Friday, June 15, 2018

Summer Reading: Let The Kids Read What They Want

School’s out!

But you’ve got a long summer reading list.

This summer, what’s the best thing you can let your child do? Let them read WHATEVER they want to. (Within reason, of course--I’m not advocating that you let your child read Crime and Punishment or anything that’s not age-appropriate).

So, let me say it again. Let them read WHATEVER they want to.

I can already hear you.

“Oh, but he won’t read that. It’s too many pages.”
“She only likes horse books.”
“But does it have AR points?”
“I want her to stop reading graphic novels.”
“I’m tired of Captain Underpants.”

Let me stop you right there.

The other thing you say is, “I just want my child to be a better reader,” or “I just want my child to love reading.”

Make summer reading fun again by letting your child choose what they want to read. When they choose what they read, reading becomes a normal part of your child’s day, so when they have to read a book required for school, it isn’t so much of a chore.

In a study done by Scholastic, this graph shows the percentage of children who read a book of their choice, non-fiction or fiction, independently in school. As you can see in the last section, “I don’t do this at all,” 61% of students aged 15-17 do not read a book of their choice during school.

Percentage of Children Who Read A Book of Their Choice Independently In School 

From a study Scholastic did on reading books for fun:

“The majority of kids ages 6–17 agree “it is very important for their future to be a good reader” (86%) and about six in ten kids love or like reading books for fun (58%), a steady percentage since 2010.”

And in the same study, here’s what Scholastic discovered about the percentage of children who have trouble finding books they like to read:

“Parents underestimate the degree to which children have trouble finding books they like. Only 29% of parents agree “my child has trouble finding books he/she likes,” whereas 41% of kids agree this is a challenge—this percentage of kids increases to 57% among infrequent readers vs. 26% of frequent readers.”

From all of this information, we can see that:

  1. It’s hard for children to find time to read a book OF THEIR CHOICE independently during the school year.
  2. Making time to read a book of choice is even more difficult the older the child gets.
  3. About half of children have trouble finding books they like. This can lead to negative attitudes towards reading. Or, the child will just stop reading entirely, except when they are required to read for school.

So, how do we help a child find what they like to read? By giving them choices, and not limiting those choices. After all, there is no such thing as “too much reading.” If there is a graphic novel series with 100 books in the series, and your child loves that series, let them read the entire series. You can’t buy the entire series? There are libraries made for that specific purpose. Get a library card with your child this summer, and make it an adventure.

If the book is a non-fiction sports’ facts book with a lot of glossy pictures, such as “Scholastic Year in Sports 2018,” let them read that book. If your child will only sit down with magazines, then get them more magazines to read. And if the book does not have horses? By talking to your librarian or bookseller, chances are, they can recommend similar books. That’s what they’re trained to do.

This summer, I’m encouraging you: forget about the points, forget about whether it is “on reading level,” and don’t worry if it looks like the only thing your child will read for the rest of his life are comic books. Maybe that’s all they’ll read for the rest of the summer, but guess what? It will set them on the path to being a reader for the rest of their life.

Oh, and as for Captain Underpants? The author of that series, Dav Pilkey, is one of the biggest advocates of children reading for fun. This past April I was fortunate enough to attend the Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival, where Pilkey was awarded the 2018 Southern Miss Medallion. He spoke about his own struggles with dyslexia as a young reader and how his librarian's criteria for "great literature" limited a lot of children's literature (see image below). Pilkey now writes books that are 220 pages long, are full of illustrations, and are inspired by great literature (i.e., Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas).

As a Dav Pilkey says, “Reading Gives You Superpowers,” and I couldn’t agree more.  

Dav's School Librarian's Criteria for Acceptable Literature: "Title Must NOT Contain the words MAD and/or Magazine"
Dav Pilkey's Criteria for Great Literature: "Subject Matter Must Be Cool" 

Visit or for more book suggestions for your child and resources for parents. Visit your local bookstore or library for suggestions and let librarians and booksellers help your child find a book they want to read this summer.

Follow Twenty by Jenny on Instagram @20xjennybooks or Twitter @20xJenny for more great books for kids.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

On the highest rock of a tiny island
at the edge of the world stands a lighthouse.
It is built to last forever.
Sending its light out to sea,
guiding the ships on their way.
From dusk to dawn, the lighthouse beams,
  . . . Hello!
          . . .Hello!
           Hello, Lighthouse!

So begins Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall, the story of the life cycle of a lighthouse and its last keeper. Starting with the arrival of a new keeper, the lighthouse weathers it all. Blankets of fog, carpets of ice (and three friendly seals!), as well as the arrival of the keeper’s wife alongside the tender bringing pork and beans. In stormy weather and peaceful weather, the lighthouse beams hello, especially with the birth of a new baby.

