Monday, June 29, 2009

I'm a Guest Blogger Today

If you want to read what I have to say about writing and revising today you need to go to the Enchanting Reviews blog. (It's a MySpace blog, so I believe you have to have a MySpace account to access it. I signed up. But I have absolutely no information in that account, so don't go looking for me there.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Required Summer Reading?

After the various conversations about kids reading above grade level, I'm sure the other hot topic for this time of year is required summer reading.

Yesterday my 12-year-old daughter came home from school positively incensed that she was going to have to read two specific books and write a three page paper on them for the first day of school next year.

And when I say incensed, I mean all the injustice of the world had fallen on her soon to be 7th-grade shoulders.

The thing is, she loves to read. Absolutely loves to read. She's not mad that she has to read two books. She's mad that she has to read these two books. And it's not even that the books are so horrible (though not necessarily her chosen reading material). It's more that she's mad that she has to read these two books.

As far as the paper - she is not happy about it, but she writes more than that on her stories every night, I'm sure three pages comparing and contrasting these two books won't be too horrible.

This is the first time either of my kids has had a specific reading assignment over the summer. I know a lot of kids have them even at younger ages. And I understand the purpose behind them. 1) to make sure kids are actually reading and 2) to have kids read the same books so that they can have a discussion of them in school. Neither of these are bad things.

Of course as my daughter was reading one of the books last night (she plans to finish the assignment before school is out next week because she doesn't intend to do any homework over the summer) she was complaining about how much she didn't like the book.

"Is that because it's that book, or because someone is making you read it?"

She admitted it was probably a little of both.

So that begs the question - even with good motives, are required summer reading lists counterproductive? I understand that teachers want to make sure that kids (at all levels) are reading during the summer, it's an important skill to keep up. But is turning fun into work the best way to do that?

And as a side note -- this assignment is only for kids in Honors English, and these are kids you probably don't have to encourage to read for fun.

Oh - and the books she has to read: Crispin, the Cross of Lead and True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle both by Avi. Books I think she would like if she allowed herself to.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Don't Throw Out Those Toys Yet.

The other day I jumped in on the discussion about kids and reading above grade level. Today over at The Simple and the Ordinary I'm talking about not pushing kids to stop playing with toys too early. Stop on over and weigh in.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Harry Potter at Five

Age five that is. Or maybe six. That's the standard used to prove that your kid is a brilliant reader. He or she read Harry Potter at five. To which people reply 'but what about picture books', or 'don't force a child to read above their level just for parental bragging rights.'


Except the thing is my kids did read Harry Potter at five and six. So maybe I feel a little defensive when I hear this or maybe it's just that I can provide a different perspective on it all.

I started thinking about this after reading Jen Robinson's post about an article in Babble and then Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy weighed in on the topic. Now it's my turn.

Okay here's the story of those "advanced reading kids" from a parent's perspective.

My kids always loved being read to, and we had reading as an established part of bedtime starting when they were very young (didn't read to them in utero though as far as I can remember).

When my daughter (now 12) was two she saw my boxed set of Little House on the Prairie books on the shelf and asked about them. I told her they were for when she was older. "Read now!" she insisted (in that way that two year olds have). So that night at bedtime we read her a chapter of Little House in the Big Woods. She loved it. And every night would demand "chapter Laura" as her bedtime story. We read through Little House in the Big Woods and Little House in the Prairie this way. We did not read the whole series - some of it was too advanced for a pre-schooler.

When she was four she learned to read using old primers that had been my mom's in the fifties. Yes, she learned to read using "Dick and Jane" - only they were the Catholic version - so instead of Dick and Jane and Sally it was John and Jean and Judy... Spot stayed the same. She was so proud of herself and every night she would read to me. And of course I would read to her.

She was still about four years old when she discovered the American Girl dolls. And of course, she wanted one. I looked at the price tag and at my four year old daughter and thought 'not yet'. What I told her was that the dolls came with stories. And when she could read one of those books on her own, she could have a doll. She was still reading "John, Jean and Judy," I figured I'd bought myself a good year and a half.

Six months later she had read through American Girl book about Molly. Granted, I helped her with some words - but if I was to keep my bargain, she truly had earned her doll. She was in pre-school.

At this point her little brother was two and so there were lots of picture books in the house to be read to the both of them. But at the library she whipped through the easy readers - making short shrift of the Biscuit books and Henry and Mudge and the like and before long she wanted more. (Please note - she wanted more... I would have been happy to stay on the easy reader shelf for more time).

I discovered the Pixie Tricks series which she absolutely devoured. She discovered Junie B. Jones. She loved the My America series and would happily tell people that she "loved history". And she started kindergarten. I thought it would be a wonderful thing to have a school librarian that could help guide her to books that she could read and would enjoy. (I hadn't discovered the kidlitosphere on the internet yet). Instead the librarian would not allow her to take out Junie B. Jones or any other chapter book. Those were for second graders and above.

