BLACKOUT update

May 15, 2015 @ 8:02 pm | Filed under: Books

I’m at 90% and I THINK I JUST FIGURED OUT A THING

about someone

but I won’t say yet

don’t tell me

I bet I’m right

maybe

It’s a good theory

***

Also: this morning I figured out how to manage my Definitive LMM list

the post is underway

but sorry I can only think about Blackout right now

Thursday reading notes (plus happy anniversary to us)

May 14, 2015 @ 5:32 pm | Filed under: Books, Family

It’s our 21st wedding anniversary (though we begin our official count from our first date, five years earlier) and San Diego celebrated with RAIN, which you know is a huge big deal here these days. Glorious.

I can’t find our copy of Winnie the Pooh. Where is it hiding? So after Pooh Corner (sans final chapter) I had to (eventually) give up the search and pick something else. I’ll get Pooh from the library, I guess. IT’S JUST I KNOW IT’S RIGHT HERE UNDER MY NOSE SOMEWHERE. I bought a boxed set of Milne way back before we got married (we’d been an item for three years, though, so you know I was envisioning a house full of rugrats by then…Ingleside, to be precise) because my part-time job during grad school was at a children’s bookstore and I felt compelled to take full advantage of the employee discount. Hmm, someday I should comb our shelves for all the books I bought that year. Dear Mr. Blueberry, I remember that for sure, and every single L.M. Montgomery title I didn’t already own. I had Anne and Emily but not Pat, Jane (Jane!!), The Story Girl, or Valancy. (Valancy!!!!) Nor any of the short story collections, and I recall deciding it would be worth living on ramen for a while in order to procure every last morsel of LMM. I was right.

(Total digression: one of these days I need to do a post on LMM books in order of perfection. It might kill me to pick a #1, though. The bottom of the list is a piece of cake. Sorry, Kilmeny.)

ANYHOO. Back to the temporarily abandoned Pooh Search. In lieu of the silly old bear, I reached for McBroom. I wanted something fast-moving and full of laughs. Plus we’ve been reading Tall Tales this spring (I love the Mary Pope Osborne collection) and was in the mood for more wild yarns. Let’s see, in three days I think we’ve devoured five McBroom books. Started with McBroom Tells the Truth, of course, and then (in order of whatever the kids picked next) McBroom and the Big Wind, McBroom the Rainmaker, McBroom Tells the Truth, and McBrooms Ear. I hope they pick McBroom’s Zoo next–that’s my favorite. Our copy is the one I had when I was a kid, with the sturdy Scholastic book club binding.

Sid Fleischman’s language–his rich, hilarious, colorful turn of phrase–is simply unbeatable. And every whopper McBroom tells is funnier than the last. Oh, such good stuff.

***

As for my own reading, I’m halfway through Blackout and am FINALLY keeping all the dates and locations straight (more or less). And things are beginning to go crackerbots for Polly, Mary, Eileen, and Mike…You know, one of my favorite things in life is when I’m enjoying a book so much I can’t wait for bedtime (the only time of day I can count on a chunk of dedicated reading time…all the other minutes must be stolen, snatched, and squoze-in).

***

I meant to fill this post with throwback pictures in honor of our anniversary, but Scott just got home with a celebratory pizza. Photos, schmotos.

The grass is always greener…

May 14, 2015 @ 7:18 am | Filed under: These People Crack Me Up

Poor, deprived Huck is enumerating for me the vast number of important life experiences he is missing out on because we have, and I quote, “just a big tree and sticks in our front yard instead of nice fake grass like Miss Lily up the street.”

Thoughts on ‘teaching’ reading (and why I don’t do it)

May 12, 2015 @ 3:51 pm | Filed under: Comics, Early Childhood Education, Homeschooling, Read-Alouds

reading comics at the piano

Reading a Bird and Squirrel book by James Burks

I chimed in on a discussion on my local homeschooling list about one mom’s concerns that her son had stalled on the learning-to-read process. As usual I found I had a lot to say, so I’m scooping it here (and expanding a bit) in case it’s of interest to others. 

I’ll second what E. said: Six is really very young and at this point (and every point, really), the VERY BEST thing you can do is to read aloud a great deal. There are lots of studies to back up what many of us have been discovering and advocating for years about the immense and rather extraordinary benefits of reading aloud.

Some tricks we have used

• We always turn on the captions when our children watch TV. And it’s amazing how much reading they can pick up from scrolling through the DVR. Huck could distinguish between “Little Bear” and “Little Bill” at age three—his first sight words.

