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The Best Stocking Stuffers for Young Readers

There are countless parenting pitfalls that I’ve fallen into. One is stuffing my children’s stockings with plastic junk, courtesy of last-minute, panic-stricken trips to Target and the Dollar Store on December 23. As my children have gotten older, we’ve tried to teach them to place less value on stuff, and more value on new experiences, quality time together, and doing those things you most enjoy. It became very apparent that my stocking stuffers didn’t pass my own sniff test.

Books make a great addition to any stocking, along with other creative items like new crayons, markers, little notebooks to keep by their beds or scattered around the house, and reading-related products. We’ve hand-selected these favorites because they are small enough to fit in most stockings, and yet pack lots of punch in terms of quality, fun reads, and improved literacy skills. Bonus: they’re all less than $15 (most are under $10!)

Mr. Men and Little Miss Book Series

The Mr. Men and Little Miss book series is such a fun collection of small books, especially for teaching children about personality traits and big feelings in a fun, non-pressured way. Pick up a few for their stocking, and if it’s a big hit, consider investing in the box sets. My kids have made their way through these sets many times over.

DK Pocket Eyewitness Books

The DK Pocket Eyewitness books truly do fit in your pocket or a purse. Great nonfiction resource that covers topics related to science, animals, cars, history, and more. You’re sure to find one that relates to your child’s current obsession.

Bedtime Reading Light

A reading light like this is the ideal treat for a child who loves to cozy up in bed to read, an older child who shares a room with a sibling who goes to bed earlier, and for kids who travel frequently and don’t want to miss out on their bedtime reading when stuck in a hotel room or on a darkened plane/car/train (true for moms and dads, too!)

Mark My Time Digital Bookmark

All four Raising Real Readers kids have these digital timer bookmarks and adore them. Reward your child with added time on their bedtime reading, or use it to ensure your child doesn’t stay up too late reading (even we don’t approve of that happening regularly!) My kids even use them to monitor length of turn when sharing a toy or reading with a parent.

Mad Libs

News flash, parents born in the 80s: Mad Libs are still cool! And now you can find them relating to all kinds of popular characters. Such a fun combination of writing, reading, and creativity. Great for road trips and family read-aloud sessions. This is one product that can work across a wide range of ages, too.

Post It Notes

Talk about life’s simple pleasures! Kids adore post-it notes. My children love to leave notes for family members to find around the house, they use them as bookmarks, and I love these water-resistant post-it notes you can take in the bath or shower (kids do their best thinking there, just like adults!)

However you choose to fill your child’s stocking this year, we wish you a wonderful holiday season full of good reads and joyous time spent together as a family.

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Never Have I Ever: Confessions from Real Parents and Teachers

Social media is full of perfect families, right? They sit down to a healthy meal each night, enjoy meaningful conversation, and then calmly tuck their children into bed. Is that what your house looks like? We’re usually scarfing down grilled cheese sandwiches as we run out the door to sports practices, my children laughing about burps and farts and me rolling my eyes. Sometimes bedtime is sweet and snuggly, and sometimes it looks like a game of whack-a-mole.

Despite our imperfections, we can all wake up each morning and try to do a little better than we did the day before. Sometimes we will, often we won’t.

We’ve always wanted this website to be a real reflection of real families and their day-to-day routine, and how reading can fit into that lifestyle in a manageable, enjoyable way. In that spirit, here are some confessions, both from the perspective of a parent trying to do her best, and a teacher acknowledging where she has fallen short.


Confessions of a Parent/Caregiver

I confess that on Friday and Saturday nights, I literally yell up the stairs as my kids are brushing their teeth, “I am NOT reading to anyone tonight! You’re going straight to sleep!” I’m not proud of that… what I am proud of is that my kids enjoy bedtime reading so much that not doing so requires a forceful declaration.

The preamble to this confession is that while we are strict about bedtime on school nights, we often let them stay up late on the weekends, and so reading for 20 minutes on top of an already late bedtime is just too much for me. I also take solace in the fact that we usually spend at least 30 minutes or more on a Saturday or Sunday reading (sometimes together, sometimes independently), just not at bedtime.