So I had them test her reading level. I figured, any parent can say "my kid can read". They did and in November of kindergarten they determined that she could read at a late second grade, early third grade level. But she still couldn't take out Junie B. Jones. Those were for second graders.

In the meantime the librarians at the public library got to know her and would order books that they knew she would like. That was how she got into the Fairy Realm series.

She was either in kindergarten or first grade when Judy Blume came to our local B&N. In preparation my daughter read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. At one point when she was getting ready for bed I checked the book to see where she was in it. Reading the next page I saw the characters were talking about there not being a Santa Claus. Eek! I wasn't ready for her to see that yet. I told her to skip to the next chapter because there was something in this one she didn't want to read (luckily she was biddable this way.)

People rightly worry about their third grader reading about sex or other topics that are too mature - but when it comes right down to it books written for 3rd and 4th graders may not be completely appropriate for 1st graders either. The thing is that the books written for first graders were not ones she had any interest in at that point.

She is now finishing 6th grade, she has read Twilight (only the first book) and I pretty much let her read any Middle Grade book she wants. YA or above, she asks approval - for instance she sees Wicked on the shelf and keeps asking "When will I be old enough to read that". I'm not sure - I just know - not yet.

Now for my son. When he learned that his sister had started reading at four you can bet he decided he had to do the same thing (competitive much). And he did. He spent more time in the early readers at the library though - for which I was glad. And then one day he told me he was bored with those. Wanted something else (and naturally all of the books I'd discovered for his sister were not books he was interested in). We discovered Magic Tree House and by the middle of kindergarten he had read them all (in order). His sister was reading James and the Giant Peach for school. He asked if he could read it. I figured it was above him, but I wasn't going to limit him and said sure. He read it in a week. And he read Harry Potter.

I wasn't convinced he was really 'getting' the story. Sure, he was reading the words, but was he really understanding what they said? I shoudln't have worried. After he read the book, they were watching the DVD of the movie. Right away I hear him say. "That's not what he said in the book" "that's not how that scene went in the book". So I figured that comprehension wasn't a problem for him.

He's in third grade now and the only problem I have with keeping him in books is that he is very picky. If he finds a book (or preferably a series) he likes he'll rip through them, but if he isn't interested he won't finish the book. He reads what he likes. Right now he's decided he likes Goosebumps.

So he read Harry Potter at five and Goosebumps at nine. Nothing wrong with that.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Books I've Read this Year - Part 3

Parts 1 and 2 and below.

So, to continue with what I've read so far this year.

29) The Letter Writer by Ann Rinaldi. I have a special fondness for Ann Rinaldi books, but this one didn't transport me the way some of her others have. But I didn't know that much about Nat Turner's rebellion, so it was interesting.

30) Dramarama by E. Lockhart. This was a fun quick read with pretty likeable characters in an entertaining setting.

31) 3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows by Ann Brashares. This book was fine, but I kept thinking it would be better if she weren't trying to connect it into the Sisterhood books - the connection felt forced, and the new characters could have stood on their own just fine.

32) Read My Lips by Teri Brown. This was good but I wasn't always convinced by the main characters motivations.

33) Maezli a Story of the Swiss Alps by Johanna Spyri. This was another book that had been on my shelf for years (I have a very old copy). But where Heidi has such beautiful imagery and a charming story, I felt hat Maezli fell flat. There was a good story of misplaced Dukes and such and of course the orphan children that find out they belong to the castle, but it took me months to read this relatively short book because it didn't really hold my interest.

34) Oh. My. Gods. By Tera Lynn Childs. This was a very fun read. Kind of Percy Jackson for the teenage girl set. Fun and imaginative with very likeable characters.

35) Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper. Elizabethan and Shakespearan fiction at its finest. Was Shakespeare married to two different woman? What if the other Anne was his muse but could never acknowledge him publicily as her husband? A great romp through Elizabethan England.

36) My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald. I got this book at an author's event where I heard Lisa speak about her book. Lisa was warm and charming and funny and her book is the same. Great characters, great story. And my 12 year old daughter loved it as well (and normally she goes for fantasies)

37) The House on Prague Street by Hana Demetz. A fictionalized memoir set in Prague in World War II. This is a book I've owned for quite some time and have read several times. It is told very much from the point of view of someone growing up in difficult times which means that some of the grounding details are omitted - like specific dates.

38) Bewitching Season (Book 1) by Marissa Doyle. Twin sisters are secret witches and must rescue Princess Victoria from a wizard. A fun read.

39 & 40) Of Time and of Seasons and A Striving After Wind by Norma Johnston. The civil war books of the various family saga books that Norma Johnston has written. These are books I own and have read many times. Though this time through I was beginning to think there was maybe a bit too much moralizing going on.

41) The Boy Book: A Study of Habits and Behaviors, Plus Techniques for Training Them by E. Lockhart. A sequel to The Boyfriend List, I didn't find this one quite as engaging, but it was still a very enjoyable read.

