Summer Picture Book Clubs: Taking the Play Date Up a Level


Leveling up the Play Date.

Who says learning can’t be fun? When my girls were young, they’d prance off to alternating friends’ houses holding their lunch boxes for what is known today as a “Play Date.” We mothers would take turns providing drinks and supervising the kids while they played for a couple of hours, have lunch together outside, and then come home.

By organizing a Summer Book Club, you will be inviting kids of similar age and interests over to your home to listen to a story together and then do an activity or craft.

All the stories that we’ll use for the Summer Book Club are picture books that I’ve read aloud on my You Tube channel, Creating Smart Readers – always free to watch, of course.

At the end of each read-aloud story, I talk about a few ideas to enhance the story with an activity or craft.  I’ve tried to gather up some good ones for summer. I will continue to add to this blog post with each new story so you can go in any order. Depending on where you live, you can go out in the yard or stay inside and use your living room or kitchen. The most important thing is to have fun with the kids and relate it to a picture book.  So, here goes!

My Part

  • I will add new read-aloud stories as fast as I can on my You Tube channel, Creating Smart Readers. You can pick and choose according to your family schedule, schooling, and vacations.
  • I will coordinate the story with links and activities that I will post here on the website.

Your Part

  • Subscribe to my You Tube channel.
  • Take a peek here first so you can prepare necessary materials for your club meeting.
  • Choose a day and time and invite your members (relatives, friends, neighbors).
  • Listen to my read-aloud story together.
  • Gather the kids together for a supervised activity or craft.
  • Share your final products with each other over a small snack.

1. Scribble Stones

IMG_3477 (1)

This is the cutest – but short – story with a big message! A good activity after reading is to gather and then paint stones with designs or messages to give away to others as “Happiness Rocks.”  You can find more information on the author’s link:

In addition, this is a 6 minute tutorial on rock painting for beginners: . Please note that this is a You Tube channel that contains ads so it is for adults.

2.  William the Curious, Knight of the Water Lilies

Me 3This picture book has the most beautiful illustrations I’ve ever seen – so realistic, especially the ones of the guards at the drawbridge! This is a story about saving the environment from pollution. You can enjoy the read-aloud on my You Tube channel, same link as above.

I have included a link for kids’ activities for recycling.  I hope you can help them choose one or more to do at home.

Every year, when my children were young, we would clean out their toys and have a garage sale. Then they could write a list of new toys they wished to get for their birthdays. If you are ambitious and want to organize a yard/garage sale with your kids, younger kids might  enjoy this You Tube video about Barney and a yard sale. As always, please take a look at videos before your children watch them.

3.  By the Light of the Captured Moon

This is a fun story about a young boy who tries to bring the moon into his bedroom and hide it from his mother who keeps telling him to turn off his light.  Like Billy in the story, you and your children can have an adventure with the moon using the links below. Please always look at them first.

4. Rainbow Fish

This is an all-timIMG_3106 (1)e favorite of kids and it’s the perfect read-aloud story and art activity for a rainy day. Of course, any day is good but rainy days call for extra pizazz!  Plan ahead and gather up some paper, glue, glitter pens, markers, and glitter. First, join us for a read-aloud story on You Tube. Then let the kids get messy by creating their own rainbow fish.

rainbowThis is one craft idea that I found on Pinterest.  There are hundreds of other ideas for crafts using paper plates and other materials on that site.


5.  Mister Seahorse

51aFJnD9gSL._SX360_BO1,204,203,200_An adorable story about various fish fathers that care for the eggs until the new babies  hatch. Eric Carle, of course, is well known for his colorful illustrations. After listening to this story on my You Tube channel, Creating Smart Readers (link above), let the kids get messy with colored tissue paper and glue to design their own fish in the Eric Carle style.

Also, Pinterest has millions of ideas for crafts related to seahorses and underwater creatures. Here are a few links.

6.  We are Dolphins

dolphinsThis story brings kids into the sea with mother dolphin and her newborn baby.  We follow along as mother shows the baby how to survive and play in the ocean. This is a link to a short underwater video where you can view dolphins swimmi

And, here is a link for making cute dolphin crafts.,interested%20in%20learning%20how%20to%20hand…%20More%20

7.  Shark Lady

shark ladyThis is the true story of Eugenie Clark who was fascinated by sharks as a child and grew up to become a fearless  ocean scientist.

Some interesting shark facts in a cartoon can be seen using this link.

And, a shark study would not be complete without doing some crafts. Try some of these.

8.  One Tiny Turtle

tiny turtleThis book has been one of my favorite read-aloud stories to use for a multitude of elementary-school lessons including lifecycles for science. Later, use the graphic organizer of the 4 cycles in this story to write a report.

But, this is summer and here are some fun activities to try. I was lucky to have real photos of a beach in Florida that protected the baby turtles when they were hatching.  I’ve tried to find some videos for you that are just as interesting and awesome to watch.

cupcakeHere’s an adorable idea for making a turtle=decorated cupcake.  Great fun for an outdoor picnic for your Summer Book Club buddies!



9. Manfish

Copy of Join us for StoriesThis is a biography of Jacques Cousteau. I will read it on my You Tube Channel, Creating Smart Readers.

I hope you and your Summer Reading Club group of kids will enjoy making wonderful underwater scenes after this story. Here are some ideas.

Travel under the ocean to explore this video about the Coral Reef.

Try to create your own world under the ocean.

I hope you and your children enjoyed your Summer Book Club.  I will leave this post up until the end of August.  By then, all these stories will be up and running on my You Tube.  Until then, “Happy Reading!”


Picture Books & Poems: A Winning Comprehension Combo

I’m always on the lookout for connections. Each time a child can relate what they are reading to something else, the bigger their base knowledge grows.


Picture Books and Poems: Why?

