Beverly Cleary & Me: 35 Years and Counting

A Writer From Yamhill, Oregon & Ramona Chris, A Girl From Queens, NY

Other than the Beverly Cleary books I devoured, and being the only person that was chocolate and looked like me, I don’t remember much about my school classroom experiences as a young child. Mama says, “Get on the bus. It is a better school district. You’re lucky to be going to that school, in a better neighborhood, where they take pride in education and the better teachers work.” I don’t feel so lucky. Once I get off the bus, and enter into that neatly lined classroom with rows of desks one behind the other, no one else looks like me. I am the only one with deep dark chocolate skin and shoulder length cornrows that mama tightly braided from the top of my forehead to just bellow my shoulders. She weighed them down with colorful beads that shake with every step I take to their own rhythm. Mama says, “You’re smart, that is why you go into a different classroom than all of the other boys and girls that get off the bus.” Even though they are chocolate like me, in their opinion I am different and not going in the same direction. This often made for a very lonely experience and is probably the reason I don’t remember many specific details about my school days. The thing I remember most is longing to go to one of the schools in my neighborhood that we passed by as the bus whizzed along and the familiar scenery changed. Mama says, “This is for your own good and one day you will be able to fully appreciate this experience.”

Is today the day our class gets to go to the school library? My friend is there. The only person in this whole school that is like me. Her name is also Ramona. She lives on Klickitat Street. Ramona Quimby and I don’t look the same, but she speaks to me and makes me chuckle. Every time I see our name on the cover of a book, it reminds me of how unique and special I am. So what if I can’t attend your parties, because I have to get back on the bus. Ramona and I are friends. I go on adventures with her all throughout the night. Beverly Cleary books bring me so much joy. I too can go where you go and experience what you experience, through the pages of the book.

BCleary Books

As an elementary literacy educator for 20 years, I agree with the need for there to be diversity in books. However, as I reflect on becoming a voracious reader, I can honestly say it did not have anything to do with the racial, ethnic, socio-economic identity of the main characters or the type of setting (a time or place similar to what I already knew) that was created by the author. Actually, it had everything to do with the writing style of the author and the crafting of the book. Beverly Cleary’s writing style hooked me as a reader; the humorous episodes from chapter to chapter along with the character and plot development, shaped my interest in the lives of her characters and their stories. I fell in love with the genre of Realistic Fiction, and being able to make any type of connection to the book was what created in me a love for reading them. I instantly connected with the Ramona series for the simple fact that she was my namesake. I could never locate my name on a magnet, mug, t-shirt or stationary set, but here it was front and center on the cover of a book. While the title grabbed my attention, it was the crafting of the story and the word choice of Beverly Cleary that kept me delighted and motivated to complete books quickly and in large doses.

The language Mrs. Cleary used allowed me to vividly visualize what was happening in the lives of the characters throughout the story. For me, it was better than watching a movie. As a child, I found her stories to be relatable; they have universal appeal. I could relate to being a big sister, and having the younger sibling get the attention of the parents while often making my life seemingly unbearable. Like Beezus, I too was very responsible, practical and mature for my age. I was able to make many text connections to the stories as I was reading them. I was able to both sympathize and empathize with the Beezus’ character, while at the same time laughing unashamedly at the shenanigans of Ramona and loving her bold, fiery nature. She too reminded me of myself. Also, never having had my own dog due to allergies, I loved experiencing the adventures of Henry and Ribsy. I sort of adopted Ribsy as my own pet and vicariously learned about the responsibilities of having a dog through Henry Huggins.

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Concerns of diversity did not inhibit me from falling in love with Beverly Clearly books and her writing style. I am so grateful that my mother did not try to shift my attention from the characters and the story because the people in the book did not look like me and the neighborhood setting did not resemble where I lived. If she had, I would have probably become a very resentful reader who abandoned large quantities of books because I did not have an interest in them and did not like the style of the writer. To this day, I share my enthusiasm and love for Beverly Cleary’s writing with all kids – of every background – that I have had the opportunity to work with. It is my hope, and has been my experience, that Beverly Cleary books still continue to connect with readers today and they become interested in reading more of her books or locate author’s with similar writing styles and appeal. As a child I wanted to read great stories, and engage with awesome writing that held me captivated and that is what Beverly Cleary was able to do for me as a young reader.

