Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Perspective

Along with other fruit trees and plants I have some fig trees and raspberry bushes in my yard. Every year when I pick the ripe fruit I think I've gotten everything, but then look at the tree or bush from a different direction.

Sometimes I bend down, other times I walk back around from a different direction, and sometimes I move branches and leaves aside. When doing that I nearly always see some ripe fruit I've missed.

Now that Christmas has passed it's common for people to look back at the year we've just experienced and start wondering what the next year will bring. Many people made resolutions to accomplish things in 2013 and feel badly if they failed to do everything they had planned.

This year why don't we look at things from a different perspective?

Instead of thinking about what we did or didn't accomplish in 2013 why not look back and think about everything we experienced that we hadn't even guessed would happen back in January?

Instead of making a list of New Year's Resolutions for 2014 let's look at the new year from a different perspective. We can be creative and make a list of the most wonderful things that could possibly happen to us and put that list where we'll be able to see it all year.

Later, if we wish, we can do some practical things to try to make some of our dreams come true, but that's not a requirement.

For right now, lets just imagine what the future might be like if our dreams come true. If we look at 2014 from a new perspective it can be a year of adventure!

What are your dreams for the new year?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


It's Christmas today, so I'm not going to post much. I hope everyone is busy celebrating and won't have time to read blogs today. Anyone who is alone has my sympathy.

Just for fun, here's a cute Christmas picture.
I hope you all have a happy and inspiring day, full of love and joy.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Today is the first day of Winter, otherwise known as the Winter Solstice. This is when the days begin to get longer and the nights shorter and many cultures in history have celebrated that in various ways.

I understand Christmas is celebrated near the Winter Solstice because the Romans had big festivities to celebrate Saturnalia at that time of the year. Since Christianity was illegal, if Christians weren't also celebrating they were likely to be arrested and killed.

Nobody knows exactly when Jesus was born, but I don't think it was at this time of year. It would have been stupid for the emperor to require people all over the Roman Empire to travel long distances in the middle of winter to be taxed. Lots of them would have died on the journeys so there would have been fewer people to demand taxes from.

But, regardless of the actual date, it makes sense to celebrate Christmas at the time of year when more light is coming.

And celebrations of this holiday certainly involve lots of lights.

Speaking of lights, this is a good time to check the ones on cars. I've seen quite a few on the roads with one head-light or tail-light out and that could be dangerous, especially when so many people are driving long distances to celebrate the holidays.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Traditions

When I was a kid every Christmas Eve our family would sing carols from a book illustrated by Fern Bisel Peat. The carols were interspersed with verses about the birth of Christ from the King James Bible and our mother would read those aloud to us.

I still have that big, blue songbook with the lovely illustrations, although it's showing signs of age. (Of course, so am I.)

After we were finished singing our mother would read us The Night Before Christmas, we'd hang our stockings on a bookcase (we didn't have a fireplace) and go to bed wondering what Santa Claus would bring.

The next morning we'd awake early and find the full stockings tied to the foot of our bed to keep us occupied for a while so the grown-ups could sleep a while longer.

After opening the presents under the tree, eating brunch, and playing with our new toys for a while we'd put on some new clothes and take off for the long drive to our cousins' house. There we'd join lots of other relatives for dinner and even more gifts.

Finally we'd drive home and go to bed wearing the new pajamas one aunt always gave us. That night we'd fall asleep right away.

What Christmas traditions did your family have when you were a kid?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Helping Each Other

I don't usually blog about my own books or publicity for them, but I want to mention an event that's a special one because it's about people helping each other.

There's a new business in Grass Valley, CA called The Hub. Most people haven't heard of it yet, and the location is difficult to see from nearby roads.

On Saturday the owner will be hosting me at a book signing for Secret Service Saint, a book for kids which was published several years ago.

Hopefully the signing will help me sell more books and also help more people become aware of the new business in their community.

Since the book is about Saint Nicholas, who discovered the joy of helping others, I hope kids who read the book will want to do that, too.

We see lots of bad stuff in the news, but people help each other all the time. For instance, just this week a neighbor cleared the snow from my driveway and someone else dug out my car when it got stuck in the snow. 

Let's try to focus more on the good things instead of the bad.