Picture books and poems, when combined, brings comprehension rewards to kids in many ways, including:

  • Rhymes help beginning readers with phonics
  • Hidden meaning builds thinking skills
  • Compare/Contrast 2 genres strengthens comprehension
  • Develops deeper thinking
  • Fosters a love for poetry



Keep a Poem in Your Pocket

Keep a poem in your pocket
And a picture in your head
And you’ll never feel lonely
At night when you’re in bed.

The little poem will sing to you
The little picture bring to you
A dozen dreams to dance to you
At night when you’re in bed.

So –
Keep a poem in your pocket
And a picture in your head
And you’ll never feel lonely
At night when you’re in bed.

Beatrice Schenk de Regniers



What do stories and poems have in common and what do they have to do with me?


I can take the connections between a story and a poem and put them into action in my own life.

Visit my You Tube Channel for Stories

I recently added a section to my Playlist for Stories and Poems on my You Tube channel, Creating Smart Readers You Tube Stories. 

Here are complete Read-Aloud Guides for these stories and poems:

Always on the Lookout!

51jdCKVjWXL._SY420_BO1,204,203,200_[1]I constantly research picture books and other stories – and poems – for children.  I’m always on the lookout for connections. Each time a child can relate what they are reading to something else, the bigger their base knowledge grows. One small idea from a story reminds them of an event in their own lives, to something else they read, or it might motivate them to get involved in a cause. When teaching kids to read, we teach kids to make 3 kinds of connections so they have better comprehension:

  1. Text-to-Self Connections are when children can relate something in a story or other text to themselves.
  2. Text-to-Text Connections are when kids can relate a story, or text, to something else they read.
  3. Text-to-World Connections are what make kids become good citizens.  They read something that awakens a call to action within themselves to do something helpful in their neighborhood, school, town, or the world. Or, they may just become aware of the world at large.

This is a link to a Scholastic article on connections.

The “So What?” Factor

As a Reading Specialist, one of my goals was to get kids thinking about more than just single words on a page.  I wanted them go understand the central idea of what they were reading.  I call it the “So What? Factor” – what are the ideas the words are telling and, as a whole, why do they matter?

Some kids can open a book and read off all the words but cannot tell one single thing about the meaning. That is what comprehension is – what does it mean and why should we care?

So, I hope you and your children enjoy the read-aloud stories and related poems on my You Tube channel, Creating Smart Readers – along with other stories too.  I will continue to search for more.  There are Read-Aloud guides in the top menu for individual picture books as well as for the stories with related poems.

Please subscribe to this Blog, using the form to the right, so I can send you a notice for each new post.  Also, please subscribe to my You Tube channel using the easy button on my channel and I will let you know each time I read a new story.  I never use your information for anything else.  “Happy Reading!”



Picture Books about Music: How to Bring Learning to a Crescendo

Don’t be fooled because there is a pretty picture on the cover and others inside the book. PICTURE BOOKS ARE POWERFUL TOOLS THAT CAN MOTIVATE KIDS TO READ, LEARN, and BE USED TO TEACH VOCABULARY, SCHOOL SUBJECTS, AND READING SKILLS. Please do not just hand them over to kids who might be able to read the words but the true meaning will be lost.

Musical Picture Books

For P-3 Lexile Level 820
Picture Books about Music can both delight kids with great stories and bring their learning to a crescendo. Like I always say, there is power in picture books.  And, if your child likes music, a “Musical Learning Style” might be a strength you can build upon. Researcher, Howard Gardner, reported that children learn in different ways.  For example, I am a “Visual Learner,” so I learn best when I see pictures, videos, or charts about what I am studying. I understand and remember more information that way instead of hearing a lecture.

Teachers often assign homework using various forms of learning styles so students can explore their best ways of studying. Here is an article on the musical learning style.

For a general overview of learning styles, I found a short video for you to watch.

Read-Aloud Story as a Starting Point in Learning

Let’s use Ada’s Violin as an example.  It brings the love of music into the forefront of the story and that will motivate kids who like music to participate. This is a real story. Kids always love stories that really happened! Teachers often read picture books as mentor texts before teaching kids new subjects or skills.  For more about the power in using picture books, here is a recent Blog post. Why Picture Books?

Reading Specialist, like myself, use three parts of reading in our lessons:


  • Look at the cover illustration. What do you notice?
  • Read the title.  What do you think it means?
  • Predict what the story will be about.
  • Talk about what new words might mean:  landfill, bodega, stench


  • Stop occasionally to talk.  What would it be like to live near a landfill?
  • Why don’t these families move?
  • Help your child “Draw a Conclusion.” What conclusion can you draw about the safety of the neighborhood given that a violin was worth more than a house?
  • Stop to make predictions along the way.


  • What is the lesson of the story?
  • How did Ada change in the story? Why?
  • Take a “Virtual Tour” of a landfill or dump.
  • Collect bottles and bring them to a recycling machine in a store.
  • Summarize the story using the tune of a song you like.

These are just a few ideas.  A complete Read-Aloud Guide is downloadable here or on the top Menu. Ada’s Violin Guide

More Picture Books

Nurture your child’s interest in music by reading other books in a similar way.  Here are a few:

  • Dancing Hands (P-3, Lexile 1260)
  • Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo (P-1, No Lexile available)
  • My Family Plays Music (P-3, Lexile 580)
  • Drum Dream Girl (P-3, Lexile 650)
  • Because (P-K, Lexile 820)
  • 88 Instruments (P-2, Lexile 410)

I read Ada’s Violin and Drum Dream Girl on my You Tube Channel, Creating Smart Readers. There is a link in the above Menu or this link will bring you right to my channel.

A Word About Lexiles

Please refer to the above Lexile Levels chart.  A Lexile level matches a book’s readability to children who are good readers in a grade level. Children can understand stories read aloud to them that are 2 years above their own reading level.

