Don’t be fooled – picture books are not just for little kids. They offer a wealth of learning opportunities if read to kids properly.

Cuban folktale
For P-3, Lexile Level 720


Folktales Matter

Folktales are fun and beneficial to children in that they:

  • Reinforce the oral storytelling tradition
  • Teach about other cultures
  • Provide life lessons

On my You Tube channel, Creating Smart Readers (link to the right), I am reading, Martina, the Beautiful Cockroach today.  This is a really fun story to listen to and to talk about.  A cockroach? Really? Think of the fun you and your children can have talking about that critter!  This is a Cuban folktale that can lead to lots of activities for children who are quarantined at home right now. A downloadable partial Read-Aloud Guide to this story is included free here. Martina the Beautiful Cockroach  The complete and detailed guide is part of my new Kindle edition of The Read-Aloud Workout (link to purchase at an introductory low price is to the right).

Know Your Child’s Reading Level

Please notice that the recommended grade level for Martina is for children P-3 but the Lexile level (reading level) of this story is actually way too high for kids of that grade.  According to the chart to the right, 720 is for average readers at the beginning of grade 5.  That is why I always remind parents to read and discuss picture books with their kids before letting them go off and read on their own. This way, children can be guided to find their way around tricky words and hidden ideas in stories. Don’t be fooled – picture books are not just for little kids. They offer a wealth of learning opportunities if read to kids properly.

Folktales from Around the World

Another story I read on my You Tube channel is The Dancing Turtle (P-4, Lexile 500).  It is a folktale from Brazil.  I am going to list some good folktales from around the world that you and your children might enjoy.  Read-Aloud guides are available for all of these stories in my jumbo book, Creating Smart Readers, How to Read 50+ Picture Books to Kids 4-10 (link on right).

  • Mariana and the Merchild (K-3, no Lexile available) is a folktale from Chile.
  • The Blind Hunter (1-2, no Lexile available) is a tale from Africa.
  • Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters (P-3, Lexile 790) is a tale from Africa.
  • The Rough-Face Girl (3+, Lexile 540) is a folktale from Africa
  • The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle (P-3, no Lexile available) is a folktale from England.
  • Rechenka’s Eggs (P-3, Lexile 610) is a tale from Russia.

513SE1X368L._SY431_BO1,204,203,200_[1]I am including The Caged Birds of Phnom Phen (K-2, no Lexile available) here for a few reasons.  Although it is not really a folktale, it gives an insight into Viet Nam through the eyes of a small child wishing to get out of the poverty in which her family lives. It also shows how this gullible child is almost tricked by a cunning merchant. This can be a great lesson for children today who are inundated by clever marketing that can lure them in at every turn.

Also, I am very proud to have received a signed copy of this book after I mentioned it in a published article that I wrote with a colleague.

Through folktales and other wonder picture book stories, we can enhance the listening comprehension, curiosity, and knowledge of our children. They can be step stools for our young children who are learning about the world and its people. I hope to see you over at You Tube later for our story.

I would love to hear about your favorite picture book stories and the activities you and your children are doing after reading them. Please subscribe to this Blog and to my You Tube channel so you get notification every time I post something new.

“Happy Reading!”




Why Picture Books?

High leveled Picture Books – the ones that are meaty with words, that prompt kids to ask questions and search for hidden meaning, and arouse curiosity in learning more – are the ones I like to use. 

For Gr 1-2. No Lexile found.

Why I Love PicBooks

I am a huge fan of picture books – but, not the cute little rhyming ones for very young kids. Here is why I love picture books so much.  People believe that picture books are only for the very young. I love the ones that no one notices that are for older kids.  I’ve used them in my Reading Lessons for 20 years and even in the high school.  The trick is to find the ones that are high-leveled and fit as examples to:

  • Teach Reading Skills
  • Build Vocabulary
  • Introduce topics for school subjects
  • Encourage deep thinking
  • Entice kids to find hidden meaning
  • Arouse curiosity to learn more

I have searched long and hard over my 20 years of teaching to find these books.  I’ve used them in all my Reading lessons.  I’ve created courses for teachers using them.  I’ve been invited with a colleague to present at a New York City literacy conference to explain their use across the grades and subjects.  I’ve discovered, used, and loved my picture books for years and years.

