Tag Archives: reading

What We’re Reading at Roots: On The Importance of Everyday Whimsy and Magic

I’ve been reading aloud the chapter bodownload (1)ok, Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones,  to the kids at Roots lately.  Many afternoons with a few minutes to spare after tidying up at the end of the day, you’ll find us in various states of lounge listening into the little girl, Twig’s, adventures with Elf and Mrs. Sparrow.  From the number of times they request its reading, the kids seem as delighted in this sweet book and her characters as I am.  The gentle adventures with the magic of talking animals and a spell that shrinks Twig are whimsical, light-heartIMG_5126ed and seem to inscribe on the pages the spirit of a natural childhood.  Twig is a mashup of simple everyday things that become part of play, like a tomato can and a drainpipe, and trust in a magical world where the lines between pretend and reality are smudged.

It’s rather perfect to me because that’s exactly where I want to live myself and where I see the Roots kids playing everyday.  Like Twig they take simple, open-ended toys, natural materials and found items and create stories, worlds and relationIMG_4482ships.  Having or retaining or realizing the ability to transform our own lives into something that feels exciting,  challenging and magical is a pretty fine objective for all of us.  This is what I mean by wanting to be in this zone myself.  I think adults who have a sense of playfulness are able to be creative, flIMG_4558exible and inspired.  We can see challenges as opportunities to play with and change the rules we are living by and we can see the magic of knowing our powers to create our own world.  Just like Twig.

A friend asked me about this book tonight and it got me thinking about what makes Twig and other books  like it so special.  So here’s a short review of some great read aloud books for young children that I think sparkle with whimsy and are gentle enough to suit young children who adore longer stories, but often are not ready for some of the suspense and intrigue of many children’s chapter books.


The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Ryland

This is a sweet little book about a girl, Clara, and her father, whose lives are intwined with a magical little diner, The Van Gogh Cafe.  I love the expectation of magic from the characters in this book.  They just know that something interesting is going to happen!  I like that outlook 🙂

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Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

This is one that my six year old has listened to as an audio book no less that a hundred times in the last 6 months.  He listened to it three times through on the snow day this week!  It’s funny, set in the 1930’s and full of quirky adventures for the Popper family and their pet penguins.  I like that things seem to happen to the Poppers “against the odds,” and that they live in the moment, going on instincts for adventure, care of others and the flow of opportunity that presents itself.

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Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt

This is another favorite audio book of my kiddo and has been since he was 4 years old.  Fredle is a house mouse who ends up adventuring outdoors and meeting lots of new friends and foes and friend-foes.  What draws me so to this book is that it shows a really complicated picture of what it means to change and what it means to be known as “bad” or “good.”   In fact the main journey of Fredle is his own realization that he can change himself and that to do so his own independent mind is important, just as are the relationships he forms with others.

Angus and Sadie

Angus and Sadie by Cynthis Voigt

This is the prequel to Fredle, which stars the two dogs on Fredle’s farm, Sadie and Angus.  We loved the way Voight showed the dogs’ thinking so vibrantly, humorously and realistically.

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Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

This is a rare little book to me and one that is great for children who are also exploring poetry.  It’s a really meta book written in free-verse poetry about poetry all from the perspective of the main character, Jack.  The death of Jack’s dog is a main feature of the book.  I really like that death is taken up here in a way that is caring, natural and up front.  The sense of poetry can’t help but permeate the mundane, as Jack narrates his world in verse.

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Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The first book in the Little House series is the best to me.  Children love the descriptions of life in the woods, the way daily life is described and Laura’s perspective shared with such an authentic voice.  You really get a sense of the rhythm of life that is captivating for me and the young kids I’ve read or listened with.

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A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

I love this whole series of books, though the first is the only one I have so far read to a younger audience.  I love the mix of science and mystical adventures and especially the importance of Charles Wallace, a young child himself, as an intelligent protagonist.   The end of the book cuts close to the edge of what might feel scary or too suspenseful for some young children, but the climactic un-battle scene at the end is carried off with such love that I’ve noticed most children remain positively connected.


