Pragmatic Mom

February 5, 2010

Books That Teach Compassion

Thank you to the reader who suggested a posting on books that teach compassion.  This will be a “rolling” list.  Please comment with your suggestions to add to this posting and we can build this list together!

If you want to purchase a book, please click on the image of the book to buy at Amazon.com.  Thank you!

Hooway For Wodney Wat by Helen Lester.  Rodney Rat’s lisp makes him very shy until one day when his lisp makes him a hero.  [Picture Book, ages 4-7]

 

Halibut Jackson by David Lucas.  Halibut Jackson is so shy that he makes special outfits so he will blend in with his surroundings.  At a party for the King and Queen, he miscalculates and accidentally stands out.  Everyone loves his outfit and requests one so he opens a successful store and learns that he’s not so shy after all.  [Picture Book, ages 4-7]

 

It’s Ok to Be Different by Todd Parr.  A lovely and appealing book that sends a message that what makes us different also makes us special.  [Picture Book, ages 3-6]

 

Yoko by Rosemary Wells.  I have selected this book because it’s about bullying and acceptance.  Yoko is Japanese brings “weird” food to lunch and snack and everyone in her class makes fun of her.  Her teacher frets and comes up with a plan to have an International Food Day.  This is a great success except no one tries Yoko’s food, except at the end, Timothy tries it and loves it and becomes Yoko’s good friend throughout the rest of this series.  [Picture Book, ages 4-7] 

Yoko Writes Her Name by Rosemary Wells.  Yoko is back and this time the story is about “girl” bullying.  Yoko does things differently; she writes her name in Japanese, she brings in a Japanese book that reads left to write, and she writes her numbers in a strange way.  Two classmates think that Yoko isn’t going to graduate from Kindergarten because she can’t write her name.  When Yoko is upset and hides under a table, a kind classmate, Angelo, befriends Yoko and tells her she knows a secret language that he wants learn.  The tables are turned on graduation day when the girl bullies panic that they can’t write their names in Japanese and won’t graduate but Yoko shows them in time for the graduation march.  [Picture Book, ages 5-8]  

Thank You Mr Falker by Patricia Polacco.  Tricia has difficulty reading and Mr. Falker figures out that she is dyslexic which is life-changing.  [Picture Book, ages 6-12]

 

Mr. Lincoln’s Way by Patricia Pollaco.  Principal Mr. Lincoln can see the good in a bully and gently helps him to find his way.  [Picture Book, ages 6-12]

 

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson.  A Newbury Honor book.  I actually have to read this book but my middle daughter had it for a holiday book club because the mom wanted to have the kids think about others who are less fortunate.  The story line is about a happy vagrant living under a bridge in Paris who suddenly has to share his space with a widow and her three children.  He finds that eventually he feels compelled to help the family find a permanent home.  [Chapter Book for Newly Independent Readers, ages 7-10]

Rules by Cynthia Lord.  Having a special needs younger brother is hard on twelve-year-old Catherine.  On the one hand, she protects him by giving him rules to follow so he can fit in better. On the other hand, she’s embarrassed about him.  When she meets an older boy with a physical special need, they connect but is she too embarrassed to invite him to the school dance?  Will her friends accept him?  Is she misjudging her friends?  [Chapter Book for Grades 3-5, ages 8-12] 

The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan.  Percy Jackson keeps getting kicked out of school because something bad always happens.  It’s not really his fault that bad accidents happen when he’s on a school field trip.  He’s also dyslexic and has A.D.D.  When he finds out his special needs are due to the fact he’s a half-blood (half mortal, half Greek God), it’s up to him to prevent WWIII from happening when a lightening bolt is stolen from Zeus.  [Chapter Book Grades 3-5, ages 8-16]

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February 4, 2010

Choosing a Music Teacher

My sister is a piano teacher in California.  She has a three-year wait list and her students have rich and rigorous experience that includes not just the requisite recital, but monthly performance workshops, classical musical competitions, and juried piano recitals to earn certifications of merit.  Her students are serious about piano and practice everyday and the time commitment is a significant one.

Our  piano teacher is less rigorous than my sister because I had to coax my children into taking piano lessons.  Our teacher is less rigorous, and the repertoire is less classical.  My oldest dabbled in piano for 5 years then recently switched to flute with a new teacher who flute studio is more similar to my sister’s approach.  But because my oldest truly loves to play flute, she can commit to high level of dedication and daily practice sessions have become less of a chore for her.

