Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Don't Do These 11 Things When Reading With Your Kids

Photo credit: Daddy-David via Visualhunt / CC BY
Studies show, and parents and educators know, that reading with your child from the earliest age is an important part of a foundation for lifelong learning. Not only does it help you bond with your child, but it also helps your child become a good listener, develop language skills, and exercise their imagination. But there are mistakes that parents sometimes make when reading with their children that might hurt more than help. So, to help you avoid making some of the same mistakes I made when my kids were little, here is a list of 11 things NOT to do when reading with your kids.

1. Don't paraphrase just to get through the book sooner. At least, don't get into the habit of doing this. Eventually, kids grow wise to this little time-saving trick. Plus, you'll be focused on rushing through the story rather than on a little quality time reading with your child. And kids will notice this too, even if they don't realize they are noticing it. If your time is limited, pick a shorter book, but put your all into reading it. Most picture books can be read in five minutes or less.

2. Don't shush your kids when they ask questions or make observations. It isn't just story time to them. It's special time spent with you. Your interactions with your child during reading time will not only make those few minutes more fun, but they'll also help you build your relationship with your quickly growing and changing kiddo. Not only that, but those moments magnify the potential for learning.

3. Don't complain when they ask for the same book every night. Some day, you'll look back at those nights, and those books, and wish you could have them back again. Plus, if a kid truly loves a book, that should be celebrated and encouraged! My son used to request the book Used Up Bear by Clay Carmichael a few times a week, and it is still special to him. Even though he's 14 years old, he still has it on his shelf!

4. Don't say "no" to books based on movies or TV shows. My son went through a phase during which all he wanted me to read to him were his Spongebob and Scooby Doo books. Inwardly (okay, sometimes outwardly...) I would groan. I would also occasionally suggest other books. But, hey,  there's no rule that says, "Books based on TV shows don't count." Reading is reading!

5. Don't take over the reading when your emerging reader is struggling to read aloud. It can be slow. It can be aggravating. It can be tempting to tell them every word before they have a chance to sound it out for themselves. But it is important to let them read. Just be sure to choose books that are at their level. It's also a good idea to alternate pages--you read a page, they read the next page--in order to make it more enjoyable for both of you.

6. Don't get upset when your toddler gets bored and wants to climb out of your lap before the end of the book. Story time should be fun. But toddlers have very short attention spans, so if they lose interest in a book--even a very short book--before the last page, don't freak out. Pick it up again later, like at bed time. The point is to make story time something they look forward to, so don't force it.

7. Don't tell your child that a book is too hard for them. When my daughter was seven, we found a book at a yard sale titled The Lost Years of Merlin, by T.A. Barron. My daughter had never read a chapter book on her own, much less an entire novel. But she thought the book looked interesting, and so she set to reading it. It took her two days, and she read it entirely on her own. I'm not suggesting that most seven-year-olds will be able to read a middle-grade fantasy in two days on their own. My point is that you should not diminish their enthusiasm. If you think a book is too hard for your child, but they REALLY want to read it, then read it together.

8. Don't be afraid to quit reading a book before you finish it. Not all readers are going to enjoy the same books, and life is too short to waste time reading a chapter book or novel that you have to force yourself to finish (except when reading for school, of course). If you are reading a book with your child, and they hate it and are bored out of their minds and would rather go outside and scoop dog poop than read another chapter...then feel free to abandon that book! Let your child choose another and move on.

9. Don't get frustrated with your child's progress. Kids learn at different rates, and learning to read is no different. Getting frustrated with them when you are reading together will only make the process harder for them (and for you). So relax, take it slow, and choose books that are fun and reading-level-appropriate so that reading time doesn't become a daily torture session. Also, take some of the pressure off your child by letting them sit back, relax and listen to you read a story.

10. Don't tell them you don't have time. With very few exceptions, parents can make time to read with their children. If you don't have time right when they ask, tell them you'll read after dinner, or at bedtime. And then follow through! Taking the time to do this, even for five minutes a day, will not only foster your child's love of books and reading, but will send a message that those moments are special to you too!

11. Don't make reading together an event for special occasions. Reading together is special, but not in the same way that pumpkin pie is special and is therefore reserved for Thanksgiving dessert. You and your child will get the most out of reading together if you do it as often as possible, preferably every day.

For more of my advice on reading with your kiddos, see my post How to Read to Toddlers (and get them to listen).

How about you? Do you have any advice about what NOT to do when reading with kids?

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

101 Fun Words for Picture Book Authors

Ask almost any fan of picture books and they'll tell you: fun and interesting language is a key ingredient in the best picture book stories.

