Category Archives: Literacy

It’s I Love to Read Month


The ability to read is essential to a life lived with independence, confidence and safety. We need to know what POISON means. We need to know which medicine is which. We need to read in order to receive texts and to reply. We need to read in order to follow a recipe.

But then there’s the other aspect of reading, the magic part, the part that can take you far away or bring you deep inside yourself. The life enhancement part.

Don’t just take my word for it. Writers have words to say about books, too. Of course, they might be said to have a vested interest in the subject, since they write what they hope we will read. But since writing and reading are two sides of the same coin, their perspective is valid.

Books are a uniquely portable magic. —Stephen King
A book is a gift you can open again and again. —Garrison Keillor
A parent or a teacher has only his lifetime; a good book can teach forever. —Louis L’Amour
“To learn to read is to light a fire” — Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his needs, is good for him. —Maya Angelou
There is no substitute for books in the life of a child. —May Ellen Chase
“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.” – Marcel Proust

Of particular interest are quotations from those author who write books for children and youth.

We read to know we are not alone. —C.S. Lewis
I will defend the importance of bedtime stories to my last gasp. —JK Rowling
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”— Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”
“So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall.” — Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax all you need is a book!” – Dr. Seuss
“If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books.” – Roald Dahl
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” – Neil Gaiman
“A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.”
– Neil Gaiman

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” – Emilie Buchwald

The scientist Albert Einstein said:

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

And another scientist Carl Sagan said:

One of the greatest gifts adults can give—to their offspring and to their society—is to read to children.

Former American First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy is quoted:

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”

And Walt Disney once said:

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.”

Even comedians have touched on the topic. Groucho Marx said:

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”


“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

And finally there’s this quote from comedian Stephen Wright.

“A lot of people ask me if I were shipwrecked and could only have one book, what would it be? I always say, “How to Build a Boat.”

Which brings us back to the practical side of things and perhaps to a definition of reading that encompasses both its aspects.

Practical magic.




When it’s summertime…

“Green was the silence, wet was the light,
the month of June trembled like a butterfly.”
Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

There was nothing like a Saturday – unless it was the Saturday leading up to the last week of school and into summer vacation. That of course was all the Saturdays of your life rolled into one big shiny ball.”
Nora Roberts

There is indeed nothing quite as full of promise as the month of June. It is the month of lady slippers, cowslips, tiger lilies and wild roses. It is the month of dragon flies, fireflies and croaking frogs. It is the month of end-of-year parties, field trips and school’s end. It is the countdown to summer solstice.

Then followed that beautiful season… Summer….
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of a flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unselfconsciously to the soughing of the trees.”  

-Valerie Andrews, A Passion for this Earth

Feel the grass beneath your feet.

Lie under a tree and watch the leaves.

Lie on your stomach and watch the ants march by.

Collect sticks and build a house for the fairies.

Listen to the wind.

Dig for worms.

Grow some vegetables in a pot.

Go on a nature hunt.

Head for the park.

Collect shells at the beach.

Pick berries. Eat berries.

Make a nature bracelet by wrapping duct tape around your wrist, sticky side up. Go for a walk and put things you see on your bracelet – small sticks, leaves, flowers, pebbles.

“A dark night, lightened up by thousands of glowing fireflies… It’s magical…”
Ama H. Vanniarachchy

Catch fireflies in a jar – and then let them go.

Singing in the rain,

I’m singing in the rain.

What a beautiful feeling,

I’m happy again!

Play in a puddle.

Catch the rain on your tongue.

Put a bowl outside and guess how much water there will be in the bowl when the rain is done.

The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold, wet day.”
Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

Bake cookies and make ice cream sandwiches.

Build a fort in the living room out of a big cardboard box.

Eat your ice cream sandwiches inside your fort.

Rainbow 1984

My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky.

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man.

William Wordsworth

Count the colours in a rainbow. Draw your own using whatever colours you like.

One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by. ~Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle

Read outside. Read inside. Go to a library.

Make a book about the animals you have seen on your outdoor trips. A is for ant. B is for bird or bee or BEAR! C is for caterpillar or cow. D is for duck or deer.

And maybe when September comes, you will be able to say:

“All in all, it was a never-to-be-forgotten summer — one of those summers which come seldom into any life, but leave a rich heritage of beautiful memories in their going — one of those summers which, in a fortunate combination of delightful weather, delightful friends and delightful doing, come as near to perfection as anything can come in this world.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

What a wonderful wish for parents and children everywhere.

What children want

I first saw this commercial in 2014 and have seen it several times again this year. It’s worth sharing.

Ikea Spain invited ten families to participate in the filming of a new commercial for the Christmas season.

First of all, the children were separated from their parents and asked to write letters to the Three Kings, making their requests for Christmas gifts. In Spain, the Three Kings, not Santa, bring gifts and they bring them January 6, not on Christmas Day.

The children’s requests varied from the expected (a Wii) to the musical (a guitar and a piano) to the downright impossible (a unicorn).

Their letters were folded and put into individual envelopes;  the envelopes were then sealed and placed in a mail box for delivery to the Three Kings.

Next the children were asked to write letters to their parents. What would you like from your parents this Christmas, they were asked.

The answers?

“I’d like my parents to spend more time with me.”

“I’d like my mom to tickle me.”

“I’d like my parents to spend one whole day with me.”

“I’d like my mom to play soccer with me.”

None of these were a surprise to the parents.

What they did not know was that their children had been asked a third and final question:

If you could  send only one of those letters, which one would it be? The letter to the Three Kings? Or the letter to your parents?

If you haven’t seen the commercial already and would like to see its conclusion, go to:

But I bet you’ve already guessed which letter the children chose to send.




