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Book Review: Saturdays Are for Stella

Title: Saturdays Are for Stella

Author: Candy Wellins

Illustrator: Charlie Eve Ryan

Publisher: Page Street Kids

Copyright date: August, 2020

Age range: preschool-3rd grade

This seemingly simple book about a boy named George who visits his Grandma Stella each Saturday is packed with teachable moments. George and Stella do many fun things together, both the simple (making popcorn) to the more special (like trips to museums). It is clear that both savor the traditions that Saturdays together bring.

However, one Saturday, George awakens to find his parents crying and his trip to Grandma Stella’s canceled. Stella has died.

While the author acknowledges the family’s sadness and George’s struggle to think of Saturdays in a positive way again, the story shifts and the reader understands that George’s mother is pregnant.

When the baby arrives, George turns his grief into love and Saturdays are for Stella, once again. 

This would be a fantastic book to use to discuss the circle of life. It’s also helpful for children to see that sometimes loss comes very unexpectedly (Grandma appeared to be in fine health). George is shown as someone allowed to grieve, but also someone who can still be happy. I love that the parents are both shown crying, not just the mother. It’s impossible not to find joy in the relationships George has with both Stellas.

This book appeared on many “Best of 2020” lists and we definitely agree, Saturdays Are for Stella is a wonderful addition to any shelf. 

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Signs You’re Raising a Reader: Looking Beyond Test Results

Doing the work to raise children who are readers can feel complicated. Some moments are warm and content, like finishing a well-loved book together while snuggled up during bedtime. But some nights, you may feel tired and worn out, when all you really want to do is run a bath or sleep. It can also be frustrating, especially in those early years when your child is misreading every other word. And the conversations and debates about what to read, how long to read, who will read, etc., can be incredibly draining. We get it. 

The cure is to stop periodically and notice successes, both small and large. It is important for both you and your child. Think beyond the test scores, the grades, the reading levels, and the Accelerated Reader goals (yuck). These indicators can feel heavy, especially if your child is considered to be behind. And a child reading above grade level can also present concerns, like finding challenging yet appropriate books. This is exactly why it is so vital that we stop to appreciate the many moments when we can find comfort that we are raising children who are readers. 

Start by remembering the definition of a reader. Someone who reads or, even more simply for our youngest friends, someone who looks at books. But moreover, a reader is someone who understands that words have power, whether we are reading them or writing them. They understand that reading and writing can be used for entertainment, persuasion, or information. They begin to wield this power and use it to live a better life. 

You’d never find this information on a report card.

We’re going to give some real examples from our four children, who cover a wide range of reading abilities, that have shown us we are raising real readers.

  • 13 year-old: After a heated argument with my son, we agreed we needed to retreat to our rooms to do some thinking. After a few minutes, I composed a text to my son, summarizing my thoughts about ways we could both improve. I knew if I texted him, he could keep it and review it, where he might not be ready to listen to the words he needed to hear. (I was also worried I hadn’t cooled down enough and if I shared my thoughts, I might get upset again.) But before I could hit send, my son knocked on the door and handed me a letter he wrote to me. It was incredibly thoughtful, and not just a blanket apology. It was clear he had really been thinking. He dug deep and found some reasons why he might have been acting out, things I hadn’t thought about. (With my teacher hat on, I was happily surprised that he used many writing conventions to help convey meaning, such as parentheses, ellipses, and even a semi-colon!) He later confessed that he knew that writing down his thoughts would be easier than saying them because he thought he might cry if he said them aloud. This is a HUGE milestone, y’all. He is using his ability to write (whether he used grammatical conventions or not) to help communicate. 
    • How did he come to this? We have had our kids write thank-you notes over the years to family and friends. Our kids have also heard us read emails and notes aloud to each other to make sure our intended meaning comes through. We also read aloud notes, emails, and cards we receive from others that are important.