You Tube Storytime

Now that I’ve retired, they sit on shelves in my basement screaming for attention.  So, I decided to ease the boredom of our COVID-19 quarantine by reading them to children on a channel I started on You Tube, Creating Smart Readers (link on the right).

To enhance the stories for parents or adults who are trying to keep learning going at home, I am sharing some of my lessons in Read-Aloud Guides.  They include reading skills, tricky words and language, discussion questions to motivate kids to find hidden meaning, and after-reading activities for crafts, research, day trips, and academic graphic organizers and writing.

This week’s story is, The Mouse and the Moon.  I am including a free downloadable Read-Aloud guide here for you. The Mouse and the Moon. The story is about finding friends.

For P-3, Lexile Level 440
Another favorite story about friendships is The Little Beaver and the Echo.  Both these stories can lead to learning about the phases of the moon, space travel, life in a pond, and animal life cycles.

A Word About Lexile Levels

A Lexile Level is the new way of saying Reading Level.  As you can see from the chart on the right, there is a “range” of numbers that coordinates with a grade level.  These numbers are for an average reader., where I buy most of my books, now lists a Lexile level for most of its children’s books.  So, when you are searching for a book for your child, you need to know his or her reading level.  Most schools give a formal reading test twice a year.  Please know your child’s reading level.

Poor readers visit the School Nurse often with read, imaginary, or non-existent illnesses.
Reading to kids helps make them think smart about books!

Don’t be fooled by Picture Books!  They are often advertised for young children but, when you look at the recommended reading level (Lexile level), you will notice they are often not appropriate for a child at the age or grade stated.  This drives me crazy!  That is why I am sharing Read-Aloud Guides with parents.  Please use part of all of the guide when reading aloud to your children.  You become their “reading guide.” You show the kids how good readers think and ask questions in their heads and figure out confusing words or parts when they read.  Do this first and watch in surprise when the kids mimic your thinking when they go off next and read the book on their own.

High leveled Picture Books – the ones that are meaty with words, that prompt kids to ask questions and search for hidden meaning, and arouse curiosity in learning more – are the ones I like to use.  I will provide you with many Read-Aloud guides.  There are more available in my jumbo book that gives all kinds of ideas for older kids.  Until next time,

“Happy Reading!”


Let’s Visit Italy

After reading, talk to your kids about the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Ask them how it pertains to the way Pippo was perceived by the townspeople. 

For 1-3, Lexile Level 770
After enjoying, Pippo the Fool, let’s visit Italy. What a great activity for older kids when we are all staying home these days. I read this great historic and true story out loud on my You Tube channel, Creating Smart Readers (link on the right).  After listening to the story, there are lots of activities you can do to educate and delight your children. The free, downloadable Read-Aloud guide here Pippo the Fool Guide will break the book down into sections that include Reading Skills, Tricky Words and Word Work, Discussion Questions, and After-Reading Activities.

Where I live on Long Island, we are into week three of self-isolation with the schools still closed.  So I’ve included a few videos here about the dome in our story.  You can also search and view many virtual tours of parts of Italy and watch them with your children according to your interests. Since the read-aloud story is a bit long for very young kiddos, the first video below is an easier depiction of how Pippo designed and built the dome. You can adjust the after-reading activities so kids of all ages can enjoy them together.


Visit Italy with a Virtual Tour

This link retells our story and shows drawings of how Pippo designed the dome..

Here is a link to how the dome was built.

Here are pictures and information about the dome in Florence, Italy.

More facts about Italy, the country.

Italy facts: check out this beautiful country!

After-Reading Activities

After reading, talk to your kids about the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Ask them how it pertains to the way Pippo was perceived by the townspeople.  Also, have some fun with building with blocks or Legos.  Encourage your children to design and draw a building.  How about an invention that would make their lives better.  Perhaps they can present it to the family after dinner.  The Read-Aloud Guide (downloadable above) gives many ideas.

