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!”


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!”




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!


The “So What?” Factor

When kids have to talk about what they read in terms of why it is important to them, their school, their community, and the world it forces them to search deep inside the text and inside themselves to determine why actions and words matter.



When working with my reading groups, there was always a huge sign visible near our table that read, “SO WHAT?” Whether we were reading about historic events, a notable figure in a biography, a nonfiction factual piece on science, or a fictional story, none of the words, charts, dialogue, or chapters mattered if we couldn’t figure out why it was important – the “SO WHAT?” factor.


This can alsobe described as the theme, author’s purpose, main idea, or critical literacy but the two words on the wall were easier for kids of all ages to relate to and figure out. When kids have to talk about what they read in terms of why it is important to them, their school, their community, and the world it forces them to search deep inside the text and inside themselves to determine why actions and words matter. If children and teens can think about what makes a real or fictional character or historic event good or bad, it helps them become better people themselves – the kind of kids we see making a difference. It can help give courage to a child being bullied to stand up and say no! It can help a shy child see why being a friend can help make a friend. It can show kids that instead of being the problem, they can become part of a solution.

The “So What?” factor, therefore, helps to instill values in kids and helps them to form in themselves a good character. They will know what they stand for and why it matters. They are responsible for the future and they will know why they can matter.I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite picture book stories – you know, the ones I go on and on gushing over. I will talk about the “So What” factor in some of them below. Don’t forget to check the Lexile levels of these books before allowing your children to read them alone because many picture books are promoted and marketed to kids who are too young to read the words and understand the ideas on their own.

For example, Mighty, Mighty Construction Site shown here is marketed on for kids preschool to grade 1. But if you notice the Lexile level (reading level) is a 710 which, according to my chart on the right, is for average kids in grade 5 to read. ALWAYS KNOW YOUR CHILDREN’S READING LEVEL! As I always do, I suggest that you read them interactively with your kids first and talk about them while you do. In this way, you will guide your children in becoming “smart” and thoughtful readers who know how to navigate through difficult words and parts when they read on their own. You will also show them by searching together for hidden meaning. Here is a Read-aloud Guide for Mighty, Mighty Construction Site which is part of my upcoming book, The Read-Aloud Workout.Mightly consruction site guide

Teamwork on construction site

For P-1, Lexile Level 710

Below I will list some other favorites and a short description about their “So What? Factor”

helping others
For K-2, Lexile Level 460

This story is based on real events. It is about American children who organized food and clothing drives for Dutch children during WWII. It matters because it shows how small acts of kindness can make big differences to others.





For 1-2, Lexile Level 630

In this story, Irene braves a raging blizzard to bring a dress her mother had sewn to a woman going to a big party. It matters because it shows again how one small girl can have the courage to fulfill her mother’s promise when the mother falls ill.


For P-3, Lexile Level 580

The kids at school always laugh when I preview a story I’m about to read by saying it is my favorite.  They remind me that I say that about all my picture books.  I value them like the little pearls of wisdom they each are to me.  This is one of them. Sang-Hee falters when his father is injured and he must light the important fire to signal to the king that all is well. This is a wonderful story matters because it shows how we struggle to do the right thing. It is a story of trustworthiness that will resonate with us all.

For P-3, Lexile Level 570


Poor little Chrysanthemum must find a way to get through her kindergarten day when she is teased about her name – the one her parents chose for her because it was perfect just like her.  This story matters because it shows how easy it is to hurt another person’s feelings with words.

Kate’s story matters because it shows how one small girl extends an act of kindness to a

For P-3, Lexile Level 540

neighbor that also shows how important it is for us to be mindful of our planet. Kate lugs her wheelbarrow filled with little trees up the huge hill in the hope they will stop erosion and, when grown, will ease the wind that plummets his house.






For P-3, Lexile Level 540




Flight School matters because it shows how we can help others achieve their goal by never giving up on ourselves or others. This is a silly story of finding inventive ways to be part of the solution instead of the problem.



For P-3, Lexile Level 550


We all know the plight of the baby bat, Stellaluna, who becomes lost from her mother and finds refuge with a nest of birds.  It matters because it shows how the welcoming arms of a family of birds means all the world to a frightened and lost bat who just happens to be “different.”



For P-3, Lexile Level 440

I discovered Little Beaver and the Echo when I was writing an article that connected picture books to poems based on theme. It matters because it shows how Little Beaver, a lonely young beaver, with no friends decides he will go out and find one – and then another, and another, and another, etc.