Video games! or apps, etc. My kids have all picked up a lot of reading just from encountering the repeated text instructions and captioning that is a part of many games.

Comics and graphic novels. Great reinforcement of decoding skills and incentive to read. Plus, you know, FUN. My 3rd child learned to read from Tintin Comics. Her older sisters read them and she pored over the pictures until she began to pick up words. (I read them to her whenever she asked but that stage didn’t last long–she just loved to explore them them on her own!)  (I’ve written more about this here.)

Word games and puns. We are a wordy, wordy family. Dinner-table conversation will often involve why a thing is called what it’s called–what the root word is, where it came from. Someone will hop up to look up a word origin. And scarcely a day passes without some terrible, groan-inducing pun trotting around the house. When I teach kids’ writing and lit classes (I’m teaching three different groups of kids at present), I begin every class by soliciting contributions to our ‘Word Hoard’—asking the kids to look out for interesting words during the week to add to our collection. They really get into the spirit of the game and we have amassed some splendid word piles over the weeks. The boys in my Friday afternoon class have turned it into a competition of sorts, unfurling mile-long words to impress their classmates. I’ve learned a lot of obscure medical terms in the past month, let me tell you.

Riddles, jokes, joke books!

I am not a fan of 100 Easy Lessons because of so many similar stories of kids getting turned off to reading, or stressed/intimidated/bored–all feelings I don’t want kids to associate with reading.

Books of facts are great for young kids–early reader science stuff, etc. Again, lots of pictures to draw them in & help with decoding.

My primary advice is to not try to “teach” a child to read.

The process can be more organic, less structured. Help them along the way you helped and encouraged them to learn to talk. Read together, allowing lots of conversation and lingering and interruptions to hyperfocus on some little piece of a picture.* Chat about street signs, store names, food labels (kids will pick those up as sight words very quickly and naturally). Text is all over our world, not just in books, and reading doesn’t have to be a Capital R academic exercise. People naturally want to find things out, and reading becomes a means of doing that–so sooner or later, every child will have an interest that drives literacy. What you can do is support that interest. Feed it! Rustle up some intriguing-looking books on the topic, preferably ones with a lot of art.

(Here I come back to video games: one of my girls got so interested in a certain game that she wanted to look up guides for it online, and HER reading took a huge leap forward as she began to devour information about this game. My role was to help her safely find resources on the internet, print out useful pages, provide supplies for assembling a binder (her idea)…so you can see there are many ways for a parent to be involved in the process, guiding, facilitating, without it looking like formal reading instruction–an activity that is so stressful for many children. Lots of so-called ‘reluctant readers’ will inhale anything you give them that’s about their favorite video game. Let them hunt for cheat sites. Who cares if they don’t figure out a game level on their own? They are learning crucial research skills–how to frame questions and find answers, and how to apply that information to a practical task. Hurrah for game cheats!)

Current example: Huck is obsessed with Rose’s Snap Circuits set. This morning I stood in the living room for the longest time, watching him—his back was to me—deeply absorbed in assembling one of the projects in the guidebook. He has worked his way through the entire project book with minimal help, following the picture instructions but also puzzling out chunks of text. Sometimes he asks for help with a mouthful word like “capacitor”—no self-consciousness, no sense that he is young to be expecting to be able to read a word like that. He can’t figure it out, he asks for help. But poring over this book, casually encountering these giant words that tell him things he wants to know, has catapulted his reading skills forward in a way no teacher, no matter how good, how patient, could reproduce. If I made him sit down to a reading curriculum, I can guarantee he would be restless and fretful within minutes. But he’ll spend the whole afternoon immersed in building projects out of this book, interacting with the pictures and text, following complex directions—and consider it ‘playing.’ As in, “Can I play with your Snap Circuits again today?” he’ll beg his big sister.

tuesdayinmay

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*Let me elaborate on what I said above about “allowing lots of conversation and lingering and interruptions to hyperfocus on some little piece of a picture.” A lot of adults have difficulty tolerating interruptions during a readaloud. There’s a whole big conversation to be had about how much background activity to allow — like, Legos keep little hands busy but can be very noisy. There are ways to work around that (spread out Legos on the floor before reading, since the noisiest part is the digging through the bin–things like that). But what I want to focus on right now are the interruptions that come when a child is looking at the book with you and starts talking over the narrative–pointing at things in the art, or otherwise being chatty about the book instead of listening to the story. This activity may actually be an indication of a big leap forward in skill acquisition–but we adults don’t always see it that way!

