Readers are Created not Born

There’s a wonderful public school initiative that asks children to read for 30 minutes a day. I think it’s a good start but the “art” of reading is not in the “time spent” but about comprehension.

I say this with some hands-on experience in my day care situation. One of my charges is a fourth grader who asks me to keep track of his after school reading period. The sad part is his reading is done with one eye on the clock. I ask him about what he’s read. Occasionally, he has an answer but most often, he doesn’t have a clue.

A few days ago, I asked him to read his book out loud to me. He’d chosen a book about the American Revolution which, by the sparkle in his eyes, was a topic of interest. As he read, there was stumbling on unknown words. Many of these words were critical to his understanding. I pronounced the words and gave him the definitions. Light bulbs of understanding and interest were coming to light like I had not ever seen with him before.

In addition to listening, I was reacting with excitement to the content. “Wow! The colonists were really out numbered!” …” Of course the king would be angry. He wanted their money and obedience to continue, don’t you think?”

Well, the 30 minutes turned into almost an hour without one glance at the clock. He clutched the book like a newly discovered treasure when he packed to go home too. My friend went from reading to reader without even realizing it. I told him to look for a book about Valley Forge if he wanted to know more about the trials of war. (I cannot wait to see if he does.)

So, there is a difference between minutes spent reading and the sharing that makes a kid into a reader.

Curious fun fact~ The very first entire book that I read, in one sitting, was in sixth grade and was Washington at Valley Forge.

Washington at Valley Forge
Washington at Valley Forge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Spontaneous Writing: My Dilemma

English: This is a Venn diagram showing the re...
English: This is a Venn diagram showing the relationships between pronunciation, spelling, and meaning of words, for example, homographs, homonyms, homophones, heteronyms, and heterographs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever find that the monologue in your head is so much more brilliant than you? The words flow with an amazingly beautiful voice but faster than the hand can reproduce. There’s an exercise called spontaneous writing that, I believe, tries to capture what’s in your head.

Certainly, spelling has no use there…at least not for me, I cannot presume to know if you “see” words in your head when my head is filled only with my voice. BTW- I do see numbers and charts in my head in a three-dimensional and, what I have come to understand, bizarre fashion. But, I’m on a word search today.

My dilemma, most of my writing is prompted by my personal dilemmas, is the act of spontaneous writing. The NANO month of November is one example. There’s also a blog , Magic in the Backyard by author Kellie Elmore, which asks for raw prose. The prime directive of these writing prompts is to write without any focus on grammar, spelling or corrections.

I want to do this! It sounds like a fun, and such a freeing, act but I somehow cannot make the final leap. My inner editor won’t shut down and I won’t do it and cheat. In order to take part, I have to be willing to produce material that is “unclean” and share it.

Does this come from an arrogance? I ask myself. Am I afraid to be seen as imperfect? My answer is, not exactly. Some of it IS from not wanting to be terribly imperfect. If you’ve seen my spelling errors even when I use spell check, then you may already suspect it. BUT, I believe my hesitance is more about being misunderstood.

Words are such an anemic medium. It takes careful placement and timing to reproduce the author’s meaning. In my case, I want meaning to be as clear as words allow and I cannot envision my writing being shared when I have not reread and edited it for meaning ,and yes, I believe incorrect spelling does dilute meaning. At the very least, it interrupts the flow and pleasure of the reader. And who of you doesn’t realize how very important the placement of commas can be?

So there you have it. I want desperately to play and I will not cheat which makes it so very hard for me to try.

Do you suffer the same struggle when asked to write spontaneously?

PS…this post was spell checked repeatedly and was corrected every time. 🙂

Revisting My Expectations

It’s very hard to recommend books since I find our enjoyment of them is such a personal thing. They touch us somewhere in our brains where dreams, hopes and disappointments reside.

This morning I took a good look at my bookshelf. It is small. I keep it that size because I know my inner hoarder would overwhelm my living room otherwise. The small size (about 30 books) makes me re-evaluate their value to me on a frequent basis.

One thing I’ve rarely done is to reread a book. If I’ve enjoyed them and kept them, they hold a mystique not unlike our memories of high school. We filter those memories, keeping the best parts, and often sugar coating them.

I’ve wondered before whether our timing and attitude make a good book a great book in our minds. Seems we take what we need and overlook the rest. What we need evolves with time. I’m going to reread a few books that have stuck with me and have spent a silent, dusty vigil on my shelf of honor. I am afraid that they’ll let me down in the same way a high school reunion does. Those valued and happy memories are open to a new awakened place. Their charm and value are put up to scrutiny that I’m not sure I want to give them. (BTW- I don’t do high school reunions.I love my memories to stay just as I have protected and perfected them.)

The books that I will revisit are: Cry of the Panther by James P. McMullen and The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland. Both have to do with experiencing Nature on an intimate level. That subject runs deeply through my bookshelf starting with my first love The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling.

Each of my rereading choices have some raw elements. Nature does too. I guess that’s why they felt genuine. They also have characters who have a focused and obsessive search that is very personal. Based upon true stories and actual events, they both offer real-life heroic adventure.

I will definitely write a follow-up post about how they weathered the storm of reappraisal.

Summer Read – “It’s a mystery to me.”

This post is not intended as a book review because I have not finished the book…yet.

