Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Lion's Tales: May 23-30

This weekly recap is where I blog about anything and everything from the past week. Could be about books, my kids, my garden... Random things in my life that don't fill enough space for their own post!

1. Last weekend was Abby's 5th birthday and party. How can my firstborn be so old already?! I remember the day we brought her home from the hospital, the purple and yellow irises in my flower garden were in full bloom to welcome us home... Anyway, last Saturday was a fantastic day for inviting friends to our family's lakehouse. I'll do a post in a couple days about the party theme and such (My Little Pony), but for now I'll just say it probably couldn't have gone any more perfectly.

2. A little over a week ago Rocky and I celebrated our 10th anniversary. We went out to dinner and used gift cards to get expensive things to eat that we wouldn't usually cook at home. That's how we roll. :)

3. I'm about 7 weeks into my Usborne adventure, and it has gone amazingly well! When I started, we set a specific dollar amount for start-up costs, and everything I've gotten since then (supplies, samples, etc) I've purchased/earned with my commission and as freebies. I've now reached the point where I have everything I need, so any commission I earn is straight up income. I reached a few milestones with sales and the company rewarded me with free stuff. They are all so encouraging!! If you'd like the opportunity to earn some extra income for your family and get free stuff too, let me know. There are no monthly quotas to meet or anything, it's actually very laid back and that's one of my favorite things about Usborne as a home-based business.

4.  I've been having issues with my eyes. I should start by saying I got my first pair of glasses when I was 7 years old and have been wearing contacts since 16. At first I attributed my troubles to allergies (which I have never ever had in my whole life but everyone has been saying this has been a terrible spring for them...). My eyes were really red and I had people ask if I was okay because it looked like I had been crying. I left my contacts out for awhile and got some drops. Things were kind of getting better, but then I was having trouble with blurry vision, as if my glasses prescription wasn't strong enough (I have horrible eyes anyway). I was afraid to drive for a couple of days because I couldn't see well. I got checked out and the eye doctor gave me a prescription for a stronger eye drop which has finally been working.

We think what happened is that I actually had an allergic reaction to a new brand of contact solution (I just got whatever was on sale when I needed more!), and the allergies and dry eyes compounded things. So I have to wear my glasses for a couple more weeks and then will get new contacts. Yuck! But I'm thankful it's nothing more serious.

Usborne Book Giveaway! {closed}

As an Usborne Books & More Independent Consultant, I've already been exposed to hundreds of amazing kids books. And I want to give you the opportunity to win one!

ABEA's writing prompt for today is Book to Movie Adaptations. One of the things Usborne is known for is their books have NO tie-ins to media. With the fairy tale book shown below, my kids have learned that there is often more to the story than what Disney portrays.

Giveaway Rules:
  • Only open to residents of the US. Sorry my international friends!
  • This giveaway will run from Saturday May 30 through Friday June 5, 2015. 
  • Once I notify the winner, that person will have 48 hours to respond before I choose a new name.
  • One entry per person please.
  • You do not need to have participated in this weekend's ABEA to participate in this giveaway. 
  • I have the titles below available, let me know in the form which one you would choose if you win (and if you don't win, you can always purchase them through the links provided!)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Quality Kids Book Characters

Armchair BEACharacter Chatter Prompt: "It's time to give your favorite characters some love! Characters are essential to a story, and they can make or break a book for some readers. Now's your chance to shine the spotlight on your favorite characters, or maybe your least favorite. Who's your favorite couple? What are the components of a well written character? What are you favorite or least favorite cliches associated with characters?"

It's easy for me to think about the adult and young adult books I've enjoyed over the years and the characters that have stuck out to me. They're always people I can relate to, that think and talk and act like me (or think and talk and act like I want to be!).

But this prompt today got me wondering about characters in kids books. Not juvenile chapter books, but actual kids picture books. I worked in the children's area of the library for two years and have a 3- and 5-year-old, so picture books are huge in our home.