Know Your Child’s Reading Level

If you have the book, please note that the Lexile level (reading level) on is 770. That is the suggested reading level for an average reader near the end of Grade 5.  This is why I always suggest that you use a Read-Aloud Guide to read, discuss, and analyze a book first with your children before allowing them to go off and read alone.  The level of background knowledge, word knowledge, and ability to find hidden meaning of a 5th grader is quite higher than that of the recommended grade 1-3 grader for this book.  Please, please, please, know your child’s reading level and help guide them to be smarter readers by reading aloud to them. Picture books are so very tricky that way – they are targeted to the very young when, in fact, some stories are much more difficulty to understand.  We can help them by using Read-Aloud Guides.

Please stay inside and stay safe.  Thanks to the Internet, we can enjoy the world safely from our homes.  I would love to hear from you about what your children built, drew, or invented after hearing this great story. “Happy Reading!”

Egg Decorating

This story will introduce egg decorating as a great family fun activity. You can decorate real eggs in the Pysanky way as shown in this story or you can simply draw an oval and decorate an egg on paper.

For P-3, Lexile Level 610

Stay-at-Home Activities for Kids

During this time of health crisis and stay-at-home mandates for us, I’m trying to ease the boredom by reading stories on my new You Tube Channel, Creating Smart Readers. After reading each story, I suggest a few activities to keep the kiddos busy.  You can use this wonderful story as an introduction to an egg decorating activity. You may also want to explore the region of Russia where the story takes place.  Kids can also draw beautiful designs on oval shapes on paper if eggs are not appropriate.

Rechenka’s Eggs is a classic children’s story about hope and caring. While it is centered on a trip to an Easter Festival, the story is also appropriate for anyone celebrating Spring.

This story will introduce egg decorating as a great family fun activity.  You can decorate real eggs in the Pysanky way as shown in this story or you can simply draw an oval and decorate an egg on paper.

If you want to enhance the story, a detailed Read-Aloud Guide is available for a free download. Rechenka PDF

Egg Decorating Information

I am including some online addresses to making Pysanky eggs and the meaning of the symbols used. Some are very intricate, so please look at them first to see if they are good for the ages of your children.  You can also do a Google search for Pysanky egg symbols for a quick look at various authentic symbols. When I worked in an elementary and high school school a few years ago, I used the symbols for the children and teens to use for both decorating paper eggs and to identify with them in writing an autobiography.

The following two images are for some of many books available on

Of course, you can just do your usual egg decorating if you wish or make a drawing of an egg that you can decorate on paper.  Have fun with it and make it as elaborate or simple as you wish.

A Word on the Lexile Level

Notice that Rechenka’s Eggs  is a picture book that is advertised (on amazon) for children to read alone from Pre-School to Grade 3. However, a Lexile Level (reading level) of 610 from the chart on the right translates to beginning of grade 4 for an average reader. As I always say, the best thing to do is to read it to and with your children first and then let them go off and read on their own if they wish. When books are too hard for a child, it is difficult to understand tricky words, the message of a story, and hidden meanings. If you read it first, you become the model as you guide your children through a story.  In this way, you show them how you want them to read on their own. So, please be aware of your child’s reading level and enjoy being the adult guide for reading.

Please subscribe to this Blog and to my You Tube channel, Creating Smart Readers, so I can notify you of new posts.  Enjoy your egg decorating.  “Happy Reading!”


Spring is Here!

Spring is the perfect time for this story about a young girl who is concerned about the wind that is destroying her neighbor’s home.

girl plants trees
For P-3, Lexile Level 540

Spring is here! And we are all following social distancing and staying home.  Schools are closed. I hope you have been allowing the kids to watch my read-aloud stories on You Tube. The link is to the right.  I started a You Tube channel (Creating Smart Readers) because I, too, am at home and I figured it would be a new face, new voice, and a new story for children. It also allows me to read my favorite high-leveled picture books to kids. Anyone who knows me in person or on this Blog, knows I am passionate about high-quality picture books!