RT BClear Quote

 

 

 

 

 

The reason I am a proponent and advocate of diversity in children’s literature goes well beyond my race, gender, and class. It is because I think kids of all backgrounds should have the opportunity to be exposed to many different people, places and experiences as readers. It is vitally important that the background knowledge of kids is expanded so they can participate in new learning experiences and I have found this to occur through engaging with many different types of texts and authors. Therefore, I am vehemently opposed to being a “gatekeeper” of reading selections, choices and opportunities because of one’s own reading identity and bias. In 3rd grade, I fell in love with reading through a series of fun and amazing encounters with Beverly Cleary chapter books. Had I been denied the opportunity to experience her writing, because of what someone else thought I should be reading based on race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, etc., I dare say I would not be the avid reader I am today.

My journey to becoming a life-long reader has shaped my beliefs about reading and the teaching of reading. First and foremost, as a result of my experience with Beverly Cleary books:

  •    I believe the more book choices kids have to select from, the more likely they will find the book that keeps them reading for a lifetime.
  •    I believe the more kids read books, the better they are able to enjoy transactional (or interactive) relationships with books.
  •    I believe reading is thinking and explicit teaching of comprehension skills is essential to helping kids fall deeper and deeper in love with books.

When I share my reading identity and choices they are based on who I am as an individual and my experiences. I am a reader. I am a writer. I am a critical thinker. I am an African-American. I am a woman. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a Christian. I am a native New Yorker. I am a student. I am a learner. I am a friend and more. I am complex, diverse and uniquely designed. All of these wonderful things I am, affect my transactional experiences with text. All of these things either individually or collectively will determine whether I am motivated toward reading a text and can find some intrinsic value in its words for my life. What I may not value and appreciate reading today, I may attack with vigor tomorrow. It really depends on whether or not I value its impact on my life, at the time of introduction. Do I want to read this? Do I need to read this? How do I read this? These are some of the questions I ask myself when I approach reading. I believe it is my responsibility to allow my students to have an opportunity to ask these questions and more. I believe it is important to explore the answers to these questions through shared inquiry. I believe it is my responsibility to anticipate my students needs and questions as they develop their own reading and writing identities. In my opinion, Nancy Atwell (1987) effectively explains why we need to help our students make personal connections to the text they are reading, “When we invite readers’ minds to meet books in our classrooms, we invite the messiness of human response-personal prejudices, personal tastes, personal habits, personal experience. But we also invite personal meaning.” It is not until kids discover personal meaning and their own reasons for reading that they will become readers. I found my reason for becoming a reader in the humorous pages of Beverly Cleary books.

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7 Fun Family Literacy Games

This is a great time of year to find great deals and stock up on some really awesome family fun games. Board games are really authentic ways to develop your child’s literacy skills. Many of them require reading, listening, speaking and thinking by the players. Here are a few, we recommend that every family add to their collection and play this holiday season.  These are games kids, teens, and adults will all enjoy playing together.  This holiday season, introduce these fun games to your family for hours of rousing entertainment and embedded learning. We recommend these games for kids with a grade 3 reading level and above.

Apples to Apples Junior

This is a game of crazy comparisons that expands both a child’s vocabulary and thinking skills. Children are learning grammar as they select the best nouns that correspond to the verbs, displayed on cards, to win each round.  Another great thing about this game is, you have to be persuasive and get the judge of each round to select your card combinations as the best choice.  Therefore, speaking and making a rationale argument are also skills that are being developed.  This game is great for any child reading on a third grade level and their family. A minimum of four players is needed, but the more the merrier. Kids love this game, and grown-ups do too, as it provides hours of learning and fun without the kids even realizing that school is in session.

Kid’s and Family Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger Hunts are loads of fun for kids and adults alike. This game is really great because it has options for both indoor and outdoor play.  It also can be enjoyed by a multi age level group of players and it requires cooperation as teams must work together to win against opposing teams.  There are two levels of playing cards for kids and adults. The kid cards are for non-readers and have pictures on them. The adult cards can actually be used by children reading on a third grade level and above.  This game also incorporates lots of movement so you are sure to get a little workout as you race to find your items and get back before the other team. A great game to sharpen vocabulary skills and also creative thinking as sometimes you have to think of ways to present items that are not readily available.

