Tearing down walls – one book and one tweet at a time

I have the feeling I spend the last two weeks on Twitter. Not for The Reading Castle or literature though, but for diversity and about the craziness of the current political situation. Everything else seems unimportant when you read about a purge of the white house’s senior staff, right wing politicians taking their place, the travel ban for citizens of certain countries and countless other unbelievable biases. And, everything seems to be reasonable when you accept an “alternative truth”. Science Fiction, anyone?

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Even more interesting is how the world reacts to it. While supporters of our new president seemed to see it justified to burn mosques and take pride in their racism and religious prejudice, the better part of Americans stood up for moral, their neighbors of every color, heritage and believe and the truth. With the day of the women’s marches my believe in this world, this country and the American people started to mend.

I want to stand against this madness. Not because I’m an immigrant myself, but because I believe in a diverse world. We teach our daughter acceptance and tolerance, kindness and thoughtfulness. Our children are watching. They might not understand yet, but they see what the political leadership is doing, that people are suffering while wrongs are justified with “alternative truths”. And they see how we are reacting. It’s more important them ever to teach them about other cultures and diversity. To stand for human rights, for refugees, women, scientists, our neighbors, kids and everyone else. I’m proud that the Reading Castle works with publishers that understand and support diverse children books. I’m sure these books will be an important part of making our children “worldcitizen”, who stand up for injustice and tear down walls.

Why I’m writing this? As an explanation. For me it’s not an alternative to keep this blog free of political opinions. What’s happening right now is just too important. But I’m spending too much time on Twitter and Facebook already, so I chose to just keep my Twitter account @readingcastle for literature only with the occasional side blow. If you are curious about my political opinion you can always follow me @lenalandwerth. If we are friends on Facebook you’ll see that it’s just not possible to stay out of the discussion right now 🙂

Thanks for your understanding!

Read your way around the world!

Some of you know that I started my journey as a Barefoot Ambassador a few weeks ago. I don’t work exclusively for Barefoot, but I absolutely love the company’s multicultural orientation and the chance to promote children’s literacy together with the engaged people from Barefoot Books.

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Their new summer reading program is all about creating world citizen and connecting summer reading with tons of fun and learning about different cultures.

When I was a child, our German school breaks were just six weeks long, summer literacy workshops weren’t known back then – and I spent the summer reading anyway… 😉 That’s why I was so astonished to learn that children have one to three months of learning loss over the summer break. Summer reading workshops are more important than we think – but shouldn’t the summer be fun and full of new adventures as well? Who wants to commit to not only read a certain number of books, but to certain books as well?

I have a better idea for you: Why not travel the world this summer – with reading books? Let your child choose which books to read, pair the books with optional activities, learn about world cultures – and more important: Have fun!

My 30 minute workshop on May 12 2016 gives you some ideas on how to travel the world from your living room or reading nook, how to choose the right books (or let your child choose) and how to find fun activities to go with it. And the best: You can access this event from your home PC! No need to pack the kids up and drive to the library! And nobody will know if you are in your PJs or your toddler is running around with a princess dress.

Join me on Facebook? 🙂

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Online Workshop: Reading with your child

Thanks for attending my Facebook Online Workshop about supporting children’s literacy at home! We talked about lots of topics, from the right illustrations for newborns up to cultural literacy. This script is just a short summary, but can help if you couldn’t attend the whole workshop or just want some reading suggestions!

"Bear on a bike" by Barefoot books - Finja's favorite!
“Bear on a bike” by Barefoot books – Finja’s favorite!

My husband and I grew up in Germany – Finja was born here in the US. German and American culture are not so different, but we use books to give Finja a basic understanding of German language. But it can go further than that! Sharing stories from around the world is a great way to start a conversation about diversity – even before children start thinking about other cultures actively! I first worked with “Barefoot Books”, the publisher of “Bear in a bike” for book reviews on by book blog and then decided to join their Ambassador program to have access to children literacy resources, support parents in finding the right books for their children and growing Finja’s bookshelf 🙂 Barefoot books offers a great variety of books about cultural diversity – I never saw that many books about different cultures! That’s why I decided to join the Barefoot Team as Ambassador to have access to more resources and help to bring parents, kids and the right books together.