Has anyone helped you lately?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Book Signing

This morning I'm signing books with another author, Penelope Cole, at the Sacramento Downtown Plaza. What fun!

We have a table near Santa Claus and will read from our books and pass out some free gifts to kids who come to see us and Santa from 11:00 a.m to 1:00 p.m..

One of my books, Secret Service Saint, is about Saint Nicholas so it's especially appropriate for the occasion.

I hope to get some good photos and will post them on my Facebook page, Janet Ann Collins, Author, afterwards.

There's almost never snow in Sacramento - it rarely snows in California's Central Valley except for places farther north. But there is snow - the first of the season - and quite a bit in the Sierra Foothills where I live.  That's so appropriate for this Christmas event!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Why do people give gifts at Christmas and Hanukah?

Partly because gifts are a way to show love.

Over 15 years ago a book by Gary Chapman was published that talked about five "love languages," or ways to show affection, and giving gifts is one of those.

But that's not the only reason we give things.

Sometimes it's a status symbol to be able to afford expensive presents for others.

Sometimes people give presents because they feel guilty or want to make someone else like them.

And sometimes people give simply because that's expected in our culture and we've always done it that way.

However I'm one of the givers in the first category. Giving is one of the ways I show love. So if you get a Christmas present from me you can be sure you're someone I care about.

Unfortunately I can't afford to buy presents for everyone I do care about, but I hope all my friends have a wonderful holiday season and remember to focus on love.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks

 Like nearly everyone else who blogs, I'm mentioning giving thanks in today's blog post, but with a slight difference.  I'd like to share something I posted several years ago in September about some incidents I experienced. I hope reading that post will inspire others as remembering what happened still inspires me.

Here's the link:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Count One, Two, Three With Me

This picture book by Connie Arnold is a cute way to teach young kids how to count. Children will enjoy seeing everything from animals to things in their daily lives in the examples of things to count.

The illustrations by Ginger Nielson capture the feeling of the words perfectly.

This book is a good one for preschoolers.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Spotless Cow

I'm participating in a blog tour for a book called Mary Elizabet the Spotless Cow.

Here's the information about the book:

About the book:
The story of "Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow" takes us on the journey she travels to figure out how to get the cows at a new farm to like and accept her.
While she hopes to find friendship at her new home, instead she learns what it means to be different from everyone else. (Spotless!) Mary Elizabeth uses clever ideas and a sense of humor to help her on her quest for friends at the new farm.
This inspiring tale shows how perseverance in spite of obstacles, using a sound thought process to arrive at solutions and the importance of having fun, using humor and enjoying playtime can build friendships.
When you buy this book, 50% of net proceeds go to Phoenix Children’s Hospital Child Life Program to make a difference in the lives of children with critical and life threatening illnesses.
Once upon a time........there was a farm in Ohio with lots of Cows. They all had many spots to be proud of. One day a truck pulled into the farm. The back door opened and out came a new Cow. The other Cows were so excited to have a new friend!
But as the new Cow came out of the truck the other Cows looked on in shock!!! "Oh My!’’ ’’What on Earth?!"
It seems the new Cow, whose name was Mary Elizabeth, had no spots!
’’Where are your spots??!!’’ Demanded the Cow called Anna Belle. ’’I don’t have any spots. I was born spotless, you see.’’
Well, Anna Belle and the other Cows were horrified.
(Not mad, you had to be very careful about mad)
Watch the trailer:
Purchasing information: From now through December 31, 2013, you can purchase Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow from the Sweetles website for only $12.00 (List price: $17.99).
When you buy this book, 50% of net proceeds go to Phoenix Children’s Hospital Child Life Program. Visit for more information.
Rafflecopter code for those participating in $25 Amazon gift card giveaway from November 4 – December 10, 2013:
About the author:
Sal is the author and illustrator of “A Sweetles Dream”® book series. As the Creative Director for Hartman-Barbera llc, a family media & entertainment company, he is also an animator, sculptor, painter and all around fun guy. Sal lives the phrase: “A day without laughter is a wasted day”. To that end, he uses his writing, illustrating and animation skills to create endearing characters and comedic stories.
Sal's sense of humor and empathy for his characters explore personal and social situations in ways that makes it enjoyable for both adults and children to experience together. Born in New York City, Sal moved to North Bergen, NJ where he grew up on a steep hillside neighborhood with his four older sisters. He currently lives in sunny Arizona with his wife and artistic partner, Sheri, who he defines as his inspiration. On any given day Sal might be painting, sculpting, drawing, animating, writing or enjoying one of his favorite pastimes: cooking, television, movies and golf.
Visit Sal Barbera’s website at

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Groups, etc.

