Need a New Year’s Resolution? READ to your child.

How about a resolution this year that will change your child’s life? Parents often ask, “How can I help my child become a better reader?”  The answer is two-fold and for this post I’ll address part 1, focusing on the word “reader.”

Answer: Your child must READ!

Set the expectation for your child that he/she will spend at least 20 minutes EACH night reading.  Period.  Read to your child, with your child, in front of your child, etc….

Kind of a no-brainer, right?  Read, so you can become a better reader.  However, schedules are jam-packed, even with good things.  It will take discipline to set aside and protect this time.  But there is just too much research and evidence to ignore the importance of reading daily, no matter the age of your child.

WHY?
Here are just a few statistics:

  • Of the children who leave third grade reading below grade level, 74% never catch up.
  • Out of every 193 Americans that are in jail, 49% of them read at or below a 9th grade level.
  • Reading just makes “cents”: For every year that a person spends reading (either independently or being read aloud to), his/her lifetime earning potential goes up considerably. For a time investment of approximately 87 hours a year (20 minutes a day for 5 days a week), you can increase your child’s ability to support him or herself in the future considerably.

WHEN?
And it’s never too early to start.  Enjoy this poem from Readingfoundation.org.

 20 MINUTES A DAY

Read to your children
Twenty minutes a day;
You have the time,
And so do they.

Read while the laundry is in the machine;
Read while dinner cooks;
Tuck a child in the crook of your arm
And reach for the library books.

Hide the remote,
Let the computer games cool,
For one day your child will be off to school;

Remedial? Gifted? You have the choice.
Let them hear their first tales,
In the sound of your voice.

Read in the morning,
Read over noon,
Read by the light of
Goodnight Moon.

Turn the pages together,
Sitting close as you’ll fit,
‘Till a small voice beside you says,
“Hey, don’t quit.”

Author Unknown

Here are a few more links that support starting this habit early to set the stage for future success.
http://www.k12reader.com/why-read-20-minutes-a-day/

http://www.knowonder.com/2011/08/27/why-you-and-your-child-should-read-20-minutes-every-day/

HOW?
Convinced yet?  “Yes, but how?” you might ask.

So you need help stealing 20 minutes from elsewhere in your schedule?  Here are some good ideas of time-wasters that can be turned into reading opportunities.  http://www.sallisawps.org/Portals/0/Content/Read%20to%20a%20Child.pdf

This article suggests ways to create a home atmosphere of reading that involves the whole family.  http://www.scholastic.com/bookfairs/family/downloads/fg_reading_habit.pdf

PREACHIN’ TO THE CHOIR
To those of you already doing this…BRAVO!  I’d love to hear your testimonies.  What does your child like to read?  How early did you start?  How do you fit it into your busy schedule?  What are your favorite books to read as an adult (modeling is important)?

My next post will address part 2 in answer to the question: “How can I help my child become a better reader?”   Once you’ve created an expectation for reading, you’re ready to help your child become BETTER at it.

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I Would If I Could, But I Can’t So I Shan’t: Fostering Risk-taking in Learning

As a former teacher, one of the hardest things to foster in students was perseverance in problem solving.  Whether it was a math story, logic puzzle, or science experiment, I saw the same thing over and over.  Students want immediate solutions.  Often if they can’t figure out the “right” answer immediately, they give up.

This was even true for my advanced readers and mathematicians.  Interestingly, these students would not only give up, but also be critical of themselves or the activity itself.  I’m not completely unfamiliar with this reaction.  I remember being the same way as a child.  It seems possible to me that those deemed “smart” by others are used to figuring things out quickly.  To be unable to do so is unnerving and uncomfortable.

My solution was to always challenge the students to KEEP WORKING ON THE PROBLEM.  After I assured them repeatedly that there was no mistake in the problem or scenario, they would then attack it from a different angle.  And then another, and another.

Now parents, don’t fret.  I didn’t send your kids away with a “Figure it out yourself and leave me alone” attitude.  They would often sit at my desk and struggle through it, asking me questions intermittently.  I would ask questions back (really annoying at the time, I know) to help them think outside the box, but I absolutely would not give them the answer.

