Friday, March 30, 2012

What Makes A Good Children's Book?

When you're selecting a good children's book you should look for a number of things. Is the story engaging to the child? Does it use a lot of sight words and repetition? Are the pictures helpful to the child to understand the words? Is it age appropriate for the child? Is it teaching them good values?

Let's look at each of the qualities and see why they are important.

Is the story engaging to the child?

With young children you need to capture their attention and keep it. Parents know that young children will generally flit from one thing to another after 5 to 10 minutes. If they have something that truly grabs their attention they will stick with it longer. So if the story in the book you've selected captures their attention they will sit with you through the whole story and often times want you to read it again and again.

Does the children's book use a lot of sight words?

Sight words are the simple words that make up 50 to 70 percent of any general text. You may have also heard of them as Doulch words. Many of these words you can't sound out and need to be learned by sight. Words such as are, and, an, at, the, that, did, do, green, just, must, make and if are all sight words. There are about 220 of them along with about 95 nouns. If the children's book has many of these words and uses them in repetition it will help your child recognize them faster and read better.

Pictures in a good children's book help the child understand the words.

If the character is talking about red strawberries there should be red strawberries pictured. It's teaching them about a sight word "red" and it's showing them the color and what a strawberry is. By associating the word to the picture they learn the word so the next time they see the word they see the picture in their mind.

Is the children's book age appropriate?

Parents know their children. Some are more advanced than others when it comes to reading so selecting age appropriate books can sometimes be tricky. If you have a 3 year old child that's already picking up words from stories you might want to consider buying books that are a little above them say in the 4 to 5 year old range. What's important is you want to keep them interested. If it's too hard for them to understand they won't want to read the story. At the same time you want to challenge them.

A good children's book will teach values and social interactions.

You want to teach them about things like saying please and thank you or how important it is to help your friends and people around them. Look for children's books that have messages like that in them.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

7 Books to Ignite a Love of Reading in Your Boy

What books can we give our boys to teach them to love reading at a young age? What holds their interest and sparks a love of reading and knowledge? As a parent, you wonder what you can do to entice your boy to read, and not to fight them just to pick up a book. After months of trial and error with different genres, writing styles, and subjects, I found seven books that will spark a boy's interest and keep it.

1. The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

George and Harold are two elementary school boys who love to draw and make up stories, so they decide to make comics for themselves. They are about a character they make up called Captain Underpants, who later becomes their principal! The series promotes creativity and encourages kids to draw or write their own comics. The unique and easy to follow writing style of the author insures that your boy will not become bored or frustrated by trying to figure out big words. The pictures throughout the book are fun and ensure that your boy will spend hours laughing over this book and will want to read it again and again. And luckily, there are more novels in this series!

2. Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot by Dav Pilkey

Since we enjoyed this author's writing style so much, we decided to try this series to see if the author's writing had the same endearing qualities, and we were not disappointed. With monsters from space, robots, and silly words and phrases, your boy will enjoy every minute in the pages of this book. There are no complicated or large words, and there are pictures on every page. As is consistent with the author's style, the book encourages art by providing instructions on how to draw the characters at the end of every book in the series!

3. The Stink Adventures by Megan McDonald

This series has differing themes throughout, such as space travel, gigantic jawbreakers, stinky shoes, and treasure hunts. This author also writes the Judy Moody series, and the main character, Stink, is Judy's younger brother. The books are easy to read and follow, with great jokes and silly situations that will keep your boy highly entertained, and excited for the next book. The pictures are detailed and just as entertaining as the story, and some books even have color pictures. This is a fun entertaining series that your boy will want more of.

4. Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger by Kevin Bolger

This book is a hilarious read. The book is full of silly and gross names that have boys hooting with delight, such as: the story takes place in the Kingdom of Armpit, a knight is named Sir Bedwetter, and Sir Fartsalot is hard of hearing, so he always hears what someone says incorrectly and creates great jokes. The book is filled with colorful characters and an entertaining style of writing, so your boy always wants to read more. This book is also fun to read together, as you will enjoy the jokes as much as your child.

5. Goosebumps by R.L. Stine

I enjoyed these books when I was in elementary school so I thought I would try reading them with my boy. He loves them so much that we have worn out copies and had to buy new ones. With scary but unique ideas such as invisibility gone wrong, haunted houses, scary monsters, and aliens, there is a novel in this series for every boy. If you want an easier read for your boy, the Goosebumps Horrorland series uses less large words than the Goosebumps series, and follows along, but has some interesting maps and stories to catch a boy attention and keep it, even before they can read the larger, harder-to-read series!

6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

This series is easy to read and set up much like a comic book and diary. There are tons of pictures filled with as many jokes and descriptions as the actual story. This series addresses situations boys find themselves placed in with a witty outlook and realistic resolutions, by engaging boys with a character just like they are. As the character deals with everyday situations with sarcasm and humor, boys are sucked into the books and can't put them down!

