posts tagged with 'reading'

summer readings

We signed up for the summer reading program at the library this morning. Well, the boys signed up; there's a thing for adults too, but I have enough trouble helping them keep track of their reading to try and record my own too. I guess the purpose of the program is to keep kids reading over the non-school months, like reading is something that otherwise you'd only do if a teacher was making you. That's not the case at our house! All I had to do today to get the boys to spend hours engrossed in books was to let them pick up some new ones at the library. Although in our case it's not even something I wanted them to be doing: after we read for over an hour in the library and then another hour-plus at home after lunch, I thought everybody would do better to go outside and exercise brains and imagination. I did! And they tried, but the allure of the books—and of the couch—was too strong. It's too bad that the library program this summer is based on days that the kids read, rather than hours as was the case last time. So their five solid reading hours today isn't going to serve them any better in the race for badges than someone else's 15 minutes!

Unrelated to that program, Elijah asked towards the end of the school year if he could work on leaning to read. So we've been doing that. He did awesome with phonics, and fairly well with sight word flash cards. So I got him started on a real book: Go Dog Go, my absolute favorite early reader. What I love about it is that it starts super simple and introduces words with picture and context clues to begin with, so that by the end there's a little bit of story and like half of the kindergarten sight word list. As the back of the book says, it's great for self-directed reading learning. Well, Elijah may be motivated to read, but the way his brain works Go Dog Go wasn't the winner I hoped it would be. Reading it with him I had a hard time containing my frustration when he painstakingly sounded out "dogs" for like the fifteenth time in five minutes. He's also been having some trouble with "the". Maybe it's my fault for starting with phonics! Or for trying to teach him at all... the other two boys learned to read pretty much on their own. But Lijah is his own kind of person, and he's needed someone to teach him things in the past: riding a bike, sitting up (that one was a long time ago)... He's a hard worker, though, and if he wants to read he'll get it. In the meantime, while he did spend some of the afternoon with his nose in a book—a series of books—he had no trouble getting his body and brain moving too. So that's fine.

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our reading lately

As I think I've mentioned, we managed to get through a year-plus of pandemic without any interruption to our chapter-book readaloud practice, even if it did lead us to read some selections that I might not have tried if we had all the variety of the library available to us. Most recently it was A Wizard of Earthsea, but Ursula LeGuin. It's a great story but the telling of it isn't straightforward; Harvey actually tried to read it himself six months ago or so and couldn't get into it. But as a readaloud it was a hit, for whatever reason, and with two reading sessions most days we got through it pretty quickly. I'm not sure how much of the exact progression of the story that Elijah was able to grasp, but he liked as much as anyone—enough that he's now doing a lot of playing wizards.

Now, though, the library is once again an option, and just in time for finishing Earthsea we took delivery of our first shipment of chapter books. So today we started The Moffats, by Eleanor Estes—different in every way from Ursula LeGuin but also very good. And more at Lijah's comprehension level. And when that's done, I've got other holds in at the library. Thank goodness!

a momentous day

In former times the library was pretty central to our lives. Both because we all love having a constant stream of new books to look at, and because it's great to have somewhere to go in any sort of weather that's a) not the house, b) inside, and c) free. As I've noted before the second biggest trauma at the start of this pandemic—after having to cancel our long anticipated co-op music day—was that the library closed down before we had a chance to lay in a big store of books. It was my fault; I thought of it on that fateful Friday the 13th but told myself that Saturday morning would be a fine time to browse. Nope: they closed that evening and haven't opened to the public since. Of course, books have been available since last May or so, but in order to get them you had to know what you wanted in advance, put a hold on it, reserve a pickup day and time, and then be there in the specific half hour you put in for. All of those steps are hard for me! Well, the procedure hasn't gotten any easier, but my desire for new books has reached a breaking point (and I've been properly shamed by friends who do regular library pickups) so I'm proud to report that, yesterday evening, we received our first library books in over 13 months.

picture books on our coffee table

library books at our house!

I was super excited to go and pick them up. In retrospect, I could have extended that excitement to the boys by requesting some books that would be particularly delightful to them; I didn't do that. Mostly it's picture book biographies of poets, since that's what I've been thinking about. Still, such is the demand for reading material around here that Harvey has now read every word of all of them (he accomplished the feat in just slightly under 24 hours). Good thing there are more coming! Including some requests from the boys. What I need now is some way for them to access the library website and put in their own holds when they want something... any chance I can manage that before the library reopens for real?

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still managing to read

As we started spending more time at and around the playground the last couple weeks, I remembered that I really miss the library. Really, not getting to visit there once a week—or more!—is one of the hardest things about this pandemic for us (which shows how incredibly fortunate we are, something I don't take for granted in the least). But even without the library for fifty-three weeks and counting we haven't done that badly for books. Sure, we'd love to have access to new and interesting picture books, and research on the internet isn't nearly as fun as paging though age-appropriate texts. For chapter books, though, we've managed to find enough new material to keep up our habit of reading half and hour to an hour every day. My habit of stocking up at every used book sale I see is paying off!