Here are some links to sites I've seen lately about special needs:

Anyone who cares for or about kids with special needs is invited to the Facebook group, Special Kid Carers.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I'm Baaack!

I hadn't posted anything on this blog for a long time, but have decided to start blogging here again. Anyone who knows me knows I care about people with Special Needs and I even started a Facebook group for folks who care for or about children who have those. The name of the group is Special Kid Carers.

I may not post here regularly, but hope I can get whatever I do write here to show up on my social networking sites. If that works you'll be hearing from me soon.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Different Dream Parenting

Having raised foster kids with special needs and worked with many others in schools, I know quite a bit about the subject of parenting them. Without doubt Different Dream Parenting; A Practical Guide to Raising a Child with Special Needs by Jolene Philo is the most helpful book on the topic I've ever seen. It's loaded with practical advice and resources for every stage of the lives of special kids from birth to adulthood and even includes a section about coping with death of a special child. The author tells of her own experience and quotes many other parents who have children with special needs.
The book has a strong Christian message, but even readers who are not religious will find the vast collection of helpful information worth the purchase price.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Acceptance Plus

There has always been a problem with people accepting others who have special needs. For years many of them were shut away in institutions or kept at home. But here's a story that shows how one person with Down's Syndrome was more than accepted. I hope you find it inspiring.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blind Sided

When I started reading the book Thad Nodine sent me for review I didn't think I would like it because the first chapters contained too much erotic description for my taste. But I was soon swept into the plot, which became more and more exciting as the story unfolded and the characters must deal with a natural disaster. (No spoiler here -- you'll have to read it to find out more.)
Perhaps you wonder why I'm reviewing Touch And Go on this blog about special needs. It's because the main character is blind - not just legally, but totally, and the book lets readers understand what blindness is like. The author has several people in his family who are blind, so he knows what he's writing about.
Everything in the novel is told from hthat character's point of 'view' and is totally believable. I felt like I was actually experiencing things as he described them.
But the book is more about relationships and trust than blindness, and that condition is only part of what makes Kevin seem real.
Some readers would be offended by the language characters use, but if that sort of thing doesn't bother you, this book would be a good choice to read.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Helper

Here's a link to a blog post about someone with special needs who helps others.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Autism Help?

Last night I met someone at a writers' group who told me his autistic son has improved amazingly since he has been on a special diet. Apparently people with autism digest foods, especially dairy and gluten, differently that other people do. Here's a link that man gave me to a website with information about many studies about that:

Saturday, August 27, 2011


A friend recently loaned me a book, Unlocked, by Karen Kingsbury, about a kid with autism because she knew I cared about the condition, having raised an autistic foster son. I greatly enjoyed reading it.
In my opinion, the book is most appropriate for Young Adults since the main characters are teenagers. Since it's a Christian one there's nothing offensive in it. But anyone dealing with autism will probably want to read it.
Unfortunately only a few few autistic kids are at the same place on the Autism Spectrum as Holden, the character who is helped greatly by music. But the primary focus is on the main character, Ella, who is one of the popular kids but decides to stand up for Holden in spite of what other kids think. I wish all teenagers would read it since they tend to make many bad choices because of valuing popularity.
The book is well written - I couldn't put it down - and I think it will make a difference in the world by helping "normal" people understand those who are different from themselves.

The Other Blog

I didn't post anything here this morning, but I did post something on my recently re-activated other blog about Special Needs. If you'd like to see it the URL is

Saturday, November 16, 2013

It's Almost Time

Hurry! There are only about six weeks to go!

Hurry about what? No, this isn't some special offer to get you to spend money. It's a reminder that the year is almost coming to an end and lots of us haven't fulfilled the New Year's Resolutions we made back in January.

To tell the truth, I can't even remember what resolutions I made, if there were any.

