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Guest Blog: On Kids and Reading

As a creative writing major forced to take multiple literature classes, I have spent the past year trying to pinpoint the exact time and place that I started to read. Growing up, my parents would read the occasional bedtime story or sing a nursery rhyme to help me sleep. Other than that, before I started going to school, I don’t remember reading.

Many schools try and start kids early when it comes to reading. I have heard of preschoolers learning more than the standard ABC’s and advancing to Dr. Seuss books. I do, however, remember briefly looking at children’s books for the pictures and trying to put the words together. This was preschool and kindergarten for me, but I don’t remember being able to look at a word and fully formulate what it said until first grade. Maybe I started late compared to others, but it’s important for kids to have a good foundation in reading.

This does not mean that they need to absolutely love reading, but they need to have an interest and have the comprehension skills to read by themselves. I’ve mentioned before that when I was growing up I hated reading. It was a struggle for my parents to get my brother and I to read, but I eventually got there.

I know that my parents tried everything to get me to read, but with technology advancing and new strategies to get kids reading, this generation of children is at an advantage. Even though I personally prefer reading from an actual book, kids might prefer reading a story on a tablet. It’s portable, doesn’t take up too much space, and they don’t have to worry about the accidental paper cut. Why would a kid pick up a book and potentially get cut when they could pick up the remote instead?

Daniel Willingham, author of Raising Kids Who Read, suggests that putting books in places where kids can easily get bored give them the opportunity to choose the book over something. He mentions that his wife started putting children’s magazines in the bathroom, and soon enough, their six and three-year-old started examining the pages. They might not have been looking at the pages for the words, but the point is that it puts the idea in their head.

I remember going to the dentist growing up, and in a futile attempt to buy me some time before getting poked I would read the magazines. Sometimes I actually read the articles, other times I wanted to look at the pictures. This goes along with Willingham’s idea of putting books or magazines in places that kids will get bored the most. However, with the raise in technology, this negatively affects the idea. If a kid gets bored, then they’re more likely to ask for a cell phone to play on rather than picking up a magazine.

So if the first idea doesn’t work, you need to have kids witness adults or those they most admire reading. If a child sees mom or dad reading a book then they might want to read too. Kids are very impressionable, and it’s important for parents to be the model for their kids.

Every month I saw my mom reading a new book for her book club, and I was always interested in the book. Even though most of the time I did not actually read it, I was still interested in the concept and wanted to do the same thing. Instead of reading myself, my mom would sometimes read aloud to me.

Since there were such strict reading rules for my elementary and middle school, and so little books that were actually interesting on the list, this is why I hated reading. Later in school, even though the reading was still mandatory, the books were more interesting. Reading is presented as a grueling task for many because the school systems enforce it so heavily. I completely understand where they are coming from and the need for having guidelines for reading books, but they can easily turn kids and teens off from reading.

The goal is to start as young as possible. Give children an opportunity to pick up a book for themselves, or constantly have one present for them. Parents should encourage their children to read or read bedtime stories until they can read for themselves. It encourages a love for reading and gives children the chance to find series they enjoy. To counter technology and playing games, parents should have a few children’s books accessible on their phones as a quick go-to if a child is bored. It is keeping the idea present and alive that reading is fun. Technology is not ruining reading or keeping kids from literature, it’s providing them with something more enjoyable.

Reading should not be a task; it should be pleasurable and fun. This is an opportunity for children to enter another world and let their imaginations soar. If a parent approaches reading the same way videogames entice users, schools and parents will see more children thoroughly enjoying reading. It has to be a constant presence, and by helping a child understand the words or the story will make them want to read more.

It’s okay if a kid isn’t a good reader. I had to work at reading, and it’s now my major. Be a good role model for your kids and don’t approach reading like homework. Approach it like a game and make it as enjoyable as possible.

