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!”

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!”

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