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Interactive Booklists in New Hampshire and Vermont

October 16, 2012

By Suzanne Loring

Both New Hampshire and Vermont offer great lists of books that can be used in schools and libraries to help motivate kids to read more. And one the thing that makes these lists so much better than any other booklist is that these are interactive. Kids get to vote to choose the winners!

In New Hampshire, you will find the Great Stone Face books, a list of 25 books for kids in grades 4-6. There are also the Ladybug Picture Books, a list of 10 books perfect for kids in kindergarten through third grade.

Vermont offers the Dorothy Canfield Fisher books, a list of 30 titles appropriate for students in grades 4-8, and the Red Clover books, 10 books for kids in grades K-4.

This is how it works: Kids read the books on the list and then vote on their favorite. Depending on which state you are in there are different rules governing how many books you must have read before you can vote. Ballots for the different lists are available on the various lists websites (see below).

Once the voting is done, all the numbers are tallied up and the book with the most votes wins. The winning author is then invited to the state to tour schools, libraries and bookstores. Maybe your school could be a tour stop for this year’s winner?

Colebrook Elementary School has done a wonderful job incorporating the Great Stone Face books into their curriculum this year. They ensure that students have access to all the Great Stone Face books and have even invited Steve Cotler author of the Cheesie Mack series – which includes a Great Stone Face book – to the school to meet the kids.

For more details on these lists and how to vote please visit:

Great Stone Face, NH

Ladybug Picture Books, NH

Dorothy Canfield Fisher, VT

Red Clover, VT

I have received a number of wonderful ideas for articles based on what teachers across New Hampshire and Vermont would like to hear. I will try my best to address these requests as the year continues. Please feel free to send any literacy activity ideas to CLiF as well as any thoughts on what you would like to learn more about for your school or classroom. Send all ideas and thoughts to


Remembering a Classic Children’s Book: Caps for Sale

October 15, 2012

Caps for Sale and Nina Cavender’s handmade chair, which tells the story in the book.

By Nina Cavender

I remember reading this book again, and again, and again with my mother. I loved this book so much, I would try to reenact it whenever it was read. I loved it so much, my grandmother had a professional wood carver make me a chair with the whole story hand-painted on it.

Now you’re all thinking, “What’s the book?!” It’s Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina. It’s a very simple story, but that is what makes it great.

The story starts by talking about the cap peddler’s many caps: his brown caps, red caps, and grey caps, all balanced carefully on top of his own checked cap.

When one day he can’t seem to sell any of his caps, calling the famous phrase “Caps! Caps for sale! Fifty cents a cap!”, the peddler decides to stop under a tree to rest. This seemingly harmless tree turns out to be a tree full of mischievous monkeys, who steal the peddlers caps! My inner child is gasping at the sheer thought!

The mischievous monkeys taunt the poor peddler until he tricks the monkeys into giving his caps back… But I don’t want to give anything away.

When I’m looking back and remembering my love for the monkeys and the peddler, I remember trying to become the peddler myself. As my mother would read it I would walk around my room gathering pillows and various trinkets, to attempt to balance on my head (rather then getting into bed). I don’t think I was ever as successful with my balancing act as the cap peddler himself was, but it certainly instilled a memory in me.

Before writing this blog post, I did a little research to refresh my memory about the story, and I ran across this video.

Even across the Atlantic Ocean, a father is making sure his kids hear this imaginative Russian folktale, because it bonds the parent and child together. For me, it was through my silliness: trying to imitate the very balanced cap salesman and amusing my mother whilst doing so. For this soldier, it’s to make sure his kids can sleep with him not there.

It’s a beautiful thing, the power of a bedtime story, and this should certainly be one on every child’s nightstand.

I Used to Read the Sunday Times, Now I Read Strawberry Shortcake Sticker Books

October 11, 2012

By Karen Ruben

A long time ago, when we were first married, my husband and I used to love to hang around on a Sunday morning reading the New York Times.

In my memory of those days, it was cold and raining outside, or 20 below, and we had no place in particular to be. I made an extra cup of coffee, maybe we had French toast or a fried egg. The newspaper was spread all over the kitchen, the living room, the bedroom. Reading the Times was a daylong, housewide project involving slippers… and probably pajamas.

In those days we read WHOLE articles! And talked about them! We had long stretches of quiet while we read, and then: “Holy cow!” “I know!” “Oh, that’s disturbing.” “Did you read this?” “Where’s the book review?” etc., etc.

Sometimes we even had full-fledged CONVERSATIONS. Hmmmm.


That was a long time ago. Now we have small children.

They are, of course, beautiful, amazing, funny, busy, messy, noisy, wonderful.

Of course.

But they certainly do change those rainy Sunday mornings.

For a while after the girls were born, my husband would still occasionally pick up the Sunday Times. So joyfully optimistic of him.

Do you know what is awful? Throwing the whole thing in the recycle bin on Thursday. Intact. Because you never got around to unfolding the thing. Makes me weep just thinking of it.

