Learning to Read
Brand New Readers. These are short, funny stories written by award-winning authors with fun illustrations. I like the colored boxed sets, which feel like a gift waiting to be opened. When a kid is learning to read, they need to both enjoy the experience and feel it is within their grasp. These leveled boxed sets provide 10 small books each, perfect for helping a new reader feel successful. Pair these sets with the Bob Books for optimal fun!
You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You… by Mary Ann Hoberman. There are three titles to this cute series: the Very Short Stories, the Very Short Scary Tales, and the Very Short Mother Goose Tales. I love these books for their playful language, bright illustrations and natural joyfulness. The short blocks of text alternate between readers, and they are written in different colors and on opposite sides of the page to make it even clearer as to the rhythm of the story. The two readers can be your child and you, your child and a sibling, friend, or classmate, or if you really need to make them giggle, have your child read one part and pretend to be the family dog or beloved stuffed animal as you read the other (in a funny voice of course!).
Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader by Melissa Taylor. Taylor is an extremely successful blogger, freelance writer and Pinterest guru. She has a deep affection for early elementary education, and provides tons of craft and learning ideas for this younger group of kiddos. Book Love is a self-published work, and totally worth a look for parents wanting to encourage early readers. It is organized into chapters highlighting practical, fun strategies, wrapping up with an extensive list of recommended reading, organized by “obsession.” Love that take. Taylor writes with a fun, fresh, encouraging voice, and will give you a treasure trove of great ideas.
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, adapted by Marcia Williams. This is our favorite version of these stories, contrasting modern narrative with fun illustrated texts in middle English. It’s also full of fun (and sometimes bawdy) cartoons. Even my English Professor Husband has used it regularly with his British Literature classes. Pair it with Barbara Cohen’s translation, which provides the important prologues that Williams’ omits. And don’t forget to check out Marcia Williams’ other great titles, including books on Shakespeare, Dickens, and even some great ancient cultures.
Dogku by Andrew Clements. Filled with adorable illustrations, Dogku follows the adventure of a stray dog who nuzzles his way into the lives and hearts of a new human family. His story is told entirely in haiku and works as a great example of using the poetry form not only as a stand-alone piece but as building blocks for a larger narrative.
A Curious Collection of Cats by Betsy Franco and illustrated by Michael Wertz. A fabulous picture book of concrete poetry, Franco and Wertz do an excellent job of using words as larger works of art. There are 34 poems in all, each describing different activities and habits of cats. The artwork makes this book special beyond other collections of the form and could easily be used to inspire your own concrete poetry art projects.
A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms by Paul Janeczko. If you want to introduce children of any age to the fun world of poetic forms, this is the book to open. Each two-page spread lays out an example of different types of poetry, written in a friendly font with plenty of engaging illustrations. In the back of the book, Jeneczko lists all the forms with further explanations of how each one works. We used this book during National Poetry Month one year, trying our hands at writing different styles of poetry. Even my then six-year-old loved it!
A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems by Paul Janeczko. This book of concrete poetry is a great introduction to the form and features artwork by Chris Raschka. This is one of a short series of poetry books that I enjoy recommending; the other two you’ll find on this list are A Kick in the Head and A Foot in the Mouth.
A Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing, and Shout by Paul Janeczko. The third in the Janeczko/Raschka collaborative series on poetry, this title is for your stage-hound kids! Get them up and in the limelight with pieces that beg to be read aloud and performed in front of a class full of kids or the family dog.
Words, Wit, and Wonder: Writing Your Own Poems by Nancy Loewen. This title is part of The Writer’s Toolbox series, and is written for an early elementary audience. Loewen skillfully and playfully takes the reader through a variety of poetry forms, filling their “toolbox” with helpful skills they’ll need as they create their own work. The illustrations add to the book’s sense of joy.
Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed From a Single Word by Bob Raczka. I love books that make the reader want to participate. Lemonade is exactly what it says it is. On each page, there is a single word, and the poem written from it only uses the letters of that word. Again, as most of my book selections are, this title is well illustrated, providing a visual treat for young poets. And you just can’t help but want to try creating your own poem out of a single word!
Kids’ Poems: Teaching Kindergartners/First Graders/Second Graders to Love Writing Poetry (three titles) by Regie Routman. This series is a great resource for teachers, providing a treasure trove of ideas to help their students not only read and enjoy poetry, but to write, publish, and perform it. There are plenty of great hands-on activities ready for action.
