Category Archives: Raising Readers

can't sit still

If they’re squirming, they’re learning



From kindergarten to second grade, Budlong’s teachers required him to read aloud to us for 20-30 minutes each night.  Here’s what a typical reading session sounded like in our house:

Stop bending the pages! Set the book down so I can see what you’re reading.

Put your toy down and focus on the book.

Get your hands out of your mouth.

Stop tapping the pencil while you read. It’s distracting.

Do you have to pee? No? Then stop writhing in that chair!

Are you sick? No? Then sit up straight!

You can get a drink of water when you’re done.

Can you just not. touch. anything. within 5 feet of us???

For the love of god, SIT STILL AND READ!!!

Kids can’t sit still, but should they have to?

Do you have squirmy bookworms, too?  Please humor me and tell me you’ve been there. I was pretty sure I had every right to lose my patience over this until I read Michael Sullivan’s book Raising Boy Readers. And then I realized that my gender has a lot to do with what I think reading should look like. Citing brain research, Sullivan explains that the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that controls communication between both hemispheres, is less developed in a male than in a female. Consequently, girls have an advantage when it comes to language because it’s a task that requires both halves of the brain. To overcome this disadvantage, boys seek out stimuli to “wake up the brain” to prepare it for reading. These stimuli can be in the form of sound, color, motion, or physical activity. Translation? Budlong’s constant fidgeting and wiggling is not an attempt to avoid reading but an attempt to get better at it. It’s not a distraction to him; it’s a learning strategy.

Shortly after this epiphany, I came across an NEA article that corroborates this idea:

“A 2008 study found that children actually need to move to focus during a complicated mental task. The children in the study—especially those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—fidgeted more when a task required them to store and process information rather than just hold it. This is why students are often restless while doing math or reading, but not while watching a movie, explained Dr. Mark Rapport, the supervisor of the study and professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Not only do boys need to move during a learning activity such as reading or math, they can also benefit from increased physical activity throughout their day. An article recently published in Time magazine reports the results of a 2016 Finnish study:

“Boys whose days were more sedentary when they were in first grade (a crucial year for learning to read) made fewer gains in reading in second and third grade. They also did worse at math for that year.”  

BTW, Budlong just cited this article in his third-grade persuasive paper about needing more gym time!

Get them moving!

If you think your child could benefit from auditory or physical stimuli while reading, consider these ideas the next time you need to rally for reading homework. He could read while

  • standing or pacing
  • listening to music
  • holding a fidget toy (squish ball, soft piece of fabric)
  • riding a stationary bike

Acting out a book after reading can also improve comprehension. What other ideas do you have for incorporating movement into your child’s reading/learning? I’d love to hear about them!


Relax. 7 Signs Your Kindergartner Will Learn to Read and Write


I am not what you’d call a laid-back mother. Being a firstborn, Budlong has reaped both the benefits and the drawbacks of my control-freakishness. I wanted to do everything “right”—I breastfed for nine months; I made my own baby food; we used cloth diapers; we kept him away from TV for almost two years. Mediocrity was not an option; I wanted him to be exceptional. That included learning to read at an early age. I was pretty confident that we were on the right track.

We surrounded him with print…

surround your child with print

…encouraged his book-handling skills…

book handling skills

…read aloud to him every day…

reading aloud to him

And then one day I took him in for kindergarten pre-assessments. His teacher brought him back to me and reported, “He knows 5 sight words.” And I had a quiet panic attack. What’s a sight word?  How many should he know by now? How many do the other kids know? The rest of kindergarten was an angry blur, me pushing Budlong to read by himself and him resisting because he was not ready to read.

