Kojo Show


It was delightful to chat with Kojo Nnamdi and his callers about summer reading and have the chance to introduce listeners to Reading Rockets and Start with a Book.

Listen here for the lively discussion of best books, strategies for engaging young readers and being a “present” parent. And be sure to check out the list of recommended summer reading. There’s still time to enjoy lots of good books this summer!






Activate imaginations and all your kids’ senses when you head outside with books. The sense of wonder that nature provides is exactly the curiosity you want your child to bring to a book. Even if you are limited to exploring your backyard or the local park, there are lots of simple ways to spend enjoyable times reading and learning together in the great outdoors.

Go on a booknic

This summer, make room in the picnic basket for books! Choose a theme around family food and reading preferences and pack accordingly. Try:

  • Honey grahams with Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood
  • Bread and jam with Bread and Jam for Frances
  • Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert with a taste of fruits and vegetables from around the world

Flashlight reading

For younger kids with earlier bedtimes, the excitement of getting to go outside at night will make a bedtime story and snack most memorable. Get your flashlight, blankets or a sleeping bag story and enjoy a story about stars under the stars. Try:

Her Seven Brothers by Paul Goble

Stars by Mary Lyn Raystars

How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffershowmanystars

Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey

The Love of Two Stars by Janie Jaehyun Park

Once Upon a Starry Night by Jacqueline Mitton

How Many Stars in the Sky? by Lenny Hort

Summer is a great time to get a little crazy in the kitchen and for food-related field trips! At Random Acts of Reading, you’ll find my Dr. Seuss inspired recipes that will take your reading and cooking adventures on beyond Green Eggs and Ham.

You’ll also find food fun, like these One Fish Two Fish Treats at Seussville.com.

two fish







Reading Rockets has cooked up some great food fun centered around paired fiction and nonfiction books. Check out these Reading Adventure Packs for getting creative in the kitchen:

Each Reading Adventure Pack includes great book recommendations. But if you want to sample some other food and cooking related titles, try these: 

Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert

Yum Yum Dim Sum by Amy Wilson Sanger

How To Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman

The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin

The Magic School Bus Gets Baked in a Cake: A Book About Kitchen Chemistry by Joanna Cole

Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech

Pie by Sarah Weeks

At the local elementary school, I’m known to some as Princess Rita Alot. Others call me the Book Fairy. While out shopping, I’ve been recognized as “the space alien who came to school.”  I like to dress up! School book fairs and library nights have given me many opportunities to have fun with favorite themes and characters.

QueenCI realized though that I’d been very limited in my costume choices, neglecting the wondrous world of nonfiction. So I moved beyond the book fair to the Science Fair. In my late 19th century dress with a vial of (pretend) radium, I was Marie Curie. But the most fun was dressing as a cumulus cloud and having kids explain the water cycle to me!

Why did I wait so long to take advantage of these nonfiction opportunities? As a parent, I don’t think I’m alone. When my kids were younger, we read a lot about shapes, colors, animals and then trains. Lots and lots of books about trains. Which is normal. As children get older, their interest in specialized information grows stronger. The trick I think is to remember to keep introducing potential new interests so that you don’t wander away from nonfiction all together just because you’ve exhausted (or been exhausted by) one favorite subject.

In the work I do with Reading Rockets we’ve developed some interesting resources and activities for engaging in nonfiction reading.  The Reading Adventure Packs which pair a set of theme-based fiction and nonfiction books and related interactive activities are great to encourage reading at home and support the role of parents as educators. Robots and Gardening are the newest themed packs and wonderful to share during the summer.

The Reading Adventure Packs are also featured as part of Reading Rockets newest project, Start with a Book. Start with a Book is a great resource to help parents, caregivers, and volunteers find summer themes that match the curiosities and interests of young children (grades K-3) and get them actively exploring bugs, birds, planes, music, sports, superheroes, inventors, art, the ocean and more!


If you’re unsure of where to start with nonfiction, this Quick Guide to Selecting Great Informational Books for Young Children will give you a very thorough introduction.  Start with a Book can also help you entice fiction readers to nonfiction. But if you already have nonfiction fans in your house, they might enjoy learning more about how these kinds of books are made. These video interviews with Gail Gibbons, Seymour Simon and George Ancona will give curious minds even more to think about.

So this summer make sure the library basket has nonfiction choices. And make sure those costume baskets have lab coats as well as crowns and wands!



Part of this post is revised from a previous article written for the First Book Blog.

While I’ve been waiting for bits of green to suddenly appear in my garden (or anywhere for that matter), I’ve been taking a look at some excellent books to encourage green thumbs in young readers and thinking about outdoor garden reading parties:

Planting party! Start with readings of From Seed to Plant and And Then It’s Spring. Have seeds, tools, and a ready place for planting. Dig in!

The garden in summer is a perfect place for a book-nic with a read aloud of Weslandia and summer-ripe fruits and veggies.

Summer garden parties can also be more refined affairs with a reading of The Summertime Song and hats made lovely with flowers and greenery from the garden.

Host a harvest party to celebrate and share the bounty of your garden. Plan for a reading and making of Stone Soup and ask friends to bring items harvested from their own gardens to add to the pot.

