Blogging 101

fireworks

I hit a mini milestone at TheRoomMom last week. I have written 101 posts. When I started the blog 9 months ago, I had a list of about 20 ideas, so I am a little thrilled that I have put together 101 ideas, and I still have a few more in the hopper. As I look back, there are definitely some posts that resonate better than others.

carpool sign hanging

According to my stats, my most popular post is Carpool Etiquette. I also had my best day view-wise on the day I published the carpool rules. Why? I linked to a hilarious carpool post by HotMessMom, and she shared my link on her Facebook page. Wham! I had over 300 views in an hour. It gave me a small taste of what it would be like to have a Superblog.

american girl diy dessert

My most popular DIY post is the American Girl Buffet. It is also my most popular Pinterest referral. Obviously, I need to make more American Girl accessories. I am not sure Miss Priss can handle it.

Jedi Robe and Lightsaber 3

I was surprised that the Tonka Birthday Party was the most viewed party idea. I was sure it was going to be the Star Wars Sleepover.

Back to School Teacher Emergency Kit Contents

The best teacher gift idea is the Teacher Emergency Kit. This also happens to be my favorite gift idea, and I plan to re-post again every August right before school starts.

Teacher Speak is the highest rated parent/teacher post I have. I guess we all need tips for parent/teacher conferences.

Flotsam and Who's Driving

My most popular book list is the Picture Book post. My favorite book list is the Classic Re-Makes.

breakfast cup close up

It seems Breakfast Cups are the best snack food. I must say readers, you made a good choice there.

Here’s to TheRoomMom!

Book Motivators

the book collection

I hate to use the word trick, but teachers have all kinds of “methods” to get kids started down the path of a lifelong reader. As a parent, I will pull out a few of these teacher strategies at home if needed too. After consulting with some co-teachers, I am posting my favorite ways to get kids to grab that next book. Whether you teach or have kids at home, one of these tips should get somebody interested in a new book. Any other suggestions out there for book motivators?

book rec samples

Book Recommendations

  • I dedicate one classroom bulletin board to student book recommendations. I laminated a closed manila folder and slit the opening at the top to make a pocket. The folder is attached to the bulletin board and is filled with short Book Recommendation Forms. In their free time, students may fill out a form and pin it to the board. I also add recommendations for the books I read. Before the students head to their weekly library time, we check the board and share recommendations. Often, students arrive at the library with a book or author in mind, which makes library time more productive. They are not wandering around aimlessly hoping a book cover will grab them. Having books ideas in your head before heading to any library is very effective (parent hint).

book rec form completed

Read Aloud Wednesdays

  • I borrowed (stole?) this idea from my good friend and co-worker. Every Wednesday, a student gets to read an excerpt from a favorite book during reading class. A) It provides opportunity to read aloud and improve fluency. B) It encourages book discussion because several students may end up reading the same book about the same time. My teacher friend is in the read aloud rotation, so students hear a “professional” reader occasionally too.

Featured Books

  • The same teacher who has Read Aloud Wednesdays also has “featured books” displayed on her class bookshelf. When this 6th grade teacher finds a good read, she sets it on a book stand at the front of the shelf to highlight the book. There are write-on cards nearby that give a quick endorsement of the book. Students can suggest books for the feature book area as well. Her book shelf looks like the staff recommendation table at the library or Barnes and Noble. Sorry– no picture available. She was teaching class when I tried to stop by to document her fab idea.

What Should I Read Next?

  • Students drop book names into a jar on the teacher’s desk (or a parent’s nightstand?). The teacher draws titles from the jar and that is what the teacher will read next. There is something appealing about having input in what a teacher will do. It is like giving a teacher a homework assignment– every student’s dream.

Reading Requirement

  • Set time limits for completing books. Just like reading a book too quickly will decrease reading comprehension, taking too long to complete a book can have the same effect and kill the enjoyment. Currently, I require students to read 300 pages a month. However, a book must be completed in order for the pages to count. If you want to read the 1,000 page Harry Potter, then you are committing to finishing that book by the end of the month. It prevents students from languishing over a book too long and forgetting character information and key plot details. On the other hand, a student could read three 100-page books, which might be more manageable and can keep the pace reasonable for an average 4th grade reader.