Picture books don't leave much space for true character development, unless they are part of a series (Fancy Nancy, Llama Llama, and Ladybug Girl come to mind as current favorites around here). So does that mean a stand-alone picture book can't have a well written character? I don't think that's true. Many picture book authors do focus more on the storyline (understandably, with often only 32 pages or less to start and finish the plot!), but I do think it's possible to have both in a single book.

Typically I notice one trait is revealed about a character. Eric Carle's The Greedy Snake goes so far as to mention it in the title. In Loreen Long's Otis and the Puppy (part of a series, but we only have this single book), we see Otis afraid of the dark but overcoming his fear to help his friend. Ferdinand is not your typical mean bull, but loves to smell flowers.

What kids picture book characters can you think of who actually have personality? 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Introduction from My Armchair

Armchair BEA
Apparently in the book world there is this big thing happening this weekend called BEA (Book Expo America). Since there are many many book bloggers around the world who can't come to New York to participate in the expo, there is a wonderful thing called Armchair BEA -- "Book bloggers unable to attend the BEA Bloggers Conference or Book Expo America (BEA) in New York City, but would like to ‘meet’ other book bloggers and publishers to discuss books and book blogging can participate in this virtual event."

My intro post was supposed to happen yesterday, but hey better late than never right? :)

Introduction Questions

Tell us a bit about yourself: How long have you been blogging? Where are you from? How did you get into blogging? Hi everyone, I'm proud to be from Michigan all of my life. (As in the State of. Not the University of. Those of you from around here will understand.)
I've been blogging off and on since 2007. My old blog was a mish-mash of things as I tried to find my niche, from my favorite songs to gardening and cooking to random thoughts and life as a new mom. In 2013 I started my part-time job as a youth services parapro at our local library, so I started this here blog to document my storytime plans and other fun things I did. Then April 1st of this year I left the library to stay at home with my kids more, and so my posts have looked a little different recently!

Share your favorite blog post on your blog. (aka written by you!) Ooo this is a toughie. The majority of my posts over the last two years have been storytime plans so they're not all that exciting. But now I have the time to write more in-depth posts, and just in the last week I wrote a mini-series I've called Raising Readers, with literacy tips for preschoolers and babies and some fun pictures of me as a kid.

What is your favorite genre and why? I've gone through seasons of enjoying fantasy (Harry Potter, Eragon) and dystopian YA (Divergent, Legend), but what I fall back on and enjoy the most is historical fiction. See the next question...

What book are you reading right now? I'm in the middle of Lynn Austin's Keepers of the Covenant (Restoration Chronicles #2). This series is set in the ancient middle east, during the time when the Jewish exiles begin to return to Jerusalem. Austin is one of my all-time favorite fiction authors.

Take a picture of your bookshelf and share it with us! :) (#ABEAShelfie) How about my kids' shelves??
Do your kids shelves always look like this too?!

Library Love
Prompt: "Librarians are awesome. Not only are they helpful, they're very fun to talk to and give great recommendations. Show your library some love, and the wonderful men and women that run it. Why is your library fantastic? Got any funny stories? Feature your library on your blog? Do an interview with a librarian?"

I'm probably a little biased, since I got to work in the most beautiful library around for two years.
The main building was built in 1918, and the addition with the children's area came in 2007. It backs up to a river, and my desk faced the giant windows that overlook it.

It was really really hard to leave -- I loved what I did there -- but I came to the realization that my own kids needed me more during this stage of their lives. I can always go back to a library someday, but I can never return to my kids' childhood. In the meantime we're still patrons, though we don't stop in as frequently as the librarians would like. :)

Thanks for stopping by, sorry I arrived late! I hope to blog hop around others who are participating in ABEA this year!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Raising Readers: How my 5-year-old learned to read

As of last weekend, I now have a five-year-old. The things people tell you during the sleepless nights and endless feedings of the infant stage is true: the time really does fly by. Abby is getting more and more independent every day, and during the last school year her academic skills have taken off like a fighter jet from a naval ship.

