reluctant reader

Are Smart Phones,Video Games and Television Rotting Your Kids’ Brain?


By Lisa Dalesandro, author of the book “Raise a Reader:25 Effective Things to Get Kids Reading.”      

     Has this massive growth in media consumption actually changed the way our children’s brains are wired?  Unfortunately, the research is starting to confirm this frightening prospect might actually be true.  And not in a good way.

     Jane Healy author of a fascinating book that looks at brain science, the media and our children entitled Endangered Minds: Why Children Can’t Think — And What We Can Do About It is concerned about the effects of television, smart phones and video games on our kids’ brains.  She contends that these components of popular culture are compromising our children’s ability to concentrate and to absorb and analyze information. 

     Drawing on neuropsychological (brain) research she contends that even supposedly educational shows like “Sesame Street” develop “habits of the mind” that place children at a disadvantage in school.

     It is no coincidence, Healy suggests, that alongside the advent of television and computer games, there has been a drastic increase in the numberof children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.  As children grow, they have a very distinct developmental need. 

     She states,”Neuroscience suggests strongly that if the child’s developmental need during these periods are not met, we may actually close down some of those developmental windows.”  

     She goes on to speculate on the cultural causes behind this change.

     And though “certain brains have constitutional difficulty in paying attention our culture is not helping those brains develop strategies for attention and may be pushing some kids off the deep-end who wouldn’t be there otherwise.  Outside of school, many of our students are not partaking in those critical activities that stretch and deepen their brains. Instead, they often gravitate to those behaviors that offer instant gratification.” 

     As a result, many children are literally starving the lobes of the prefrontal cortex of their brains, a starvation Healy characterizes as “frightening.”

     Frightening indeed.

     The media floodgate has clearly opened over the last few decades.  Gone are the days where computers, smart phones, iPads, and video games do not exist. 

     With all this information in mind, it seems clear that a wise parent would put some strict limits on the amount of time and usage their kids get when it comes to electronics.  In fact, their growing brains may depend upon it.

     Here’s five things a concerned parent can do.

1. Set limits.  Limit the amount of time your child has access to TV, video games, and smart phones.  Research shows that up to 10 TV-hours a week, that’s less than an hour and a half a day, has no impact on children’s grades but beyond that the grades decline.

2. Bedrooms.  Don’t let your child have a television in their room.  And I would strongly encourage you to keep the computer out of their room as well.  As they get older, this may become more and more difficult but many internet safety experts advocate keeping any computer that children use that has internet access in a public area of your home.  That way you can keep an eye on what your child is both watching on television and what is popping up on that computer screen.

3. Meal time limits.  No television during meal time.  No phones at the table either.  That no-cell-phone rule sometimes proves harder for the parents to adhere to than the kids if you feel like you need to keep checking texts and emails from work. 

4. Daycares and schools.  If you have toddlers and/or preschool aged children, select a day-care that strictly limits television and other forms of electronics. 

5. Set a good example.  You can’t expect your kids to limit electronic use if you’re constantly on your laptop or cell phone at home.  Children will mirror your behavior. 


Ten Ways to Encourage Reading this Summer


By Lisa Dalesandro/@abookmama
Author of “Raise a Reader: 25 Effective Ways to Get Kids Reading”

Summer Reading Programs

It’s estimated that school summer breaks will cause the average student to lose up to one month of learning, with disadvantaged students being even more greatly affected losing up to three months of reading progress. 

That loss has a cumulative, long-term effect.  However, the good news is that reading just four books can prevent summer reading loss.

Here are 10 easy ways to help get your four books in over the summer.

Take books with you.   Toss books in a bag and bring them with you everywhere you go; to the doctor’s office, on picnics, on road trips, etc.  Pack books in your beach bag or picnic basket.  Bring a stack on long car rides.

Visit the library and bookstores.  Many local libraries and stores run summer reading programs that kids can participate in.  You might also consider an online source like the or who have run great summer programs in the past.