Here’s an example — when Rose was five or six, I remember reading her My Father’s Dragon. She was right at the point of emergent literacy, beginning to recognize words like street signs and store names as I mentioned above. We were about halfway through this short novel as a read-aloud when she started pointing out Elmer’s name on every page. And “the dragon” and “the cat” — words repeated often in the story. But mainly it was the word “Elmer” (the main character). It got to where I couldn’t get through a page, because she kept pointing at the name all over the place. And I had a moment of being irritated and wanting to hush her–now now, let’s listen to the story. But it hit me in a flash that what we were doing together — what SHE was experiencing in this moment — had changed. It had started out “listening to a story.” Now it was READING. She had learned a sight word and was putting this new skill to use, with numerous opportunities to “practice” it on every page. No curriculum in the world could top this skill practice, because it was completely voluntary and completely absorbing her. It was HER activity, not one imposed upon her from the outside.

So, in that hour snuggled beside her on her bed, I let go of the whole listen-to-this-story concept. I kept on reading to her, page after page, but that was merely a background activity providing the vehicle for her discovery. “Elmer…Elmer…the dragon…” — little finger pointing, skipping around the page. We finished the book that way, with Rose only half paying attention to the words I was reading. When I got to the end, she said it was the best book ever and asked me to start it over. The second time through, she listened raptly to the narrative. :) Her brain had finished its self-assigned task. By the time I finished the book for the second time (a week or two later), she was reading very well on her own.

So that’s what I mean about stepping back to reassess an activity and your objectives….if a child is focusing on some part of the story that isn’t your voice reading the words, there is probably a very good reason. A wonderful thing about homeschooling is we have the luxury of time and space to allow this process to unfold at the child’s pace–there is no pressure to ‘get through’ a certain amount of material by a set date.

Sasquatch Award Nomination for The Prairie Thief

May 11, 2015 @ 3:31 pm | Filed under: Author stuff

I was delighted to learn that The Prairie Thief is a nominee for the Washington Library Association‘s 2015-2016 Sasquatch Award, the chapter book award for grades 3-6 in Washington State. Here is the whole lineup—a fine batch of contenders, I must say!

sasquatch

 

How many have you read?

Actually, it did

May 7, 2015 @ 4:55 pm | Filed under: These People Crack Me Up

Me: OUCH

Rose: Are you okay?

Me: Bit into what I thought was potato, turned out to be half a peppercorn.

Rose (sympathetically): Aw! Would it help if I told you the Icelandic word for potato?

A Little Smackerel of Nothing

May 5, 2015 @ 8:42 pm | Filed under: Family, Fun Learning Stuff

“I like that too,” said Christopher Robin, “but what I like doing best is Nothing.”

“How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.

“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it ‘What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?’ and you say ‘Oh, nothing,’ and then you go and do it.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

“This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing now.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again.

“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

“Oh!” said Pooh.

tuesdayinmay

We order wonderful little homemade soaps from Julie at The Parsonage, whom I met via Lesley Austin’s Wisteria and Sunshine community. Julie’s soaps smell heavenly and last a long time (much longer than the bottles of liquid soap we used to tear through). One of my favorite things about them is that they come wrapped in strips of fabric—so simple and pretty. Rilla saves these cloth strips and this morning she started to sew them into a little blanket. I was reading our chapter of House at Pooh Corner (we’re almost finished, sob!) and got such a smile out of the scene at my feet—these two each so intent on their separate pursuits. I couldn’t resist laying down the book and snapping the moment with my phone. Rose allowed Huck access to her Snap Circuits set a couple of weeks ago and he has played with almost nothing else since. He has worked through all the projects in the book and is beginning to invent his own whirring, buzzing, siren-blaring arrangements (and to drop extremely broad hints about needing more parts).

Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was Still looking at the world with his chin in his hands, called out “Pooh!”

“Yes?” said Pooh.

“When I’m–when– Pooh!”

“Yes, Christopher Robin?”

“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”

“Never again?”

“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”

I think I’m not going to read them the final chapter of Pooh Corner just yet. We started with this volume because I couldn’t find our copy of Winnie the Pooh, which comes first. But now I want to go back and read them that one (it’s bound to turn up). I flipped ahead to the end of Pooh Corner today and got teary at the goodbye scene…I’m not ready for these two, my last small fry, to contemplate leaving behind the Hundred Acre Wood. At least I know that no matter how Old they get, and how Busy with Important Things, they’ve been raised to appreciate the value of Nothing.

