Category Archives: fiction reading

Ramona Quimby’s “mother,” Beverly Cleary, turns 100

When I was a little girl, Junie B. Jones hadn’t been born yet.  Nor had Cam Jansen, Eloise, Madeleine, the Babysitters, or Harriet the Spy.  But that’s okay.  I had Ellen Tebbits.

Ellen Tebbits

Ellen Tebbits , by Beverly Cleary, was the second chapter book I ever read.  Ellen was so much like me—the same age, the same straight dark hair and the same kind of mother who made me wear undershirts, snow pants and boots all winter long.  But best of all, Ellen Tebbits was funny.  From chapter one, when Ellen’s winter underwear kept falling during her ballet class, and she kept tugging it up while Otis Spofford watched and imitated her, I was hooked.

I loved reading Ellen so much that when it ended I was disappointed.  Ellen was one of those books which I wanted to go on and on.  But I went straight to my library and found another book by the Beverly Cleary, and another, and another.

Beverly Cleary is a superstar in American children’s literature.  After penning 46 children’s books, she has won or almost won many awards:

  • the 2003 National Medal of Art from the National Endowment of the Arts;
  • the 1984 John Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw;
  • 1978 and 1982 Newbery Honor Books for Ramona and Her Father and Ramona Quimby, Age 8;
  • the 1975 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award of the American Library Association;
  • the 1980 Regina Medal from the Catholic Library Association;
  • and selection as the 1984 United States author nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, an international award.

Yesterday Beverly Cleary turned 100.  Celebrate this terrific author by buying or borrowing one of her novels for your children.  Then laugh with Ellen, Otis, Henry, Beezus, Ramona and the gang.  What a wonderful legacy Beverly Cleary  has left us.

To find out more about this children’s author, go to her website,

What kind of books do you read to your kids?

When my kids were little, I selected their reading materials from the picture book section of my library and book store.  In retrospect, I was limiting my children’s literature to fairy tales, Dr. Seuss and fiction of all kinds.

Yet children need exposure to nonfiction as well:  how to books, how things work books, information about animals and the natural world we live in, biographies, history, books with maps and tables, books about dinosaurs, even current events news.

Take a quick survey of the books you have read to your preschooler in the past week.  Were any of them nonfiction?

Expand your child’s horizons starting today.  Find the nonfiction section of the children’s section of your library and see what’s there that might interest your child.

  • Does he like dinosaurs? Lots of books explore the lives of these amazing creatures.  Or does he have a pet?  Books on dogs, cats, birds and almost every other animal abound.
  • Is your daughter into fashion? Find books about how clothes have changed over the centuries.  Find a biography of Coco Channel.  Look for a magazine with Downton Abbey or Academy Award dresses.
  • Is your child into building? You can find books and magazines on how to build a soap box, a tree house or a house of cards.  Or you can learn how a spider builds a web, how a bird builds a nest or how a beaver dams a stream to build a house with an underwater doorway.
  • Do you travel with your child? Magazines highlight fascinating places around the world.  Even if your child can’t read, together you can compare your home with the ones pictured.  Or together you can wonder what it would be like to take a gondola ride or to walk on the Great Wall of China.  Maybe you could plan a vacation.
  • Did Grandpa serve in the Army? Let Grandpa read to your child about the locations where he served or about the military uniforms he wore.  Did Grandpa fly a jet?  Find books about military aircraft.
  • Cooking books are great how-to books. With your child, find a picture of something you would like to eat and cook it together.
  • How about the handbook for your car? Or you phone?  Your child and you can look over the pictures and identify parts and what they do, picking up vocabulary.
  • Look for books with maps, charts, tables, pictographs, photos and other non-textual ways of presenting information.  Help your child to understand what those graphics mean.

Reading nonfiction is harder than reading fiction, yet students must be adept at both kinds of literature under the Common Core State Standards.  Start now preparing your child for his future by exploring nonfiction together.

Is the Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction reading justified?

Perhaps the biggest change the Common Core is bringing to public school reading in the US is its emphasis on reading more nonfiction and less fiction. The reasoning behind this change is to prepare students better for the reading they need to do in their math, science and social studies classes and in their future careers, especially in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).

Is the change really necessary? Let’s compare fiction reading and nonfiction reading for students who are beyond the picture book stage.

chart comparing fiction reading skills with nonfiction reading skills

(Adapted from State of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Governor’s Literacy Education and Reading Network Source)

As you can see, reading nonfiction is harder than reading fiction. It often requires more parent or teacher involvement prior to the reading to make connections to what the student already knows; during the reading to explain vocabulary and concepts; and after the reading to restate the main ideas and important details or to explain complicated concepts.

Fiction, too, can be better understood with teacher involvement, but usually fiction can be appreciated (if to a lesser degree) by the student reading alone so long as the student’s reading level matches the reading selection.

If you hope your child will have a great career someday as a doctor or environmentalist or physics teacher, you can appreciate why an increased emphasis on nonfiction reading is important even in first grade. You may question the Common Core, but its emphasis on more nonfiction reading can only help our kids.