Pay particular notice to Dancing Hands, listed for grades Pre-School to Grade 3.  The Lexile level or reading level for a child to read than book alone is 1260. That Lexile is way up into the high school.  Ada’s Violin is marketed to kids in Pre-School to grade 3 but the readability of this story is 820 which is the beginning of grade 6. Please know your child’s reading level.  Read-aloud picture books are a bridge to all learning.

The Power of the Picture Book

Don’t be fooled because there is a pretty picture on the cover and others inside the book.  PICTURE BOOKS ARE POWERFUL TOOLS THAT CAN MOTIVATE KIDS TO READ, LEARN, and BE USED TO TEACH  VOCABULARY, SCHOOL SUBJECTS, AND READING SKILLS.  Please do not just hand them over to kids who might be able to read the words but the true meaning will be lost.

A Final Word

I hope you enjoy these stories and I hope you can boost the learning for your children using Learning Style tips. Please let me know what is working for you and feel free to ask any questions about Reading.

Please subscribe to this Blog and I will send you a notice for each new post.

“Happy Reading!”

The Secret to Reading Success!



Picture Books Make History Come Alive: Reading Stories to Kids Builds Background Knowledge & Excitement for Learning

Please be aware that some historic events – like war, slavery, and the Holocaust – might be better read to older children. Know your history, know the story, and know your children.


Picture Books about Brave Escapes Build Background Knowledge

High-quality picture books make history come alive for kids and, at the same time, the story and illustrations build background knowledge on important subjects.  Stories about brave escapes will excite kids to learn about periods of history – slavery, World War II, and the Cold War (Berlin Wall), for example. Through the characters, kids will be immersed into an historic period. When they learn about these events in school, the new information builds on the background that was established by hearing these stories. All teachers start a new unit by “activating or building background knowledge” so kids have a reference point for learning new topics. High-quality picture books can be used as mentor texts in learning Social Studies.

Arouse Excitement for Learning by Asking Questions

Reading to kids and then talking about the stories together improves comprehension as children learn vicariously through story characters. Stop every now and then to talk about the story. Ask questions that get kids involved in the story and excited to learn more:

  • How bad could life have been that children risked their lives by skating to freedom?
  • What dangers do you think there are in ice skating in the canals?
  • Do you think it was safe to flee in a hot air balloon?
  • How did they know where to go?
  • What would happen if they were caught?
  • Why was there a goat living in the White House?
  • What is important about the White House?
  • What would it be like to be transported in a wooden crate?
  • How would the story be different if … ?
  • If you were in the story, what would you do?
  • What would have happened if they didn’t escape?
  • How did these people feel?
  • How is this like … ?
For P-3, No Lexile Level available
  • Henry’s Freedom Box (P-3 Lexile 490). Henry escapes from slavery by mailing himself on a long journey North in a crate.
  • The Greatest Skating Race (Gr 4-7 Lexile 750). This thrilling true story follows the daring escape of children who skate their way to freedom during WWII.
  • 8.Flight for Freedom (K-3, Lexile 21010). In this story, a family escapes from East Germany in a handmade hot air balloon.
  • Old Whiskers Escapes! brings a bit of historic fun to the reading. It chronicles the escape of a White House goat during the Harrison administration.

Boys Like This Story

For K-2 Lexile Level 550
Baseball Saved Us is an historic picture book about Japanese Internment camps during World War II following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Please read it first so you can appropriately introduce the topic to your children.  A free downloadable Read-Aloud guide is attached here Baseball Saved Us.

This story can be used to teach:

  • Character Traits
  • Character Motivation
  • Problem and Solution

The story is based on true events and what could have occurred in one of these camps. It is important because it personalizes events in history for a better understanding. Boys, in particular, like this story. Here is an archived Blog that you might enjoy.  When Boys Hate to Read

Reading Aloud Versus Independent Reading

It is my belief that reading high-quality picture books aloud is far better than handing over a book for a child to read alone.

  • First, read-aloud stories give kids background knowledge of the period in history being portrayed in the stories.
  • Next, historic events can be difficult for youngsters to understand on their own, so hearing a story and then talking about it with an adult, helps understanding and clears up confusion.
  • Finally, when adults read aloud, they become models of how good readers think when they read.  This happens as the reader stops to “think out loud” about tricky or unknown words and navigating through difficult text to find hidden meanings.

These are the skills we want our children to be good at so they become “Smart-thinking” readers on their own. Detailed read-aloud guides for many good picture books are available for a free download from the above Menu Downloadable Read-Aloud Guides.

So Many Good Historic Picture Books


By reading these good historic picture book stories to kids – at all ages – we can introduce different people, vocabulary, and events that will be studied in school. Children will learn about the time period and “feel” what it was like to live there through the eyes of the characters – some real and others fictional. Before reading to your children, please read them first to be aware of events that might be disturbing to some kids so you can talk about them first.

  • The Silent Witness (P-3 Lexile 950) is told from the point of view of a doll in the Civil War.
  • They Called Her Molly Pitcher (P-2 Lexile 930) is about a real woman who was helpful to soldiers during the American Revolution. A Read-aloud Guide can be downloaded free along with many others using the top Menu. They Called Her Molly Pitcher
  • Boxes for Katje ( K-2 Lexile 460) is a real story about how American children helped cold and starving Dutch children during WWII.
  • Luba the Angel of Bergen-Belsen (Gr 1-4 Lexile 750) is a real story of how one imprisoned woman saved many children during the Holocaust. This story and illustrations are absolutely NOT appropriate for very young children. Please read it first.
  • The Wall follows a man and his son as they visit the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Please be aware that some historic events – like war, slavery, and the Holocaust – might be better read to older children. Although they are advertised for children often as young as Pre-school to third grade, these topics are complicated and intense. Very young children will not be able to understand them on their own. Some of these eras in history may not be appropriate for your child.  Know your history, know the story, and know your children. Picture books can be appropriate for all grades. They have been the basis of my lessons in grades 1 through 12 – of course, depending on the book, the grade, and the curriculum.