Lots of people - maybe even most people - don't actually accomplish what they vowed to do at the beginning of a year, but, at least for some of us, it might not be too late. We have a little more than six weeks to go before the end of 2013 and the beginning of the next new year. That means some resolutions can still be completed.

What about you?

Did you resolve to do something in 2013?

If so, what was it?

Did you keep your resolution?

If not, do you think you still might be able to do so before the end of the year?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Bad Mad Sad Day for Mama Bear

Did you ever have one of those days when everything seems to go wrong? Well, it probably can't compare with the problems Mama Bear experiences in this book.

A Bad Mad Sad Day for Mama Bear is filled with one disaster after another. And Little Bear keeps trying to help but his efforts don't work until the end of the book when he does something that makes his mother realize the love she shares with her cub is more important than all the bad things.

The colorful and amusing illustrations by K.C. Snider capture the feeling of each scene perfectly.

I think lots of children will want to hear this book read to them over and over again.

The author, Mayra Calvani has done a good job telling a story that will help kids focus on what is really important in life. And maybe parents who read the book to their children will be helped even more.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Little Shepherd

Although Thanksgiving isn't here yet, stores are already full of Christmas things and many people (like me) have already begun Christmas shopping.

The book, Little Shepherd, by Cheryl Malandrinos would make a good gift for kids. It's a retelling of the Christmas story from the point of view of a young boy.
I especially like the illustrations by Eugene Ruble, who also illustrated my Christmas book, Secret Service Saint.

Here's more information about Little Shepherd:
Obed is in the hills outside Bethlehem when the angels appear to announce the Savior's birth. Can he trust that the miracle of the first Christmas will keep his flock safe while he visits the newborn King?
Off in the distance, a wolf howled. Obed moved closer to his flock, scanning the hills for any sign of a pack that might race in and steal his sheep. His family depended upon the sheep for food and their wool for clothing. No sheep would be lost under his watch.

He shivered inside his cloak. While the days were getting warmer, the nights still chilled him. He walked over to the large fire blazing inside the pit. He rubbed his hands together and held them up to the fire to warm them.

Above him, the sky twinkled with millions of stars. Obed couldn’t remember a night so clear.

Suddenly, a bright light filled the sky.

Obed trembled. “Father, what is happening?”

It's available at"

Guardian Angel Publishing

About the author:
Cheryl Malandrinos is a freelance writer, children’s author and editor. Her first children’s book, Little Shepherd, was released in August 2010 by Guardian Angel Publishing. She is a member of the SCBWI, a book reviewer, and blogger. Cheryl also writes under the name of C. C. Gevry. Ms. Malandrinos lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and two children. She also has a son who is married.
Visit Cheryl online at and the Little Shepherd book blog at

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Blogging About Blogs

Many years ago when I started this blog I also started another one about Special Needs because that's something I've always cared about. However almost nobody looked at that page or followed it, so I gave it up.

But I've decided to start blogging there again even though I may not post things every week. I'll try to link it to my Facebook pages so posts will show up there and many of my Facebook friends do care about the subject.

Since I'm a techno-idiot it may take me a few days to get the other blog going again and connected to Facebook, but it should be working soon and I hope to post something there on Monday. If anyone wants to see the things I posted in the past the URL is

Of course I'll still be blogging here twice a week about words, books, and kids.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


I've always been interested in languages. Maybe that's partly because when I was five years old my family moved from the East Coast to California and I was surprised by the difference in dialects.

As a kid I intended to learn all the languages in the world but, for some strange reason, that didn't happen. However I did take Latin and German in High School and French in college because English is related to those three languages.

I've forgotten most of the Latin, but using English words of Latin derivation has helped me communicate with people who speak Spanish.

A family from Germany with little kids moved in next door to us the week I began studying German. I actually used that language, so I remember it better than the other ones I took in school.

My French professor was from Quebec. At that time people in Canada were trying to get French accepted as an official language, so that's probably why she told us over and over again that French was the best language in the world and much better than English. I knew no language was better than  others, so I pretty much flushed French out of my brain after passing the tests in her class.

As an adult I learned American Sign Language and became fluent in that one because I've actually used it to communicate with Deaf people for many years.

And I've even learned some dog language from a deaf dalmatian we once had. I wrote about that dog in a story published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I Can't Believe My Dog Did That.

