Posts Tagged With: #reading

The Bridge to Summer Break

Summer is here, school is out, and the kids are home all day long.

When I was growing up that meant fun and adventure. We’d get up at sunrise, have breakfast, and then we were out for the day running around the neighborhood, riding our bikes in the canyons, and eating lunch at whoever’s mom would feed us that that day. If my mom had the day off from work, lunch was at our house. Everyone knew if we played our cards right, she’d let us hang out in the family room and play cards or watch television until time for dinner. We thought we were getting away with something – but the truth was she liked having us around.

As we got older, we could take the bus somewhere for the day. The beach, the zoo, or the library were popular destinations. Occasionally, it was a day at the mall and the afternoon matinee.

As the school year wrapped up, I asked my students (high school age, most receiving special education services) what they planned to do over the long break. Most responded, “nothing.”

Being the “speech teacher,” I would inquire for more detail, working on one last chance to teach better communication skills. “Define – nothing. Are you sitting on your bed twiddling your thumbs? Or sitting on the floor with your fingers in your ears?”

They give me polite laughter at the attempted joke.

Nothing means playing video games all day. Things have changed since I was a kid.

The moment they say admit that they have no real plans for summer, students that have been with me awhile know what is coming next.

We just spent the last five months reading a novel together as the platform to work on their language goals. This year we read Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson.

We talked about the main characters, Jesse and Leslie, spending time stretching the wings of their imaginations bringing Terabithia into existence. It was in this land of their making, they learned the power of friendship, how to face the giants in their lives, and how it was important to give back to the world what they had learned. The ending is bittersweet, there were a few wet eyes and sniffles as we finished the reading.

Before we get back to how this relates to my student’s summer, let me explain why I read to my students.

I am not a reading teacher, my pay-the-bills job is providing Language, Speech, and Hearing Services to high school students. I use reading as a platform to meet their goals. It is through reading, I can introduce them to vocabulary and grammar in context. The stories demonstrate the use of critical thinking and problem-solving skills in a wide variety of settings. Most importantly, it is through reading we learn how to deal with strong emotions in relative safety, especially empathy.

Now, back to our main topic – What are you doing during Summer Break?

After they have told me that they plan on spending their summer in their dark, probably smelly, bedrooms staring at a monitor for two months, I take a deep breath and smile. “Is that the best you can do? Where is your sense of adventure? Where is your imagination?”

They roll their eyes.

“Are you ready for your summer assignment?” I continue.

From the freshman, I get wide-eyed looks of disbelief – homework over summer? The older students roll their eyes again and say, “We know, we know – read.”


This is their assignment, printed on stationary –

Dear Students,

It’s time to say goodbye to another school year. Where did it go? These past ten months have gone by too fast. I have watched you learn, discover, and become young adults.

I’m going to ask you to do three things over the Summer:

  • Read every day for at least thirty minutes (longer would be better). Read anything: sports magazines, comic books, the manual for that new video game, or novels. You don’t need money to do this – the public library is free. The librarians will be glad to help you find something of interest at your reading level. Take advantage of the library’s summer reading program and book browse. (To browse a book – pick up a book and start reading. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to finish it. Return it and get another book. If you like it, finish it and then ask the librarian to help you find other books by the same author or in the same genre.)
  • Get some sun on your face every day. That means – go outside. Play basketball in the park. Go for a walk. Ride your bike. Have fun.
  • Come back to school in one piece. I don’t want to see any broken students in August. I want you back safe, healthy, and ready to learn.

Take care and have fun. I look forward to seeing you all in the fall.

Students that have done my summer homework report that they had a fun break, learned something new, and were ready to be back at school. Those that didn’t report they had an okay break and are not ready to be back a school.

If you have students at home for the summer and they’ve decided that hibernating in their bedrooms and vegetating is how they are spending their break, might I make a suggestion?

Encourage them to come out of the dark and join you in the sunshine. Make it a family activity to go to the library, take a hike, or do something new.

I have no children at home. It would be easy for me to park myself at the computer and surf all day. But I know that I’d be hurting both my physical and mental health. So, I read, write, take the dogs for walks, borrow my friend’s children for a day, and plan adventures. In other words, I follow my own advice to my students.

