Books You Can Play

Let’s say that you’re walking through the woods on your way to school. All of a sudden your lunch box is yanked out of your hand, and you spin around to see a wolf running away with your lunch in one direction and a friendly looking bear with a picnic basket in the other direction. You hate to skip lunch, so you’ll have to choose: will you chase after the wolf, or will you stroll over to see what that bear is up to?

It’s one thing to read about a character making a decision, but when you get to choose which path the story takes you have a lot more invested in finding out what happens next. It’s a simple idea, and some might even dismiss it as a gimmick, but it‘s a powerful motivator. I read every book like this that I could get my hands on in elementary school. I also loved puzzle books (they usually had more visual problems to solve), and books that posed mysteries for me to solve based on the clues in the text.

I would bet that many teachers have passed these sorts of books to the more reluctant readers in their classes over the years, but I think they have a lot to offer for even them most avid reader. For example, they are great for:

  • Introducing a genre of story: mystery, romance, adventure, fantasy, horror, and science fiction are all represented
  • Practicing important skills: problem solving, math, logic, and reading comprehension
  • Bonding: read them together for fun, they are a kind of game after all.

I could go on and on about the “Choose Your Own Adventure” and “Two-minute Mysteries” that I read as a child, and these books are still out there. Some are even in electronic form, and I recently discovered that there are many written for adolescent and even adult audiences.  Some of them even offer an experience closer to playing a board game than the “turn-to-page…” adventure stories that I remember. There are even tools to help people write and create their own game books online. So, if you do want to play with your stories, there are lots of options out there for you to choose from.


National Family Literacy Day

This year’s theme for National Family Literacy Day on January 27 is “15 Minutes of Fun”.  It reflects the fact that it doesn’t always take a long time to do literacy activities with your children and that it should be fun for everyone!

What kind of activities can you do with your kids every day?  ABC Life Literacy has developed a list of suggestions at

Here’s what my kids and I came up with – I look forward to you adding your ideas to our list!

  • Make up a silly song from one we already know
  • Do a rhythm story game (clap, clap, snap, snap – one word for each clap or snap and we go around in a circle)
  • Read a book
  • Talk about traditions
  • Go for a walk
  • Play a letter game (name an animal then the next person has to name an animal that starts with the letter the last one ended with – eg. wolf – fox)

The Centre for Family Literacy has partnered with MacEwan University students in the Golden Key International Honour Society, to celebrate Family Literacy Day this year.  Bring your family to the Family Literacy Carnival event from 1-4 pm at the main floor of Robbins Health Learning Centre, downtown campus on Sunday, January 27.  More details can be found at:

Story in a Box

There are so many ways to engage children with books. One example is our “Story in a Box” craft. We have used the board book “Barnyard Banter” by Denise Fleming, as our starting point for this activity. We created the barnyard setting in the box, as well as the animals found in the story, using materials from a local craft store. This craft provides opportunities for children to interact with the story, or make up their own.
*This craft would work with other children’s books of your choosing as well.
Materials Used:
– 1 Pizza box
– Various colours of felt
– Animal pictures found online
– Hot glue gun and glue
– 1 Permanent black marker
– 1 Pair of scissors
– Take your pizza box (or a box of your choosing) and make sure it is clean and empty.
– Cut out the pieces of felt according to the scene you are creating.
– Using the hot glue gun, glue the pieces of felt into the box. It is best to glue the background colours on first and then glue the smaller felt objects on afterwards.
– Using the animal pictures you found online, glue them onto pieces of felt. It is a good idea to cut and leave a small edge of felt around the animal picture. *You may want to use pictures from flyers, newspapers, magazines, old photographs, etc. instead of pictures found online. Or you could always hand-draw the characters yourself.
–  Using the marker, draw in any extra details you would like.
Now you and your child have created the setting of the story and its characters. Have fun interacting with the story together as a family!

The Book Report – Comprehension tool or a barrier for young readers?

