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Young Ears

Young Ears

“My birthday is in September.”

“My birthday was last week.”

“My dad is taking me to DisneyWorld for my birthday.”

The cacophony of counterpoint voices rose in pitch and volume as each child struggled to be heard above the competing claims. It all started when one girl in the audience eagerly announced, “Today is my birthday.”

I asked her name and suggested we all sing the birthday song to her, which the kids gleefully participated in. But then they all wanted recognition for their birthdays…though it soon became obvious that most of them were not too clear on when their birthdays were. You see, to avoid having everyone in the audience—there were some 40 kids—take a turn at reporting their respective birthdays, I said, “Let’s do it this way: Whose birthday is in September? Raise your hands.” Almost every hand shot up. “Whose birthday is in October?” And again almost every child claimed that as his or her birth month. “November?” Same response.

It all started as I finished reading one of my books to the group of pre-K students. “Does anyone have any questions about the story I just read?” I asked. That was when the little girl raised her hand to announce that today was her birthday. And they were off and running, the story forgotten. I tried to get the Q&A session back on track, but after that it was, as a friend of mine described it, “like herding cats.”

I love reading to these kids—even when they go off on unexpected tangents. There is one group in particular—first- and second-graders at an after-school program in the area, which I’ve visited any number of times now with various books—that is particularly receptive. They all but cheer when they see me, calling out, “Cynthia!” “Miss Cynthia!” “Cynthia!” and running over to hug me.

They LOVE hearing stories.

In fact, ALL the groups of kids I read to love hearing stories. When I ask, “Who wants to hear a story?” no matter which group I’m reading to, all the hands shoot up into the air, and I hear a chorus of “Me!” “Me!” “Me!”

I hope their parents read to them on a regular basis. It can stimulate a child’s desire to learn to read well on his or her own as well as sparking the child’s imagination. And it has been my view for years that the imagination is a “muscle” that needs regular exercise just as much as any other—a subject I plan to expound on in this space in the near future.

But for now, let me close with this bit of unsolicited advice: If you’re the parent, grandparent, neighbor, godparent, aunt, or uncle of a young child, or are in some other warm relationship with one, READ TO HIM/HER. You’ll establish a closer bond with the child while fostering a love of reading, since the child who is read to often soon builds a desire to learn to read on his/her own. But even after he/she learns to read by himself/herself, keep reading to him/her. You can’t replace the closeness that ensues from that experience.

Read For Your Life

Read For Your Life

Are you a parent — a teacher — a librarian — a bookseller? Even if you’re not, but especially if you are, an upcoming March event should be of particular interest to you. Here is advance notice of the annual Read Across America, taking place this year on March 2nd.

While participating organizations nationwide do different things to mark the occasion, they’re all about reading. And if you’re a parent, teacher, librarian, or bookseller…or simply an avid reader…you’re “all about reading” too.

Reading is vital. Literacy is vital. And while reading for pure enjoyment is less crucial, it, too, plays a vital role in our lives. You see, the child (or, for that matter, adult) who reads for pleasure will improve his or her reading skills and sharpen his or her desire to read better, if by chance he or she is a slow or troubled reader.

Reading just for fun is still reading and helps practice reading skills. Interesting your child, your students—or in whatever situation you encounter readers or potential readers—in reading books for the sheer joy of escaping into another world is still a challenge that will help them improve their reading skills. (And that bit about escaping is true even if the reading matter is nonfiction. True, you’re not reading about knights and dragons, or space ships and far-off galaxies, or clever detectives solving murders, or finding your true love, but you still can get lost in a good motivational book, forget your troubles while laughing your way through humorous essays, or become completely absorbed in science fact.) The point is, besides reading’s many positive values such as informing and entertaining, reading for fun is good practice for those who need to hone their reading skills.

So when you parents buy books for your kids, you’re not spending money frivolously. Kids who learn to read well at an early age are more likely to get good grades in school, get accepted at good colleges, get scholarships, and go on to become intelligent, well-informed, and better paid adults.

Literacy — reading — it’s not just for March 2nd. It’s for all year round.

But what are you doing to mark the date of Read Across America?

Do You Have A Book Inside You?

Do You Have A Book Inside You?

Do you have a book inside you? No, I’m not implying that you’ve swallowed a library tome or consumed a volume at your local bookshop. I’m talking about a book that’s waiting to be written.

“They” say that everyone has a book inside them. While I don’t totally subscribe to that theory, I do think that for many there is a book just waiting to be plucked from the thought processes and set down on paper—or electrons.

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Believe… And Achieve

Believe… And Achieve

Though I always point to MOMMY, THERE’S NOTHING TO DO as my first book, that’s not quite accurate. Technically I wrote one and a half books before it. But I lacked the faith in myself to call myself a book author or pursue publication.

MOMMY, THERE’S NOTHING TO DO was published in 1993, less than a year after I wrote it and sent it around to a number of publishers. But it was back in 1984 that a friend contacted me and told me she had been approached by a company that wanted her to ghostwrite a book she didn’t have time for…and she was suggesting I take on the task instead.

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New Year…New Books

New Year…New Books

What are you going to read this year?

While it’s always fun to reread favorite books, I’m sure you’re going to read plenty of new books, too. But here’s a suggestion: Don’t just read new books—read new kinds of books, too. Explore your bookstore and/or your library for books outside your usual spheres of interest.

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So You Want To Write A Book?

So You Want To Write A Book?

“I’d love to be a writer,” someone said to me the other day, “but I have no ideas on what to write about.”

She seemed to think it was that simple: Just think of an idea…and write it.

Nope. Guess again. Yes, a good idea is crucial to writing a book (or writing anything, for that matter—stories, essays, poems, plays, song lyrics…you name it), but it takes much more than just an idea to result in a good story. Surely you’ve noticed that some writing plods while other writing sings and soars. Some writers have the gift, while other writers (or would-be writers) lack it.

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What’s Santa Bringing You?

What’s Santa Bringing You?

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that in my childhood one of my favorite presents—for Christmas, my birthday, or “just because”—was books. I absolutely devoured books, rereading my faves over and over, and pouncing on new books like a three-day-hungry feline on an unfortunate rodent.

I still love books, only now I no longer just read them; I write them, too.

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The Best Payment Of All

The Best Payment Of All

I called up a pre-school the other day. I was looking to book myself in for a reading of one of my books. “What do you charge?” asked the woman at the other end of the line.

“There’s no reading fee,” I answered. “I just want to be permitted to hand out slips of paper with the website where the book can be purchased if the kids can persuade their parents to buy the book for them.”

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Worth 1000 Words?

Worth 1000 Words?

Is a picture truly worth 1000 words as they say? Or is a word worth 1000 pictures?

Case # 1 (a lack of pictures): I was reading one of the stories in Tuck-In Tales to a group of kindergartners-1st graders-2nd graders. They clamored to see the pictures. I told them there were no pictures. A collective “Awwwww!” of disappointment raced through the crowd. Turned out they loved the story, but clearly for them a picture (or several) would have indeed enhanced the words.

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Knock-Knock. Who's There?

Knock-Knock. Who’s There?

Lately I have been reading to the kids in an after-school program not too terribly far from my home. I go over there every week or 10 days or so. There’s no set schedule—the program supervisor and I put our heads together over the phone, consult our respective calendars, and work out dates that are good for both of us.

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