Books with a Sequel

  • Two of the novel studies we completed this year have sequel books. If you read an awesome class novel, it takes no prompting at all to get everyone to read the sequel (Parents, try reading a great book that has a sequel with your child and then leave the child to continue the series). After we finished The Lemonade War by Davies and Dying to Meet You by Klise, all but two students lined up for the sequel. Between the school library and my classroom library, we had three copies of the Lemonade Crime and three copies of Over My Dead Body. I put all the names on a wait list and drew out of a hat until all students had read the book sequels. 

tom angleberger letter

Author Letters

  • I have a whole post about this activity, and I also posted free lesson plans in my TeachersPayTeachers store for writing author letters. The activity has many layers because students research contact information for the author (which might be as simple as reading the publisher page of a book). They recall business letter format to prepare the letter, practice writing addresses– you would be surprised how many 4th graders cannot do this and do not know state abbreviations– and (hopefully) use good writing skills. Every time we receive a reply from an author, it boosts interest in that book. In addition, we have had several authors recommend other book titles to us in the letters. The author letters and replies share a bulletin board with the book recommendations.

book rec wall

That Book Sounds Familiar

charlotte's web    one and only ivan

I teach fourth grade and have elementary school aged children, so I have a legitimate reason for reading children’s books. The truth is– I just like them. They are (usually) fabulous stories; they are fast reads, and it is an activity I can share with my children.

Many of the stories my children and I have been reading lately have a familiar ring to them. Authors are recycling the same plot details and character types from the best books I read growing up. I was so struck by the similarities between Phantom Tollbooth and Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes that I wrote the Peter Nimble author to ask about it. He responded! The Just Deserts section of the book is a small tribute to Jester and his play on words. Jody Feldman credits Dahl as a source of inspiration for her book, The Gollywhopper Games (See the Author Letters post about contacting authors).

Below is a list of some new and old favorites. Is there something on the list that brings back memories of your favorite childhood book? Is there a recent version that is almost as good?

The Classic

The Re-Make

  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  • The One and Only Ivan by Applegate
  •  Lord of the Rings by Tolkien
  • The Ranger’s Apprentice by Flanagan
  • From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by Konigsburg
  • Wonderstruck by Selznick
  •  Wrinkle in Time by L’Engle
  • When You Reach Me by Stead
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Dahl
  • The Gollywhopper Games by Feldman
  • Floors by Carmen
  • Remarkable by Foley
  •  The Phantom Tollbooth by Jester
  • Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Auxier
  •  The Boxcar Children Mysteries by Warner
  • The Sherlock Files series by Barrett
  •  Peter Pan by Barrie
  • Peter and the Starcatchers by Barry
  •  Hatchet by Paulsen
  • Far North by Hobbs
  •  Nancy Drew Mysteries by Keene
  • Red Blazer Girls by Beil
  • The Borrowers by Norton
  • Indian in the Cupboard by Banks
  • The Doll People by Martin and Godwin

Because I Just Can’t Read That Book One More Time

There are many benefits to reading picture books and chapter books multiple (even hundreds) of times, but if you are the parent doing the reading, this can be a labor of love. A dear friend told me that if she reads Pinkalicious one more time, she may have to “set the book on fire” (original comment has been censored).

As repetitive as it can be for parents, it is a good thing to read a picture book so many times your kid can recite the words from memory. Children are absorbing the words into their “sight” word bank without realizing it. They are picking up word and sentence structure patterns like capitalization at the beginning of a sentence and punctuation at the end of a sentence. They are learning to follow the story from left to right and top to bottom. I am not recommending you force yourself to suffer through the same book beyond your breaking point, but I am recommending you read aloud often with your children (and that may include a re-run or two… or ten).

Reading aloud to your child models good reading techniques and helps with fluency. It gives you time to stop and talk about what is happening, so you can informally check listening skills and improve your child’s comprehension. Picture books are short, so it is easy to complete a whole story in one sitting. Picture books for older readers have a lot of depth and require some critical thought, so you can keep reading these books all the way through elementary school; there are many I use for lessons with my 4th grade students. Lastly, it is enjoyable and relaxing and how often do you get that kind of time with your child?