At CLiF we talk a lot about children reading, but let’s face it, if we are going to be holistic about it, we might as well discuss the whole family. We all know that the literacy of the parents has a direct bearing on the literacy of the child.

But what about the “used to be literate”? I used to know what was going on in the Middle East (as much as any layperson can), I used to think about shifts in culture and politics, I used to know what authors had new groundbreaking books. I even used to get all of John Stewart’s jokes.

What is the impact on my children of losing my grip on all of this?

This Sunday I got the laundry done. I made healthy muffins for preschool snack on Tuesday. I helped my kindergartner finish a color wheel for school, filled out the paperwork for swim lessons, updated my calendar to include the music program at the library, and read a really vapid Strawberry Shortcake sticker/picture book four times. I ate a muffin (Tuesday’s snack) on the way to soccer and picked up groceries on the way home.

In a bid to rejuvenate my former literacy, I have been reading, at bedtime, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night… for the last three months!!!

Do you know what happens when you go from Strawberry Shortcake to Fitzgerald in one day? Your eyes glaze over. You have to read paragraphs three times and you still might not know what the heck old F. Scott is talking about.

Obviously, we can’t blame Fitzgerald for this.

I am hopeful, though. Someday my kids will be able to wipe themselves consistently, pour their own cereal, maybe even read a section of the New York Times! And I might be considered an intelligent, informed adult again, even if I am the only one who thinks of me that way.

In the meantime, I plan to reduce the amount of Strawberry Shortcake I read and increase authors like Patricia Palocco, Robert McCloskey, Shel Silverstein, eventually Madeleine L’Engle, Roald Dahl, Louis Sachar, books that bridge the gap between vapid and the Sunday New York Times.

If I can’t be intelligent, informed, and literate, maybe someone around here can.

How Books and Exercise Become a StoryWalk

October 8, 2012


By Duncan McDougall

Wandering Vermont trails during peak fall foliage with eager children and frisky dogs while reading about awesome children’s books. What’s not to love?

That’s how CLiF spent a very pleasant Saturday morning with friends and fans of the StoryWalk® Project.

The StoryWalk® Project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT and developed in collaboration with the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition and the Kellogg Hubbard Library. Their brilliant concept links literacy and fitness.  Simply disassemble a children’s book page by page, laminate the pages, and then post them along a trail so readers young and old can enjoy the outdoors and read great books at the same time.

The StoryWalk Festival was held this Saturday October 6 at Hubbard Park in Montpelier, and CLiF was delighted to be involved. I attended with my trusty assistant Tasha (our Bernese Mountain Dog), and we had a great time meeting many fellow readers and hikers, and sniffing around.

When we weren’t chatting with folks at the CLiF table, Tasha and I wandered the leaf-strewn trails and enjoyed a few books along the way. Our paws-down favorite was Weezer Changes the World by New Hampshire author and illustrator David McPhail. It’s an inspiring and funny tale of a puppy that has a shocking experience (i.e., gets struck by lightning) and develops some amazing abilities that allow him to have a huge, positive impact on the world.

Imagine our delight when the real David McPhail arrived at the StoryWalk Festival along with Vermont author (and CLiF presenter) Leda Schubert. Both were there to chat with participants and sign books.

David and Leda are also dog lovers and we scored a scratch or two from a real author!  We purchased signed copies of Weezer Changes the World, and Leda’s latest book Monsieur Marceau about the talented mime Marcel Marceau who, among other things, was a member of the French underground in World War II and saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish children. You learn so much reading books.

Many thanks to Anne Ferguson and the StoryWalk Project for including CLiF in Saturday’s colorful and enjoyable event!

How Legos and Barbies Can Help Kids Become Readers

October 5, 2012

By Karen Ruben

If you would like your child to be a great reader, should you give him or her…

1)    A book

2)    A Barbie

3)    A Lego set

4)    A trip to the zoo

5)    All of the above

Well, let’s see.  What are the tools of a really good reader?

A good reader can decode the symbols on a page and make them into words. The more you practice reading, the better you become, so answer one is good.  Give him a book!

But a good reader also needs prior knowledge of the world around him to make sense of the words he has decoded. The more he sees and understands of the physical world the more he can make sense of the imaginary world in books, so answer four is also correct. Give him a trip to the zoo! Or the farm, or the park, or the grocery store even.

But what about answers two and three? Can Barbies and Legos really make better readers?

I think so and here is why.

The other day my daughter’s kindergarten teacher explained to me that the students were beginning their reading program by telling stories. The theory is that a beginning reader will better understand a written story if they are familiar with story structure. They will begin their foray into reading and writing stories by making up stories and telling them to each other.

I have been in a kindergarten classroom enough to know that a lot of those stories will be about how Mommy couldn’t find the car keys and said a bad word or how somebody saw somebody’s underpants (something that I still do not understand is why underpants are funny).

Some of that can be avoided with some really good props. And Legos and Barbies are nothing if not really good props.