Take a cue from reading The Imaginary Garden and brighten a winter day with a painting party. Create a mural, artwork to hang, or decorate stones to mark your garden path.

Whatever the season, there are books and activities to get your young readers raring to grow!

Tips to Get Growing

  • Reading books featuring gardens will give kids ideas about what they want their own garden should look like. Let them take the lead in planning.
  • Give kids their own separate space to garden, and let them plant and tend it in their own way.
  • Beginning gardeners should start small, planting their favorite flowers or foods.
  • A garden can be planted in a yard, on a balcony, porch, stoop or windowsill.
  • Provide kid-sized tools or improvise with old silverware. Containers for planting can come from the recycling bin, attic or garage. You can plant in almost anything if you add drainage holes and potting soil.
  • Some kids are going to be more interested in the digging than the planting. Others will be more fascinated with the insects and other creatures that inhabit the garden plot. And some will only be impressed when it is harvest time. Encourage their curiosity, give them responsibility and let them get dirty!

garden copy

Great Gardening with Kids Resources

Dig Art! Cultivating Creativity in the Garden from Cornell Garden-Based Learning

Family Gardening for all seasons at KidsGardening

Our Green World from Start with a Book



Belle in the Garden

I’ve also been thinking about books that influenced and inspired my own gardening adventures.

All one hot morning, the beans were popping out of the ground. Grace discovered them and came shrieking with excitement to tell Ma. All that morning she could not be coaxed away from watching them. Up from the bare earth, bean after bean was popping, its stem uncoiling like a steel spring, and up in the sunshine the halves of the split bean still clutched to pale twin-leaves. Every time a bean popped up, Grace squealed again.

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

More than any others, the books in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series made me want to grow my own food. I wanted to shriek with excitement like Grace and have “large, round colored pumpkins [that] made beautiful chairs and tables.”

I loved all Wilder’s details about preparing the earth, planting and tending the garden, and harvesting. Just by reading, I felt at age 8, I knew what to do to plant a garden and grow my own food to survive! But it was also clear that there were no guarantees—no matter how hard you worked and tended the garden, something could still go wrong. For me, the gamble was part of the excitement.

Growing up, my yard was 109 acres, so there was space for me to dig, plant and grow my own mammoth squash and fat pods of peas. Now my garden is reduced to two 4 x 8 foot raised beds. But there’s comfy bench nearby that’s a perfect place to read while waiting for those tender shoots to emerge.

For the last nine weeks, it seems like everywhere I look someone is writing or talking about summer reading. I’ve been seeing summer reading recommendations and advice for parents on engaging kids in meaningful learning opportunities all over the web since the end of April.

It’s been hard to get into the summer reading spirit though when June 24 is the last day of school for my boys.

But now summer is “officially” starting in my house and I have tons of summer reading and learning ideas. For my oldest, I was going to pair fiction and nonfiction titles and arrange related museum or field trip experiences and possibly some connected viewing, music, or multimedia. Here’s an example:

Fiction reading:
The Danger Box by Blue Balliett
This enlightening and satisfying mystery has a little of everything—crime, fire, abandonment, outcasts, friendship, scientific discovery and Charles Darwin

Nonfiction reading:
Charles Darwin (Giants of Science) by Kathleen Krull
This accessible biography of Charles Darwin reads so well it would be a good read aloud for the whole family

Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
Darwin’s first person adventure as the official naturalist on the HMS Beagle

Darwin’s Darkest Hour
A two-hour PBS drama on the crisis that forced Darwin to publish his theory of evolution

Galápagos: The Islands That Changed the World
BBC documentary that explores the natural history and history of exploration of the Galapagos Islands

Explore the Galapagos
Incredibly cool interactive map from NOVA at PBS.org that lets you see the islands as they are today and learn how they inspired Darwin

As I thought about how to present this plan to my teenaged son, I started to have doubts. Even though he just finished The Danger Box and expressed an interest in knowing more about Darwin, I can already envision the Darwin biography pushed under his bed.

My son is a reader. He reads about 15,000 pages a year and always asks me, “What book do you have for me to read next?”

So instead of worrying about putting together lovely, interesting themed packages for him, I decided instead to try to stop spoon feeding him and figure out how to get him to start choosing his own reading material.

He occasionally gets recommendations from friends, but for the most part, it’s me filling the library basket with selections I think that he might like or offering a review copy of new title that I’ve recently enjoyed. Our house is bursting with reading material of all kinds—there’s no shortage of books, newspapers, magazines, or multimedia.

I feel like I should know better. My years at Reading Is Fundamental instilled the belief that getting to choose your own book really motivates a reader. Learning to make choices is such an important life skill and now that I have a teenager on my hands, I really want him to feel that he knows how to make smart choices. Choosing your own book isn’t that big of a deal, but it is really great to have the decision-making practice and to understand the consequences of choices.

Our summer reading and learning then is going to focus on what it takes to choose—time, patience, and trial-and-error. We’ll talk about appropriateness and where to look for help if he needs it, like talking to the librarian or reading reviews of books.

Here’s hoping the library basket is full all summer—with titles I didn’t choose.