Friday, May 29, 2009

Hooked on Phonics at BookExpo America

If you happen to be at BookExpo America this weekend, not far from the lines snaking to the autograph tables you’ll find the lovely Hooked on Phonics booth, where you can get an up close and personal look at the brand new Learn to Read.

As producer and writer, I can tell you that Learn to Read was a labor of love for everyone involved. After working on it for a year, it was a real treat to see everything printed and on display.

You can preview our library of over 30 books, as well as our new Learn to Read DVDs.

Hooked on Phonics is at booth #825 in the Children’s Book Pavilion. And for live tweeting from the showroom floor, follow us on Twitter.

Enjoy the show!

We are at BEA!

We are tweeting at BookExpo America (BEA). Follow us!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I... Am a Proud Dad

I was sitting at my dining room table, writing songs about letters and sounds.
I had fourteen to go.
My girls came to me and said, “Daddy, we have a song for you.”

“Lay it on me,” says I.
In unison, they sing:

If you hear an I.
I! I!
Then you should reply:
I! I!

I shout, “I’ll take it!”
So here is The I Song by April and Eva Ginns.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Top 100 Picture Books of All Time

Recently the wonderful blog A Fuse #8 Production created what could possibly be the definitive list of the Top 100 Picture Books of All Time. Fuse #8’s Elizabeth Bird invited her readers to submit lists of their top ten picture books of all time. I saw blog posts and tweets far and wide from participants in this poll — it seemed to draw in every kidlit blogger on the Internet. You can see my own contribution to the poll here.

The top one hundred books were rolled out as a tease, starting with ten books at a time, then five books at a time, then down to the nail-biting one book at a time. Each post is lovingly written to show why a book warranted a spot on the top hundred. To really view the list the right way, start at books one hundred through ninety-one and read your way down the list.

I consider myself a picture book aficionado, and yet there were books I had never even heard of on the list. I was delighted to discover new books through this amazing list, and I encourage you to do the same.

And what topped the list, you ask? It was also my pick for number one. I’ll let the President tell you.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Read-Aloud Handbook

Long before I became a parent, I read The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. It planted a little seed about the importance of reading aloud that has influenced my parenting since my daughter was born. Oops — scratch that — since BEFORE my daughter was born. I read her Harry Potter in utero to help develop my read-aloud chops.

I’ve heard Jim Trelease speak, and whether he’s writing or speaking he’s quite the salesman, sharing stories from his own parenting experience and statistics that underscore the importance of reading aloud. It’s really the statistics that have kept me reading even when the last thing I feel like doing is reading Clifford Goes to the Circus for the thousandth time.

One study surveyed kindergarten students who displayed particularly high and low interest levels in reading. It showed “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” in terms of reading interest. Kids whose parents read for leisure and who took an interest in reading aloud to them showed high interest in reading.

This next one really tugs at my heartstrings because it’s tied to socioeconomic status. Researchers visited homes of forty-two working families of three different socioeconomic groups for an hour a month over two and a half years, recording conversations that took place in front of the child.
When the daily number of words for each group of children in projected across four years, the four-year-old child from the professional family will have heard 45 million words, the working class child 26 million, and the welfare child only 13 million. All three children will show up for kindergarten on the same day, but one will have heard 32 million fewer words.
Trelease goes on to say, “The message in this kind of research in unambiguous: It’s not the toys in the house that make the difference in children’s lives; it’s the words in their heads.”

I read The Read-Aloud Handbook before my daughter was born, and since then I’ve constantly focused on the words I’m giving her. It has paid off. I’ve noticed her growing vocabulary, and recently the director of her preschool pulled me aside to comment on it as well.

Visit Jim Trelease’s website for excerpts from The Read-Aloud Handbook and other helpful information.

I’ll leave you with these great Trelease tips:
  • Build reading into your daily routine.
  • Fill every room in your home with magazines, newspapers, and books.
  • Buy a book light to encourage your older child to do some extra reading.
  • Always say yes to one more book.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Five Easy Tips for Reading Aloud

Reading to your kids is one of the best gifts you can give them. Not only is it a great way to bond, but you’re also preparing child to read on his own.

It takes a while to get used to reading aloud. It was a good year after my daughter was born before I felt like I was getting good at it. But with a little practice and these tips, you too can become a master storyteller.

1. Pick a great book. Not all books are created equal in the world of read-aloud. Choose books that interest both you and your child. Do you like funny books? Sweet books? Books about rockets? Books about monkeys? Also, pick books with rich illustrations so you have more to talk about than the words on the page.

2. Remember you’re reading to a child, not a chair.
Put a little emotion into the story and get into the rhythm of the language. Ham it up — try doing the voices. Children make a great audience when you’re trying out your inner improv actor.

3. Involve your child.
Don’t feel like you have to read uninterrupted. Stop and talk about some of the pages. Ask your child about what’s happening in the story. What would she do if she were the character? Ask her to find things in the illustrations. Many books have things hidden in the illustrations for this purpose — ever notice the red balloon floating through Goodnight Gorilla?

4. Add some sound design.
Take clues from the text and try adding some sound effects when you read. If you’re reading Walter the Farting Dog and NOT making fart noises, you’re missing an opportunity to captivate your little listener.

5. Make mistakes.
This is one of my favorite things to do, especially when reading a book we’ve read a hundred times before. Try replacing words and let your child correct you. For example, try saying, “Don’t let the pigeon drive the car!” and you’ll be met with screams of “the BUS!” Not only does this involve your child, but it also shows him that it’s okay to make mistakes when reading.