Be a reader and writer yourself. When you spend time reading books on the beach or even directions for how to put together the grill this summer, you demonstrate to your child that reading is both fun and useful.

Set aside a consistent time each day for reading. Summer day schedules are different from school day schedules so figure out the best time to plan a little reading every day.  Depending on your family’s schedule, reading time might be in the morning, afternoon, or before bed. Whatever time you choose, stick to it.  Flexibility around trips and special family events is okay.

Read aloud to your kids. As school-aged children become better readers, parents often stop reading aloud to them. However, by reading more difficult books aloud to your reader, you help them learn new vocabulary words, concepts, and ways of telling stories or presenting information.  It helps build vocabulary and listening comprehension skills.  As you’re reading aloud, be sure to interact with your child by asking what she thinks might happen next, what a certain character is likely to do, whether the story is real or make-believe. Above all, have fun.

Connect book choices to summer activities. Get books about camping before or after a camping trip.  Books on baseball before a baseball game. When you read and discuss books about things your child has experienced, you extend their understanding of their experiences.

Allow your child to choose fun books for summer reading. While it is important for your child to complete reading required by their school, it is equally important for them to read about topics that interest them, whether it is fairies, dragons, or a favorite detective series.

Don’t limit summer reading to only books. Encourage your child to read the sports page to check up on her favorite baseball team or to read children’s magazines such as Ranger Rick, National Geographic Kids, and American Girl Magazine.

Read a book and watch the video together. When you finish reading and viewing, discuss the similarities and differences and talk about which version you prefer.  For example, read Harry Potter, then screen the video.

Encourage your child to write during the summer. From writing postcards to friends and relatives to keeping a journal while on a trip, summer presents unique ways for your child to write about their own experiences. Have your child pack a disposable camera on vacations or day trips and help them create a book about their experiences.

For more great ideas and information of reading check out the book Raise a Reader: 25 Effective Ways to Get Kids Reading” 

Avoid the Summer Reading Slide


By Lisa Dalesandro/@abookmama
Author of “Raise a Reader: 25 Effective Ways to Get Kids Reading”

There’s an old axiom in education that goes — you get dumber in the summer.

            Yes, our kids are busy.  Many have crazy schedules with school, sports, music, etc.  Then along comes summer break and many parents think — whew, the poor darlings need some down time.  

            If you have a child who is struggling with reading or any subject in school, you may be even more tempted to give all those tedious school related activities a rest for summer’s three short months.

            However research shows that children who don’t read or continue with their education in some way actually lose knowledge over the summer.   It’s estimated that school summer breaks will cause the average student to lose up to one month of instruction, with disadvantaged students being even more greatly affected losing up to three months of reading progress.  That loss has a cumulative, long-term effect.

            As they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

            In 2009, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described summer learning loss as “devastating.”  Educators refer to it as the “summer slide.”  And, no, they aren’t talking about a trip to the water park or that long yellow plastic thing that gets spread out over your lawn.    

            This “summer slide” or “summer setback” gets worse as the years go by.  Those precious few months of loss in reading skills compounds over the years so by the time a child reaches middle school, those who haven’t read during the previous summers may have lost as much as two years worth of achievement.

            As luck would have it, it turns out that independent reading is perhaps the most effective way to combat any loss over the summer.  A study of 1600 sixth-graders in eighteen schools showed that the reading of four to six books during the summer was enough to alleviate the summer loss.  There is also evidence to indicate this summer reading helps improved spelling, vocabulary and grammar.

            As the summer grows near, make sure your child finds at least four good books to read and they will likely avoid any summer reading loss. 


The Book Mama’s First Interview!

Kids Literacy

I was recently contacted by writer Kerry Luksic (Life Lessons from a Baker’s Dozen) who interviewed little old me for the site Parents’ Guide News on the subject of how to encourage kids to become strong readers.  

The article entitled “How to Help Kids Get on the Book Bandwagon” came out this week on  It’s filled with all sorts of  tips and suggestions on how to encourage a love of reading.  