7. My Weird School Days Series by Dan Gutman

Who didn't wish that their teacher really was an alien or crazy? This series takes those thoughts to the maximum with crazy teachers that do silly things, to super-smart teachers that are computers posing as people, to lunch ladies writing secret messages in mashed potatoes. The amusing situations and play-on-words keep boys anxious to read more, and laughing out loud. The books are filled with real facts that are delivered in a stimulating and easy to read way that helps kids remember them, but not realize that they are learning too!

Shi Belcher is a stay at home mom and an avid reader. She enjoys all genres of literature and reading childrens' books with her son. She enjoys expanding her book collection and believes that books are meant to be shared with others. She particularly enjoys the science-fiction, fantasy, romance, and classic books.

Monday, March 19, 2012

4 Tips For Writing Fantasy Stories

Do you feel overwhelmed because you never know how to come up with an opening line to your fantasy book? Most people feel a writer's block when they start writing their story because they do not know how to start.

Here are four step-by-step approaches or categories to get you started and focused on your writing.

1. Create A Character

2. Create The Setting

3. Create A Conflict

4. Create A Solution-Ending

I just finished reviewing a fantastic juvenile fiction series called The Kelmar Trilogy by Laura Sepesi. Fantasy is highly imaginative writing. For example, one can read about animals talking with one another, expressing emotions and wearing real clothes. Fantasy can be set in medieval times with castles and dragons, wizards and knights. Or the story can be set in the future.

So, when you begin to write your fantasy story, you will need to come up with a name for your character. Keep in mind that you will want to choose an exciting name and not just "dragon" but rather, "dragon-lord." This is what we call a compound word, taking two separate words joined together to form a new word, like "candlestick."

At this point, you will want to create details of your character from his or her size, characteristics, color, appearance, and descriptive titles to your character. For example, Dubious the dark-knight or Phoebe, the good-fairy of Seaguard Cove have soft or hard sounds to their name.

Once you've established the main characters and sub-characters of your story and have included a variety of dragons, dwarfs, ladies and lords, it's time to move on to the setting.

Will you start with the Great Fortress of Camden, surrounded in an enchanting forest? Perhaps the wise queen of Goshen lives in the High Tower of Gadzar. Whatever setting you choose, you will have lots of scene changes to create from barren deserts and empty plains to evil fortresses and radiant cities.

The next hearty step of your story outline will be the meat-and-potatoes part. Will the dark forces pose traps, plots and schemes to force their opponent in battle? Will monsters arise, sorcerers cast spells and a witch uses an invisibility cloak to lead a surprise attack to defeat their enemies? Yes, more descriptive writing occurs here to develop a real page-turner story.

My favorite and final point in writing a fantasy story is to provide an ending that hopefully pleases everyone but after all, it is your story and you probably will choose a predictable ending, like good triumphs over evil, but then, maybe not.

I personally like to read about the Good Lady Diana being rescued by her favorite, Great Knight Nicholas, from the treacherous and barbarous William Zardk, along with his companion, the dangerous Dragon Dunzabar. To be taken to Nicholas' enchanted castle to meet his father, the Kindly King, and to begin a new life atop a pinnacle of rock, overlooking a lush valley would be a great ending, and indeed another sequel to a marvelous, new beginning.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book Review: If You're Reading This It's Too Late by Pseudonymous Bosch

Question: What do you get when you combine a 500-year-old man born in a bottle... an evil society bent on discovering the secret to immortality... and two adventurous 11-year-olds?

Answer: A fun, witty book that kids are sure to enjoy reading.

Yes, Pseudonymous Bosch has done it again. In his obtrusive, snarky way, he's created a story that kids will eat up - but will parents choke on the mild violence and references to the occult?

The Good Stuff

This is a story about a very independent survivalist (Cass) who learns little by little to rely on and trust others - especially Max-Ernest and the members of the Terces Society.

Cass, Max-Ernest, Yo-Yoji and the other members of the Terces Society all exhibit true friendship, as they stand by each other through thick and thin.

Here are a few examples that stood out to me...

- Cass asks Cabbage Face to forgive her for lying to him.

- Max-Ernest and Yo-Yoji round up the Terces Society to rescue Cass from the Midnight Sun.

- Cabbage Face sacrifices his life to save Cass.


While "If You're Reading This, It's Too Late" isn't what most people would consider violent, Cass and Max-Ernest do find themselves in some hair-raising situations.

For example...

- Dr. L shanghaies Cass and Max-Ernest on board a ship, ties them up, and threatens to use them as shark bait.

- Cass finds out that Cabbage Face (the 500-year-old homunculus) killed the Lord Pharaoh and buried his remains. (At one point, he claims to have "eaten" the Lord Pharaoh.")

- Ms. Mauvais' evil henchmen grab Cass and the homunculus at the Skelton Sisters concert and threaten them with bodily harm.

- Cass is tied to a tree in a graveyard and gets frostbite.

- When the Terces Society battles the Midnight Sun to rescue Cass, there is much punching, flame-throwing, biting and kicking.