In the last year, Abby has gone from asking questions like "how do you spell ___?" and wanting to watch movies all the time, to holding her pencil correctly as she sounds out and writes descriptions of the pictures she's drawn, and asking for her Start to Read pack of books by her bed at night so she can read them when she wakes up in the morning.

Some of it is probably her genes (*puffs up proudly, and gives credit to Rocky too*), some of it is probably her amazing preschool teacher. But there are probably also some things Rocky and I have done to help her along.

Always answer their questions.
Whether it's "what does 'tree' start with?" or "what rhymes with 'sad'?" or "what is a 'country'?", kids this age are sponges! Every day holds opportunity for them to learn something new. The things about life that we take for granted have to be learned at some point, and you are your child's best teacher.

Describing the pictures to her ponies. 

Take it slow.
I was the child who was writing and illustrating stories at age 4-5. But I had to force myself to not push Abby along the same path, just because I thought she needed to. It's not a race. Am I proud of her abilities now? Absolutely. But if those skills hadn't come along for another year or two I would need to be okay with that (though it would be SO difficult for me...). I also try currently to not brag about her reading to many people, especially not to those with kids the same age, because I know how stressful "mom guilt" and the comparison game can be. All  of my mom friends know she can read -- but I don't need to be posting daily Facebook updates about it.

One of the first books she tried to read on her own.
And it took many tries and many days and lots of help.

Don't push them. 
Learning to read should not be a chore. Even the kids who take to it quickly will have days where they just don't want to try (believe me, we've had many!). It's okay to take the story and read it to them yourself, or set it aside for them to try again another day. But as soon as we start forcing them to finish the book, or the page, or whatever, they will backlash and suddenly reading is no longer fun. They'll be forced to read for school soon enough; let them read at home at their own pace.

Yes she fell asleep like this. 

Let them see you reading.
I'm one of those strange people who loves both her Kindle and paper books. I try to balance my reading time between the two. Both of my girls know the Kindle is "a book", I've shown them the words on the screen. If they're playing nicely and don't need me for a few minutes, I'll curl up in a chair near them and read for a little bit. Hopefully as they see me relaxing like that it will encourage them to do the same.

Playing "storytime" at 3 years old
Keep reading aloud.
I mentioned in my last post about Ellie that a study a few years ago concluded reading aloud to children has been called the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for success in reading -- and I firmly believe that was the case with Abby. However, it would be easy for me to stop reading to Abby over the next few years as she starts to read more and more on her own, and especially once her younger sister is reading too and they're both out of the picture book stage. Instead I'm keeping my eyes open at garage sales -- I've already collected boxed sets of Little House on the Prairie and The Chronicles of Narnia.

What other tips do you have for helping your children learn to read?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Raising Readers: They're never too young

My oldest child turns five next weekend, so I'm taking a few posts to look into the importance of early literacy.

My second-born, Ellie, will turn three this summer. She is surprisingly very different from her older sister (which I suppose is a good thing!) -- brown hair and brown eyes (Abby is blonde & blue), naturally goofy (Abby tends to be more serious), needs less sleep overall (they both dropped their naps this spring), and ever since Ellie was an infant we've said that while Abby never stops talking, Ellie never stops moving.

Playing "library". No I did not prompt them.

Yet even though their looks and personality are different, one thing between them is the same: they both love books. And I firmly believe it's because books have been part of their lives since they were both infants.

One year old. We've gone through 3 copies
of that book -- Goodnight Gorilla.

Yes it's difficult to read to a baby, they seem more interested in tearing pages and eating the books than what's actually happening in the story. But it's more about exposure -- teaching children that books are fun -- than anything. What do you think a child will grow up thinking about books if she is constantly yelled at and scolded for not handling them "right"?

Waiting for me to finish up at the library.