With Ashman’s literacy development, I’ve decided to take a different approach.  There’s no doubt he will learn to read.  But I want him to enjoy the process. In his book Raising Boy Readers, Michael Sullivan says, “The best thing any parent can do to help a boy become a reader is relax.” I think as parents we’re so focused on that magical moment when our children begin to read or write that we discount the steps needed to get there and stay there. Sometimes we get frustrated and even see them as acts of cheating or regression. On the contrary, the following seven habits should be celebrated just as much as the acts of reading and writing themselves: Continue reading


Book Giving Day 12: Book Pairings


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Oh my goodness, we made it!  It’s day 12 of the “12 Days of Book Giving”!

Book Giving Idea #12

Reading and cooking go together like red wine and chocolate, coffee and donuts, tea and shortbread, milk and cookies. I could go on, but what I mean is kids get exposure to so much good food while reading, and so much good reading while cooking. This holiday season, pair a children’s book with homemade food or a cooking experience to maximize this symbiotic relationship. Here are some possibilities to get you thinking:

The Ninjabread Man

Book Pairing: Ninjabread Man and cookie cutters

Saint Nicholas brought my ninjas this book with some matching cookie cutters.  After reading the story, Budlong and Ashman are eagerly anticipating our cookie making, baking, frosting, and eating experiences!

Who Made This Cake?

Who Made This Cake? paired with cake mix

In this picture book by Chihiro Nakagawa and Junji Koyose, miniature construction vehicles and their operators work to make a life-size birthday cake for a mother. If you have a young child who’s crazy about construction vehicles, pair this book with a box of cake mix. It’s sure to be an unforgettable baking and imagination building experience!

Food in Literature Blog

Food in Literature is an amazing blog whose founder, Bryton Taylor, creates recipes inspired by novels and children’s literature.  In addition to the recipes, you’ll find gorgeous, mouthwatering photos and how-to videos. I am most intrigued by…

Book pairing: Lion Witch and Wardrobe with Turkish Delight

Book Pairing: HP and treacle tart

Book pairing: BFG and frobscottle

Get the book, print off the recipe, shop for the ingredients, and you’ve got yourself an amazing gift basket to give to an older child!

Kids Cook with Books from What’s Cooking with Kids

This is a gift that has potential to last the whole year. You can sign yourself or a child up for this book club, and each month you’ll receive a recipe that complements a children’s book geared toward kids ages 2-8. The 2017 list of books is already posted. Check it out and track down the first few books!

Thank you so much for following this series.  I hope you have been inspired to give a child a unique book in a creative way. Whatever your cause for celebration this season, Budlong, Ashman, my husband and I would like to wish you peace, joy, and tons of time for reading!

Featured image based on "Presents" by Andrew Butitta, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Day 11: A Blank Book

Book Giving Day 11: A Blank Book


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We are nearing the end of the “12 Days of Book Giving,” my friends, but don’t despair. You still get two more days of Book Giving inspiration!

Book Giving Idea #11

“If you can’t find the book you want to read, then go write it.”

This is what fabulous young adult author Kwame Alexander tells students during his Page-to-Stage writing workshops.  I recently read The Crossover, his novel written in verse about a seventh grade basketball star. By deftly combining sports and poetry, he has written a book many boy readers will absolutely want to read. I am counting down the years till I get to enjoy it again with Budlong and Ashman!

Similarly, Keith Negley, another of my new favorite children’s authors, explained in an interview,

“ I always liked the idea of making picture books for children, but it wasn’t until I became a parent and started reading a ton of picture books to my son did I realize there was a lack of the kind of books we enjoyed. Honestly the books I’ve been working on were born out of necessity because I wanted to read them and no one else had made them yet.”

Keith Negley's Tough GuysKeith Negley's My Dad Used to Be So Cool

As it did for these authors, being a reader can naturally lead kids to being a writer. When the boys got into the I Survived! series by Lauren Tarshis, I encouraged them to start thinking of their own titles. One particularly rainy camping weekend prompted them to declare they were going to write a book called I Survived!: the Camping Trip to Bluemound. 

And much to Ashman’s disappointment, there just aren’t many books written about bucket wheel excavators. I promise. We’ve read. them. all. So I’ve tasked him with writing and illustrating his own.

