22 September 2010

No Sleeping 'Till Your Homework's Done

We have discovered that with kindergarten comes homework, at least at Isaac's school. I understand that other schools have different practices and not all homework is created equal. But I will not dwell on how I feel about Isaac's homework here, except to say that part of his daily homework is to read for 15 minutes. We are supposed to write down the name of one book we read during this time on a reading log each night. The goal is for each student to turn in one complete log (20 books) each quarter (9 school weeks).

I do not like to call reading "homework." We have been reading to Isaac since he was an infant and it is a rare night that passes by that we do not read at least one story, most nights we read five. In our house reading is not homework, at least not in kindergarten. I know quite well that there are families who would never read to their children if the school did not require it as homework and ask for the reading logs. Even with the reading "homework" there are still families who do not read with their children. But in our family reading together is something that is a nightly ritual. I want it to remain a time that Isaac enjoys for as long as possible. It is probable that reading for school will become something he dreads all too soon.

So we have been reading as usual every night and Isaac and I are fitting a weekly library visit into our schedule. Most of the books we brought home last week were not very memorable. I picked out a lot of nature themed books. Our nearest library branch has a strong environmental collection and this is a time of year that it is lovely to be outside so I was inspired to choose books on that theme. Isaac, however, was not as inspired.

He did like, love actually, Shark Vs. Train by Chris Barton . It is such a little boy book. Two boys pull a toy shark and a toy train out of a toy box and proceed to pit them against each other in contests. Which one is better at selling lemonade? Or high diving? The twist, though, is that the story is told from the shark's and train's perspectives. This book celebrates boys' imaginations and we read it just about every night.

Another book he liked from this week's pile is A Dark, Dark Tale by Ruth Brown. I thought he would like it because it reminds me of another of his favorite's, Big Spooky House by Donna Washington. (I've been meaning to write about that one -- maybe I will remember now that I have mentioned it here.) A Dark, Dark Tale is a simple, repetitive story. A little spooky, but with a surprising ending. After the second reading, Isaac could recite the words. It was a good lead up to Halloween books.

We have a new stash of library books this week. I am hoping there are a few more that Isaac gets excited about. We are going to start reading some short chapter books, too, since one of Isaac's teachers has introduced the class to Junie B. Jones. Not my favorite choice, but definitely a crowd pleaser. I brought one home in our bag of books, along with a couple of others I thought we would try. We will see how it goes.

12 September 2010

Whatcha Reading?

I am more than a little pleased tonight. Isaac actually asked to go to the library after school tomorrow. We have been going just about every week this month and bringing home a nice pile of books to read. He likes to go and play and he specifically said that he wanted me to pick out the new books, but he WANTS to go! This is such a huge change from his adamant refusals over the summer that I am grinning from ear to ear. So we will head to the library after taekwondo tomorrow and I will choose another bag full of books to read this week.

Isaac has shown definite preference for a couple of the books we checked out on our last visit. He loves Mo Willems' newest series about "Cat the Cat." These books are simple and repetitive and after one reading he can "read" it to us. I prefer his "Elephant and Piggie" series, myself. They have a more sophisticated tone and drier sense of humor. But Cat the Cat and her friends (Hound the Hound, Horse the Horse, Pig the Pig, etc.) are exuberant and fun and Isaac requested them repeatedly.

Another book that he loved was Wendel's Workshop by Chris Riddell. Wendel is an inventor who has a bad habit of tossing anything that doesn't work. His backyard looks like a scene from Wall*E. He invents a robot to tidy his house, but his invention works a little too well and Wendel gets himself tidied right out of his own workshop. He has an epiphany while sitting on his scrap pile and uses his failed inventions to take back his space. Isaac loved looking at the pictures, especially the last one where the conquered Wendelbot has been made into an oversized flower pot. It is a story that teaches about perseverance and, indirectly, recycling and there is a lot of humor in the illustrations to get children giggling.

The last one I will mention from this week's library pile is Beverly Billingsly Can't Catch by Alexander Stadler. Matt and I probably like this one a bit more than Isaac does because the lesson is very timely for our family right now. Beverly is great at academics, but not so great at sports. She and her friend, Oliver, are always picked last for sports teams, especially softball. They decide to change that by learning how to play the game. Matt and I both appreciate the message that you can learn to do anything if you try hard and practice. You may not end up being the best, but you will get better. Isaac is playing t-ball again and taking taekwondo. We stress to him the importance of trying his hardest at both and I don't think there is another kid on the t-ball field that is as focused and intent on the game as Isaac is each week. Beverly just happens to be coached in softball by a pretty cool librarian who tells her not everything can be learned in a book, so that's another plus for this one, as well.

With school starting and taekwondo lessons and t-ball practices and church functions to shuttle to, not to mention the homework and other daily tasks that we are trying to keep up with, my goal is to try and post something once a week. If we can manage a weekly library trip, hopefully I will have some of Isaac's favorites to write about. So keep your fingers crossed that we keep up this momentum, otherwise we may be reduced to writing about one of the twenty "Curious George" books that Isaac has collected.

04 September 2010

It All Started with a Cat

There are a lot of Early Reader series out there. If you don't know what I mean by "Early Reader," they are the books that often have a number on the front (usually 1, 2 or 3) and are about 48-54 pages long. Think Cat in the Hat.

It has been a long time since Dr. Seuss wrote some of the first Early Readers. Just about every publisher has a series now. There is even an award given by the Association of Library Service to Children for excellence in this category of writing for children named after Theodore Seuss Geisel himself.

These books are great for children who are becoming more independent in their reading. The vocabulary is basic and the format is easy to follow. And there are some authors who are really dedicated to making these books fun for kids. Mo Willems' "Elephant and Piggie" series and Ted Arnold's "Fly Guy" series are two that Isaac loves.

Unfortunately, as often happens when companies see a niche that they think they can capitalize on, the number of Early Readers has exploded. Some are okay, others are so boring they are painful to read, and then there are the rare gems. The real problem is that there is no standard in the leveling of the books. 1 is, obviously, the easiest level, with 2 and 3 getting progressively harder with more difficult vocabulary and longer sentences. But one publisher's "1" may be another's "2," and a level "3" from one company may be off the charts hard for the children they are targeting, usually 1st and 2nd graders, while another's is much easier to read. The artwork in most Early Readers also tends to be less polished and uninspiring than the illustrations in more traditional picture books.

There is one series that I really do like, even though the books tend to be a bit difficult for the intended audience. National Geographic has a non-fiction Early Reader series that Isaac and I have checked out of the library on our recent visits. As with most National Geographic publications, the photographs are stunning. We have read some of the animal books and the information is engaging for children and well-written. Non-fiction books can be hard to fit into the Early Reader category because the amount of information that you can get into 40-50 pages with low-level vocabulary is limited, but these books are packed with facts. Even if they are not being read cover to cover, these books are beautiful to look at.

Time For Kids also has a non-fiction Early Reader series that uses photographs and contains a lot of information. The Time books are also more accurately leveled.

Isaac loves reading about animals, as do many little boys. Soon he will be reading on his own. I am glad there are books like these out there that will interest him.