Category Archives: Books for Kids

Introducing…The Griffins of Castle Cary

I have AMAZING news! All my life I’ve wanted to write fiction, especially fiction for children. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t want to write books. My desire to become an author was strong by age four. … Continue reading

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Why Accelerating Reading Harms Kids and Books

We’re in a mad rush to speed up childhood again. This time rushing them through the delights of children’s literature. Children are asked to read “at their level.” For schools participating in the Accelerated Reader program (owned by a publicly … Continue reading

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8 Responses to Why Accelerating Reading Harms Kids and Books

  1. Marisol says:

    Thanks for sharing . You always interesting points brindas views about reading .
    I am reading but my children do not
    Freshly at that picture books comics process the routing will
    Forcing thought I could achieve something.
    Now with your contributions better I understand my children
    Congratulations on this special feeling for children

  2. Ariadne says:

    Heather, what a wonderful ideas you share here. I love this “Once they can read independently, kids should be able to move freely within the vast treasure trove of children’s literature.” and this is what we try to encourage in our home as well. Thank you!

  3. deidra says:

    Reading is such a complicated thing. I abhor the leveled reading books as they are boring and yes I will say TOO EASY. Typically they were all about working on a certain phonetic pattern and had no story whatsoever. BORING. I don’t think reading should ever be rushed EVER! It is a sure fire way to turn kids off reading forever. Your child will be your guide when it comes to reading readiness. Let them pick out whatever they want to read regardless of level or literary merit. so much more fun when you go to the library or book store and let them choose with no restrictions or judgement. So cool to see what book they come back with easy, hard, or just right!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Yes, I think we forget that teaching reading is also about teaching storytelling. A story worth telling should be engaging – no matter how simple the words. There are so many good picture book authors who understand this. Children who are independent readers and children who are learning to read deserve to read something worthwhile.

  4. Love the concept of Thinking Level vs Reading Level. Some of my fondest reads as a child were going back and rereading at age 8 a book I had first mastered at age 6, or rereading at age 10 a book I had first mastered at age 8. It was like getting reacquainted with an old friend I hadn’t seen for a while.

    It’s so frustrating that educators focus on the outcomes of education almost to the exclusion of the processes and progressions of education. Every individual learns uniquely, but still we try to achieve the ultimate one-size-fits-all solution. In my fantasy world, every child has an adult mentor who gently guides them through the childhood learning process and adapts any specific “lessons” that are presented to the child’s mindset and learning process at that precise moment.


  5. Shannon S says:

    I could not agree with you more. My 7th grade English class used the Accelerated Reader program. I was an enthusiastic, lifelong reader and an ambitious, eager-to-please student. Naturally, I gravitated to the books with the biggest numbers on the list – why would you not want the most points??

    I have no memory of those books.

    I was capable of reading the words and understanding the sentences, but I was still just 11 years old and just not ready to deal with the complexity of the ideas of the books yet. Bless my younger self for trying, I suppose, but it’s very clear to me now (20 years later) that no purpose was served by this correlation between books and points.

  6. Mike Huber says:

    This has always bothered me. I remember when my child was in first grade and they put the board book Jamberry on their reading list. The school used AR, but I encouraged my child to read what they liked. Now my child is 12 years old. They read a few books at a time, volunteer at a local bookstore, and write their own fiction. They have a poem being published in a local journal this winter. When I think back to the uninspiring books my child was being asked to read in first grade, it makes me wonder why anyone would think that AR is going to create lifelong readers.

Why we should read “Old” books to kids

A librarian recently told me about the purging system librarians use. “You can’t expect kids today to like the books their parents liked. People always think they can read their childhood favorites to kids. It just doesn’t work.” I beg … Continue reading

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9 Responses to Why we should read “Old” books to kids

  1. “You can’t expect kids today to like the books their parents liked. People always think they can read their childhood favorites to kids. It just doesn’t work.”

    Them’s fightin’ words!
    Like you, I oh-so beg to differ.

  2. We read mostly “old” books to our daughter. It never occurred to me not to. Our parents read “old” books to us. They are just as much a way of learning about the past as a history textbook. And there are reasons why they are classics, because the stories endure.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      And much more exciting than a textbook, too! Sounds as if you’ve had some lovely reading times as a family. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Lucy says:

    I read dozens of my parents’ favourite books when I was a child. I don’t know where the librarian got the idea that kids will only read books with shiny new covers. The Borrowers series, The Wouldbegoods, The Alice in Wonderland series, the Hobbit, and Kipling’s Just So Stories, were all favourites of mine, to name a few.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Wonderful! The language and rhythm of some of these stories can be just as compelling as the adventures. Keep on sharing them.

