How to Raise a Reader: 5 Tips for Parents

This is a great article for parents who want to “raise readers.”

Delightful Children's Books

When my son Jack was in preschool, he read Charlotte’s Web aloud fluently to his classmates. When he was in kindergarten, he began disappearing into his room for a few hours every afternoon to read. My son is known for being a reader — for having his nose in a book. He is a kid who devours books.

Friends see my son, and they ask me from time to time how I did it. How did I raise a reader?

How to Raise a Reader: 5 Tips for Parents | Delightful Children's Books

My friends have expressed a variety of concerns about their kids’ reading habits. “My kid is not interested in reading. He only wants to play Minecraft.” “My kid only reads X, when I know she is capable of reading Y.” “My kid is lazy. He only wants me to read books aloud to him.”

I am hesitant to give my friends advice largely because I think my son sets the…

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The Missing Series

I can’t say how many times I’ve heard my students ask for a Margaret Peterson Haddix book, and how many time I’ve shelved or walked past Haddix’s Missing Series, blissfully unaware what was really in her books.  It wasn’t until I was trying to find one of my fifth graders a new book to read that The Missing Series really came to my attention.

I began by asking her my usual question: what was the last book you read that you really liked?  (This is interchangeable with: what is your favorite book?)  She pointed me to the first book of the Missing Series, Found.  I had always assumed that these books were suspense novels, maybe with a bit of horror thrown in, due to the artwork on the cover.  I asked the student what Found was about, hoping she would tell me about the plot and the characters, and I could connect it with a similar book.  Instead, she told me it was about time travel.

What now?  I stared at her, flabbergasted, unable to believe that a series of time travel books had been sitting under my nose for the past two years.  Furthermore, I had been struggling for the past couple of weeks to come up with a list of science books to suggest to students.  Science fiction–my favorite genre, by the way–was far and few between for upper elementary fiction.  How could I not have known about the Missing Series?

On principle now, I took it upon myself to read the series.  Here are my thoughts.

The premise of the series is as follows: a couple of criminal time travelers steal 36 famous kids from history, who–as far as anyone knows–seemed to have gone missing anyway.  But their work was sloppy, and it turns out that they stole each child too soon and messed up the time stream.  Another time traveler, JB, shows up to try to fix time.  At first he simply plans to send each child back to history to meet their demise, but the main character Jonah (also a missing kid from history) convinces JB to let them fix history AND return to their lives in the 21st century.  Throughout the series, Jonah and his surrogate sister (not a missing child) Katherine do just that: go back in time to set history right.

One of the reasons this series is great is the integration done with history.  As Jonah and Katherine live out the historical events in each novel, young readers will find themselves learning about history, perhaps unwittingly.  But there is something deeper here as well.  The children were stolen from history before they could meet their tragic deaths, so that hangs very heavy in each book.

And while Jonah and Katherine manage to rescue each child from the claws of death, they cannot save history itself.  In the second book, Jonah and Katherine find themselves in the middle of a battle between the Richard III and the Tudors.  Many soldiers die.  In the third book, they arrive at Roanoke Island after either a massacre or a plague.  In the fourth book, they face the ruthless captain Henry Hudson at the end of long and perilous journey.  Many on the crew have died or are dying from the bitter cold.  In the fifth book they face a scarlet fever epidemic, and in the sixth book they arrive just before the Romanov family is about to be executed.

This is not a glorified or fictional account of death.  Indeed, the horror that accompanies these thrilling adventures lies in the fact that it was real, that it has happened already.  Haddix simply shines a light on these accounts from a child’s eye.  Often in history we focus so much on facts on numbers and fail to see the real horror of our own past.

But we also see how kids can grow and mature after exposure to such things.  This is mixed in with the classes search for identity.  As each child comes into contact with their own history, they find strength to do what is right and to understand the world around them.  I’m most excited for the next book, because it is rumored that we will finally get to see who Jonah was in history and I can’t wait to see how it will change him.

There’s so much more I want to say about this series, but I will leave it here.  Although history, identity, and death are all very serious themes in children’s literature, it should not be said that these books are dark or serious all the time.  Told by a thirteen-year-old traveling through time with his sister, there is plenty to laugh at and enjoy.  These books are written at a DRA level 50, so I would not suggest them for anyone under that level.  But for an advanced 4th grade reader or a 5th grader, it will be a fun read that is meant to challenge.

The Book Fair is Coming!

We’re nearing the end of October, and that can only mean one thing…it’s about time for the fall book fair.  Junior Crew members–two or three student helpers from each classroom–have already been chosen and are hard at work preparing booktalk videos. The book fair will take place during conferences from November 6-7.  Students will also have the chance to buy books during their regularly scheduled library time.  Here are some things to look out for this year:

Reading Ticket Raffle – Leading up to the book fair, teachers will give out reading tickets to students they see displaying exemplary reading habits and strategies.  Students can turn their tickets into the raffle box in the library, and I will give away prizes the week of the book fair.  Prizes may include book and boomarks.

All For Books – As is tradition, we are collecting spare change for the All For Books collection drive.  There is a collection box in the library, as well as collection jars in each classroom.  The money raised will be used to buy books for classroom libraries.

Classroom Wish List – Parents and students also have the opportunity to support classroom libraries by purchasing books off a Teacher Wishlist.  Teachers will be able to fill out their wishlists during the Teacher Sneak Peak on November 1st.

Online Fair – Not able to get down to the fair during conferences?  Or maybe you just want to buy more books?  Visit our online fair any time from October 26 to November 15.

Junior Crew will be helping out during the fair, so if you see a student with a nametag, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

We hope to see you there!



Friday, November 1 – during specials

Monday, November 4 – during specials

Tuesday, November 5 – during specials

Wednesday, November 6 – during specials, conferences: 1:00-8:00

Thursday, November 7 – during specials, conferences: 1:00-8:00

*Please note: the book fair will be closed for lunch and dinner breaks.

Star Wars Reads Day

According to the official Star Wars website, “Star Wars Reads Day is an international event that celebrates reading and Star Wars. It was launched in 2012 by Lucasfilm and its publishing partners–Abrams, Chronicle Books, Dark Horse, Del Rey, DK Publishing, Klutz, Random House Audio, Scholastic, and Workman.”  Schools, libraries, and bookstores across the world have the option of running Star Wars events as a way to celebrate reading.  I participated in a Star Wars Reads event last year at my public library, and when I heard it was happening again in 2013 I decided I wanted to run my own at Sylvester Elementary Library.

A huge reason I wanted to do this was that the Star Wars books were what really got me interested in reading…and that wasn’t until 5th or 6th grade.  This is often the foundation for anything I do in the library, as I understand better than most that excitement and literacy must come hand-in-hand.

As I talked about Star Wars Reads Day with each class, I saw the excitement growing.  Students asked me where the Star Wars section was, and for the first time every single Star Wars book was checked out.  On the big day itself, we let students dress up as Star Wars characters.  The excitement was tangible that morning.  A teacher even came to me and said, “The kids are coming to school just beaming.”

I had several activities planned for the afternoon.  In each grade there were 5 activity rooms: arts and crafts, Star Wars origami, trivia, a character hunt, and a reading room.  Additionally, we let students sign up to play games in the computer lab (and I even brought some Star Wars board games and puzzles from home).  I had ordered prizes to give away from the participating publishers–for FREE–and a few parents came in to help out.

The most surprising thing that day happened about ten minutes before our events even started.  Our principal got on the overhead speakers and announced the start of Star Wars Reads Day while I was still prepping parent volunteers.  He proceeded to play a Star Wars music medley, and had all the kids who dressed up come to the office.  They took pictures, and then paraded through the school.  I had not originally planned this, but I’m glad that he did.  It was cool to see all the different costumes together and it really helped to kick of Star Wars Reads Day!

As I checked on classrooms, I was happy to see everything running smoothly.  In a couple of the rooms, teachers professed that the kids knew more than they did.  It was good to see everyone having fun, because that’s what I’m trying to promote all the time–that reading can be fun.

Of course, my own Star Wars excitement didn’t stop there.  I went up to a weekend event in Ann Arbor with a friend, where we got to see a couple of prolific Star Wars illustrators, won free prizes, and even got some things signed.  Overall it was a great time.  I hope everyone had as much fun as I did!

New Books!

Not only do we have a lot of new titles that kids will love, but these titles will be great tie-ins with classroom learning.  For one, I am really excited about the new Science Fiction books.  It’s something that our library has been lacking, which is a shame, considering that I’m a HUGE Sci-Fi fan.  Our Sci-Fi titles include: Science Fair by Barry and Pearson, Eoin Colfer’s new book called WARP, Reckless by Cornelia Funke,the rest of the City of Ember series, three books by Neil Gaiman, and The Iron Giant by Ted Hughes.


We’ve also added to our historical fiction section with titles such as: Eoin Colfer’s Airman, Newberry Award winner Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos,  Newberry Honor Books Breaking Stalin’s Nose byEugene Yelchin, and more books from the I Survived series.

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We also have Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman.  This is a great book for kids who are studying mythologyin fourth grade.  Let’s not forget that there are other mythology’s besidesGreek.  In this books, Gaiman works with Norse mythology.

Other great books: The Phantom Tollboth, The Thief, and the Warriors series.

