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My First Book Series: A Book Review

Back in November 2015, I introduced you to author Sophie Helenek when I featured her as the literacy expert for the month.  In addition to being an award-winning author, Sophie is an elite athlete, former banker, Everest summiteer, runway model, and mother.  Also, her daughter happens to go to the same preschool as my son – how cool is that?

Sophie recently wrote an entire series of children’s board books called My First Book.  There are several books in the series including: My First Book Sky Wonders, My First Book Fruits, My First Book Musical InstrumentsMy First Book Shapes, My First Book Christmas (Kindle edition) and My First Book Pets (Kindle edition).


Each book in the My First Book series is designed to stimulate and captivate baby from birth to toddlerhood, while fueling inspiration and knowledge of your bundle of joy surroundings.

These board books have received top accolades honoring excellence in family-friendly products, and prestigious awards for its innovation, attention to quality, and educational properties which seals only the very best in reading excellence.

At birth, babies are very nearsighted; that is why they are interested in bold black and white shapes and high contrast patterns. Eager to learn more, Sophie read a bunch of studies on speech development, child temperament, and babies’ milestones. Gathering all this information, she developed and designed My First Books series from a baby’s perspective.  She wanted to write an engaging book that promotes bonding and supports an infant’s developmental growth milestones: vision, memory, speech, and social skills.

They are not just picture books or bedtime stories, but rather activity books conceived to stimulate a baby’s senses.

Here how it works:

  • At first, a baby will enjoy simple illustrations with black-and-white and high-contrast patterns designed especially for the very young to focus on.
  • As babies gets older, their brains learn to distinguish bright primary colors and will start identifying the illustrations with the words you read, which triggers their memory process.
  • Each picture is accompanied by a simple word that babies will love repeating and which helps their speech development.
  • The last pages show all the illustrations together, which also helps the baby’s memory process.
  • My First Book series offers a special feature for toddlers, as they can write on the book with a white board pen, wipe it, and write again!

The first thing that surprised me about these books is the way both of my kids gravitated towards them.  The first night we read them the kids eagerly wanted to read them again and again…no exaggeration.  Perhaps they are attracted to the bright and bold colors of the illustrations or the simplicity of books, I’m not sure.  Whatever it is, they like them and so do I.

My children are slowly outgrowing board books as they’re getting older, but I think these books are perfect for babies and toddlers alike.  Of course for the youngest readers, you won’t have to worry about these books being slobbered upon, crinkled up, ripped, or worse. These board books provide a sturdy option for the smallest of the small while still offering the opportunity to expose your child to good books.

My three-year old daughter can read all of the words and name the objects in each book without any assistance from me.  My son can name the colors, identify the shapes, name the fruits and instruments, but he’s not at the reading stage yet.

I also enjoy using these books for both letter recognition and counting with the kids too.  In addition, I like to incorporate theme-related songs like “Apples and Bananas” (when we’re reading the My First Book Fruits book) and activities to expand on the topic of each book.  As an added bonus, toddlers and preschoolers can even use a dry erase marker on these books and then wipe them clean when they’re ready to practice handwriting.

If you have an infant or know someone who will be giving birth to a baby in the coming months, I’d highly recommend this children’s book series to help with those important developmental growth milestones.

To learn more about author Sophie Helenek connect with her on social media:
Twitter:  @nurserybooks

Your turn: Have you read any of the books in this series with your little readers?  Do you still read board books with your children?  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.

children's literacy

Literacy Expert Spotlight: Saroj Ghoting

Our literacy expert for the month of August is Saroj Ghoting.  Saroj Ghoting is an Early Childhood Literacy Consultant and national trainer on early literacy. She presents early literacy training and information sessions at national, regional, and state conferences, and training for library staff and their partners.  Her newest book is STEP into Storytime: Using StoryTime Effective Practice to Strengthen the Development of Newborns to Five-Year-Olds and includes information on presenting storytimes for mixed-age groups, when newborn to five-year-olds are in the same storytime.


Saroj, please tell us a little about yourself.
I am a children’s librarian by profession and after working in Montgomery County (MD) Public Libraries for 25 years, I became a consultant. I travel around the country presenting workshops on early literacy to public library staff so that they will, in turn, go out into their communities and help families help their children enter school ready to learn to read.

What are some activities that promote literacy?
Well, the most obvious is reading books with children from the time they are born (or even while you are pregnant). Equally important though is talking with your young children. HOW we talk and read with children is as important as that we talk and read with them.

When talking with babies, for instance, we should use that “parentese” voice, higher pitch, elongated vowels, clearer speech slowing down language, not baby talk, but using regular adult words in this higher pitch. Studies show that until about nine months of age babies listen longer when we speak this way and actually have a larger vocabulary than those who are not spoken to in parentese. And, we want to use all kinds of words, not just nouns like bottle, blanket, applesauce, dog.