And you know what happened?  They’d figure it out.  And a smile as wide as Texas would spread from ear to ear.  You see—there is something extremely satisfying about delayed gratification and perseverance.  It presents us with an intangible reward: satisfaction and renewed confidence in ourselves.  And perhaps more importantly, the faith to take risks in the future and tackle the “impossible.”

My next posts will detail an often more palatable way to encourage this critical thinking in your child…through reading.  I’ll provide you with a handy tool to help you engage your child in higher-level thinking using pre-made questions from Bloom’s Taxonomy.  I’ll also direct you to Mystery resources for your child including picture books, I Can Read, and chapter books.

Barney Saltzberg = Biggest Surprise

As I wrap up my last post about the Texas Book Festival, it’s important to note that today’s author, while last, is definitely not least.  As a matter of fact, he was the biggest surprise to me.  Since I’m currently working on 2 manuscripts for children’s picture books (ages 4-8), I was “bouncing-in-my-seat happy” to hear from Rob Scotton, Tad Hills, and Philip Yates.

When I read Mr. Saltzberg’s biography, his appearance on the panel didn’t excite me.  I saw he’d written many board books for preschoolers, but had just published his first picture book, Andrew Drew and Drew.  http://youtu.be/m5jeZJ8Renw

 

What I thought I really needed was to hear from the other authors who had done what I hope to do.  Surely this guy had nothing to offer me.

But I soon discovered how wrong I was.

Right off the bat, I related to the inspiration for his latest board book, Arlo Needs Glasseshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEpNPMCWltc

He shared about his 75 pound golden doodle and the dog’s poor catching skills.  Look at Arlo with a bandana…so cute!  My two silly dogs have also inspired the seeds of ideas for my manuscripts.

Then, near the end of the session, each author/illustrator was encouraged to stand by an easel pad and show their method of illustrating.  When it was Barney’s turn, he removed the marker cap and began talking.  And like me, he spoke while gesturing with his hands.  All of a sudden, OOPS, he’d made a stray mark on the paper behind him that he was supposed to use.

Oops!

This “mistake” was the springboard for him to share his vision for art and his work.

Let me give you some context.  If you’ve ever seen a child with a blank piece of paper, you know what happens when he or she makes a mistake, tears it on accident, or erases too hard and rips the paper.   “I messed up.  I need a new piece.”  And if you don’t immediately comply, the child will either get mad or end up close to tears.  It seems this “broken” piece of paper just will not do.

Barney Saltzberg sees this as a problem and he has helped become part of the solution.

Voila! Rhino-hippo

In Beautiful Oops, his interactive multi-texture and sensory board book, he shows kids the beauty found in the unexpected.

Did you tear your page by mistake?  It’s now the alligator’s mouth.

Did you accidentally spill a paint glob on your page?  Look at that glob for a moment.  What do you see?  Perhaps a puppy or bird shape?

Did you bend your paper?  No problem.  Turn it into the penguin’s face.

The story ends with a lasting message: “When you think you have made a mistake…OOPS…Think of it as an opportunity to make something beautiful.”

This might not sound like a big deal to you, but for me (a struggling perfectionist) it was an attractive reminder.  And as a former elementary teacher, I know many children that also struggle with performance anxiety. Open your mind, relax, and let art happen!

If you’re more of a “I’ll believe it when I see it” kind of person, please enjoy one of these classroom visit videos and watch the kids’ reactions to this adult’s behavior.  Kids LOVE him and you will too!
10-minute version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0A3QhGVyDs
2-minute version here: http://youtu.be/gC6fF5IJjjU

Barney further explores this idea in his next project called 2 + 2 = Banana.  There are no right answers, no ONE and ONLY way to do things when it comes to creative expression.

So at the end of the day, I actually spent more money on Barney Saltzberg’s books—yes, preschool board books—than the other authors.  And yes I did have fun pulling and lifting all the flaps.  It was especially fun to try the variety of glasses on Arlo to help him find the perfect pair.

This author/illustrator is also a musician, frequently creating silly songs on the fly when he’s visiting classrooms.  Listening to him, I was inspired by his open mind and passionate creativity.  He is full of energy, ideas, and (most appealing to me) a freedom to make mistakes and explore those mistakes for potential beauty.

Little kids aren’t the only ones who need to hear that.

