daffodils outside my window.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Gobble Gobble Crash and Poetry

Thanks to children's author Anastasia Suen for highlighting my book Gobble Gobble Crash! A Barnyard Counting Bash in her poetry Friday post. Suen's approach to writing, using the 6 Traits model (a common pedagogical tool for writing teachers) is very similar to how I write. Suen's post on this is a good one.

By the way (did I post this already? I can't remember), I found out recently that Gobble was chosen as the Feb. 09 book of the month for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. Thank you to that organization for choosing Gobble. I love that it's going to lots of children's homes across the country. I've had such fun with this turkey story, and I'm thrilled to share it with young readers and their families. Dolly's program, Imagination Library, is a great one, providing free books once a month for children under 5.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Year of Living Biblically

I’m reading a book my husband highly recommended called The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. It’s fascinating. The author, a self-labeled agnostic, has devoted a year of his life to living the Bible as literally as possible. Not only is the concept intriguing (since he’s an agnostic), but Jacobs’ writing is honest, lively, humorous, and thoroughly captivating. He’s a real pro.

Here’s the thing: I believe that his honest, up-front, curious approach to the Bible is much more appealing than many who call themselves Christians, but end up living pharisaical, hypocritical lives. Their words are sweet, but underneath there is a maliciousness that lurks behind the happy, smiling faces. And who am I to judge? I am guilty too.

But I like the approach Jacobs takes. He genuinely tries. He seeks to live Biblically. He counts the times each day that he lies. He attempts to forgo coveting his neighbor’s belongings. He's honest with himself and with his readers. I like that.

Sometimes his efforts are over the top. However, I find his approach refreshing. This is how to discuss religion: to have a frank, open discussion without judgment.

I’m only about a third of the way through the book, but I already heartily endorse it. It's given me a lot to think about in terms of God's laws, the goodness of God, and the mercy of Christ.

I meant to post about this earlier, but the author is coming to speak at IPFW this evening for an Omnibus Lecture.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Encouraging Literacy in the Very Young, Part 4

Tip #4 - Allow children to share books with special people in their lives. One of my fondest childhood memories is sitting with my grandfather reading The Poky Little Puppy in his house in Boulder, Colo. We sat together in my grandfather's big chair, and read about all of the antics of the poky puppy who dug a hole with his brothers and sisters under a fence to explore the "wide, wide world." The poky little puppy, always the observant one (and the one with the worst sweet tooth), gets his fill of adventures and of desserts.

But it's hardly the story I recall. What I remember is feeling the utter and complete joy that a child can feel when sharing a good story with someone they treasure.

My grandfather died not too long after that, when I was only nine, so my memories of him are very few. But this is one I hold onto. My grandfather was not a well-read man. He was a carpenter. He worked for most of his life making cabinets and tables and chairs. His garage smelled of sawdust. The tools were lined up on the walls, just so. What I remember, though, and what I treasure most is that he read with me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Encouraging Literacy in the Very Young, Part 3

Tip #3 - One of the things I love most about children is their ability to find joy in the small stuff of life. The definition of "walk" to a toddler or preschooler is far different from our adult definition. Adults walk in order to get exercise, to try to shed those extra pounds. Not so with young children. Speed is not a part of a child's stroll around the neighborhood, and I believe, that can teach us as parents to slow down and enjoy those little things that children take such delight in.

Allow your toddler time to feel the cool dampness of mud, the tickly grass, the sounds of honking geese. Then…guess what comes next…read about what your child is naturally drawn to. Find books about mud, grass, and geese. Get fiction and nonfiction. If a thunderstorm rumbles through town, talk about it with your child, and then go get some books on lightning and thunder. The great thing about children's books is that you can find a book on a certain topic for any age.

For example, when I share my book Cheep! Cheep! with preschoolers or young grade-school children, I often show them other books (not necessarily mine) that have similar themes. Cheep! could lead to several different thematic ideas:

- a new sibling joining the family - read Cheep as well as books like Mercer Mayer's The New Baby

- other farm animals - look at Garth Williams' Baby Farm Animals or Margaret Wise Brown's Big Red Barn

- welcoming spring - look at a book by Lois Ehlert, like Planting a Rainbow

For an reader (adult or child), the key is finding what you like to read about--baseball, solar eclipses, giant squid, flea markets, or yes, possibly, even baby chickens. Whatever you like--enjoy!

Funny video: Cat attacks office printer. Who will win?

Go here to watch.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Encouraging Literacy in the Very Young, Part 2

Tip #2 - Get books into the hands of children.

So, after setting aside one or more reading times per day for your little one, now you need to have books to read. What are the best places to find books?

Libraries, of course, are a great place to start. Many libraries have no limit on the number of books to check out, and some even check out big tubs to take them home in (when you forget your tote bag)! In addition to the wide selection of books, children's librarians are great resources for book advice. Whenever we're not sure what to check out for my son, we consult with a librarian who always steers us in the right direction. Also, story times can be a great introduction to reading for the young.

