Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Listening Comprehension and Children's Audio Books: Some Thoughts

In March's Book Blab Episode, Amy and I talked about the importance of reading aloud to kids (of all ages). We covered a lot of material, but two things we didn't talk about in that episode (but which I've been thinking a lot about since we started reading longer chapter books aloud to our boys last year) were listening comprehension, and children's audio books. These two issues are related, but let's take them one at a time.

First, comprehension. One of the biggest concerns I had with starting longer chapter books with my then four-year-old was whether he would be able to follow and understand a longer story that took days and weeks to read. Drawing on my training as an English teacher and my experience of reading aloud to my son for the past few months, here's my best advice on increasing listening comprehension while reading aloud.

1- Choose age appropriate books with stories that your kid naturally finds interesting. This is easier said than done, and it takes some trial and error to figure out the books that work and the books that don't. Reading aloud is a chance to expose your children to books that are above their own reading level, because children can usually have higher listening comprehension than reading comprehension (another reason it's great to read aloud), but if you go too far above comprehension can plummet. Likewise, if your child isn't interested in the characters or story, they are less likely to pay attention. It takes some work to find books that hit the sweet spot for comprehension, and we've had a couple of duds (but it's always fine to stop reading a book that's not working and just move on).

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Happy Bloggiversary to Me!

Hi guys! Four years ago this month I pushed publish on my first little blog post here at Such Stuff, and while I didn't necessarily have a clear vision about what I was going to do with this space, it quickly became my favorite hobby of all time. Writing about books? Meeting up with other wonderful bookish people? Writing about other rambly things completely unrelated to books? Yes and yes! This little blog has been so much fun for me and brought me so much joy, and I hope I can keep up with it while plunging into the depths of grad school work at the PhD level (not to mention still raising those three kids....).

To commemorate my bloggiversaries, I like to do a little face-lift and sprucing up here on the blog. This didn't happen last year because, pregnant, so things were kind of in desperate need of some updating (I mean, desperate). I made a few simple cosmetic changes (hope you like the new header, I drew it myself, if that isn't painfully obvious) and spruced up my pages, which is what I want to draw your attention to.

First off, I finally have a page devoted to the archives of The Book Blab! Yay! I've been meaning to put this page up since, well, since we started doing The Book Blab, so that was long overdue. Now if you ever want to view a past video but don't want to go searching through all my archives, you can head to that page.

Second, I changed up my Books page with a much more aesthetically pleasing view of (most) of the books I've read and reviewed on Goodreads, but I would appreciate your feedback on this page. Right now when you click on the book cover, it takes you to my Goodreads review of the book. I thought that would be the most useful because Goodreads is where I actually give a star rating for every book I read, but would you prefer links to my actual blog posts? Since I don't thoroughly review every book, or sometimes talk about books in multiple posts, linking to posts can get messy. But if I get a strong response from you guys about wanting links to my blog posts, I'll see if I can work something out.

Also, right now that page is organized by the order I've read these books (most recent reads at the top), because this organization is the most useful to me. But this page is supposed to be useful for you guys, so would you prefer alphabetical order? Or some other kind of organization? Or do you not really care at all? Let me know in the comments, because I can reorganize fairly easily (especially if you want it in alphabetical order).

Finally, do you guys have any other input for me? Things about the blog you wish I would add/delete/change? Comments or advice? Favorite types of posts? Things you wish I'd write more about (or stop writing about, as the case may be)? Questions? I'm all ears, hit me up in the comments or shoot me an email.

And can I just say, thank you so much for reading! I love all you, the readers I know in real life, the virtual friends I've made through this blog, and even the silent stalkers who never comment! I'd still write if nobody ever read, but it's so much more fun with an audience, so thanks for joining me here.

Here's to many more years of blogging to come!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Books I Read in April

Well, I only made it through five books this month. I really shouldn't be all that disappointed, considering this still beats my goal of a book a week (and actually, by the end of April I've already read more books this year than I read the entire year of 2014, so that's something). It's just clear that all my luxurious nursing reading time is a thing of the past, and I'm back to fighting and scraping to find time for reading amidst all the other demands on my time. Also, I'm in the middle of two really good books right now that I had hoped to finish last week but alas, the time did not materialize. Anyway, I've actually written about most of these books already, so these reviews will be short with links to my other posts.

Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery

It was charming and delightful, but I missed Anne. More thoughts here.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Stunningly beautiful. Beautiful story, beautiful writing, five star read. More thoughts here.