I still wish I could learn every language in the world, but don't have the time or energy to study even one more. Oh, well, I guess I know enough to get by.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

More About Captain Courage

About a year ago I blogged about a book called Captain Courage and the Fear Squishing Shoes. Today I want to tell you about a new book by the same author, Stacey A. Marshall. This book, a sequell to the first one, is called Captain Courage and the World's Most Shocking Secret.

What is that secret? Well, it won't spoil the book if I tell you. Captain Courage, who is a school principal in his other identity, gets stage fright!

What?? How can a superhero have a problem like that?

Well, you'll have to read the book to find out and to learn what can be done about it.

Like the previous book, this one will be helpful to kids who need to learn how to deal with fear. And even brave kids will enjoy reading it.

Perhaps some of them will wonder what would happen if their own school principal turned out to be a superhero. (Speaking as a teacher, I suspect some principals actually are.)

Michelle Morse did a good job with the colorful illustrations, too.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Signings

I've heard many times at writers' conferences that book signings are no longer good ways to sell books, and that might be accurate. I've had two signings lately and didn't sell huge numbers of books at either one, but I still think my time was well spent.

I got to meet dozens of nice people at both signings, spent time with other writers at the group one last Saturday, and had fun at both events.

The photos below show my tables as they were set up in advance.

The first photo shows the one at the Prospector's Nursery in Nevada City, CA. The staff there was friendly and helpful, including bringing out some live worms for the kids to handle since the book I was offering there, Slime & All, is about a giant talking worm. The worms were in the black compost bin next to the table and in the dish on the table.

 The second book signing was at the Art Center in Auburn, CA where I was one of a dozen authors who belong to the Gold Country Writers. We all dressed up to fit the Halloween theme and I had all my books available there.
I hope to do lots more book signings in the future.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Prisoner 88

Lots of historical fiction books for kids have been written, but Prisoner 88 is unique. It's the story of a boy in the 1880s who is arrested and put in a penitentiary.

Jake was trying to protect his father when he shot a man, but is convicted anyway, and sent off to a life without freedom that is full of hard labor and bullying. Sounds depressing, doesn't it?

But this book isn't depressing at all.

Jake manages to establish some positive relationships, face his fears, and endure his life in prison and his character develops as a result.

I don't want to give away any more about the plot, but I will say Prisoner 88 is well written, believable, and we really care about the characters.

While everything in the plot is wrapped up at the conclusion of the book, I'd like to know what happens to Jake after this story is over and hope Leah Pileggi will write a sequel.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Just Curious

When I was a kid public schools in California could celebrate Christmas as long as they only talked about Santa Claus and not the birth of Jesus. My Jewish classmates were often sad because Santa never brought them presents even though they tried to be good. That wasn't okay.

In many public schools today Christmas and other religious holidays are no longer celebrated, partly because of the Separation of Church and State, and partly to avoid offending people.

But one religious holiday is usually celebrated: Halloween.

What? How can that be a religious holiday? Well, it is in the religion called Wicca. While only a small percentage of people in the US belong to that religion, schools stopped sharing "fairy tales" that refer to a "wicked witch" to avoid offending people who believe in that religion. So, why is Halloween still celebrated in the public schools?

Probably because nobody has complained about it yet. If even one parent complains a religious celebration can't be observed in the California schools.

But if we eliminate all religious celebrations we'll be eliminating a lot of fun.

I wish our public schools would allow kids to learn about various religions and cultures without encouraging them to change or question their own families' beliefs. And the kids should have fun doing that.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book Signings

I'm excited to be doing two book signings close together for books that have been out for a while.

Today I'm at the Prospector's Nursery in Grass Valley, CA signing copies of Slime & All. Since the book is about a giant worm they thought it would be appropriate to have me come in during their children's event and there are some real earthworms for the kids to handle and look at through a magnifying glass. Of course the real worms arent giants and don't talk like the one in the book does.

Next weekend I'll be participating in the Fall Book Affair with the Gold Country Writers at the Arts Building in Auburn, CA with eleven other authors. That event will have a Halloween theme and we'll be giving out free candy. 

