10 Books for our Earliest Readers That Are Actually Enjoyable #TeacherMom

Oh, the joys of earliest reading! Yes, they are reading, and yes, it is magical, but spending 8 and a half minutes painfully decoding “yellow” can also feel like a special kind of torture. When said book is also plot-less, or when there are so many words that it will take a discouragingly long time to complete it, it’s even less fun — for your reader and for you.

So where to turn? Here are some of my favorite books for our earliest emerging readers.

#1: Some Bugs by Angela Diterlizzi and Brendan Wenzel

The repetition and rhyming make the words more accessible, and the artwork by Brendan Wenzel are nothing short of delightful!

#2: Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear by Emily Gravett

With the exception of one use of “there,” only the 4 words in the title form this story. But they are played with in a variety of ways with the help of the illustrations (“orange bear.”).

#3: Freight Train by Donald Crews

A few of the words here get a little trickier (like “freight”), but there are still only a few words per page, making this doable a great shared read with your early reader.

#4: Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins

The illustrations take the lion’s share of the story-telling here, and they do a marvelous job in making kids predict what will happen next to that fox. Pat Hutchins was a master at conveying an engaging story with only a few words per page, which is why I’ve also chosen…

#5: Titch by Pat Hutchins

Our very youngest readers will relate to the way it seems like only the big kids or adults get to take care of the big and important things. Until Titch is in charge of a very small seed…

#6: Up, Tall, & High by Ethan Long

Hilarious read that gets kids thinking about comparative terms and perspective. They will love lifting the flaps, too!

#7: Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton

Poor turkey just can’t get it together when it comes to getting dressed. And Sandra Boynton never fails to make us laugh!

#8: Sheep in the Jeep by Nancy Shaw and Margot Apple

The classic adventure of these sheep is perfect for young readers as most of the words rhyme with sheep. Not to mention its hilarious plot!

#9: Cat the Cat, Who is That? by Mo Willems

Seems almost too repetitive, until you reach the twist at the end! Mo Willems has created a great series for our earliest readers here. I would recommend Elephant and Piggie next!

#10: The Mole Sisters and the Rainy Day

I’m a sucker for some good onomatopoeia, and the Mole Sisters really sell it in their adventures! Be sure to check out the complete collection!

These books prove that delightful stories can come in minimal packages. When books for our emerging readers are engaging for kids and adults, they build a powerful foundation for a lifetime of reading. I’d love to hear about your favorites in the comments!

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“Boy/Girl Books:” Fighting Stereotypes While Honoring Book Access

Raise your hand if you have ever said, “There are no such things as boy/girl books.” 🙋

That’s why Leigh Anne Eck’s recent tweet resonated with me so much:

While it would be absolutely unfair to continue telling students that a book is only meant for girls or boys to read it, it would be equally unfair to ignore differences. After all, Scholastic’s Reading Reports repeatedly find that rates of reading enjoyment for boys lags behind girls. Other measurements of reading achievement also show boys consistently behind girls the world over.

In her book, Best Books for Boys, Pam Allyn shares this great anecdote:

“I once entered a classroom and saw a very unhappy eight-year-old boy reading Junie B. Jones. He looked miserable. Now, I love Junie B. Jones, but this reader did not look happy about this situation. I asked him what was going on, and he said: “Because this is my level, I always have to read this same book, and I don’t want to read books about girls! I don’t even want to read a book with chapters in it!” My heart broke for him. If his library had been stocked with books at every level in every genre, his choices would have been greater, and he would have been hooked. He knew exactly what wasn’t working. The problem was no one was asking him what choices he would have made for himself as a reader.

~Pam Allyn, Best Books for Boys

She also lays out a great rule of thumb for our libraries: “at least 30 percent nonfiction, 30 percent poetry, and 40 percent fiction” (with varied topics, levels, and author genders across the spectrum). When I first read this recommendation, I knew my classroom library was severely lacking. It was my second year of teaching, so my collection was limited anyway, but the limits were compounded by the sameness of my titles, like:

  • Tuck Everlasting
  • Once Upon a Curse
  • The Sisters Grimm
  • A Little Princess
  • Ramona the Brave
  • Ella Enchanted
  • Charlotte’s Web

All fiction. All chapter books. All female protagonists. All with some degree of fantasy. It was really as far away as you could get from diverse book access! Fortunately for my students, that’s when I received Pam Allyn’s aforementioned book, and we got to work.

