Some kids fall for books easily;
for others, good books must win their hearts over time.
The first book that got a strong hold on Jonah's heart was J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit. He was 9 years old and he listened to it on cassette tapes for hours in his room. More than once he popped the first tape into the player again and started Bilbo's adventures anew. A couple of years later he relived the adventure with the book in his hand, no longer needing the narrator to read the story to him.
Now it's Tolkein's The Silmarillion that has him hooked. And since a few years have passed, the wonderful narration of Martin Shaw pours forth from Jonah's iPod -- we managed to find the audiobook on CD set gently used for a good price, and Jonah loaded up the sound files onto his iPod Touch so he can take it with him on long walks. He's absolutely fascinated with The Silmarillion, and I'm absolutely delighted that technology is helping bring Tolkein's brilliance into my son's life.
Would Tolkein be delighted or horrified?
If you have a child who is charmed by Middle Earth, download our literature study guide to accompany The Hobbit for only $3.99.
Jonah completed it when he re-read the book in 8th grade, and found all sorts of wonderful ideas that he had missed in earlier readings.
Or take a stab at writing Myth/Fantasy a la Tolkein with our Advanced Guide to Writing. Click to view excerpts. $6.99 for this one-of-a-kind writing resource!
For a chuckle, here's my older son Jake and Vicki's son Ezra in their classic video spoof of The Fellowship of the Ring....
Lord of the Beards.
Here's a classic post on some books that my twins love:
Ever found a book/series that absolutely grabs your reluctant readers and won’t let them go? Even found that very same series to be just as compelling to you?
Sigmund Brouwer’s Lightning on Ice, does just that for my two youngest and me. It has even helped my youngest grow to be an eager reader! PTL!
So far we have read:
All Star Pride
Winter Hawk Star
We eagerly await reading:
Oil King Courage
and many more of his sports-related mysteries
The Lightning on Ice Series is written to appeal to students ages 9 – 15 and with an upper elementary reading level, it is an ideal blend of accessibility and high interest for tweens and teens. While the books work well together, they are independent of one another and can be read in any order. Both Carlie and I say they are truly “page turners” that are hard to put down, yet the short chapters make them easy to read in small doses if you prefer.
Each book is set on a real team in the WHL (Western Hockey League, which endorses the books as well). The stories and characters are fictitious, but the hockey backdrop is the real deal. If you’re a hockey fan, you’ll love the way the game is woven into the background of each story. If you’re new to the game, there’s a handy hockey glossary in each volume. If you don’t know a puck from a penalty box, the stories stand alone and have high interest long after the ice has melted.
These books are full of mystery, relationships, real-life problems, adventure and humor. The choices the characters make, the struggles they endure and they way they follow their spiritual and moral compasses make them good role models for our family - plus I laugh out loud when I read them. And yes, I read them for my own enjoyment – and I have always been an avid reader! I kid you not, when I say I almost missed one of my girls’ hockey games, because I got so engrossed in reading Blazer Drive!
We have found several of the titles in our local library. The best online resource I have found for the Lightning on Ice and other similar books is the publisher, Orca Sports (some volumes formerly published under Word! Kids). The Orca Sports Books website,even offers free downloadable Teachers Guides as well as a Resource Guide available for purchase.
Here are the top 10 cool things we learned about Sigmund Brouwer while researching this blog:
- He is a former college and semi-pro ice hockey player
- He struggled with English, including writing, in college
- His website (www.coolreading.com) has writing tips for young writers
- He is committed to writing one book for reluctant readers each year
- He loves to encourage young readers and writers through visits to school/homeschool groups
- He has posted the first chapter to most of the series on his site
- His “hope is that the characters in my novels will live real lives beyond the walls of traditional church and allow my fiction to give voice to truth"
- He has close to 3,000,000 books in print
- He writes all sorts of books including other sports, mysteries
- He wrote over 2,000 pages and received 7 years worth of rejection letters before his first story was published!
As you can tell, we are huge Sigmund Brouwer and Lightning on Ice fans! What book(s) have totally turned your family on to reading?