I'll be in the section of people who write for kids even though I'll also have one book for adults available. It's the Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I Can't Believe My Dog Did That and contains one story by me.

My kids' books are The Peril of the Sinister Scientist, Secret Service Saint, Signs of Trouble, and Slime & All. I'll also have a workbook for kids called Book Places available.

It's always fun to do book signings and spend time with people of all ages who enjoy reading. If anyone reading this lives nearby I hope you'll drop by.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


What a fun book! John David Anderson wrote a middle grade novel with all the good stuff: characters we care about, scary evil they must fight, relationships that have problems, and an ending that's hard to predict.

Sidekicked is about Andrew Bean, a boy with unusual powers who has an ordinary life while secretly training to become the helper, aka sidekick, of a super hero.

Like the Harry Potter books, a lot of the story takes place in a school setting so kids can identify with it, but the powers these characters have aren't magic and the plot is entirely different from those in that other series. And this book is funny as well as exciting.

I could go on and on about why I like this book, but instead I'll just say, for kids who love action and adventure it's a must read.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Average No More

I used to be as average as it's possible to get.

I was middle aged, average height and weight with mousey brown hair, neither beautiful nor hideous. I was married with two-and-a-half children. (At least that was true statistically since we had one birth child and three foster kids and one plus three halves =2 1/2.)

We were middle income and lived in a medium sized, middle class community in Central California.

But all that has changed.

Now I'm government certified old (in other words I get Social Security,) my hair is turning grey, my kids are all grown and gone, my income is lower, and when my husband retired we moved a small town in Northern California.

But, you know what? I'm still the same person on the inside.

It's so easy to judge people on the basis of how they look, where they live, and how much money they have but none of those things really matter. Everybody knows we shouldn't judge others on the basis of things like race, national origin, or if they have special needs or not, but our society still focuses on things like status symbols to determine people's...well, status.

In many ways our current culture in the USA reminds me of just before the fall of the Roman Empire.

There are millions of people here and in the rest of the world who may not be average or rich, but it's just as wrong to be prejudiced against people who are rich or average, as it is to be prejudiced against people who aren't either of those things. 

It's what's inside each of us that counts. Maybe if we all try to see past the things on the outside and really get to know each other we can help make the world a better place one relationship at a time.

And, yes, maybe I am more optimistic than average. But it can't hurt to try.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Rantasy

Once Upon a Time, not far away there was a land governed by a bunch of spoiled brats. They constantly quarrelled and refused to cooperate. All of them insisted that things be done their way or not at all, so the country had great problems.

The people voted them out of office and elected - another bunch of spoiled brats who were just as quarrelsome and uncooperative as the first bunch.

Finally the citizens got a brilliant idea and at the next election they chose a preschool teachers to run the country.

The preschool teachers knew all about things like cooperating, listening, and taking turns. They even got everyone in the country to share and share alike so the problems were solved and they all lived happily ever after.

The End.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Why Teach Reading?

Anyone who reads my blog posts knows I often review books for kids. Why do I think those matter?

Because they open kids' imaginations and involve their intelligence and imagination.

In our modern world where so much is done by texting, Skype, and other visual media it would be easy to think only minimal reading will be important for future generations.

That's wrong!

Nobody will ever know how much the world has been influenced by the things people in the past read that shaped their minds and attitudes.

I could go on all day about how wonderful books are, and how important, but that's enough ranting for now.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Learning to Read

When I was a kid parents were told they shouldn't try to teach their kids to read because they'd probably do it wrong and the kids would have to unlearn what they'd been taught before they could "really" learn to read. My parents did teach me to write my name and the alphabet when I was a little kid, but they "knew better" than to try to teach me more than that.

Because because most mothers stayed home only some rich kids went to "nursery school," which was just about playing together and not academic anyway.

Kindergartens didn't teach reading and writing either. Instead those students learned things like how to get along with others, take turns, stand in line, raise their hands and wait to be called on, and play games, etc.

So, like most people my age, I learned to read in First Grade. When I started second grade I was one of several kids in my class reading at Fifth Grade level.

How did that happen?

Our first grade teacher was newly graduated from teacher college and there were 42 kids in our class, half of whom hadn't gone to Kindergarten. Since half the class wasn't learning from the sight reading method used at that time, she had them chant the letter sounds over and over again while the rest of us worked at our desks on other subjects. Somehow hearing the letter sounds in the background made them sink into our minds.