I enjoy browsing bookstores for new books. (And many bookstores also feature story times.) I also love finding vintage books at used bookstores or antique stores. Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com, and other websites can also be helpful if you can't locate the book in a bookstore. However, you can save yourself shipping costs if you call a local bookstore and order it from them if it's not immediately available.

Another thing that parents can do to encourage a love of reading is to make books a reward instead of giving a treat that is less healthy. Instead of lunch out at a fast food restaurant, why not make a healthier lunch at home and head to the bookstore after lunch for a treat--a book that can be enjoyed over and over again.

Parents can also look into free reading programs, like Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), and other book clubs. RIF is a federally funded program for school-age children in elementary schools. This program is usually run by a volunteer in a school (like a PTA volunteer) or by a school librarian or teacher. They receive money from the federal government, and then add more of their own funding in order to purchase books for the students in the school.

I was in charge of the RIF program at my son's school in Brentwood, PA for a couple of years. We purchased about 800 books per year and had distributions throughout the year. It was great to see kids come in and pick one or two free books to take home to build their own libraries.

Another free program for preschoolers is Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.

Another idea, which I think was inspired by Carol Baicker-McKee is to buy books for birthdays/Christmas. Make this a tradition. Or suggest that a grandparent make that his or her tradition for gift-giving. You could even start a wish list of books for your child on Amazon or at a site like Good Reads. Put the books on a "to-read" shelf on Good Reads, and then have friends or relatives know that your child would love those books as gifts.

Happy reading!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Encouraging Literacy in the Very Young

As a parent and a children's author, I often think about ways to encourage reading in children. Several of my books are written for the youngest--babies and toddlers. So this week, as time allows, I'll post several ideas on how to encourage reading and literacy in the very young.

The first and best advice is to make reading a natural part of a child's day. Children thrive on routine and stability, so start by building reading into the routine of your child's day.

When my son was young, we had reading time before naptime and before bedtime every day. Every afternoon, even when he was at the age when he started resisting naps, we still had our reading time. He would snuggle close on the couch, and we'd read a pile of books together.

Some of our favorites when he was a toddler were: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, any Richard Scarry book, the Berenstain Bears books, Curious George books, P.D. Eastman books (especially Go, Dog, Go! and Are You My Mother?), and so, so many others.

For young toddlers, one sentence or just a few words on each page is enough. That keeps their attention, and allows them to begin experiencing what reading is all about. As they get older, they can handle longer and more detailed storybooks, like Mike Mulligan or The Story of Ping or Make Way for the Ducklings.

One of my favorite memories of my son as a two year old was listening to and watching him "read" books that we'd read together many, many times, so many times, in fact, that he'd memorized them. Sometimes he even just said nonsense words, but he knew the rhythm of the story, what was coming next, and the ending. He had already, at that young age, discovered the strength of story--that a story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

We used to read a book together called "Wheels Are Everywhere." There wasn't much to it, just something along the lines of: "Wheels are in the city, in the country...wheels are on bicycles, cars, and trucks...etc." But he knew the ending: WHEELS ARE EVERYWHERE! And he'd say it with such enthusiasm, throwing his hands up in the air and shouting it.

Setting aside time for reading every day has so many positive benefits. You share with your child your joy for reading and stories. You get time with your child to bond and share a special time. Your child develops good listening skills. Your child has a calm, relaxing time to prepare for sleep. Your child learns about his or her world, and begins to experience the world through story.

In addition to home reading times, take advantage of story times at the library. Story times are often offered for children as young as 18 months, and most of these are staffed by wonderful librarians who love children and books.

Take a look at this blog for more information on children's literacy and promoting reading with children.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Another miscellaneous link: Craigslist

I've been stalking the pages of Craigslist lately. This is kind of cool. You can buy stuff you need and sell junk you don't need to local people in your area.

An interesting view on success

I like this short article on success and self-confidence. It's simple but very helpful advice.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Hidden Talents

While we were watching the Academy Awards a couple of weeks ago and watching Hugh Jackman in his opening number, my mom commented that he was yet another actor who was multi-talented. Not only is he an awesome actor, but he's got a great comedic personality and a good singing voice too. Then, a couple of days ago, a co-worker mentioned that in addition to teaching, she'd always thought about writing books for kids.

It made me think about what talents lie untapped in people. When we choose a career path, we often have to focus on that particular task and leave other interests or talents behind.

Here are some of the careers I would choose if I weren't doing what I'm doing.

Children's Librarian - I'd love to help kids and parents find that perfect book for their child, to see all the new books that come in, and have it as part of my job to study and learn about kids' books all day long.

Children's Bookstore Owner - This is why I love the movie "You've Got Mail." That movie has everything going for it: children's books, romance, and golden retrievers.

Graphic Designer - This could be great fun. I know I don't have the training for it now, but it could be awesome.

Kindergarten Teacher - I love kids and would love to be the one to introduce kids to school, especially books and reading.

What are your alternate career dreams?