Thursday, October 29, 2009

Q Song - Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Pre-K

The Q Song is part of Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Pre-K and is designed for children ages 3 to 4. Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read is a reading program designed to help children learn how to read and improve reading skills using phonics. Follow us on:
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Books that Say "Boo!"

It's the season for ghosts and vampires (and Jedi knights and Hanna Montanas) and werewolves. And, of course, it's a great time for spooky stories and books say "Boo!" The goal for many of us here is to find some great Halloween-themed bedtime tales--but NOT stories that are going to keep kids up for the rest of the night. (You'll have five pounds of sugar and guar gum to make sure that happens.)

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein takes the Cake by Adam Rex feature collections of funny monsters tales, told in verse with fantastic illustrations.

For a silly spooky singalong, break out Sipping Spiders Through a Straw by Kelly DiPuchhio and Gris Grimly. It presents monstrous versions of classic campfire songs, such as "Take Me Out to the Graveyard" and "If You're Scary and You Know it, Clap Your Paws."

Melanie Watt's Scaredy Squirrel at Night is the latest installment in the adventures of a squirrel who is learning to tackle his fears. This time, the poor rodent is besieged by bad dreams. And, of course, this book glows in the dark!

For my personal all-time favorite, I can never get enough of What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss. It's part of the compilation The Sneetches and Other Stories. It unravels the mystery of the "Spooky empty pale green pants with nobody inside them."

The Scratch and Sniff Halloween book features "five fantastic fragrances." Enough said.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Halloween reading. Send us your recommendations right now, and we'll include them in our follow up: Books that Say "Boo!" Part Two.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Write One Yourself

Ever been reading a picture book to one of your kids and thought to yourself, “Who wrote this garbage?” Ever walked the aisles of your local bookstore, stunned by the tonnage of tomes on the shelves, and thought, “I could do better than this.”

I haven’t done an official survey, but I imagine that most parents, at one time or another, have toyed with the idea of writing a picture book. Of course, like many things, it’s probably not as easy as it looks. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Again, no official survey here, but it seems to me that the more you model reading and writing to your kids, the more they’ll want to do it, too. In fact, if you share your great book idea with your kids, they’ll probably want to critique it, possibly even help you write it, or at least draw the pictures. So maybe it’s time to give that idea a try. If you do, here are a few things to bear in mind.

Picture books are almost always 32 pages long, but the first few pages are taken by the copyright and title pages.

Be clear on where the page breaks will occur. Some pages might have only a word or two on them; some can have up to a paragraph or more.

Think visually. You don’t have to draw the picture yourself, but it helps if your text suggests an image.

Yes, picture books are short. But it’s still nice when a story has a strong beginning, middle, and end.

One more thing: There are many companies these days who will publish a book for you – and even sell it online. Check out Xlibris. For less money than you might think, you can have your very own Amazon number. Or if you’re feeling ambitious, research the names of the kids’ editors at traditional publishers who’ve published books you’ve enjoyed, and send yours their way. Editors are always looking for the next big thing. You never know, right?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

P Song - Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Pre-K

The P Song is part of Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Pre-K and is designed for children ages 3 to 4. Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read is a reading program designed to help children learn how to read and improve reading skills using phonics. Follow us on:
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Friday, October 16, 2009

Use your words!

My brother recently e-mailed me a story about his six-year-old daughter:

Claire: Daddy, I really regret going on our trip to Canada and Niagara Falls.
Daddy: Claire, you're too young to have regrets, but why do you regret it?

Claire: Because on Webkins, if I don't work on my garden every day, it gets too many weeds and the plants die.

This story got me thinking about the magnificence of vocabulary. I’ve always regretted that I don’t have a stronger vocabulary, even though I have always loved words. I distinctly remember learning the word ominous in fourth grade and then later that very same night both reading it in the newspaper and hearing my dad use it at the dinner table. It felt like someone had given me a secret key. This word was everywhere!

I became fascinated with learning new words. As a freshman, I had a crush on a senior, and I would type notes to him during my typing class. I didn’t have much to say to him, so I would look up words in the dictionary and put their definitions in the note. (Let’s just say, if it isn’t obvious, it would be many years before I had my first boyfriend.)