Magic, Sorcery and Spirituality

"If You're Reading This, It's Too Late" does have some spirituality of the ancient Egyptian kind.

For example,

- The doctor who "created" the homunculus was a devotee of the secret science called alchemy - and he wanted power over life itself. He even started calling himself "Lord Pharaoh," because he discovered powers only known to the kings of ancient Egypt.

- The immortality-seeking loonies of the Masters of the Midnight Sun chant while the Lord Pharaoh's grave is dug up.

- Ms. Mauvais calls Lord Pharaoh a "god." She wants to continue his work, so the members of the Midnight Sun can be gods too.

But there's something else...

It's not exactly magic, but there are some strange, unexplainable things that happen in the story.

For example, Cass has nightmares about a short, odd-looking little creature (the homunculus) - BEFORE she even knew he existed. She also dreams that he could be found at a nearby lake - and lo and behold, that's where she finds him.

And while I'm on the topic, how can Cabbage Face (the homunculus) be alive in the first place? He was created in a bottle 500 years ago. Who comes into the world like that - and who lives that long? It's very strange, if you ask me.

Plus, there's the mysterious Sound Prism that has the power to call Cabbage Face. Hmmm... Not exactly magic, but how do you explain it?

Sexual Content


Drugs and Alcohol

Cabbage Face steals a bottle of wine that Cass' grandfathers brought along on the camping trip to the lake. The kids discover that he has a cache of stolen alcohol when he graciously offers them a drink of wine, vodka, gin, malt scotch, tequila or cognac. (The kids wisely drink water instead.)

Foul Language


Other Negative Stuff

Our heroes do a bit of lying, stealing and disobeying in order to have their adventures.

For example...

- Cass and Max-Ernest ignore their teacher's orders to stay close and slip away from a class trip to meet up with the Terces Society... and end up in a mess of trouble.

- Cass steals the Sound Prism from Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais - but I suppose the fact that she "stole" from the bad guys makes the theft a bit more justified.

- Cass lies to the homunculus to get him to come with her to the Terces Society.

- Cass uses the Sound Prism to eavesdrop on a couple of girls in the school bathroom.

- Cass lies to her mom to get her permission to go to the Skelton Sisters concert with Max-Ernest and Yo-Yoji.

My Two Cents

"If You're Reading This, It's Too Late" is a witty, fun follow-up to "The Name of This Book is Secret." Kids will enjoy reading along as Cass and her friends have yet another adventure with the Terces Society. And they'll get a kick out of all the extras in the appendix.

Some parents might not be comfortable with the occult nature of the Masters of the Midnight Sun. But for the most part, this book is appropriate for most 9 to 12-year-olds.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Top Seven Great Reasons to Use EBooks for Kids

An eBook is a book in an electronic format that is downloaded to a computer, laptop or PDA. It looks exactly like a book and has numbered pages, pictures, graphics and a table of contents. As the world becomes obsessed with electronic gadgets, eBooks are gaining popularity amongst adults and children.

Most kids love to play video and computer games, so introducing them to the world of eBooks should be a simple progression. Children love interacting on the computer and they can do this while reading an eBook. This allows them to see books in a totally new light.

eBooks can be books that your children read on their own, or they may be books that you read aloud to them together. They can be found in novel format, fiction, non-fiction and animated picture books. There are also a number of online book sites to open the world of reading to your child at an early age. The following are seven great reasons to use eBooks for kids.

1) Introduces Them to the World of Technology - Reading an eBook allows you to teach your child how to utilize today's technology. Kids are obsessed with electronic gadgets and will be thrilled to learn how to use the keyboard. This is also an excellent way to give your kids a head start and prepare them for entering school.

2) Colorful Display and Pictures - eBooks for kids promotes learning through its vibrant colorful and picture display on the computer. It also holds their interest for a longer period of time.

3) Click on a Link - eBooks provide links to additional information and is an excellent tool for added learning. If they are unsure of a word or would like to learn more information, they can click on the link and gain additional knowledge. This is an excellent way to make learning fun.

4) Save a Tree - You can teach your child the importance of saving the environment by utilizing ebooks. The books are downloaded safely to your computer and cutting down trees is not a requirement to manufacture a book.

5) eBooks for Kids Can Be Read Anywhere - If you and your child find yourselves with unexpected free time, an eBook can come in handy. This is especially true if your eBooks are downloaded to a PDA and you can carry it with you at all times. eBooks are an excellent way to keep your child occupied with entertaining educational materials and not seek out mischief.

6) Indestructible - Traditional books can tatter, fade and tear. eBooks for kids can last for decades and be passed down from generation to generation. They are also easily transported and shared with others.

7) No Waiting - eBooks for kids can be delivered almost immediately. You can show your kids how easy it is to purchase an eBook, download it and begin to read it within a matter of minutes. You don't have to go to the bookstore or wait for them to arrive in the mail either.

Reading to children at an early age benefits them into adulthood. eBooks for kids will help keep them interested in reading. This will also help them be better equipped during their job seeking years and have a brighter outlook for their future.