One of the things that troubled me when my children were elementary-aged was that none of my boys particularly liked to read.
In fact, two of them really hated to read. It's not that they COULDN'T read (there were no vision or processing issues), they just hated it. From those experiences, I've combined their stories into an imaginary child's case study: we will call him Jaconah (and you can try to figure out which two boys were combined here if you'd like!), and here is his story.
Jaconah was in the 5th grade and still simply endured the books I required him to read, never chose to read a book for pleasure, and resented the idea that a student should pay attention and remember something about the book when the last page had been read.
As his book-loving homeschool mom, I was mighty worried. A portfolio review session gave me a chance to glean wisdom from a more-experienced homeschooler, and here are some of the things she suggested -
- Pray first. Before deciding how to "fix" the problem, spend some time with the Lord thanking Him for Jaconah, for His unique design in creating this boy, his brain and his personality. Remind yourself that Jaconah is not defective; he is a precious person who does not like to read.
- Then put things in perspective. Objectively take note of Jaconah's strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of another child who loves books. No child takes to everything immediately and passionately.
- Think outside the box. Yes, Jaconah will need to read many things throughout his academic career. But for right now while he is still young, are there ways to share the information in books and the example of well-written paragraphs with him without requiring hours of "obligation reading"? You could use audio books, read-aloud, and added the movie versions of stories as appropriate for enrichment. Perhaps he could stick with the book if he had seen the movie first. You can use encyclopedia-style books where the shorter article format is less intimidating.
- Make reading social or tactile. Maybe you could start a book club so Jaconah has incentive to reach a goal in finishing the book with enough understanding to join in the club activities about it. Or since Jaconah likes drawing, you could help maintain his focus while reading by asking him to draw the characters, make maps of their world, and chart their progress through the story on life-path diagrams.
- Choose books wisely. Reluctant readers like Jaconah need exposure to really good books and to not-so-good books. There are lots of books out there that are not bad, but they aren't Newberry Award winners either...and they're okay to read! Jaconah might like some of these titles that don't win awards for great literature but help him to get into books on less threatening terms:
A favorite series for younger students who struggle with phonics because of dyslexia or other challenges is Mary Manz Simon's Bible Stories. Each colorful, delightfully-illustrated book is short and concentrates on a set of around 20 words- perfect for a child who struggles with words. (Side benefit is that the books are only around $3 each.)
A series that might grab a kid who just couldn't care less about books is Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey. Captain Underpants is a silly, boy-friendly set of books about George and Harold and their ridiculous predicaments. No deep lessons of life here! However, if a boy laughs hard while he reads, he learns to read well.
Wanna solve mysteries? Cul de Sac Kids series by Beverly Lewis. These books featured a mystery-solving set of friends and always included solid Christian messages. Or how about Nate the Great by Marjorie Sharmat? Nate is fun and smart and solves all sorts of mysteries around his neighborhood.
(BTW- This is not a sponsored post. We just like to share our favorites with you.)
Two of our kids' favorite elementary books of all time are Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and Sarah, Plain and Tall. Some of our kids read these on their own, and some enjoyed reading them in a co-op together. The7 Sisters study guides to accompany these books include vocabulary, comprehension questions, and are adaptable for different age groups with "Going Deeper" questions for older students or suggested supplemental activities. Download today for only $3.99!
- Don't forget that reading is everywhere...not just in story books! Non-fiction like biographies, historical and political books, "self-help" books, and books on a subject like computers, or baseball, or veterinary medicine, even catalogs or instructional manuals may grab Jaconah's attention in a way that a story just doesn't.
Jaconah (and his mom) survived. He responded most to Captain Underpants, drawing pictures to go along with a story, and reading for book club social settings. He found that reading how-to materials grabbed him more than fiction, and has been able to teach his mom how to use new technology and computer software in recent years because of this type of reading strength. As an almost-adult, he still does not often pick up a book to read for pleasure, but when reading a book is necessary to master a new skill, or when a theological concept comes under discussion in his church or his circle of friends, he is quick to open even very difficult books to research the topic. Reading fiction is not what delights him, but his reading skills are fine and dandy.