My experience with choosing a music teacher is:

  • Pick a teacher whose personality is compatible with both your child and you.  This is potentially a long relationship and your  music teacher will start to feel like part of the family.  …and breaking up is hard to do!
  • While there are advantages to starting music lessons early, there are also drawbacks.  Make sure that your child’s first experience with music teacher (instrument not mommy and  me classes) is a positive one so your child doesn’t get turned off permanently.
  • I have talked to professional musicians who have said that a particular instrument “called out” to them and sometimes at an surprisingly early age.  Listen to what your child says if she repeatedly asks for music lessons for a particular instrument.  That being said, give your child the opportunity to try many instruments. “Quitting” an instrument doesn’t necessarily mean your child is a quitter.   And transferring from one instrument to another does not necessarily mean starting all over again from the bottom.  My oldest started with piano, took percussion in 4th grade, quit percussion after 1 month, but then found the flute and loves it.  My sense is that she will be playing flute for a long, long time!
  • Getting your child to practice on a daily basis is never easy.  It’s the rare child who will initiate practice on her own on a consistent basis.  Apparently there are bookshelves full of books on how to get your child to practice.  I’ll research and blog on this particular topic later.

This MTNA article can be helpful when trying to select a music teacher.  Link:  http://www.mtna.org/Resources/ChoosingaMusicTeacher/tabid/400/Default.aspx

Choosing a Music Teacher

How Do I Find the Right Teacher?

You’ll want a teacher who will inspire and nurture a student’s musical growth and instill lifelong love of music. When seeking a music teacher:

  • Consult with friends, family and others who are acquainted with teachers in your community.
  • Ask for recommendations from local music teacher organizations, music stores,  schools or churches.
  • Arrange to interview prospective teachers, in person if possible, before making a commitment.
  • Ask permission to attend a recital of the prospective teacher’s students.  (this is a good one because you can “see” ahead as to what kind of progress you can expect from this teacher!)

How do I Interview Prospective Teachers?

Teachers are willing and eager to explain their techniques and objectives. The following are types of questions to ask during the interview:

  • What is your professional and educational experience in music?
  • What is your teaching experience? What age groups do you teach?
  • How do you participate in ongoing professional development?
  • Are you nationally certified by MTNA?
  • Do you have a written studio policy? Will you review it with me?
  • Do you regularly evaluate student progress?
  • What instructional materials do you use?
  • What kinds of music do you teach?
  • What other elements are part of your teaching curriculum?
  • Do you offer group lessons?
  • Do you require students to perform in studio recitals during the year?
  • Do you offer other performance opportunities for your students, such as festivals and competitions?
  • Do you use technology in your studio, such as computers, music instruction software, digital keyboards?
  • How much practice time do you require each day?
  • What do you expect of your students? Their parents?

What is the Parent’s Role?

Parental support in the learning process is vital. Whether or not you know anything about music, take time to listen to your child play, provide exclusive practice time on a quality instrument, and celebrate his or her continued accomplishments.

How is Music Beneficial for All Learners

Today there are unprecedented reasons for making music a part of everyone’s life.

Students taking music lessons now will determine the place of music in America and the value society places on music tomorrow. Regardless of what these students ultimately choose a profession, music making will remain a part of their lives, whether it’s listening to music, attending concerts or serving as leaders in arts associations, and community and church music programs.

Benefits of Music Study:

  • Hearing music stimulates the mind.
  • Music instruction enhances abstract reasoning skills.
  • Grade school students who took music lessons generally scored higher on cognitive development tests.
  • In older people, music helps lower depression and decreases loneliness.
  • Playing an instrument strengthens eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills.
  • Music lessons teach discipline, dedication and enable students to achieve goals.


How Important is MTNA Certification?

MTNA’s Professional Certification Program exists to improve the level of professionalism within the field of music teaching and helps the public readily identify competent music teachers in their communities. A Nationally Certified Teacher of Music (NCTM) has demonstrated competence in professional preparation, teaching practices, ethical business management and lifelong learning. An MTNA certified teacher is your best source to facilitate musical learning in an environment that encourages student confidence, independence, teamwork and high achievement. To date, more than 3,500 teachers across the United States have earned the NCTM designation.

My personal take on MTNA certification is that it is not a deal breaker.  (This article is from the MTNA so take this last paragraph with a grain of salt).  My understanding of MTNA certification is that it’s wonderful but also a time-consuming process to apply so not all teachers are willing to go through this.  Type A personalities will tend towards “certifications” but a certification is not necessarily a stamp of approval  that this is a wonderful music teacher for your particular child.

February 3, 2010

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

My sister sent me this massive tome for my youngest’s third birthday.  I was surprised; he can’t read yet and this book can rival a thick Harry Potter.  But my sister said, “No, no…it’s supposed to be this really cool book that is mostly illustrations.”  I glanced through it and it sat on the back burner bookshelf.