Picture books, though often targeted at young children who are just learning how to read, don't have to be full of simple, common, everyday words. They don't have to be easy for a five or six year old to read, and their language doesn't have to be limited only to words that a first or second grader will understand. After all, one of the benefits of reading and being read to for a child is that it helps develop his or her language skills.

Of course, context is important. And unfamiliar, exotic vocabulary should be used within reasonable limits so as not to overwhelm your audience with new verbiage. So, with that in mind, here is a list of 101 words that are fun to say AND hear, and that you should not be afraid to use in your picture book manuscripts!

1. Serendipity
2. Monstrous
3. Monstrosity
4. Galactic
5. Reptillian
6. Gargantuan
7. Amphibious
8. Rickety
9. Trickery
10. Misdeed
11. Dastardly
12. Hankerin'
13. Delectable
14. Stupendous
15. Bamboozle
16. Tirade
17. Goose pimple
18. Pucker
19. Salivate
20. Divy
21. Clamber
22. Rambunctious
23. Stealthy
24. Serenade
25. Despicable
26. Kerfuffle
27. Brouhaha
28. Atrocious
29. Beastly
30. Immense
31. Colossal
32. Minuscule
33. Paltry
34. Shrill
35. Petite
36. Precipitation
37. Anticipation
38. Tempest
39. Whimsical
40. Humdinger
41. Whopper
42. Stegosaurus
43. Gale
44. Arachnid
45. Vermin
46. Ruffian
47. Rapscallion
48. Skirmish
49. Lugubrious
50. Stalemate
51. Exotic
52. Excelsior
53. Epic
54. Morose
55. Wretched
56. Infectious
57. Exhilarating
58. Blustery
59. Indeed
60. Resolute
61. Valiant
62. Vigorous
63. Robust
64. Accelerate
65. Quagmire
66. Jurassic
67. Jaunt
68. Barricade
69. Revamp
70. Quirky
71. Swoop
72. Bodacious
73. Ramble
74. Throttle
75. Illustrious
76. Crustaceous
77. Rhythmic
78. Timber
79. Briny
80. Thicket
81. Bounteous
82. Exquisite
83. Cuisine
84. Mongrel
85. Bloodcurdling
86. Persnickety
87. Bovine
88. Aloof
89. Encompass
90. Bombard
91. Ferocious
92. Imperial
93. Wrath
94. Scallywag
95. Perplex
96. Disintegrate
97. Methodical
98. Languish
99. Harrumph
100. Conundrum
101. Incinerate

This list is by no means complete. The English language is a wealth of wordy wonders, and life is more interesting when we make regular use of the treasure trove of vocabulary at our disposal, especially in places where they may be least expected--like in picture books!

What are some of your favorite words?

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Sixteen for 2016

The New Year is off to an interesting start for me. My Christmas decorations are still up, about a week longer than usual. My family room has shrunk in size due to the queen size air mattress taking up half the room. I've had no time to blog, little time to read, and haven't cleaned the bird cage in over a week!

My mother has been in town, and staying with me, since last Saturday. She came down so that she could be here for my sister, who was diagnosed with breast cancer right before Christmas. We've been accompanying my sis to her appointments and trying to be as supportive and helpful as possible as she begins her treatments. So my life has had a shift in focus for the last couple of weeks. And it will be that way for a while.

But that hasn't stopped me from thinking about what I'm hoping for in this year. So I've decided to take a few moments to write down 16 things I hope to do in 2016.

1. Sell another book. Or two. Hopefully one that Corey and I wrote together, and one that I wrote on my own.

2. Redecorate my house, including having a custom built-in bookcase installed in the family room.

3. Do a lot more school visits and author events.

4. Visit with friends I haven't seen in a long time.

5. Take a vacation somewhere I've never been, like to Maine (which could help me with number 4).

6. Launch a newsletter. This was meant to happen in January, but it may not happen until February or March (stay tuned!).

7. Make handmade gifts for my nieces and nephews to give (or send) to them at Christmas. At least, the ones who are under 18 years old. That's...let me count...22 of them, plus one great niece!

8. Finish reading Moby Dick.

9. Send a Moosey surprise to Corey (my coauthor) and Keika (Moose's illustrator).

10. Reorganize the "storage room" to make better use of the space and set up an art area.

11. Fill all the remaining pages in my art journal.

12. Write more poetry.

13. Learn calligraphy. This was supposed to happen in 2015, and it didn't. But my BFF gave me a set of calligraphy pens and ink for my birthday, so this WILL happen in 2016!

14. Write more letters and send them through the mail.

15. Start a new journal for the purpose of blending art journaling with Bible study.

And the most important of all:

16. Help my sister kick cancer to the curb!

What are your goals for the new year?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Best Books of 2015!