One last thought:
- Just because Jaconah CAN read for himself doesn't mean that reading aloud to him should stop. Here's a list of favorite read-alouds among the homeschool moms here at 7 Sisters.
Top 15 Read-Alouds:
1. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein (click the link to view an excerpt from our study guide to go with The Hobbit!)
2. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
3. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
4. Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien (another study guide available in our EBookstore)
5. The Bible by God
6. All Creatures Great and Small and others in the series by James Herriot
7. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (This study guide is loaded with vocabulary, but the list is separated from the comprehension questions so you don't have to feel overwhelmed by it. Use as much or as little as you like....the guide is adaptable.)
8. A Separate Peace by John Knowles (often overlooked...a tremendous coming of age story)
9. Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
10. Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (Focus on the life-lessons to be learned from each stop along Pilgrim's allegorical journey!)
11. Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
12. Lightning on Ice Series by Sigmund Brouwer
13. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom (Part of our Great Christian Writers series...a popular title in our EBookstore!)
14. We were divided on this next one, but hey...homeschoolers don't have to agree on everything! Some sisters enjoyed reading aloud the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. Others sisters are not fans of the books.
15. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
It was 2006, and I was a failure.
Everyone knows that all homeschooled children love books, right? Not my kid! He was in 4th grade, he had both eyes intact and functioning, and still he didn't love books. Clearly, I was a failure.
Ok, clearly I'm being silly! But this is not a huge exaggeration of how it felt when my youngest just didn't like books. I am pretty sure now that I am NOT the only homeschool mom out there to experience this, so allow me to share with you a few of the things that helped us through this crisis.
2. PERSPECTIVE. I looked at my other kids; each of them had strengths and weaknesses, interests and areas of non-interest. I didn't think Bekah was in danger because she didn't play guitar like Jake loved to do, so why was this so upsetting to me? Even when I looked at myself, I could see that although I didn't like sports, I wasn't crippled in life; I'd learned to take care of my body with exercise in ways that I could handle even if playing volleyball terrified me (Don't mock: I broke a nail once and, well...I don't like to talk about it.).
3. INNOVATION. I couldn't figure out a different way to present books so that he would love them, but I could figure out different ways to present the important material IN books so that he could learn from them anyway. We used audio books, read-aloud, and added the movie versions of stories as appropriate for enrichment. I found that often he could stick with the book if he had seen the movie first; having a grasp on all of the characters and the basic plot helped him stay focused on the book. We used encyclopedia-style books; the shorter article format was much less intimidating. We used book clubs so he had incentive to reach a goal in finishing the book with enough understanding to join in the club activities about it. We used his love of drawing to help maintain his focus while reading; he drew the characters, he made maps of their world, he charted their progress through the story on life-path diagrams. Using his hands to create something related to the story helped.
4. GOOD BOOKS. I decided that less was more, and the quantity of books was not terribly important as long as he was reading well-written material and grabbing hold of it for himself. Here's the closing paragraph from the book report he wrote on Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH when he was in 5th grade:
"I loved the book; I love it a lot! I would recommend that people who like adventurous and real-life stories with a fantasy twist would like this story. I would like to write a book like this someday. Wrapping it all together, this book was very good."
5. NOT-SO-GOOD BOOKS. Huh? Certain books grabbed this kid in ways that I didn't understand. I can't explain WHY he fell in love with the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, but he did. He read those books over and over again while I cringed in the most Charlotte-Mason-corner-of-my-heart. Looking back I have no regrets; he practiced the discipline of sitting with a book for more than 30 seconds of his own free will. He made happy memories with a book in his hands. He learned creative vocabulary use (granted, some of the vocabulary were not real words, but that gave him phonics practice, right?). Most importantly, he learned that BOOKS DO NOT EQUAL PUNISHMENT when he chose to read less-than-classic literature and I didn't cry audibly.
Your turn: Got ideas for reluctant readers?
New in our EBookstore, a study guide for Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien. Find out why Jonah loved this book, and I loved it enough to write a multi-level study guide to go with it! The concept of PERSPECTIVE is beautifully illustrated in this Newberry Medal winning book. Download your guide here.