But we can’t very well leave out the Non-Fiction books.  We have some fantastic new editions to our biography sections such as: Neil Gaiman, Galileo, Bill Gates, Houdini, Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs, Mozart, Elvis, Rick Riordan, the Great Bambino, and Seymour Simon.

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We’ve added a lot of Greek mythologybooks, including one that tells greek mythology in a child-friendly, comic-book style.  We also have new Seymour Simon books on various topics, Korean children’s stories, and many new comic books.  While our comic book section is significant already, we’ve been lacking in the classics like Batman and the Justice League.  I’m proud to say we’re now up to snuff.

I’ll leave out all the new books on a library cart for the first week of school.  I encourage students, teachers, and even parents to stop into the library and take a look at the newadditions to our selection.  Feel free to look at the old selection as well.  I hope everyone is as excited about these books as I am.  It’s going to be a great year for reading!

200px-TheThief2ndBook Review: The Thief by Megan Whelan Turner

I recently read The Thief by Megan Whelan Turner, the first book in a series that a friend of mine has been trying to get me to read for quite a while.  It’s a Newberry Honor book, and I can honestly say that I’m sorry I didn’t read it sooner!  The DRA for this book is about a level 50, and it’s a terrific book for elementary students.  It has action, political intrigue (kids: think of this as government secrets), and the barest amount of romance.  More importantly, parents and teachers would be hard-pressed to find anything inappropriate in this book.  It was clearly written with its audience in mind.

The Thief starts off from the point of view of Gen, who’s in jail.  A pair of guards appear to escort him to a nice room upstairs where the king’s scholar, called the magus, is waiting for him.  The magus reveals why Gen was put in jail–for stealing the Sounisian king’s seal–and the reason he was caught–he was bragging about it to anyone who would listen.  The magus then offers to release Gen from jail only if he helps to steal a sacred stone from a neighboring kingdom, Eddis.  The stone, the magus says, grants the right to rule in Eddis; so the king wants to use it to convince the queen of Eddis to marry him.

Gen has no choice to agree–and he’s already boasted that he can steal anything.  The rest of the book reads much like a quest-story.  Gen must learn how to get along with his traveling companions: two knights, the magus, and a bodyguard.  Throughout the journey, the magus is responsible for educating the two knights, quizzing them on trivia and telling them myths of old. It’s implied that Gen is a commoner and no one expects him to retain anything he hears, but Gen surprises everyone when he corrects a tale the magus tells…and then tells a few of his own.

There’s a twist near the end, but I won’t give that away.  For students who know their mythology, this is a great book to use as a comparison; the mythological stories used here are clearly based on greek mythology.

The second book in the series is titled The Queen of Attolia, and only gets better.  I highly suggest this series for students.  Aside from being great for the classroom, it’s just fun to read.  And isn’t that just what we want reading to be?

Our Library is Leveled!

Mrs. Luttke's English Class

Mrs. Luttke’s English Class

A couple weeks ago, I contacted Mrs. Luttke and her high school English class about helping me with a project–I wanted to level the library.  Unless you are a librarian or a teacher, you may be unfamiliar with the phrase, “leveling the library.”  In fact, you probably don’t use the word “level” as a verb.  But in a school–particularly a school that holds grades 3rd through 5th–leveling is a process that is very much needed.

So what does it mean to level a library?  Basically, we divide books into reading levels (our school uses DRA) and we use color coded stickers to indicate these levels.  3rd grade students typically read blue, 4th grade students read purple, and 5th grade students read black.   Most classroom libraries and the Title I library have their books sorted by level…but until now the library didn’t.

From what I’ve read, most librarians don’t like marked reading levels on library books.  Why?  It’s almost like putting a ban on all the other books, it’s like saying “you are not allowed to read books that are not on your level.”  It discourages students from reading books that are challenging and easier books that are just-for-fun.

Despite this conundrum, reading levels are perfect for so many kids at the elementary age, because it helps them target “good, fit” books.  I once had a student tell me that he didn’t like reading at his old school because it was hard.  Knowing what books are going to be manageable for him makes it easier to read…and that makes reading fun.

The DRA levels can also help teachers.  A sticker on the spine of a book can tip off a teacher as to whether or not a student is on-target.  And the stickers can remind kids that instead of checking out Diary of a Wimpy Kid for the tenth time, they need to choose more challenging books.  According to Kristie Miller, a school media specialist who wrote an article for LMC May/June 2013 edition, “One of the many functions of a school library is to give students books that they can use to practice their reading skills…Yes, students need to pick books that interest them to further their desire to read, but they also need experience reading books at their level.”

I hope everyone will benefit from this project, and I want to give a BIG THANKS to the high school class that helped me to do this.  It would have taken me over a month to do this one my own, and the high schoolers got it done in just over a week.  I’m so grateful for their service and enthusiasm–and I hope they know they have made a difference in their school district.