We discussed why reading aloud is important, what sort of books kids should be reading and specific behaviors that parents can exhibit in order to encourage a love of reading.   Check it out at:

Thanks Kerry!

“I Spy Fly Guy” by Tedd Arnold

“I Spy Fly Guy” by Tedd Arnold

An easy reader series


For ages: 4- 7

Gender specific: Boys will love it

Any pictures?:  Silly cartoons

How long?: 32 page

Are there more?: 8 or so.

What’s it similar to?: PJ Funnybones or Marvel I-Can-Read.

What’s it cost?$5.99 on Amazon

Synopsis:  Boy and fly meet and so begins a beautiful friendship.  Er, and so begins a very funny friendship.  Fly Guy’s propensity to hide in a garbage can when he and Buzz play hide-and-seek results in disaster. Fly Guy is carted off to the dump, and when the boy tries to find him, he is faced with a multitude of flies that look, act, and sound exactly like his pal.  Using hyperbole, puns, slapstick, and silly drawings, bestselling author/illustrator Tedd Arnold creates an easy reader that is full of fun.  (edited from School Library Journal)

Review:  If you’re struggling to get a kindergartener or first grader — especially a boy — to read on their own then you may find that “I Spy Fly Guy” by Tedd Arnold is stinky good fun for little readers.  It’s the perfect I-Can-Read series for kids just getting the hang of that whole reading thing.  The clever storylines don’t talk down to kids.  The vocabulary is fairly simple.  Told in three easy chapters, the number of words per page is manageable for young readers ranging from 2 to about 20 words per page.  And because it’s a series, if they like one, you’ll likely have an easier time getting to read the next one.

“Moxie Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Litttle” by Peggy Gifford

“Moxie Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Litttle” by Peggy Gifford


For ages: 8-12.

Gender specific: Very girl friendly

Any pictures?: Photos “taken” by Moxie’s brother (great idea)

Are there more?: Yes!  Two more with a third due out any second

How long?: 104 page

What’s it cost?: $6.99 on Amazon.

Synopsis: Moxy Maxwell is a procrastinator. She was assigned “Stuart Little” for summer reading, but it’s still unread on the last day of summer vacation. All too aware of this lapse, Moxy’s mother won’t let her participate as the eighth daisy petal in the water ballet at the local pool if she hasn’t finished the book by the time Mom returns home.  Intentions are good, but events keep getting in the way. Moxy’s room must be cleaned, and the dog has to be trained.  Moxie finds some time to ponder the idea of inventing a hammock that automatically stops swinging when the inhabitor gets off. As you might expect, disaster ensues.(edited from Booklist)

Review:  I’m sure your kid never procrastinates, but if they do then they may feel something of a bond with young precocious Moxie.   The crazy thing is once she actually sits down to read “Stuart Little” she realizes what a great book it is — imagine that?  This tale of a forth-grade-something is cleverly documented with funny black-and-white photographs taken by Moxy’s brother.  The short, sassy chapters keep things moving toward a predicable yet satisfying conclusion.

Best Kid's Books to Just Leave in the Car

A battered, old copy of “Where’s Waldo?” has been living in the backseat of my car for months.  My kid never seem to tire of searching for Waldo or Odlaw or that strange little dog.  In fact, just yesterday my friend’s teenager picked it up with a gleeful “Oh I love Waldo!” and proceeded to spend the 15 minute car ride studying it with her little sister.

I know that one of the best things about being in the car with your kids is that they’re a captive audience, trapped backed there and often willing to have an actual conversation you.  But it doesn’t hurt of have a backseat book for those times when you’re driving and you need to concentrate on texting while putting on mascara.  (Oh settle down, I’m kidding)

Here are my favorite “waste-a-little-time-while-potentially-increasing-brain-cells” books.

- The “Waldo” series started in England in 1987 and to date there are dozens of different “Waldo” books.  This particular one happens to be the book that currently resides in my car.