Little Happy Lists, Redux

May 3, 2015 @ 8:26 am | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Books

1. Piano recital: accomplished. And swimmingly, I might add. Particularly sweet this year because the music school divided the recital students into smaller groups (fewer classes lumped together into each recital), which meant our girls’ three classes were part of a five-class recital consisting mostly of good friends, families in our homeschooling circle. Best part: the way Huck (not yet a student) gasped in delighted recognition at the songs played by the beginner class (a level below Rilla’s group), because he recognized all the songs from last year when Rilla was learning them. Next year it will be his turn to begin! Hard to believe.

2. The drought, oh the drought, it has hit my garden hard. I’ve planted a lot of drought-tolerant natives over the years, so things are limping along, but still, it’s pretty grim out there. As it must be: flower-gardening will have to be one of the indulgences we let go in the new normal that is our hot-and-getting-hotter world. At least here in this dry-and-getting-drier state. Some of my work this year has involved a lot (a LOT) of research into California’s drying aquifers and the truly shocking lack of Sierra snowmelt and its impacts, and the sobering percentage of reduction of water deliveries to certain small towns from the State Water Project, and, well, you can’t face those facts and go on lavishing water on delphiniums. I’m becoming something of a vicarious gardener once again—the way I was in grad school when I confessed to the poet Robert Pinsky, whom I was tasked with picking up at the airport for a reading, that my habit while driving around town was to re-imagine the landscaping of all the yards I passed. Only now I’m mentally tearing up all the thirsty lawns around me in this desert. But I may have to find room for an annual trip to Portland in the spring, to soak myself for a few days in the glories of lush blossom and unfurling ferns. For now I must apply the tactic I used with much success back in those garden-deprived grad-school days: houseplants require very little water. Rilla and I went to work this week, taking cuttings and clippings to bring a bit of the bright outside indoors. And (influenced by Anne Shirley, of course) I’ve always kept windowsill geraniums with their cheery blooms perched on my kitchen sink—you can never go wrong with good old pelargonium. Thus this item belongs on a happy list even though its genesis is a bleak climate situation.

3. Kate Winslet does a smashing job with the voices in the Matilda audiobook. Rilla and I have one chapter left. We may not be able to wait for our Saturday-night ritual (audiobook + sketchbook time while the older girls watch S.H.I.E.L.D. with Scott) to finish. Which means I’d better come up with our next listen before Saturday…

4. Broadchurch Season 2. Wow.

5. Last night we watched a movie called Begin Again. Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, and yet I had somehow failed to hear about it until Scott queued it up. (He has unerring instincts for films that will delight me.) I loved it. A lovely, thoughtful piece by the writer/director of Once. I’ll watch it again.

What I’m reading this week

To the kids: House at Pooh Corner (still)

Myself: Connie Willis’s Blackout (Determined to finish this time! The other times I’ve begun and set it aside, it wasn’t because I wasn’t interested. Other things just kept crowding in. We’ll see if this time around is different.)

Photo of the week

San Diego children's authors

My friend Edith Hope Fine shared this photo, taken at last weekend’s Greater San Diego Reading Association awards breakfast, on Facebook, and our pal Salina Yoon dressed it up with everyone’s book covers. What a fantastic community of writers and illustrators we have here in San Diego! (Thanks, Edith, Salina, and—wait, who took the photo? I can’t remember!)

Celebrate Literacy Award from GSDRA

April 26, 2015 @ 11:15 am | Filed under: Author stuff, Books

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Photo by Lori Mitchell and used with gratitude!

Yesterday I had the fun of attending an awards breakfast hosted by the Greater San Diego Reading Association, a branch of the International Literacy Association (formerly the International Reading Association).  Along with fellow children’s authors Suzanne Santillan, Lori Mitchell, Virginia Loh Hagen, and Joy Raab, I received a Celebrate Literacy Award for my contributions to literacy in San Diego. Such an honor!

Greater San Diego Reading Association Authors Fair

From left to right: Suzanne Santillan, me, Edith Hope Fine, Joy Raab, Virginia Loh Hagen, and Lori Mitchell at Pacific Beach Elementary, March 2014

The GSRDA are the folks who host the annual Authors Fair I have participated in these past two years—hands-down some of the best events I’ve ever attended. These were the schools (Pacific Beach Elementary in 2014 and Kimball Elementary in National City this year) where the teachers had spent weeks preparing their students for my visit—reading The Prairie Thief aloud (and saving the last chapter for me!) and doing some amazing writing and art projects. There is nothing, nothing like seeing kids’ art and poetry inspired by your books, let me tell you. :)

Student art and writing at Kimball Elementary

 

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Prairie Thief project by 5th-grader Isabella D.