  • 11 year-old: This is a child who would be the least likely to tell you that reading is a hobby for him. He puts up a stink about reading at any other time other than long rides in the car or for 20 minutes before bed. And even then, he sometimes complains. He’s also very particular about what books he is willing to read. If it’s not a biography of a famous athlete or historical fiction about troubled times, he is very likely to snub his nose at it. And yet, he can often be found scouring our local newspaper when it comes on the weekends, or pulling up websites to get more information when something has piqued his curiosity. And he asks the deepest, most heartfelt questions based on things he reads, especially about historical events or people who have been through difficult circumstances. 
    • How did he come to this? We are a family that often discusses current events, and we make a pretty conscious effort to inform our children about suffering in the world and throughout history. He doesn’t realize this, but for my son, reading is his access to this information that he craves so much. He feels a strong pull to learn more. It is obvious in his choices of what he reads, and his desire to discuss it with others. For him, reading is a way to expand his horizons. He may scoff at the idea of reading for pleasure, but it’s pretty clear he will use reading as a tool for learning throughout his life.

  • 10 year-old: This 10 year-old loves a project, from adding art to her walls or baking a cake. Recently she asked to borrow my computer so she could make a PowerPoint presentation. Um, ok! I didn’t ask what she was working on, just handed her the computer, happy that she might be entertained for awhile. Later she asked me to think about the books we had read together recently. I rattled off a few and went back to my task. An hour later, she brought me the computer and to my surprise….showed me a presentation about her favorite books we had read together in 2020! My mouth nearly dropped! 
    • How did she come to this? This project showed me she values our time together, but that it can be fun to rank and organize her favorite books. She knows that I track my reading on Goodreads.com. When we finish a book together, I always ask her how many stars she would give the book, knowing that is the review I will give it. Her opinion means something.

  • 9 year-old: Let the youngest of our bunch be the example that you should never, ever give up on the idea of your child being an avid reader. This was the kid who aggressively tossed board books and picture books as a toddler way more often than he sat to flip through them. He never once sat through an entire story time at the public library. He was late to show an interest in learning his letters. But in second grade, he fell down the rabbit hole that is the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey. And now he is the kid that often passes up an opportunity to go play outside because he’s too deep into a book. I’ve even started to notice that when he feels frustrated or upset, he’s turning to quiet time spent reading to regulate his emotions (without me suggesting it). And while at first he maintained he only loved Dog Man, and read those books over and over and over again (and over and over and over), he now happily reads lots of series and authors and genres.
    • How did he come to this? We never gave up on the idea of him being a reader, even when he defiantly (and sometimes violently!) showed zero interest in books. I still got him books as gifts. I still handed him books when he got fussy or bored in the car or on a plane. We tried to never say things like, “Oh, he’s just not into reading,” because comments like that can very quickly define a child. And when he would only read Dog Man, we treated those books like treasured friends and over time, just gently tried to nudge him toward other books, never forcing it. And eventually, he found his way to them.

Look at these as stepping stones, leading down a path toward an adulthood that includes the use of words used in powerful ways: communication tools, relaxation, or a hobby. Perhaps these stepping stones will lead to raising readers in the next generation of your family. 

In a world of education that often seems to want to categorize, track, and label, remember to look for these authentic, genuine signs you’re raising a reader. They may not be quantifiable on a spreadsheet, but they are qualifiable in the heart and that’s what matters. 

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How to Use Your Local Library to Checkout and Hold Materials Online

Things we know for sure (Hi, Oprah!): 

  • Too many books, not enough time. 
  • It’s easy to forget about a book recommendation. 
  • We love libraries. 
  • Personal book-buying budgets are limited. Or non-existent. 

So, here are a few ways we use our libraries to keep books flowing in and out of our homes. We hope a few of these practices might resonate with you 

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11 Stocking Stuffers to Encourage Reading and Writing

There are countless parenting pitfalls that we’ve fallen into. One is stuffing the stockings with plastic junk, courtesy of last-minute, panic-stricken trips to Target and the Dollar Store on December 23. As our 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 our stocking stuffers didn’t pass our 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. These items also work 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. The point is, think small, but mighty! 

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Book Review: Crafting With Nature Series

Flower, Leaf, and Seed Crafts round out the series.