I took it out a few months ago, and it sat on my bedside table for another two months.  The sheer weight of the book was daunting.  Finally, I was in a rush to pack up for my jam-packed Tuesdays when I drive my kids around dropping off one to gymnastics then sprinting to the flute lesson…but secretly I love this day.  The flute lesson is a little island of quiet time; 30 minutes to read a book (which is usually why I blog on a book review on Tuesdays).  So, I grabbed this book because I was in a rush and my pile was down to two books, and what a pleasure it was to read this book!

I call The Invention of Hugo Cabret a children’s literature version of The Phantom of the Opera.  They are both set in Paris; Hugo is set around 1931.  They both sneak around in hidden canals and passageways that they know like that back of their hand.  And They both have deep, dark secrets from the past.  Hugo is almost a book within a book.  The book IS actually mostly illustrations (284!) , and much like the picture books Flotsam or Tuesday by David Weisner, the illustrations tell their own story.  There is also the story which is a fair amount of text, but part of it is broken up by pages and pages of illustrations and some of the story pages have only a scant paragraph.

The story of Hugo, itself, is a mystery that unwinds, layer by layer, into a deeply interconnecting and interesting story weaving the history of motion pictures with themes of magic, believing, and the power of friendships.  It’s really a lovely and riveting story.

The sweet spot for this book would be 3-5th graders, particularly reluctant boy readers.  Don’t let the thickness of the book deter your reader and this might be a perfect story to read together for reluctant readers.  This book won a slew of awards including Finalist for the National Book Award.

To purchase, please click on the image of the book to buy at Amazon.com.  Thank you!

January 31, 2010

6th Grade Science Projects

My Dad Friend had previously suggested The Birds and Bees Sex Talk which was very popular  so I have been hounding him for other topic suggestions since he seems to have his pulse on parenting issues.  His 6th grader just had a Science Fair Day where everyone exhibited their science projects and I bugged him so much he actually blackberried me the projects he saw as he walked around the room.

And here they are, plus a few more that I added.  And might I add that there are a lot of Science Project websites out there in cyberspace. Apparently, this is a rite of passage that everyone is keen to cash in on.  So, I am suggesting science project ideas that do not require major purchases in the form of a kit!  I also have added a few websites with great science project ideas laid out in a very accessible way.

Which paper towel absorbs the most liquid?

What type of fabric best resists stains?

What is the impact of relaxing music on test taking (simple math problems given to groups of kids)

Which material is the best thermal insulator?

Measure speed of fruit rot in a container or not in container

Impact of butter versus  margarine on taste of baked products

Duration of burning by different types of paper

Fabrics – which burns fastest?

Kinds of wood – which burns fastest?

Which eggs float?  (raw, hard boiled, soft boiled, rotten eggs)

Shadow tracing during different times of the day

What attracts the most insect pests  (mosquitos, flies, gnats with sweat, sweet smelling plants, light or dark clothing)

How do different style pencils or grips affect writing fatigue?

What plants are edible in your backyard? www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/bersbach/EdiblePlants/home.html; http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/medicinal/portula.html

Could you survive on just what grows in your neighborhood? www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/bersbach/EdiblePlants/home.html; http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/medicinal/portula.html

Paper airplane science: http://www.easy-science-fair-projects.net/paper-airplane-science-fair-project.html

Which type of food molds the fastest in the same place: bananas, milk, bread or cheese? http://www.freesciencefairproject.com/projects/mold_experiment.html

What effect does music have on plant growth? http://www.freesciencefairproject.com/projects/plants_music.html

I thought these  websites were useful:

http://school.discoveryeducation.com/sciencefaircentral/Getting-Started/idea-finder.html

http://www.easy-science-fair-projects.net/elementary-science-fair-projects.html

January 30, 2010

Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories by Rosemary Wells

If you hear Rosemary Wells and think Max and Ruby , Yoko and Friends or McDuff, you have the right author.  She is an author, like Cynthia Rylant, who has incredible range.  Mary on Horseback:  Three Mountain Stories is a biography of Mary Breckenridge, a nurse during World War I, who provided nursing and medical services to the poor in the Appalachia after her two children and two husbands die.   Her nurses on horseback were the foundation of the Frontier Nursing Service that she created.

At just 53 pages and comprised of 5 very short chapters, Mary on Horseback is series of spare but powerful stories that graphically depict the hardships of the poor in Appalachia. Lesser known than Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale, Mary Breckenridge’s autobiography moved Rosemary Wells so much that she visited Wendover and talked to nurses at the Frontier Nursing Service.  Wells felt that her story should be shared with young people and wrote this story as a result.

I asked my 4th grader what she thought of the book; I had forgotten that she had read it in 2nd grade.  She agreed that while the reading level of the book is for Newly Independent Readers, the content is more suitable for 4th grade.  I think it’s important to provide strong role models for girls so I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Winner of the Christopher Award, A Booklist Editors’ Choice Book, and A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

If your child likes this book, try The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill.  It’s about another woman who courageously goes to the wilds of Alaska to teach in a one-room school house and ends up changing the children’s lives.   The reading level is similar but the content is more interesting than “Grapes of Wrath” graphic because her students are rugged and hardy and completely capable of living off the land.  This is also historical fiction.