It also helps, of course, that the boys all really love being read to, and that all three of them are interested in a wide variety of styles. In the last couple weeks we've read Misty of Chincoteague and The Tale of Desperaux (that's a new one for us; Leah found it at Savers), and now we're working our way through My Family and Other Animals, an autobiographical account of zookeeper and naturalist Gerald Durrell's childhood on the Greek island of Corfu in the 1930s. I don't think I would have tried to read it to them a year ago at the beginning of the pandemic: it's more episodic and atmospheric than plot-driven, and while it's filled with beautifully written description it's not necessarily a story you'd expect would be enjoyed by a seven-year-old. But it's also silly and full of animals, so I guess that's a winner.

That's not to say I wouldn't much rather have the option, at least, of finding some good new books at the library. Every time we reach the end of one book I start to get nervous that, this time, we've really come to the end of our supply. Everything else is open now: even the elementary schools are now back in person four days a week, and middle and high school will be going back full time in a couple weeks. And we can go to supermarkets and malls and, for all I know, bars and movie theaters! So why not libraries?!

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another reader

Like Harvey before him, Zion has taken to reading. As the manager of the household I'd say it's because he wants an excuse to do something rather than work (or sleep), but as a homeschool parent I'm of course delighted. Because reading is wonderful, right?! It was Ramona Forever that was keeping him from going to bed last night and from doing his chores this morning, but luckily he finished it in time to take part in our school day.

I think it's safe to say that I have mixed feelings about reading. What I don't buy is the idea that reading is worthwhile for it's own sake—not just knowing how to read, but enjoying reading and appreciating particular books. In school it doesn't matter what it is, as long as you find something you want to read. And then you're all set! (until they catch you reading in math class; ask me how I know!). So you have an ecosystem of terrible books that make their ways from publishers to school libraries because, as they tell us, "at least they're getting kids reading!" Sure, I agree that there are tons of great books out there, books that expand your mind or transport you to places you could never visit otherwise; but I don't know that, oh, the graphic novel version of The Wings of Fire necessarily provides a path towards coming to enjoy them. Why not just tell kids—tell everyone!—that there are these great books out there, and wait for them to learn how to read so they can find out for themselves just how great?

Of course, I fully admit that my concerns are completely misguided. After all, I went through a period where I devoured as many Hardy Boys books as I could get my hands on! And I certainly don't want to suggest that graphic novels, as a form, have anything wrong with them; except for The Wings of Fire (which, admittedly, I've never even read!) all the books on this list are pretty darn good. Zion read his share of them—more than his share, probably—before he got started on chapter books (and in fact having finished Ramona he spent some time with Amulet this evening). I guess I'm just doing that grumpy old man thing where I only think books I like are any good. In my defense, though, I wouldn't be complaining if Zion, besides reading, was also doing everything he's supposed to!

Postscript: In between writing the previous paragraph and this one I did bedtime with kids. As I finished praying with Harvey Zion was reading Squirrel Girl in his bed with the headlamp. I asked him to turn it off, and he let me know that actually the nighttime is the best time for reading, because he didn't have anything else he needed to be doing! What about sleeping, my love? Ah, reading...

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some are readers

Once again we're taking part in the summer reading program at the library. Last year the boys signed up and then didn't do anything else with the program, because all the rewards were for doing reading-adjacent activities like writing letters to authors or attending presentations at the library. We don't have time for that. This year, though, it's all about the reading: there are necklaces, and each child gets to add a bead to their necklace for every 15 minutes read. That, we can do!

It's actually slightly more complex than that: kids can also trade up the 15 minute beads for ever-prettier beads representing more time. An hour gets you a metallic bead, glow-in-the-dark beads are for two hour, and at four hours the prize is a bead that changes color in UV light. And then there's the coveted star-shaped 8-hour bead.

The last time we were at the library the kids stepped up to the counter from youngest to oldest. Lijah was read to a reasonable amount; Zion impressed with his nine or so hours of reading over two week. Then it was Harvey's turn. When the computer showed that he had recorded 24 hours of reading the librarian was a little shocked, and she wondered if maybe someone had missed checking off his time for previous weeks. "No," I said, "I don't think so. It's been 12 days since we've been in... how much is that per day? Yup, I'm actually surprised it isn't more."

Harvey reads enough; or, too much. I've mentioned it before. I was the same way I think. It's easy to see how TV or video games can keep kids sedentary and hamper their imaginative play—I'm sure that in some circumstances books do the same thing. Not to say I'm against reading! But as someone who, given a quiet moments this afternoon, picked up a book rather than getting back to work cleaning the basement, I know it can have its downsides. Certainly in my family I don't see anything to justify the fetishization of reading—positioning as an absolute good—that we see from schools and libraries. But then, we'd read anyway! So I guess it's nice that we get beads for it... oh, and coupons for free used books too! The boys have racked up seven of those between them already. Not that they're interested: who needs to buy books when you have a whole library full of them?

