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Word by Word

The Snuggle Factor

Bookends!
Baby, it’s cold outside! I’m watching snowflakes drift past my window, a mug of steaming hot chocolate in my hand, carols on the radio. Time to cuddle up with a good book.

Speaking of cuddling, I have a theory about how children learn to read. I’m a reading specialist. Over the years, I’ve come up with a completely unscientific hypothesis about why some children learn to read seemingly without effort, while some children struggle. I have no evidence or proof—it’s just a gut feeling.

I call it the “cuddle factor”. Maybe children who love to read have somewhere, sometime, been cuddled as they read or were read to-- heads bent together over a favorite book, sitting on grandma’s or grandpa’s lap, curled up with mom or dad or a favorite aunt or uncle—even a caring babysitter.

I have no basis for this theory, but I like it. You don’t get cuddling from a video game, the computer, or TV screen! So while I’m teaching phonics, or decoding, or any of the thousand required reading skills I’m employed to teach, I make it a point to sit close to my students and share a silly poem, a nursery rhyme, a funny song, or a favorite book, in the hopes that some of my love of reading will “rub off” on them.

So on these cold, dark winter days, do yourself and your little ones a favor--cuddle up together with a good book!  Read More 
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Mrs. Millie Goes to Washington, D. C.

Mrs. Millie is going to the National Book Festival!
Mrs. Millie is going to Washington, D. C.! I've been invited to help host the Oregon table at the Pavilion of States at the National Book Festival in Washington, D. C. on Saturday, September 24, 2011.

Each year, a different Oregon author is invited, and I'm so proud and excited to have been chosen. What an honor to represent Oregon literature! My book, "Don't Be Silly, Mrs. Millie!" will be listed on the map of the states. Participants take the map to the state tables and get them stamped. I'll get to visit with readers from all across the country. Maybe I'll even see the First Lady and her children--or the First Grandma!

I'm thrilled to be going to Washington, D. C. I haven't been there since 1965--when my whole family drove from California to New York to see the World's Fair. I'll bet things have changed just a little bit! Who knows, maybe I'll have material for a new book when I get back!  Read More 
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Best Books of 2011

Happy News!

Two of my books, CINCO DE MOUSE-O! (Holiday House; illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler)and CARMEN LEARNS ENGLISH (Holiday House; illustrated by Angela Dominguez) have been chosen as Best Children's Books of 2011 by the Bank Street College of Education.

The Children's Book Committee reviews over 6000 books each year and selects 600 books to include in their annotated bibliography. From their website:

"The Children's Book Committee was founded almost 100 years ago to help parents, teachers, and librarians choose the books that children will find captivating and transforming."

I'm proud to be among the books selected. Read More 
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The Important Thing about Picture Books

Recently, an article in the New York Times (see link on sidebar)
stated that picture books seem to be on the wane, as parents and teachers push children into reading “harder” books in order to make gains on reading tests. This is such a mistaken notion.
Picture books far are more than easy books with pictures as a crutch. Like learning to crawl before learning to walk, picture books serve an important function in a child’s language development.
I hope we as a culture haven’t forgotten that picture books:
• Develop vocabulary. Because picture books are meant to be read by an adult to a child (and not the other way around) the author is free to use any words at all—including made up words and words in other languages. There are no restrictions. The level of vocabulary in a picture book is much higher than in a leveled chapter book.
• Teach an appreciation for language. Picture books sound best when read aloud. They use playful, tongue-tickling language. Picture books teach an appreciation for all the fun of English, including alliteration, onomatopoeia, puns, and word play. No where else, aside from poetry, will you find such joy in words.
• Visual interpretation. The pictures in a picture book often tell a companion story to the text, so the reader learns to interpret visual clues—like facial expressions and body language. In our graphics-heavy culture, the ability to “read” visuals is a key skill.
• Shared experience. A picture book, shared by an adult with a child, is an interactive experience. It gives the child a chance to ask questions, and make comments. It gives the adult a chance to listen, guide, and direct. The interaction leads to increased receptive and expressive language.
• Brain development. A picture book read by an adult to a child engages more centers of the brain than a video. (see link on sidebar)

I remember hearing about a grandmother who was concerned when her grandson entered school, and was labeled as language delayed. She promptly put him on a “diet” of fourteen picture books a day. Imagine—she read fourteen picture books every day (not in a row) to her grandson! Within months, he had caught up to the rest of the children in his class.
So snuggle up with a child today and share a picture book. You won’t regret it.  Read More 
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Win a copy of Cinco de Mouse-O!

Enter to win an autographed copy of Cinco de Mouse-O! and read an interview with me at Linda Benson's website: http://www.lindabenson.blogspot.com/

I met Linda when we were both living in the same small Oregon town. I taught a class on writing for children at the local community college and she signed up. We hit it off right away and became good friends. Not long after that, however, we each moved away. A year or so later, she wrote with the good news that she had sold her first mid-grade novel, The Horse Jar.

Now we live hundreds of miles from each other,in different states, but keep in touch through Facebook and email. Thank goodness for the internet!

Linda has been kind enough to host an interview with me on her blog page, and include a drawing for a signed copy of my new picture book, Cinco de Mouse-O!.See her webpage for details.

I hope to return the favor and post an interview with her soon (as soon as I figure out how to do it. Stay tuned! Read More 
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Sometimes Less is More

I don't plan to see the new movie, Where the Wild Things Are. I don't want to know Max's Freudian motivations for wearing a wolf suit or yelling at his mom. I don't want to hear the Wild Things talk. I don't want to see the island "brought to life on the big screen".

I adore the book; in my mind Maurice Sendak created the perfect picture book--short, spare, concise, and elegant in its design. (Have you noticed how the pictures take up more of the page's space as Max's journey evolves?)A good picture book--a great picture book--can say as much in a few words as a novel. Like a poem, much of the meaning is constructed by the reader. Movies tell too much. They leave nothing for the viewer to do. I want to participate in the creation of the story, bringing my own memories, fears, hopes, and dreams to my reading. In this way, each reader experiences the book in a unique fashion.

I haven't liked other movies that have been adapted from picture books because that inevitably means that plot is added, unlike a novel adaptation where plot is cut. Jumanji, for instance--where did that sad, lost hunter come from? Or How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a horrible movie which seeks to explain why the Grinch turned bad. I never had a problem accepting that he was bad because his heart was two sizes too small, did you? The only movie based on a book that I did like was Shrek, and I suspect that was because I had not read the book first.

Instead of movies, I prefer the richer, less limiting experience of my own "theater of the mind" where Wild Things do not need to talk, and the Polar Express is full of unexplained magic.

So, while other folks are in the dark theater, finding out what Wild Things do at a rumpus, I'll be at home, with a cup of tea, my cat at my feet, and a stack of picture books at hand. Relaxing, reflecting, watching stories come to life in my head.  Read More 
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