I did a lot of reading during 2015, and about half of that reading was purposely aimed at books published this year. So, in true end-of-the-year fashion, here is a list of those books that I read and loved, narrowed down to my very very favorites. If you know me, you know how hard it is for me to pick favorites. To create this list, I avoided overthinking and just chose the two books in each category that stood out to me the most. If you haven't read these books yet, I hope you'll add them to your reading pile soon!

Picture Books

It was a great year for picture books, if you ask me. And that is only partly because of the release of WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? in June (teehee). There were so many other wonderful picture books, many of them in rhyme! Here are two of my favorites, which both happen to be fairy-tale-ish.

LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD by Tara Lazar and illustrated by Troy Cummings is simply an adorable book inside and out. I mean, just look at that cover! The illustrations are charming, the story is sweet and funny, the language is clever and fun. An all-around great picture book! 

THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT is a rhyming book patterned after the familiar rhyme "There was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly." The illustrations are colorful and fun, the rhyme is as close to perfect as it gets, and the story is clever and chuckle-inducing. Love it!

Middle Grade

I tried to catch up on some of my middle grade reading this year too, and I read several excellent books (including a few verse novels). Here are the two that stand out as the best. Both of these happen to be debuts! And they have yellow covers...not sure what the significance of that is, but I noticed it.

THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING by Kristy Van Dolzer has a fascinating premise, a voice that grabs you, and a likable, believable main character. 

RED BUTTERFLY by A.L. Sonnichsen is a verse novel that will draw you in and make you cry, and you may be thinking about this story for days or weeks afterward.

Young Adult

Young adult books, especially fantasy and speculative fiction, are one of my favorite things to read (right up there with middle grade verse novels). The books I read in 2015 did not disappoint!

FIREFIGHT by Brandon Sanderson is epic and brilliant. I read the first book in The Reckoners series,  STEELHEART when it first came out, and enjoyed it immensely (stories about average people battling super villains aren't exactly what I'm drawn to...but it's Brandon Sanderson). This book is even better than the first, and I can't wait for the next one!

It was no surprise to me that I loved WINTER, the last book in The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, as much as I did. This series is partly credited for my recently acquired appreciation for science fiction. Of course, the fact that this series is based on several different fairy tales that are woven together into an epic, romantic, adventure of awesomeness is a definite plus!

What are your favorite books from 2015?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas isn't Over

The wrapping paper hadn't even been thrown away yet before I started getting emails from retailers announcing their amazing post-Christmas sales. "Christmas is over!" they say, and that means bargains for anyone who hasn't had their fill of shopping for the last few weeks.

It may be December 30, and there may be posts all over Facebook about people undecking their halls, but for me, Christmas isn't over. I like to enjoy the festivity of the Christmas season until after New Year's Day.

But as they say in the books and movies, the feeling of Christmas can last all year. And, ironically, the reasons go way beyond any sappy movie line.

Books and movies try to sell you the idea that Christmas "doesn't come from a store" and it's "the season of perpetual hope." They say you can be kind and giving and full of hope and peace beyond Christmas as long as you keep Christmas in your heart all year long.

The problem with keeping Christmas in your heart all year is that it keeps Jesus in the manger. And pretty soon that manger scene is made out of cats or marshmallow snowmen and nobody has any idea why the baby was in the manger in the first place. Or what happened to him after that Silent Night was long past.

People love to quote from Luke chapter two at Christmas, exclaiming the "good news of great joy" and "peace on earth, goodwill to men." That's a nice sentiment to have at Christmas, and it makes a lot of people a little more cheerful, a little more giving, a little more hopeful. But all too often it gets swept away with the paper scraps and pine needles.

Imagine, though, if the story of Christmas swept us away instead. What if we took a closer look at that baby in the manger, and let him and his story into our hearts? What if we could accept that Jesus gave us the manger so that he could give us the cross, and he gave us the cross so he could give us an empty tomb?

That is where the Christmas story leads, if only you would let it sweep you away.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

And the winner is...

Michelle Gantz is the winner of a signed copy of WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?!

Congratulations, Michelle. As soon as I have a mailing address, I will send you your book!

Thank you to everyone who came to help me celebrate my book's half-birthday.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? is Six Months Old! (And a GIVEAWAY)

Happy half-birthday to my very first picture book, WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?!

To celebrate, I am giving away a signed copy of the book to one very lucky winner. And just in time for Christmas!

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to win!

Who will you give the copy to if you win? Or will you keep it for yourself? I'd love to know!

Rules are simple: U.S.A. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway