Monthly Archives

August 2015

    read aloud

    Pick Six: Children’s Birthday Books

    In just 5 short days, we’ll be celebrating our daughter’s 3rd birthday.  Yes, that’s right, we’re about to enter to venture into “threenager” territory.  Thank goodness kids are only “threenagers” for a year.  I know she hasn’t even turned three yet, but I can’t wait until she turns four…That’s an easy year, right? RIGHT?!?!?!

    In celebration of Sparkles’ upcoming birthday, I thought I’d pick six birthday themed children’s books to read with your little ones.  Enjoy!

    How Many Sleeps Till My Birthday? by Mark Sperring


    Little Pip cannot wait until his birthday, so every day he wakes up and asks his dad, Papa Grizzle, “How man sleeps till my birthday?” Papa Grizzle becomes annoyed at having to answer the same question every day, but luckily he also wants to help his son learn patience.

    Happy Birthday, Moon by Frank Asch
    A classic.  This is such a sweet story!  Moonbear discovers that he and the moon share the same birthday. Now Moonbear wants to give his nighttime friend a present. But what do you buy the moon?

    Froggy’s Birthday Wish by Jonathan London

    It’s Froggy’s birthday—but no one has remembered.  His parents don’t seem to realize it’s his special day, and none of his friends are at home to wish him a happy birthday.  Will Froggy celebrate his birthday all alone?  Has everyone really forgotten?

    A Birthday for Bear by Bonnie Becker
    Bear does not like birthdays. He doesn’t like parties or balloons, cards or candles. In fact, Bear does not like anything to do with birthdays at all. He would much rather spend his birthday alone cleaning his house, but Mouse, small and gray and bright-eyed, has other ideas.

    The Night Before My Birthday by Natasha Wing
    I just adore these “Night Before” books by Natasha Wing.  This book captures all the excitement and anticipation that every child experiences in the lead-up to their special day. The decorations are up, the table is set, and the food is ready – but what happens when there is an ice cream emergency?

    Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss
    This is not a birthday themed book, but I like to read it on my birthday so I made it a tradition to read it to the kid’s on their birthdays too.   In this book, Dr. Seuss addresses life’s ups and downs with his trademark humorous verse and illustrations, while encouraging readers to find the success that lies within.

    Your turn: What are some of your favorite birthday themed children’s books to read?  Any tips on coping with the “threenager” year?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    read aloud, reading tips

    How My Read Aloud Journey Began

    When I was pregnant with our first child (“Sparkles”) friends and family gave me great advice and guidance.  I also read lots of parenting books on various topics such as: discipline, child development, breastfeeding, potty training, and communicating with children.  I found all of those topics to be useful, but the topic of reading aloud to your children resonated with me the most.

    How My Read Aloud Journey Began

    While browsing books in the parenting section of the library I came across a book called The Read Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease.  This book was first published in 1979 and is now in its seventh edition.  In this book, Trelease explains in plain English why reading aloud to your children matters. He tells you how to do it.  And he even gives you suggestions for books to read.  This book was my introduction to the importance of reading to children starting at a very early age.  Hence, the beginning of my wonderful read aloud journey began even before I gave birth to our daughter.

    With the birth of our second child (“Mr. Tickles”) I began to read to him immediately when he was born.  He also had the added benefit of hearing all the books I read to his sister while he was still in the womb.  Lucky kid!

    Trelease basically explains that the main thing you need to do if you want to raise a reader is simply spend time reading to them, early and often.  He also argues that the most important thing is to read books that both you and your child enjoy.  Kids are wise and they will able to tell if you’re truly enjoying reading a book or not so don’t read something to your kids if you’re not feeling it.

    I think the best part of the book is the very end.  Trelease has created an amazing “Treasury of Read-Alouds.” In the copy of the book that I own, this treasury of books starts on page 173 and ends on page 294…that’s a lot of good, quality books!

    Not only does the author give you suggestions for books by age and subject, but he even tells you what the books are about so you can better select which ones you might enjoy reading with your child. I often refer back to this list time and time again.  This list is my go-to when I’m looking for something new to read to the kids.  It has been tremendously helpful to me because before I stumbled upon this book, I thought it was a little overwhelming to know where to start in picking out books for a young child!

    I am so grateful that I was introduced to the importance of reading before my children were born.  Now I try to pass this along to the people in my life who are new parents.  I truly believe in reading aloud and hope to see our children and others continue to reap the rewards of reading.

    So, that’s it.  The story of how my read aloud journey with my children began. I hope you’ll consider checking this amazing book  out. Maybe it will start you on the path to reading aloud, too (if you’re not doing it already).

    Disclaimer:  This is not a sponsored post and I was not compensated to promote this book.  All opinions expressed are my own.

    Your turn:  Have you read this book yet?  I’d be interested to know how you got started on your read aloud journey with your children.  What book(s) helped to inspire you?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    children's literacy

    Literacy Expert Spotlight: Colette Marie Bennett

    Our literacy expert in the spotlight for the month of September is Colette Marie Bennett.  Colette is the Coordinator for Language Arts, Social Studies, Library Media, and Testing for the West Haven School District in Connecticut.  She is also a certified Literacy Specialist (K-12).  Colette has over 23 years of experience in the classroom grades 6-12.


    Colette, please tell us a little about yourself.
    Oldest of nine; mother of two Marine Corps Officers (both Annapolis grads); blogger; talker; teacher in rural/urban/suburban classrooms teaching AP, Drama, Journalism, and seven grade levels of English Language Arts for over 23 years; and now an curriculum coordinator who has retired the red pen.

    I am now the English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Library Media Curriculum Coordinator in the West Haven Public School System in Connecticut.

    What are some activities that you’ve done with your children to promote literacy?
    I made sure that our house was filled with all kinds of books.  I read to my two boys when they were young, and I read with them when they were older. We shopped together in bookstores.  I did not censor their choices. I recommended books when they were young, and they now recommend books for me. I read for pleasure and helped them to understand that reading is an engaging activity….which meant reading should not be casually interrupted to ask if there is milk in the refrigerator.

    What were some of the favorite children’s board, picture, or chapter books you’ve read or come across this year?
    I just bought Meet the Dullards (written by Sara Pennypacker; illustrated by Daniel Salmieri) for my nephew Max. I laughed so hard in the bookstore that people moved away from me. The illustrations and text are very witty …and kids will understand what a dullard is! Max loved the book.

    I also just bought A House Held Up By Trees by Jon Klaussen  and Ted Kooser. I attended the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival at Hill-Stead Farm in Farmington, CT in June this year where Kooser (United States Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006), read several of his poems. Afterward, I stopped to get one of his poetry collections, and I noticed this collaboration between this remarkable poet and one of my favorite illustrators. I read it as I stood in line waiting to have my new copy signed, my eyes filled with tears. This house, personified as we all personify our houses, gains the reader’s sympathy –once loved, then abandoned, then rescued.  I asked Kooser to inscribe it for my friend Catherine, who is a literacy specialist in Sherman, CT. That night, she tweeted:

    “Moved beyond words by Ted Kooser’s House Held Up By Trees. Thank you for this beautiful book.”

    What are some of your must-have children’s books for a home library?
    I have a special spot for Tomi Ungerer’s illustrations picture books (The Three Robbers, Flat Stanley), The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne (but only if the text is illustrated with Ernest Shepard drawings); P.D.Eastman’s Sam and the Firefly and Put Me in the Zoo;  any book by David Weisner (but Tuesday is my favorite); D’AulairesBook of Greek Myths; Eric Carle books (choose…any one will do): Fredrick by Leo Lionni ; Don and Audrey Woods’s The Mouse, The Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear and King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub (hilarious!); Nancy Drew (but only if the child wants them); Maurice Sendak’s  Where the Wild Things Are;  Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal; E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web; Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time; and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I became a reader because of Little Women.

    Do you have any literacy rituals that you practice in your family?
    Read. Often.

    Besides reading, what are some other things parents can do to set their children up for literacy success?
    Watch movies together, listen to audio-books, go see theater….and talk about these experiences. These are all story-centered activities and stories improve vocabulary. Stories develop empathy. The world needs to have people who view others with kindness and compassion…stories do that.

    If you could give parents one piece of advice about reading with children, what would it be?
    Read. Often. (see advice above!)

    That is because any reading practice helps everyone read better, parents included. Many of my teachers at the middle school level have told me they notice they are becoming better readers because they read with their students during silent sustained reading.

    Here is another interesting fact: We ran a “How Do I Feel About Reading” survey for grades 7 & 8 in West Haven, and well over 50% of students said they share what they read with members of their family…that’s amazing! That means 11-14 year olds admit they share what they are reading with their parents!  That percentage was almost as high a percentage as sharing what they read with friends.

    We could conclude that parents are the under-appreciated part of the reading equation!

    Hardcover, Paperback or e-book (when reading a book on your own)?
    I am omnivorous. Whatever way the material is available at the time. I like the efficiency of an e-reader, but I do have some problems finding my way back through a text for a quote or fact …I just do not have the hang of the digital marker yet.

    Fiction, non-fiction or some other genre (when reading a book on your own)?
    Again, I am an omnivore. I have been reading more non-fiction lately, but I think that is because the quality of non-fiction is so much better. There is a narrative style like in Erik Larson’s Dead Wake or or Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk that makes for good storytelling. Like Nora Ephron said, “Why write fiction when what actually happens is so amazing?”

    Name an adult book that:

    a) Inspired you: Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide. The premise is that English teachers have killed reading by limiting choice and over-teaching. I agree. I am working hard to correct that practice.

    b) Made you laugh out loud:  Roz Chast’s  Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Roz Chast’s mother had dementia. My mother has dementia. She shares the same funny observations and heartbreaking moments that I am now experiencing.

    c) You recommend to others often: I have recommended The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt-2,000 years on the history of writing and Epicurian philosophy makes you feel smarter. I just read Joseph Ellis’s The Quartet. Right now, I have a mad crush on George Washington…he was dignified, poised, well-spoken, and self-effacing. Dreading the upcoming political election season …. I long for George Washington.

    What books are on your nightstand or e-reader right now?
    James McBride The Good Lord Bird; just added Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea  to the Kindle to re-read (I wrote about her commencement address in ’83 to Mills College…amazing!) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein…it came highly recommended.

    Are you working on any special projects that you want to share with others?
    I am creating a book flood in the West Haven schools, grades 5-12.

    The book flood idea came from Readicide where students are flooded with titles they might like to read. I began the practice in July of 2010 for Regional School District #6 (Litchfield, CT) Wamogo and continued through June 2014. I added gently used books that I purchased (.50-$2.00) to Middle/High School classrooms. That first year (June 2010-2011) I added well over 2,500 books for less than $2,000.00 by shopping at thrift stores or at seasonal public library book sales!

    Expanding classroom libraries allows students at each grade the opportunity to choose the books they want to read. So, examples of titles I look for at book sales are Dork Diaries; Captain Underpants; Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging; Hatchet; or The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The titles students want to read can still build vocabulary and fluency for the classic literature they are assigned in school.

    Independent reading builds vocabulary.

    Here is an interesting set of statistics: a student who reads  67 minutes a day is exposed to 4,733,000 words per year; a student who reads  17 minutes a day reads 1,168,000 words; a student who reads  1 minute a day reads 51,000 words.  Independent reading is also a predictor of student success.

    How can people get in touch with you on social media or on your website?

    Twitter:  @Teachcmb56

    Your turn:  Did you enjoy this post?  Are you interested in being featured?  Do you know someone who might want to be featured?  Feel free to let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail.

    book reviews, read aloud

    El Perro con Sombrero: A Book Review

    El Perro con Sombrero: A Bilingual Doggy Tale
    by Derek Taylor Kent


    Pepe is a lonely street dog without a home or a loving family. When a strong wind blows a sombrero onto his head, people begin to take notice of the pup, and soon he and his sombrero are making movies and receiving letters from fans every day.  Although Pepe now has fame and fortune, he has no family to call his own. When the jealous cat with purple shoes (el gato en zapatos) hatches a plan to take away Pepe’s hat—and the fame it brings—a chase through streets, weddings, and movie theaters ensues, ending with the cat cornered in a playground sandbox. Just as Pepe is about to get his sombrero back, a family nearby takes notice of him, and the little girl asks if they can take him home. Pepe looks at the family and at the cat holding the hat that made him so famous and tells el gato he can keep the sombrero. Pepe finally finds the precious love he has been seeking.

    This is the first bilingual book I’ve added to the kid’s home library so I’m thrilled about that!  I plan to start introducing both of my children to Spanish somewhere between the ages of 3 and 4 years old, so having this book in my possession now is a treat!

    The first time I sat down to read this book with the kids they were confused whenever I read the Spanish text.  I’m sure they were wondering what I was saying as that was the first time they heard me read full sentences to them in Spanish.  Since then, I’ve read the book several more times and now they seem to understand the word “perro” means dog, “gato” means cat and “zapatos” means shoes in Spanish.  I think they learned this so quickly because the book has a page where each of those words appear in both English and Spanish along with pictures right next to them.

    I was even surprised when my daughter, who is almost 3 years-old, pointed to some money and said “dinero”, the Spanish word for money.  One thing I’ve witnessed during my parenting journey is just how amazing little minds are.  They can grasp so much more than we give them credit for.

    This book keeps the children engaged and entertained as they listen.  There are a couple of pages that make them laugh out loud, which in turn makes me laugh.  The illustrations definitely help make this story come alive.  You can feel the sadness that Pepe feels in the beginning, the sheer joy he feels when he finally finds a family in the end, and the sadness “el gato” feels when he’s left all alone in the sandbox.

    There were a few things I personally liked about this book.  First, I think Pepe is so cute and when he puts that over-sized sombrero on he looks even more adorable!  It really does make him look like a movie star.  What a difference a sombrero can make!

    Next, I liked that each page has English text with the translated Spanish text written in red right below it.  I think by having the Spanish text in a different color it makes it easier to read.  Parents and children can choose to either read only the English text, only the Spanish text, or both the English and Spanish text.

    I also enjoyed the story line and the overall message of the book.  I think it’s simple enough for children to understand even for younger readers.  This book will teach children that having a having a family and being loved is more important than fame, acceptance, and possessions.  Other topics touched upon are feelings, jealousy, and friendship.  Learning a few words in Spanish is an added extra bonus.

    Lastly, the ending adds an element of both suspense and surprise when you find out what happened to “el gato”, the cat.  I think it really helps to drive the moral of the story home.

    Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and the kids seem to enjoy it too.  I think it’s a fantastic read aloud book, especially for children learning Spanish.  I’ll definitely be reading more bilingual books to the kids after reading this.

    Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

    About the Author

    Derek Taylor Kent is a screenwriter and the author of the award-winning middle-grade series Scary School.  He lives in Los Angeles with his greyhound puppy, Zander, whose nose for mischief was the real-life inspiration for El Perro con Sombrero.

    For more information about the book or the author please visit or check out the Facebook fan page.

    Your turn: Did you enjoy this review?  Have you ever read any bilingual books to your little ones?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    book reviews, read aloud

    Heave Ho! – A Book Review

    Book Title: Heave Ho!
    Author: José Lucio


    Heave Ho! is a children’s book about teamwork and outside-the-box thinking. When a cheerful little worm pops his head up above ground, he is surprised and grabbed by a hungry bird. The worm must get help from his other worm friends, but the bird has help too…which leads to an intense tug-of-war battle. The battle goes on until the worms are losing ground no matter how hard they try, which leads one worm to come up with a new idea!

    When I was asked to review this book by the author himself, I was thrilled!  I was immediately drawn to the concept and overall message of the book from the brief summary he sent me.

    The kids really seemed to enjoy this story and they loved playing with the little worm stickers that were included. They had fun counting the number of worms each time a new one joined in on the tug-of-war battle between the worms vs. all of the other animals.  The kids also laughed out loud when the fifth worm came up with an idea to end the tug-of-war that sent all of the animals flying into the air.

    The text is simple enough for my two-year old daughter to read on her own from start to finish.  The kids love saying the phrase, “Heave Ho!” each time it’s repeated throughout the book.

    The illustrations are simple and wonderful, especially the expressions on the animals’ faces.  You can really tell what they are feeling and thinking throughout the story.  The question marks and the light bulb illustrations add a bit of suspense to the book and serve as excellent prompts to ask children what they think is going to happen next before turning each page.

    This book is durable and printed on quality semi-gloss card stock paper, which is perfect for younger readers who may be prone to ripping book pages.

    Overall, I believe this makes for a good read aloud book for smaller children ages 1 – 6 years old.  They will learn about topics like: teamwork, problem-solving, friendship, outside-the-box thinking, persistence, feelings and helping.

    For more information about the book or author please visit

    Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

    Your turn:  Did you enjoy this review?  Have you read this book to your little ones yet?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    read aloud

    7 Ways Reading Has Made Me a Better Mom

    Growing up, I didn’t have a nightly ritual of snuggling up with my parents while they read books aloud with me and my sister.  Instead, I read books on my own when I was old enough to read.  I always wanted to have someone read bedtime stories with me so I vowed that whenever God blessed me with my own children I would read with them every night.

    Since becoming a mom almost three years ago, (I seriously cannot believe “Sparkles” is almost 3) I’ve managed to stick to my plan of daily read aloud time with the kids.  The only times I’ve skipped our read aloud sessions are the few times when I traveled out of town for work.  Other than that, I’ve been very consistent squeezing in 15-30 minutes of reading time each day either in the morning or at night.

    Perhaps you can relate, but I believe reading aloud to the children over the past three years has made me a better mom.  Here’s how:


    1. It Calms Me
    Reading calms me and makes me feel productive.  It’s also a great stress reliever for me as it allows me to escape even if for just a few minutes.  This is a win-win for my entire family because when mommy’s happy, everyone’s happy.

    2. It’s Boosting My Vocabulary
    By reading books, magazines and blogs daily my vocabulary has increased tremendously.  Also, now that I’m learning Latin I’m gaining more knowledge and insight of how words were formed in English, Spanish and other foreign languages.  The kids will benefit from this directly because I’ll be able to pass on what I’m learning to them.