- Did you know that Charlie Brown’s father is a barber?  Or that Tokyo has the world’s largest bowling alley?  How about that in Oklahoma it’s illegal to hunt for whale?   For a few thousand things you might want to know, but probably don’t, pick up one of the many books by the Society for Useless Information.


- The world record for continually chewing a piece of gum is 4 months. My daughter is determined to break this record.   She made it almost two days before her karate teacher made her spit it out.  No!  And we were so close.  I guess making it into the Guinness World Book is not an easy journey, but reading about some of the crazier records is a blast.


Is Origami Yoda real or not?

The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (ages 8 -12) is a funny, uncannily wise portrait of the dynamics of a sixth-grade class, as well as a look at greatness that sometimes comes in unlikely packages.

It seems Dwight, a loser, talks to his classmates via an origami finger puppet of Yoda.  If that weren’t strange enough, the puppet is uncannily wise and prescient. Origami Yoda predicts the date of a pop quiz, guesses who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and saves a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice.

Dwight’s classmate and reluctant friend Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so totally clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, Tommy assembles the “case file” that forms this novel.

There’s something undeniably intriguing about the metaphysical dilemma the premise of this book raises. If Origami Yoda gives good advice does it matter if that advice is coming from Dwight the loser or from the manifestation of Lord Yoda himself?

Make your own Yoda!

It’s a question that kids understand. Is Christmas morning any less special if Santa isn’t real? Why do we avoid the crack if we know we won’t actually break our mother’s back?

I found this quirky little book to be a complete joy and read it in two quick sittings, yet I wouldn’t quite go so far as to recommend it to grown ups. However, every kid I know that has read it (okay that’s only 3) has found it nearly impossible to put down once they began reading.  Origami Yoda pulls a sort of  Jedi-mind-trick on its readers sucking them in and making them want to devour the story.

Hey c’mon, isn’t that exactly what we parents want from a kids book!

YOU'RE A BAD MAN, MR. GUM by Andy Stanton

Book 1

Mr. Gum is an old rotter.  He’s absolutely grimsters.

You’re a Bad Man Mr. Gum (ages 7 and up) by Andy Stanton had my book baby laughing so hard milk came out her nose.  This irreverant series is most certainly not for those of the prim and proper persuasion.

But if your kids like to laugh then these Roald-Dahlesque books are guaranteed to get them reading.

Mr Gum is a truly nasty old man. But the stories are not just about him. There’s also a little girl called Polly, an evil butcher, heroes and sweets and stuff, and Jake the dog, who must be saved from terrible, terrible evil.

I love the Mr. Gum series beyond words!  Author and stand-up comic Andy Stanton’s books have been called “Monty Python for kids”.  Originally published in Europe, it was difficult to get them for a while, but as their popularity has grown, the series is now readily available.

In the first book, You’re a Bad Man Mr. Gum, we meet the old rotter right away.   Mr Gum lives in a disgustingly filthy house where “he slept, scowled, and picked his nose and ate it.” Even the bed isn’t made—Mr. Gum chucked “bits of wood on the floor and dumped a mattress on top.”

But his garden is the most beautiful in the town. Why? Some speculate that he likes to garden, but the real reason is the angry fairy who gives him “pan whacks” if the garden isn’t perfect.

The Original British Cover

Unfortunately for Mr. Gum, the neighborhood dog, Jake, frequently messes up the garden—causing Mr. Gum too many whacks with the frying pan. So Mr. Gum leaves spoiled cow hearts laced with rat poison and sweetened with lemonade powder in the center of the lawn.  Jake takes the bait, but is ultimately saved by nine-year-old Polly and some magic chocolate (a questionable remedy, since chocolate is dangerous to dogs).

English author Stanton provides flawless narration of his books.  His deadpan delivery and comic timing are perfect. With its quirky cast of characters and silly sense of humor, these stories are a great choice for reluctant readers.  (Library School Journal)

There are 8 books in the series so far.  Hopefully, there will be many, many more!

Book 2

Book 3

Book 4

How to Raise Boys Who Read. Hint: Not with gross-out books and video-game bribes.