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Anna Hibiscus

We like lots of books. There are now four readers in our house, and together we plow through a lot of written material. But obviously, some books are more favorite than others. As Zion is working his way though short chapter books, we've rediscovered some old favorites. Just like Harvey, he enjoyed Dory Fantasmagory, and read all four. We also rediscovered another series we've enjoyed, Anna Hibiscus—and even better, we found that there are now twice as many books in the series than last time we looked!

In the US it's hard to find books about other cultures that aren't completely othering—like, "look at how people live in other places!" So we really appreciate the exceptions. Anna Hibiscus is a girl living with her big family in Lagos, Nigeria. Her dad is Nigerian and her mom is originally from Canada, so while she—and her mom—feel completely Nigerian, she also has a little bit of a different perspective about her family and her city than her many cousins (the books' author, Atinuke, is similarly a child of mixed cultures). That gives the non-Nigerian reader a great perspective on life in Lagos or the village. Even better, in the third book Anna Hibiscus travels by herself to Canada to visit her grandmother, giving American readers a rare look at North American culture as strange and other!

Besides that, the books are wonderful in lots of other ways. The communal life Anna Hibiscus and her extended family share sounds amazing and overwhelming. Anna's unique perspective sometimes clashes with her family's traditional values, and both sides end up learning something. And Anna Hibiscus's kindness should be an example to everyone. As of now there are eight chapter books and a couple of picture books in the series... you should read all of them.

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our readers

We haven't made it to the library this week, so Harvey was grumbling about not having any books to read. He checked out, I believe, five chapter books last Tuesday, and eight days later they were all finished. I told that we have books here—as an elementary educator, I love scouring used book sales for good stories. I guess he knows that, but he didn't trust the selection. So I picked out a few good options to present him, and he chose Dogs Don't Tell Jokes by Louis Sachar. That was at around 2:15; by 5:30 he had finished it. It's just as I predicted back when he started reading so I'm not surprised, but the sudden increase in his rate of consumption over the last month is a little startling.

Zion is getting into reading too. He's at the stage of mostly doing graphic novels. We have lots of them around, and they're good for private learners: he spent a lot of time looking at them back when he wasn't reading, so now he can put as much or as little energy into the words as he wants without me paying attention to what he's doing. Self-directed reading instruction is what we like around here. I actually tried to do some actual reading instruction with Zion back in the fall, on the theory that he's not quite as self-directed as his big brother—I had to make him learn to ride a bike, for example. And for a little bit he was interested in phonics lessons. But then he got over it. Which was fine, because I know he loves books and can ask for help when he needs it. Then he surprised me a month ago when I asked Harvey to do some writing about the chicks, and he did a page too. I had no idea he could write! I guess that means he can read too. He also read from a chapter book this afternoon during rest time.

We're in the stage of the homeschooling year called pre-reporting panic; don't worry Town of Bedford, at least I know they can read!

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the primacy of reading

Harvey is really reading now, and as I predicted it's taking him away from other activities—like doing his chores. I totally understand how other parents wish they had this problem, just like when he was younger I wished I had a child who would wander off rather than just clinging to me or looking to play with me all the time. I suppose now he's wandering off in books. He read a whole chapter book in one sitting the other day, 150 pages (with pictures). In his defense it was a pretty good book, and I recommended it highly.

cover image of Dory Dory Black Sheep

It's called Dory Dory Black Sheep, by Abby Hanlon and it's apparently the third book in a series about Dory, a six-year-old with a tremendous imagination. In this book she's feeling bad because she doesn't know how to read. While I loved the book—and yes, almost all my reading comes from the kids section of the library these days—I'm a little troubled by the implicit assumption that it's a good thing for imaginative, well-adjusted (by some measures) six-year-olds to be reading. In the story she's exposed to reasonable first-grade teaching methods, but it's peer pressure that makes her want to read: her new best friend is reading chapter books, and Dory is afraid the friend won't like her if she can't read.

So it's a pretty sensitive treatment, and probably true to a lot of kids' experience in first grade. That means I don't fault the author—and I'm looking forward to reading the other two books, and reading them to Zion—but wish the culture were such that Dory could be telling stories to her friends in school and being valued for that skill. Because, once she can read, will she stop living half in an imaginative world of her own creation? Few authors can compete with real kids' imagination. But when you can read, books are tempting, tempting!

Still and all, I'm pretty proud of Harvey. And imagination-wise he's long been someone who looks for official sources for his imaginative worlds—he's an oldest child, and needs to make sure he has things correct—so probably the more books the better. Just as long as he keeps feeding those hens too!

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