January 29, 2010

Non Fiction Animal/Math Picture Books

My 2nd grader bought these books home from her school library yesterday and I pounced on them.  Apparently, there were three available, but she was only able to check out two.  These books combine a really interesting, behind-the-scenes-at-the-zoo, rescue story about a zoo animal baby and marries it with a mathematical concept.  These books are perfect for grades 2-5.

Polar Bear Math:  Learning About Fractions from Klondike and Snow is the story about two polar bear cubs abandoned by their mother at the Denver Zoo and their fight for survival AND about fractions.

Tiger Math:  Learning to Graph from a Baby Tiger is the story about a tiger born at the Denver Zoo whose mama tiger unexpectedly dies of  cancer when he’s just a cub AND about graphing.

The author, Ann Whitehead Nagda, has an interesting background.  She has a degree in mathematics and worked for IBM.  She travels widely around the world then becomes a docent at the Denver Zoo and starts cranking out these books.  She seems like a really interesting person; I’d love to have her for my neighbor!

Here are her other books:

Cheetah Math:  Learning about Division from Baby Cheetahs

Panda Math: Learning About Subtraction from Hua Mei and Mei Sheng

Chimp Math:  Learning About Time from a Baby Chimpanzee

January 25, 2010

Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan

I took a day off the computer yesterday and just read books 2 through 5 of the Percy Jackson series.  I have to say it was the best day ever!  This is a really wonderful series with wide appeal both in age and in gender and the range is ages 8-adult.  There is also no weak link in the series and every book stands on it’s own, though I do suggest reading them in order.  I’ve included my previous book review of the first book, The Lightening Thief, below, and can add that I stayed up way past my bedtime, AGAIN, to finish the last book. They Are Simply That Good!

I’ve added the classic Mythology by Edith Hamilton which I read and loved as a child.  You may as well capitalize on an interest in Greek Mythology and even Roman Mythology that this series will instill in your child.  The Usborne is great for younger readers but Edith Hamilton is THE expert and her Mythology book has greater detail.

I also wanted to add that I bought the 5 book set listed below; the one that looks like it’s in a treasure box.  It’s $52 but the books are all hard cover, so I feel like it’s a bargain.  Also, I never found any of the Percy Jackson books sitting on the library shelves and I was too lazy to reserve so it was easier to just buy the set.  My 4th grader was just as excited as I was to open the box, and she abandoned Harry Potter, Book 6, to dive right in.  She also LOVED them which was very gratifying to me.   I do feel that I’ll get good use out of the books as I’m quite confident all my kids will go through this series at some point and LOVE IT!

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)

January 21, 2010

The Birds and Bees Talk

My dad friend from high school suggested this topic.  He has three boys; the oldest is in 4th grade.  He said that he attempted “The Talk” but his son was really embarrassed and shouted him out of the room.  That got me thinking:   1) I need to The Talk myself.  2) Why re- invent the wheel?  I don’t know exactly what to say either, but why do we parents always try to do everything ourselves?  3) ugh!

This is a big topic of discussion among the 4th grade moms that I know.  Whenever I’m at a mom event and I run into the moms of my oldest daughter’s friends, we all confer among ourselves….have you had the sex talk yet?  It’s requires lock-step coordination because we all know this information will be widely shared amongst the group of about a dozen girls who run a in loose pack.  There are several mom worries:  I don’t want my daughter to feel left out or ignorant; I want to give my daughter correct information because who knows how distorted the information will become; I don’t want to overwhelm her with too much information; and my daughter is less sophisticated than your daughter.  Whew!  Add that to a uncomfortable topic and you get … procrastination!

I’m a book girl, and I bought an appropriate book years ago and squirreled it away for the right time.  But when is the right time?  Does it need a preface introduction, i.e. Sex Ed 101 before handing it over?  Finally, after realizing that 3rd grade is probably the right time and I’m now a bit behind, I just handed her a book and said, “This is an interesting book.  Read it over and then I go over it with you.”  My husband was alarmed by the fascination my daughter had with the book.  Finally, I sat down with her to answer questions.  She immediately turned to the sex section, but …phew!, she was mostly confused by the illustration in the section.  I had to admit, it was a confusing, albeit, scientific illustration depicting the uterus, vagina and penis in cross-section.

My mom friend who is an elementary school psychologist did not get off so easy.  She gave her daughter several books.  Her daughter read them diligently and then asked her, “It says in my book that adults have sex for fun.  Do you and dad have sex for fun?”  This mom is the unfazed type.  Her response:  “That is an inappropriate question and I’m not going to answer that.”

