Book Recommendation: Beautiful Oops!

Time for another book recommendation! As most people close to us now, the Squirt has had a lot of problems with anxiety. In fact, it's the anxiety that brought her home for school in the first place. With her anxiety comes a lot of perfectionism. Frankly it's kind of a nasty combination. When there she makes a mistake, it's tough. She has a very hard time coping. This book has honestly helped sooooo much. It is amazing, fun, beautiful. We love it. 

The book is so simple and yet so creative. It's all about how you can turn a "mistake" into something beautiful. For example, if you accidentally rip a piece of paper, don't worry, that rip can easily turn into a clever mouth of a crocodile. We still have a lot of problems with perfectionism, but this book has taken care of the perfectionist issues around writing and artwork, which is pretty huge. Squirt tells me all the time how she made a "beautiful oops" and she is so proud. We both agreed, this is our favorite part: 

Such a wonderful message for kids. Highly recommended!

Book Recommendation: Aaron Becker's Journey Trilogy

Wow, for starters, I'm sorry that it took so long to finally get started on some recommendations. We have a lot that we want to write about... the first one is always the hardest. 

For a quick background, ever since Abby was a baby, she never wanted to re-read books. Seriously. When she was two we used to check out 70 books a week at the library just to keep up. She still won't re-read books. We go through about 30 chapter books a week with her. It's kind of insane. Her quirkiness is actually how we are deciding which books to recommend. We still get about 40 books a week at the library and we don't have to time to write a review for each and every one of them. Instead, we are going to recommend the odd few that Abby will ask to read again (Alex is more than happy reading the same thing over and over and over like most children.) If Abby doesn't want the book a second time while we have it, then the book didn't cross into the realm of "great." 

Our first recommendation is actually a series of books by Aaron Becker. We will call it the Journey Trilogy. This is a series of wordless picture books. I read once that parents are less likely to buy wordless books because they are unsure of what to really do with them. If that is you, don't be intimidated. Think about it, before your child can read, every book they look at alone is a wordless picture book, and they still LOVE them. Open the book, talk about what you see. Engage your child in the story and see what they think is happening. This is actually one of the reason I love this type of book because there are no words to hold you back. You are free to explore the beautiful illustrations and use your own words to make the story.

Aaron Becker's trilogy not only has some of the most beautiful illustrations you have ever seen, but also one of the most complex and beautiful stories. The trilogy begins with Journey. In this story a little girl uses a red marker to draw a door and escape from her boring every day world into a kingdom of imagination and adventure. Like in Harold and the Purple Crayon, everything that she draws with her marker comes to life. She uses this magic to help her courageously escape from an evil emperor and to eventually bring herself back home. 

Following the storyline in Journey, in Quest and Return we see our same heroine and the same sinister villain. Even though our heroine originally escaped, in Quest we see that the emperor has darkened the majestic world of her imagination and it is up to our heroine and her friend to bring light and color back to the kingdom. Finally in Return all is set right and with the help of her father, our heroine is finally able to vanquish the emperor.

As I mentioned before, the illustrations in these books are absolutely breathtaking. Although the storyline would be more appropriate for a child 4+, the pictures are so bright and detailed that you could discuss them with a child of any age, while adjusting the story to a level that they can understand. We just love this series and highly recommend it!

Getting Started: A Primer on Reading Levels

The kids and I have been working on book reviews and the like this week, preparing for our first blog post, and I realized that before starting all of our recommendations it might be a good idea to begin with a primer on reading levels. I know that a lot of people reading this won't have children who are reading yet, but since I will be including reading levels with our recommendations I thought it would be important  to explain beforehand. 

First, why is it important to know a child's reading level? To promote children becoming readers, reading needs to be fun and enjoyable. If a child is trying to read a book that is full of too-difficult-to-read words, the child becomes stressed and reading is no longer fun. Similarly, if a child can pronounce all of the words but is unable to comprehend their meaning, the book becomes difficult to understand and again, it becomes stressful. When readers feel forced, pressured, or stressed, they don't want to read anymore and their progress slows. If children are reading interesting books at their appropriate level, on the other hand, they want to read more and they will move right along the reading level scale. 

There are a lot of different reading level charts out there that you can go by. Today I'll talk about two: Lexile Level and Guided Reading Level (sometimes called Fountas and Pinnell.) Personally, we use the guided reading level since it happens to be how our first books were rated and I find them a bit easier to keep track of than the Lexile Level. What I don't go on is the grade level equivalent. While it would work and is fine, I feel that the other two are a bit more exact in their leveling. 

Let's start with Lexile Level. Lexile Level is kind of the "standard" gauge of reading ability. Essentially, the book is split into "word slices." These slices are then compared to the whole lexile corpus; the difficulty of words and the length of sentences are both analyzed in this comparison. The results are put into an equation and a Lexile score (like 1250L) pops out. This leveling does not look at age appropriateness, themes, or anything like that. Once you know a child's Lexile Level, you can find a "sweet-spot" range of books that your child can read and comprehend without difficulty. 

Onto Fountas and Pinnell's Guided Reading Levels. This is our go-to leveling system. Unlike Lexile Level's numbering system, the Guided Reading Levels score books on reading levels from A to Z.  I find this so much easier to keep track of. In order to determine the Guided Reading Level, text is classified according to various parameters such as word count, sentence length and complexity, word repetitions, number of high frequency words, added support a reader may get from illustrations, number of different words, etc. Similar to Lexile Level, you can also have multiple Guided Reading Levels for children. For example, a child may be at a level F when reading independently but a level G when reading with help. 

Many books choose not to list either of these reading levels. Instead they list a grade level. I am not a huge fan of this however since some grade levels have multiple Lexile Levels and Guided Reading Levels. This makes the other two systems much more exact to ensure that your child is reading appropriate material. I am attaching a chart below that will show this along with a few other things, so be patient with me, I'll get there. 

Honestly I find Guided Reading Levels so easy to work with that there has been no reason to switch. As I said, not all books have a guided reading level listed, but there are some great websites that you can use to find them. Here is my favorite: http://www.scholastic.com/bookwizard/

This is scholastics' book wizard. When you search for a book, you can actually pick which reading level system you want to search under. It is really convenient to use, and they even have an app so you can scan books at the store you are currently shopping at. National Geographic also has some really great non-fiction early readers and you can search by reading level on their website here: http://www.ngchildrensbooks.org/c/GR_Level.web

So what happens if you can't find the guided reading level and you don't know how to switch back and forth? There's a chart for that. Perma-Bound actually put a really great one online. It shows how the different reading levels correspond to one another. The chart also shows how a single grade level can overlap with more than one Lexile or Guided Reading Level. 

Guided Reading Level Correlation Chart

Some schools may have goals that they like to meet for their students. You can always ask your child's teacher what their goals are for their class. As a homeschooler, I keep track of this so that I know what books are appropriate for the kids, but always, most importantly, is that your kids enjoy the books that they are reading. Abby is currently obsessed with a series of books an entire grade level below her reading level, but we go with it. Reading should always be fun.