The Problem with Great Readers Is that We Run Out of Books

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“Mom!” said my 7-year-old, M, when I arrived from work to pick up my kids from daycare, “I checked out three chapter books from the library three hours ago and now I’ve read them all. I have nothing to read!

I checked her backpack to see whether she’d picked out particularly short or easy books, but she had a 90-odd page Bailey School Kids book, a decent length presidential biography and a Katie Kazoo book in there. I asked her to tell me about the books and she regaled me at length with not-quite-summaries of what she’d consumed.

I know. This is a pretty great problem to have. My kids love to read. They’re fast. The challenge it poses, though, is a very real one.

Given a choice, this is the problem to have. Still, finding enough reading material to satiate voracious readers is a real challenge.
This is J. She was the one who happened to have a book in her hands when it occurred to me to take a photo for this post. M was brushing her teeth.

I do what I can to keep my kids supplied with reading materials.

  1. We take regular trips to the public library. Each child is allowed to pick out 7 books. Any more than that, and they lose track of where they are. I reserve a cube of the Ikea Expedit shelves in our living room for library books to keep them in one place.
  2. I haunt bookstores. We visit Half Price Books frequently and keep an eye on their clearance racks both for our home library and their classroom book collection. I invest in books that my girls will want to read again and again.
  3. Their school library is relatively well-stocked, although my daughter J took advantage of a persuasive letter writing assignment at school to ask her principal to invest in harder books.
  4. I donate outgrown books to the girls’ classroom teacher, in part so that she can also snap up more advanced books for her collection when she’s adding to it.
  5. I do a lot of book shopping online. Ebay sometimes pops up pretty fantastic lots of books. I can always donate any duplicates that we have. My girls have tablets, but they just prefer the feel of paper books to reading ebooks on their devices. I limit my Amazon.com shopping to books on specific subjects that I want but can’t find at the library, like foster care or divorce.
  6. Our loved ones know what readers J and M are. They are wonderful about giving them gifts of books.
  7. Paperbackswap.com is a great place to trade in old books for new for just the cost of media mail.

Anyone else have this problem? Any solutions I’ve missed?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Favourite Chapter Book Series: Rainbow Magic

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A review of Daisy Meadows' Rainbow Magic books from hdydi.com

Halloween DIY Costumes - HDYDI.com
M as Amber the Orange Fairy and J as Heather the Violet Fairy.

In the first of our chapter book series reviews, J, M and I would like to introduce you to Rainbow Magic by Daisy Meadows. M and J love these books so much that they even dressed up as characters from them for Halloween a few years ago. It was when I realized that my daughters were actually reading these books, not just looking at line drawings, that I figured out that they could read.

Rainbow Magic trivia: Daisy Meadows is actually the pseudonym for a group of four women who write these books together. They’ve done some really great marketing. There are sticker books and paper dolls and all sorts of Rainbow Magic craziness out there.

M J Sadia
What are these books about? The Rainbow Fairies are one series. The Petal Fairies are another. At the end of the series at the 7th book, Jack Frost's heart softens but then at each series he starts having another kind of the fairies. First is Rainbow, then Weather, then Jewel, then Petal They are about Kirsty and Rachel helping out the Rainbow Fairies and Kirsty and Rachel are trying to get rid of the goblins and Jack Frost. Eventually, Jack Frost has a change of heart but only for a while. This series of books is divided into 7-book series, in each of which best friends Rachel and Kirsty must work together to find 7 magical objects (one per book) to save a group of fairies from the evil Jack Frost and his minions. The books can be read alone, but make the most sense read in order.
Who are the main characters? Kirsty, Rachel and the fairies and Jack Frost and his goblins. Jack Frost and his goblins are the bad guys who are trying to harm the fairies and the fairies and Kirsty and Rachel are trying to stop him. Rachel and Kirsty are elementary aged girls who meet on vacation in the first book, Ruby the Red Fairy, and become fast friends. Their adventures all occur while they're visiting each other.
Do you have a favourite book? Which one? That's hard, 'cause in each series I have a favourite! Well, Scarlett the Garnet Fairy in the Jewel Fairy series. And Amber in the Rainbow Fairy and then we have Goldie in the Weather Fairies and in the Animal Fairy Series, we have Ashley the Dragon Fairy. The Princess series, well there's Elisa the Royal Adventures Fairy. Anya the Cuddly Creatures from the Princess Fairies collection. Not really. They're really quite formulaic.
What do you like about these books? I love adventures. In most books, there are these cool boys who are the superheroes, but actually in this series there are fairies and two regular girls who are against goblins and their really mean master. They're really adventurous and you're inspired to fun things and play instead of things that require asking. You just know that you can do it. I have a soft spot for these books because they're the first one my girls read independently. I highly recommend them to get young girly girls engaged in reading and excited about books.
Is there anything you don't like about these books? No actually. They're my favourite series. No. They're great. Even though I'm a higher level than them, they're so nice. Once you've read one series, it's not hard to see where each of the others is going. I'm honestly surprised that my kids aren't bored with them yet.
How hard are these books to read? Only takes about 20 minutes, so not hard at all. Even though they're easy, they're nice. Beginning chapter books.
Do you think boys and girls would like them? Yes, actually, 'cause boys would like the superhero part and it would get girls to like goblins better and boys to like fairies better. Yeah! It has some pretty hilarious things boys and girls would like. They're really for everyone. I don't think so. They're very much targeted at little girls. The only recurring male characters are the bad guys and the girls' fathers.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Nurturing the Love of Reading