Author Links:

http://www.barneysaltzberg.com
http://barneysaltzberg.blogspot.com

Interview about his Dual-Book Tour with 2 different publishers
http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/54316-workman-and-abrams-team-up-for-barney-saltzberg-tour.html

Crazy Hair Day
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcshjFgOYE4

Rob Scotton Explains His Inspiration for Splat the Cat Stories

What a pleasure it was for me to meet Rob Scotton at the Texas Book Festival last weekend.  This author from Rutland, England, loves to talk.  But I can assure you that each of us in the audience loved to listen–to his ideas and accent!  His picture books about Splat the Cat are very popular, causing a long book signing line at the festival.

Meet Splat the Cat

Inspiration #1

Listening to Rob speak, I especially found the “insider information” about his inspiration intriguing.  As a fellow writer working on 2 manuscripts of my own, I love hearing how the seeds of ideas get started.  I’ve found that my ideas come from everyday things that happen in life.  Anything can inspire.  Rob’s story is further proof of this.

Rob was running his lawnmower in his backyard one summer day when his eyes spotted this ugly beast on top of his fence. It had bald patches and a clipped ear.  It was his neighbor’s cat.  This particular cat had a habit of attacking Rob when he least expected it.  He kept his eye on the cat as he went back and forth with the lawnmower.  Suddenly, a gust of wind came and the cat teetered precariously.  It then hung in the air briefly before falling from the fence.  Rob thought to himself, “Surely this agile creature will land safely on his feet, as all cats do.”  But when the cat landed not so gracefully on its bum, he heard the word “SPLAT” in his head.  He immediately ran inside, lawn duties forgotten for the moment, and played with the idea of a character, Splat the Cat.

Rob Scotton, author of Splat the Cat picture books

A key element for this artist was finding the look of Splat right from the start.  He needed a cat he could enjoy spending time writing stories.  Rob wanted to keep Splat simple.  As a child, Rob had practiced drawing characters like Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Pluto.  These shapes were simple and easy to practice with.  So he designed Splat’s rectangular body with his young audience in mind.

Splat’s rectangular body

And what could be funnier on a chunky body than long skinny “arms” and legs coming off it?

Splat’s skinny “arms” and legs

Next Rob played with various ideas for the eyes, and finally settled on the “wide-eyed” look of the circles close together. This style is similar to Russell the Sheep, a beloved character from his previous picture books.  He also had fun with Splat’s tail, which expresses the character’s mood.

Possible eyes for Splat–rejected

Put it all together, adding belly and tail.

Rob Scotton’s illustrations are created using Painter and Photoshop.  He even has a pressure-sensitive stylus and pad that allows him to create the brushstrokes for Splat’s amazing fur!

I encourage you to meet Splat now at your local library or bookstore.  Then this summer, as “back to school” rolls back around, revisit this story and the Back to School activities below with your child or students.

http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/harperchildrensimages/printable/splat_activity%5B2%5D.pdf

Inspiration #2

Rob Scotton’s latest book is just in time for Thanksgiving, Splat Says Thank You.  This idea has a totally different origin than the original Splat.

Rob was at a book signing and a little boy stood off to the side.  In between signings, this 6 year old kept asking him questions about his books.  It went something like this:

Boy: You wrote a Halloween Splat book, didn’t you?

Rob: Yes, I did.  Did you like it?

Boy: Yes, I did.

[long pause as Rob signs someone’s book]

Boy: You wrote a Christmas Splat book, didn’t you?

Rob: Yes, I did.  Did you like it?

Boy: Yes, I did.

[another long pause as Rob signs someone’s book]

Boy: You wrote a Valentine Splat book, didn’t you?

Rob: Yes, I did.  Did you like it?

Boy: Not really.

[another long pause as Rob signs someone’s book]

Boy: Are you going to write a Thanksgiving Splat book?  You should.

And this got Rob thinking later.  How would Splat and Thanksgiving relate or link together at all?  Being from England, he tried to focus on the main theme of thankfulness.  What things are we all universally thankful for?  And that led him to thinking of friendship.  A light bulb went off as he realized he could write a Thanksgiving Splat book where Splat was thankful for his best friend, Seymour.  This would also be a great time to write the two friends’ backstory of how they met and why they’re such good friends.