As you can see, stories matter to kids of all ages. When you read to them and take time to talk and think about what is going on both stated and hidden levels (like in my sample Read-aloud Guide above),you can help your children discover the traits and values that you want for them – now and in the future.  You can help them find the “So What?” factor in their lives.  Please sign up for automatic notification of new posts. “Happy Reading!”

Character Traits

When your kids can figure out that a character is “like me” because he or she is brave or scared, smart or funny, they make a connection between a literary character and themselves which brings the fictional character to life

My oil painting of Pete the Pelican – like me – he is strong, determined, and proud!

This is the only real oil painting that I own. I commissioned it 12 years ago especially for my newly purchased cottage near the beach – a house, by the way, that I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever be able to buy. Every evening, with the electric fire place blazing, I look at it in the dark and quiet living room while I reflect on my day. I like my pelican -named him Pete -because it reminds me of myself – strong, determined, and proud. These – along with kind, loving, and generous – are some of the words I would choose as my own character traits.

As a Reading Specialist, I believe that it is very powerful to read books to your kids and talk about them as you read together. When your kids can figure out that a character is “like me” because he or she is brave or scared, smart or funny, they make a connection between a literary character and themselves which brings the fictional character to life. This allows your child to understand character motives, feelings, and actions that move the story forward. I’ve worked in schools with students from first to 12th grade (and college) and all English Language Arts classes require that kind of deep thinking about characters.

Those of you who follow me know that I am a big proponent of reading aloud to children using high-quality picture books and talking about them as you read. The power of this interactive reading is well documented. It is my opinion that this kind of reading should go on from the time your small child can talk about a book right on up to junior high. Yea, I know what you’re thinking about that age. In the junior high school and high school,though, we read appropriate stories to students all the time using them as examples or introductions toother subjects. As the parent, only you know what is acceptable with your own children.

Again, the appropriate books are the key to kids of all ages. Refer to the Lexile chart on the side and remember that kids can understand a book read to them that is about 2 years above what they can read alone. Please, please, please take note of these reading levels of books advertised to children. In my opinion, they are often way too hard for an average reader of the suggested age to read and understand alone. By all means, read together first, and then let your children read alone if they want.

Below is a list of stories that I like because they contain characters who exhibit traits of strength and resilience, determination, and pride.

For 1-2 Lexile 630
For P-3 Lexile 490

By helping your children analyze character traits in fictional characters at a young age in the natural setting of reading together in your own home, it enables an easy transition to using this kind of scrutiny when your kids are called upon to do it in school.

For P-3 Lexile 680
For P-3 Lexile 570
For P-3 Lexile 850
For P-3 Lexile 570
For P-3 Lexile 380

Start by asking your child to talk about his/her own personality traits and then guide them during the reading to think about actions of characters and what trait it shows. Ask if the trait is a good one or not and why. After reading, have some fun talking about what would have happened if the character exhibited a different trait. How would the story be different? A character – like real people – can change during a story. Talk about that too. Remember that during character analysis in school we always ask for proof from the text. Go back into the story with them and help them find the proof. Help them to become “Smart-thinking Readers!”

For P-3 Lexile 490
For P-3 Lexile 570
For P-3 Lexile 630

I’d love to hear from you about what books you read and the character traits you and your children came up with for them. “Happy Reading!”

Beware of Pic Books

Therefore … unless your child is 7 years old, in the middle or end of the second grade, and is an average reader, THIS BOOK IS TOO HARD to read alone. Confusing? Yes. And that is why I write about picture books.

Everyone who knows me, is fully aware of how much I love, love, love picture books. I’ve used them to teach my reading lessons for 20 years, have written volumes about them, and have used them as the theme for workshops for hundreds of fellow teachers. However, parents need to be aware of some readability issues in them. I believe that they are too often advertised for children who are not skilled enough to read them and too young to really understand them.

Lexile Level 460AD (end grade 2)

Wow, that is quite a bold claim! Let’s take, for example, the beloved Eric Carle story, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This is a book given at baby showers, used in school to teach colors, counting, and the metamorphosis of the butterfly, enjoyed as favorite bedtime stories, and handed to kids to go off and read on their own.

