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Reading During the COVID-19 Quarantine: Now is the Time to Raise a Real Reader

With schools (and everything else) closed and lots (and lots and lots) of extra time at home, a golden opportunity has been presented to us parents and caregivers. We have time to read. So do our children. Research has shown us that students are far more likely to read independently and successfully if given time and choice. That’s pretty much all we have right now, right?

So, a few things to keep in mind while we’re home with our children: 

  • If you’re the type of parent that thrives on a more fixed schedule, then you’ll want to build in time to read. But a word of caution: Please don’t frame it as something you “have” to do. It’s something you and your children “get” to do! More tips on how to talk to your child about reading here.
  • Get comfy. Read on the couch, in a fort, in a tree, in the sunshine, in bed with a flashlight. More info on why location is so important here.
  • Separate, if you think that is needed. This might be a great time to get everyone in their own room, especially if you’re spending a lot of time all together in your living room or kitchen right now.
  • Read TO your children. Many parents feel that once kids are old enough to read independently, read aloud time ends. Simply not true. Here are just a few ways kids benefit from being read to: 
    • You are able to model strong fluency and reading with expression.
    • You can clear up words they may have been reading incorrectly in their heads. I still remember the first time I realized that the word “hors d’oeuvres” was not pronounced “hours devours.”
    • If your child is participating in eLearning, they will need to take regular breaks to give their eyes a rest. This is a great opportunity for that. 
    • Their teachers probably spend a portion of each day reading to them. By continuing this routine, you’re giving them a sense of normalcy in a time when we’re all craving that. 
  • Audio books can be game changers for your family right now. Listen to a book during chore time or arts and crafts time or while making lunch or dinner. Library closed? Download a book from one of the many apps so you can listen to your book instead. Bonus: many kids will especially love books that are read by the author. 
  • Trying to keep in touch with friends and family while social distancing? Schedule a FaceTime session where your child reads a chapter of a favorite book to a grandparent or cousin. And then perhaps the grandparent can read to them? What a perfect way to combine socializing and reading in a safe way. 
  • When you know better, you should do better, right? You know your kids need to see YOU reading, but let’s face it, the to-do list (or Netflix) can often get in the way. If you’re home right now, let yourself relax with that book you’ve been wanting to read for ages. Tips for eliminating distractions are here.
  • Escaping the reality of our current situation is just a good idea. Put your phone in another room, keep the TV off, and let yourself be transported to a time and place where the words coronavirus and COVID-19 are nonexistent. 

Your kids will be forever affected by this time in our lives. When their own children and grandchildren ask what they remember about it, make sure reading books is a part of their answer. This is a golden opportunity to shape your child into a lifelong, “real” reader. 


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Books and Series To Read When Children Need An Escape

I had just finished reading Erin Entrada Kelly’s beautifully written book Lalani of the Distant Sea when I got a text from my sister about an assignment her fifth grader had just completed: 

He has to write an argumentative essay that names a word of the year, and then defend it. He chose “altercation.” And then wrote paragraphs about mass shootings, everyone fighting about global warming, the potential war with Iran, and immigration. Imagine at 10 years old, the word you think best describes the world is altercation. 

My dreamy thoughts from Lalani quickly came to a halt as I considered this. My sensitive nephew’s world view is just so different from what I remember mine being at age 10. While I could name the current president (Ronald Reagan), my primary troubles were saving enough money for more stickers for my sticker album or wondering if Friday’s episode of Full House would be a rerun. 

It’s not always feasible to offer our children opportunities to escape the current events of both their immediate world and the larger, global world.

But books can be that temporary vacation from reality and offer us (adults and children alike) a much needed respite from the constant barrage of pain and suffering.

Whole worlds are awaiting us between the covers of books. As a long-time advocate of realistic fiction as a tool to develop empathy and understanding, I’ve recently found myself drawn more to fantasy. It’s like my brain and my heart simply need to disconnect from our reality from time to time. 

Fantasy books or series for beginning chapter book readers: 

Dragon Masters series by Tracey West

Owl Diaries and/or Unicorn Diaries series by Rebecca Elliott

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

The Last Firehawk series by Katrina Charman

Princess in Black series by Shannon Hale 

Secrets of Droon series by Tony Abbott

Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe series by Noah Z. Jones

Creature Campers series by Joe McGee

Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot series by Dav Pilkey

Fantasy books or series for upper elementary or middle school readers: 

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer

Any series by Rick Riordan

Fantasy books or series for Young Adult (YA): 

The Children of the Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Legacy of Orisha series)

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

Stardust and Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Popular fantasy authors with high school students:

Neal Shusterman

Rick Riordan

Christopher Paolini

Erin Hunter 

Ally Condie 

Holly Black

Marie Lu 

Garth Nix

Stephanie Garber  

It’s not that fantasy is problem-free. It’s just that they aren’t exactly like our current problems, and so that alone feels like an escape. When the good character wins in the end, it seems easier to believe that it’s possible for that to happen in the real world, too.

These books can fill us with hope at a time when hope seems in short supply.

In Lalani of the Distant Sea, Lalani overcomes a series of physical and mental challenges away from her village, while unknowingly providing the spark for change against oppression back home. Sounds like the type of uplifting story your ten-year-old should be filling his head with, right?