Segregation for Older Kids

Segregation is not studied in my school until the middle grades.  These read-aloud picture book stories can set the stage – by building background knowledge – for learning about the events during this period in history. Events become real, children have many questions, and are eager to learn more.

  • White Socks Only (P-3 Lexile 560)
  • Freedom Summer (P-3 Lexile 600)
  • Freedom on the Menu (P-3 Lexile 660)

A Word about Lexiles

Lexile levels are reading levels of books by grade. They are suggested for average readers in the grades listed. Please note that picture books are often misunderstood by adults.  Since they are advertised for very young kids and there are “pictures” on the covers, it is the general opinion that kids can take them and go read and understand them on their own. If you check the discrepancies between many grades and Lexile levels using the chart to the right, you will notice that they are not always good for the youngsters for which they are marketed. Also, the topics may not be appropriate for your children.

When you read to kids and talk about story events – especially tough topics in history – you can help them understand what is happening, why it is important, and the connections between different time periods in history. Children can understand stories read to them that are 2 years above their own reading level.

Picture Book Power

There are many valuable benefits of reading picture books to children. This is a link to a list.  Why Picture Books?. I hope you and your children get a glimpse into the past by reading these stories together.  I would love to hear about your experiences.

Please subscribe to this Blog (link on the right) and I will notify you every time there is a new posting. “Happy Reading!”

Picture Books make kids smart-thinking about books.




Picture Books about Flight: Read-Aloud Tips that Make Comprehension Soar

And, the best of all is when you stop to point out something awesome in the story, you are showing your kids that it’s okay to stop and notice things of wonder.

Picture Books Kids Will Love

These delightful picture books about Flight will make your child’s reading comprehension soar if you read them in a special way to get your kids excited to do some thinking. I’ll show you some tips and tricks as a Reading Specialist. Try these three high-quality picture books to start.

  • Flight School (P-3 Lexile 490) Read-aloud Guide is attached here. Flight School
  • Goggles The Bear Who Dreamed of Flying (All ages, no Lexile available)
  • Penguin Flies Home (P-3 Lexile 620)
  • Mingo the Flamingo (P-3 no Lexile available) A Read-aloud guide is on the top Menu.

I will be reading all four of these stories on my You Tube channel, Creating Smart Readers. A direct link to my channel is here.  You Tube Stories  

Before You Read

Get the kids excited and curious before you read – make paper airplanes together. Also, talk about the cover illustrations and titles and ask kids to make predictions on what the stories will be about. Ask kids what they think about animals flying. Boys, especially will be motivated to read about aviation if they make planes and get to move around by flying them. When Boys Hate to Read

During the Read-Aloud

When you read aloud to kids, you become the model of how good readers think while reading because, after all, reading is all about thinking. So you will “think out loud” during the reading.  This will also get your children engaged in the story by guiding them to look at words and illustrations and to ask questions.  And, the best of all is when you stop to point out something awesome in the story, you are showing your kids that it’s okay to stop and notice things of wonder.

Picture books are often overlooked as great mentor texts that give examples of parts of speech, use of language, hidden meaning, and a call to initiate change in the world. For example, the author of Flight School uses onomatopoeia (sound effects) during the story. This story also shows kids that they should keep working to find a solution to a problem and never give up on your dreams. Ask kids what advice they would give Little Penguin to solve the problem. There are more ideas in the Read-aloud guide.

After-Reading Fun and Learning

It’s what you do after reading a story that cements the information into the minds of young learners. These activities also encourages kids to learn more about a topic and to have fun with what they learned. These are just a few ideas for the flight books listed above:

  • Compare and Contrast 2 or 3 of these picture books
  • Research penguins and flamingos
  • Create a flying invention for an animal
  • Write a new ending to one or more of these stories
  • Write a story that shows problem and solution and use sound effect words
  • Find out more about airplanes and flying
  • Make and fly a kite
  • Take a Virtual (or real) Tour of an airport
  • Build and create with blocks or Legos
  • Have races with your hand-made paper airplanes. Measure the distance for a Math connection.

The Power of the Picture Book

Kids love airplanes and making paper airplanes too.  Use this interest to teach them all about how good readers think smart when they read. You are their guide when you use picture book read-alouds in this interactive way. It has always been my feeling that most picture books are too hard for kids to read on their own – to get the deep meaning and understanding of the stories. That is why I stress the importance of reading picture books aloud to your children and talking about them as you read. In the top Menu, you will find Read-Aloud Guides for for many of the stories I feature.

A Word About Lexile Levels

A Lexile level is the range of numbers that matches a book’s reading level with a grade. Please note that Flight School is recommended for kids in P-3 with a Lexile level of 490.  A 490 level is at the end of  Grade 2. These levels are for kids who read in the normal grade-level range. Penguin Flies Home, however, is rated 620 in Lexile level which is at the beginning of Grade 4. It is targeted at kids P-3. Please know your child’s reading level.

Children should practice reading with books close to their own reading level for best success and to build confidence.  However, kids can understand books read aloud to them that are 2 years above their own grade level reading scores.

There are many great picture books available to read aloud to kids on aviation-related topics. Get them excited; get them engaged, and get them busy learning more!

“Happy Reading!”

Picture Books make kids smart-thinking about books.
The secret to reading success!


Picture Books and Food: How to Jump Start Reading Comprehension at Home

What interesting and vital creatures the honey bees are – yet most of us know little about them.

P-2, Lexile 520

A Taco Tuesday Picture Book?