The story I am featuring this week is Kate Who Tamed the Wind. A full detailed Read-Aloud Guide is here for you to print. Kate Guide 

Spring is the perfect time for this story about a young girl who is concerned about the wind that is destroying her neighbor’s home. The Read-aloud Guide gives information about reading skills, word work, discussion starters, and after-reading activities.  During this time of social distancing and school closures, I’m sure you have been looking for meaningful activities to do at home.

After I read the story aloud on You Tube, I will make a few suggestions for activities:

  •  Find out about windmills
  •  Make a kite
  • Paint or decorate flower pots
  • Start some seeds indoors
  • Plan a garden
  • Draw 4 trees – one for each season

Connect Art
Parents can enhance the story by introducing Science topics like wind, trees, plants, ecology, and seasons. You can also encourage kids to appreciate art. The Internet provides a myriad of information. So, have fun with the learning that is inspired by this story.

In addition, there are other books that connect well to this story. If your library is closed, you might find them in an audio version.  If you have the featured book at home, notice the Lexile level and check the chart to the right to be sure your child is able to read and understand at the level stated.

  • The Great Kapok Tree
  • A River Ran Wild
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
  • Wangari’s Trees of Peace

Picture books are tricky that way.  They are advertised for children at a young age and grade while the actual reading level is often much higher than a child of that age can read. Many children are able to “read” the words, but the necessary level of background knowledge of the subject is a bit higher for them to understand. And, there is a lot of “hidden meaning” in stories which makes it difficult for kids to figure out on their own. THAT IS WHY I STRESS READING HIGH-LEVELED PICTURE BOOKS OUT LOUD TO YOUR KIDS. It is the talking and modeling of good reading that helps your child grow as a smart-thinking reader. The Read-aloud Guides give you a breakdown on how to dig deeper into a story.  I hope you find them useful.  I took them right out of my own lesson plan book.

I hope to see you and your children regularly for stories on my You Tube channel. I also hope you enjoy the Read-Aloud Guides and activities. I’d love to know how they are working for you because I, like most of us, am a work in progress.  Please subscribe to this Blog and the channel so you get notification of new material.  “Happy Reading!”

Are Your Kids Bored Yet?

My goal is to add three (or more) stories each week.  At the same time I will post a Read-Aloud Guide for most of them on this Blog. 

Are your kids bored yet with school closings? I hope that my read-aloud stories will help. These are the three stories I am going to read on my You Tube Channel, Creating Smart Readers,  for next week starting Monday, March 23, 2020. By now we have all be cooped up inside our homes for at least a week so let’s do something new. I will read a story out loud so kids see a new face and hear a different voice. They are missing their classmates and teacher. Parents might be working from home. Here are some ideas for the kids that I hope you will enjoy.

The Stories

First. Mingo the Flamingo will take us with a lost flamingo who is trying to fly back home. I will give some ideas on activities for kids to do after the story. It will be helpful if you have a craft box ready.  Do you have any glue, paper, crayons, pieces of fabric, yarn, leftover buttons or feathers? Kids will be encouraged to try to make their own flying machine – either with a paper drawing or using random objects.

Next, The Dancing Turtle takes us to Brazil and the rain forest. Can you spare some time after the story to help your kids do some research on the rain forest and the country? Can you find a map or globe to show them where Brazil is located? Do you have  music available so the kids can do their own dancing?

Finally, Mighty, Mighty Construction Site shows how teamwork and persistence can get the job done. After the story, I will suggest that kids create their own construction site with toy cars and trucks if you have them.  If not, can you help them make some drawings?  Let’s help our kids use their imaginations.

The Read-Aloud Guides

I created Read-Aloud Guides from my own lesson plans in school where I used high-quality picture book stories like these in my Reading Lessons for all grades. Of course, the level of the story is based on the grades and ages of the children.  I used picture book lessons for every grade level from one to 12.

