Joint Venture: Summer Reading Tips from Raymond Bean, Award-winning Author

Summer Reading Tips

I read the jotter’s joint post on summer reading from May 10, 2012, and it resonated with me.  Gail recommended one of my books, which won me over immediately, but it was the message in the post that I connected with as a father, teacher, and writer.  She expressed many of the complexities parents encounter when attempting to spark the love of reading in their children.  Summer reading can be especially daunting.

If you’re like many proactive and dedicated parents you’re stressing out a bit about summer reading.  Creating a summer reading routine that works for you and your child is multifaceted.  You want your young reader to WANT to read, initiate trips to the library, and seek out new books for that new digital reader you bought him.  You envision him snuggled up on a rainy, July day with a classic, perhaps a favorite book from your childhood (insert title of your choice here).  He wants to play XBOX 360.

I’ve taught elementary school for fourteen years and every year around this time parents begin to ask about summer reading.  I’ve put together a list of a few strategies that I’ve found helpful over the years.  Full disclosure, last summer I struggled with my then nine-year-old son over his reading, but that’s another story entirely.  Like Gail, I was attempting to help him learn to appreciate and read chapter length books independently.  I had a long list of books I was sure he’d love because I love them.  It turned out that I had just that, a list of books that I love.  Without meaning to, my son taught me that my job wasn’t to help him love my favorites, but to help him find favorites of his own.

We all know that there’s no perfect strategy or plan to help your kids with summer reading, but you’d better have one or it will be the last week of August before you can say, “Where’d you put your summer reading log?”

  1. Be Flexible:  Don’t push a book on your child.  The more you push it, the more he’ll find reasons to dislike it.  You may not love the book he’s reading, but it’s not about you.  I bet he doesn’t want to read the book you’re reading.
  2. Search Smart:  Try searching for new titles on sites like Amazon.  Start by having him type the title of a book he already read and liked.  For example, type in Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Then scroll down to the “frequently bought together” category.  Books will naturally “pair” with similar titles.  If he likes book x there’s a good chance he’ll like book y.  Most books have a “Look Inside” feature.  Use this to your advantage to weed out clunkers and minimize the chances of him selecting a book he doesn’t like.  Read a few pages before making a decision.
  3. Set Goals:  I’m not a fan of time based reading goals.  Many kids simply wait out the clock and ask, “Am I done yet?”  Instead experiment with page based goals.  Consider the number of total pages in the book.  Work with your child to decide on a manageable number of pages to be read per day.  Don’t go nuts!  Help your child set reasonable and achievable daily goals.  Once daily goals are set, determine a completion date for the book.  This strategy will help your child read more, and also provide experience planning, setting, and meeting goals.
  4. Read:  Practice what you preach!  Don’t tell your child it’s time to read and park yourself in front of the computer or text your friends.  Reading with your child when he’s making the transition to chapter length books is extremely valuable.  Join in on the fun, and share the book.  If he’d rather read alone, read near him.  Snuggle up on the couch or at least in the same room, and read something you like.  Have a reading goal of your own, and share it with your child.

Last summer was the summer my son transitioned to chapter books.  Thankfully he’s found many favorites of his own and read extensively this year.  Lately he’s after me to read titles that he loves, and I haven’t had a chance to read yet.  What a difference a year makes!  Thanks to Jotter’s Joint for inviting me to stop by.  Please post strategies that have worked for you in the comments section.  Happy summer reading.

Read, Write, Laugh,

Raymond Bean

From the Jotter’s Joint, I extend a special thank you to Ray for sharing his insights on reaching reluctant readers.

I also want to say a personal thank you to Ray for his Sweet Farts Series which has made chapter book lovers out of my boys.

Please take the time to check out Ray’s website and blog.If you’re looking for summer books for your kids, Sweet Farts may be the right fit. My boys vocabulary for describing bodily functions has grown but at least I know they’re paying attention.

Happy Summer Reading,


Kindergarten Lessons: Hooked on Ebonics?

The book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum is celebrating its 15th anniversary. I have yet to read the book but often hear it quoted in motivational speeches or leadership training. The quotes are always good and so the book is on my “to read” list.

For me though, one of the best lessons I learned was not in kindergarten but rather in the sixth grade. However, the lesson was taught to me by a friend I met in kindergarten. Our academic careers took us K through 12 together and I am fortunate enough to still be in touch with her.

The lesson is invaluable.

B:  Do you want to come to my sleepover?
Me:  Sure but I have to ask my mom. [Note:  ask = ax]
B:  You what?
Me:  I have to ask my mom. [Note:  still ask = ax]
B:  Why is she going to chop down a tree?
Me:  What?
B:  There’s an “s” in it. It’s not ax, it’s ask. Axes are for chopping down trees.

Sadly, I hadn’t noticed all those long years that I was saying it wrong. I was mortified. I remember going home and practicing in front of the mirror; watching the shape of my mouth and the movement of my tongue so I could see the difference and break the cycle.

It wasn’t just about making it sound right but it was about breaking a habit of saying it wrong every time I used it. Practicing in the mirror helped create a trigger even for the times when I wasn’t staring at myself and feeling small because I had been clueless for so long.

