The Glass Sentence

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 4.50.34 PMYesterday I mentioned how much Blaine and I enjoyed The Glass Sentence, the first book in the Mapmakers Trilogy by S.E. Grove. It was a bit of a risky choice for us: a long novel with a female protagonist (13-year-old Sophia Tims), a historical setting (1891 Boston), and fantasy/steampunk elements (not our usual choice of genre). But we’re glad we took a chance on it.

This book starts with an intriguing question: What if the Great Disruption of 1799 had thrown all of the different parts of the world into different ages? And what if each of these ages had its own kind of map? Part of the fun of this book was entering into this imaginative world.

In addition, this book has a fun adventure story. Just as Sophia’s uncle, the famous cartologer Shadrack Elli, is teaching her to read maps so that they can go in search of her missing parents, he is kidnapped. Sophia and Theo, her new friend from the Baldlands, must travel by train, by pirate ship, by cart, and on foot through foreign ages to find him.

I will warn you that, as a read aloud, this book is a mouthful. It has longer, more complex sentences than the typical middle grade novel. But it’s a good book to read together because its unique world and complicated plot give you lots to wonder about and discuss with each other.

Blaine and I give this book four stars (out of five)—mainly because we did not love the ending. Maybe we will revise our opinion after we finish the whole trilogy. We’re halfway through the second book, The Golden Specific, now. We’ll keep you posted!

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Why I (Still) Read Aloud to My Kids, Part 2

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Bookstore tourists, August 2014

Why do I read aloud to my kids (now ages 11 and 7) when they can—and do—read to themselves?

Reason #1:  For Their Own Good

It turns out that reading aloud is good for big kids too. Research shows that kids’ reading comprehension level does not catch up to their listening comprehension level until late middle school or early high school. In other words, reading aloud gives kids a chance to enjoy more complex books than they otherwise could. Books with bigger words, more intricate plots, more challenging themes. Books that stretch them and help them grow as readers.

As read-aloud expert Jim Trelease notes, reading aloud can “broaden the menu” of books available to kids. That is one of the biggest reasons that I still read aloud to my kids. I find that when I make the choice and I do the reading, my kids are more willing to take a risk on a book.

For example, when I visited Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon two summers ago, S.E. Grove’s debut novel, The Glass Sentence, caught my eye. I picked it up, intending to read it with Blaine. We already had a big stack of read aloud books, so it was many months before we got around to it. Blaine was skeptical at first, but he decided to humor me. Soon, though, we were hooked. We ended up feeling like we’d made an exciting discovery.

More recently, I came across a copy of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web in our local library. I’d read it as a child, of course, and enjoyed the animated adaptation. So, I checked it out and presented it to Larrabee as a read aloud choice. He was agreeable but not wildly enthusiastic. His verdict: “I thought it was going to be boring, but it turned out to be good.” For my part, I found it as T-E-E-R-R-I-I-F-F-I-I-C-C-C as I’d remembered.

There’s nothing wrong with reading a book you know you’ll like, of course. But sometimes the biggest risks bring the biggest rewards.

The Day the Crayons Quit

This month I’m writing about why I still read aloud to my kids now that they’re old enough to read to themselves. Another question you may be asking yourselves is why I still buy picture books when my kids are old enough to read chapter books. The answer: Sometimes I just can’t resist.

The Day the Crayons Quit (and its equally captivating sequel The Day the Crayons Came Home) written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers are two such irresistible books.

As a kid, I always imagined that the inanimate objects in my life had thoughts and feelings. My teddy bear, my pogo stick, the piece of French toast on my plate at breakfast. So I LOVE the idea of crayons with personality!

In The Day the Crayons Quit, Duncan finds a stack of letters. They’re from the crayons in his school crayon box. From overworked red to underused pink to naked peach, each crayon has a grievance. If Duncan wants to color, he’ll have to come up with a creative solution.

In The Day the Crayons Came Home, Duncan receives a stack of postcards. They’re from all the crayons he’s lost—including maroon marooned in the couch, glow-in-the-dark abandoned in the basement, turquoise left in his pocket, and neon red forgotten by the hotel pool. It’s up to Duncan to give them all a home.

These books are clever and funny. They also give parents a great way to talk to kids about other people’s feelings and points of view. And they make you want to write a letter or color a picture or both. Larrabee and I give them five stars!

Why I (Still) Read Aloud to My Kids, Part 1

Blaine and Larrabee in rocking chair
Favorite reading spot, September 2009

I started reading to Blaine when he was too young to follow the story. He just wanted to point at the pictures and practice his new talking skills. (“Quack!”) His pudgy fingers often turned the pages faster than I could read the words.

Soon, though, he came to love stories. He also figured out that showing up with a book in hand was a good way to get my undivided attention. We read his favorites over and over again. We read them until he had committed the words to memory and could “read” them to me.

Eventually he started to enjoy longer books—even books without pictures. During that phase, Larrabee was born. He too grew from a little person who chewed on books and sometimes ripped their pages to a bigger person who listened intently and always demanded one more chapter. The three of us spent a lot of time in the rocking chair in the nursery with a good book.

My boys needed me to read to them in those early days because they did not know how. And they learned so much from books—everything from new words to listening skills to an understanding of how stories work. Most importantly, they learned to love reading. Research shows that reading aloud to young children provides all these benefits and more.

But my boys can—and do—read to themselves now. And yet I still read aloud to them. Why? Over the next month, I’ll explore four reasons.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's LibraryFor my first review, I’ve chosen a book that itself is an homage to libraries, children’s books, and the joy of reading: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein.

I read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library aloud with Blaine (my 6th grader) this winter. It’s a fast-paced, light-hearted book about a group of twelve-year-olds who compete to solve a puzzle and escape from the town’s new library.

The book features a gamemaker/eccentric billionaire (Luigi Lemoncello) and a large cast of kid characters with distinct personalities. Since most of the action takes place in a 24-hour period, there’s not time for significant character development. Rather, the story focuses on how the kids learn to see each other’s strengths and work together as a team.

The overall puzzle is satisfying and there are many smaller “aha” moments along the way as the characters collect and decipher clues.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library makes for a fun read-aloud because it’s packed with references to children’s books—both classics and newly published books. Like the main character, Kyle Keeley, you’ll find yourself stacking up books on your “to be read” list. (In fact, the book on Mr. Lemoncello’s night stand was our next read-aloud. More about that later.) Although we read it together, my son could have easily read this book to himself, and I would not hesitate to give it to his younger brother.

Any book about an eccentric billionaire who sponsors a contest for kids in a fantastical setting calls to mind Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, of course. My boys and I read (or reread) that one last year as part of Gateway School’s All-School Read, so we enjoyed comparing the two books.

Blaine and I both give this book 4 stars (out of 5). It’s a bit predictable at times. Not the type of book that stays with you forever, perhaps, but it sure is fun.

If you like this book, I’m happy to report that the sequel (Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics) is already out. We’re looking forward to it!

For Parents (and Kids) Who Love Stories

Beth and her two boys

One of the joys of parenthood for me is sharing stories with my kids. I love curling up on the couch to read aloud. I love making up stories during long car rides. I love helping them find books in the library or bookstore and reading the books they recommend to me. I love family movie nights. I love reading the stories and comic books they create.

I’m working on a children’s book of my own now. And it’s got me thinking about what my kids and I like in a book, what engages our imagination, and what stays with us long after we’ve closed the covers of the book.

This blog is about the imaginary friends that my kids and I find in stories. It’s a place for me to to share book reviews, original stories, and musings on the task of raising readers, writers, and storytellers.