In these Read-Aloud Guides, you can choose as much or as little to use with your children as you wish.  They include reading skills (ie. cause/effect, problem/solution, making inferences, making predictions), vocabulary/tricky words and grammar, analyzing illustrations, before-reading motivators, during-reading questions, and after-reading activities including graphic organizers, writing, crafts, research, and day trips.  We can’t do any day trips during this virus lock-down, but there are many virtual tours available online.

Below are the downloadable Read-Aloud Guides for these stories.


The Dancing Turtle

Mightly consruction site guide

I hope you and your children are uplifted by these stories and that you find the Read-Aloud Guides useful. There is a jumbo book of guides available to purchase on the right. My goal is to add three (or more) stories each week.  At the same time I will post a Read-Aloud Guide for most of them on this Blog.  Please contact me on my You Tube Channel or here with any questions or suggestions and let me know how your children are enjoying the stories. Please   “Happy Reading!”

Sneak Preview of upcoming stories:

You Tube Read-Aloud Stories

During these unsettling days when schools and many businesses are closed, kids are missing their friends and their daily schedules in school.

Hi Everyone!  I just wanted to let you know that I have posted two read-aloud stories for kids on my new You Tube Channel, Creating Smart Readers.  (Sorry, I am having trouble attaching a direct link but you can cut and paste the link below into your browser if you experience trouble.

During these unsettling days when schools and many businesses are closed, kids are missing their friends and their daily schedules in school.  So I’ve decided to do what I love to do – read my favorite picture books out loud.  A new face and voice just might be welcomed.

So far, I’ve posted three stories.

  • The Firekeeper’s Son, a story about trustworthiness set in ancient Korea
  • Don’t Need Friends, a story about an unlikely friendship in a junkyard
  • Henry’s Map, a story about a tidy pig who makes a map of his farm

Also, I am including Read-Aloud Guides for each story here if you want to download them and use the ideas to enhance the stories with your children.  The beauty of You Tube is that you can listen to the stories as many times as you like and it is completely free.

Here are the two Read-Aloud Guides:

Don’t Need Friends

Firekeepers Son


My plan is to continue adding stories for you and your child’s enjoyment.  Please contact me with any questions about using the Read-Aloud Guides. “Happy Reading!”


Coronavirus Keeping You Home?

This story is about trustworthiness. It takes place in ancient Korea as a small boy struggles to make an important choice when his father is injured.

519-APf05oL._SY442_BO1,204,203,200_[1]Millions of kids – and parents – are at home because of the safety measures brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.  So, I’ve started my own You Tube Channel on which I will read  favorite picture books and suggest an activity or two for after reading. Hopefully, seeing a real face doing the reading will help your child feel cared for by a teacher during these unsettling times.

As we are all adjusting to this new housebound normal, our children will become increasingly unhappy with being out of school.  They miss the classroom routine, their teachers, and their friends. So, we can make a home schedule that includes their online school lessons and other activities like a You Tube real-life story read by me with suggested activities.

The story I feature first is one of my all time favorites:  The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park.  I am attaching here a downloadable copy of a Read-aloud Guide that you may Guide Firekeepers Son want to have handy as you discuss the story with your child. Depending on your child’s age, you may want to work together to research Korea and help organize a craft activity. Please note that I use the best-practice reading model of Before, During, and After Reading activities.

This story is about trustworthiness.  It takes place in ancient Korea as a small boy struggles to make an important choice when his father is injured.  It opens the door for lots of conversations and valuable life lessons.  I hope you like it.  Stay tuned for more stories to come soon. “Happy Reading!”

Please let me know if you have difficulty getting the viceo.  This is a new platform for me and I think I got it right!


Poor Readers Pay an Emotional Price

But, here’s the thing -kids who struggle with reading are very aware that they are “less than” their peers and, sadly, they will start to have emotional manifestations of their struggles both in school and at home.

flyThe sad truth – and there’s no way to be delicate here – is that poor readers pay a terrible emotional price in and out of school. Also, kids who can’t read well struggle in school every single day of their lives and their futures can be bleak too.  In order to fill out a job application, read safety manuals, and to understand rules and directions young adults need to be able to read and write so they can get, keep, and be good at a job. Not every child should go to college but trade schools require reading too.