That’s not the only word I found myself standing in front of the mirror over. That’s the year I learned to read out loud so I could learn how to correctly pronounce words. Sounding out the unfamiliar. That’s the year I learned to use the dictionary to see the syllables for the purpose of phonics. I never wanted to be in the situation again where someone needed to correct me. But, sad to say it wasn’t the last time (my tenth grade English teacher introduced me to the term ebonics but that’s another story for another time).

If it helps put things in perspective … when it came time for reading in school, I started out in the lowest level for my grade. I had to work my way up. I was an avid reader by the time I reached the sixth grade. I was reading and comprehending at the ninth and tenth grade level. But apparently that didn’t translate to my verbal communication skills.

So today … I am hypersensitive to certain words, I’ll just name a few:

  • Incorrect use of the verb “to be”
  • Ask = Ax
  • Mine = Mines [showing ownership]
  • Folks = Fokes

My youngest says “mines” and I am working on him. But you can understand the challenge coming from a 5 year old.

There are adults who didn’t have a kindergarten friend who loved them enough or cared enough about them to give them the same feedback. Surprisingly, I interact with professionals who haven’t mastered the lesson I learned in sixth grade.

  • Professionals who give presentations to large audiences.
  • Professionals whose jobs fall in a communication or training discipline yet they misspell, mispronounce or misuse forms of words.
  • Professionals who are educated i.e. undergrad, post graduate and doctorates.

I haven’t quite figured out how to tell some of these adults in my life of their errors. Are they too set in their ways to change now? At 12, I was still impressionable; willing and able to change. Would it work out in adult learning? I don’t know. I’m open to suggestions for ways to share the same feedback in a loving way. If you have any ideas, pass them along.

If it hadn’t been for this friend, I’d be among their ranks:  “I be axing away in the mines with these fokes”. Unaware of my faux pa … Tragic.

Call my sixth grade friend’s feedback a form of care for me or call it the carefree nature of youth (that she would say whatever was on her mind). Whatever you call it, what a great service she provided me that day by telling me the truth.

So, from the kindergarten class favorite with pierced ears to the kindergarten class favorite without pierced ears – you know who you are – Thank you for not letting me become a statistic of poor language skills.

Summer Reading …

As summer approaches, I am preparing a summer reading plan for my boys which will include:

  • Trips to the book store and library.
  • Books for Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) or quiet time as we call it.
  • Books for bedtime (we won’t need to go through the process of picking books each night.)

Our goal is to motivate our oldest to read independently and not just for function. By function I mean: I can find what I want to watch on TV but that’s the extent of my reading. At one point he told us, “I didn’t read it. I just recognized the words.” Yes, well, that is reading.

We’ve discussed as a family that it’s time to move to CHAPTER BOOKS. And of course the boys think that means NO pictures but that’s not entirely true. Anyway, it’s decided. This summer we will read chapter books.

I was so excited because I couldn’t wait to share with my boys the books I read at their age. It was going to be great. I’d have these nostalgic moments with my kids. We would read some of my favorites:

Paddington Bear at Paddington Station


  • Paddington Bear
  • Ralph P. Mouse
  • Encyclopedia Brown

The boys wouldn’t necessarily be able to read these on their own yet but definitely great to cover a chapter each night at bedtime. We would be making new memories around some of my childhood loves.

Imagine my surprise when my oldest said, “Those don’t look good at all.” WHAT? How can he think that? I was at a loss. I started campaigning for my favorites which just led to bigger resistance. I was convinced I’d win them over. How selfish I was being!

I had to get over it. It’s not about me. It’s about them. I want my boys to have a love of reading which means I have to find things that interest them.

I started the great hunt. Had lots of conversation with the boys, my husband, and other parents who have kids in the same age range. Here’s what my husband and I agreed to explore:

  • Magic Tree House Series
  • Geronimo Stilton Series
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series
  • Big Nate Series

I’m open to others if you know of any that would interest kids who love:  action and adventure, science, dinosaurs, superheroes …

And then there is the other category. Bodily Functions. The response I get from other parents is interesting and sometimes funny when I mention the following titles. Keep in mind I am trying to meet my boys where they are … and they laugh about bodily functions … They are typical kids. So we will consider:

Cover of "Sweet Farts"The first Captain Underpants book.

  • Sweet Farts Series (Yes, “farts” it’s not a typo)
  • Captain Underpants Series
  • Stink Series

I don’t know what I will learn or appreciate about these books but if my boys will read it … I need to at least be open to it. I’ll keep telling myself:  IT’S NOT ABOUT ME.

Last night, I unveiled the official list and we went to the bookstore to make final choices. My seven year old said, “Those all look great Mommy! You’re awesome. Thanks!” Mission accomplished. He picked Magic Tree House (Book 19) – Tigers at Twilight. My five year old picked, Big Nate – In a Class by Himself; the thickest on the list.

Reading is fundamental and for me a way of escape. I learned so much about the world and my place in it from the pages of books. I learned to find answers to my questions and definitions. Books are doors to a lot of things. And, I want that for my boys.

This morning I got what I want. Both boys woke up and picked up their books instead of being glued to the TV. It made me proud and happy and excited for the worlds we will discover together.

This evening we purchased 2 books from the bodily functions category. Let the reading commence!

So I still get to have nostalgic moments but instead of them being tied to specific books … they will be tied to the love of reading.