Parents can jump start reading comprehension at home with a mix of food and high-quality read-aloud picture books – and, it’s easier than you think! When picture books are read out loud and discussed in a certain way, they become “lessons in disguise” that entice kids into the wonderful world of thinking smart about books. Here are some reading lessons they promote:

  1. Make Predictions
  2. Make Inferences
  3. Ask Questions
  4. Motivate and Excite Kids to Learn More
  5. Build Word Knowledge

Let’s connect reading to that topic we all love – food! Does your family have Taco Tuesday or Pizza Friday? Much of our traditions and family time center around food so I think it will be fun to highlight some picture books about food.  Some are cute stories where food is referenced in the titles. This kind of “inference” is fun to talk about and actually gets kids thinking (and laughing) about the titles and content of the stories. Don’t forget, that there are two reasons to read:  for information and for enjoyment. Stories for kids about food serve up both purposes. And, since just about every classroom has a sign somewhere that says, “Reading is Thinking,” parents can get kids thinking at home in fun ways that don’t even seem like they are learning.

Talk about the Titles and Pictures

Although there are hundreds of good reading programs for kids, parents are the first teachers. There is much to do easily and quickly at home. The first step in successful reading comprehension is to think. For example, why on earth did the author choose dragons and not alligators for the featured book? Why was the story called, Enemy Pie (P-7, Lexile 550) and not Enemy Cookie? Kids will also have fun writing their own stories about foods they choose. Most of us are familiar with the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie ()-3, Lexile 410) a series of adorable stories for kids – but, do we know why the author chose the foods in these stories? Fun to think about.  How would the stories be different if the authors used different foods?  The Good Egg (P-3, Lexile 510) leads to all kinds of discussions and lessons about idioms. There is a Read-Aloud guide in the top menu for Dragons Love Tacos.

Most of the kids books I buy come from  I like that online bookstore because it gives so much quick information about each book, including the cover picture, description, ratings, and reading levels (Lexile levels).

Enjoy the Many Food-Related Titles of Picture Books

I went on an search for kids books with titles that reference food. They will be fun to read and talk about with your children. The secret to helping at home is to get the conversation going to arouse curiosity and excitement in your child. Do some further research about the origin of the your favorite foods or you can also do an author study about particular books that you like.  Children are home right now with plenty of time.  So, why not get them excited about research and literary analysis about food-related stories?  Here are a few stories for kids that you and your children might like.  Remember, always read a book first before reading it to your children to avoid surprises.  Read it together and talk about it as you go (here’s more thinking). Then do some great after-reading activities to keep the thinking alive and dig deeper, like:

  • Research and write a report
  • Draw pictures of the story in Sequential Order
  • Write a new ending to the story
  • Write and perform a play about food
  • Do some cooking
  • Plan and prepare for a family party, including handmade invitations.

These are a few kids books that I found that look interesting:

  • Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast (K-2, Lexile 760)
  • Escargot (P-1, Lexile 520)
  • Pizza Day (P-1, no Lexile available)
  • Stone Soup (P-3, Lexile 560)
L=3 Lexile 480

Picture Books Explore the World

The Water Princess is about the water shortage in Africa and the great lengths people there go to in order to get daily water.

Do a search about where water comes from where you live.  You might be able to find a Virtual Tour of a water treatment plant. You are thinking about the topic now in the broader, global sense.


Learn about Honey Bees

What interesting and vital creatures the honey bees are – yet most of us know little about them.  Here are some picture books that might be well received by your family.

  • The Honeybee Man (P-3, Lexile 660)
  • The Honey Makers (K-3, Lexile 770)
  • The King of Bees (P-2, Lexile 600).

I’ll be reading The King of Bees on my You Tube Channel, Creating Smart Readers coming up soon (link in top menu). I bought this fabulous children’s book after attending a lecture by the author, Lester Laminack, at a Literacy Conference in New York City. He is responsible for my love of and extensive use of high-quality picture books. My eyes were opened to a new of using wonderful picture books – reading lessons for teachers when using them as mentor texts and “lessons-in-disguise” for parents when using as read-alouds.

Yes, there are adorable children’s books for toddlers and very young kids, but be on the lookout for the overlooked treasures hidden in the pages of high- quality picture books that are loaded with information, illustrations, hidden meaning, life lessons, and colorful vocabulary. It is so much easier to get your kids interested in reading – and, thinking about the stories – when you practice with these beautiful and captivating books.

Check out some short You Tube videos by National Geographic showing kids tending to bees. Always read or view a book or video first.

Kids Books for Young Chefs and Bakers

Let’s end up with some cookbooks for kids.  Most kids enjoy baking and cooking, so I’m including a few children’s books on the subject.  When cooking or baking, kids need to learn to follow directions and the sequence needed to successfully complete a recipe. You can also find great instructional videos and other books online or in the library. Have fun!

  • Kid Chef Junior (P-2 no Lexile available)
  • The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs ((Gr 4-8, Lexile 1040)
  • The Vegetarian Cookbook (Gr 4-7, no Lexile available)
  • The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook (Gr 3-7, no Lexile available)

Here is a link to the Food Network site for cooking with kids.

A Word about Lexiles

Please check the Lexile level (reading level) of the children’s books you want your kids to read on their own.  As you can see from the chart on the upper right, Lexile levels do not always jive with the grades that are targeted for these books. Please know your child’s reading level.  If a book is too hard, your children will not read it or they will “fake read” it.  Read more challenging books to and with your children so they don’t miss out on grade-leveled stories for kids that appeal to them and their friends.  Children can understand stories that are 2 years above their reading level. For independent practice, kids should always read at their own level. Start there and then slowly move up once their confidence and skills improve.

Finally, whether your family hosts Taco Tuesday, Pizza Friday or anything in between, I hope you will enjoy mixing these fabulous picture books with the foods you love. I am always happy to hear from you with concerns or questions about Reading.

Please subscribe to this Blog (and to my You Tube channel) and you will receive a notice when a new Blog post or read-aloud story is available.  I never ever use your information for anything else.

“Happy Reading!” (and Happy Eating)!

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Why Reading This High-Quality Picture Book Will Create Smart-Thinking Kids: Quick Lessons in Disguise for Busy Parents

Then one day, while his hand is out the window, something unexpected happens. A bird flies by and drops a twig into his hand – first, one they another.