I am wondering if a “good” book is more a reflection of the reader’s frame of mind or the well-written nature of its content?

There are some books which I’ve said that I have enjoyed fully but were a bit of a struggle to get involved in and the details faded away ever after.

There are some books from which passages revisit me when I least expect it. Images haunting me. Yet they weren’t always from my professed favorites.

Then there is Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith.

I was drawn to the topic of mystery stories after reading Harlan Coben‘s The Woods for book club. I enjoyed it but realized there were more famous and more stimulating examples of mysteries still unknown to me.

In 7th grade, our English class read, And Then There Were None~ Agatha Christie‘s novel also known as, Ten Little Indians. I didn’t like it…in 7th grade, I didn’t like reading very much either, though.

As I recently strolled down the aisle at the library, hoping to find a rare gem, I happened upon a section by Patricia Highsmith. Her photo jumped out at me. She looked like a writer. Her appearance was of a woman who spent more time on her thoughts than on her outward appearance. (I don’t think she would have been flattered by that observation but I mean it in the best way.)

Ah, now that an author was chosen, which of her works might I sample?  Why not start with her debut novel? The jacket mentioned that this book was the inspiration for an Alfred Hitchcock film. Good old Al knew what a good mystery was.

I started reading the book last weekend. I really like it…really. My normal approach to reading is an “all at once” or “not at all” mind set. I don’t want to put it down and lose track of any subtle clues or characters, especially with a mystery.

This one has remained a wonderful daydream. I’ve had busy stuff interfere with my reading time, this week, but the half read story has remained with me. The characters are clear and visible beings in my head. The story begs me to continue but what I have read is all still waiting!

Now, my own mystery is in this question.

Is this the most well-written novel ever or am I exceptionally clear minded and focused this week?

Let me say this:

There aren’t too many characters…there is a wonderful (dark) story unfolding…I understand everything so far and want to know everything yet to come. I suspect it’s a great book.

Since this is not an official review…I’ll leave you with my observations, as well as, whole-heartedly recommending it for a summer read.

Maybe reviews should be written during the experience of a book not from an after taste, after all.

Keeping Kids Creative: Summer Book Club

With the last day of formal schooling racing toward us, the question of how to entertain the kids and keep them learning arises.

I have a few ideas for activities in my category named “Keeping Kids Creative”.

My mother had a great idea inspired by our own book club meetings. Why not start a Kids Book Club?

There are so many ways a gathering of similar aged kids could be successful.

A few ideas:

  • Offer prizes to those who participate and make the gathering a party-like atmosphere.
  • Have kids write their own stories to share from photo or word prompts. Compile the entries in a homemade book for them to keep.
  • Ask kids to bring and share their favorite books.
  • Offer a book topic, have the kids find a book that reflects the topic, then have a read-a-thon.
  • Give kids a camera and have them print out a photo journal of their vacation trip or a topic of interest. (Walmart prints photo books rather cheaply…check out their photo gift page.)
  • Have a letter writing campaign. Maybe to long-lost relatives or to a children’s book author.
  • Make t-shirts and name your club. Possibly follow one or two specific authors. Contacting that author may be a great idea too. They just might enjoy reaching out to your club.

I’m sure with this germ of an idea, creative parents can come up with others. Consider the cost of the pizza party or photo books, an investment, rather than a burden. When you compare what you spend on day camps, video games and gas running them to other activities, it isn’t much.

Remember parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and mentors: You are the most influential  teachers that your kids will ever have.

Just a thought…have a great summer people!

Any other ideas would be appreciated in my comments. 🙂

Kids Book Review- Mrs. McTats and her Houseful of Cats

I had my granddaughter staying with me this weekend. We went to the local library and chose a few books for her to enjoy. We sat outdoors on a lovely Saturday and enjoyed the warm sun in the company of books.

My favorite of our choices was “Mrs.  Mc Tats and her Houseful of Cats”.

It had rhyming text. THAT always make reading fun. It was also very humorous. THAT also makes reading fun.

The artwork illustrations were very charming and gave the book a lot of character.

Mrs. Mc Tats has a ritual of leaving her cozy cottage each morning to go to market. After choosing  something to bring home for dinner, she repeatedly finds new cats scratching at her door. She welcomes them and names them. As the story develops, she ends up with twenty-five cats all with names starting with consecutive letters of the alphabet. The last letter begins the  name of a surprise 26th visitor at her door.

Katherine enjoyed the repeated sing-song rhyming and surprises. She especially enjoyed the illustrations. She read it almost all by herself, once she became familiar with the rhythm of the story.

As I read my own books, Kat read hers for much of our afternoon. I could tell that being a “reader” was giving her a lot of pleasure. I recommend Mrs. Mc Tats as a great” interest keeper” and a good beginning book for readers of 6 years old. I also recommend being a reader yourself and inspiring this joy in kids through example.

The Poppy Seed Cakes~ Kids Book Review

My mother stirred memories of my childhood favorite story books. This book came to mind right away. I loved the term babushka for the scarf  the old woman wore. Never forgot about it and it often is the first thought I have when I pursue an interest in another culture. If diversity and learning are important to you, sharing this lovely tale with a child is a perfect activity. This tale still gives me the “warm fuzzies”. (Thanks Mom!)