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The Rainbow Magic series of books has been an obsession at our house for over a year now. The seemingly infinite sets of themed books, written by 4 British women under the pseudonym Daisy Meadows, have everything our daughters love: humour, fairies, royalty, clear cut good and bad (but not too bad), silliness, talking animals, and a sister-like friendship between the two protagonists, Rachel and Kirsty.

When our latest acquisition, Melodie the Music Fairy, arrived in the mail last week, I worried that M and J would argue over who got to read it first. Instead, they compromised. M read out loud while J peeked over her shoulder. It wasn’t until after M took a potty break that pandemonium erupted. J just couldn’t keep herself from reading ahead while M was in the bathroom. She lost M’s place in the book. These children love bookmarks, and use them with abandon. Interfere with a bookmark at your own peril. Fail to mark a child’s place in her book, and you can expect to be tarred and feathered.

While the Rainbow Magic books are a clear frontrunner, J and M are classic bibliophiles. J got completely flustered when her grandfather asked what kind of books she liked to read. She hemmed and hawed, trying to limit herself to one category of literature. I told her she didn’t have to pick if she didn’t know, and she was visibly relieved. The girls are as likely to be found with my Complete Works of Lewis Carroll in their lap as Everyone Poops, their Children’s Atlas or anything Dr. Seuss.

It’s easy for me to forget that it’s unusual for 5-year-olds to be comfortable with chapter books or to enjoy independent silent reading. I too was an early reader, and have partially read books stashed all around the house for stolen moments of literary indulgence. My husband got me a subscription to National Geographic early in our marriage, and it was an inspired gift.

I started chatting with one of the ballet dads at the girls’ dance school this weekend. We pointed out our children to each other in the 5-year-old class, and I answered his puzzled look by explaining that my daughters were twins.

“Oh, wow!” he said. “Do they fight a lot?”

“No,” I told him. “They hardly ever argued when they were younger, but they’ve been bickering more since they started school. One will want to read when the other wants to play, and they’ll argue over who gets to pick.”

“They read?” he asked me, incredulous. “And they’re 5? I can’t get my daughter to read. I work with her on her spelling words from school. She learns them, but then she can’t recognize them on a sign or whatever. How did you get them to read?”

We spent the rest of the hour discussing ways in which a child can develop a love of reading. I’ve been asked that question before, and usually just blow it off with a “they had a great pre-K teacher.” While that’s undeniably true, having an entire hour to talk to a parent who was genuinely at a loss allowed me some time to analyze how M and J came to love books.

When I was on maternity leave, I passed the hours of nursing by reading out loud from books and magazines. I was a little surprised that “henceforth” wasn’t in their early vocabulary. We’ve always had age-appropriate books around, though. J and M chewed on their fabric books as babies, and pointed at pictures in board books when they were a little older. We read Goodnight Moon every night for 3 years. Our local library understood children, and allowed them to explore the stacks of the children’s section with abandon. It was there that we discovered the Daisy Meadows books.

Reading was a way to avert tantrums. Sitting in my lap, listening to a story and caressing the pages of books seemed to soothe both the girls. Books were also a way to get a forgivable moment away from Sissy.

When I read to the girls, I always pointed to words as I read them. I expected them to learn to read words passively, I suppose, family lore being that that was how I learned. Their daycare program took a similar approach to kids’ books as we did at home. They were available to the children at all times, displayed where they would catch their eye. In addition, the teacher read to the class as a group daily, and one day a week was designated Book from Home Day. My girls loved browsing their book collection every week to settle on the book they would take in to share with their friends. The classroom winter party included a book exchange.

When J and M began to display an ability to recognize common words in books they’d never seen before, their pre-kindergarten teacher ran with it. She found them somewhat advanced worksheets to work on. Once they were reading comfortably, she allowed them to occasionally read to the class. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish was a favourite. By the time they completed pre-K, a couple of weeks after their 5th birthday, J, M and the other girls in their class were all reading independently to some degree. All the boys were still working on letter recognition, much to the teacher’s dismay. She wasn’t thrilled about the way literacy had broken down along gender lines.

I didn’t even realize that the girls were ready for chapter books until I found them both in their room one day, noses buried in fairy books. At first, I thought they were looking at the line drawings, but J looked up and summarized the plot for me.