That's not to say we should let our babies rip pages out of every book on the shelf. We do need to teach them to be gentle. Just like we teach them how to eat. How many cute pictures do we take of our kids with mashed carrots spread across their face? And oh how quickly that stage passes...

Post-bath reading, 15 months old

Here are a few ways we can encourage a love of books with even our littlest readers:

Board books are amazing.
Whoever invented board books is a hero of early literacy. Made from thick, cardboard-like "paper", board books are the best kind of book for babies. It is nearly impossible to rip the pages out (unless it's a lift-the-flap board book). Many of our favorite stories are also available in board book form (Goodnight Moon, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Dr. Seuss, etc.). And check your local library -- they might already be a bit beat up, but who can turn down free books that you don't have to store forever?

2.5 years old, "reading" to her baby.
She actually has this book memorized.

Keep more important books out of reach.
Once baby is big enough to crawl and pull up and walk on her own, we know enough to baby-proof the cupboards and doors and staircases. But what about your bookshelf? Keep those board books within easy reach (so she can learn that those books are for her!) and keep your older kids' books higher up on the shelf.

Buy books at garage sales.
Yes I sell brand-new books through Usborne and yes I worked at a library for two years. But I shop at garage sales too. Two weeks before my first daughter was born I came away from a garage sale with a set of board books about animals for $1 that were already well-loved. And both of my kids have loved on them even more, scratching at the fake fur and pulling out the cat whiskers and ripping the binding. Sometimes you've just gotta have those kind of books that you can REALLY not worry about.

Share books with them.
Reading aloud to children has been called the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for success in reading. I'll share more about this in my next post (when I talk about my oldest daughter), but I want to encourage you that no matter how boring it may be to read the same book over and over, or how long your day has been with the kids and you-just-want-them-to-go-to-bed-so-you-can-have-PEACE-and-QUIET... still snuggle and READ TO THEM. Even if it's only one book, make reading aloud part of the bedtime routine. Read a single board book when they're little. I was surprised how well my second-born would sit when she was really young, while I read a picture book that was really more for her older sister. Even now, at age almost-5 and almost-3, I'll sometimes limit them to choosing one book each (and pray that they're short books... :) ) when Rocky and I have had a long day.

Almost 2 years old

I mentioned earlier that both of my girls have pretty much given up their naps. But I still insist on rest time every afternoon. Most days I'll peak in on Ellie and find her sitting on a pile of books in the corner, paging through one, and even attempting to tell the story out loud for herself. Not bad for a 2 year old. That, my friends, is a sight that warms this bookworm's heart.

And yes I'm going to throw in a little pitch for some of Usborne's best-selling books for babies. :)

With over 30 books to choose from, ranging from animals to vehicles to angels and fairies, there is something here for everyone. These sturdy, touchy-feely board books feature bold colors and thick black lines for little eye development.

An I Spy sort of book that has thick board book pages, this one is very interactive as you ask your child to find things like the red car, the penguin with a hat, and the circle-shaped window.

These playbooks (others in the series too) are great for learning about textures and tracing lines - things that will develop even more as a child learns to hold a pen and write.

I am an Independent Consultant with Usborne Books & More. Purchasing these and other books through the links above will pay me a commission. Usborne Publishing Ltd. has no connection with this blog and does not sponsor or support its content.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Raising Readers: My own book-ish childhood

As I prepare for my oldest child to turn five next week, I'm going to be posting a few things related to children and reading. Let's start by looking back in time...

My first Christmas. 
I was that kid.

You know the one -- the introverted girl whose closest sibling is 6 years younger. The one who would prefer to spend her summer on a blanket in the yard reading Nancy Drew or The Babysitters Club or The Black Stallion instead of playing sports or going to the beach

My birthday stash of books. I think I was about 8.
Please ignore the glasses and clothes of the 90s... 

The one who the librarians knew by name, AND knew where I was in a book series and always had the next book ready for me when I came in on Fridays. Oh and the one who would be dropped off by mom at the library on said Fridays while mom went to the grocery store.