I did not tell my students that most of our classroom library were “girl books,” but I did tell them that my collection was mostly based in my personal interests growing up. And I told them that we desperately needed more poetry and nonfiction in our library. Most importantly, I asked for their help. Between my book and my students, we ended up with a lot of new titles I never would have considered on my own, such as:

  • Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich 
  • Hi! Fly Guy
  • Skeleton Hiccups
  • How Much is a Million?
  • Horrid Henry
  • Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin
  • I Survived the Shark Attack of 1916
  • Flat Stanley
  • Bone
  • How to Write Your Life Story
  • Love that Dog

More importantly, I started to sort my classroom library by genre and to be more mindful in general about which gaps I needed to fill.

What I want to emphasize here is that a more diverse classroom library benefited all my students. What may have started as a hunt for “best books for boys” certainly ended in a richer, more accessible library for everyone. Ultimately, that’s what matters most for building our classroom libraries and addressing those gaps we’ve overlooked.

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7 Ways to Communicate We Care About At-Home Reading–Without Reading Logs

Last week, I wrote about my experience in which my 8 year-old questioned my ethics of signing off on her reading log all at once each week. Olwen, a friend in my PLN, responded,

To me, this really captures what most of us hope to convey about reading at home. But, as Olwen states, having them track their reading in a log at home can send the wrong message. Others commented describing how reading logs encouraged their children to read for the required time — and then not a minute after.

This post is about finding better ways to send the important message that you care about at-home reading — without the unpleasant side-effects reading logs can bring.

#1: Share your Goodreads lists: Post it on your class social media accounts, send texts with Remind with the link, send home the shortened link in a paper flyer. Many parents want your recommendations anyway. But if you really publicize books you love, families will definitely receive the message that you care about reading.

#2: Post a “What I’m reading” outside your door (and periodically share on class blog or social media). Great way to help with your own reading accountability, too! Perhaps you can even see if a student will accept a classroom job of reminding you and updating the title for you.

#3: Participate in #ClassroomBookADay (and periodically post a photo on class blog or social media). This is one of the top 5 ideas I’m dying to implement when I return to the classroom. Click the photo below for details!

via Nerdy Book Club

#4: Participate in Global Read Aloud, World Read Aloud Day, and similar events. And invite parents! I still remember the mom who would come every year on our school’s annual read-a-thon day to tell us the story of Brer Rabbit.

#5: Connect your students to local library resources. Does your library offer services through apps like Hoopla or Libby? Does it host special events that will be of interest to your students? Do they hold storytimes available for younger siblings? Do a little research and help make your students’ families aware of opportunities and updates.

#6: Connect them to audiobooks! Share your recommendations for apps and resources to help them get stories on devices at home. Some current favorites include:

  • Storyline Online is a big favorite around here since it shows the pictures of our favorite picture books while a celebrity reads. Free app on Apple, Android, and Chrome.
  • Khan Academy Kids offers their own line of stories, readers, animal books, and more. Free on Apple, Android, and Amazon appstore.
  • Fairy Tales is a free app, but you have to buy coins to access most of the books. Might be worth investigating, however, as they are fun interactive versions of beloved fairy tales.
  • Libby & Hoopla are especially wonderful options if your library pays for the subscription.

#7: Make reading the only homework. There is substantial evidence that there is little positive effect (and possibly negative effect) of homework for elementary ages. In lieu of worksheets and papier-mâchĂ© projects, make your only “assignment” to read. DO avoid attaching a minimum number of minutes required, but DON’T be afraid to inform parents of the effects of consistent reading. If you share information like the one below, be sure to assure parents that it’s really less about the 20 minutes and more about cultivating a lifelong reader (and that holding a hard line on reading can be counter-productive). 

There are many other ways to help convey to students’ families that you value reading at home. Maybe if you already do a monthly newsletter, maybe start including a reading highlight with a simple tip or recommendation. If you already have a class Facebook account, maybe set reminders to yourself to share what you’re reading there every couple weeks. Keep it simple, find what works best for you, and center the message on the reading itself.

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In Which the 8 Year-Old Questions My Reading Log Ethics #TeacherMom

Pernille Ripp’s recent revisit on reading logs reminded me about a conversation I recently had with my 8 year-old. She watched me sign the reading log like I always do: scribbling 20 minutes for each day all at once and adding my signature.

Her: “Is that cheating?”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Her: “Like, we don’t write down exactly how many minutes I read each day.”

Me: “No, it’s not cheating. You read at least this much every week.”

This was the end of my rushed explanation that morning, but I knew it wouldn’t satisfy her for long. Sure enough, the next time I went to sign, she inquired again. This time, I turned it back to her:

Me: “Right now, you love to read. We read during breakfast, at bedtime, and lots in between. How do you think it would effect how you feel about reading if we were always tracking every minute you read? If I was always asking whether you’d gotten up to 20 yet? If I was always telling you to set a timer and write it down?”

Her: “I don’t think I would enjoy that. I just want to read!”

She just wants to read. And I don’t want to get in the way of that!

