Monday, December 15, 2014

December Wishes

December is the most exciting time to give books, which makes it the most exciting time in the world of publishing.  All you have to do is Google “best books of 2014,” and you will get results from The New York Times Best Illustrated Books and the Man Booker Prize to the smallest, one-room library in rural Iowa. There are so many great ideas, especially when you add the key words, “childrens” or “young adult” to the search. 

However, what I enjoy most about December is the time the short days and longer nights allow for contemplation about the act of reading itself. For me, reading is about sharing human narratives that transcend culture, time and space.  As C.S. Lewis put it so well, “In reading great literature, I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. . . . I see with a myriad of eyes, but it is still I who see.” Reading connects human beings because it makes human beings more sure of who they are.  That connectedness, where the transcendent meets the ordinary, is the word shining light in the darkness.
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
All things were created through Him,
and apart from Him not one thing was created
that has been created.
Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.
That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it.
John 1:1-5

This holiday, my wish is that your family will take some time to read and to talk to each other about why you read, what you read, when or where. Connect with each other through old family narratives, traditions, and festivities. Celebrate!  Take note, there may be a story-teller in your midst.

Now I Have to Go(dot) See the Play

Waiting for GodotWaiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally read it. Not sure what I was waiting for.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What Girls Read

30 November

A great deal of scholarly attention has been paid to what boys like to read in the last decade. We know that boys like action-packed adventure stories and are drawn to graphic novels and facts and statistics.  It’s almost taken for granted that girls like to read, but is that always the case?  While it is always true that personal experience affects the brain’s wiring, girls do seem to show stronger verbal skills and demonstrate empathy more readily than boys.  According to David Chadwell, an expert in gender differentiation in classroom teaching, boys learn best through structure and girls through connection. This means girls need to voice their opinion, make connections between what they read and their lives, and use manipulatives or real objects to explore concepts.  Boys need this, too—it’s just that girls really need it!  The difference is very clear to me when I reflect on the book choices students make in the library.  From the earliest years, girls choose what they know: princesses and fairies, books they connect to because they know they are our little princesses, our most treasured possessions.  In Primary, they become interested in cooking and crafts, real things they do in real life.  In Secondary, they go in two directions.  They get involved in “teen drama” or books about social movements.  Books from authors like Meg Cabot, Sarah Dessen, Sara Shepard—even Jane Austin and Charlotte Bronte—tend to mirror the internal and external conflict of adolescent angst while books like Half the Sky or Girls Gone Green nurture the opinionated girls with the drive and ambition to save the world. You can review any of these books or authors on the IAA Libraries’ website @  Please feel free to stop by any of the libraries to discuss books for girls and boys. 

What Boys Read

16 November

So many parents say, “I have no problem with my daughter, but my son just doesn’t like to read.”  Right now, I don’t identify.  My 4-year-old son loves to read as much as his sisters, but I worry that as he grows older, he will become a non-reader.  As explained in an Ontario study (2004), few boys have this attitude early in their schooling, but according to some experts, nearly 50% of boys call themselves non-readers by the time they enter secondary school.

If your son used to love reading, but you find he is increasingly disinterested, uncommitted or unmotivated, there is hope.  First of all, don’t give up.  Boys do read.  They just don’t like “school” reading.  It’s a matter of finding what clicks. What book is the right book for a boy?  “A good book for a boy is one he wants to read”(Moloney, 2002).  It’s a matter of having the right stuff. 

Boys like to read:-
Books about what they aspire to be and to do;
Books that make them laugh and appeal to their sense of mischief;
Fiction that focuses on action more than emotion;
Series books which provide a sense of comfort and familiarity;
Science fiction or fantasy;
Newspapers, magazines, comic books, baseball cards, and instruction manuals – materials that are often not available in the classroom.

Interestingly, when they read these materials, they are often reading above grade level but do not think they are reading at all, because these types of materials are not valued at school.

The Homerun Book

19 October

Think back.  Way back.  Is there one book or reading experience that hooked you for life? A favorite bedtime story, a book your teacher or librarian read to you, a book you were given as a gift or something you picked up “once upon a time.”