This is the book I used:  Understanding the Facts of Life.    It’s very matter of fact and sciency in a Biology 101 way.  I find that I just read the chapter in question and answer questions, typically explaining the sciency vocabulary.  It’s not embarrassing in any way, covers all the necessary topics, and is very informative.  I do recommend it.  And a neighbor mom friend borrowed it several years ago for her son and it worked well for her so it’s a unisex sex book!

I would love your comments and advice on this topic!

To buy this book, click on the image to purchase at Amazon.com.

For those who want a Birds and Bees “Lite” book, several moms have recommended the American Girl Series It’s a Girl Thing.  I’m told the body changes are limited to body odor.

A thank you to reader, “Nancy,” who recommends The Care and Keeping of You by American Girl Series for an elementary school girl, and It’s So Amazing!:  A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families for a middle schooler and elementary school girl.

Here are two books for boys:  What’s Going on Down There:  Answers to Questions Boys Find Hard to Ask by Chava Castro and My Body, My Self For Boys, revised 3rd edition  (What’s Happening to My Body?) by Linda Madara.

January 20, 2010

Favorite Books For Reluctant Boy Readers

Filed under: Age: Grade 3-5,Age: Grade K-2 — Pragmatic Mom @ 4:21 pm
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I  love to find books that excite reluctant readers.  The key is to find that magic intersection that marries your child’s just-right level with content that matches their interest and a layout that is visually appealing (small chunks of text broken by pictures, larger font size, etc.).  Alas, this is a moving target.  I have an actual person that I select these books for, my youngest son’s best friend’s older brother who is a 4th grader with my oldest. 

My mom friends have had success with these books for their reluctant boy readers and suggests you try them.  If you want to purchase a book, click on the image of the book to buy at Amazon.com.

The Secret of Droon Series by Tony Abbott. If your son is interested in the world of wizards, but Harry Potter is too dense, this is a great series.  The type is large.  [ages 6-9].

 

The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.  Alexander’s epic Prydain series has 5 books:  The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer and The High KingThe Black Cauldron won a Newbery Honor Award and the The High King won the Newbery Medal.   Similar to The Hobbit series but not as intimindating to read, The Foundling is a “prequal” composed of 6 short stories with illustrations throughout and just 86 pages with decent sized type.  If your child likes The Foundling, try the first book of the series called The Book of Three

If your child likes the Beast Quest series and is ready to take the next level up, try this series. 

 

Beast Quest series by Adam Blade.  A great series for a newly independent reader about beasts who threaten a kingdom and a boy who can save them. Here are a few of them. [ages 6-9]

 

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney.  When Eben McAllister is challenged by his pa to discover wonders in his small farming community, he finds the extraordinary in a doll, a bookcase, a saw, a table, a ship in a bottle, a woven cloth, and more.  [ages 7-12]

If your child liked The Enormous Egg or How to Eat Fried Worms, this is a good choice.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. [ages 8-11]

 

The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth.  Twelve-year-old Nate Twitchell hatches a strange egg laid by one of the hens on his family farm that turns out to be a baby Triceratops.  If you can imagine The Mysterious Tadpole by Stephen Kellogg made into a novel in the vein of Homer Price by Robert McCloskey then that would be The Enormous Egg.  [ages 8-12]

 

How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell.  A hilarious book in the vein of Diary of a Wimpy Kid about an young wimpy Viking boy named Hiccup who, like all Viking boys, must capture and train a dragon as a rite of passage.  Hiccup emerges as a hero when his forbidden “dragon whispering” ability and wits saves his village from two gigantic dragons. [ages 6-10]

 The BFG by Roald Dahl. [ages 8-11]

 

 26 Fairmont Avenue by Tomie DePaola.  Beloved author of Strega Nona fame has an autobiographical series covering 1938 through WWII.  Not all the books are in print but you can find them at your public library in the biography section.  [ages 7-11]

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.  This is probably one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life.  When I read it with my daughter, I finished after she went to bed because it’s that good…a page turner you can’t put down.  When I asked older siblings of my kids’ friends about what books they read over the summer, we’d both swoon with fond remembrance about how good this book is.  Although the main character is a girl who’s adjusting to moving to a new small town after her mother leaves her and her father, the story will appeal to boys as well.   Please read this book, it’s fantastic!  This won a Newbery Award but if there were an all-time Newbery Award Winner, this book would win it!  [ages 8-12]

The Trouble with Lemons by David Hayes.  My daugher’s flute teacher said this was her son’s all time favorite book in 3rd grade.  She said he was also a reluctant reader in 3rd grade.