It wasn’t until one of the girls’ friends spent the night that I realized that my husband and I had been teaching them about reading without even realizing it. J wanted to read Llama Llama Misses Mama as a bedtime story. Their friend became angry as J embarked on the first page.

“How does she know the story?” she asked.

“She’s reading it.”

“But how does she KNOW?” she persevered.

I asked J to show her the words as she read them, and J took the initiative to point out that the word “llama” repeated, which is why she said it twice. It occurred to me that our little guest thought of reading from a book as one of those magical traits parents have, like eyes in the back of our heads. I know her parents very well, and know that she has a book collection and is read to regularly. She didn’t, however, see books as toys. They were purely for parent-child interaction.

This realization was borne out the next morning. Our guest was a little ticked off that M was staring at a book in bed. I told our little friend that she was reading.

“No she’s not!” she said. “She’s not saying anything.”

It struck me that she had probably only rarely seen her parents read, except out loud to her. They’re outdoorsy, very active people, and on the rare occasion that they do sit down in silence, the television is their source of entertainment. I hadn’t ever thought of the way in which seeing Daddy and Mommy with books in hand, or discussing articles with news magazines strewn across the table, had influenced our girls.

I told the dance dad all of these things, and he confessed that he’d focused on drilling his daughter rather than making reading fun, and that she’d probably never seen him pick up a book. I had my iPad on me, so I showed him a couple of interactive books I’d installed for the girls. I told him that, in my opinion, pointing or highlighting words as they’re read is a pretty powerful tool in demonstrating that collections of letters carry meaning. Also, reading has got to be fun for kids to want to do it. I doubt my girls would have graduated to chapter books when they did if we only had books about dinosaurs. I was a dinosaur kid, but these girls of mine are all about the fairies and princesses.

I suggested to the dad that he consider letting his daughter run free in the children’s section of the nearest public library branch. She was far more likely to stay engaged with something she had picked out.

I forgot to mention one other tactic that has worked for us. The girls generally have television access only on weekends, and can watch either one full-length feature or a couple of shorter episodes. On the rare occasion that they do watch some TV on weekday evenings, the choice is invariably a nature or physics documentary, and we’re likely to follow it up by a trip to the non-fiction section of their bookshelf, or a visit to National Geographic’s kids’ webpage.

What do you do to encourage your children to develop good reading habits?

Sadia, her husband and their 5-year-old identical twins maximize their bookshelf space in El Paso, TX.

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Annoying

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Technical difficulties prevented this post from being published on Sunday, October 10.

M and J are five years old. In all those years, neither of them has ever asked for time away from her sister. From time to time, they have chosen to pursue different activities with one parent or the other, but my husband and I have had to work hard to pry them away from one another. We didn’t give them the option of being in the same kindergarten class (a discussion for another day), and they made it abundantly clear that being split up was not their preference.

M is a talker, and always has been. She narrates the world around her, and has ever since she mastered the sign for “more” and the word “uh-oh”. I’m as extroverted as anyone I know, but even I tire of the constant avalanche of words and ideas. J doesn’t. J listens, and listens, and listens, and if she absolutely must make herself heard, she does. Don’t get me wrong. J is a huge talker too. She’s just better able to pick and choose between her thoughts to identify what she wants to share.

This afternoon, M told we that she was feeling strange. She couldn’t describe exactly how, but I suspected that she was coming down with the ugly cough that’s been plaguing J and my husband. Since he reported that a nap had helped him significantly earlier, I suggested that we have a mommy-daughter read-and-snuggle session. J picked up Enid Blyton’s Melody and the Enchanted Harp and M grabbed Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go. I grabbed the P.D. James novel I’d been snacking on, since I knew that any other of my current reads would have me reaching for a notebook and pen.

We curled up under our covers and settled down to reading. M elected to read out loud. She has a tendency to skip over unfamiliar multi-syllable words, so I haven’t done much with her to encourage silent reading. On practically every page, she had an editorial comment, on witty rhymes, silly words, or interesting ideas. She wished we could have towed our old neighbourhood to our current location so she wouldn’t have to miss our neighbouts. Were Hakken-Craks real? Having years of practice as mother of the terribly talkative twins under my belt, I am adept at carrying on a conversation with one or both of them while reading (or cooking or cleaning).

Halfway through the Dr. Seuss, J had had enough. “May you please read in your head?” she asked her sister. When M ignored her, she repeated her request, adding, “It’s annoying.” M read silently for a couple of pages before picking up her chatter again. J elected to let her be.

Perhaps I should have scolded J for calling her sister annoying. All I could think, though, was that this was a milestone. For the first time, one sister had expressed annoyance with the other. It wasn’t enough for J to want alone time, but I feel like we’re on the path there. It’s bittersweet. I’ve loved this extraordinary acceptance our daughters have of one other, knowing full well that the closer they are, the harder it’s going to be for them as they develop their distinctive interests and lives.

How old were your kids the first time they got on each other’s nerves? Did you/do you think it’s healthy?

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