I’ll admit those last few weeks of the school year I was so looking forward to a break from getting up at 4:30 in the morning, being responsible for a hundred plus students, and facing the daily pile of paperwork on my desk.  But I also know that come the end of July, I’ll be ready to cross back over the bridge a start another school year.

I wish you all, my beloved readers, a happy and safe summer. And don’t worry, I’ll be posting my adventures so you can share in the fun too.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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Joy of Reading


I love to read, and I enjoy passing on the love of reading to others.

It doesn’t take much to encourage a child to explore the endless possibilities of reading.

No, I’m not a parent. I am an educator, an aunt, a Girl Scout volunteer, a writer and a voracious reader. I have a lot of experience with children and books. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be the child’s parent to help them learn to love reading. Through the years I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t . . . So here is my recipe for raising a child that reads:


  1. Read to them, starting at a very early age. (Yes, I’m saying read to babies in the crib.) Reading to infants and toddlers has benefits that include not only bonding between the reading adult and the child, they learn to connect reading with being loved. It also lets them hear the language played with (Remember how much fun Dr. Seuss is?). For older children, it is a chance to share a book and then talk about what you’ve read.

I read a novel every winter with my students. Without fail, if I am excited about the story, I will have one or two teens tell me, “That’s now my favorite author.”  And for the remainder of the school year, I will see that “reluctant reader” with a non-assigned book in their hand to enjoy.


  1. Let them see you reading silently. Children, I have found learn best by example, so model the behavior you want them to follow. If an adult they trust and respect does something, they are more likely to do the same. Actions really do speak louder than words.

I always have a book on my desk, along with a magazine or journal. If I have a few minutes between groups, I read. My students see me with my nose in a book as they enter my room, and sometimes they ask what I am reading.


  1. Fill your space with reading material – books, magazines, comics, newspapers – so something is always at hand to read. A social worker once told me when she does a home visit she looks for printed material (books, magazines, newspapers). If she sees more than five, then the chances of the children in this home graduating from high school jump significantly.

My house and my office have a variety of printed material. I will loan books from my office to students.


  1. When you find something you really like to read, be enthusiastic about it. If you’re excited about it, it may generate the child’s interest in the book or subject.

I recently finished a young adult novel that was absolutely fantastic. I shared my thoughts with the school librarian and several students. The book was purchased for the school library, and now there is a waiting list to read this book.


  1. Let them “book graze” or as one of my English teacher friends call it, “book tasting.” With book grazing a child goes to the library and checks out two to three books, then they read the first chapter. If they like what they have read, they can finish the book. If they don’t like it, for any reason, they just take it back and check out a different book. Unlike an assigned reading from class, they do not have to finish the book merely sample part of the text. Sometimes they don’t read for enjoyment because they haven’t found an author or a genre they like. This activity introduces them to a wide variety of writing styles and genres. When a student finds something they like, they can ask the librarian to help them find similar books.

I encourage book grazing with most of the children and teens I know. Just last week I had a student, who had skimmed several books,  come back to me and wanted to know if I could recommend a book similar to the one they had just finished.


  1. Give books and magazine subscriptions as gifts. If the child you know has a special interest it is easy to find material on that topic to share with them.

All of my “kids” know if they get a present from Auntie Tess, it will almost always be a book. Generally, it is either a book I read at their age and really loved or a book in a genre I know they already enjoy.

Each of these examples produced concrete positive results.

This is so important because reading has benefits beyond being just relatively inexpensive entertainment.  Reading can, just to name a few examples, improve vocabulary skills, teach critical thinking skills, helps develop resiliency, learn empathy, and assist the development of better language skills.

Depending on the source, reading teachers recommend students read 15 minutes to 30 minutes daily (that’s about 1,140,000 – 2,600,00 words a year!) The amount of time spent with their nose in a book had been linked to better school performance and improved self-esteem.

I can’t think of a better gift to give my “kids” then literacy and the benefits brings.


Here’s a list of some of my favorites:

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. Hannah doesn’t want to do to the Passover Seder, but this year will be different as she is transported back in time to face unspeakable horrors. Reading interest level  4th – 6th grade.