Spontuneous

Calling together music lovers of all ages, this hilarious game is good for hours of family fun.  You simply hear a word and begin belting out the lyrics to songs that reference the word in it. No Talent is required, just enthusiasm and spontaneity.  The great thing about this game is that it has such great crossover appeal and it bridges the generational divide while introducing an eclectic range of music genres as music from various eras are showcased. Fun way to find out what your children have been listening too! You may be very surprised by their range of musical knowledge and influences.  Great for small and big groups, family game nights and parties. Memory recall is improved and word association skills developed while playing this game. It can also be played numerous times because each game is unique to the players and the trigger words they use. Thinking skills are also required while playing this game as Spontuneous challenge cards provide for an opportunity for even greater fun.

HedBanz

Children really love this game, and the adults have big fun too, as they try to figure out what person, place or thing is on their head.  A great spin on the traditional guessing game. Literacy is incorporated by asking a series of questions that will get each player closer to being able to guess the name on the card on their head, which everyone can see except them.  There are 6 head bands available, however additional players can be added by modifying the game. The game is for ages 8 and above. However, some mature 6 yr. olds have shown themselves to be very skillful at this game. Prepare yourself for hours of laughter and great family fun.

Don’t Say It

This is a great variation of the popular adult game Taboo. Great for kids ages 6 and up along with their families.  Similar to Taboo, the objective of the game is to get your team to say a word without using three commonly associated words. The guess words selected are simple enough for kids to be able to provide clue words that will get their team to figure out the word, without much parental assistance. Also, there are different levels of word difficulty that the adults can choose to use throughout the game. This game is much more affordable than Taboo Jr., a great price for the value. Literacy skills such as word association and vocabulary are being improved while playing this fun game.

STARE! JUNIOR

An award winning, National Parent Seal and Teachers Choice Award, game that develops memory, concentration and imagination.  Great for children 6 up and the entire family.  Parents can assist attentive 4 and 5 year olds. Each player is given an image that they stare at and pay attention to the details before the timer runs out.  The images are captivating to look at and very kid friendly.  The children are asked questions about the image and advance throughout the game as they answer questions correctly.  This game keeps kids and adults thoroughly entertained.  The literacy skills that are strengthened by playing this game are visual recall and reading to recall details.

5 Second Rule Jr.

This is a fun game that is suitable for a mixed age group. You must name 3 things in a category in 5 seconds.  It is a fast pace game that generates lots of laughs as the pressure of the timer lends to some interesting responses.  The game is played by three or more players and you can play as many rounds as time permits. A round is when every player is given a category to begin with.  Naming three answers in a category, within 5 seconds, gets you a card and the play passes to the next player. The round is complete when each player has had a turn. You can modify the game by creating a point system. For example, the first player to reach 10 or 21 wins the game. Each card is given a point value. The fun can last for as long as you like or end according to what is best for your time constraints.

Literacy education doesn’t have to be boring for kids! In fact, it can be a great deal of fun. These games provide wonderful opportunities to enhance and develop your child’s literacy skills through meaningful interactions with friends and family.

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5 Holiday Literacy Ideas for Kids

Holiday Butterfly w top bufferTis’ the Season to engage in great authentic literacy experiences with your child(ren). Readers and Writers need real reasons to read and write. The holiday season is a great time to provide these opportunities. Below, are some great activities that incorporate reading with your 3-6 graders.

 

Recipe Readers

Reading to be informed is a skill all good readers need to know and be able to do. Reading to be able to perform a task is a great motivator to actually get your child to become engaged in reading. This holiday season, I encourage you to bake some tasty treats for the family, with your child, by using kid friendly recipes. Have your child read and follow the directions while you assist in the kitchen with set-up, clean-up, and safety matters.   You can even incorporate sewing and literacy by making some great aprons with nifty slogans to wear in the kitchen. A great  beginner children’s cookbook is Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cook Book (Better Homes and Gardens Cooking)


Decorative Reader

The holiday time provides a lot of opportunities for your child’s creativity to soar as literacy skills are strengthened.  Together, with your child, discover the endless possibilities of decorating your home while reading great how-to craft books. Follow the step by step directions and beautify your home together.  It is extremely rewarding and motivating for kids to find purposeful reasons to read. You can also find great holiday craft presents you can make for friends and family members reading kids’ magazines and craft decorating books.