For P-3, Lexile 600

High Quality Lasts and Lasts

To me, a high quality picture book is one that creates smart-thinking kids. Busy parents can read it to their kids in a certain way that promotes motivation, arouses curiosity, uncovers hidden meaning, starts discussions, and leads to related activities. I call this way of reading “Lessons in Disguise.”

Picture books belong to a genre of children’s books that is not given the credit it deserves.  The high quality of the picture books I use are valued by many teachers because they are the cornerstone of thousands of lessons- in reading, in literature study, in content areas, and in life’s lessons. These are the stories that you will keep on your book shelf forever.

For example, Albert was first published in 2001 in hardcover.  I purchased it in 2002 and I still have it and I still use it in 2020. The book was awarded the New York Time Book Review “Best Illustrated Children’s Book.” It is still being published in paperback format which is a testament to its value as an educational tool as well as a reslly good story.

Build Reading Skills and Vocabulary

One reason that Albert is on top of my list of pic books worth keeping is because it can be read to kids to teach about character traits and how and why a character changes in a story. This children’s story leads to great discussions about what motivated Albert to make a change in his life. “What would you do?” By making personal connections to the story, you bring your kids into the life of the character.

In addition, there are good opportunities to teach and build vocabulary using this story. I love using the word, “persnickety,” because the kids think its hilarious.  It means finicky, nitpicky, fussy. It’s fun to talk about the word before reading it to children.  Then they can find places where Albert is, indeed, being persnickety.

For example,  Albert sticks his hand out of his apartment window every morning to check the weather – to see if it’s “just right” so he will go out that day.

Children who live in apartment buildings might know the word grillwork and why this oiece of metal is needed on a window. It’s a goid word to know and you can talk about other uses if a “grill.” Also, the word fledgling is goid to learn.

Make Predictions

Stop reading at parts that make your kids think. For example, “Then one day, while his hand is out the window, something unexpected happens. A bird flies by and drops a twig into his hand – first, one they another. Finally, there in his hand is a bird nest that the mother cardinal uses to lay her eggs.”

Albert is now faced with a conundrum (another great word for kids). Since his window is covered with a protective grill, he will drop the nest if he turns his hand over to bring it inside. “What would you do?”

Yes, as far as kids books go, this one is a home run with so much for the children to talk about. And, for parents, too, because the kids won’t even realize they are learning to Think Smart about books! That’s why I call reading high-quality picture books aloud to kids lessons in disguise.

Connect to Science

Good children’s books can connect to other content area subjects to introduce a topic and its vocabulary. How long does it take for a bird’s egg to hatch?  There is a wonderful opportunity here to connect this story to a future science lesson about the lifecycle of birds.

As the story moves along, the kids can be motivated to have natural, thoughtful discussions about what Albert will do about his daily life routines like eating, toileting, and showering for all this time when he decides to keep his hand outside to protect the nest.

Visual Literacy

The illustrations in high-quality picture book stories for kids is what sets them aside from the rest. This book is illustrated by Jim Lamarche who is well known for his life-like pictures in children’s books like The Raft and Pond. Students will enjoy looking at them and talking about them.  Just look at the cover illustration!  As a Pre-Reading activity, spend some time talking about the cover illustration and the title.:

  • “What do you notice?”
  • “Who is Albert?”
  • “What is he doing?”
  • “Where does he live?”
  • “Why is there a bird on his head?”
  • “What do you think the story will be about?”

Related Stories

  • Rechenka’s Eggs
  • Stellaluna
  • Feathered Friends, Seuss
  • How Do Birds Find Their Way

Improve Listening Comprehension

This read-aloud story can improve concentration and listening comprehension. I read Albert on my You Tube Channel, Creating Smart Readers.

I hope you will join us. My stories are available any time of day.  I add a new one or two weekly.

After-Reading Activities

In the elementary school, I did a club called, “How to Eat a Book.”  We made edible bird nests out of noodles, shredded coconut, and candy.

Kids will also enjoy researching birds – perhaps the ones living in your yard or a nearby park – and drawing them.  Kids also love to make bird feeders.

A Quick Word on Lexiles (reading levels)

Please know your child’s reading level when asking them to read on their own.  Albert is recommended on amazon for children in grades P-3.  However, if you look at the Lexile chart above, you will notice that its Lexile level is 600 which is for the average reader at the beginning of grade 4.

This is why I always suggest that you read stories to your children first and talk about the vocabulary and hidden ideas before they read it on their own.  Picture books are deceiving because most people think they are appropriate for little kids.  In fact, many like this one, contain words and ideas that young kids will understand better if they have discussions with an adult first. There is great power in picture books – the high-quality ones that I use – when they are read with an adult. These kessons in disguise will creat smart-thinking kids!

End Note

Please subscribe to this Blog so you receive notification each time there is a new Post.  I will never use your information for anything else.

I’d love to hear about the stories you and your children enjoy and the activities you did after reading.

“Happy Reading!”

Kids Books on Bats & Birds

After our study on bats, pairs of students used gel pens to write facts on black paper bat shapes. Then they entered our cardboard “Bat Cave” (thanks to the custodians) with flashlights. Using tape, they hung the bat shapes all over the walls.

518Ppta3lOL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_[1]When I was teaching Reading in the elementary school, I was always searching for children’s books for me to read aloud to the kids and for them to read on their own. I created a unit about birds that the kids really enjoyed. I included both fiction and nonfiction titles, graphic organizers, drawing, a craft, and writing activities. Then I did the same thing for bats.

As far as good stories for kids go, Stellaluna is an all-time favorite. It is about a baby bat that gets lost and lands with a family of birds. This book leads to learning about Problem and Solution. Students also researched the habitats of birds and compared it with that of bats. We drew pictures, wrote our own stories, and ended by making bird feeders to bring home. I read this story on my You Tube Channel, Creating Smart Readers (link to the right).