-Guest post by Ashley Guarino, student at Washington State University

Guest blog! A Reluctant Reader’s Journey

Not many people remember the first story they read or even when they started reading. It just seems like you started and could understand words and phrases and then you started learning more technical words and expanding your vocabulary and your library of books. But what about the kids that hated reading or couldn’t find books interesting?

Just because I am studying English at Washington State University (WSU) doesn’t mean I’ve always loved reading.  Yes, sad to say but I used to wait until the last minute to get all my accelerated reading (AR) points in middle school. Reading was such a struggle for me and it wasn’t until high school that I found my niche for reading. My mother, who has actively been in a book club since I can remember, struggled with finding books that could excite me.

The first series that hooked me was the Sammy Keyes Mysteries. She was a junior detective, my age, and lived in a hotel with her grandmother. For me, it was perfect since I had a close connection to my grandmother and loved mystery stories. From there, I went on to complete the Series of Unfortunate Events, but then fell back into the struggle of finding books.

When high school came around, I was amazed that so many classmates loved reading. I always read the books for school, but couldn’t find myself reading outside of class. It took a long time, but I slowly found authors that interested me. I safely stuck to mystery novels because they interested me the most, but I tried incorporating my love of sports. Harlan Coben’s series with Myron Boltiar grabbed my attention. A sports agent that solves murders; I couldn’t ask for more.

The struggle to find good books that excite me has become easier now that I’m in college, but I still find myself wishing for another great series like Sammy Keys to captivate me. I have explored outside of mysteries and visited historical fictions like Between Shades of Gray and delved into young adult literature (YA lit). Though I still like my safe zone, readers need to explore more to find what truly interests them. Unfortunately for me, I became a good reader later in life and I wish that I spent more time enjoying myself with a good story.

Kids will struggle through reading, but that’s why they need suggestions and genres to look to. If they have a safe zone and feel comfortable as a reader there, then they might be willing to dip their toes in another genre. It worked for me, but keep in mind that if someone struggles to find books that are exciting, it’s okay. Not everyone is an all-star reader from the get-go. It takes time and patience.

Guest post by Ashley Guarino, student at Washington State University

Holiday Gift Giving – The Gift of Books!

It is the gift giving time of year again, regardless of which holiday you celebrate. We here at StorySnoops obviously feel that books make the best gifts!

In fact, experts believe that reading may be the ultimate mode of relaxation. Researchers at the University of Sussex determined that reading was the most effective calming activity of several traditional relaxation methods, ranking higher than listening to music and taking a walk as a stress reliever.

Knowing how stressed we all are these days, including the kids and young adults in our lives, we may all want to spend a little downtime over the holidays curled up with a good book.

We truly believe that there is something out there for everyone – if your child is not a willing reader, maybe he or she hasn’t experienced the right book yet. Try different approaches – leave appealing books around the house, institute family reading time, have your child participate in a book swap with a friend.

Reading actively engages the imagination, requires the mind to concentrate and releases the tension held in the muscles as the body relaxes.

With a break from school and assigned reading, and with a new, engaging book in hand, kids may remember that reading can be a fun escape or adventure. And, a book in hand keeps them off of electronic screens for a while!

Here are a few suggestions:

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

When Did You See Her Last by Lemony Snicket

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

The Last Forever by Deb Caletti

Spy Camp by Stuart Gibbs

Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

- StorySnoops

Macy’s and RIF Aim to Boost Summer Reading (hint: only 17% of parents think it’s a priority!)

Don’t let summer reading fall by the wayside! Sadly, a recent survey indicates that only 17% of parents believe that reading is a top priority during the summer, and that kids spend nearly triple the time playing video games and watching TV. Even though research supports the importance of summer reading for retaining literacy skills, summer reading is not always considered important.

Macy’s and Reading is Fundamental (RIF) have launched the 11th annual Be Book Smart campaign to support children’s literacy. This began on June 18th and invites customers at any Macy’s in-store register to give $3 to help provide a book for a child. This donation earns participating customers $10 off on a purchase of $30 or more. Macy’s is donating 100% of every $3 donation to RIF. (see full details below)

This summer, support reading and literacy by participating in a worthwhile program such as this one, and remember to make reading a priority in your own home. Check out our recommended summer reading lists, and encourage your kids to pick up a book – it is not only good for them, it is fun!