If you have aspiring authors in your home, here are some tools of the trade that would make excellent gifts:

            1. felt tip pens–Ashman uses these in school as his special writing workshop pens. They are fine enough to help him work on dexterity but not as finicky as ball point pens when you hold them at a weird angle. Kindergarten teachers are geniuses.
            2. hard cover blank books–my fourth grade teacher gave me one of these, and I will  never forget it. There’s just something about a hardcover that makes you feel like an official writer. In mine I wrote a sequel to Mary Poppins. (White Blank Books with Hardcovers 6″W x 8″H (6 Books / Pack) by Ashley Productions)
            3. publish your own book kits–these are commercial kits that let kids write and illustrate their story, mail it away, and receive a professionally printed book. The whole process sounds so exciting! (you might like this one: Crayola Story By Me Hardcover Kit)

That’s all for today!  We’re going out to enjoy the snow! See you back here tomorrow for the very last day of Book Giving 2016! Don’t forget, the winner of the Snowy Day hat and book giveaway will be announced tomorrow as well.  You have until midnight tonight to enter (or re-enter)!

Featured image based on "Presents" by Andrew Butitta, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Book reincarnated

Book Giving Day 10: Book Reincarnated


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This is day 10 of the “12 Days of Book Giving“!

Book Giving Idea #10:

Remember the scene in Dead Poets’ Society when Robin Williams’s character gives his students permission to tear pages out of their textbooks? That kind of reckless irreverence can be quite exhilarating. Even children’s librarians tear up books in the name of engaging readers. It’s called the shredded book contest. Books are cherished objects in our house. The boys have learned not to step on them, throw them, or eat near them. Despite this kid-glove treatment, most books will eventually show some wear and tear, especially the ones that are well-loved. This is the type of book I’m recommending you give as a gift.  And then let your child rip it up and create something from its pages.

Before you shout blasphemer or book burner, let me clarify that this giving idea is not really about destroying books. It’s about loving a book so much you give it new life. The crafters and pinners of the world call this upcycling or repurposing books. I call it reincarnating. Whether you look at a used book store, thrift store, or your kids’ dusty bookshelves, start seeing used books with an artist’s eye. What sort of art project would revive them?

So what can you make with old books?

Silhouette Prints

For Christmas last year, Budlong received an illustrated collector’s copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My yellowed paperback version from undergrad education classes was feeling a bit inadequate.  But a printed quidditch scene on a torn-out page ensured that book lives on in Budlong’s room.

Upcycled book project

To make the quidditch scene, I collaged some free silhouette clip art using Microsoft Word—very easy and low tech.  Then I ran the book pages through my printer. Feel free to download my quidditch scene if you have a Harry Potter fan.  Or make your own.  This project works for any book! You could also have your child draw or paint a scene on book pages.

More upcycled book projects to do with kids

  • Decoupage shredded book pages onto lampshades, light switch plates, Christmas ornaments, or anything else you can think of.
  • Cut the book pages into shapes and have your child collage an image on a solid background. Frame it!
  • Hollow out a book to make a secret treasure compartment!

See you back here tomorrow for day 11!

Featured image based on "Presents" by Andrew Butitta, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Day 9 Book Giving

Book Giving Day 9: Tickets Make Good Bookmarks


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If you’ve been following us from the beginning, you know it’s day 9 of the “12 Days of Book Giving“!!! If this is your first visit, welcome!

Budlong is spending two weeks in South Dakota with my parents this summer, which got me thinking about how I could best prepare him for the trip. The answer is books, of course.  Books about South Dakota can give him valuable background knowledge that he’ll be able to connect to his travel experiences.  Books will also focus his interests and build anticipation for his trip.

Because we’ve read Mount Rushmore: Myths, Legends, and Facts by Jessica Gunderson, Budlong now understands that the monument is on land stolen from the Sioux. He’s also excited about the prospect of seeing the secret chamber hidden behind the faces and going to visit the still unfinished Crazy Horse Memorial.  Next up we’ll read Flat Stanley: The Mount Rushmore Calamity and Four Famous Faces.

