Pragmatic Mom

November 30, 2009

Favorite Picture Books to Build Vocabulary

These picture books are a fun way to build vocabulary effortlessly.  As always, if you click on the picture of any book, you can purchase it at


Halmoni and the Picnic by Sook Nyul Choi.  An advanced picture book about a girl and her Korean grandmother and how they both learn to bridge the cultural gap with food.  Yunmi and Halmoni’s Trip is about their trip back to visit Korea.  [ages 5-8]


The Absolutely Awful Alphabet by Mordicai Gerstein.  Chock full of SAT level adjectives. [ages 2-6]






Owen and M’zee Non-Fiction series by Craig Hatkoff.  A true story about a remarkable friendship between an old tortoise and a young hippopotamus.  [ages 4-11]


 The Ballot Box Battle by Emily Arnold McCully.   Elizabeth Stanton tells young Cordelia about the fight for a woman’s right to vote while encouraging her to bravely jump her horse.  We have enjoyed all of her books, especially the Mirette series.  [ages 6-10]



Fancy Nancy series by Jane O’Connor.  Nancy’s fancy capers are beloved by all girls, fancy or not.  [ages 4-8]

Any book by Patricia Polacco except Pink and Say which is a great book about her ancestry at the time the Civil War but the content is too violent and sad  for small children.  If you read any of her book jackets, the  biography of each book will tell you about the people in her life who inspired each story. [ages 6-10]

Thesarus Rex by Laya Steinberg.  Lots of synonyms presented by a T. Rex.  [ages 5-7]

Anatole series by Eve Titus.  Anatole is a French mouse with a keen palate.  [ages 6-8]

Favorite Books for Middle School Kids

Once your child can read Harry Potter, the entire universe of books opens up, but what is age appropriate?  I have handed my oldest books that were Newbery Award winners, on the thin side, and with decent size type only to find them a tad too old for her based on content.  I have a tendency to steer what I call “Grapes of Wrath” realism to middle school; I think these books are fine for 4th or 5th grade as a classroom assignment because the teacher provides context, but reading for pleasure should be … a pleasure.  Another reason why some of these books are on this list is that, as historical novels, it will be a much richer experience to read them while learning about that period of time in history class.  But, as always, it’s just a personal call.  I have used the Boston Public Library’s book list as a guide.  As always, if you want to purchase a book, just click on the image and you will be transported to

My original list was quite sparse simply because I’m backlogged with books for grades 3-5.  In a testimony to the power of texting, my Mother’s Helper Extraordinaire (and straight A student) texted her Straight A Student Friends for help compiling:  20 Books I have Read in Middle School and Enjoyed.  She said that she was shocked to get the list completed in 10 minutes.  I will read these books eventually, but they have MHE after it to indicate it’s a recommendation from my 8th grader Mother’s Helper Extraordinaire (MHE).  And who knew we read some of the same adult books?!

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli.  This Newbery Award winner author was born over two hundred years ago, yet her novel, set in Medieval England, is an enduring tale of a son of a knight who becomes a hero despite being crippled and discovers that there is more than one way to serve the king.  Her book makes the medieval times come alive.  I consider this as historical fiction. [ages 11-15]

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.  MHE.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.  MHE.

Deception Point by Dan Brown.  MHE.

The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. I consider this as historical fiction. [ages 11-15]

The Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi.  A mom friend met the author at an event at the Boston Public Library and really enjoyed meeting her and hearing about her background.  She bought this book for her son, a 4th grader.  He didn’t finish the book; it’s better for a slightly older age.   I consider this as historical fiction. [ages 11-15]

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creen.  MHE.

No Small Thing by Natale Ghent.  MHE.

Piper by Natalie Ghent.  MHE.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.  MHE.

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata.  I am a big fan of Cynthia Kadohata so I gave this book to my daughter to read when she was 8-years-old.  Another friend of her’s also read this at the same age.  It wasn’t that long, the print wasn’t mouse-sized, and it won a Newbery Medal.  Right? Wrong!  In retrospect, I should have read the book first.  It’s a story about a Japanese family forced to relocate during WWII, a particularly sensitive subject for me because my mom was forced to relocated during the war.  It has a Grapes of Wrath realism that would be better served for a middle schooler, and it would be a richer experience coupled with learning WWII-era  U.S. history. I consider this as historical fiction. [ages 11-15]

Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella.  MHE.  I did read this book also, and I thought it was a cute love story from the author of the Shopaholic Series.  I personally wouldn’t have guessed that an middle-schooler would like this because I think of this as Chick Lit.  But, to my earlier point, there is not a line between young adult and adult fiction, truly.  This is an enjoyable read on the beach.  I probably would not hand this book to my 8th grader but if she found it on her own I wouldn’t stop her.  MHE’s friends also recommended Remember Me? also by Sophie Kinsella.  I have to say I bought this book to read on a long plane ride and gave up.  It’s not as interesting a story so I’m giving a fair warning.

The View from Saturday by E. L. Konisburg.  This might be Konisburg’s finest work, which is saying a lot given her two Newbery Medals!  This tightly woven story tells the story of four members of Mrs. Oliniski’s 6th grade Academic Bowl team and their unlikely state middle school championship, but also weaves together short story about each of the students reminding us that there is only two degrees of separation between kindness and love.

The Giver by Lois Lowry.  MHE.

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass.  MHE.

The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott.  MHE.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer.  MHE.

Beowolf:  A New Telling by Robert Nye.  MHE.  She notes, “Not as bad as orginal but pretty graphic.”

Maximum Ride series by James Patterson.  MHE.