Meow Ruff: A Story In Concrete Poetry by Joyce Sidman. Another example of concrete poetry (one of my favorite forms), Meow Ruff is a quiet story featuring scenes that are comprised of words that describe them. For example, on one page, the cloud in the sky is made of puffy white words that say “just a tiny puff, a swirl of frosting-cloud.”
Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse and Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems (two titles) by Marilyn Singer. Another fun poetry form, reversible poems tell a story frontwards and backwards. For example, the first line of the poem will be the last line of its reverse companion. The second line will be the second-to the last, and so forth. As the poem reverses itself, its meaning can become decidedly different. Both books have lovely illustrations.
Immersed in Verse: An Informative, Slightly Irreverent and Totally Tremendous Guide to Living the Poet’s Life by Allan Wolf. I highly recommend this title for your more serious poets! It’s hip, intelligent, and frankly makes me want to wear a beret and keep a poetry notebook in my back pocket. Though a lengthier title, its language, layout and fun illustrations make it a page-turner.
National Novel Writing Month: The Young Writers’s Program (NaNoWriMo). This wonderfully supportive online piece of magic is the framework in which Eva started her young author career. She began the program when she was six, and has used it each year since, writing, illustrating, and self-publishing picture books, chapter books, and collections of short stories. I can’t recommend this enough. NaNoWriMo provides free downloadable, age differentiated workbooks that help kids plan out their stories. Come November 1st, participants write like mad, updating their word count goals and supporting their fellow young writers. NaNoWriMo offers supportive emails (from famous authors) all throughout the month, and gives out prize digital badges at the end, along with a coupon for a free self-published copy of your book! To read more about NaNoWriMo and why and how we use it as the foundation for our English studies each year, check out the full review here.
Eva Ridenhour’s Writing Lessons video series. When Eva was 8 years old, she produced a series of five two-minute videos about the craft of writing. She starts with the basics of plot, character and setting, and goes on to discuss outlines and drafting, editing, illustrating, self-publishing, and marketing. Since the videos were launched, they’ve received 4,600 views, and have been watched across the United States and around the world. She’s received notes from kids and parents in Australia, Brazil, Cardiff, Ecuador, Spain, Korea, and Germany, in addition to the folks closer to home. She even got special notice from our author-hero Neil Gaiman, who sent her a personal congrats tweet, and from Debbie Dadey of Bailey School Kids fame. Adora Svitak has used her videos in some of her talks about youth empowerment in education, and National Novel Writing Month invited her to guest blog on their site, The Office of Letters and Light.
What Do Authors and Illustrators Do? by Eileen Christelow. A great book for any age, this is is a reprint combination of two books: What Do Authors Do? and What Do Illustrators Do? by the same author. The combination of fun text and illustrations helps the reader feel the excitement of creating a new book. It also walks her step by step through the process, providing a clear picture of how a book comes to life.
Writer’s Toolbox (series) by Nancy Loewen. For grades 2-4, this series helps budding authors learn how write all sorts of things. There are titles to teach kids how to write fairy tales, picture books, scary stories, poems, and more. 10 titles total. We loved these for their beautiful illustrations, and because they take a real story example and walk the reader through the construction of it. They’re cute and charming, and extremely informative.
Other Cool English Stuff
Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda by Margaret Atwood. One of my all-time favorite picture books (and I have many favorites), Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda is a delightful romp through some of the most creative alliteration you’ll ever read. Though the language is sometimes complex, I read this book to my kids from a very young age. It didn’t matter to me whether they understood everything or not; the experience was about the joy of words and sounds and rhythm. As they got older, they came back to it with new appreciation for the meaning as well.
There’s a Dragon About: A Winter’s Revel by Richard Schotter. Ah, this one also warms the cockles of my heart. Another picture book, in this story a group of young neighborhood thespians knock on the door of a holiday-decorated home and plead for entry. In exchange for refreshment, they’ll provide a play. Of course they are admitted, and the majority of the book is their performance of a massive battle with a dragon who is defeated, but in the end forgiven and allowed to join the heroes’ celebration. The book closes with the kids moving on to the next house. The illustrations are delightful, and the play incredibly cute. Our family joined up with another a couple of years back and actually performed this play for our neighborhood friends. It was a wonderful experience for us, and made the holidays playful and rich in a season that begs for warmth. Note: IndieBound doesn’t carry this book, which has been out of print for awhile. I’m sending you on to ABE Books, which is a fabulous site for harder-to-find books.
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