42) How to Ruin a Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles. Talk about being thrown into an uncomfortable situation: Amy is taken to Israel by a father she barely knows to meet relatives who don't know she exists. The story was good and characters realistic, but I found myself wondering about the adults who would let a kid flounder around in a situation like that without offering a bit of help. Makes for a good story, but did make me question the logistics sometimes.

So that's it so far this year. About eight of them are books I've read before, so I don't think they count for the challenge. So that puts the number of "new-reads" at 34. I think I can meet that challenge of52 books for the year.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Books I've Read this Year - Part 2

Continuing with the list of books I've read this year (first part is below)

12) The Smart One and the Pretty One by Claire LaZebnik. This book wasn't bad, but I had one problem with it. It reminded me too much of In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner, and in my opinion In Her Shoes was the superior book. I found this distracting throughout.

13) The Virgin Queen's Daughter by Ella March Chase. I'm a sucker for some good Elizabethan fiction and this book definitely delivered.

14) Blindspot: A Novel by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore. I picked this up because I had read The Name Of War by Jill Lepore and know she is a great historian. The book is set in pre-Revolutionary New England and was well researched, but the story itself didn't do much for me.

15) The Centurian's Wife by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke. Another historical novel, this one set in first century Jerusalem. It was good, but not the best I've read of that time period.

16) The Luxe by Anna Godberson. Gossip girls go back in time. I don't know how historically accurate this series is, but it is fun. On the other hand, although it ended on somewhat of a cliff hanger I didn't care enough about the characters to go and read book two (I did look at the jacket copy for a later book, so I kind of know how things turned out. And the cover illustrations are awesome.

17) The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. This is a book I've read before. Sometimes when I re-read a book I loved it doesn't live up to my memory. This book totally did. It's bizarre, it's brain bending and it's fun. (I later went on a Jasper Fforde kick.)

18) The Hollywood Sisters: Star Quality by Mary Wilcox. This was an enjoyable enough story, though it was not the first in the series and I had a feeling I was missing something.

19) The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory. Another Elizabethan historical fiction by an author whose works I usually enjoy. The problem I had with this one is that I couldn't really find any of the main characters likeable.

20) Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer. Jeffrey Archer is another of my favorite authors and he didn't disappoint with ths story about the first expedition up Mount Everest.

21) Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins. What a great story. The whole caught between cultures scenario was handled very well.

22) The Redheaded Princess by Ann Rinaldi. Combine Elizabethan history with Ann Rinaldi and I simply had to read it.

23) The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante. This was a hard story to read because the subject matter was disturbing, but it was very well written.

24, 25, 26 and 27) Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten, First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde. Like I said, I went on a bit of a Jasper Fforde binge, re-reading this whole series. I have a feeling with these books you either love them or don't quite understand them. I happen to love them.

And I'll stop for now with 28) The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. I was not impressed.

Books I've Read this Year

Back in January of so, PJ Hoover issued a challenge to read at least 52 books this year. I said I was on board with that. But I never made any public list of what I'd read so far this year. I do keep track at goodreads, and people are welcome to friend me there and if they're interested.

With minimal commentary here's what I've read so far. (Ideally this should be 50 books never read before, but some of the books I list here I have read more than once)

1) Don't Hex with Texas by Shanna Swendson. This is one of several in a very fun series about magic and love and New York (usually, obviously this last one was in Texas)

2) Heidi's Children (1939) by Charles Tritten. Written by one of the translators of the original Heidi by Johanna Spyri, this is actually a follow-up to Heidi Grows Up, also by Charles Tritten. Although the story is interesting it is not nearly as charming as the original. I read it because it was on the bookshelf downstairs and I wasn't sure if I'd actually ever read it before.

3) Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve. This was one of my daughter's Christmas presents, but I snatched it up to read because I love a good Arthurian story. This was a re-imagining of the tale, and a good one. It was a little darker than I expected, but very well done.

4) Schooled by Anisha Lakhani. A look into the lives of the children of Manhattan's socialites, and how they are all tutored to success.

5) Practically Perfect by Katie Fford. I first picked up a Katie Fford romance when I was looking for a new book by Jasper Fford. Very different types of books, but I'm glad I discovered Katie. She spins fun tales of strong British women who get themselves into unusual situations, and end up finding love.

6) Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway. I'd heard a lot of buzz about this book and wasn't disappointed. Audrey is a very likeable character and the whole 'unreal' situation spins itself out naturally.

7) Forever in Blue: the Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brasheres. I'd read the other books in the series, so felt more or less obligated to read this one. But I did not enjoy it as much as the first; can't quite put my finger on why.

8) The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. This was another book I'd heard a lot about before I read it and again, was not disappointed. Very enjoyable.

9) Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. I love historical fiction and this one did a great job with characters and place and story. I can't wait for the sequel.

10 & 11) Into the Wild and Out of the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst. I'm sorry it took me as long as it did to read these books. They are among my daughter's favorites and had been sitting on her bookshelf for quite a while before I picked them up. What treasures. I absolutely enjoyed every minute of both of these books.

I'll post more later, I think this is enough for now.