Here is a link to making Bird Feeders for kids:

32 Homemade Bird Feeders To Make With Kids This Winter

There are some really good children’s stories about bats too. Here are just a few:

  • Bats at the Beach, P-3, No Lexile available
  • National Geographic, Bats, K-3, Lexile 690
  • Bats, 1-3, Lexile 630

The Bat Cave

To encourage research on bats, I arranged stacks of kids books on tables all around the room so the children could browse and read the ones they liked. After our study on bats, pairs of students used gel pens to write facts on black paper bat shapes. Then they entered our cardboard “Bat Cave” (thanks to the custodians) with flashlights. Using tape, they hung the bat shapes all over the walls. This was one of my most memorable lessons in 20 years of teaching.  Not only did the principal come to visit, other teachers asked to bring their classes in to see the cave. You can create your own Bat Cave using boxes or even a homemade tent made from sheets and blankets. Check out the many virtual tours and informational videos on You Tube.

Connect to Nonfiction

51zWfXOJ-wL._SY398_BO1,204,203,200_[1]Together, the students and I also read How Do Birds Find Their Way? This book iss loaded with information but also with inferences (hidden information) that we spent a lot of time uncovering.

It was very tricky to uncover all the good stuff in this book but the kids pressed on and we finally figured out that birds use their “instincts,” or hidden GPS, to figure out where they are going and when to come back. Navigating all the text features of this book took teaching, time, and practice.  There are charts and maps that add to the wonderful details in this kids’ book.

Some other children’s books about birds are below:

  • Dr. Seuss, Fine Feathered Friends, P-3, Lexile 600
  • Birding Adventures, Grades 3-7, No Lexile available
  • National Geographic, Birds, 3-7, Lexile 1030

Try Bird Watching

This link will bring you to an article about bird watching for kids from the Audubon Society.

Notice the Lexile Levels

Notice that the Lexile level (reading level) of How Do Birds Find Their Way? is 620 which is at the beginning of 4th grade for the average reader. In my opinion, most children in grades one, two, and three are not skilled enough to understand how to read “between the lines” and to connect all the text ideas presented in the maps, charts, and drawings in this book. There are also flashbacks to ancient times, talking about what scientists back then thought about migration of birds.  However, with adult guidance, they can glean the information given in the story so it makes good sense.

Connect to Other Stories

Children can benefit by comparing the story of Stellaluna to Mingo the Flamingo. I read these and other storiesfor kids on my You Tube Channel, Creating Smart Readers. Also, here is a free, downloadable Read-Aloud guide for Mingo MINGO Guide. A jumbo book on Read-Aloud guides is available to purchase using the link to the right. Albert is a great story about a man who faces a decision about saving a bird’s nest full of eggs.  I will read it on You Tube soon. And, of course,  Rechenka’s Eggs is about a goose that lays unusual eggs. Here is the Read-Aloud guide for it Rechenka. 

This is a link to kid-friendly Pysanky egg decorating.

Spring is here and birds are chirping in the trees. Bats are roosting at night.  I hope you will find some useful activities for your kiddos – especially during this time when we are staying home.

Please let me know which kids books and activities you and your children are enjoying. If you subscribe to this Blog, you will receive notification of each new Post.  Likewise, you will receive a notice for each new story that I read on You Tube if you subscribe there.  Please note, that I will NEVER use your information in any way for myself or to sell/share with others.

“Happy Reading!”


When Boys Hate to Read

I included jokes into Fun Friday activities by asking kids to choose their favorite 3 jokes or riddles and then write down why they were funny.

For P-3, No Lexile level available
Ask any parent or teacher how most boys feel about books and reading and you’ll get the same answer – they’re not very interested! In fact, many boys say they hate to read! This week on my You Tube channel, Creating Smart Readers (link to the right), I read The Araboolies of Liberty Street. I first discovered this book when I was taking a university class called Boys and Books. It was listed with many others in the course textbook. I purchased a set of 10 books to use with the third and fourth grade students in my reading groups using the Read-Aloud guide that I created. Boys comprised most of my student groups and, instead of their usual lament that they hate reading, they actually loved it! The trick to enticing boys to read is to find books and stories that they like.

Here is a free downloadable partial Read-Aloud guide. The Araboolies of Liberty Street Partial Guide  The complete guide is included in my jumbo book, Creating Smart Readers, link to the right.

Benefits of Reading Aloud to Boys

Studies show that boys are up to 2 years behind girls in Reading.  No wonder they hate reading – it is always too hard for them.  But, we can turn it around by reading great “boy” stories to them. This link is to a 2018 article in Psychology Today regarding boys and reading.

Boys and girls pay an emotional price for lagging behind their peers in Reading. Here is the link to a previous Blog that I wrote on that topic. Poor Readers Pay an Emotional Price

So here’s to squashing the dislike of reading and to getting the boys excited about books today! I am listing some books that boys like.  If you read the books in the way described in the Read-Aloud guides, you will:

  • Debunk the boys hate reading idea
  • Arouse curiosity in books
  • Get boys excited about books
  • Build vocabulary
  • Motivate boys to read on their own
  • Enhance thinking skills

Here are a few books that I think boys will like.  Please watch reading levels if you want your children to read on their own.  Since some books do not have available Lexile levels (reading levels), please look at them first. Better yet, read them with your child and talk about them first. Remember, you are their first and best reading guide. They will mimic the way you think out loud when you read to them.