It is important to use rich language—use adjectives, talk about things they cannot see—we are going to visit grandma on Saturday even though they don’t see grandma in front of them. For older children, asking questions that cannot be answered with yes or no to encourage their language is key for later literacy.

When reading, don’t worry if you can’t get through the whole book. Don’t turn reading into a power struggle. Have a few enjoyable minutes and the more enjoyable it is, the more your child will want to do it. Set aside the phone, turn off the tv, enjoy your few minutes together. Children who have enjoyable experiences around books and reading are more likely to stick with learning to read in school even if it is hard to learn at first.

What were some of the favorite children’s picture books you’ve read this year?
Mama’s Day with Little Gray by Aimee Reid
I’m Not Reading! By Jonathan Allen
The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland
Where’s Walrus by Stephen Savage
Hooray for Hat by Brian Won

What are some other books you like to share with young children?
I like the Llama Llama books by Anna Dewdney, the If You Give . . . books by Laura Numeroff, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star by Jane Cabrera, Over in the Meadow and other titles by Marianne Berkes, Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Rosenthal, A Splendid Friend Indeed by Suzanne Bloom, A Mother for Choco and Wolf’s Chicken Stew by Keiko Kasza, Thank You Bear by Greg Foley, Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman, Angel Baby by Pat Cummings, Leo Loves Baby Time by Anna McQuinn, Nothing Like a Puffin by Sue Soltis, The Cow Loves Cookies by Karma Wilson, Mouse Shapes by Ellen Walsh, Blue Sea by Robert Kalan, Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler.

Besides reading, what are some other things parents can do to set their children up for literacy success?
I mentioned talking already. Remember talking TO your child is not the same as talking WITH your child and talking WITH your child elicits more language. And how about singing! Even if you can’t sing, sing with your child. There is a distinct note for each syllable which helps them hear the smaller sounds in words which will later help them sound out words when they learn to read.

As you play with your children, follow their lead. You can add print to what they are doing. Playing restaurant, how about a sign with the name of the restaurant? Playing doctor, how about a sign in sheet, a prescription pad?

If you could give parents one piece of advice about reading with children, what would it be?
Whether parents can read well or not, share books with your children in enjoyable ways, relating what is in the book to the child’s experience. This is the basis for comprehension which is so crucial to later reading.  Remember to use factual books as well. Your public library is a great place to go for books and for advice on books you and your children can enjoy together.

Name a book that:
a) Inspired you: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
b) Made you laugh out loud: Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
c) You recommend to others often: Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager by Anthony Wolf

What books are on your nightstand or e-reader right now?
Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim

How can people get in touch with you on social media or on your website?
Twitter: @sghoting
Facebook: Saroj Ghoting, Early Childhood Literacy Consultant

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.

children's literacy

Raising Readers: How I Taught My Two-Year Old Daughter to Read

How did you teach your two-year old daughter to read?

This is a question I’ve been asked several times over the past few months.  My answer is always the same…I didn’t.  I fully intended on teaching her how to read as I wanted to be the one to do it, but since she reads well on her own I may not even have to do this.

Not many people know that my daughter can read as it’s not something I go around telling others.  I’ve noticed sometimes people think you’re bragging or maybe even lying, when in fact you’re just happy and proud.  Therefore, only a handful of people have been privy to my daughter’s reading skills.

Education has always been extremely important to me.  When I was a child I used to always say I wanted to be a teacher when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Well, when I finally “grew up” I changed my mind and decided on the computer field instead.  Perhaps some day I’ll be a college professor and finally have the opportunity to fulfill my dreams of teaching.  For now, I’ll settle as being my children’s first teacher.

I knew even before I had children that I didn’t want to their learning left entirely up to the public school system.  I make it a point to supplement whatever they are learning in daycare or school with my own teachings by making it fun.

Here are some things that worked really well for us in helping my daughter to read:

  • Talking to my daughter telling her what we were doing. “I’m putting your pink dress on you. Here it goes over your head. Now, let’s put on your socks. Here’s your left foot. On goes the white sock.”  You’d be surprised how much kids appreciate it when you talk to them about their daily activities.  Now, my daughter will often ask me, “What are we doing today, mommy?” and I tell her our plans for the day.
  • Starting at six months I used index cards and labeled furniture, toys, television, tables, mirrors, stairs, refrigerator, doors, etc. Nearly everything in our house was labeled and I would take the time to “read” the words as we walked by them.
  • Lots of exposure to the alphabet in the form of singing songs and reading alphabet books. We read the same ones over and over and over.  This also helped her learn the sounds each of the letters make.
  • Exposure to traditional nursery rhymes and poems in the form of books and songs.  I chose books that had lots of colored pictures, pointing out any objects and words as I read them.
  • Reading books aloud daily for at least 15 – 30 minutes since birth.  I keep several books in rotation each month reading them over and over again.  Then at the end of the month I pick out a new set of books to read for the next month.
  • Making frequent visits to the library.  We go weekly to pick out new books, for story time, playgroups, etc.
  • Teaching and practicing sign language since birth.  She knows several signs as well as the letters of the alphabet in sign language.
  • Doing sight word and alphabet activities together including craft projects.
  • Alphabet puzzles, alphabet mats, sandpaper letters, and alphabet foam letters from the Dollar Store.
  • Reading my own books in front of the kids.  The children see me reading often.