 

Playful Reader

Allow your child the opportunity to read the directions to great games; that also sharpens literacy skills. Taboo, Scategories, Guess Who, Monopoly, HedBanz, etc. are great games for 3rd-6th graders to begin playing. These are great thinking games that incorporate literacy skills such as questioning, word association, categorizing, following directions, and reading. Your children will have great fun as they develop their literacy tools while playing.

Review Reader

Snuggle up with a favorite holiday classic with your child or discover a new tale today. Write a review to persuade other children and parents to read the story together.  Record your child as they explain to you why he/she enjoyed the book so much. Next, have your child retell a little about the book without giving all of the best details away. Finally have your child explain what type of children/readers they think might like the story and why? For example, a child who loves adventure would love this book because it is full of action throughout the book. Together with your child listen to the recording of what he/she said about the story. Then, type up your review together.  Check for capitalization, organization, punctuation and spelling to make sure everything looks correct. Finally, have your child email a brief letter of introduction to a magazine editor, and tell him or her a little about themselves. Include their age, grade, address, and phone number. Finally, submit the review to the magazine.

Some popular Magazine’s that accept children’s reviews are:

  • Creative Kids
  • Stone Soup
  • Skipping Stones

 Creative Writer

Provide your child with supplies such as markers, stickers, crayons, construction paper, stationary and sample greeting cards. Together make a list of favorite friends and relatives with their mailing addresses. Create holiday greeting cards and send them to the people on your list. Another great way to incorporate writing into the holidays is to allow your child to take digital pictures of your family holiday traditions and create a digital/traditional scrapbook for all to enjoy. Have your child create great captions for each photo. Scrapbooks are great literacy projects because it explores the concept of themes as the method of organization. Spend time with your child discussing ways to thematically depict your family holiday traditions.

Learning never ends and when it is done with authentic experiences it makes it memorable and the learner wants to engage in the task over and over again. Remember, literacy learning is both a cognitive and emotional journey.  The more real life connections that can be made the more purposeful and valued the learning experiences become for the learner.  We hope you enjoy this holiday season and these tips help you fill the time with great literacy family fun.

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Story Mapping

A story map is a comprehension strategy that uses a graphic organizer to display the elements of a story.  Story mapping is a great way for children to organize their thoughts while reading. It is also a quick way for parents to check for understanding and monitor their child’s reading comprehension.

Below, we have included our story map template to help your child share their understanding of key story elements.

MetLit Story Map Image

 
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How To Build Lifelong Readers: Your Strategy (Strategic Parenting)

There are five strategic decision that parents must make to ensure their children become lifelong joyful readers. As parent educators you play pivotal roles in your child’s reading development. You must choose to be the:

  1. Reading Role Model
  2. Reading Supporter
  3. Reading Detective
  4. Reading Promoter
  5. Reading Resource Provider

Each of these roles has a very specific purpose, which will be detailed in following posts. This post is designed to give you an idea of how these roles connect, and also how they are separate, and why. Each role listed is designed to aid in motivating children to read. Reading development cannot happen if the child never picks up a book.

As a Reading Advocate and Educator with over 20 years of experience in the field of Literacy work I have worked with several parents who may take on one or more of these roles and still have an unmotivated Reader. I have found that all five of these roles must be continuously employed by the parent to create life long engaged Readers.

Example 1:

A parent often promotes reading by purchasing books for their children to read but never gives the child an opportunity to have authentic opportunities to discuss the book which causes the child not to have a relevant purpose for reading. This often happens when a parent is a Reading Promoter but chooses not to fill the role of Reading Supporter. As a result of the reading experience not being given any relevance the child soon begins to shy away from the time spent reading.