As a teacher I once tried playing phonics records and tapes while my preschool students fell asleep at nap time, and some of them spontaneously started to read even though the only academic teaching I did was to point to the words as I read them big books and tell them the sound of one alphabet letter each day. (Kids become ready to learn at different ages and I don't believe in trying to push academics on little ones who may not be ready.)

Of course another thing that had helped me and the others in our First Grade class learn to read well was that our parents had read to us every night from the time we were toddlers.

Years ago I read about a scientific study seeking to discover which method of teaching reading worked best. They questioned the highest functioning students at the most respected universities in America and discovered the only thing they had in common was that their parents had read to them every night when they were little kids. Of course maybe more intelligent parents were more likely to do that and the students had inherited the ability to learn easily.

However I'm sure the fact that I read picture books to my preschool students every day did help the ones who were ready to learn.

If you're a good reader as an adult do you think either background phonics or being read to as a young child was a factor in helping you learn to read?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Wish Stealers

In Wish Stealers Tracy Trivas has written an original fantasy about Griffin, a girl given a box of magic pennies by a sinister old crone.

Unlike most fantasies, this one takes place in the ordinary world of a middle school student who must deal with nasty, popular classmates, difficult assignments, and boys, as well as some family problems.

And, unlike most magic pennies, the ones in the box give the person who possesses them a curse that makes the opposite of her good wishes come true. However any bad wishes do happen.

As she struggles to cope with her curse Griffin tries to do good things, but that isn't easy because of the great tempting power of the magic pennies.

Will she become evil?

The Wish Stealers is an exciting story that keeps readers turning pages to find out what happens. And it may encourage them to choose good instead of evil.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Taconi & Claude

In Taconi and Claude the author, M. E. Finke, does an amazing job of carrying the reader into a different culture. The story is exciting, too.

Taconi is an aboriginal boy who lives in the Australian Outback in the 1950s. He's torn between two cultures since his father brought him along when he went to work on a homestead cattle station. (In America we'd call that a ranch. )

Taconi's father, who left the tribal grounds because of a conflict, badly needs the job of cook on the homestead and Taconi wants to help him get it. But the boy knows he must also experience the secret and scary tribal ceremony that will make him a man in the eyes of his father and tribe.

Can he find a blue kingfisher feather that will give him the luck he needs?

All through the book Taconi is accompanied by Claude, a cockatoo who always has the appropriate words for every situation. Like parrots, cockatoos can talk, but Claude's ability is both amazing and amusing.

Readers from nine to 14 years old will enjoy the story and learn about Australian culture and history at the same time.

Except for the extreme linguistic abilities of the bird, everything in the book seems realistic. The author includes Aussie jargon and describes the natural world, aboriginal culture, and life on the homestead in the 1950s naturally as the plot moves along.

I think this book is a winner.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Escaping the Tiger

Vonlai is only 12 years old when he and his family must escape the communists ruling Laos by fleeing to a refugee camp in Thailand.  But will they ever be able to leave the miserable camp and relocate to a free country?

In Escaping the Tiger Laura Manivong has written a realistic novel based on the actual experiences of her husband.

This book let me almost experience some history and culture I'd never known much about before, so it will be educational to young readers. But they'll enjoy it more for the dramatic portrayal of experiences the realistic characters had.

While the book shows a lot of bad things happening, there are also positive things like the believable relationships between the characters, who never quite give up hope.

This is an exciting, touching, and well written novel for Middle Grade kids.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Changing Words

It's so strange the way words referring to certain groups of people keep changing. We used to call people handicapped, which is sort of flattering because the best players in golf get handicaps. But that term, along with the terms "crippled" and "disabled," became considered offensive, so now we say "People with Special Needs"

And racial terms were changed in similar ways.

When calling people "black" became considered insulting the term derived from Latin meaning the same thing was used, but now it's no longer acceptable. (Of course there were derogatory variations of both those words.) Today "African American" is considered the polite terminology, but it offends people with dark skin who don't have African ancestry, such as those from India. And what should we call people who do have African ancestry, but don't live in America?