The other day I sat and played for hours with two four-year-olds and a huge box of jumbled up Legos. This box has dinosaurs, dragons, sea creatures, space ships, pirates, medieval castles… you name it, it’s in there.

By special request, I was helping them sort out and assemble what looked to me like the Temple of Doom from the Indiana Jones movie. I assumed it looked like that to them as well, but then, ha ha, it turns out they don’t know that story.

These kids took all the parts and made up a whole new story. One where sting rays and dragons mixed it up with explorers and cannibals, space ships landed on the temple and dropped off kittens for the temple pet show, and everyone wore pirate hats.

A lack of prior knowledge was evident here, but rather than explaining cannibals, ancient curses and Hollywood archeology, I rolled with it. And it was fun!  We made up a great story with the help of our jumbled up Lego set.

And we weren’t just goofing off. We were practicing the art of storytelling and building valuable literacy skills.

So, back to our original question: If you want your child to be a great reader, what do you give him or her?

It turns out there are a lot of good answers to that questions, Legos and Barbies included.

I Never Thought I’d Know So Much About Trucks

October 4, 2012

By Suzanne Loring

They say that reading aloud to your child is a great way to start conversations about topics that you might have otherwise avoided, been too uncomfortable to discuss, or that would have never come up otherwise.

It can bring you closer to your child by giving you the opportunity to learn their opinions and see their perspectives on different subjects. As a parent of two boys, I can vouch for the validity of this statement.

In fact, just the other day I found myself in a deep discussion with my oldest son, Tucker, about the workings of the piston on a dump truck. He was explaining it to me in terms that I could understand. He is three.

For about a year now, my knowledge base regarding trucks has grown exponentially. I eat, sleep, and breathe bulldozers and excavators, as well as trucks that, as recently as a year ago, I did not even know existed – like skid steers and feller bunchers. Our conversations at the dinner table revolve around stabilizer legs, sirens, and the differences between excavators and backhoes, which I still can’t quite figure out.

And we read.

We read about trucks everyday. When we go to the library, we get books on trucks. I don’t even have to show Tucker where the nonfiction truck section is anymore. By the time I catch up with him in the children’s room and drop the book bag from my shoulder, he is already there with a truck book in each hand ready to load the bag up. And it doesn’t matter if we’ve read the book before, or if there is an over-abundance of words to a page, because all that matters is that it is a book about trucks.

Our wonderful librarian – God bless him – helped Tucker pick out some fun stories about trucks in addition to the nonfiction ones. He said to me, on the side, “Just so you don’t totally lose your mind.” I thanked him profusely and became ecstatic about reading something to Tucker that had a plot and characters. How refreshing.

The story didn’t matter to Tucker. As long as the book had a tractor or a truck on the front, he was interested.

I know so much about trucks. I read about trucks. I dream about trucks. I step on trucks in my living room. When I am asked by my two-year-old to read a truck book even though I just finished reading it, I say yes, and when he asks me to read it to him five times more that day, I smile and read it. I love to listen to him name them all, no matter how long or challenging the names are. I love to listen to him make his siren sounds when we turn to his favorite truck page, rescue vehicles.

Being almost 40, it is actually fun to be reminded how much you can learn about a new subject on which you previously had very little knowledge just by reading. I tend to find myself being pulled toward the same types of books and interests out of habit. To be honest, trucks are probably not a topic that I would have chosen to delve into if given the choice, but the fact that I can now share this with my son and learn about something that he is interested in while he is learning about it at the same time is pretty cool.

And, apparently, my son’s enthusiasm is wearing off on me. The other day, I found myself driving down the street and I screamed, “Oooh, look! A dump truck!” only to realize that I was the only one in the car.

Here are some recommended stories about trucks when you are feeling too tired to go through the parts of a Big Rig’s engine again:

Otis by Loren Long

The Gobble, Gobble, Mooooo Tractor Book by Jez Alborough

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld

My Truck is Stuck by Kevin Lewis

Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw

Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle

Fire Engine Man by Andrea Zimmerman

Are there any others that you would like to recommend?

Millions to read Ladybug Girl on October 4th!

October 1, 2012

By Karen Ruben

As part of its mission to assure that all children begin school prepared, Jumpstart is sponsoring Read for the Record, an annual celebration of adults and children reading together.

In October 2011, more than two million people participated by reading aloud the classic tale, Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney.

This year, on Thursday, October 4th even more people across the nation will join in the celebration by reading Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad.

This is a wonderful book, well worth buying your own copy if you have small children at home. But you don’t have to buy it to participate, because Jumpstart’s partners, the Pearson Foundation and Penguin Books, have provided a free online copy!

Jumpstart is hoping to set a world record for the most children reading the same book on the same day. Stand up and be counted by pledging to read to a child on October 4th. You must pledge to be counted.

Ladybug Girl has super powers: “I can fly, I’m super-strong, I can save ants, and I can even do a cartwheel!”

We have super powers, too: We can spread the joy of reading a great book to a child and help Jumpstart set a new world record!

For more information, the Pearson Foundation’s description of the event. Please join us – and join the fun!

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