Macy’s and Reading Is Fundamental Launch Be Book Smart Campaign June 18 to Support Children’s Literacy

WASHINGTON – (June 18, 2014) – Despite research that indicates the importance of summer reading in preventing children from losing literacy skills, only 17 percent of parents say reading is a top summer priority, according to a new survey from Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) and Macy’s. The survey, conducted by Harris Poll, also finds that children spend nearly three times as many hours weekly watching TV or playing video games as they do reading in the summer. More than 1,000 parents with children ages 5-11 completed the survey online in April.

Results of the survey are made public as Macy’s and RIF launch the 11th annual Be Book Smart campaign to support children’s literacy. Be Book Smart begins June 18, and invites customers nationwide to give $3 at any Macy’s register in-store, to help provide a book for a child and get $10 off a purchase of $30 or more. Macy’s will donate 100 percent of every $3 to RIF. The campaign ends July 13.

“Many families think of reading as eating your vegetables–good for you but not necessarily a treat. Reading is the best vacation. It takes you places you never dreamed you would visit, and summer especially is a time when kids can immerse themselves in the topics they like best,” said Carol H. Rasco, CEO of Reading Is Fundamental. “Thanks to our partnership with Macy’s, we are bringing more books to children who need them most and starting them on a journey to a lifelong love of reading.”

More than 60 percent of parents in the survey said they do not believe their child loses reading skills over the summer. However, existing research shows that summer learning loss is a major problem, particularly for low-income children who can lose up to three months of reading skills because of limited access to books and learning opportunities while out of school. The key to helping children maintain and even improve their literacy skills over the summer is providing access to quality books that they can choose based on personal interests.

Full survey results are highlighted in an executive summary by Harris Poll. Key findings include:

  • On average, parents say their child spends 17.4 hours/week watching TV or playing video games, 16.7 hours/week playing outside and only 5.9 hours/week reading.
  • Parents who consider reading to be extremely or very important are twice as likely to have a child who reads every day.
  • Children who were involved in a reading program last summer were up to two times more likely to read every day. Yet, over half of parents said their child did not participate in a reading program at all last summer.
  • Last summer, children who read because they wanted to were twice as likely to read than children who read because they had to.
  • Despite the proliferation of e-books and digital formats, 83 percent of parents said their child preferred print books for summer reading, compared to 7 percent preferring tablets and 4 percent preferring e-readers.

“We are committed to RIF’s mission of empowering children through literacy and inspiring them to embrace the joy of reading during the summer,” said Martine Reardon, chief marketing officer, Macy’s. “Be Book Smart offers our customers the opportunity to give back to their local community, and thanks to the collective generosity of our customers and associates, we’ve given 10 million books to kids since 2004.”

The survey sheds new light on the importance of summer reading, as advocates across the nation gear up for National Summer Learning Day, on June 20.

To celebrate the launch of the campaign, select Macy’s across the country will host Reading Circles, featuring storytelling and photos with popular book characters. Customers can also help spread the word about the campaign by entering the Be Book Smart Summer Instagram photo contest. One winner will be selected each week  of the campaign to receive a $500 Macy’s gift card. Visit rif.org /macys for more details.


20 Books for Tween Boys Reading Up

One of our lovely users recently commented that while we had lists for tween girls who read “up”, we had no such list for boys. Although we hear about the tween girls reading beyond their level (and age-appropriate material), we rarely hear this about boys. (Scratch head here.) But – that doesn’t mean there are not super-reader boys out there in the same boat! In fact, there are probably LOTS of younger boys who read  “up”, too.

For these boys (and their parents), we Snoops have come up with a list of books that will challenge their minds while still being as close to age-appropriate as possible.