My son is in grade four this year.  He loves to read – he’s like a sponge soaking up every great book he can get his hands on.

This year, he got to join the school’s book club.  He was so excited, especially since the next book he wanted to read “The Lost Hero” by Rick Riordan was on the list.  He got the book, read it in two weeks and proudly handed it in… at which time he was handed a book report sheet and told he needed to fill it out to get credit for it.

He came home and put it on the table and said “I hate book reports.”  I explained, reluctantly, that if he wanted to be in the book club this was one of the requirements (even though I didn’t know about it before and I don’t think I totally agree with it).  He is actually debating not being in the book club because of this. It doesn’t mean he’ll stop reading, but it really killed the joy of it for him.

So what do we do?  I understand book reports are used as a comprehension tool and to double check that someone has read the book, but what a turn off for the already reluctant reader!  Is it so bad, especially for a “club” if they can just say they read the book (I think it’s a different conversation for book reports that are school assignments, which have multiple ways to do them – reports, posters, building something)?

I’m at a loss.  I think I will be talking to the librarian, but what angle to I take?  Any thoughts out there??

By the way, the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series by Rick Riordan is a great read for young and old (my son’s the young and I’m the old).


Reasons To Read

If you’re not a reader, there are many reasons why you should become one.

A large chunk of my adult life did not include reading books for enjoyment. I was too busy, so I skimmed and scanned a lot of magazines and read the necessary work-related articles, never taking the time to enjoy a good book.  I had other things asking of my time. Almost 10 years ago when my father was very ill, I found myself in a hospital room, followed by sleepless nights.  I had to figure out a way to distract myself.

That’s when the book, an old friend, came back into my life. Oh, how I missed this friend! Like a true friend, the book was there for me, (if I hadn’t misplaced it). The book waited patiently for me to find it – I had unconditional love. It didn’t judge me if other priorities came up and I reconnected three days later.  Every day, my friend took me on adventures.  I missed the fun we had together.

If you find yourself in need of a friend, ask a book to be a part of your life.

Reading Books Without Words

When you think about reading with a child, chances are you imagine reading the words on the page out loud while the child looks at the pictures. But what would you do if there were no words in the book to read?

A good picture book will tell most, if not all, of the story through the photos or illustrations.  By describing the things that you see in the pictures, you can bring the story to life. You may not think you are a better storyteller than the author or illustrator, but you know your child better than anyone, so you can add another level to the book that will appeal more to your child.

Try giving the characters the same names as family members and friends, and relate the story to your child’s own experiences. Take turns telling the story to each other, or have your child play the part of the main character and explain what they are doing, or guess what they would be thinking or saying.

If your child doesn’t feel like telling a story, maybe they would rather talk about the pictures. You might be surprised by what they notice and what draws their attention. I had a great time playing I-spy games with my niece; she loved having me guess which tiny obscure item on a page she was thinking of. So, even without a story, there are lots of opportunities to explore all kinds of ideas and language.

Speaking of language, this is a perfect way to share a book that is written in a language that you can’t read.  It’s also great for times when the book is much wordier than you or your child’s patience will tolerate, or even if you just don’t like how it’s written. Don’t be afraid to ignore the words on the page and tell your own story, in your own words.

So please, go and find yourself a nice picture book to read, and tell me how you liked it. I will even give you a short list of wordless books to try, in case you don’t know where to start:

  • Deep in the Forest by Brinton Turkle
  • The Chicken Thief by Béatrice Rodriguez
  • Chalk by Bill Thomson

Let me know how you and your children like them.  Or how it went over in your book club. Don’t let the word count fool you; good picture books have something for everyone.


A Story All Your Own

Working as a facilitator on the Alberta Prairie Classroom on Wheels Bus (the C.O.W. Bus) I often hear questions about the different types of books and how to get children interested in reading.  There are a lot of different responses that I can give to this question.