  4. Nicole says:

    I love “old” books, and have always read them to my son, right along with new ones. There have been a few he just couldn’t get into, but many more that he adored! I think they’ve enriched his literary background immensely, and plan to keep reading them as long as he’ll listen.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Bravo! Keep on reading– all the way through high school if you can. It’s a great way to get past the first few sticky chapters of some classics.

  5. Yes we should read old books to kids, just like we should be playing ‘old music’ to them as well. Would your librarian also say that kids wouldn’t like listening to old classical masterpieces? HA! Like you say, classics (no matter what type or genre) are classics for a reason.


There’s something about Leo Lionni’s beloved children’s book, Frederick, that has always bothered me.  Frederick is the classic story of a mouse who is a dreamer and a poet.  A mouse who is different from all the rest of the field mice.  He’s … Continue reading

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2 Responses to Frederick

  1. Timi Singley says:

    Great reflection! I feel similarly about The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein in relation to resource use. A tree gets used by a single human until it is nothing but a stump, never offering readers the opportunity to see what the young boy who keeps taking and taking is giving back. It teaches martyrdom and unhealthy realtions with nature and with people we love. It irks me to no end. I use it in my trainings while reflecting on how we teach young people about resource use through literature.

    One book about appreciating self is STAND TALL MOLLY LOU MELON by Patty Lovell. I also really like I LIKE MYSELF by Karen Beautmont.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I know what you mean about The Giving Tree. I was always bothered by it as a child, and read it over and over trying to “get” it. I think it’s all about how NOT to give, and how relationships need to be two-ways.

      Thanks for writing and for sharing the two titles!

Young Readers

When I learned my 10-year-old neighbor was reading The Hunger Games, my jaw dropped.  Really?  Already?  The words aren’t hard. It’s the topic.  Children killing other children in a complex moral/ political tale that’s meant for teenagers. But now I realize I … Continue reading

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13 Responses to Young Readers

  1. Rachel says:

    I ran into this situation recently when my seven-year-old daughter found Diary of a Wimpy Kid at the library. It’s illustrated with cartoons and looks like an age-appropriate book except that the story is about a middle school boy who is beginning to be interested in girls, struggles with bullies, and has a troubling relationship with his father. These are ideas I don’t mind her being exposed to, when the time is right.

    I’ve always thought that I wouldn’t stop a reader from choosing her own books. Censorship isn’t something I believe in, while I do believe that prohibited items create their own attraction.

    So I let her read it. She was fortunately bored and we had to return it to the library before she finished…

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Glad she was “fortunately bored!” Strikes me there would be a huge market for comic-book style books like this for younger kids. Yes, younger kids are reading them, but the topics are very middle school.

  2. Alyxandria says:

    My Mom went by the method of “if you’re old enough to ask, you’re old enough to know”. I guess she applied the same logic to literature – if I’m old enough to be interested, I’m old enough. She gave me boxes upon boxes of books that she read in her younger years and didn’t give me any guidance. I remember reading lots of Judy Blume books when I was 9-11 years old (this was 1999-2001). One book I read, “Forever”, was very adult in it’s portrayal of sex in teenage years. While parts of it were funny, it also represented the realities of our first sexual encounters: confusion, how young love doesn’t last, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, seeing the gynocologist, etc. Reading this book didn’t make me sexually promiscuous or confuse me. What it did do was give me information to think about and turn over, and it ended with me and my Mom having a frank discussion about sex and birth control when I was 12. It was a perfectly organic discussion on something that many parents struggled with, and I really appreciate that my Mom never censored my reading so that we could continue having these conversations. Also, there were many books that didn’t appeal to me in any sense until I was older – I’d get like 2 or 3 chapters in and move on. So I think the situations will work itself out, but it’s important to read what your kids are reading (or have read it) and be prepared to discuss the book and answer questions. Communication is key.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Alyxandria, sounds as if you had an excellent experience “self-censoring.” If a book didn’t appeal, you stopped reading after a few chapters. I go by your mom’s adage “if you’re old enough to ask, you’re old enough to know” and so glad your mom gave you honest answers.

      If kids are really interested, they will ask, read and find out and get something out of it. But I fear many young kids are reading simply because of the peer pressure factor rather than true interest.

