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.