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. Life is hard for Jess Aarons, being the only boy squished between four sisters, but his life changes with Leslie Burks moves in. Jess learns many lessons from Leslie, the hardest one will follow a tragic accident. Reading interest level 4th – 8th grade.

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner. A mysterious gypsy boy, Yann, lives in Paris at the dawn of the French Revolution. He must use his newly emerging powers to stop a murderous count and save the beautiful heiress, Sido.  (This is the book that has the waiting list at my high school.) Reading interest level 6th – 12th grade.

By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman. Set during the California Gold Rush, follow the adventures of a boy and his trusty butler. Will they strike gold or go home empty handed? Reading interest level 4th – 7th grade.

Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska. Manolo has a secret – he’s a coward. Everyone expects him to be a great bullfighter like his father, who died in the bullring when Manolo was only three. He must make a choice to follow in his father’s footsteps or forge his own path. Reading interest level 5th – 9th grade.

If you’re wondering if a book too easy or too hard, a reading teacher taught me this trick when I was working in a bookstore: Have the child turn to a random page and read. How many words were new or difficult? None – the book will be easy to read, 1 to 2 – a little bit of a challenge, but within their reading level, 3 to 4 – more of a challenge, but if it’s of interest they will be able to read. More than four – it’s probably going to be too difficult at this time.

All this talk about reading makes me want to go pour a cup of Earl Gray tea and curl up with a good book.

Please tell me your favorite books to share with children and teen in the comments.

Until next time remember . . .

The door is always open and the kettle is always on.

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Two Ways Dogs Can Make You A Better Writer


Yes, dogs can improve your writing. Actually adding any animal to a story can improve it significantly, but I am a dog parent, I live with two dogs, so I’m going to use dogs.


Argos and Rowdy Girl, my fur-babies.

We’ve all noticed there are people to whom dogs are naturally attracted or just the opposite, they avoid them as if they were the dog-catcher. Dogs are good judges of character. We can also judge a person’s character by how they treat dogs.

This is the first way adding a dog into your story can improve it. We want to let our readers know if this is a “good guy” or a “bad guy,” right? Having them interact with a dog is a way of showing, rather than telling, that the person is gentle or harsh. For example, your main protagonist is eating a hot dog, in walks stay dog (or his girlfriend’s dog), and he ignores the big brown eyes. In fact, he turns his back on the animal. What do we know now? He’s not such a softy after all. Or what if your main antagonist can’t resist taking home every stray dog she finds? Maybe there are some redeeming qualities there after all. What if a character is growled at every time the dog is present? That might be someone who is not trustworthy.

In the above example, the dog is primarily a prop, no different than a gun or umbrella. But a second way to include an animal is as a full-fledged character. There are lots of examples of this. Lassie and Big Red, of course, comes to mind. As does, Buck in Call of the Wild. These are main characters, but they can also be supporting characters. Think of Fang in the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone, Nana in Peter Pan, and Pilot in Jane Eyre. These dogs are not primary characters, but without them, the story would be diminished.

Here are some examples from The Princess of Sweetwater using the dog to tell the reader something:

After dinner, Victoria sat on a stool in front of the big fireplace reading one of the textbooks, while Ox rested his massive head on her lap.

“I have never seen that dog take to someone the way he’s taken to you.” Hiram stretched out in his chair. “Did you have dogs at home?”

“Not as pets. My father keeps deerhounds and wolfhounds, but they’re hunting dogs.”

“Maybe he misses a woman’s attention. Marta spoiled him, and Maria won’t have anything to do with him.”

“You’re always welcome to join me by the fire, big boy.” She buried her face in his thick fur.

Ox is the ranch dog, and he likes Victoria, maybe he’s telling Hiram, she should stick around

And here’s Ox again:

At five o’clock, the boys washed up for supper. They ate in silence. Victoria saw a mix of worry and fatigue in the older boy’s eyes.

As Maria began to clear the table, a dog’s bark mixed with the clinking of the dishes.

“That’s Ox,” said Harvey, shoving away from the table.

He ran to let the dog in, the wind rushed through the open door blew out most of the lamps.

Ox continued to bark and ran back to the barn. Halfway there he stopped and looked back.