But there's nothing offensive about calling people "healthy" and nobody objects to calling people "white," even though even albinos have pale pink skin and other "white" people have skin in varying shades of pink and beige. (Of course they're not considered "people of color" by some folks of other races.)

People only get offended by terms if they assume what the words refer to is something to be ashamed of.

It may not be easy to have physical limitations, but there's nothing shameful about being a person who has one. And it's time we got over thinking that belonging to certain races is something to be ashamed of. When we all get over our prejudices then we can stop changing our vocabulary.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Great Gobs of Gustation

Okay, you may be wondering what "gustation" means. It's the ability or process of tasting. And Bill Kirk's new book in his The Sum of Our Parts series is an especially delicious one.
Great Gobs of Gustation is the eighth one in the series. It's all about our sense of taste.  The book is for kids and I'm a grown-up (at least on the outside) but it taught me lots of information I never knew before.

As in the other books in the series, the scientific information is presented in an amusing way with lots of rhymes. The amusing illustrations by Eugene Ruble add to the fun of reading it.

While the book is intended for Middle Grade kids, ages eight to thirteen, it's not very long and the rhymes could be read aloud to younger children.

In my opinion every school should have all the books in Kirk's The Sum of Our Parts series in its library because they'll teach kids a lot about human bodies and even reluctant readers will find them interesting. The scientific vocabulary is a bit difficult for kids who can't read well, though.

 I've reviewed several of his other books in the series on this blog before and you can see those posts here:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wide-Awake Princess

I love books that take something familiar and put a different spin on it. The Wide-Awake Princess by E.D. Baker does that in a charming way.

This middle-grade novel is about the sister of Sleeping Beauty. She is immune to magic and goes on an adventure to find the prince who can awaken her sister and everyone else in the palace after they've been cursed to sleep for 100 years.

On her journey Princess Annie gets involved with other fairy tale characters and situations, all of which vary from the originals. And she has a lot of other adventurous encounters, too.

In spite of the familiarities, this book is completely original, creative and full of surprises. And the author has written of other magical books besides this one.

The book has some questions at the end that could be used for discussion or as writing prompts so it  could be used for educational purposes. However reading it is just, plain fun.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Clocks, Then and Now

Thousands of years ago people only judged the time by the position of the sun. It was either morning, noon, afternoon, evening or night. Hours, seconds, and minutes hadn't been invented yet.

Then someone invented sundials.

Later, for centuries, church bells in urban areas let people know the hours.

Eventually huge clocks that had to be wound up with keys stood in the hallways of mansions and chimed every hour, but poor people couldn't afford those.

Then smaller clocks appeared on mantels in homes and most men had pocket watches.

Wrist watches and alarm clocks were even later inventions.

But all those things had to be wound up every 24 hours or they'd slow down and stop.

Today we have wrist watches that run on batteries and our alarm clocks are electric. We can tell the time by looking at our stoves, microwaves, computers, and cellphones as well as clocks that hang on our walls or sit on shelves and bedside tables. Some of those set themselves automatically when moved to a different time zone or when Daylight Savings Time begins or ends.

However if there should be a major storm or disaster and the electric power was out for a long time, we're likely to be in trouble. While our electric clocks may have battery back-up, those batteries  and the ones in our watches would eventually run out of power. And signals to our cellphones won't work if the towers that send them can't get electricity.

It would take some major adjustments for us to dig out those old, wind-up clocks and watches or even go back to depending on the sun to tell what time it is. But that might not be a completely bad thing. Clocks run on electricity and they run our lives. Maybe we could all use a break from that.

Anyone want time out?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

All One Family

I've blogged about my strange and extremely extended family before. (If interested you can see those posts here:
and here:  )

But there's something I've neglected to say: If I can love relatives who have different religious and political views and/or live thousands of miles away so I rarely or never see them, why can't we realize that all human beings are one family and learn to love each other? I'm tired of hearing about wars and rumors of war, people starving or being forced into slavery, and racial or religious prejudices. It's time to stop those things.

Thousands of years ago when humans encountered people who were different from themselves it was usually because the strangers were coming to take their territory and possessions. But, come on, we're not primitive people anymore. Isn't it time we realized we really are all one family? Why can't we learn to get along with each other?

Okay, that's my idealistic vent for the day.