Fantastic article by Thomas Spence in today’s Wall Street Journal about boys and reading.

By THOMAS SPENCE Wall Street Journal

When I was a young boy, America’s elite schools and universities were almost entirely reserved for males. That seems incredible now, in an era when headlines suggest that boys are largely unfit for the classroom. In particular, they can’t read.


According to a recent report from the Center on Education Policy, for example, substantially more boys than girls score below the proficiency level on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. This disparity goes back to 1992, and in some states the percentage of boys proficient in reading is now more than ten points below that of girls. The male-female reading gap is found in every socio-economic and ethnic category, including the children of white, college-educated parents.

The good news is that influential people have noticed this problem. The bad news is that many of them have perfectly awful ideas for solving it.

More →

"I Can Read" Books with the Wonderful Arnold Lobel

I was at a friend’s house the other day and her first grader was reading Arnold Lobel’s “Mouse Tales.”  (Ages 4 – 8 )   I couldn’t help but be reminded how enchanting I find both Mr. Lobel’s stories and illustrations.   As any parent can tell you, there are a ton of “learn-to-read” books out there, but for my money you just can’t go wrong with these timeless, quaint, engaging stories.

Frog and Toad

So who was this Lobel guy, you ask?  Hey, that’s what I’m here for!

Uncle Elephant

Born in 1933,  Arnold Lobel wrote and/or illustrated over 70 books for children during his distinguished career. To his illustrating credit, he had a Caldecott Medal book – Fables (1981) — and two Caldecott Honor Books-his own Frog and Toad are Friends (1971) and Hildilid’s Night by Cheli Duran Ryan (1972).  He has a Caldecott Honor for Frog and Toad Together.

Owl at Home

Mr. Lobel passed away in 1987, but to his greatest credit, he had a following of literally millions of young children with whom he shared the warmth and humor of his unpretentious vision of life.

Here are a few excellent choices if you have a book baby who’s just getting the hang of this whole reading thing.  But there are many more to choose from as well.

Uncle Elephant

Owl At Home

The Frog and Toad Collection

Grasshopper on the Road


Please Write in This Book by Mary Amato (ages 7 – 10)   tells the harrowing tale of what happens when a teacher leaves a blank composition book in the Writer’s Corner for her students to find with the instructions “Please Write in this Book.”

Third grade teacher has Ms. Wurtz decided to encourage creative dialogue by leaving a blank notebook in the hopes that students will “talk to each other.”  The only rules are to “have fun” and “sign your name.”  She promises not to read the entries until the end of the month.  (and she seemingly keeps this promise despite the uproar that ensues) More →

Take Cover! Bad Kitty Gets A Bath.

Hey, did you know that a cat’s tongue is covered with hundreds of little fishhook-shaped barbs called “papillae” that help them clean their fur?

Me neither!  At least not until I read Nick Bruel’s hysterical “Bad Kitty Gets a Bath.”  (ages 8 -11)

“This follow-up to Bad Kitty (2005) pairs Bruel’s witty asides and spastic, tongue-in-cheek commentaries with laugh-outloud, high-energy cartoon illustrations. With hyperbolic humor, Bruel describes the dangerous process of cat bathing, from collecting the necessary tools (including cat shampoo and a “suit of armor” for humans), to finding and coaxing Kitty into the water, to dealing with your now-clean-though-very-unhappy animal. (One illustration suggests checking your sneakers for “something awful inside.”)

Following all of the scratching and hissing and spitting, a brief epilogue depicts bathing Puppy, a ridiculously simple process that cleverly highlights the elaborateness of Kitty’s ritual. Packed into the chaos are fun facts, such as explanations for why cats hate water and the hows and whys of hairballs; a “glossary of common cat sounds”; a few strategically placed editor’s notes; and a not-so-serious glossary.

Whether they prefer cats or dogs, young and reluctant readers will get plenty of laughs from this comic and informative chapter book.”  (booklist)

Super fun!  Great for reluctant readers too.

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