Parents and adults often underestimate how much a child is learning when words are spoken often and in context. One of my favorite words to use when I work with small children is the word imperative. “It is imperative that you follow these directions; otherwise, the game won’t work.” My friend Sarah told me a story about her husband tickling her daughter and the three-year-old saying, “Mommy, I need you to intervene on my behalf!” They get it. Children are brilliant, spongy creatures, constantly listening and learning and trying to make sense of the world. Using words correctly in context is an excellent and natural teaching tool.

Notice I said correctly. My friend Mary, another aspiring wordsmith, kept using the word impale in conversation. She believed the definition to be related to nausea until one day someone said, “Impale means to pierce someone, like knights with swords and lances and that kind of thing.” (We won’t blame her parents for that.)

Encouraging a rich vocabulary allows for a more satisfying reading experience for children. Sometimes children will get the gist of what’s being written but reading is so much more entertaining and meaningful if they have a reference point for all of the words. So start using those challenging words with your children. Don’t feel like you have to resort to yum yum. Go ahead and use the word delectable. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they’ll pick it up and start using it themselves.

Besides, your child just might come across a sentence one day that reads, “I regret to inform you of this ominous news, but it is imperative that you act quickly: Your husband has impaled himself on a skewer from the delectable shish-ka-bobs he was grilling and now needs you to intervene on his behalf.”

Sure, it isn’t likely, but you never know. So use your words!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

N Song - Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Pre-K

The N Song is part of Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Pre-K and is designed for children ages 3 to 4. Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read is a reading program designed to help children learn how to read and improve reading skills using phonics. Follow us on:
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Purple Pickle

Does this scenario sound at all familiar?

It’s raining. You’ve been inside with the kids all day. You’ve already allowed them twice their usual quota of TV. You’ve baked cookies. You’ve played Candyland over ten times. You’ve read so many books that your voice is raw and both your index fingers are riddled with paper cuts.

Short of running out of the house, screaming, what next?

The last time this happened to me I thought back to an assignment given our class by my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. D’Angelo, a largish man who also happened to be a blackbelt in karate. The guy once broke a cinder block in two with his bare fist. No fooling.

In any case, one day Mr. D. (as he let us call him) wrote this on the blackboard:

Purple pickle

A Bermuda Onion

A pink ping-pong ball

The assignment was to write a story that included each of the listed details at least once. Being the Watergate era, a friend and I penned a tract about a politician named Richard M. Lindsay who searches the globe looking for the Purple Pickle of Peace, The Bermuda Onion of Crime, and the Pink Ping Pong Ball of Poverty. But I digress.

On a recent rainy day, it occurred to me that I could use the same game to get my own young kids to make up their own stories.

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” I said. “We’re going to go in a circle and tell a story. The story has to include a yellow raccoon, a blue carrot, and an astronaut from France.”

I don’t remember all the details, but suffice it to say, the story we came up with – a tale of an astronaut named Jean-Claude who rockets with a yellow raccoon to Pluto in search of a magical blue carrot – was pretty darned funny. At least we thought so at the time. Better yet, when we were finished, my daughter, Cassie, decided to write it all down and draw pictures. One of her first books!

Now it’s one of those things we do when we’ve run out of other things to do.

Thanks Mr. D!

Friday, October 9, 2009

The First Library Card

“Daddy, I want a library card.”

“Sorry, Cassie, you’re too young.”

“I’m six.”

“I know. But I’m pretty sure they don’t give cards to kids your age.”

“Lucy has one.”

“Are you sure it’s not her mom’s?”

“Come on! The librarian’s right there. Let’s ask!”

I’m thrilled to report that my daughter was right. With a few short steps I was at the checkout desk. To my surprise and delight, the city
of New York allows children of any age to have their own card. That’s right – any age. It says so on the website.

“Children ages 0-11 must have their application completed and signed by a parent or guardian…”

Which means if your 18 month old wants his own copy of “Goodnight Moon,” he can have it. All you have to do is fill out a simple form with your name and address and show some ID – anything from a driver’s license to an old
tax bill will do – they aren’t picky. I imagine the same rules apply in other locales.

