Thursday, March 26, 2009

Books in the Digital Age

Books have really changed in the last few years. Now you can see and hear books in ways you could only read about in science fiction. From entire books online to books on tape and video, there are a multitude of choices for you and your students. Some are even free. Those that charge often have compelling reasons to purchase them. Many also come with support material. (Always check with the publisher!) Tonight's two cents is a round up of some of the digital media you might use with your students.

Complete books online
Perhaps you were a fan of Sad to say, its pages are now closed. Tumblebooks, however, is still available at a subscription rate. There are 3 categories of ebooks: TumbleBookLibrary (picture books), TumbleReadables (late elementary to high school) and TumbleTalkingBooks (for public libraries). These ebooks provide narration, music and highlighted sentences in the reading of the books. Subscribers also have access to games, quizzes and teacher resources. A free 30 day trial subscription is available.

Another resource for videos and books is provided by the Screen Actors Guild Program Foundation. Storyline Online is a non profit site, with original funding granted by Verizon. They have a website that posts videos of actors reading some of your favorite books. Related activities and downloadable guides are available. Hear James Earl Jones read To Be a Drum, for example.

If you have a subscription to Discovery Education Streaming (formerly known as United Streaming), you have access to some of the best made movies of children’s literature- Weston Woods videos. Now owned by Scholastic, Weston Woods animates the book’s illustrations, adding music, and using professional actors to narrate the story. Use the subtitles to give your ESL and struggling readers another tool for comprehension. Check out the extras, as they often have illustrator or author interviews as part of the film. You can also buy them individually from Scholastic or your book wholesaler.

Books on tape
I am a huge fan of “books on tape.” Listening to a book being read can be a lovely thing. When I drove across America to San Diego, I listened to Jim Dale read most of the Harry Potter books. I'm not sure I would have made it over those scary mountains into California without the soothing voices of Jim Dale. Many of the adults I know listen to books on their commute to work. However, we can also use these digital books to help our students.

At the IMC where I work, our readalongs are one of our most popular items. We include the book on CD or tape and 5 books. Teachers can group students to share the reading of a book at a listening center. Listening Library and Recorded Books offer great books on tape.

Playaways are another option. These small audio devices have the books recorded on them. Each Playaway is a different machine. They automatically bookmark your stopping place. Costing from 30 to 60 dollars, these teen-friendly digital books, are a cool way to listen to everything from the classics to Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians. You can use earbuds or connect them to speakers and fill the room with the sound of a wonderful book. You can order them from Follett, Recorded Books and BBC America. Some publishers of the stories sell the Playaways on their sites as well (Live Oak Media and Weston Woods, for example). For more information see the Playaway site. Canadian libraries have a link on the Playaway site.

Which books to buy?
Start by looking at award winning books. ALA publishes a Notable Recordings list every year. These Best Recordings are chosen by a team of librarians who listen to the best of the best and selectively choose the best audio books. The Odyssey Award is given to the best audio recording of a book. That may be another selection if it fits your age group.

For books on video, try the Notable Video selections. Like the Notable Recordings, librarians watch a multitude of videos each year to select the best. Many of these are books that are animated.

YALSA, a division of ALA, has an Awesome Audiobook list. This notable list was renamed in 2009. It was previously called Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults. The awards list goes back to 1999 and selects the best books of the last two years.

Last but not least
The Kindle and the Sony Reader. No, I don’t have either. Easy to use, these digital readers allow you to download entire books into a large paperback sized tablet. The new Kindle will even read to you- not James Earl Jones, but it is reading aloud. It’s not the same as curling up with a paper book, but after hauling 8 books across Canada so I wouldn’t run out of things to read this week, I am really close to at least trying it. I'll let you know.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Parent Connection

This week Aunt Betty was invited to speak to children and parents at two of our local schools. At Field Elementary, they celebrated Dr. Seuss’ Birthday with a Literacy Night. After Aunt Betty’s storytelling, parents and children rotated to three different activities: bookmark making, reading as a family and listening to stories in the library. The Cat in the Hat made a special visit.

At Loma Portal Elementary, after Aunt Betty told stories, the students went by grade level to areas around the school where they listened to books. After they left, Aunt Betty was able to meet with the parents to talk about how to get their children to read. She offered two bits of advice.

Advice Number 1: Let Them Read
One of the best ways to get them to read is to let them read- whatever they want to read. Adults have a tendency to want children to read “good literature.” Bottom line is that readers read- everything. From menus to manuals and newspapers to cereal boxes, real readers read. By allowing children to choose what they like, parents can lessen the pressure that often happens at school. Let them read too hard, too easy, or books they have read five million times. Let them read about underwear and bugs. Let them read books that were adapted from movies. Let them stop reading a book that doesn’t interest them. Life is short. Reading- especially at home- should be a pleasure, not a punishment.

Advice Number 2: Don’t Give Up.
Sometimes kids get into a reading rut. They read the same book over and over. I once taught a boy who checked out There’s a Nightmare in my Closet the entire year he was in kindergarten. Then there are kids who read the same series- and only that. There are kids who “never finish a book.”

In my experience, I have found that time changes most things-even reading patterns. Eventually the kindergarten child went on to read books about eagles. He read every book about eagles. Of course, he only read about eagles, but this too, eventually passed. Kids will only read Captain Underpants for so long- not that there's anything wrong with that. As their interests change, as their friends grow, their reading patterns adapt.

So...Be Patient
When you have a child who doesn’t finish reading a book, perhaps it’s time to investigate. Perhaps he doesn’t have enough time to properly choose a book. Perhaps it’s too hard or easy, so he loses interest. Perhaps the cover was misleading or he didn’t know enough about the book before he chose it. Ask questions about his library visits. Take him to the library or bookstore and watch him select. Then you can ask more questions and perhaps determine how to help him select. Your librarian or book seller can help you guide him to good choices.

Maybe your children are different ages and bedtime stories are difficult. Perhaps you can allow the children to take turns selecting the books. You might choose books from the list of 100 books everyone ought to know. From time to time offer separate story times. Allow your older child to read to the younger. Allow your younger child to “read” to the older. He can picture walk through the story. You may want to discuss this idea with the older child so he doesn’t try to “correct” his sibling. Remind him that he began to read in much the same way. You may want to vary your reading time. Perhaps you can read after dinner instead of just before bedtime. Read in the doctor's office while you wait.


□ Allow children to stop reading a book.
□ Do some legwork as to how your child selects books.
□ Find out more about the newest and best children’s books.
□ Read shorter picture books with multi-age groups.
□ Use booklists. Nancy Keane has “if you liked this” kind of lists on her wiki. Your public or school library may have a database like Novelist.
□ Take your child to the school or public library.
□ Ownership is important. Add to your family bookshelf as often as you can.
□ Look for reading opportunities in your every day life. Read menus, road signs, cookbooks, the newspaper.
□ Be a role model.
□ Real readers read and real writers write.
□ Don’t give up. Everyone has spurts of “non-reading.”

For Further Reading
Backes, Laura. Best Books for Kids (who Think) They Hate to Read, Prima Lifestyles, 2001
Codell, Esme. How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, Algonguin Books of Chapel Hill, 2003
Trelease, Jim. The Read Aloud Handbook, Penguin, 2006