The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill.  Historical fiction about a teacher who comes to rural Alaska and changes the lives of her students.  This book is pretty short with decent sized text.  I’d try it as young as reluctant 3rd grade readers but really great for 4th or 5th grade boys as well.  [ages 7-10]

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney.   Both boys and girls can relate to this humorous “novel in cartoons” series about a boy coping with the social issues of middle school.  [ages 7-10]

If your child liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid, try How to Train a Dragon by Cressida Cowell.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  Rodrick Rules. 

 

 Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  Dog Days

Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  The Last Straw

 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  Do-It-Yourself-Book (To create your own comic book)

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.  I loved this book as a child and it’s being made into a movie which might prompt reluctant readers to seek this out.  Claudia convinces her little brother, Jamie, to run away with her to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with her, not so much as she’s mad, but just for an adventure…to be different.  They discover a mystery at the museum and end up at New York social fixture Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’s house to solve it.  It’s a great read.  It’s about the same level as the Ramona The Pest series. 

I just tried this book out with my 10-year-old and she had difficulty getting into the book.  The plot was confusing to her because it’s told from Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler point of view as a letter she writes  to her attorney, who has ties to the Claudia and Jamie Kincaid.  [ages 9-14]

The EarthSea  series by Ursula LeGuin.  A reader suggested this series; see her comment below.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.  Grace Lin is the Amy Tan for the elementary school set.  Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is an Asian-American version of the Percy Jackson series starting with The Lightening Thief. Where Riordan weaves in Greek Mythology into his plot, Grace Lin uses Chinese Folk Tales into a wonderful, inspiring and heart-warming story that teaches all of us to just… BELIEVE.   This book was listed twice as a favorite book on my kids’ elementary school newspaper.  [ages 8-12]

Rules by Cynthia Lord.  A really wonderful story about a girl whose special needs brother and special needs friend help her to discover the courage to just be herself.  Because the book is set in the present day and deals with topics that public school kids are familiar with such as fitting in, being embarrassed about people you love, and accepting special needs children, it’s very appealing and relatable.  It’s a Newbery Medalist.  [ages 8-12]

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. A funny tale of a dysfunctional family in which both the parents and children plot to get rid of each other.  The kids, naturally, emerge victorious.  Add in a loving nanny, an abandoned baby, a candy billionaire neighbor with a long-lost son and a happy ending.  This book has largish type and illustrations scattered throughout so it’s a great read at the level of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  [ages 7-11]

The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Basil by Wiley Miller.  A completely delightful story of a boy who finds adventure when a man in a hot air balloon passes by his window.  The book has large print and illustrations so it’s perfect for reluctant boy readers.  If he enjoys this book, there is a sequel, Attack of the Volcano Monkeys.   [ages 7-10]

 

Shiloh series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.  This was a book that my oldest daughter’s entire grade was assigned to read.  Pragmatic Mom polled the play date kids that hang out at her house and it got a big thumbs up.  [ages 8-12]

The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park.  Set in 15th century Korea, Korea’s Golden Age, two brothers — one  skilled in kite making and the other skilled in  kite flying — combine their skills to compete in a kite flying contest on behalf of the king.  [ages 7-12]

If your child liked The Kite Fighters, try A Single Shard by the same author which won the Newbery Medal.

 

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park.  Set in 12th century Korea during the Koryo era, an orphan who ends up working for a celebrated celadon potter is able to realize his own potential.  [ages 8-12]

If your child liked The Kite Fighters or The Rickshaw Girl, this is a good choice.

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins.  Set in Bangladesh, a daughter of a sick rickshaw driver strives to earn money for her family.  The length of this book is not intimidating and there are small illustrations scattered throughout to break up the chapters.  If your child can read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this is a great book to read independently with a smidge of help.   [ages 7-12] 

If your child liked Rickshaw Girl, try The Kite Fighters or A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park.

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck.  I have just discovered this Newbery Award-winning author and I have to say he’s an amazing story teller.  A Year Down Yonder is the Newbery Award winning book, and it’s the sequel to A Long Way From Chicago.  While this book is set in a small country bumpkin town during the Great Depression, it’s a hilarious story about fifteen-year-old Mary Alice who is sent to live with her Grandma for a year during the Great Depression while her parents get situated.  Grandma Dowdel is a force to be reckoned with; her resourcefulness is matched by her heart of gold and Mary Alice’s year is filled with enough drama to fill a newspaper.   A Long Way from Chicago is from Mary Alice’s older brother’s perspective during their eight summers at  Grandma Dowel’s farm and the antics they got into.  It also gives a gentle history on how the Great Depression impacted their community.   [ages 8-12]

 

Fair Weather by Richard Peck.   Thirteen-year-old Rosie Beckett and her siblings’ lives are about to change forever when a distant aunt sends them tickets to visit her in Chicago to visit the 1893 World Fair.  Not only are their adventures hilarious, butyou feel like you are stepping back in time  and visiting the World Fair which would be ten times more amazing than our modern day equivalent of visiting Disney World & Epcot Center.  [ages 8-12]

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)

 How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell.  Can Billy win the bet by eating a worm a day for fifteen days?  
This book has very short chapters with illustrations.  The story is really appealing to boys.   [ages 8-12]

If your child liked How to Eat Fried Worms, try The Enormous Egg  by Oliver Butterworth or The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney.