The picture books on the list below pass my can-be-read-10-days-in-a-row test. Help me out with additional read aloud suggestions that won’t get stale too quickly. The books below may be new to you, but they have been in high rotation at my house for awhile now.

Amazing Illustrations

  • King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood (or others by this author)
  • The Brambly Hedge series by Jill Barklem
  • Flotsam by David Wiesner (or others by this author)
  • The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett (or others by this author)

Puzzle-y/Interactive

  • Who’s Hiding? by Satoru Onishi
  • Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young
  • What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
  • Who is Driving? by Leo Timmers
  • I Spy: An Alphabet in Art by Lucy Micklethwait
  • Press Here by Herve Tullet

Non-Fiction/Based on a True Story

  • Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell
  • My Apron by Eric Carle (be sure to read the author note at the end)
  • One Giant Leap by Robert Burleigh
  • Two Bobbies by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery
  • Emily by Michael Bedard

For a Laugh

  • Dear Deer: A Book of Homophones by Gene Barretta
  • Giggle, Giggle, Quack by Doreen Cronin (or others by this author)
  • A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech
  • Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann

Other Picture Book Authors I Like

  • Mem Fox
  • Patricia Polacco
  • David Shannon
  • Mo Willems
  • Chris Van Allsburg

Super Book Series and Sensational Sequels

Part of my Harry Potter book collection. Original box set purchased in England. Advanced reader’s copy of Prisoner of Azkaban (no cover art).

I have not done any official research on this or anything, but I am pretty sure Harry Potter kicked off a demand for books with sequels. I know it inspired a whole slew of fantasy-wizard-magic books. In my never ending quest to find the best young person’s book, I feel like the majority of my new reads often have “Book I” printed on the spine.  I also noticed my students tend to reach for books with a sequel more than ever. I actually had a student who read nothing but Hank the Cowdog books all year (there are 59 of them). I tried to encourage a little diversity in his reading, but he was determined to finish the series. I have to admit I was a little impressed that he stuck with it; a series like that can get pretty repetitive. My point is, books with a sequel seem to be more popular than ever.

Which series are the most satisfying to you? Which series didn’t work and should have ended after that great first book? Below are my picks.

Young Readers (1st grade to 4th grade)

  • Magic Treehouse by Osborne (on the verge of the repetitive thing but that can be a good thing for emerging readers)
  • Boxcar Children by Warner (up through book 19, author changes after that and falls victim to repetitiveness– see note above)
  • Henry Huggins by Cleary
  • Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing and Fudge by Blume
  • Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist by LaFevers
  • The Sherlock Files by Barrett

Older Readers (4th grade and up)

  • Chronicles of Narnia by Lewis
  • Ranger’s Apprentice by Flanagan
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Riordan
  • The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Kessler (have not read the newly released 4th book yet)
  • Mistmantle Chronicles by McAllister
  • Peter and the Starcatchers by Barry
  • Conspiracy 365 by Lord (must be read in order)
  • The White Mountains (Tripods) trilogy by Christopher
  • Wrinkle in Time by L’Engle
  • 43 Old Cemetery Road by Klise
  • The Magic Thief by Prineas
  • The Magickeepers by Kirov

Not exactly a series, but there are companions

  • Rosie and Crooked Little Heart by Lamott
  • Lemonade Wars and Lemonade Crime by Davies
  • The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger by Lowry
  • Hoot, Flush, Scat, and Chomp by Hiaasen

Sequels are in the works, and I am anxiously awaiting more

  • Museum of Thieves by Tanner
  • The False Prince by Nielsen
  • The Books of Elsewhere by West

Series that should have stopped after the first or second book (in my opinion)

  • Mysterious Benedict Society by Stewart
  • Secret Series by Bosch
  • Series of Unfortunate Events by Snicket (Can these kids ever catch a break?)
  • Junie B. Jones by Park (Kindergarten was great; first grade was obnoxious.)
  • The Gideon Trilogy by Buckley-Archer (long and slow)