Parents, while browsing this list, don’t forget to read our Scoops to make sure these are a good fit for your child, and be sure to let us know if you have any titles to add  :-)

Happy Reading!

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Ready for the scoop on this year’s Newbery winners?

Let’s start with the Honor books, shall we?

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends forever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .

Here’s our Scoop: The Doll Bones is a haunting, imaginative, and oddly enough, endearing story from the co-author of The Spiderwick Chronicles. Three friends set off on a quest to investigate a girl’s mysterious death…(click here for the full review)

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

When Billy Miller has a mishap at the statue of the Jolly Green Giant at the end of summer vacation, he ends up with a big lump on his head. What a way to start second grade, with a lump on your head! As the year goes by, though, Billy figures out how to navigate elementary school, how to appreciate his little sister, and how to be a more grown up and responsible member of the family and a help to his busy working mom and stay-at-home dad. Newbery Honor author and Caldecott Medalist Kevin Henkes delivers a short, satisfying, laugh-out-loud-funny school and family story that features a diorama homework assignment, a school poetry slam, cancelled sleepovers, and epic sibling temper tantrums. This is a perfect short novel for the early elementary grades.

Here’s our Scoop: The Year of Billy Miller is from the award-winning and beloved author, Kevin Henkes. As usual, Henkes writes a story that is humorous, relatable, and very well-written. Both genders will enjoy this read, but boys…(click here for the full review)

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

In the town of Placid, Wisconsin, in 1871, Georgie Burkhardt is known for two things: her uncanny aim with a rifle and her habit of speaking her mind plainly. But when Georgie blurts out something she shouldn’t, her older sister Agatha flees, running off with a pack of “pigeoners” trailing the passenger pigeon migration. And when the sheriff returns to town with an unidentifiable body—wearing Agatha’s blue-green ball gown—everyone assumes the worst. Except Georgie. Refusing to believe the facts that are laid down (and coffined) before her, Georgie sets out on a journey to find her sister. She will track every last clue and shred of evidence to bring Agatha home. Yet even with resolute determination and her trusty Springfield single-shot, Georgie is not prepared for what she faces on the western frontier.

Here’s our Scoop: One Came Home is a Newbery Honor book that is essentially, as western for kids. The main character is a strong, smart and humorous heroine, who goes out on a quest to solve the…(click here for the full review)

Paperboy by Vince Vawter

An 11-year-old boy living in Memphis in 1959 throws the meanest fastball in town, but talking is a whole different ball game. He can barely say a word without stuttering, not even his own name. So when he takes over his best friend’s paper route for the month of July, he knows he’ll be forced to communicate with the different customers, including a housewife who drinks too much and a retired merchant marine who seems to know just about everything.

The paper route poses challenges, but it’s a run-in with the neighborhood junkman, a bully and thief, that stirs up real trouble–and puts the boy’s life, as well as that of his family’s devoted housekeeper, in danger.

Here’s our Scoop: What I love about the book, The Paperboy , is that it demonstrates empathy on so many levels. The main character, Victor, has a terrible stutter making it hard…(click here for the full review)

Congrats to these outstanding books for receiving the Newbery Honor Award. I love that each are unique and very different from each other, but special in its own way.

In the next blog, we will bring you our review of this year’s Newberry Award Winner! Stay tuned….

–Shannon, StorySnoop

12 Books for Teens Adults May Enjoy — Suggestions Welcome!

I recently finished Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn and really loved it. I was completely engrossed from start to finish. I may have loved it a bit too much because I started feeling sorry for myself about the lack of literature written for adults in my must read pile. Being an optimistic person (and since I really have no choice), I realized that there a quite a few books I have read for StorySnoops that I actually would have chosen to read had I not been a writer of children’s book reviews. Here are some of the books we Snoops have read that may be enjoyed by teens and adults alike. Let us know what books for teens you’ve enjoyed. We’d love to add some slam-dunks to our piles!