Holes by Louis Sacar.  Every boy who has read this book seems to love it.  It’s on my list to read.  I’ve read a bunch of other titles by Sacar and his weird, quirky characters seem to really appeal to children.  [ages 8-11]

The Light at Tern Rock by Julia Sauer.  A boy and his aunt are stranded tending the Tern Rock lighthouse .  What will happen with Christmas right around the corner?  [ages 7-10]

A Series of Unfortunate Events:  The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket.  This is a series about three very unlucky children, the Baudelaire siblings, who are magnets for misfortune.  In the first book,  The Bad Beginning, their family home burns to the ground with their parents inside rendering them orphans.  It goes from bad to worse when they are left in the care of an evil distant relative, Count Olaf.  Fortunately, the children are clever and resilient and their misadventures have a comic book-like appeal.  [ages 6-10]

If your child likes this series, try The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. 

Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan.  An orphan girl who lives in an orphanage for boys rides a horse named Freedom to safety.  [ages 7-10] 

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.   This book is deceptively thick because it’s 250+ pages of illustrations that tell part of the story that I call “The Phantom of the Opera” of children’s literature.  Set in 1930’s Paris, Hugo Cabret is an orphan with a talent for all things mechanical.  The key to his future, he believes, is unlocking the secret of an automaton “wonder.”  With other interlocking stories that weave together, this is a riveting story about the power of friendships, magic and perseverance.  [ages 8-12]

 

 Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.  Jeffrey “Maniac” Magee, an orphan and an athlete of legendary acclaim, breaks the racial barrier existing between two neighboring towns. If your child is a reluctant reader, this might be a 4th grade or 5th grade read.  It’s about the same difficulty level as the Ramona the Pest series. [ages 10-15]

Non-Fiction

Invaders from Outer Space by Phillip Brookes.   (Level 3:  Reading Alone) 

Secrets of the Mummies by Harriet Griffey.  (Level 4:  Proficient Readers). 

Ice Mummy, The Discovery of a 5,000-Year-Old-Man by Mark Dubowski and Cathy East Dubowski.  Step 4, Reading Paragraphs, Grades 2-3. 

The Titantic:  Lost and Found by Judy Donnelly.  Step into Reading, Level 4.  Grades 2-3.

Tut’s Mummy, Lost…and Found by Judy Donnelly.  Step 4, Reading Paragraphs, Grades 2-3. 

Owen and Mzee:  The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Craig Hatkoff. [ages 6-10]

Owen and Mzee:  The Language of Friendship by Craig Hatkoff.  [ages 6-10]

The website, The Art of Manliness, has posted a list of 50 Best Books for Boys and Young Men:  http://artofmanliness.com/2009/11/15/50-best-books-for-boys-and-young-men/

January 2, 2010

Introducing Foreign Languages to Your Kids (Spanish and Mandarin Chinese)

I  find that learning a foreign language is very similar to dieting.  Changing my family’s lifestyle was key to successfully incorporating foreign language into my children’s hearts and minds.  Like dieting, crash diets (a.k.a. immersion) is wonderful in jump-starting foreign language acquisition however, without proper maintainance, it’s back to square one.  Again like dieting, there are times when I notice that great strides are being made, but there are also discouraging plateaus in which it seems like my children seem to be forgetting large chucks of what they used to know.  Fear not, just like the tortoise and the hare, perseverance will eventually win the race.

For my kids, I introduced Spanish very early in their lives.  We don’t speak a foreign language at home, so I started by creating  an after-school Spanish class at my first preschool by hiring an outside company to teach a class after school.  Then I found this great tutor from Berklee School of Music who was a native speaker and taught part-time .  My tutor who came to my house was much easier than recruiting a class full of kids!  Alas, my tutor didn’t want to commute to the suburbs when we moved.  My neighbor had spent years in Mexico and had a tutor which I promptly hired.  But, she was not confortable teaching small children and suddenly went AWOL.  Finally, we found a great tutor and have been with her for years and she’s become part of our family.  Yet, after many years of Spanish, I can’t say that my kids chatter amongst themselves in Spanish.  I have to coerce them to speak to the waiter at a Mexican restaurant and nudge them at the checkout line at the grocery store.  Still, the other night, the kids thought it would be fun to test their dad on his Spanish knowledge.  (He has never studied Spanish but knows a lot of words from growing up in California, and sadly, he is the only one in our family who can roll his r’s).  So, they fired off one word after another asking him to say it in Spanish and triumphantly correcting him.  It’s a start, I suppose.