We further discussed how in the rare event that she does read fewer than 20 minutes in a day, it is not worth discouraging her overall love of reading. She now understands that my scribbled 20 minutes a day actually is, in fact, about maximizing her reading — both the quantity and the quality of her time spent.

At this point, some teachers might be thinking, “Well, that works fine if they actually read. What if they don’t?” To this, I would definitely recommend reading Pernille’s post to which I linked at the top — she has a great list of accountability strategies that help her know whether her kids are reading.

I myself used to think that reading logs were a great way to remind kids to read at home. Now I know that they can create obstacles that stand in the way of reading itself. I’m grateful for the lesson, and hope it will help me more thoroughly assess future strategies.

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What the computer assessment doesn’t know about what my preschooler knows #TeacherMom

Turns out my son loves the online preschool we signed up for this year. And I’m glad. Not out of relief that I don’t have to coax him (I was definitely prepared to drop it in a heartbeat before I ever used one of those motivational badges they mail out). But because it’s simply a pleasure to watch him enjoy learning.

He loves the the dancing letters, the rhymes, the songs.

But there is one thing that he does not enjoy: the tests. In fact, I recently watched him go through a brief alphabet assessment, clicking the bottom right choice for every single letter.

The program seems unable to detect the growth I perceive. After all, its assessment does not know…

…that he loves to practice making letters with his body.

…that he walks around sounding out the phonemes for various objects around the house.

…that he often turns his toys into letters or numbers and eagerly shows them to me.

…that he is actually starting to read (he seems to know the sounds letters make better than the names of the letters themselves).

So no matter how slowly the charts might curve upward on his data reports, I know the truth that more is happening than is being measured.

The fact remains that tests simply can’t pick up on growth indicators that trained humans can. We must be careful not to place too much weight (and certainly not too much anxiety regarding our kids’ growth) in what those computers “know.” Focus instead on emphasizing the learning you observe!

Inquiry Into Being a Reader

In between larger series of my PYP essential elements provocations and soon-to-begin SDGs provocations, I’m doing a short series on learner identities. Last week was an inquiry into what it means to be a writer. This week is on what it means to be a reader!

Resource #1:  Reading Interest Inventories

There’s an abundance of reading interest inventories, but they all share the same goal: to help students learn and ponder more about themselves as readers. A definite must for this provocation! Explore a few below:

Resource #2: KidLit Childrens’ Books by Caroline Burgess animation

Resource #3: Night Reading by Brian Rea

Resource #4: Authors talking about themselves as readers (from my post, 18 Best Videos to Get to Know Children’s Authors/Illustrators)

Resource #5: Picture Books

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to be a reader?
  • How does being a reader compare with the act of reading?
  • What is our responsibility to read? (for ourselves? for the world?)
  • How does reading shape our communities?
  • What are the different ways we read?
  • What are the perspectives on reading? Why are there different perspectives on reading?

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What We’re Signing Them Up For & Why #TeacherMom

Is it bad that as I attended a training meeting for an online preschool, I was:

1) reading Free to Learn by Peter Gray, and,

2) internally rolling my eyes while the trainer extolled promises of kindergarten readiness and motivation tips for consistent use from our 4 year-olds?

I probably didn’t earn any gold stars at any rate.

But I’m not in it for performance anyway. I’m in it because my son has started to exhibit interest in letters, and I wanted to see whether this program might further his interest. It is not to replace or even complete with our story time, library trips, or casual chats related to literacy.

If he’s not motivated, it’s not because I need to do more to motivate him — it’s because he’s not developmentally ready for it.

If he’s not “performing” on later tests, it’s not because I didn’t do enough to drill ABC’s with him in PreK — it’s because standardized tests are an inherently poor measure of authentic learning.

These are truths whether we face, as Kristine Mraz put it so eloquently,  lowercase “s” struggles (ordinary variation of learning pace) or uppercase “S” STRUGGLES (systemic barriers that disproportionately impact families and students of color).

However, when we look again at this program with the lens of STRUGGLE, it becomes clearer why we might hope it will aid in closing socioeconomic achievement gaps. After all, it’s free, home-based, and equipped with personal consultants for each family to support their children.

But even so, I would caution all users against being overly dazzled by promises of future academic performance. I would probably be more enthusiastic if the introductory folder (full of opt-in sheets for motivational texts and tips for establishing user routines) also included information on the local library and tips for establishing meaningful literary routines. (I’d like to be clear, I am grateful for the resource to be able to help my son investigate his growing curiosity about letters in a new way; I just don’t attach the same weight to it all that the program seems to expect).

No matter our background, and no matter our kids’ ages, books > programs. Connecting with a good book is much more likely to produce readers than drilling skills.

For other parents worried about kindergarten readiness, here are some other posts you might enjoy based on our experiences with my now 3rd grader:

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