  • Mighty, Mighty Construction Site (P-1, Lexile 710) – look at the chart on the right for the disparity in recommended grade/age and the reading level.
  • Cowboy Camp (P-2)
  • If I Built a Car (Gr 3-5)
  • I Stink (P-3, Lexile 300)
  • If I Were a Kid During the Civil War (Gr 2-4, Lexile 630)
  • Choose Your Own Adventure Series (Gr 4+)
  • Matt Christopher Sports Series (usually Gr 3/4+)

Boys Love All Things Military

For 2-5, Lexile 990
Whether they were boys who thought they hated reading or not – all the boys in my elementary and high school groups (especially those who struggled most with reading) were enthralled with books about the military.  We split the period with a skill lesson and time for independent reading in comfy camp chairs that I put in a quiet corner. The military books were always chosen first.

For the best result in reading Dazzle Ships, I would suggest that an adult read to and with a child and talk about the illustrations and ideas together.  Notice that this book has quite a high reading level.

paperbackMy paperback book, Be a Reading Hero, is available now at

I hand picked every picture book inside and each one includes a detailed Read-Aloud Guide.

Show kids how exciting books can be when you read and talk about them together.  You are the model, the guide, who is  “thinking out loud” when reading.  Your kids will mimic as they, too, become smart-thinking readers.

The books in the Magic Tree House series are always a good choice. They are generally good for grades 1/2 – 4 with Lexiles that range from 450-580, but the Fact Checker books are higher in Lexile levels. Please, please, please know your child’s reading level and help them choose books appropriately which will encourage better engagement in reading.  For struggling kids, I often recommend a lower leveled book that will make the reading easier – hence, build their confidence and pride in completing a book.


Boys Get Excited About Telling Jokes

The National Geographic Kids joke books are my all-time favorite for kids – especially for boys. The suggested grade level and Lexile levels vary from grade 2 to 7 and 400  to 740 Lexile levels.  Here’s what I say about that.

In my 18 years in the elementary school, I purchased hundreds of these books for my Reading Room and for gifts for the children.  They were especially well received by my 4th grade boys.  I was lucky enough to receive a large grant to purchase materials for my high school Reading Room and included many of these joke books in my order.  The teens loved them too – especially the boys.  This link will bring you to another Blog that I posted earlier. Using Jokes and Riddles

One reason I believe joke books are so beneficial is that they are short to read (especially for struggling readers who shy away from longer texts). Also, they make kids think.  Young children and teens have to “get” the joke in order to think it is funny.  That skill requires making an inference – to think about the hidden meaning of the joke.  Why is it so funny?  I included jokes into Fun Friday activities by asking kids to choose their favorite 3 jokes or riddles and then write down why they were funny. We finished the period by sharing our jokes and writing.

Please feel free to contact me about any concerns or questions you may have about your boy readers. I hope that the Read-Aloud guides are helpful and I hope that you and your boys love them.

“Happy Reading!

Earth Day!

There are so many interesting stories that connect Nature and so many actions we can take – right in our own yards, neighborhoods, and schools – to help.


For K-3, Lexile 860
Today, in honor of Earth Day, today I read Cactus Hotel on my You Tube Channel, Creating Smart Readers. This book has been a longtime favorite of teachers and children for many years. It leads to further study about lifecycles, plants and trees, and animals and their habitats.

I like to pair it up with A Log’s Life (P-3 Lexile 730) which is similar in lifecycles of trees, especially for Earth Day. Another beloved story – based on true events – is A River Ran Wild (P-3 Lexile 670).  This one is about water pollution caused by factories and how years of work by local residents brought the Nashua River in New Hampshire back to health. Children will notice the borders the author paints around the cover and each page of the book to show what is happening in

the story. This is similar to the border on the cover of Cactus Hotel. After reading these stories, children will enjoy researching the lifecycle of any plant, tree, or animal and then making a book about it – of course, with page borders to illustrate the facts.

Books about Nature

For K-3
Here are some other books that you and your children might like that are about Nature:

  • Wangari’s Trees of Peach (P-3 Lexile 600)
  • Strange Trees (K-3)
  • Antsy Ansel (K-4)
  • Over and Under the Pond (1-2 Lexile 660)
  • From Seed to Plant (K-3 Lexile 560)
  • Kate Who Tamed the Wind (P-3 Lexile 540)
  • Shark Lady (P-4 Lexile 730)
  • The Great Kapok Tree (P-3 Lexile 590)
  • Manfish – Jacques Cousteau (K-3)

A Word about Lexiles

Please know your children’s reading levels, measured now in many schools using Lexile levels which are a range of numbers that coordinate with grade levels for average readers.  If you look at the chart to the right and reference the Lexile numbers (where available) for the highlighted books, you will notice that many stories are too difficult for the children in the grades stated. If there is no Lexile level for any book stated here, it is because there wasn’t one available. Please look them over first. That is why I always recommend that you read a story to your children first and then let them go off and read on their own if they wish.

Saving the Earth

Children learn about protecting the Earth in school, at home, in stories, and on television. There are so many interesting stories that connect Nature and so many actions we can take – right in our own yards, neighborhoods, and schools – to help.  Perhaps you and your children can plan a recycling routine at home, visit a virtual recycling plant, make bird feeders, start a garden, or plant a tree.  There are good stories about any part of Nature that interests you and your family.

Connect Stories and Art

For K-4 Lexile 560)
Sky Tree by Thomas Locker was published the year after I started teaching Reading in an elementary school and about the same time that I started to fall in love with picture books.

Not only does it feature the author’s beautiful paintings of the same tree throughout the year, it contains beautiful language to describe what is happening in each painting. This led to many writing lessons.

A colleague and I also used this book as part of an afterschool club, Stories and Art, where we first read it and then the children painted their own tree in each of the four seasons.

Storytime on You Tube

Please join me at my You Tube Channel, Creating Smart Readers (link to the right) where I read a variety of stories for children. I am working on a series of stories about famous people and something special for a Summer Book Club.

Please let me know what you and your children are reading together and feel free to ask any reading questions. If you subscribe to this Blog using the link to the right, you will receive notification every time there is a new posting.  The same is true for my You Tube channel stories.  Just subscribe to receive notice of each new story.

“Happy Reading!”