There are interactive books that are great for catching and keeping the interest of a child (see Kim’s previous post on Press Here by Hervé Tullet), “touch and feel” books that provide a multitude of textures that entertain kids, especially young kids, and “seek and find” books like I-Spy and Where’s Waldo that can hold a child’s interest for hours while they try to find all the different items listed and as well as the other items unlisted.  Truth be told, they still entertain me for hours.

However, my favorite response is to make the books personal.  Create a story featuring your child.  You can use photos of your child as the illustrations and create a story around the pictures.  It can be as simple as linking colors to outfits (insert photo) or as complex as a novel.  Creating a personal story can also be a great way to spend time, and to interact with your children.  Involve them in the process – have them pick out the pictures they want to use or have them create the story and you write it down.  Small photo albums work perfectly for holding the photos as well as cue cards to write the story on.

One mom shared a great idea she uses for personalizing a story.  She used her children’s photos and pasted them over the existing faces in the book.  Her children instantly became part of their favorite stories and will have fantastic keepsakes for when they grow up.  She found that board books worked better due to their durability.


Come On – You Know You Want to Press the Button!

What do a preschooler, a six, nine and eighteen year old, and any adult I’ve seen so far have in common?  We all have to press the button!

Here at Centre for Family Literacy, we recently came across an excellent children’s book called Press Here by Hervé Tullet.  Anyone who knows me at all knows that I like to press buttons and ring bells, so of course the book landed on my desk very quickly.

As I went through, following the directions on each page – pushing and rubbing dots, shaking the book, blowing on it – I kept thinking, “my kids would love this! Who am I kidding – I LOVE IT!”

In the end though, it did make it home and I tested it out on my niece (4), my daughter (6), and my son (9).  It started out tentatively; they pushed the button as I held the book.  As it got more interactive, suddenly the book was ripped out of my hands in their anticipation to shake the dots to the other side of the page.  Pretty soon, I didn’t even need to be there (but I was, because I was doing it all too of course).

I took the story of my family’s response back to the office and was informed by one of our team that she had walked in on her 18 year old interacting just as enthusiastically with the book as my kids and niece had.

I have heard nothing but the same stories of fun family interaction more times than I can count now in relation to this book.  As I watched one young teenage girl self-consciously start looking at the book and doing what it asked, I could tell that she really wanted to get into it, but was asking herself if it was a cool thing to do.

“Isn’t it weird that you know it’s a book, but you really feel the need to do everything it asks?” I asked her.  She nodded in agreement and I said, “go ahead, we’ve all done it”.

I sat back and smiled as she made the decision that it was fun and okay and had a blast with the rest of the book.

Now that’s how you take the measure of a great book!


Generation Gap, or Something to Worry About?

I am always telling my son how important reading is.  When he has to read a book for school, I start crossing my fingers, hoping, this will be the book that catches his interest.  So far, I can’t say it’s happened.  He says that he already reads a lot!  He reads at school, reads his daily portion of phone texts and he certainly has a lot of words to read on his Facebook page.  What about the games he plays on his PS3?  He’ll even read a tutorial if it provides him a better chance to win against the aliens and his friends.

Am I starting be a part of a generation gap that I will never understand? Will I look back one day and say I should have tried harder to get my son to read a book?  Or will this be a reflection back on my parenting style and I’ll be able to smile and say I worried about nothing?

Marina Endicott’s Book: Good to a Fault

The Centre was recently invited to speak at an author reading at McDougall United Church.   Marina Endicott read aloud some of her favourite passages from her second book, Good to a Fault.

It was an interesting read exploring what it means to be “good,” but what was really intriguing was hearing the author speak about living with these characters and how she didn’t like many of them, but felt sorry that she kept making bad things happen to them.

Having the author explain how she came up with the characters’ motivations and beliefs was fascinating and changes the way you have understood and perceived the story originally.

Have you heard an author speak about their book before?  What did you think?