-Jen, StorySnoop

It’s Banned Books Week–Let’s talk sex in YA Lit!

There is something in the air tonight!  No idea if it’s a coincidence, but in my blog browsing this week, I came across three posts on the topic of sex in YA literature.  Yowsa!  Great topic on the heels of Banned Books Week since, as I’m sure nobody would be surprised to know, sexual content is the number one reason books are challenged.  This is a tricky one for me because I have a soon-to-be thirteen year old daughter who loves to read, and is just about to jump in to the world of YA literature with both feet.  Needless to say, the thought of explicit sex scenes (okay, sorry, let’s be real—right now, ANY sex scenes) in the books she reads makes me cringe and get all jittery.  But that is my own issue!

Sex is a reality for teens and young adults; whether they are doing it, wondering about it, or being forbidden from engaging in it—sex is there, like a big giant elephant in the room, and I cannot pretend it isn’t.  While it is not an author’s job to parent my children, it IS the job of an author to write the most honest version of their story that they can, with authentic and relatable characters. This authenticity, the fabric of good YA literature, has its origin in real teens all around us.  They come from every different value system imaginable, and their sexual experiences range from none at all to the full kit and kaboodle.  As such, all of these teens are fair game as inspiration for writers, as are their variety of experiences.  So whether I like it or not, sex has a place in YA books because it has a place (of some sort or other) in teenagers’ lives.

That being said, it is a fact for authors that adding sexual authenticity to their work is controversial.  If they choose to include such content, the marketability of their books becomes more limited. Book fairs, school libraries, book clubs, etc., may opt not to purchase their work.  Teachers may opt not to teach the book in class.  Judy Blume gave a talk recently about the difficult decision she had to make about including controversial material in Here’s To You, Rachel Robinson (to be fair, her dilemma was regarding language, not sex, but the same concept applies).  She was forced to choose between what she felt was the most honest portrayal of her character, and the various marketing outlets that she might be sacrificing by including something that a mainstream audience might find offensive. She is Judy Blume—we know which way she chose!

If I accept the fact that sex in YA books is inevitable (grumble) and honest, can I go one step further and just throw out a few thoughts about how I’d like to see it portrayed? Teens are looking for characters they can relate to or experiences they can learn from.  How about letting them know that it’s not always “romance novel” perfect and can frankly be quite awkward! Perhaps the author could also make sure to touch on the social and emotional issues and consequences that surround sex.  And above all, don’t make it gratuitous or use it as a vehicle to sell more books to my kid!  We are surrounded by enough of that already. I read a great book this week where the father and son had an embarrassing and cringe-worthy “talk”, but the father managed to get his message across about birth control, disease protection and the fact that “no” always means “no”.  Now THAT was some good reality!

As always, book selection comes down to choice. Some authors will write about sex, some will not.  Some publishers will publish books with sexual content and some will not. Some kids will read books that touch on this topic, and some will not.   As long as there are options and variety out there, I am happy.  And while I’m quite certain the amount of sex in the books my daughter will read will always be pushing the limits of my comfort zone (because part of the mom in me wants to deny that she is getting older!), I hope that I can continue to maintain an open dialog with her on the topic.  I hope that will influence her choices far more than what she reads.

Then again, I’ve never parented a teen before.  What do you think?

-Eden, StorySnoop

Summer Reading: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

My daughter is a great reader. She’s been bitten by the book-love bug, shot by Cupid’s literary arrow, fallen head-over-heels for fiction–you get the idea, this girl loves to lose herself in a good book. It was always my dream as a parent to have that horrible (ha!) problem where a child won’t (fill in the blank here), because their nose is buried in a book. Yes, it’s bad that they aren’t doing whatever you filled in the blank with, but the fact that they aren’t doing it because they love their book so much isn’t really the worst problem in the world to have. So, I got my wish, I have that kind of kid.