      Knowing what kids are reading and being ready for open communication – bravo! Thanks for sharing your comment.

  3. I’ve always been an avid reader and often read books ‘too old’ for me when I was young, mainly because I wanted to challenge my reading skills. But mostly I devoured whatever was popular with most of the kids I knew. I don’t think I read much that was ‘too young’ for me because I’m usually a read-it-once-and-done reader. What’s funny is that even at age 57, I feel some books are still “too old” for me because of the complexity of the topic or ideas of a certain writer. Books on economic theory or philosophy, for example.

    I agree with Rachel about not wanting to censor certain books from young children, but also understanding that there are many books no child should read, or be allowed to read, based on graphic sex or violence or other adult subject matter.

    Unfortunately, video games that are rated for adults or at least teens are routinely played by under-age-12 kids, so it’s not as if they risk getting their minds corrupted by an “adult” book since pictures and scenes of graphic violence are all too common in video games, movies, and even some TV shows. Their young minds have most likely “already been corrupted.” And I don’t intend that to sound like “the sky is falling,” just that children are exposed to adult life much sooner these days than they ever were in the past, and with social media and instantaneous communication from the entire world now commonplace, parents fight an uphill battle to protect their kids from whatever they perceive as harmful.

    A proactive parent is the best defense. Get in the habit of visiting the local library, guide the child to books the parent thinks are appropriate and will interest their child, and encourage them to read as of much the terrific age-appropirate literature they can. Maybe shrug off a request to read an “adult” book with a comment such as “Okay, but I think you’ll find _(book)_ kind of boring because all the characters are old people doing ‘old people stuff.’

    A tough question, Heather, thanks for bringing it up.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      You’re welcome! To every book its own season… I laughed that you still have books that are still “old” for you. Me too!

      Thanks for sharing all your insights – sometimes books seem more real than graphic videos because a book brings you inside the head and thoughts and feelings of characters.

  4. deidra says:

    Great question! My six year old loves the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Although, I don’t think he fully understands all the stories, I truly believe the cartoon style format helped him with his reading. I do the bulk of the reading and he likes reading the talk bubbles. I do grapple with this concept There are so many wonderful picture books and the window is truly quite short for them to enjoy these. I really let him choose what ever he wants, but I also try to pick out some other picture books of things I think he might like. Harry Potter can definitely wait. I know he would be bored with it and I am certain he would find it scary.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      You said it – the window is truly quite short – and there are so many excellent books for the early ages.

      I know many kids have been spurred to read by the Wimpy Kid books, though I do think they need to write a new series for younger kids with younger kid dilemmas. It’s the elementary kids who are reading them. Maybe that’s why I prefer kids reading Calvin and Hobbes. At least the protagonist is a 6-year-old!

      • deidra says:

        I tried Calvin and Hobbs and he was not that into it. I did find a great picture book author much more appropriate for a six year old. Chris Gall. Awesome Dawson is great! Comic book style picture book about a young boy who likes to upcycle anything and everything.

  5. ” The book is a fantastic read — FOR THE RIGHT AUDIENCE.”

    I’m still trying to pull my eyebrows down from my hairline after reading the age bracket who are reading this book!

  6. Nicole says:

    I’m one of those adults who won’t read The Hunger Games. I just don’t want that concept in my head.

    I’m leary of official censorship, though, so if a child is really interested in something, I’ll talk to them about it and work with them – but I do think it’s fine to suggest and surround your child with age-appropriate materials, and hope they find something they like in the mountain of stuff you approve of.

    Another suggestion I’ve always gone by is “non-fiction at their reading level, fiction at their emotional level.” – If kids need a challenge, help them find harder books on science, cars, animals, whatever real things they’re interested in, and point them to age-matched fiction for more relaxing reading. Not every book has to stretch their skills. It’s OK if the “just for fun” ones are easy.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Nicole – thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love your guiding idea “non-fiction at their reading level, fiction at their emotional level.” Fantastic!

      I see so many parents – and, yes, teachers – who are focused more technical reading level rather than the ideas inside. What do we read for after all, if not for ideas?

Solo Adventures

Part of my research for my next book involves train travel, so I’ve been querying train companies in England.  Today I received an email with a highly satisfying answer: yes, kids can ride the train without an adult. As the … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Books for Kids | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

9 Responses to Solo Adventures

  1. My parents put me, my sister, and my aunt (also our age) on a train from Minneapolis to Milwaukee to visit our great grandparents’ farm in Elkhorn, WI. My sister and aunt were 9, I was 8 at the time. We were so-o-o-o scared to be leaving our parents, but had a great time on the farm, and came back much more confident (I presume- don’t remember a lot of the details of that trip). Back in the 60s we didn’t have Amtrak, just the Milwaukee Road or whatever that particular railroad was named.