We want our children to grow up to be engaged, informed citizens. It’s important that they not be shielded from current events and what’s happening in the world around them completely. But reality in 2020 is heavy, and we all need that weight removed from our shoulders occasionally, even if it’s just for the time it takes us to cozy up and read a good book.

*This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

We offer more book recommendations here. Craving even more reliable book recommendations? A roundup of our favorite resources is here.

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Book Review: Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

Over the course of my adult years, I’ve dipped in and out of a few book clubs. One of the reasons I love participating in book clubs is that it inevitably inspires me to read books I might not otherwise select myself. Such is the case with Renee Watson’s Piecing Me Together. I typically enjoy reading young adult books, but I’m not sure I would have stumbled upon this title without the encouragement of my book club.

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Fact vs. Fiction: Learning What’s Real and What’s Not Through Reading

I was a journalism major, graduating in 2002. Thousands of miles away, at the exact moment I was practicing how to craft compelling, accurate newspaper headlines and write engaging magazine articles, Mark Zuckerberg was inventing Facebook in his dorm room at Harvard and changing how we get our news forever. I often wonder how drastically different my journalism education would be if I was a student now and not pre-social media.

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Why You Need Books to Like Books

If our readers take anything away from this website, we hope it’s the importance of access to books. We’ve written about it from various angles over the past year, like this post about placing books around your home, or this post about letting children choose their own books. Let’s approach book access from a viewpoint that might make some uncomfortable: privilege.

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Family Favorite Reads from 2018-2019

The 2018-2019 school year is in officially in the books for our part of the country and nearing the end for most everyone else. As classroom teachers helped kids collect memories for yearbooks and best of lists, we wondered what books members of our families will remember most. And be sure you’re following us on social media this summer: we’ve taken the #bookaday challenge and we’re sharing book recommendations each and every day! (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)

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Tips for Making Spelling Practice Easier

It’s always around late April and May when our after school homework routine starts getting more than a little unruly. Motivation is lacking and warmer weather outside beckons. Practicing spelling week after week is high on the list of boring, routine tasks for my kids… dare I say most kids?

We can debate the merits of assigning weekly spelling lists, but the reality is it is still prevalent as a common assignment. (We don’t mean to be dismissive of spelling altogether; there are studies that suggest that as students’ spelling improves, so does their reading and writing skills.)

Keep these three words in mind as you help your child work through spelling: manageable, personal, and fun.

Practicing spelling shouldn’t take hours and it certainly need not look like a Pinterest project. I did a quick search and was astonished at the complexity of some spelling activities floating around out there on the internet. Yikes. For my family, half the battle is finding the time, so don’t get bogged down by anything complicated.

Here are some simple ideas to take the drudgery out of spelling practice.  

Make Spelling Manageable

Focus on the words they struggle with. There will likely be words on the weekly list that they are already spelling confidently. Don’t feel obligated to keep drilling your child on those words!

Work on a few words each day instead of all the words the night before. This is especially important if your child struggles with focus and attention span (what kid doesn’t struggle with that after a long day at school?) Try making it a small part of your daily routine. A few examples:

  • Every morning at breakfast, go over 5 words while you slurp cereal or wait for the toast to pop up.
  • Write the tricky words on the bathroom mirror so children see them while brushing their teeth.
  • Keep a copy of the list in your car, and go over words while you wait in the drive thru, sit through siblings’ sports practices, or as you run errands.

Make Spelling Personal

Customize your study habits around their preferences. For example, my first grader hates to write, so we usually practice his spelling words out loud. My fourth grader struggles to spell his longer words out loud, so he always writes them out.

Allow open book practice. To be a great speller, repetition is the most important component. Let your child copy the words straight off the list, especially at first when they’re seeing them for the first time.

If giving your child a bunch of practice tests isn’t working well or you just need to mix up the routine, let your child quiz you. Have them grade you. They won’t even realize they’re “studying” the words by doing so.

Make Spelling Fun

Try plugging the weekly list into a crossword or word search puzzle generator (there are lots of free options online). Older children can probably do this themselves!

Test out some spelling apps. Your child’s teacher may already be using tools like this. Ask if your child can sign in from home for extra practice.

Use manipulatives, like letter blocks, or allow your child to type the words on a keyboard.

If they’re struggling with a particular word or letter pattern, teach them little tricks to master it, like silly songs or rhymes.

How do you practice spelling words with your child? Leave us a comment and let us know what works well in your house!


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Bedtime Reading: Common Struggles and Simple Solutions

We love getting feedback and questions from you, our readers. One of the hottest topics in our inbox and on our social media channels is about bedtime reading routines. Not surprising, as it’s one of those staples from childhood that has stood the test of time, from generation to generation. I imagine (perhaps naively) families gathered around candlelight reading aloud together from treasured books centuries ago, and I know many parents still make reading together at night before bed a daily priority, even in the era of screens.

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Advice for Handling Disappointing Test Results

My Child Didn’t Pass the State-Mandated 3rd Grade Reading Test. Now What?

Do you live in a state with a mandatory 3rd grade reading test (in Indiana, it’s called the IREAD-3)? More and more states are requiring a test to address reading proficiency in 3rd grade. Here is a map of the states and their stance on these tests from The National Conference on State LegislatorsWhile research tells us there are mixed reviews on the benefits of these reading tests, many states now require it. It began with the idea that by 3rd grade, students need to “read to learn” and have moved past “learning to read.”

Features of a typical mandatory 3rd grade reading test: Read More

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