Example 2:

A parent supports reading and gives the reasons why reading is important, making it relevant. However, the parent never models the acts and behaviors of a reader by actually spending time reading. In other words, the parent is a Reading Promoter and Supporter but not a Reading Role Model.  The parent begins to discover that children don’t always do what you say. However, often they do what the parent does by emulating the actions of the parent. Therefore, when the parent shows they are not passionate about reading they see decreased chances of creating a passionate reader.

“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work as a method for enforcing habits we want our children to have. However, modeling, supporting, detecting interests and aligning habits with those interests, promoting and providing resources to encourage desired habits, are great methods  to motivating any child.

The following posts in the How To Build Lifelong Readers series detail how parents can assume the roles outlined here and become more effective parent educators. Then we’ll pull it all together showing how the decision to take on these roles in support of your child’s reading development actually brings about the desired results.

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How To Build Lifelong Readers: My Story

Sharing the Joy of ReadingMy interest in motivating children to read comes from the joy I found in reading. As a child growing up in a world of adult drama, reading became a refuge and way of escape. Books transported me into neighborhoods, communities and worlds beyond my imagination. Reading helped me to dream big by exposing me to possibilities I would have never known through my limited surroundings. Reading also made me set lifelong goals for myself.

Reading made me smarter. It happened naturally as it increased my vocabulary and made me think while I was enjoying myself. The more I read, the smarter I became and the more I achieved academically and in life.

I was blessed to have been bused from my inner city neighborhood into a more upscale and economically advantaged community. There I entered into classrooms where independent reading was encouraged and I had access to great books. Most importantly, I was raised by a mom who was an avid reader. My mom made trips to the library a regular routine, allowing me to check out books of my choosing. Growing up my mom was my greatest Reading Role Model. She encouraged my love for reading, showing genuine interest in what I was reading by allowing me to talk her ear off about the adventures of my favorite character, Ramona, my namesake from the Beverly Cleary series.

I devoured everything I could get my hands on by Beverly Cleary when I was a child and the best gift you could give me was one of her books. However, my favorite children’s book will forever be Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. This book so impacted my life that I became a fourth grade teacher for many years.

My Superfudge
The original copy of Superfudge Mr Gelfand gave to me. As you can see it’s been well-loved.

In fifth grade I missed several weeks of class due to hospitalization. I had experienced my first childhood asthma attack and I was frightened and miserable. Then one day Mr. Gelfand came to visit me and he brought me a gift. Superfudge by Judy Blume (Reading Promoter). It was then that he discovered that I had never read the first book in the series starring Peter and his pesky brother Fudge. He returned with Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing which was side-splitting funny and turned a miserable hospital experience into one of fun as I was able to have sustained, uninterrupted reading time. From then til now, Mr Gelfand was my favorite teacher. He introduced me to what remains my favorite children’s’ book.

Judy Blume literally captured my heart and attention as I wondered what Fudge was going to do next to totally disrupt Peter’s world. This book held appeal for me as I was a big sister with a two year old little brother who had interrupted my reign as the princess who got all the attention. But more importantly, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing holds universal appeal as all children can relate to the situations the characters find themselves in. In the 70’s there was not much emphasis on quality multi-cultural literature which I am a huge advocate and supporter of exposing children to reading. Thus, I have learned that the most important book to give a child is the one that the child enjoys and makes a personal connection with in some type of meaningful way.

Reading is both a cognitive and emotional journey. As a result of both my professional expertise and personal experience I can tell you without any reservation that there are certain strategic decision that parents must make to ensure their children become lifelong joyful readers who will ultimately become leaders in their chosen professions. I have discovered that the parent/teacher partnership has been the most powerful tool for ensuring student success. Therefore, I have spent my entire career working extensively with parents. I teach them how to ensure reading growth and the academic success of their children. We work together to help their children become intrinsically motivated and develop a passion for learning that extends well beyond the classroom. This blog is a continuation of my mission and a way to reach and support a greater number of parents so we can assure we have a literate future and improved society.

Think About It: What is your favorite book and what made it so appealing to you as a reader? How were you introduced to the book? Please share in the comment section. Apply your personal reflections to the work you are doing with your child and consider how you help him or her discover and fall in love with a great book.

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