This trip is not a surprise to him, but imagine how awesome it would be if we had announced it by giving him one of the above books.  Even more awesome and more tangible if we had tucked an Every Kid in a Park Pass into the book as a surprise bookmark!  And that’s how I came up with your book giving idea for the day!

Book Giving Idea #9: Tickets Make Great Bookmarks!

Step 1: Brainstorm experiences you can offer your child.

Step 2: Purchase passes, tickets, or gift cards good for this experience

Step 3: Hide the tickets inside a book about this experience and wrap it up!

Need some ideas? Continue reading

Day 8 Book giving

Book Giving Day 8: A Storytelling Basket


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One full week of the “12 Days of Book Giving” in the books! Drum roll and fanfare for day 8…

Book Giving Idea #8

Today’s book giving idea is a storytelling basket. This is a kit that includes a book and puppets, small toys, or other props that would help your child retell the story. Props can be purchased or made. Gathering them is half the fun of putting this gift together. This could finally be a reason to use some of the random crap—I mean, toys—that you’ve collected from garage sales, thrift stores, birthday party favors, dentist office prize machines, or happy meals. I’ve also seen storytelling baskets containing wooden spoon puppets painted to resemble the characters in a book. If you possess this talent that would put my storytelling basket examples to shame, by all means…

Why a Storytelling Basket?

A dramatic retelling of a story is a fantastic way to extend the benefits of a book. Acting it out deepens your child’s understanding of the story, develops his/her verbal skills, and connects reading to physical and social play. I would recommend this type of gift for readers ages 3-8. Reciting a story from memory or from looking at the pictures is an important step in early literacy. Even if your child can’t read words on a page, this activity helps develop his identity as a reader. Folktales or other stories that have cumulative or repetitive plots make the best storytelling baskets. Below is a list of titles to help you get started making your own.

Seasonal Folktales for Storytelling Baskets

The Gingerbread Man

Gingerbread Man Storytelling Basket

So many versions of this tale exist, each with different animal characters that try to eat the gingerbread man. The one constant is the sly fox, so make sure you include him in your basket.  Other ingredients seen in the photo are a rolling pin, cookie cutter, pan, and gingerbread man ornament. Ashman and I made the ornament from dough containing mostly cinnamon and glue. He smells wonderful!

There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow by Lucille Colandro and Jared Lee

There Was a Cold Lady Storytelling Kit

All the things this woman swallows accumulate in her belly until she hiccups twice and out pops a snowman. Most of my ingredients are made of paper. I know you can do better. Wouldn’t it be fun to include some white play dough for the snow? You can find the old lady template here.

The Mitten by Jan Brett

The Mitten

This Ukranian folktale is another cumulative story. While playing outside in the snow, a boy loses one of the white mittens his grandmother knitted him. Subsequently a mole, rabbit, hedgehog, owl, badger, fox, bear, and mouse all snuggle into the mitten to sleep. When the mouse climbs on bear’s nose, the bear sneezes and they all go flying. The boy is reunited with his mitten when he sees it falling from the sky. This storytelling basket requires a lot of animals and a very large white mitten, but Jan Brett’s glorious illustrations make it SO worth having.

Storytelling Baskets for the Overachiever

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Caps for Sale

This basket must contain hats in five different colors: grey, brown, blue, and red, and one checkered. Oh, and you’re going to need some monkeys. I know we have a partial set of the game Barrel of Monkeys around here somewhere, how about you? Your kid will love walking around balancing a tower of hats on his head and shouting, “Caps for sale, caps for sale. Fifty cents a cap!”