One very positive experience can create a reader.  In a study called, “The Home Run Book”, over 53% of students who said they enjoyed reading could identify a particular book that first interested them in reading (Von Sprecken, Kim, & Krashen, 2000).  What about those books you bought at the Book Fair, those books your children bring home from the IAA Library, the readers they bring home from class, the books they read from their libraries at home—has your child found his or her Homerun Book?  Have you?  

Please post on our Padlet Wall at  You might inspire someone else with your choice.

And, if your child isn’t a reader yet, don’t be disappointed, not every book is a homerun.  Some are absolute strikeouts. Some will get a man on third, others are triple-, double-plays, some are fouls for a walk.  Don’t give up.  Keep playing the game.  Sooner or later, there’s bound to be a homerun!

Don't Limit Reading Choices, 25 September

I write a weekly (or bi-weekly) news column for the IAA Parent Newsletter, so I'm posting them here.  I was a bit backlogged with work until just now, so I'll date the posts.

25 September

Every day, my route home from work inevitably finds me traipsing back through the Senior Library with my three KG children to retrieve a forgotten item from my office before our driver arrives. Often, by the time I’ve located the forgotten item, I come around the corner to pleas of, “Mommy, can I take this book home?” One day, Jana, 5, was standing on the library stool to reach up to the fourth shelf to pull a book with a picture of a cat on a spine.  “I want all these cat books,” she cried with delight.  Each “cat” book in the Warriors series by Erin Hunter is about 300 pages long, a bit of a stretch for a 5-year-old…even if her mom is a librarian. Did I stop her from taking them home? No way! Why?

Let me share a bit of what I’ve learned about choosing books, so that you can be prepared to help your children make some important choices for Book Week (adapted from “Help a Child Choose a Book,” International Reading Association, 2014, Web).

1.    Choosing a book independently teaches your child that we seek books for different reasons.  As early as possible, introduce the idea that we read for a purpose, even if that purpose is pure enjoyment.

2.    Encourage your child to spend time browsing a selection of books at a library or bookstore. If this is overwhelming, try organizing the books you already have at home and letting your child browse through them.

3.    Give your child authority over choosing books to read. Say “yes” as often as you can. A book that your child wants to read is the one you want to take home. And looking at the pictures is a perfectly acceptable way to read a book.

4.    Let your child know it’s OK if he or she doesn’t like a particular book. Use a not-so-great selection as an opportunity to understand more about reading skills and preferences. Could it be the book was just a little too difficult for the child to tackle alone?

5.    If your child really wants to read something you know is beyond his or her ability, solve it by reading it aloud together.

6.    Know that the IAA librarians are always available with reading lists and suggestions for you and your child.

With my daughter, I walked through steps 3, 4 and 5, and we enjoyed some mommy-daughter bonding over the adventures of the ThunderClan, the ShadowClan and an ordinary housecat named Rusty. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Alchemy of Wisdom

Sheikha Intisar Al Sabah dreamed of a book that would honor inspirational Kuwaitis who were proud of their heritage and had made great contributions to Kuwait and the world, in part, because of the heritage of being Kuwaiti.  

What resulted is the photographic art collection of essays entitled The Alchemy of Wisdom.  Interviews with 48 influential and motivating Kuwaitis, accompanied by the insightful portrait photography of Cristian Barnett, are sure to enlighten and make students proud of who they are.  Some of the subjects interviewed for their pearls of wisdom are Ms. Laila Al Ghanim, Mr. Mohammed Al Shaya, Ms. Badria Al Awadi, Mr. Naima Al Mutawa, Ms. Fatima Al Essa, Mr. Ghanim Al Najjar, and Ms. Ayeshah Al Humaidhi, to name a few.  The book is bilingual, in Arabic and in English, for all to enjoy.  The black cover with gold embossing is elegant and formal, a fitting formality for the wisdom contained within its covers.  

Vital Stats
The Alchemy of Wisdom
Sheikha Al Sabah with Zeina Bitar
Photography by Cristian Barnett
Dekwaneh, Lebanon: Lulua Publishing, 2012.
ISBN: 978-9948-16-661-0