Does your child love to get up in the morning and can’t wait to get to school?  Or, do you see him or her balk at the idea of “another day of school?”

clownsSchool is both an academic and social place and kids want to fit in. Poor readers are embarrassed every day because they know and their classmates are fully aware that they cannot read well.  That may be decoding words and/or understanding all the ideas that are hidden within a text. Can you imagine the panic of a poor reader when the teacher goes up and down rows of kids asking them to read a part of a book aloud? These kids shrink down into their chairs, heads hung low, praying they don’t get called on – wanting to be invisible. Struggling readers often react to their feelings of insecurity by being the class clown or being aggressive to classmates.

Do not despair, however, because there is much you can do at home to help them. In fact, my ideas are what I call “Lessons in disguise” because they are enjoyable for kids and parents. I will try to address tips and tricks that I’ve learned over 20 years of working in schools.

To be polite, we teachers use words like “poor readers” and “struggling readers.” Even in the early grades, you have probably heard the teachers tell you that your child is struggling with reading which has been proven by test grades and report card assessments. Perhaps you have been told to think about a tutor, get the child tested by a doctor, agree to in-school remediation, or make sure your kid reads more at home. All good advice and we will explore these ideas later.

But, here’s the thing – kids who struggle with reading are very aware that they are “less than” their peers and, sadly, they will start to have emotional manifestations of their struggles both in school and at home. You can help them in unexpected ways at home.

If you could be a fly on the classroom wall, these are some things you might see:

  • Frequent visits to the bathroom
  • Frequent visits to the Nurse’s Office
  • Acting out in anger and frustration towards other kids
  • Becoming withdrawn and isolated from other kids
  •  Shrinking down in seats in an effort to become “invisible” during class read-aloud time

Poor readers often feel isolated from the academic world.As a Reading Specialist working in schools with kids from K-12, I am writing this to encourage you – as a parent, caregiver, or other adult – to be aware of the signs and know what to do. At home you might see a constant rebellion at doing homework and “fake” reading during at-home reading time which is often a homework requirement.

The purpose of this Blog is to share with you what I have learned in over 20 years working with struggling readers.

  • First, start a sincere and open dialogue with your child’s teacher and the school’s Reading Specialist.
  • Talk to your child honestly and be supportive by assuring that you are going to work together to fix this as best you can.
  • Talk to your child’s doctor about the need for additional testing by a specialist. Be aware that there are very real problems that cause kids to struggle with Reading and specific programs that help. Sometimes schools will pay for the testing.
  • If in-school remediation is recommended, ask questions about it – will it specifically address your child’s reading problem. A Phonics-based program, for example, will not help if your child is deemed to have a comprehension or recalling information problem.
  •  When considering a tutor or a commercial tutoring center, find out if he or she is experienced in what your child needs (ie. phonics, memory, speech/language delays, comprehension, etc.). They should not be a paid homework companion but a teacher who actually teaches your kids to read better.
  • Before insisting that your child “read more” at home, know your child’s current reading level (based on school tests usually done twice yearly to all students). I write often about reading levels (now called Lexile levels). More tips in upcoming Blogs.
  • Be aware that there is much you can do at home.  In this Blog, I will try to give practical, quick, and easy tips to help you make home Reading more enjoyable, practical, and instructional.

children-286239_640Some of the topics I will cover on this Blog are:

  • How to read age-appropriate picture books for optimum instruction and pleasure (don’t freak out of the use of picture books – I will show you how to use them for kids of ALL ages. It is not what you think, so hang in there.)
  • How to build reading stamina
  • How to increase reading fluency
  • How to help your kids choose appropriate books
  • How to build vocabulary
  • How to motivate your child to love books
  • How to show your kids how to find hidden meaning

So, if you could be a fly on the classroom wall today you might see something concerning if your child is a poor reader. Stick with me, send me your questions, and together we can increase your child’s reading.

powUnfortunately, some children have serious learning disabilities that require specialized remediation. Some children need Special Education services. Even so, there is much you can do at home.