Life goes on inside and outside the lighthouse, and after a few years, the keeper receives a letter with the news that a new light will be installed. A light without a lamp or a wick--a lighthouse without a keeper. And so as the story ends, so too, does the keeper’s time at the lighthouse. But it is a new beginning for both the little family and the lighthouse, and the lighthouse continues to beam its light out into the world, calling, “Hello! Hello! Hello!”

Sophie Blackall’s beautiful ink and watercolor illustrations give the book a timeless feel. Her circular imagery repeated throughout the book, emphasizing the cycle of life, the passage of time, of beginnings and endings, is particularly well done. Hello Lighthouse joins a canon of classic books such as Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton, or The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown. With each reading of the book, the reader will discover a new detail in Blackall’s illustrations, and always, there is a feeling of home that pervades her stories and her art, and Hello Lighthouse is no exception.

Looking for a signed copy of Hello Lighthouse?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Slice of Mad Courage: The Royal Rabbits of London

The Royal Rabbits of London by Santa Montefiore and Simon Sebag Montefiore is a new chapter book perfect for children ages 5 to 9 that feels fresh and original, yet follows in the footsteps of The Wind in the Willows and Watership Down with strong animal characters, funny dialogue, and an intriguing plot. Originally published in the U.K., this story begins when a young rabbit named Shylo goes to visit the grizzled, battle scarred Horatio, an elderly rabbit with half an ear. Shylo enjoys these visits because Horatio tells him stories of the Great Rabbit Empire. When Horatio asks Shylo if he remembers the oath made by rabbits long ago to protect the Royal Family, Shylo eagerly recounts the tale of how King Arthur wanted to declare rabbit pie as the favorite meal of the kingdom, but his nephew Prince Mordred loved rabbits. And so...

“King Arthur was a wise king who loved [his nephew] Mordred dearly, so, after a little thought, he declared that cottage pie should be the favorite dish instead. Thousands of rabbits’ lives were saved and cottage pie did become the preferred meal of the British people. The cleverest and bravest of all the rabbits wanted to thank Prince Mordred and so they took an oath to serve the Royal Family of England. They built a warren beneath the castle in Camelot and called themselves the Rabbits of the Round Table.”

“At the very moment that King Arthur freed the rabbits from the Curse of the Rabbit Pie, something magical happened, didn’t it, Shylo?” said Horatio. “Children and only children were given the ability to see those very special rabbits. But it is a gift that lasts only through childhood. As soon as they grow up, they lose that magic and see just ordinary rabbits, like everyone else.” 

Shylo loves hearing stories of the fabled Royal Rabbits of London, and Horatio always listens to him. Shylo is the runt of the litter and wears an eyepatch over his weak eye. His brothers and sisters tease him, but it is Shylo who tumbles into a secret meeting of Ratzis (Rats who are plotting evil deeds against the Queen of England), and as it turns out, The Royal Rabbits of London still exists, after all. Horatio sends young Shylo on a quest all the way to London to Royal Rabbits Headquarters--under Buckingham Palace. 

With black and white pen-and-ink illustrations by Kate Hindley throughout, young readers and parents will enjoy following Shylo in a tale filled with a secret society of Royal Rabbits, acts of bravery, and close calls with evil rats. As Horatio says to Shylo, “Life is an adventure. Anything in the world is possible--by will and by luck, with a moist carrot, a wet nose, and a slice of mad courage!” 

illustration by Kate Hindley

Friday, January 5, 2018

What we can all learn about LOVE from Matt de la Peña's newest picture book

You will linger over the words on each page of Matt de la Peña’s (Last Stop on Market Streetnewest picture book, Love. Illustrated by Loren Long (creator of the Otis the Tractor series), this is an ode to kindness, to the forms of love we share in our families and in our communities that are not celebrated on a Hallmark card. This book shows love’s many and varied journey through the world. The narrative voice in this book speaks to the child and leads the young reader by the hand to show examples of love that a child may not recognize. The images de la Peña uses to describe love are from the child’s point of view. The very first illustration is from the child’s vantage point in a crib looking up at his/her parents, with the words,

In the beginning there is light
and two wide-eyed figures standing
near the foot of your bed,
and the sound of their voices is love.

The narrative voice goes on to call the music in the back of the cab driver’s cab, the color of the sky at sunset, and after playing in summer sprinklers, the narrator says to the child, “the echo of your laughter is love.” 

And yet, love is not just in things seen or heard in the natural world, but most importantly, the selfless actions of one human for another. The turning point of this picture book is where Loren Long shows two young boys, perhaps brothers, the elder holding out a piece of toast to his younger brother, where a figure outside the window walks in the snow towards the bus. Accompanying that illustration are the words:

And in time you learn to recognize 
a love overlooked
A love that wakes at dawn and
rides to work on the bus.
A slice of burned toast that tastes like love.
The full effect of this book is magnificent. Matt de la Peña’s words shine through his gift for lyricism, his finger on the pulse of those small moments that often go unseen, but are, indeed, love.