Because we don’t speak a foreign language at home, I set modest goals for my children and my tutors:  focus on their accent.  They started so young (my oldest at 3, my middle at 1 and my youngest at birth) and have a native speaker that they are capable of acquiring a decent accent.  Their tutor speaks only Spanish to them, and only recently has grammar been introduced.

To increase their exposure to Spanish since their lesson is just once a week, I found a useful trick.  I only play DVDs in the car in a foreign language.  I figure that they watch plenty of TV at home, so when I got a new car with a built-in DVD player, I only stocked the car with foreign language DVDs.  Given the choice of no screen time, my kids usually opt for Plaza Sesamo which they don’t consider to be babyish because there is no Elmo.  I also found a great 3 DVD series of Spanish Language instruction for kids called Hola Amigos.  My youngest will request it.  We tried other methods;  Muzzy was a brain-overload.  It was entertaining for about 10 viewings but they didn’t seem to get anything out of it because there is just too much information.  But in order to absorb it, they would need to watch it a hundred more times but after 10 times they are sick of the storyline.   I noticed it’s now $24 on Amazon.  I think I paid close to $200.  For $24, I would say it’s worth it, but not for a penny more.

In terms of a class versus a tutor, I have to say that we have always had more success with a tutor AND we have even more success when each kid goes separately.  It’s more expensive that way, but it works better for us because my kids learn at different rates.  We had the same experience with Chinese; each of my kids has a separate turn with their tutor.  We tried to combine the two girls because they had been at the same Chineese school class for three years, but it just didn’t work.  The younger one got frustrated and was miserable.  Once they all had their own slots, they started to enjoy Chinese.  Imagine that!  They used to say that their favorite part of Chinese class was when they were picked up!  One day, when my children are world travelers, I have this fantasy that my kids will tell me how happy they are that they were forced to learn Spanish and Chinese when they were young.  I’ll keep you posted on that one when it happens!

These are the language DVDS that have worked for us.  If you are interested in purchasing them, click on the image to buy at Amazon.com.

Plaza Sesamo series.  You can also check out at your local library, rent at Netflix, or DVR .  Other children’s TV shows are too advanced for beginners but these are perfect for beginners!

My kids actually enjoy this language DVD series:  Hola Amigos. The lessons are geared towards children and are the perfect length.


This was also a good DVD that my son loved when he was about 2 to 4 years old.  The DVD has familiar songs that captivate small children.  You can set it to play in Spanish with English subtitles.  The English is for the adult, but music is a great way to get small children to hear Spanish.  Because they know all the songs in English, I have a feeling they comprehend the Spanish is a magical, osmosis kind of way.

We also found that playing board games in Spanish was a fun way to practice Spanish.

My kids don’t play this DS game ($24.98) a ton, but my oldest said it was fun and she plays it on her own.

Zingo is a good one for beginners, preschool or elementary school age.

I bought a few of these DVDs, The Standard Deviants,  and they will be perfect for middle school students who study grammar.  They are fun to watch but too advanced for beginners or little kids.

I also tried out Professor Toto Spanish Language Kit.  At $199.00, it’s pricey and I don’t think it’s worth the full amount.  My youngest liked the vocabulary builder DVD that just has a bunch of nouns and verbs put into form sentences.  I’d recommend borrowing it from a friend or buying it used on ebay, but there are other DVDs are just as effective and much less expensive.  This was a little dry for my older two.

I know this sounds insane, but once my kids were on their way with Spanish, I figured that if I didn’t start Chinese soon, they’d have no hope in hell of getting the accent down.  My kids are a quarter Chinese so everyone always asks me why I started them in Spanish rather than an Asian language.  My answer is that Spanish is much easier than Chinese and easier to practice in the real world.  My oldest started Chinese at 5, my middle (off and on because she’d strike) at 3, and my youngest at around 4.  They actually like learning Chinese now because they love their tutor.  Sometimes it takes a few iterations to get it right, but it’s worth it!

I found these DVDs to be very useful.  The PBS show Ni Hao Kailan also has a little Chinese language built into each show.

We also have these DVDs.  My son likes them but the animation is very basic.  It was hard to find Mandarin Chinese DVDs for kids; if I had access to Sesame Street in Chinese I would not have purchased these but I use these to mix it up.

Here’s a DS game that we have not tried yet, but we plan to.  My kids occasionally play the Spanish version.

I have not tried Rosetta Stone but I’ve heard great things about it for adults who want to learn a foreign language but at $299 it’s pricey.  Here’s an article on Rosetta Stone, free online learning and iphone apps from CNN.com:  http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/10/23/learn.language.online/index.html

 

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