    Of course, I don’t know if it took a lot of negotiation by our parents to let us travel alone, but we were met by the great grandparents in Milwaukee, so there was no chance of us getting into trouble unless we got off the train before Milwaukee, which we weren’t eager to do since we figured our only chance of survival was to trust these relatives we barely remembered from their last visit, maybe when we were 4 or 5.

    Other than that, we had pretty much free range of town once we got old enough to ride a bike, tell time, and understood bus schedules. It wasn’t unusual to ride bikes into Minneapolis to swim at one of the lakes or play miniature golf, or take the bus downtown to watch “BIlly Jack” 4 straight shows at the movie theater.

    That freedom was one of the best memories of my childhood, and I mourn that loss of adventure and freedom that today’s kids have. I think its huge for building independence and self-confidence.


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Love the story of your train journey! Can’t do that with cars… It’s trips like that that really create memories – the independence of it is something that can only be experienced first hand. Hooray for the ‘Milwaukee Road.’

  2. Laurie says:

    “When we step to the side, kids can experience their own lives and adventures.”

    I respect your words of wisdom. My parents were huge advocates of this mindset. One small example is them putting my sister and I on an airplane in San Diego and flying us to our aunt and uncle in Chicago. We’d have a blast with them while mom and dad were making their way across county in the car. Then we’d have a family road trip back again. It was a win-win situation!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Bet your parents enjoyed the peace and quiet of the long car drive, too! Definitely a win-win. Love your story.

  3. Zane says:

    This is interesting, Heather. I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that so many children characters in classic books are orphans or away from their parents—because of a vacation or some other circumstance. I agree that it’s important to let children (fictional and real!) have their own adventures (parent-free). But I must admit that some of my favorite scenes from The Penderwicks (our recent favorite books) are the interactions between parents/adults and children. There is a lot of wisdom in the way these relationships are developed. The children struggle with certain aspects of their parents/adults, of course, but readers also feel very assured that the father, in particular, has a deep respect, admiration, and love for his daughters. And this love buoys the main characters throughout their darkest moments.

    So, I’m striving for that balance in my stories: creating children characters who have the freedom necessary to have proper adventures while also nurturing their relationships with wise adults.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I’ve just been reading the Penderwicks myself! Lovely books. In these books, adults function to give the kids a good cornerstone of comfort and strength, but if you look at them, parents are still fairly absent. The mother is dead. The father is kindly but often lost in his own world walking in the woods looking at botanical specimens. The oldest girl basically raises the 4-year-old. In the third book the parents are completely gone and the kids are entrusted to an aunt (who conveniently sprains her ankle and is therefore out of commission).

      I do think your point about adults respecting kids and being there for them in their darkest moments is extremely important. In fiction and real life. Like Mr. Penderwick, or Dumbledore in Harry Potter, kids can turn to wise adults they respect in times of need and know they will be listened to.

  4. Deidra says:

    I never traveled like that as a child, but had a lot of freedom to roam the neighborhood. Rode our bikes or walked to friends, local store to buy candy. Took the bus to the mall to shop or see movies. I now live in NYC and try to give my 6 year old age appropriate independence whenever possible.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Trips to the candy store are just as important. Glad you experienced that freedom yourself and are finding ways to give that gift to your 6-year-old. It’s amazing to realize how much independence kids used to have, even in NYC (“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn…”).

  5. Cari says:

    I was pretty protected as a kid. I do remember the landmark day when I was allowed to walk to the corner candy store with only my friends. My mom did make us go the long way — to the end of the block where there was a stop sign, instead of jaywalking kiddie-corner. I also remember my first ten-speed and the freedom it afforded. Both were probably when I was 9-10ish. As a parent, I’m sometimes frustrated by the rules that limit our ability to incrementally expose our kids to independence, and thus build the self-confidence it requires to handle it. When my son was five, I started allowing him to go upstairs at the library by himself, either via stairs or elevator, while I took the other route and met him there. Turned out what I thought was a controlled lesson was violating library policy. Ironic, as one of my favorite kids’ books, no doubt available in that library, is Mop Top, about a six-year-old whose mom lets him go get his very own haircut –across vacant lots, no less!