20 Big Trucks in the Middle of the Street by Mark Lee and Kurt Cyrus

20 Big Trucks

Ashman loves to act out this book and he would LOVE to receive a storytelling basket with exact replicas of the trucks in this book. You’ll need an ice cream truck, mail truck, hay truck, pickup truck, crane truck, two moving vans, 4 delivery trucks, farm truck carrying pigs, cement mixer, tanker truck, tow truck, truck towing a tar kettle (what?!), bread truck, meat truck, and a garbage truck. Totally doable, right?  If not, make sure you have the crane truck (the solution to the traffic jam) and 19 other trucks of any kind will do.

The Three Little Pigs by James Marshall, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by John Scieszka and Lane Smith, and The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Dan Santat

Three Little Pigs, three versions

Extend the use of your storytelling basket by including three versions of this traditional tale (a.k.a. “fractured fairytales”). The characters and building materials (straw, sticks, bricks) remain the same, but the plots, points of view, and settings change slightly.

That’s all for today. See you tomorrow for Day 9!

Featured image based on "Presents" by Andrew Butitta, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Day 7 Book Giving

Book Giving Day 7: Make Way for the Makers


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It’s day 7 of “The 12 Days of Book Giving“!  Carolers, take a deep breath and sing with me…

6 Award-Winning Books


4 Children’s Book Clubs

3 Gift of Nothing’s

2 Homemade Audiobooks

and an Almost Empty Box!


Book Giving Idea #7

After putting the last ornaments on our Christmas tree Sunday night, Ashman and I cozied up by our fireplace. “Budlong, do you want to read How the Grinch Stole Christmas with us?” I asked.

And Budlong replied, “No thanks. I already know how he did it.”

HA! If that’s not indicative of why and how boys read, I don’t know what is! Michael Sullivan, author of Raising Boy Readers, explains that boys take “the Home Depot approach to life… Help me understand how the world works, why the problem exists in the first place, and how I can manipulate things to make them better.”  Sounds like Budlong. And his dad. Why not appeal to this interest by giving a how-to book this holiday season?

Luckily, a huge “maker” movement is happening right now.  More and more publishers are supporting budding engineers, scientists, inventors, and artists with how-to books. Here are just a few book/gift combos for the mini-makers in your life:

Wrap up the book Recycled Science by Tammy Enz with a grab bag of craft sticks, cardboard tubes, plastic jugs, wooden clothespins, corks, and rubber bands. The Dollar Store or local craft store is your best bet for some of these, but you can also start saving your recyclables from now until Christmas!  Some of the experiments require use of heat or sharp objects, so plan on supervising your maker. (Ages 9-15)

Maker How-to Book

Bridges!: Amazing Structures to Design, Build and Test by Carol A. Johmann,Elizabeth J. Rieth, Michael Kline Kline –Another book to pair with your recyclables for a budget-friendly gift. Craft sticks and straws will also be handy. This one is for the kid who’s truly interested in the why and how of bridge design(Ages 7-14)

How-to book Bridges

Kids’ Paper Airplane Book by Ken Blackburn and Jeff Lammers –Imagine the look on your future aerospace engineer’s face when he gets this book AND an entire ream of printer paper. The sky’s the limit! (Ages 5 and up)

Maker How-to Books

Fun with Fingerprints Series (Animals, Bugs, Characters, and Vehicles) by Bobbie Nuytten –Give a washable ink pad and one of these books of stamp-by-stamp directions for creating works of art. Labeled preK-1 reading level, but the outlining that makes these designs come to life requires a little more dexterity than my kindergartner has! (Ages 5 and up)

How-to book Fingerprint Animals

Mix It Up! by Hervé Tullet (ok, not quite a how-to book, but experiential nonetheless). By interacting with the book, young readers learn the how-to of color mixing.  Wrap up the book with a set of finger paints or food coloring droppers. You could follow this up with the fictional Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh. (Ages 3-6)

Maker How-to Books

I hope you’ve been inspired by at least one book giving idea this past week.  What will your true love get from you on the eighth day of book giving? Come back tomorrow to find out!