    3. It Makes My Children Happy
    I love seeing the look on the kids’ faces when I sit down to read with them.  They’ve come to expect that reading books will be a part of our day and whenever I say it’s story time their eyes light up and they run and go grab the books they want to read.  Love it!

    4.  It Keeps My Brain From Turning Into Mush
    As a parent I am pulled in so many different directions, but most of them are not intellectually stimulating unless of course you count reading, Sudoku, and listening to podcasts.  Being able to read books pushes me to consider other people’s opinions, form my own opinions, and gain new perspective on a variety of different topics.  Reading helps to stimulate my brain and stay more alert which is especially helpful when you have two toddlers like I do.

    5. It Has Taught Me To Trust Myself – I’m Doing The Best I Can For My Family
    Through having different conversations with other parents, I’ve learned that not everyone will subscribe to daily read aloud time with their kids like I do.  They also won’t start a blog dedicated to reading, make multiple trips to the library each week, read for their own pleasure or do any of the things that I do for my family.  And that’s OK.  I trust myself to know that I’m doing the best I can for my family.

    6.  It’s the Perfect Bonding Time With the Kids
    Story time with the kids is the perfect time to connect and bond with them.  Whether it’s first thing in the morning before drop-offs or the last thing we do together at night.  It’s such a precious time for me that I’ve come to cherish.

    7. It’s Teaching the Kids to Love Reading
    I love the fact that something as simple as reading to children can instill a love of reading in them.  I hope that by reading with them daily and seeing me read frequently they won’t fall into the category of kids who “hate” reading or think it’s boring or uncool.  I want to teach them to become lifelong readers and leaders.

    Your turn:  What have you learned from reading with your children?  What are some things (besides reading) that have made you a better person or a better mom?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    our latest obsession

    Our Latest Obsession: Song School Latin & Why I’m Learning Latin

    About fours months ago, I started studying Latin.  Although Latin is considered to be a dead language that isn’t spoken anymore, I was intrigued to learn it for a few reasons which I’ll mention below.  Through my own personal studies, I came across an awesome DVD for the kids called Song School Latin.  The kids and I are now obsessed with watching this DVD over and over.  The songs are so fun and catchy and we’re learning Latin words at the same time.  Score!

    Now, please understand I’m not advocating that young children need to learn Latin or any other foreign language.  I believe it’s important for kids to have a good grasp on phonics and their native language before learning a new one.  However, if multiple languages are spoken by parents or caregivers at home then kids will naturally pick them up on their own through frequent interactions.  Ok, enough of my little disclaimer…let me tell you what Song School Latin is and why I’m learning Latin.

    Song School Latin is a program that allows you to start Latin, in a fun and kid-friendly way.  The program is recommended for children ages 6 – 12 years old, but my kids are almost 2 and 3 years old and they love it!  Latin vocabulary is taught through kid friendly songs. This is not an immersion program, instead of the songs being fully in Latin, the Latin words are incorporated into English lyrics, which makes it easier for kids to internalize the meaning of the Latin words by listening to the songs.  The songs are fun and catchy which makes it easy to learn the Latin words and retain them.

    Another fun resource I found for the kids are these FREE printable Latin Coloring Pages.

    Why I’m Learning Latin
    When I learned that 50% of all English words come from Latin and 90% of all polysyllabic words come from Latin I immediately became curious to learn it.  To me, it makes perfect sense to learn the logic and root of the English language and romance languages like Spanish.  Here are some other reasons why I wanted to learn Latin:

    • Studying Latin prepares students to master English and foreign languages.
    • Students of Latin typically score the highest on SATs and tests on English vocabulary!
    • Latin will enhance your learning experience and open up a world of vocabulary and knowledge you never knew existed.
    • Latin is the language of law, medicine, science, music, art, philosophy, literature, and theology.  Knowing Latin and roots of words used in any of these professions is a tremendous help.
    • Latin develops the mental ability to sort and analyze logically at a young age. This ability enhances academic progress in nearly every other subject.
    • Monuments and art all over the world are frequently graced with Latin.  Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to translate what is written on your own?
    • I think the Ancient Romans and Greeks are so cool!  Enough said.
    • I want to start reading more classical books and really understand them.

    I hope you found this mini review of Song School Latin to be useful.  I’ve read it’s really popular in homeschool environments as well for those of you who homeschool your kids.

    Your turn:  Did you enjoy this post?  Have you ever watched the Song School Latin DVD with your kids?  What other Latin resources have you come across for kids that have been useful?  Want to know what resources and books I’m using to study Latin?  Feel free to let me know in the comments.