“Charlie Cook’s Favorite Book” by Julia Donaldson

Just like letters without words would merely be abstract shapes, the words without context don’t make much sense either. They can mean everything and nothing at the same time. But if you combine the right words in a clever sentence, arrange the sentences into a coherent paragraph and paragraphs into a captivating story, the book will carry you pages away before you know it. Books are addictive. but it’s a healthy addiction, isn’t it? It’s probably the one and only  that I don’t mind my children suffering from.

But first things first, how do we develop children’s interest in reading and teach them reading. The following worked for me:

1. Start reading to the child as early as possible.

Old habits die hard as the saying goes. Make reading an old habit and your child will keep it for life.

2. Choose the books that appeal to your child’s interests.

We’ve been through books about trains, cars, dinosaurs, superheros…  Let your child discover books about whatever interests them. It is valid not only for reading together but also for independent reading. To give you an example. My son loves math and he never objects reading instructions in his math practice book, which has dramatically enhanced his reading skills.

3. Be patient. 

You’ve taught them phonics and now you think they should be ready to read, right? Wrong. Make your child practice, when you think they are ready, but don’t push them. Give them the time.

4. Split-read.

You read one sentence or one page, then your child reads another. If there are different characters in a story, you can perform a role-play. Assign the reading parts wisely. Give your child shorter texts or parts with easier words. Give your child the first and the last page to read. It will seem as if they have read the whole story by themselves. You want to motivate not discourage your young reader.

5. Record your child’s reading.

My son loves it. He beams with pride as he hears himself read.

The other day, after we had read a book my son asked: “Can we read it again?” Honestly, every time I hear it, it’s like music to my ears. Of course we can! There is nothing I like better now than reading together. Currently, we devour Mo Willems’ humor. What’s your child’s favorite book? Do you want to know what Charlie Cook reads?

Charlie Cook’s favorite book was about a Pirate, who found a book about Goldilocks, who after invading the Bear Residence, got to read baby Bear’s favorite book, which was a story about a knight, who also liked to read about… At some point in this frolic pattern, even a scary, headless ghost has a favorite book! 

A greatly amusing rhyme by Julia Donaldson. A perfect way to show that there is a great book for everyone and that everyone reads. Or at least should read. Why? Because reading  brings do much joy!  Just look at my favorite bookworm, Roald Dahl’s “Matilda”.  And books bring knowledge. If you know when to stop munching, that is. Think about what happened to “The Incredible Book Eating Boy” by Oliver Jeffers



“One Smart Cookie” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Letters are sure fun to play around. You can read them aloud with Dr. Seuss or sing them along with Elmo.  But sooner or later children outgrow the alphabet games. The abstract symbols are just not enough for growing minds. Children need something more meaningful and that’s when they are ready for a discovery:  Letters are like bricks. Put a few bricks together and you can build a house. Put a few letters together and you can build a word. Now playing around with letters starts making sense. After all, “In the beginning was the Word.”

Word is a powerful tool. Words can touch us, teach us, hurt us, heal us… Words can make us cry or laugh. Knowing the right word, saying the right word, understanding the right word can often help us, if not save us in critical circumstances. It takes a lot of good word choices to make a good book. Sometimes it is just one right word that makes a story. Either way, if you want to teach your child more words, books are a great way to expand your vocabulary.

The picture book that I recommend today, is not only a delicious reading treat, but also a scrumptious pictorial dictionary.

“One Smart Cookie” is a luscious blend of a cookie recipe and chunks of life lessons for school years and beyond. Who would think that both, baking cookies and going to school, can be described with the same batch of words? Some terms, like curious, unprepared or diligentt are perhaps predictable,  but the author used more than a pinch of inspiration and a generous cup of creativity to add to the cookie dough such school-centered words like procrastinate,  ponder, arrogant or integrity.  One smart book!

Another book, or rather a very successful series that I would suggest for children working on their vocabulary is “Fancy Nancy” by Jane O’Connor. The only drawback of this cute read is that it won’t engage boys, who, as I imagine, don’t aspire to know fancy words for everything.

Luckily, there are plenty of books with unisex appeal. If your child likes learning new words and appreciates good humor, then you might want to read to them  “Terrific” by Jon Agee or “A Particular Cow” by Mem Fox. Both books have already been reviewed in details in my earlier posts.


Now I know my ABC’s…

Math might be thee science to land you a highly paid job, but it is the language skills that will help you to negotiate your six digit salary.   Even if you are a science snob, take Sheldon Cooper for example, you can’t deny the importance of studying the language.  Language means books and books mean knowledge and erudition.  What’s more, if you combine the above with eloquence and charisma,  you arrive at a great public speaker or a leader. Then add foreign language knowledge to the mix and you can communicate, or help to communicate across cultures. In other words, paying attention during language classes pays off. Good grades in English, Spanish, German, Chinese, Polish…. or whatever lingua they try to teach you at school, and your possibilities are endless.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  My blog is meant for parents of the picture books readers. Some of them still need to master their  ABC’s. And this is what today’s books are about. Our ABC’s. In English, we are talking about 26 letters of the alphabet, in some other languages there are a few letters more. . If your child complains that it is  a lot,  tell them about the  hundreds (or thousands?)Chinese characters.

Today’s books are a fun way of helping your child remember the alphabet, recognize the shapes and sounds ( welcome to the world of phonics!)  You might have noticed that bookstores and libraries are  full of ABC’s books. Are they so easy to write or are they so important, you might have wondered? I think a little bit of both. It’s important to find the right one for your child. Not all ABC’s books are the same for every child. The alphabet is an abstract concept so the book needs to appeal to children’s interests. The following worked for my son.

“Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault.

A greatly amusing and creatively written rhyme about the lively letters of alphabet racing to the top of the coconut tree. The whole run ends up in a big tumble and lots of bruises. For a broader summary of this book, please, refer to my earlier post.  (post 129, Oct/2011)

“V is for Vanishing”by Patricia Mullins

This book is a typical alphabet book, but the words that are used to illustrate the beginning letters are all names of endangered animals. My son was as captivated as sad that  Jaguar is disappearing in South America, and that you don’t see many Pandas in China or Great Indian Rhinos in India. He was especially moved by the letter “X” when he got to read about extinct animals. So was I by the way. One thing is to hear about the long gone dinosaurs, but if you read  that the Passenger Pigeon was around until a century ago,  then you start thinking about how many of the currently endangered species will be extinct by the end of the 21st century..

“A is for Zebra” by Mark Shulman

What I love about this book is that it brings the ABC’s to another level. Instead of focusing on the beginning letters, it exposes the letters at  the end of the words. “I is for sushi…, K is for tick… O is for Go!” Isn’t that a clever take on the alphabet? Definitely different and so much more challenging and interesting for a child who has already mastered the beginning sounds and is bored with the alphabet.

Happy reading!  In the next posts I will have some more books about language in use, foreign languages, the reading bug and more.

T is for Good Night!