Featured image based on "Presents" by Andrew Butitta, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Day 6: An Award-winning book

Book Giving Day 6: An Award-Winning Book


We are half-way through “The 12 Days of Gift Giving”!!!  Don’t forget to enter to win a Snowy Day hat and book; the giveaway ends on day 12 of this series. You can enter each day with the “tweet a message” option.

Now, without further ado…

Book Giving Idea #6

Today’s idea comes from my dear friend Tamara who shared one of her family’s traditions with us at Budlong’s baby shower. She likes to commemorate the year a person was born by offering them a Caldecott award-winning book from the same year. Since the winners hadn’t been chosen yet for the year Budlong was born, Tamara gave me Noah’s Ark by Peter Spier. It’s the Caldecott winner from the year I was born.  Google the year if you must…but suffice it to say I am not old enough to have actually been aboard said ark!

Caldecott Award-winning book Noah's Ark

The Randolph Caldecott Medal is a prestigious award that annually recognizes the preceding year’s “most distinguished American picture book for children.”  An embossed gold or silver sticker on the cover makes a Caldecott winner or runner-up easy to spot.  Caldecott books are great gifts because you know you’re getting a work of art.  Some of my favorite author/illustrators are past recipients: Ezra Jack Keats (The Snowy Day),  Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are), Donald Crews (Freight Train), Chris VanAllsburg (Jumanji; Polar Express), and Kadir Nelson (Henry’s Freedom Box; Moses).

If I were to gift a Caldecott book for the years the boys were born, Budlong would get The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, and Ashman would get Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein.  Here’s another way to do it: I could give them this year’s Caldecott winner this year, next year’s winners next year, and boom! I’ve got a tradition for years to come.

Of course, there are other children’s book awards, so choose one that is meaningful to you or your intended reader. Whether you give a book because of its award or the year in which the award was received, be sure to explain the significance of your selection to the recipient of your gift.

That’s all for today, but I’ll be back tomorrow–same place, same time–to share day 7’s book giving idea!

Featured image based on "Presents" by Andrew Butitta, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Win a Snowy Day hat and book

Book Giving Day 5: A Little Red Reading Hood (Giveaway ends 12/12!)


We’ve made it to Day 5 of “The 12 Days of Book Giving”!  As promised, I’m switching things up a little: today I’ll be giving one of YOU the gift!

Read on for details.  But first, let’s do a Book Giving roundup:

4 Children’s Book Clubs

3 Gift of Nothing’s

2 Homemade Audiobooks

and An Almost Empty Box!

Book Giving Idea #5

day 5 book giving

I taught myself to crochet last year because Budlong wanted to be Harry Potter for Halloween and needed a Gryffindor scarf. Then, I feverishly moved on to making baby hats inspired by children’s books.  I’ve found they make unique baby shower gifts and newborn photo props.  In addition, the book/hat gift package immediately connects a child to a well-loved book.  After all, we are raising readers here, right?

This red pixie hat inspired by Ezra Jack Keats’ book The Snowy Day is quite possibly my favorite. The stretchy hood fits over a child’s head much like a ski mask (and can’t be pulled off easily by those stubborn babes that won’t keep a hat on!)

Snowy Day Hat front view

Silver snowflake buttons hold the flaps in place.

Snowy Day hat profile

And it comes to an impish little point at the top.  How cute is that?

Snowy Day back of hat

But it desperately needs a real live baby boy or girl to wear it!!!

Do you know one???

Click on the link below for a chance to win this hat plus a hard cover copy of The Snowy Day. Make sure to answer the question about which size hat you’d prefer if you won: newborn (seen on doll), 3-6 months, or 6-12 months.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway starts today, December 5, 2016 and ends on the last day of our Book Giving series: December 12, 2016. I will contact the winner by email. For shipping purposes, you must live in the contiguous United States to enter.

I hope you’re having as much fun as I am with this series. We’d be honored to have you join us tomorrow for Day 6. As always, thanks for reading!

Hat based on pattern by Katie Hanken
Featured image based on "Presents" by Andrew Butitta, CC-BY-SA-2.0