RIght now I am reading The Wildwood Chronicles by Colin Meloy download (5)(yep that the guy from The Decemberists 🙂 (Thanks for the recommendation, Nicci!)  I adore this first book in the series so far- especially the awesome mix between magic and everyday, the girl protagonist, Prue, and the setting in Portland 🙂 I am curious to find out what the role of the parents in the story will be (Oh, that’s another thing I love about A Wrinkle in Time– the parents are active participants in the story, even as the children take the lead in adventuring.)  And I am curious to find out how dark the tale becomes in terms of thinking about younger kiddos listening in.  So maybe a Part II to this post to think more about Wildwood, stories and play about darkness.

Please comment with other favorite whimsical and magical books for children!


“Beaded Braids” An Authentic Reading Conversation

Over the last few days I have noticed a particular interest in decoding words in two of our oldest kiddos.   Today the three of us had a series of really productive conversations about how words work, all of which was based on a rather short, but significant, moment of inquiry.

This morning I noticed these two kids flipping through a book of yarn craft projects.   A few minutes later they came and asked if we had any beads.  While another facilitator fished these out of the supply closet, I observed the kids talking together about the title of their chosen project as printed in the book.   They decided the first word was about beads and were debating over the likelihood that the second word was “bracelet.”  They pointed to the letters of the word for each other, talked about the sounds of various letters and pointed to various photos on the page.

Lots was happening here before I entered the conversation at all.  They were using context clues from the pictures and from their prior knowledge about craft projects.   They used phonetic knowledge to decode.  They referenced the text as they talked, pointing out features of the words and the page to one another.  They worked together to share knowledge about the text.  They had a clear and self directed purpose for reading this text.


Friends, that is a lot of productive stuff going on before any guidance from a mentor came into the picture!  When I did enter the conversation, I supported the kids with what they were already doing- we looked at the second word first, since this was their point of curiosity.  They were back and forth over whether the word was “bracelet.”  They seemed to feel like this made sense contextually but not phonetically.  We zoomed into the word noting the /d/ near the end of the word.  Then using more context clues they quickly decoded the word as “braids.”  We talked a few more moments about the two words, “beaded braids.”

This whole conversation took a couple of minutes, just long enough for the beads to be found in the closet by my colleague.  The kids then spent almost an hour engaged with making beaded braids using the craft book and an adult facilitator for support.


The second conversation happened in the afternoon as I was writing some notes about the day in the kids’ reflection books that go home daily.  These two kids joined and asked about the notes.  I read them the one I had written about the reading and braiding experience.  They decided to write some notes in their reflection books as well.  As they worked, talking with each other and me about the ideas and concrete writing, one of them asked for support to write the word “came.”  We talked about this word for a bit and how the long /a/ sound works in the word.  This led us back to “Beaded Braids”, and a more in depth discussion of how the vowel sounds in these two words work.  Again this conversation took all of a couple of minutes and was based on the kiddos’ choice to write a reflection and their own inquiry into words.

This bit of engagement from today has stirred several ideas about  reading development for me.   Here’s the run down:

  • These conversations about reading were pertinent because the kids involved had shown interest in decoding and because they had an authentic purpose in reading texts.
  • Reading is connected to other things happening in our lives.   Here reading and talking about the title of a craft project was part of the making process as the kids made beaded braids.
  • Reading is a social act.  The collaboration and discussion between the kids and the kids and myself was as important as the actual decoding of a word.
  • The conversations and my input as a mentor were centered around the children’s inquiry into how words work.   Their specific points of curiosity drove the conversation.
  • The quality of the engagement around the reading was more vital than the amount of reading.  The short conversation about a short two-word text elicited ideas and new knowledge centered in higher order thinking processes, particularly creating one’s own meaning.