In any case, I grabbed a pen and did
Cassie’s paperwork. Then came the fun part. The librarian cleared her throat, “OK, now it’s your daughter’s turn.” Surprised, I looked to the bottom of the page. Indeed, there it was: a line where the child had to affirm that he or she would take good care of library materials. My daughter proudly picked up a pen and signed.

Moments later, Cassie used her very own library card to take out a book. Best of all, was the empowered smile on her face later that evening when she showed the card to my wife. One of Cassie's favorite destinations has always been the local Barnes & Noble. Now I'm hoping she'll switch over to the Bloomingdale Branch of the NYPL on 100th Street. There are tons of books on any subject and guess what? You can borrow them for free!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

M Song - Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Pre-K

The M Song is part of Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Pre-K and is designed for children ages 3 to 4.
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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Illustrator Love - Part Two

I am really quite fond of all of the illustrators of Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read. I've told you a bit about a few of the illustrators, and now I'm back for more. Each one of these extraordinary people should be celebrated for the humor, suspense, and intrigue they added to the storybooks.

In Good Job, Dennis, a town square goes haywire when pets escape from Lin's Pet Shop. The only person who can save the day is Dennis the traffic cop. Marcos Calo's illustrations add so much detail to the chaos of the scene. (And the pets are pretty adorable.)

How Do We Get There from Here? is a very fast moving tale, and the illustrations by Jimmy Holder capture the crazy surroundings as they whiz by while Darleen and her young friend go to the airport. The images are as surreal as Margaret Crocker's imaginative text.

In The Puppy Look, Terri Murphy shows what it looks like when a boy decides to become a dog. There's a real sweetness to her illustrations that put you right in the heart of Bucky's family life.

Carolyn Crimi's book, The Swish-Smacker Dirt Hacker was illustrated marvelously by Stephen Gilpin. Victor is a young inventor, determined to make the best vacuum cleaner there ever was. Fortunately for us, Stephen Gilpin's imagination is as rich as Victor's and he fully brings Victor's inventions to life. What does it look like when a giant vacuum can suck up a neighborhood? Read the book and you'll see.

And lucky for us, we had the artistic stylings of Shawn Finley. In Lucky for Me, he sells us on the boy's made up pirate tale. Shawn also provided us with the look of the Hooked on Phonics characters. The charm of Cat and Pig and Pop Fox is his doing, and we love them.

Friday, October 2, 2009

We just won another award!

Well this is exciting news and what fun for me to be the one to tell you! Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read has just won another award! (We're on a roll here...)

We just won the Dr. Toy’s 100 Best Children’s Products Award for 2009 and to celebrate we’re offering a 40% discount on Learn to Read Pre-K to 2nd Grade.

Just go to and enter this code: SAVE40

(Hurry, though, this offer expires 10/09/09)

Is it gauche to say congratulations to ourselves? Nah...

Congratulations to us!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

L Song - Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Pre-K

The L Song is part of Hooked on Phonics® Learn to Read Pre-K and is designed for children ages 3 to 4. Follow us on:

Easy as Pie

My family and I went apple picking over the weekend, and that can only mean one thing - time to make a homemade apple pie. I love cooking and baking with my daughter, and I'm always thinking about new, fun ways to bring learning into the kitchen.

For kids a bit older than my daughter, the kitchen is the perfect place to practice reading and math. Recipes are rich with sight words for new readers, and complex vocabulary for more seasoned readers. Next time you're cooking with your kids, see how much of the recipe they can read.

And math skills? Baking a pie or mixing up a batch of cookies is a great way to get some concrete fraction and addition practice. Halving and doubling recipes provides a real-world context for the very abstract-seeming multiplication and division of fractions.

My daughter is a pre-reader, so I taught her the apple alphabet game that I used to do as a girl. As you twist the stem off of the apple, say a letter with each twist. When the stem comes off, name someone or something that you love that begins with the last letter you said. A... B... C... D... Daddy! A... B... C... D... E... F... G... H... I... ice cream on apple pie!

So, invite your kids into the kitchen with you for fun and learning and delicious food. They just might expand their minds and their palates in the process.