Forgive yourself: sometimes your family’s reading routine can and should be relaxed or altered in order to make it enjoyable, not forced. 

I confess that in the early years of my children learning to read, I have often taken over halfway through a book or quickly told them what a word was as they struggled to sound it out. Let’s be honest, the beginning stages of becoming independent readers can be really excruciating for parents to push through. And yet it is essential that we give children the time and space and as much patience as we can muster to help them develop their skills.

I sometimes walk out of my youngest son’s bedroom reminding myself that tomorrow night I’ll do better. I try to take a big, deep breath before we settle into a 32-page Level 1 easy reader. I’m actually finding it less daunting with my second child. I now see the light at the end of the tunnel. Before long, I’ll miss his hesitations and lengthy read alouds. Soon he’ll be ignoring me in favor of chapter books he can read himself.

Remind yourself that this too shall pass. The more patience and excitement we show emerging readers, the more likely they are to develop a love of reading.

Confessions of a Teacher/Educator

I confess that I was unprepared to teach phonics to my first year of 4th grade students. The class I took in college that should have given me the skills needed to do so was taught by a series of substitutes when the professor became ill early in the semester. Even under perfect circumstances, one semester is hardly enough to cover such a key component of reading development.

So, I armed myself with one of my favorite teacher tool books, The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists, and set to work, trying to find a balance of books my 4th graders wanted and were ready for. I also investigated through reading and writing conferences where gaps in their phonics understanding prevented them from moving forward. My guess is that my confession will ring true to many new grads coming out of teacher training programs.

My advice: know your students, find the resources you need, and ask for help.

I confess that as a teacher, reading specialist, and school librarian, I am just now finishing the Harry Potter series. I read the first book when it became the obsession of students 20 years ago after it was first published. I sort of liked it, but the truth is, I’m just now starting to enjoy the fantasy genre. I watched the movies and faked my way through conversations with students about the books.

But reading the series side-by-side with my oldest child, I have enjoyed these books more than I ever expected. I now get the hype. As a mother I have ached over Lily Potter and Mrs. Weasley. As a teacher, Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall are on my list of role models. I can’t put a value on the conversations my son and I have shared about these books.

You won’t always have the same reading interests as your children or students, but do make an effort to familiarize yourself with their preferred books as a point of connection.

Don’t believe what you see on Facebook or Pinterest. There are no perfect parents or teachers. What is true? We’re all just a bunch of imperfect people trying to do right by our kids. If tonight’s bedtime reading ended in tears and frustration, or yesterday’s phonics lesson was a total flop, remember that the sun will rise again tomorrow, bringing with it an opportunity to try again.

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

If you liked this post, you might enjoy our post full of tips to encourage a love of reading in every child.

Gratefulness Giveaway: Win a Book Hand-Selected By Us for Your Child


It’s been about six months since we launched Raising Real Readers, although it was a dream of ours for years before we ever hit “publish” on that first post. Since June, you have filled our comments, social media channels, and even email inboxes with questions, concerns, fears, and excitement about your child’s reading habits. We are enormously grateful that you have allowed us into your home to be a small part of your family’s reading routine.

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Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

When I was 17, my parents took me to New York City on spring break. We splurged on a Broadway show and saw Ragtime, a musical centered around racial injustice in America in the early 20th century. Never before had my eyes been so open to the mistreatment and brutality directed at people of color. The fact that I hadn’t considered this until my late teens is the very definition of white privilege.

And it’s exactly why books like Angie Thomas’ best-selling, award-winning The Hate U Give are so important. For people of color, this book is an important moment of representation, a chance to see their lived experience in print and on movie screens. For readers like me, who grew up in an upper middle class, mostly white suburb, it is a glimpse into the life of a black teenager living in an impoverished neighborhood. We cannot begin to dismantle systemic white supremacy until we recognize and acknowledge the effects of generations of discrimination, oppression, and violence. This book is just such an opportunity to educate ourselves.

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Books as Treats: Halloween-Inspired Book Recommendations and Reading Ideas for Every Age

I have a love/hate relationship with Halloween. Love the decorations, the thrill of deciding on and putting together costumes, the chatting with neighbors as we trick or treat. Hate the extreme sugar rush my kids come home from school with, come home from trick or treating with, and the fights over how much candy they can have each and every day after.