Homeschooling high school literature is one of my favorite things to do, but choosing which books to read in a given academic year can be hard. So many great books, so little time!
Here are some tips for making those hard choices, or click for a short video blog on this same topic.
* Pick a type of literature as a focus for the year. American or British or World Literature, for example, or a specialty area like Great Christian Writers or Mystery Writers for a student who is especially interested in one area of study.
* Choose 9 books, one for each month of the typical academic year. More than 9 and it's easy to get bogged down. Less than 9 and you may not have enough for a strong entry on your high school transcript.
(A high school student should aim for 15-25 books read by the end of the school year, but choosing 9 for your lit class means the other 16 can be books to enhance learning in other subject areas, or simply books of his or her personal choosing; that way reading doesn't feel like it's always an assignment, but can instead be a joy in life as well.)
* Select at least one book that you (the teacher) fell in love with when you first read it. Your passion for the book will model a contagious attitude to your student.
* Select at least one book that is BELOW his/her reading level. A book that was written for children may well have levels of meaning that can be discovered by an older reader, without the difficulties of vocabulary, complex sentence structure, etc.
* Select 2 or 3 that are a real stretch for your student. They should practice perseverance in earning that homeschool high school literature credit! It's very rewarding to make it to the finish line with a tough book.
* Make use of anthologies and online sources of short stories, essays and poems to create a collection that can then be treated as a "book" on your list. It's a money-savvy way to get curriculum.
* Choose a story the student already knows from either a movie adaptation, or just because it's famous. It's okay for him/her to know the ending before you begin! And for some students (especially reluctant readers) knowing the framework first helps keep them on track.
* Use literature study guides to incorporate vocabulary learning, understanding of the context and the author as a person, supplemental resources and suggested writing or project ideas into your reading adventure. I recorded a video blog on the importance of literature study guides, and I bet it will convince you to give this resource a try if you've never used a guide before.
Our EBookstore has lots of study guides for classic works of literature available for only $3.99.
Here's my vlog on choosing literature:
Some homeschoolers don't fall into the "I love reading" category- either from learning difficulties or lack of inspiration. It took the right series to inspire my two reluctant kids to read in elementary homeschool.
My 4th son had dyslexia. Phonics would not work for him. We had to use sight readers and much repetition. His favorite series was Mary Manz Simon's Bible Stories.
Each colorful, delightfully-illustrated book is short and concentrates on a set of around 20 words- perfect for a child who struggles with words. (Side benefit is that the books are only around $3 each.)
My 5th son just couldn't care less about reading. The series that changed all that was Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey.
Captain Underpants is a silly, boy-friendly set of books about George and Harold and their ridiculous predicaments. No "Alice and Jerry" or deep lessons of life. However, if a boy laughs hard while he reads, he learns to read well.
My kids did lots of worthy reading, too- Bibles for kids, Bibles in comics, and some of my favorites: Edcon's Bring the Classics to Life workbook series. I used Edcon with my kids from grade 5 or 6 until they finished the series (starting in Level 1 and going through). This series was GREAT at developing inferential skills.
My 2 youngest REALLY enjoyed the Cul de Sac Kids series by Beverly Lewis. These books featured a mystery-solving set of friends and always included solid Christian messages.
Speaking of mystery-solving kids, all my kids loved Nate the Great by Marjorie Sharmat. Nate is fun and smart and solves all sorts of mysteries around his neighborhood.
One of my kids' favorite elementary books of all time is Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. In fact, most of the 7 Sisters' kids read and loved this book (and worked on it together in co-op).
What are books you have used to inspire your reluctant elementary reader?
BTW- This is not a sponsored post. We just like to share our favorites with you.
Angela has lots of experience homeschooling children who learn differently. She is a long-time homeschool mom and friend of the 7 Sisters.
Angela’s top general resource recommendations for learning difficulties:
Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World, by Jeffrey Freed: ADD is mentioned in subtitle, but this is a fantastic resource with all kinds of helpful strategies for all kinds of learning issues. I can’t say enough good about it.