Around the age of 18 months I noticed my daughter had become smitten with the alphabet.  She was always singing the ABC song and she only wanted me to read her alphabet books.  By the age of two, (24 months) she could recite several sight words and started taking more of an interest in words and what they said.My daughter is now almost 3 years old (33 months) and she can read several easy reader books on her own.  At first, I thought she was just reciting the books we owned from memory because she knew them so well.  However, I realized that wasn’t the case when I started giving her easy reader books to read that she’d never seen before.  That’s when I realized…my baby can read!  She can actually read!  And I’m not talking just those beginner reading books that contain sentences like, “Pat sat on her mat” and “See the fox run.”I guess all my hard work is paying off.  I am raising readers!  Of course, she’s still very much in the beginning stages of reading, but she’s off to a great start!

Here are a few other things to note:

  • I try to foster a love of reading and books.
  • I try to take advantage of teachable moments no matter where we are: the grocery store, the library, driving in the car, the playground.
  • I do not try to push my own style of learning onto my daughter.  Instead, I notice what she responds to (i,e., music) and just go with it.
  • I do not drill my daughter with flash cards or worksheets.  I think flash cards and worksheets are great, but this is not my approach.
  • I do not pressure my daughter to learn.
  • I try to make things fun like a game so it doesn’t seem like a chore or a hassle.
  • I do not try to compartmentalize learning into just one time of the day.
  • I do not get upset if she doesn’t learn or understand something; instead I set it aside and try again another time usually in a couple of weeks.
  • I do not try to make my daughter sit still; instead, I keep learning active.  Our bodies are meant to be in motion.  I let my daughter get up and move around if she wants to.
I plan to follow this same approach with my 18-month old son.  He’s already showing signs of following in his sister’s footsteps.  I look forward to seeing if he learns to read on his own the same way my daughter did.
Your turn:  What has helped your child learn to read?  Feel free to let me know your tips in the comments.
children's literacy

A Simple Way to Improve Your Storytelling Skills

When I first discovered eeBoo after reading about them online last December, I was instantly impressed.  Their games, puzzles, flash cards, and wall art are exactly the kind of toys we like to have in our home.  They are colorful, educational, and made of high-quality recycled materials.

One of the many products eeBoo produces is an award-winning early literacy product called Tell Me a Story Creative Story Cards.  These cards are my “secret weapon” I use when I want an alternative to reading books and they are perfect for honing my storytelling skills.  Recommended for ages 3 and up (although I use them with my 1 & 2 year olds), the deck of 36 beautifully illustrated cards assist children in creating their own stories.

An endless number of stories are possible by placing any number of the cards in any order. Short stories, long stories, kids create a new story every time they shuffle the deck. The whole family can make a game out of the cards, by taking turns picking cards and telling a story together. Parents, grandparents and teachers will find the cards useful as an aid in their own storytelling.  Brilliant!

Create a Story Cards: Volcano Island

Here’s the basic breakdown of how the story cards work. You lay out all the cards.  Then you choose, or have your child(ren) choose, the cards they find interesting.  Choose as many or as few cards as you like, and lay them out in an order that tells your story.

Then you go through the cards, describing them in any way you or your child(ren) wishes to tell the story of your making.  And that’s it! Super simple and a really fun way to work the imagination and gain better understanding of the process of storytelling.

eeBoo offers four different sets of story cards: Circus Animal Adventures, Fairy Tale Mix-Up, Mystery in the Forest, Volcano Island, Animal Village and Little Robots Mission. Sized small at about 4″ x 5″, the cards pack easily in a bag, perfect for travel and come in a sturdy sliding tray box. Because the set is priced reasonably at $9.95, we plan on buying a few of the other sets for more storytelling possibilities. I imagine you can even mix the sets together and make up some pretty wacky stories!

These open-ended card sets allow for endless variations on games and activities based upon storytelling. The simplest activity is for a young child to choose three cards from the deck and then tell a story (or a sentence) that incorporates the three items shown on the card. As a child begins to gain confidence in telling stories, the number of cards may be increased, or additional players may be added to take turns to create a cooperative story, a fun social group activity.

My 2 1/2 year-old daughter has a pretty awesome imagination already, and I’ve really enjoyed listening to her tell me some excellent stories. I’ve been particularly pleased because the set encourages her to speak her mind and become a little more vocal, skills that she needs to practice before she starts Pre-K3 this fall.

I hope you found this helpful.

Happy Storytelling!