Parents and Teachers

This writer’s inspiration is a great example for your own young authors.  Sharing the “behind the scenes” of how published authors get their ideas can encourage your child to look around with “author eyes.”  Settings like the lunchroom, playground, and their own backyard can spark an idea for a character, setting, or plot.

Leave a comment if you decide to check Splat out for yourself. 🙂

Rob Scotton’s Website: 

http://www.robscotton.com/www.robscotton.com/RobScotton.com.html

Pirate Obsession, Perhaps?

I don’t know about your kids, but my best friend’s little ones are obsessed with pirates.  And have been for the last 2 years.  That’s saying a lot since the twins are 4 1/2 and their younger brother is 2 1/2 years old.  “Doubloons” and “Arrrggh” might even have been his first words!  Just to prove it, here are 2 adorable pictures taken on this very Halloween night of 2012.

It’s not just kids…my sister-in-law has been obsessed with pirates ever since Pirates of the Caribbean came out.  Wait, hers is actually a Johnny Depp obsession.  Never mind.

But really, I have to agree with Philip Yates, a local Austin author, who explains his own fascination with pirates and his inspiration for his two picture books, A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas and A Pirate’s Twelve Days of Christmas.

“Who didn’t dream of being a pirate when they were a kid? It’s a dream-come-true for a child. No parents hanging around, stay up as long as you wanted to, dig for buried treasure on the weekends, don’t worry about brushing your teeth, capture and burn ships, kidnap men and women and make them walk the plank. Look at Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and their overwhelming desire to be pirates. It’s the ultimate kid fantasy.”  [full interview found at http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2008/11/author-interview-philip-yates-on.html]

Philip Yates at the Texas Book Festival
in Austin on Oct. 27, 2012.

By asking himself questions, Philip Yates created a new take on two well-loved Christmas poems.

“What would a pirate ask for at Christmas? Well, a plank, of course. How would pirates celebrate Christmas? Surely they would not be visited by St. Nicholas, no, not these robbers and murderers, unless he left coal in their stockings. The idea continued to haunt me until I came up with the solution that if pirates were to celebrate their own Christmas, they had to have their very own pirate Santa Claus and that’s when Sir Peggedy was born.”

This buccaneer spent the majority of his time researching pirate history, the parts of the ship, and more. “I also wanted the language to be authentic in every way, so that when you read it out loud, you would sound like a pirate.”

And every parent knows how important that is, especially on September 19th each year.  http://www.talklikeapirate.com/piratehome.html.

If pirates don’t float your boat, Philip’s humor will.  It’s no surprise that he actually got his start writing joke books.  After co-writing nearly 10 joke books in 8 years, he then wrote his debut picture book called 10 Little Mummies. This counting book is jam-packed with silly explorations inspired by his mummy riddles:

“What do you do when a mummy rolls his eyes at you? You roll them right back.”
“What kind of underwear do mummies wear? Fruit of the Tomb.”
[full interview at http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2005/10/author-interview-philip-yates-on-ten.html]

Always on the lookout for ideas around him, Philip tells of the inspiration for his next picture book.  It’s based on a seemingly irreverent statement he overhead at an Austin public library.

“A little girl came into the library once and told her mom, ‘I love you so much I want to throw up.’ I thought this was hilarious and touching because a moment later the girl hugged her mom and added, ‘Throw up my arms and hug you and kiss you.’ This later became a picture book about how much a child can love a parent or guardian.”

You know the drill.  Halloween’s over now, so Christmas will soon be upon us (if not already in a store near you). So get out there and purchase two special pirate poem Christmas books for your own buccaneers.  I already got my autographed copy for my best friend’s 3 pirates.

Author Interview Links:

http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2008/11/author-interview-philip-yates-on.html

http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2005/10/author-interview-philip-yates-on-ten.html

http://www.austinscbwi.com/mt/members/archives/2005/04/post_1.html

UN-Happy Halloween for Author stuck in Austin

It was such a pleasure to meet and listen to Tad Hills this weekend at the Texas Book Festival. I was sad to see on his Facebook page after the festival:“Stuck in Austin TX for I don’t know how long. My only other option at this point is to fly to Chattanooga then train to Richmond and sail up the coast to Brooklyn.”