Next time, I will share with you my favorite topic in the world – how to use picture books to make your kids read smarter. I will include some real-life examples too.

“Happy Reading!”




Making Connections that Matter

With this recent viral posting of the unlikely friendship between the disabled chihuahua and pigeon, we as parents, teachers, and adults have the unique opportunity in real time to talk to our kids about diversity and friendship. We can read stories with them and help them make connections that matter.

Every day, there are opportunities to make connections when we read with our children – connections that matter! As I mentioned in a previous post, life lessons in stories are the real nitty gritty of their messages.  And, we don’t need to jam values and lessons down the throats of our kids. We can make “natural” connections as we read and talk.

In reading, there are three types of connections:  text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world.  When children can connect something they are reading to themselves, they can identify with the feelings, motives, and actions of a character – either real or fictional. By connecting what they are reading to another story, book, or even a TV show or movie, they can expand the information into a broader context.  And, when kids can understand that the ideas, actions, themes (the “So-What” Factor The “So What?” Factor)  matter to people of their community, school, or the world, it might motivate them to take action to start or participate in a cause they find important.

th[5]With this recent viral posting of the unlikely friendship between the disabled chihuahua and pigeon, we as parents, teachers, and adults have the unique opportunity in real time to talk to our kids about diversity and friendship. We can read stories with them and help them make connections that matter.

This kind of connection to the world can start kids thinking about the importance of making friends with all people – not just with those who they think are popular or cool. We can talk about the values that we want in our friends.

Likewise, reading stories with our children about other unlikely friendships can start conversations about what really matters – we are all people and we are all different in one way or the other. We can compare and contrast animals and do some fun research in an educational way as well. Here are just a few stories that come to mind.

For P-3, Lexile Level 920
This is one of my favorite stories about an orphaned baby hippo after the 2004 tsunami who is taken to a rescue center in Kenya and forges a friendship with a 130 year old tortoise living there. My students couldn’t get enough of this real story with beautiful photographs. Please notice the Lexile level of 920 makes it way too difficult for the targeted audience of children in preschool to grade 3. Again, I urge parents and adults to read interactively with their children taking time to stop and talk.  Ask questions.  Help your kids make the connections about why this story matters.  What can they do in their own community to help animals? Is there an animal shelter who could use some supplies?  One Christmas, my whole family gathered dog and cat food and brought them to a local rescue center. Many local aquariums (or online) allow families to “adopt” an animal through a donation.

For P-3, Lexile Level 550
In this beloved and popular fictional picture book, a lost baby bat is taken in and cared for by a family nest of birds. This book is often read to young children in grades K-4. When reading it to our own children, be sure to stop and talk about the differences and similarities of bats and birds in their looks, sleeping habits, and diet. Help your kids make connections to the world again by putting up a bird house or bat house in the yard to help these natives make a home in our never-diminishing forests.


For P-3, Lexile Level 440
This is one of my long-time favorites. It is a simple read for young children and one that is fun to read aloud to them because of the repetition. I love the  predictable parts when kids can chime in with me as I read. There are a number of animals who join Little Beaver on his quest to find friends – all unlikely friends who set out together.

These three picture book stories and the news account of the other can bridge the gap for kids between making friends and helping others in stories and in real life.  Kids love stories about animals, especially the babies.  We can use them as “natural” life lessons

For P-3, Lexile Level 720
that kindness, friendships, and diversity matter.

I am attaching a downloadable Read-Aloud Guide for this wonderful picture book, Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, because it focuses on identifying the personality traits you value. Martina the Beautiful Cockroach Read  You can pick and choose how much or little of this guide to use when reading with your kids. Please note the high Lexile level of this story and read it with young kids first before letting them go off and read it on their own.  Have fun with it.  I’ve read this story with a diverse population of elementary school students and we all had a great time coming up with lists and lists of qualities we look for in our friends.

“Happy Reading!”