One way to alleviate a bit of the candy coma is by treating your children with books, and encouraging family (like those spoil-them-rotten grandparents!) to do the same. We typically get our kids a Halloween book each fall, or we’ll check out a stack from the library. Over the years, we’ve built a nice collection without ever spending more than $10-15 each October. It’s fun to read one or two each night in the week leading up, and sometimes for days after if we’re still in the spirit.

Books are a way to extend enjoyment of this holiday in a way that doesn’t give kids cavities.

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Tips for Shopping the School Book Fair

At many schools around the country, librarians are frantically (pulling their hair out) getting ready for the school book fair. And it’s a right of passage for children, too… many of us can remember walking into the library with our class, money clenched tight in our fist, anticipating what treasured book we might bring home.

As parents and caregivers, the book fair can sometimes leave us a bit confused or unsure about how to help our child make the most of this event.

It is an important moment on the school calendar, for two big reasons: Read More

Book Recommendations for Kids Who Love the Who Was Series and TV Show

Every summer my kids tend to get hooked on a particular TV show during their allotted screen time. Last summer, it was Phineas and Ferb and they spent all their free time pretending to go on crazy adventures like those boys do. This summer, they fell in love with Netflix’s Who Was show, based on the best-selling Who Was series of books.

My oldest son had read a few of the books, as both his school library and our public library have shelves full of them. I love that there are such a wide variety, to capture whatever interests your children might already have (sports, art, pop culture, science, etc.). Most are biographies, but some are about historical events or famous places. The cover art is definitely the hook here: the goofy illustrations look like bobble heads, making these otherwise serious historical figures relatable and fun.

Thoughts on the Who Was TV Show

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How To Talk to Your Child About Reading (and Why It’s Important)

I was driving around town with my 8 and 11 year old children, running errands. I was telling them about a book I had just finished reading. My 11 year old says, “I wish I liked to read like you do.” Then my 8 year old says, “Yeah, I don’t like reading.”

HOLD UP. What? I had to pull over. Not because I’m a librarian, a literacy lover, or even the founder of a website about reading. But because my kids like to read. If I had to list 10 things about my kids, enjoying a book would make the list. Not number one (horseback riding, playing basketball, and building with Legos would definitely come ahead), but not at the bottom either.

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Reading Strategies and Book Suggestions for Toddlers and Preschoolers Who Can’t Sit Still

When my oldest child was a toddler, I only needed to bring a tote bag of his favorite books to keep him happy and entertained for an hour or more. We nicknamed him The Professor. But then my youngest came along. Cue the Jaws music. His first nickname was The Destroyer… you know the type.

I suddenly had to rethink my strategies for making books a part of his very active, mobile (and developmentally normal!) life.

Toddler and preschool years are crucial in a child’s development as a reader. Even though they can’t yet read independently, they’re learning all the behaviors necessary to do so in the future.

As a point of comparison, clutching a crayon in their chubby, clenched fists and scribbling away is the first step toward being able to write. Soon their fingers get stronger, they start to grasp a pencil and exhibit more control as they draw. It works the same way with reading. 


But how to balance your child’s need to move with your desire to read to them in an enjoyable way? We’ve got some tips and book ideas to help.

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8 Tips to Encourage a Love of Reading in Every Child

When my first born was ready for baby food, I had a mini meltdown. I felt like I had (finally!) figured out feeding him and now my pediatrician was telling me it was already time for solids. The doctor had one simple answer, “Just keep trying.” He said that if my son didn’t show interest in a certain food that I should continue placing it on his tray. Eventually, his tastes may change or he might grow used to the textures and flavors that come with experiencing new foods.

This works for developing a real love of reading in your children, too. But you know what usually doesn’t work? Shoving it down their throats. Forcing children to eat copious amounts of broccoli when they hate it will make them less likely to enjoy broccoli when they grow up, right?

Making your child read only books you select, during the time of day you select, with a timer set will also make them less likely to fall in love with reading.


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