Complete Learning Disabilities Handbook, by Joan Harwell. Big book, chock full of all kinds of useful information for all ages.
Homeschooler’s Guide for Learning Problems: Practical Tips for Daily Succcess, by Jill Dixon: Lives up to its title. Order from Rainbow Resource.com.
Teaching Tips and Techniques: Help for the Homeschooling Parent, by Kathryn Stout: Find it at DesignAStudy.com or Amazon.com. Lots of helpful ideas.
Social Skills for Children, by Vicki Tillman MA. Ten skills that give children confidence when dealing with other people.
Learning Outside the Lines, by Jonathan Mooney and David Cole, This book is written by two non-Christian college students, both of whom having learning disabilities and have attended an Ivey League college. HEADS UP: They use profanity freely. I choose to look past it, because I think they have some really good suggestions, especially for high schoolers and college students.
Bonus for those living in Delaware and the Tristate area: Delaware Vision Academy: Dr. Don Blackburn is a caring, knowledgeable, meticulous optometrist who offers vision therapy. Some children see perfectly, but may have other issues with tracking, teaming or processing.
We all wish every single one of our homeschooled students loved books with a passion, don't we? The truth is, many excellent students don't necessarily love books when they are still in high school.
As a homeschool teacher, it's important to keep a wise perspective. Even kids who don't LOVE books like Mom does can benefit tremendously from reading books if you keep some goals for reading in mind.
And if you are a MOM who doesn't love to read, or doesn't feel confident teaching literature to your kids, there's hope...hang in there 'til the end of this post!
* Comprehension: Does your child UNDERSTAND what he read? Can he tell it back to you in his own words? If not, can you break it down one chapter at a time... one page at a time...one paragraph at a time? Smaller chunks makes comprehension easier, and practicing re-telling the material in your own words strengthens a student's comprehension skills.
* Interpretation: Can your student EXPLAIN what she's read? Does she have any idea WHY the author wrote about these things? Why might anyone care about the stuff in this piece of literature, even if you personally don't care about it?
Inference: Can your student reach a conclusion based on the information he has read in the material in front of him? Is there a lesson the author wants us to learn?
Evaluation: Once your student has some idea WHAT the author wanted to say, WHY it might have been written, and WHAT we can LEARN from it, can she evaluate whether or not the piece was effective? Can she tell you why or why not it taught her the lesson the author wanted it to teach?
Observation: Take a look at the vocabulary the author uses; can your child learn new words? How about sentence construction...can she learn new ways to write by imitating the author's style? Descriptive skills, ability with dialogue, and many other writing techniques can be observed by your child and be a source of learning even when the book is not a "grabber" for her.
Appreciation: Point out to your student that even a book he does not LIKE may be a book he can APPRECIATE. Appreciating a book means recognizing the effort, care, love, passion, or sacrifice that went into the writing of it, even if he doesn't like it very much. Learning to appreciate effort even in a venue that does not thrill you is an important life-skill even outside of the classroom!
Enjoyment: If's the ultimate, isn't it? Don't we love it when our kids ENJOY the books we've told them to read? But when they love it, engage them in conversation about WHY they enjoyed it so much. Enjoying a book means the reader has developed a connection with it; some of my most wonderful conversations with my kids have been about why they particularly enjoyed a book they read.
And finally, for MOMS who don't love books:
The same elements of literature learning above apply to you. You don't have to be in love with the book you are teaching in your homeschool.
Make use of tools like literature study guides (7 Sisters has a large selection for you to choose from), book clubs, learning co-ops with moms who love to read, online discussion groups, or homeschool day-school classes to bring others into your discussions of literature with your children. There are many ways to learn from literature....whether you are a bookworm by nature or not!
Hot off the presses, 7 Sisters has a new literature study guide to go with Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place. You do NOT want to miss this amazing book, and your children will get so much out of it with the help of our new study guide.
Also, this week you can download the study guide for Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol for FREE. Enjoy this classic holiday story with our free study guide!