“I guess he wants us to follow him,” said Harvey running after the dog.

Victoria and the other boys followed.

On the barn floor, they found Hiram wet, muddy and bloody.

What happened to Hiram? You’re going to have to wait until the book release in March 2017.


Ox, an English Mastiff, 150 lbs of slobbering love.

And here’s a cute little beagle named Dudley:

Kate came out of the kitchen when she heard voices in the inn’s main room. The dog bounded after her.  She found two men in suits going through the cabinets and drawers. “Can I help you, gentlemen?”

“We’re from the Pinkerton Agency,” said one of the men. Both pulled out their badges.

Dudley growled at the men. They took a step back.

Maybe Kate shouldn’t trust those Pinkerton agents.


Dudley,  a Beagle pup

And here’s a bonus on how dogs can make you a better writer – owning a dog will get up and moving. You can’t sit at your desk and stare at the computer screen all day. You need a break. Take the dog for a walk, go play in the yard, or visit the pet supply store. While you’re taking that much need break, your brain will still be churning, and when you come back, there will be fresh ideas waiting for you.

Until next time, remember the door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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Oh Look! A Pelican!

Oh look, a pelican!

If you’ve known me any length of time you will know that I am easily distracted by dogs, horses, and birds. If one of these creatures comes into my visual field, you will lose me briefly. One bird, in particular, will capture my attention – the brown pelican.

The brown pelican is a miraculous bird. When I was growing up, they were a rare sight on beaches of Southern California, as their numbers dwindled due to the use of the pesticide DDT. But since the toxin has been banned in the United States the population has rebounded. Just a few years ago I saw a large gathering on the rocks and islets off of coast of Mendocino. Hundreds of them had gathered in preparation for migration. The sight held me mesmerized. I almost forgot to breathe.

When I began writing my novella, Leap of Faith, I wanted to name some of the native animals found on the beautiful islands of the Bahamas. I discovered the brown pelican could be found soaring over the cays of this Caribbean country. So I put one in my story.


Leap of Faith tells the story of Grace, an administrative assistant, working for a Chicago candy manufacturer. Her life takes an unexpected turn one frosty morning when she is knocked off her feet, literally, by a stranger. Not content to remain a stranger, Philippe Santiago offers her a job on his sugar plantation in the Bahamas.

Here is Grace meeting George, the pelican, for the first time as she arrived on Orchid Cay. An excerpt from Leap of Faith:

As they stood on the dock, their luggage was carried down the gangway and loaded into a lime-green golf cart by the lanky, dark crew members.

A light breeze caressed Grace’s cheek. She took in a deep breath and sighed.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes.” She smiled up at him. “I’m just amazed. The air even smells like vanilla.”

“That would be the wild vanilla orchids that give the island its name.” He put his hand on the small of her back and turned her inland. “It is just a short walk to the house.”

A brown pelican waddled over to her and opened its greedy mouth. Grace didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the sight of the poor, ungainly bird and its crooked wings.

“That would be George. He was blown onto the cay during a hurricane last year. Xandra nursed him back to life, but he is too badly injured to care for himself now. He follows her around like a puppy. I’m certain she’s still fishing, so he waits and hopes someone, anyone, will give him a fish.”

“Hey, boss,” called a dark, lanky man unloading their luggage, giving them a bright smile. “I got some fresh bait cut in dat bucket. If you want, I can share with George. Then pretty lady be his friend.”

“That’s an excellent idea, Charlie.”

Philippe reached into the bucket, pulled out a large chunk of fish, and handed it to Grace.

She took the slippery fish between her forefinger and thumb, cringing as she held it at arm’s length. She tentatively dropped it into George’s beak pouch, which he quickly snapped shut with a loud clack.

“Oh,” she said jumping back.

“Don’t you worry, George, he not hurt pretty lady.” Charlie laughed. Grace couldn’t help but smile at the man who towered over her. “Give him another piece.”

She gave the bird second bit of fish and this time she was less timid.

“That should keep him happy until Xandra gets home later this afternoon,” Philippe said. “Now, it’s just straight up this path to the house.”

I hope to have Leap of Faith ready for you to read in its entirety very soon. In the meanwhile, sit back and have a cup of tea.

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