Up into middle school, she was mostly able to satisfy her fetish with whatever she felt like reading. Yes, there would need to be a mix in terms of quality so that she could write occasional book reports on her outside reading, without having to try to pull literary greatness out of something like…say, oh, Pretty Little Liars for example. Bottom line, lots of variety interspersed with fun garbage here and there made for one happy, carefree reader. By eighth grade she got pretty busy with homework and other activities, and towards the end, the pleasure reading had to be gently moved aside to make room for the assigned reading in English class. That was okay though, because on the weekends and over breaks she would have time to read her own stuff (ie, those self-chosen gems that truly fan the reading flame).

With the transition to high school however, I am horrified to see that her reading joy-flame is being slowly but surely snuffed out. And the sad truth is that assigned summer reading is the culprit. We have long since accepted that because of schoolwork and activities, pleasure reading is now a luxury set aside for breaks from school. But my daughter has a stack of pleasure reading books gathering dust on her nightstand that she has been trying to get to for well over a year now: final books from a couple of trilogies she’d started, a fabulous historical fiction book that tied in with her history class (from LAST YEAR!), a couple of “must read” stand-alones that she’s long forgotten who loaned her. She had assigned reading last summer, but managed to get a couple of books off the top of her pile read. She was really looking forward to this summer, even knowing she would have to carefully prioritize which of her books she could get to. But alas, as classes advance, summer reading requirements expand too. She read several books this summer, but did she read a single book of her choosing? Not a one.

Gah! I’m conflicted. On the one hand, yes, she read all summer. On the other hand, did she get even one little iota of joy out of it? No. She spent beautiful summer days slogging through meaty books that she will eventually learn to appreciate, and maybe even love, when she analyzes them later in the year. There is immense value in this type of reading, to be sure. But this type of reading is also a chore. And nothing sucks the sheer joy out of something more than turning it into a chore. Kids need down time to get back to their reading roots and truly lose themselves in something they love again–be it a graphic novel, the latest PLL, or a dystopian trilogy. It makes me sad that my daughter’s passion for reading is dying on the vine, killed by the very class that is supposed to encourage and nurture that love. How ironic is that?

-Eden, StorySnoop

Our Summer of Reading (or not!)

It’s back to school time again, and as usual, I have mixed feeling about it. (By the way, since when is it OK to start school back up in mid-August?! That’s just mean…) While I must admit I’m ready to have a few seconds alone to myself during the way, the whole morning shuffle off to school is a little stressful compared to the lazy summer we just had around here.

There has been a lot of reading around my house this summer. I read a few grown-up books that have been on my list for a long time. And my youngest kids seem to have switched reading places. My teen daughter, an avid reader who could easily devour two books in a week, now divides her time between friends, Instagram, and a certain boy band she is obsessed with. Sadly for me, she probably only read two or three books this summer.

But my ten-year-old boy formerly-reluctant reader – he was a reading fiend this summer! And for him it is all about Percy Jackson (thank you Mr. Riordan!). He zipped through the entire series and couldn’t get enough so now he is on to the spin-off series.  He’s currently reading The Son of Neptune. I love seeing this enthusiasm. It really is like when you watch your kids learn to ride a bike for the first time. You take the training wheels off, they wobble a little, and then, before you know it – you are watching their back and they ride down the street. Getting hooked on reading is much the same way. And it is just as awesome to watch, isn’t it?

And as an afterthought: I am always glad when they make a movie of a children’s book because I think it can be an incentive to read the book first. It piques their interest. At least for my boys it did. I could recommend a book but they scoffed at it until they saw on T.V. that it was being made into a movie. My youngest and I saw the latest Percy Jackson on opening day this summer, and he was SO excited. Afterward we went to lunch had a great book chat where he informed me of all of the inconsistencies between the book and the movie. Isn’t it always like that?

So for now my readers have swapped places, but I don’t mind one bit.

-Shannon, StorySnoop

P.S. I was just notified that my Instagram-obsessed daughter has gone over her data-plan, so I am forecasting more reading in her future – at least until the next billing cycle. I’ll keep you posted :-)