But, here’s the thing. The book is too hard for kids to read on their own – especially the targeted consumers – Preschool to Kindergarten aged kids. These days, school children are given reading tests that rank their reading ability in Lexile levels. Simply stated, this is a number range that matches a book to a child based on his or her reading ability. Please refer to the chart on the right and please find out your child’s recent Reading Level.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, as noted above, is recommended for children in Preschool to Kindergarten (ages 2-5). The Lexile level for this story, however, is 460 AD. Looking at our chart, you can see that 460 fits at the high end of an average reader at the end of grade 2 (300-499). AD means Adult Directed which means guidance by an adult for an average reader. Not every kindergarten kid has yet mastered reading – especially boys who typically tend to read a year or more below girls. Also, children who are only 2 to 5 years old lack the background knowledge and vocabulary skills needed to read and understand a book that is rated for kids at the end of grade 2.

Therefore … unless your child is 7 years old, in the middle or end of the second grade, and is an average reader, THIS BOOK IS TOO HARD to read alone. Confusing? Yes. And that is why I write about picture books.

In my opinion, the best way to introduce these wonderful stories is to read them aloud to your kids using the “interactive method.” I will talk more about this in future blogs along with ways to use picture books to make your kids smarter – even into the high elementary grades. More about that late, too.

Here’s the lowdown on readability of another current favorite, Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker:

Lexile Level 710AD (beginning grade 5)
  • Targeted to Preschool to Grade 1 (ages 3-6)
  • Lexile level is 710AD (beginning grade 5 average reader)

Whoa!!! Even for a very advanced youngster, this is a big stretch. Even with adult supervision, this is asking a lot from a small child.

So, this is what I suggest that you do. Read the book first with your child using the “interactive reading” method. This is when a parent or adult reads a story aloud, then stops to question, wonder about, and talk about a story and its words with a child. Below, I included a Read-aloud Guide for this story so you can see what I mean. Use as many or as few of the discussion ideas as you wish. Read the book first and use Post-it notes to mark the places where you want to stop and talk. This kind of reading gets kids excited and curious so it’s best not to use as a bedtime story. Rather, set aside some time before or after dinner to enjoy reading and talking together. Keep it natural and never make it seem like a school lesson. Keep it light hearted and fun.


  • Look at the cover and title.  Guess what the story will be about.
  • Do you recognize some of the trucks? What are their jobs in construction?
  • What time of day do you think it is?  What makes you think so?
  • Open to the first page.  Why do you think the words, Mighty, Mighty Construction Site, are so big? What time of day is it? Look closely at the building.

Words to Talk About:

“ight” word families. How many can you name? Notice the spelling of “height.” Eager, stare, awe, immense, intense, massive, nimble, duo, drainage, hauled, concrete, churns

  • What’s another word for construct or construction? (build/building)
  • The trucks drive full “steam.” What other steam is there?
  • Onomatopoeia: HHONNK Beep-Beep
  • Alliteration: rolling, rumbling, revving
  • What else churns? Did you ever “churn” butter? Find out how.


  • Look carefully at each truck and talk about what it is doing
  • What does it mean when there is “ZZZZ” next to a truck?
  • Look at the word, s-t-r-e-t-c-h and talk about why the author wrote it that way. Do you stretch when you wake up?
  • What do you think the new job will be?
  • Are you excited to start a new job?
  • Which truck would you like to drive?
  • What do you think is coming down the road?
  • What do you think people did to build things before there were trucks?
  • How could they move all that dirt and rocks?


  • Make your own plans to build a structure using trucks and a sand box or dirt pile.
  • Draw a picture of something you want to build. What equipment do you need? Would you need some helpers? For what?
  • Make a list of words in the “ight” family.
  • Build something with blocks or Legos.
  • Visit a construction site with a parent.
  • Talk about how the “team” worked together to get the job done.
  • What would happen if the trucks did not cooperate with each other?
  • What time is it at the end of the book. How do you know?
  • Draw pictures of what happened throughout the day on the construction site. Go in order.
  • Do you know any people who work in construction? Ask them what their job is as part of the “team.”
  • What can you construct out of clay?
  • Get some trucks and cars and play with them.
  • With a parent, get some books about pyramids to find out how they were built without trucks.

When you start to read and talk this way with your kids, you will notice that they soon start to become more curious about other books – especially when they are reading on their own. After your interactive reading sessions, them go off and read the books on their own and you will be pleasantly surprised to observe the way they mimic your way of reading aloud. Ask them to read to you. You have become their reading role model. You have shown them how to think smart about books.

Please, please, please be aware of your child’s reading level and beware of books that look like fun but are too hard for kids to read on their own. Be their guide and show them first. Be their Reading Hero! Until next time, “Happy Reading!”

Subscribe to this Blog using the form to the right and receive e-mail notifications of each new post. I’d love to hear from you about how you and your child are doing with reading and thinking smart about books.