The Lightening Thief by Rick Riodan.  This is “Harry Potter meets Greek Mythology” and it’s a fantastic read!  It’s such a page-turner that I stayed up to 2 a.m. to finish it!  This is a MUST READ before the movie comes out!

Percy Jackson is an ADD, dyslexic 6th grade hero who has trouble staying in school because, as it turns out, he’s no ordinary human but a half-blood related to one of the big three in Greek Mythology.  He must find and return Zeus’ lost lightening bolt to prevent WWIII.  This series makes Greek Mythology come alive so I’ve included a Greek Mythology book as well.  The level of difficulty is slightly easier than Book 1 of Harry Potter; this book is 375 pages long, normal sized type.  [ages 8-14]

(boxed set of first three books, $11.69)

(boxed set of all 5 books, $51.97)

Holes by Louis Sachar.  The Boston Public Library places this book under Middle School, but it’s also worked successfully as a book club book for boys in 3rd grade.

Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli.  Will Tuppence, a tightly-wound freshman in high school, learns about love and letting go after a family tragedy. [ages 11-16]


The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewert.  MHE.

The Land by Mildred D. Taylor.  MHE.

Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.  MHE.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.  The moms in my book club swooned over this book.  They were reading it for their mother/daughter book club and highly recommended this book.  We almost picked it for our adult book club.

November 14, 2009

Favorite Games: Add to 10

Adding to 10 is probably the most important addition fact set your child needs to know because it helps to break down longer addition sums by creating easy to add groups of ten.  In addition, your child can learn adding to nines by knowing the math facts to 10 and noticing that one of the numbers is one less.  So…if 6 +4 = 10, then 6 + 3 must be 9 because 3 is one less than 4.

These are the games she recommends from her assigned summer homework for  Incoming 2nd graders.

This was my middle daughter’s favorite game.  There is a long slow line of numbers and you fire a number ball to make the two numbers add to ten . This eliminates the ball on the line.  She would play this game well beyond her alloted time!

This is another  fun math game, kind of like a word search, except you search for 2 number pairs (either vertical or horizontal) that add to 10.

November 10, 2009

Who’s Afraid of Justine?

This article is written by my mom friend and neighbor and appeared in Parents and Kids March 2003.

By Roberta Martone Pavia

      My husband and I had tried so long to get pregnant that when it finally happened we realized we hadn’t given much thought to what came next. As we were basking in the news of my pregnancy, it hit us: although we were seasoned corporate executives, we didn’t know the first thing about taking care of a newborn.

     Growing up, I was the last of three children. I had no younger siblings on which to practice. And, since my nieces and nephews lived out of state, I couldn’t practice on them, either. In addition, my babysitting days were a distant memory. So, it’s no surprise that I was somewhat petrified of this seven-pound newborn.

      The first few days were OK because I was still in a haze from the miracle of birth, not to mention the drugs from my Cesarean section. My older sister came to the rescue and spent the first week with me, which momentarily delayed my panic. Also, my husband took a week off from his job to ease the transition.

     My daughter was a good baby. We didn’t realize how good until we heard the horror stories from other parents. Babies who nursed every 10 minutes. Three-month-olds who wailed non-stop. For the first week our daughter did what the doctors said she would: ate, slept, and pooped. And then did it all over again. And, again.

     Still, when my sister headed home and my husband headed back to work, I was filled with anxiety and panic. What if the baby stopped breathing? What if she choked on something? Those first few days I felt like I was walking on egg shells. One false move and I was convinced everyone, including my new daughter, would realize I didn’t know the first thing about motherhood.

   Before my baby’s arrival, I wanted to bone up by studying parenting books. I’m one of those people who needs to do exhaustive research: as a student, I over studied; as a professional, I over prepared. And that’s how I expected to get ready for motherhood. I just didn’t realize I wouldn’t have the time or energy to do either. So, here I was unprepared for the most important job of my life. If I did something wrong this time, the consequences would be dire.

     Those first few days, I lived for my daughter’s naps and was lucky that she was such a sleepy baby. In fact, she slept a good part of the day. And because I wasn’t sleeping much at night, so did I. So much for my plans to repaint the kitchen and strip that chest of drawers. Between changing, feeding, and rocking, I was lucky if I had enough energy to make it to the couch for a snooze myself. What did parents with cranky babies do? All too soon I would find out. 

     Our daughter was a model baby. She rarely cried and if she did it only took a few minutes to figure out why. A messy diaper.  A hungry stomach.  Then one day, when she was about two months old and I was gaining confidence in my mothering skills, she started crying. The cries turned to wails and screeches and screams. What had happened to my perfect baby?

     After 45 minutes of rocking, nursing, and trying to soothe her, I called the pediatrician, sure that he would tell me to rush her to the Emergency Room. The nurse was very helpful and understanding, but I swear I detected some humor in her tone when she said the problem was probably gas. Gas? But this baby is wailing I told her.  “Gas,” she insisted, since I had taken my daughter’s temperature and found it to be normal.

     After a walk outside, a warm bath, and a back rub, I was still panicked and my daughter was still screaming. Finally, as quickly as the crying had started, it stopped. And my little one started cooing and purring once again. Maybe it was gas, afterall. The good news was I had lived through the toughest moment of her little life ¾ and mine as a mom ¾ and both of us had emerged unscathed. From then on, it got easier. I don’t know when it happened exactly, but soon I was able to sleep through the night; something I vowed I would never be able to do again.

  Today, my “baby” just turned ten and not only am I sleeping through the night, but I feel like a seasoned parent often giving advice to those who are a few steps behind me. I warn them that the “terrible twos” are a piece of cake compared to the “terrible teens.” At least that’s what parents who are a few steps ahead of me say. I can hardly wait.

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