Check back here in the next couple of weeks as we feature posts about reading aloud. Now go read!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Share and Share Alike . . .

Why shared reading?

Shared reading is an interactive reading experience in which children join in reading a story or book, guided by an experienced reader. What we want to accomplish with our shared reading animated stories is to mimic this activity as closely as possible. Traditionally, shared reading has been done in the classroom with big books; however, in the absence of a teacher, we used Visual Phonics™, animation, and actors to bring to life the same sounds and words that the kids learned in their Learn to Read workbooks. (Visual Phonics refers to our method of presenting phonics instruction through animated text.) Our shared reading animation highlights words in the stories so they can be seen—and read—clearly by children. We use stories from the workbooks to provide kids with the opportunity for repeated readings of predictable text and words.

The amusing stories and funny illustrations keep children interested and engaged but don’t distract them from focusing on the text. Our animated workbook stories also help kids practice sight word recognition, fluency, tracking text from left to right, and other important stuff. But most of all, the shared reading stories illustrate one of the main principles of the new Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read program: To use phonics as a tool to help children learn to read fun stories and encourage a lifelong love of reading.
If you don’t believe me, see for yourselves. . . .

Monday, May 11, 2009

Be Our Facebook Friend!

Hooked on Phonics is now on Facebook! Check out our Hooked on Phonics page and become a fan for news updates, product sneak peeks, and videos. Head there now to see photo albums of the Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade levels of Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read.

We'd love to hear from you! Let us know what you think of the new products, and share your stories about using Hooked on Phonics.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Every Mom Is a Superwoman

Do you remember when you learned to read?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as we approach this Mother’s Day. I was with family recently, and we were all talking about what, if any, memories we each had of our first days of reading. Few of us had any memory of the actual learning process. My brother-in-law remembered a day when the teacher announced, “Today we’re going to learn to read.” He was thrilled! He thought for sure there was a magic solution—a secret he was finally worthy of learning, and that by the end of the day, he, too, would be a reader! But alas, it was a process; there was no quick answer. My sister could remember “playing school” with our older sisters and learning to read. Everyone seemed to have a memory of that first big chapter book, or the book that really opened up their eyes to the power of reading. It was clear from our discussion that, in our family, reading was very important.

The longer we discussed our memories of learning to read, the more I realized I look back on those years and see my mother as a sort of Superwoman.

I’m the youngest of nine children, and needless to say, my mother was busy. Not only did she run the household and prepare every single meal from scratch, every single night for 11 people (even baking her own bread and sewing half our wardrobes), but there was also track practice, 4-H club, piano lessons, talent shows, and who knows what else. In addition to raising our family, she also had a full-time job, earned her master’s in math education, learned to fly a plane, ran a nonprofit organization, all while raising her nine kids. But at the time, she was just my mother, and my mother was busy.

I vividly remember one day, I was sitting on the floor in our living room playing with my toys—probably the spring before I started kindergarten—when my mother walked into the room and asked me to sit with her on the couch. She was holding what I deemed a worn-out and ancient-looking yellow and green book called Dick and Jane. She told me it was the book she had used to learn to read when she was a little girl, and I remember her saying, “I think you’re ready to read now, too.” I knew, even at the time, that this was an important moment. For my mother to stop everything she was doing to sit on the couch with me and teach me to read was a big deal—and it stuck. Reading is, and always has been, an incredibly important part of my life.

So as we approach this Mother’s Day, think about the time you spend with your child and the memories you’re creating for her. We’re all so busy—and every moment of the day is probably already scheduled and planned weeks in advance. But if you can take 15 minutes a day, even just a few times a week, to spend with your child and show her that you value and recognize the importance of reading, you’ll be providing her with a gift that lasts a lifetime.

And who knows, she may even look back one day and call you Superwoman.

Happy Mother’s Day to every Superwoman out there!

Monday, May 4, 2009

May Is Get Caught Reading Month

It’s hard to believe that May is already here! May just happens to be Get Caught Reading Month. Get Caught Reading is a campaign sponsored by The Association of American Publishers (AAP) to promote literacy nationwide, with a special focus on children’s literacy:
Because of research indicating that early language experience actually stimulates a child's brain to grow and that reading to children gives them a huge advantage when they start school, we hope to encourage people of all ages to enjoy books and magazines and to share that pleasure with the young children in their lives.
So throughout May, be sure that you and your child Get Caught Reading, and check back here for more ideas and activities to promote literacy in your home.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Letters, Letters, Everywhere!

STOP! Do you notice anything about that sign? How about the letters S, T, O, and P?

In your everyday life, letters and words constantly surround you: on signs, in store windows, on vans and trucks, on packages. Name a surface and there’s probably some kind of lettering on it. This is called environmental print.

One great way to work on your child’s letter recognition is to go on a hunt for all the letters of the alphabet. Take a neighborhood walk, and you may be surprised at how many letters you find. Bring along a camera and a list of all of the letters in the alphabet, then cross each one off once you’ve snapped a shot.

When you’re done, you can use printouts of your pictures or photo-editing software to make a collage of your letter finds (in alphabetical order, naturally).

Finally, talk about your collage. What are things that you notice about the letters? What's similar about them? What's different? Were there places you were surprised to find letters? Which letter is your favorite?