The case of the disappearing acorn

Margaret Atwood and other literary giants have spoken out recently against the dropping of various nature words from the Oxford Junior dictionary.

Some of the dropped words  include acorn, blackberries, minnow ,buttercup, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster ,panther.almond, beaver,blackberry and crocus.

(One word that did surprise me was “beaver’. But then I am a Canadian and the beaver is the symbol of my country. The average Oxford junior dictionary reader may not share my interest in large rodents with flat tails, a good work ethic and high pest potential.)

These nature words have been replaced in the Oxford Junior dictionary by words that illustrate  our current tech savvy.

Instead of “A is for Acorn, B is for Buttercup, C is for Crocus”, we have “A is for Analog, B is for Broadband, C is for Cut and Paste”.

Spokespersons for the publication say that today’s children no longer use these words, no longer see these things and seldom go outside to try to see them. On the other hand, they do understand the Internet and the concept of cutting and pasting, for example, is well known.

Atwood and her colleagues are dismayed because today’s children don’t have the opportunity to get outdoors as much as their parents did and if they don’t see these words in books, the words and their meanings will disappear.

Same issue: different response. Both legitimate.

From the outset, I have to say that I write this as someone who knows what an acorn is and who, as a child, tasted several and found them edible. I have caught minnows in a pail and put a buttercup blossom against my throat to see if I liked butter. I have taken pictures of a beaver in the ditch that runs in front of my house and have chased magpies away from the dog dish.

I can remember gathering acorns under the farmyard oak tree. I grew up on stories of the industrious squirrel who stowed his nuts away for a snowy day and thereby lived to see the next spring. My grandmother said that the more acorns there were and the  thicker the shell on each, the harder the winter was going to be.

And I grew up on axioms such as “big oaks from little acorns grow’ and “the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”

My world has been enriched on several different levels by little acorns and,big oak trees.

But am I worried because the Oxford Junior Dictionary does not contain the word ‘acorn’? I don’t think so.

I’m willing to bet that a seven year old who understands the term ‘cut and paste’ also knows how to google something on the internet.  Google ‘oak tree seed’ and you get more than one and a half million hits. ‘Oak nut’ gets you 12.5 million and ‘acorn’ itself more than 41 million (although not all of them have anything to do with oak trees).

There are other books that contain the word or pictures that illustrate it – other dictionaries, picture books, story books, poems and rhymes.

I’m an acorn, small and round,
Lying on the cold, cold ground.
People pass and step on me,
That’s why I’m all cracked, you see.
I’m a nut, (clap, clap)
I’m a nut (clap, clap)
I’m a nut, (clap, clap)
I’m a nut. (clap, clap)

 We just need to remember to open those books for our children.

Better yet, we just need to spend time outside with our children and talk together about what we see.




Blast off! Like a rocket

I remember something Lois Burr, former coordinator of Healthy Child Coalition – Central Region, used to tell participants in family literacy program training sessions.

“It’s not rocket science,” she would say.

And I got that.

It’s not something you need to study for. It’s about spending time with your children, eye to eye contact, noticing the physical world around you and drawing your children’s attention to that world. It’s about talking and singing, running and playing, laughing and hugging.

Something very special happens when you read to a child on your lap. Call it attachment. Call it bonding. Call it magic if you want.

It’s  very basic feel-good stuff and all you need to know is that it is good for your child.

Then this summer I read a quote by Dr, Louisa Moats, a recognized authority in the United States on how children learn to read and why some children fail to learn.

“It’s not rocket science, but it is,” she said.

It is, but it isn’t. I imagined two children arguing both sides of an issue. Is so. Is not. Is so. Is not.

I also remembered the old television commercial. Certs is a breath mint. Certs is a candy mint. Breath. Candy. Breath. Candy.

The answer to the rocket science conundrum perhaps lies in the resolution of that old commercial.

“It’s two mints in one.”

Think about brain development, the hundreds of thousands of synapses firing away, the connections that are made in those first years of life. Think of the brain maps we have been shown and the presentations we may have listened to in our roles of parent and educator.It didn’t look simple, at least not to me. It looked complicated and scientific. Not the kind of science that results in a rocket, but the kind of science that results in a brain that can develop the concept of a rocket.

And blast off can begin with an equation as simple as  parent plus child plus book.


Looking at things backwards

This story – and it’s a true one – intrigued me.

A couple I met this summer wished to enroll their daughter in a private school in Mexico City for this fall. In order to be accepted, their daughter had to write an entrance test. Some of the questions involved asking the young applicant to correctly spell the object shown in a drawing. For example:

1. ________________________________________________________________    (picture of a cat)

My first thought, I admit, was that this might be setting the bar fairly high for many students. In Canada, we would not ask our kindergarten or Grade 1 students to correctly write and spell a word before they could come to school. But this was not Canada; this was Mexico.

After the test had been completed, school staff contacted the parents and asked them to come in for a meeting. At that meeting, they were told that their daughter had answered all these questions incorrectly. Where there was a picture of a cat, she had printed ‘tac’. For a dog, she had printed ‘god’. Or rather, she had printed the words backwards in Spanish, since that was the language being used.

The school wondered if the girl should be tested for dyslexia.

The parents were concerned, but also confused. They knew that their daughter could spell these words correctly. So that evening, they questioned her about the test and her answers.

“The questions were backwards,” she told them. “I thought it should have been the picture first and then the line.”

Like this.

1. (picture of cat)  _________________________________________________________________________

“So I thought maybe it was a trick and I wrote all the words backwards, too.”

It just goes to show that sometimes our first impressions, informed though they may be, are not to be trusted. We need to ask more questions. In order to get the full picture, we may even need to look at things backwards.