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

Not the same kind of love as for the earlier Anne books, but still really good as a WWI book. More thoughts here.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Still really well written, but lost some of the novelty of the first in this duology (Six of Crows). Also, a bit dark and violent. Mentioned in this post.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

I finished this one for a special mini book club Book Blab episode with Amy, but then she went and had her baby, so we didn't get the episode filmed this month. I'm saving all my thoughts for whenever we do get that episode filmed, so stay tuned for that (but read it yourself first, because spoilers!).

Actually, I just realized that I "read" a few more books this month by way of read-alouds and audio books with my son, but I'm still on the fence about counting those toward my personal reading goals. I'll share more about those in an upcoming post. Let me know if you've read any of these ones, would love to here your thoughts!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Facing Big Changes, One Step at a Time

I've been a bit tight-lipped here on the blog about some big changes happening in my real life, mostly because while we knew they were coming, we didn't know how or when or where. For basically this whole year, we've been living in a state of anxious anticipation about our foggy future and trying to figure out our next steps. But things are finally starting to come into sharper focus, and so I feel okay now with sharing some of these bigger bits of news here on the blog.

As my faithful readers know, last fall I began applying to PhD programs. In mid-February, I learned I was accepted, with good funding, to two of these programs, and in March I accepted a place at the University of Kansas. My husband immediately began a job search that went through several rounds of ups and downs, but yesterday he accepted a very good offer with a law firm in Kansas City, and today he gave notice to his firm here in Houston. And so next month we will be moving.

To Kansas.

Looks like we're going to need to resurrect this family Halloween costume from 2012. And I've always loved ruby red shoes, so I should fit right in. There's no place like home, right? (If I'm going to live in Kansas, I might as well own it.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Power of Language to Overcome Violence (Plus the Value of Finding Unexpected Connections)

I often seem to find myself thinking about the connections between books I read right around the same time (the English teacher side of me calls this making "text-to-text connections"). Sometimes the connections are obvious because the books are very similar (like when I read two books by the same author with the same setting and themes within a few weeks of each other), but sometimes the books are completely different in every way and the only reason my brain picks up on a connection is because it was already thinking about the theme or topic from a book I just finished reading (for instance, when I connected a rambling memoir about a young woman with a foreign novel about an old man because they were both clearly introverts).

This happened to me recently, with an even more bizarre pairing: a literary foreign novel about friendship, and an action-packed fantasy novel with a heist twist. You guys, Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend and Leigh Bardugo's Crooked Kingdom could not be more different, but while I was reading the latter, I couldn't stop thinking about the themes of poverty and violence, mostly because those were such big themes in My Brilliant Friend, and therefore it was on the mind.

Violence is not something I spend a lot of time thinking about, I guess because I live a lucky and privileged life in which I've had very little exposure to real violence. Once, when I was in kindergarten, a boy I didn't know very well came over for a play date (our mothers were friends), and he proved to be a bit rougher of a playmate than my sisters and other girl friends were. I think he was pretending to be a ninja or something, and at one point in the game he punched me hard in the chest. I was shocked because it was the first time in my life I'd ever been hit like that. It was also the last. (Except for that one time when my then-boyfriend now-husband accidentally punched me in the nose while he was putting on a sweatshirt and forcing his arm through the sleeve and I was standing a little too close. It was clearly unintentional, but I still like to rag him about that moment.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Screen Time: Considering the Good

Benefits of Screen Times

Screen time. Such a sensitive, hot button topic. We all let our kids have way more screen time than we feel they should, and we all feel super guilty about it. Or we don't let our kids have any screen time and get completely worn down by the fight of it.

I've been thinking about the topic recently because my husband and I have been discussing just how much screen time our kids should get, and we disagree. If you guessed that I'm on the side of "the less screen time the better, and we should really try to not let them have any at all" then you'd be...

Thursday, April 13, 2017

On Re-Reading Anne of Green Gables as an Adult

Anne of Green Gables

I first met, and fell in love, with Anne of Green Gables when I was twelve. My sister received the whole series of eight books a few years earlier as a birthday present or something, so after devouring the first book I was able to race through the rest of the series in one go.

They made a huge impact on me. I loved, loved, loved those books. I related to Anne like no other. I used the term "kindred spirit" in an essay I wrote about friendship for my English class. I tried to sunburn my face to get freckles like Anne (not joking). I even considered dying my hair red. But, I'm not a huge re-reader, so while I watched the classic TV series a few times over the years, I never re-read the books.

Until now.