My home library used to be housed in this end of the township hall.
The space you see is literally all the bigger it is. A new building was
built after I'd left for college, and I've never been inside. 

It was a glorious childhood.

Yes I spent time playing. Granted, my pretending often revolved around books -- the neighbor-girl and I riding our bikes around, playing Nancy Drew (me) and George (her - though she insisted on being called Georgie). My favorite animals were wolves (Julie of the Wolves) and dolphins (Island of the Blue Dolphins) and horses (Misty of Chincoteague, The Black Stallion). I even went through a phase of spying on my little brother because of Harriet the Spy (I recently found an old journal of mine from probably 3rd grade where I detailed the [boring] things I saw).

Yes we had a tv with an antenna, and a VHS player. I had a childhood that included the weekly Sunday Night Family Night movie on ABC, classic Disney movies, and Saturday morning cartoons. One thing that set us apart though was we had no phone. Our house was almost a half mile off the road and it was too expensive to run a landline. So we did without until my junior year of high school, when cell phones started becoming more available.

A lot of posts have been floating around Facebook recently about the freedom we had as children of the 80s and early 90s, and how sad it is that our kids don't have much of that same freedom today. I do miss the days of reading the day away outside without direct supervision. I do miss the days of trusting the people in our small town with a Mayberry-ish atmosphere.

But wishing for the past won't change our present. I can still raise readers who love where they are in life, within the constraints of today's world. Over the next week or two I'll post a few things that have worked so far in our family.

What was your book-ish childhood like?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Quick Lit: May 2015

My goal for this year is to read 36 books - 3 a month - after only finishing 24 last year. I'm slightly ahead of schedule, with 15 books completed so far in mid-May. Here's what I've finished in the last month.

Return to Me by Lynn Austin
Lynn Austin is one of my absolute favorite historical fiction authors. Her "Chronicles of the Kings" series helped me wrap my mind around which biblical prophets appear with which kings of Israel. Her "Refiner's Fire" series fed my love of the Civil War era. And now this new "Restoration Chronicles" series will shed light on the exiled Israelites' return to Jerusalem. I'm working my way through reading my Bible in a year - chronologically, so the writings of the prophets will appear alongside the historical books - and I love how this book put images in my head of what things must have been like for the Israelites. I already have book #2 requested at the library!

I'm reading a few of the books for older readers that I sell with Usborne, so I can better offer recommendations for or against them. This is a series of 13 books in a sort of Divergent-meets-Harry-Potter. "Sam wakes from his nightmare to discover the terrifying reality: it will come true. Kidnapped from school and finding out his parents aren't who he thinks they are, Sam is suddenly running from danger at every turn. Nothing will ever be the same again. With his life and identity shattered, Sam's salvation is tied to an ancient prophecy. He is in the final battle to save the world, up against an enemy plotting to destroy us all. He alone can find the last 13." I enjoyed it, though not enough to make me want to immediately get the next book. But I can definitely see it appealing to the age group it was created for.

Minna's Quest by K.M. Peyton
Another book from Usborne. I'm always a sucker for a good horse story... "Minna is just a blacksmith's daughter, yet she succeeds in raising a sickly abandoned foal, turning him into the pride of the Roman cavalry. Her stubborn determination and fiery nature burn brightly in the quiet fort of Othona and soon attract the secret admiration of the proud commander, Theo."  I think I will look into the other two books in this trilogy. I do wish it could have been longer, I could see there being more character development and small interactions between the characters that would have added to the story. For a book that's considered Young Adult, this was fairly short at 186 pages.

Linking up today with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy!

This post does contain Amazon Affiliate links. Purchases you make help support The Lion is a Bookworm a little bit without changing the cost to you. I am also an Independent Consultant with Usborne Books & More. Purchasing these and other books through the links above will pay me a commission. Usborne Publishing Ltd. has no connection with this blog and does not sponsor or support its content.