Title: Crafting with Nature series, specifically Rock Crafts and Stick Crafts by Betsy Rathburn and Sand Crafts by Rebecca Salbeko

Publisher: Bellwether Media

Copyright date: 2020

Age range: 3rd through 8th grade, though it depends on the level of adult assistance

This unique crafting series for kids not only offers up crafting how-tos with objects you’re likely to find in your own backyard, also included are fun facts and additional background building relating to each craft. For example, included next to the directions for building a stick owl (p. 6 in Stick Crafts), is information about owls, with key vocabulary words in bold, such as “talons” and “roost.” A glossary in the back allows for quick reference. 

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Reading Your Way Through The Holidays

How many years in a row have you thought something along the lines of, “I wish we could sit around snuggling up and reading together as a family, but the holidays are just too busy.” Well, if your calendar looks anything like ours, some free time has definitely opened up in 2020. Cancelled parties and events, scaled back celebrations… plus all the time you typically spend just preparing for all this stuff is now available, too. We’re trying hard to look on the bright side and embrace what new traditions this might offer our families.

I know it’s still just mid November, though. And we have one very clear rule in our family, ingrained into our way of thinking since we were very young: Thanksgiving is the best of all the holidays and NOT just a stepping stone to the others. Well, Mom and Dad, it’s 2020 and we’re breaking the rules. Whether it’s the threat of shipping delays due to COVID, or concerns about in-person book browsing in a pandemic, this year it’s more important than ever to add books to the collection of a loved one in a timely and safe manner. And take advantage of a simpler, more manageable holiday schedule.

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Book Review: What Do You Do If You Work at the Zoo?

Title: What Do You Do If You Work at the Zoo?

Author: Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Copyright date: April, 2020

Age range: preschool-elementary

Lexile reading level: AD900L

What Do You Do If You Work at the Zoo? Shares unique ways zoo staff contribute to the care of the animals, and why these actions are important. For example, you might tickle a tapir with a rake to emulate the sensation of rubbing against a tree (to remove parasites), create puzzles for meerkats to find their food (to encourage natural behavior) or brush a hippo’s teeth (to help avoid cavities, of course!). 

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Book Review: We Are Water Protectors

Title: We Are Water Protectors

Written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Copyright date: 2020

Age range: The publisher says ages 3-6, but the book brought tears to my eyes. This book is truly for anyone. 

A young Sioux girl recalls the story her grandmother told, featuring the dire warning that a black snake would come, contaminating the water source, thus causing harm to all the animals and land. The young girl decides to take a stand in order to protect the water sources and provide safety for all living things. 

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Book Review: Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice

Title: Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice

Written by Nikki Grimes, a NY Times bestselling author

Illustrated by Laura Freeman, a Corretta Scott King Honoree

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Copyright date: 2020

Age range: 4-8

With Kamala Harris becoming the first Black and South Asian woman to be nominated for the Vice Presidency, a children’s book biography was begging to be included on shelves wherever kids search for books. Her story is told from the time her parents met through the end of her own presidential run in the Democratic primary last year, but ends open-ended in a way that leaves the reader feeling that Harris wasn’t leaving the Washington spotlight for long. This story is told from a fictional mother’s point-of-view to her young daughter, Eve, who had come home from school citing a boy who had told her that girls could never be president. It’s then that the mother tells the story of Kamala, with Eve interrupting every few pages with questions or statements. 

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Book Review: The Problem with Problems

Title: The Problem with Problems

Author: Rachel Rooney

Publisher: Rodale Kids, New York

Copyright date: 2020

Age range: 2-5 years…but really, anyone on the struggle bus

Lexile reading level: suggested 4-7 on Kirkus Reviews years, no Lexile found

Anxiety? Worries? Butterflies? Nerves? Problems? No matter what these big feelings are called in your house, there’s no doubt that teaching your child how to handle them can be tough. We get it. We’ve been there. Talking from experience, we burned through a LOT of books about anxiety at different points with our children. With each read, we hoped one would be the perfect combination or text and visual support that our kids could latch onto. In short, we think this is the book that would have done it. 

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