He lives in Brooklyn, NY, but Hurricane Sandy has stranded him here in Austin. This is especially sad since he might miss Halloween, his favorite holiday, with his kids. Each year he designs elaborate costumes for them. Visit his website to view masterpieces ranging from buildings (Leaning Tower of Pisa, Eiffel Tower) to a furry monster that has iPhones playing a moving and blinking eyeballs video loop!  http://tadhills.com/about/costumes#4

UPDATE: On 10/30 at 10:45 a.m. Eastern, Tad Hills posted: “They [My wife and kids] are fine. We are very lucky. They are safe and the house is dry.  But surrounded by so much damage.” 

From costumes to acting, sculpting, or writing and illustrating, this man is an all-around artist who views each of these expressions similarly. He feels you create each in a similar way, adding and cutting to shape the end product.  This author/illustrator began writing touch and feel board books, but is best known for his Duck and Goose picture books, as well as his latest two stories about a dog named Rocket who learns to read and write.

Image

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Tad Hills shows how to draw Duck at the Texas Book Festival.
I was in the front row and he was 3 feet from me!

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Tad Hills at the Texas Book Festival introducing his latest Rocket story, Rocket Writes a Story.

In Rocket Writes a Story, I was immediately delighted with the authenticity of the writing process Rocket goes through.  For parents, this book provides ideas of your role in helping your child love writing: encourage him; give her time and space for inspiration; listen as he reads aloud his progress; ask her questions. I would add to this list–ask her tell you stories verbally. “Storytelling” is a great pre-writing activity because kids love to talk. Revising as you go is simple when no paper or pencil is involved.  As a former teacher, I would have loved to share this story as a model for how authors really write. Writing a story is not a canned task where you:

1) sit down with paper and pencil,

2) write a good story, and

3) get up and say VOILA!

It is a process that is exciting and frustrating, fast and slow all at different stages. You need time, space, inspiration, and support from others. My favorite lines in the book are:

“He wrote words down and crossed words out.  When things were going well, he wagged his tail.  When he didn’t know what to write, he growled.”

And writing impacts those around us. Rocket experiences each of these elements on his writing journey.

Writing Mini-lesson using Children’s Literature:

In the classroom, have students brainstorm the things they do and need in order to write a story. List these ideas on chart paper. Make sure they don’t leave anything out. Then read Rocket Writes a Story. Have students list the things Rocket used and did in his writing process. Compare the two lists. “Can you add any of his tools to your process?” This should facilitate an encouraging discussion about ideas and their development. Then, as a fun treat, show them the picture of the real Rocket that inspired Tad Hills (http://tadhills.com/rocket/meet-the-real-rocket).

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Personally, this story strikes a chord because it’s been about a year now of me nursing 2 manuscripts of my own. My two ideas (a fairy tale and a dog detective story) look radically different than when I began.  I, too, have needed breaks, inspiration, peers, encouragement and feedback, time and space.  And of course, my great dogs also originally inspired me.

I hope you’ll take time to introduce Rocket to your children or students. He’s a model reader and writer!

Author Interview Links:

http://tadhills.com/is/news-and-events

http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/home/895084-312/tad_hills_talks_about_rocket.html.csp

Back with a Bang

I’ve just returned from the Texas Book Festival and I am pumped up!  This free event is located on and around the capitol building in downtown Austin.  While there, I got to meet some very cool children’s book authors.  I was even able to ask them, one-on-one, a few questions I have as a new writer with my own manuscript in the works.  So, for the last few hours I have been singing the refrain “Now I’ve had the time of my life.”  And that’s when I thought of you.  I’d love to share some insights these authors revealed about their characters and inspiration.  As an avid reader, those details further endear to me a story or character I already love.

The next four posts for this week (and I promise to do my best to get them out this week while it’s fresh on my mind) are: DRUMROLL, please…………….

Tad Hills, author of Rocket the Dog stories

Philip Yates, author of 2 pirate Christmas-themed books

Barney Saltzberg, author of books for pre-school children

Rob Scotton, author of Splat the Cat books

Left to right: Moderator, Suzanne Wofford; Author, Tad Hills; Author, Philip Yates; Author, Barney Saltzberg; Author, Rob Scotton

More photos and stories to come–hope you’ll join me.