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Reading together

First day jitters

Vacation is over. Many schools across the country opened this week. All will start within the next week or so.

Whatever kind of school children attend, no matter what grade they're in, the first day is the first day — always a source of nervousness and excitement.

I remember posing for photographs my mother insisted on taking every first day of school. My sister and I are in the same dorky pose — hand up in a wave, walking toward the sidewalk in fresh school clothes.

Do more than read...talk!

Teaching by Listening, a study from the July 2009 journal Pediatrics, is all about the contribution of adult-child conversations to a child's language development. This piece, along with other research, documents the effect of language in the home on a child's vocabulary. Without question, kids who hear more words spoken at home learn more words and enter school with better vocabularies.

Mission Impossible meets Viola Swamp

What happens when a perfectly dreadful adult is forced to deal with a talented albeit unusual group of children? A very funny, offbeat book by Newbery Medalist Paul Fleischman called The Dunderheads (Candlewick).

Books as play

Recently I was looking for a birthday gift for a soon-to-be five year old girl. As I wandered into the toy department of a well known chain store, I was struck by the number of toys that included some kind of electronic noise or light — a gimmick to grab attention.

I heard guitars without strings, came across talking dolls (fuzzy and not), and even digital cameras for the very young. There were animals that talked, clocks that asked questions, and more.

Forty years strong

Are awards for children's books useful? What can they do in a real sense?

Children's publishing is a crowded field and for many, awards can help identify not only critically valuable books but help identify new and interesting work.

When it first started some 40 years ago, the Coretta Scott King was intended to recognize the work of African American authors and illustrators. It continues to do so and since 1995, the John Steptoe New Talent Award encourages and recognizes new authors and illustrators.

Anniversaries of note

Summer of this year marks several things worth remembering. Some are happy anniversaries, others not so at all.

What do these events mean to children? Are they relevant to them in any way at all? What do stories — real or fictional — offer to children? Can they inspire as well as inform?

It was in July 1969 that Neil Armstrong left the relative safety of his spacecraft to walk on the moon. Many books are available about Apollo 11, about the moon itself and this special anniversary.

Roar (and more)

Imagine…a small mouse being chased by a hungry owl disturbs a fierce looking lion. The lion, however, release the mouse only to be caught up in a rope trap himself. When the mouse hears the lion's roar, what does he do?

If you've read the "Lion and the Mouse," a fable credited to Aesop or even a tale called "Androcles and the Lion" (in a collection by Joseph Jacobs now long out of print) then you know it's been around for a while, a long while.

Listening to kids talk about books

I'm on a national children's book award committee so submissions have been arriving at my home/office in increasing quantities. Even though I read a lot of books for young people anyway, I've been reading them to the exclusion of just about anything. (I can't give up the newspaper though; it's a must-have either online or in print.)

I'm reading so many books so quickly that I've been wondering how I can keep them clear in my mind -- beyond taking notes (which is not always possible given all the places that I find myself reading these days).

My poor dental hygienist

All she wanted to do was clean my teeth and share new pictures of her 6-month-old little girl.

"She's very cute!" I mumbled, with Christina's hands in my mouth. "Do you read to her?" I asked.

"We do! Probably a book almost every day. But it's not like she understands what we say. It's sort of funny to do it."

There's nothing like a comment like that to get this reading specialist to sit up in the chair and start talking. And talk we did!

A day for moms

This weekend is Mother's Day. I always thought of it as a holiday created by, well, by Hallmark.

But it's not. I learned that it has roots in a feisty woman named Anna Jarvis who wanted to honor her mother. And apparently mothers were celebrated even farther back in history.

I admit that I have a particular point of view; that any day and any celebration is better with a book.

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"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you'll go." — Dr. Seuss