I am upperclassmen advisor for our homeschool umbrella school. Each year in our advising sessions, I ask the high schoolers what their favorite books have been this last year.
I’d like to share these with you (in case you’re out Christmas shopping and need a few books to fill out your teen’s reading list)! (* means recommended by multiple high schoolers)
A Kingsbury Collection by Karen Kingsbury
Amos Fortune, Free Man- Elizabeth Yeats
*Code Talker- Joseph Bruchac
Cross and Switchblade- David Wilkerson
Dragons in Our Midst series- Bryan Davis
*Dragon’s Gate- Lawrence Yep
Eli- Bill Myers
Emma- Jane Austen
*Ferenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
*Harry Potter series- J.K. Rowling
*Heaven is for Real- Todd Burpo
*Hunger Games series- Suzanne Collins
Left Behind series- Tim LaHaye
*Mama’s Bank Account- Kathryn Forbes
Man O’War- Walter Farley
*Night- Elie Wiesle
*Peter Pan- J.M. Barrie
*Princess Bride- William Goldman
*Red- Ted Dekker
Redeeming Love- Francine Rivers
Sarah’s Key- Tatiana de Rosenay
*Screwtape Letters- C.S. Lewis
*Sherlock Holmes- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
*Sports Series- Sigmund Brouwer (great for struggling readers)
Tales from Shakespeare- Charles and Mary Lamb
*The Adventures of Tom Sawyer- Mark Twain
*The Chronicles of Narnia- C.S. Lewis
*The Importance of Being Ernest- Oscar Wilde
The Pioneer series- Janet Oke
*The Warrior Elite- Dick Couch
The Stranger- Albert Camus
*To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee
Treasure Island- Robert Louis Stevenson
*When Elephants Weep- Jeffrey Masson
White Fang- Jack London
7 Sisters has study guides for a number of books. Keep your eyes open for more coming in January, including The Chronicles of Narnia, The Confessions of St. Augustine, Night, To Kill a Mockingbird, and so much more!
Right now you can try out some FREE downloads to help with your homeschooling: Career Exploration Questionnaire, The Christmas Carol War drama, Scheduling Backwards, Carry Each Others' Burdens... PLUS: THIS WEEK ONLY: FREE A Christmas Carol Study Guide- Download it today!
When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who gave out automatic "F's" to any student who was caught with Cliffs Notes in his or her possession. I walked in mortal terror of every using a literature summary or study notes.
Now I teach literature to high school homeschoolers, and I actually encourage the use of literature summaries and study helps websites like www.cliffsnotes.com or www.sparknotes.com for my students in certain situations. Want to know why?
The point of assigning books to our homeschool students is to:
* stretch them as readers (with material, vocabulary, and style they may not have encountered before)
* encourage them as critical thinkers (learning to understand and evaluate what they are reading)
* inspire them to write about ideas or character types with whom they connect
Some of the books I choose for my homeschooler to read may be thematic material he is ready to embrace, but the vocabulary or the writing style may be difficult for him. Do I want him to give up just because of those obstacles? Of course not!
Supplemental resources (like summary websites) are simply that: supplemental. They do not replace reading the book. They do not stand alone. But if they provide the confidence and tools for the successful completion of a difficult work of literature, why would I penalize a student for using them?
The key is integrity. If a student says that he has read a book, he must actually have read that book, not just a summary (or watched the movie). If he required help to successfully read and understand that book, is his accomplishment any less? Has his integrity been compromised?
If he is able to understand the book reading it alone, that is ideal. I only recommend going to a summary after wrestling with a book first.
We are wise to also consider that time is viewed differently for our children's generation than it was for ours. Where I rode my bike to the library to look up information for a research report, my children Google the keywords and start from there. The idea that using a literature summary is cheating simply doesn't make sense unless the child is substituting the summary for the actual book.
The goal is understanding of the literature at hand. If my student has been raised with character and integrity, I can feel confident to place at his disposal tools that will aid in his understanding...regardless of what my high school English teacher thought about literature summaries like Cliffs Notes!
My latest vlog deals with this question....check 7 Sisters' channel out!
What do you think about online literature summaries?