How to identify a good book
In my opinion one of the most important things you can do for your child is reading out loud regularly. One of Finja’s first books was “Bear on a bike” from the British publisher “Barefoot books”. She still loves it and I have to read it to her multiple times a week. I still believe that the books you show your children during their early childhood have a huge effect on their interest of literacy! “Bear on a bike” for example has colorful illustrations – Finja loved this even when she was just a few weeks old. When she was older, she was drawn to the rhythm of the text – and now she loves to use the illustrations in a “search and find” manner. We talk about what happens on each page. In my opinion “Bear on a bike” is still one of the best children books that I ever encountered. That’s how I got in contact with the publisher. I personally love their books with beautiful art and meaningful stories that let imagination and creativity spark.

Book recommendation:
“Bear on a bike”: You can find my review about “Bear on a bike” here. Barefoot Books offers a preview on their homepage – here you can have a look into all the other Bear-books as well!

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Baby’s literature
Let’s begin at the beginning of your child’s reading journey. Babies explore their world with chewing. Board books can withstand mouthing. Board books are also great for tummy time, which is important for building core muscle strength. You can prop them up, which gives babies a focal point. But did you ever think about what’s “within” the pages? The dye Barefoot Board books are vegetable-based and non-toxic, so you don’t have to worry when your little one “reads” with her mouth! Here are some suggestions especially for younger children.BabyTalk

Another thing babies love: High contrast. Babies’ developing brains are tasked with processing a lot of information! Focusing on simple, high-contrast images allows babies’ brains to rest and helps prevent overstimulation.

Book recommendation:
Baby talk” This book has been specially created for parents and older children to share with new babies, helping to lay the foundations for secure attachment and early language skills.

Baby basics“: A colorful introduction to letters, numbers and opposites! These cheery board books include interactive spreads for practicing new skills.

 

Cultural literacy
Not only does reading together help children’s cognitive development, but it also strengthens your parent-child bond. Plus, we sometimes forget about something else: As parents we are also concerned about our children’s character development. What kind of people will they grow up to be? We want them to be caring and socially conscious citizens of the world: self-confident, curious and compassionate. And what better way to grow your childrens’ confidence, empathy and knowledge about other cultures than books? One of the things I love most about Barefoot Books is that the company promotes cultural and emotional literacy. I don’t know about you, but before discovering Barefoot, it was hard for me to find books that exposed my daughter to diversity.

SafariBook recommendations:
We all went on safari”: Join Arusha, Mosi, Tumpe and their Maasai friends as they set out on a counting journey through the grasslands of Tanzania. Along the way, the children encounter all sorts of animals including elephants, lions and monkeys, while counting from one to ten in both English and Swahili. The lively, rhyming text is accompanied by an illustrated guide to counting in Swahili, a map, notes about each of the animals, and interesting facts about Tanzania and the Maasai people.
Off we go to Mexiko”: Swim in turquoise seas, admire grey whales and monarch butterflies, trek to native villages and sing and dance to the music of Mariachi bands. Along the way, you can learn Spanish words and phrases and discover Mexican culture. Enjoy your journey!
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Lin Yi’s Lantern – A Moon Festival Tale”: Meet Lin Yi — a little boy with a big heart and a talent for bargaining. Tonight is the moon festival and he wants nothing more than a red rabbit lantern; but first he must buy the things his mother needs at the market. This heartwarming story shows the rewards of putting others first, and includes educational notes at the end about the Chinese moon festival, life in rural China, and the legend of the moon fairy.

Tales from Ireland”: Celebrate the wonder of Ireland with the seven enchanting stories in this captivating collection. The rich traditions of Irish storytelling are honored with larger-than-life characters, myths and legends around every bend, and plenty of magic. Book with double CDs include stories read by Grammy-nominated singer Maura O’Connell.

Mama Panya’s Pancake”: On market day, Mama Panya’s son Adika invites everyone he sees to a pancake dinner. How will Mama Panya ever feed them all? This clever and heartwarming story about Kenyan village life teaches the importance of sharing, even when you have little to give. Notable Books for a Global Society, Winner of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award

Feelings
Let’s talk about feelings. Through reading and discussions, we can help children feel confident in their unique identities, identify and express their feelings, and develop empathy towards others. Like reading, math or science, emotional literacy can be taught, but it requires dedicated time and attention. Reading books that address social and emotional issues opens the door for conversation and helps children understand their own experiences. This personally helped my daughter a lot when she started preschool about a year ago and couldn’t hold her excitement and her separation anxiety…

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Book recommendation:
Emily’s tiger“: When you are parent of a strong willed toddler or preschool kid (or teenager) you know, that harmful situations like putting on shoes or serving healthy food can turn serious within seconds. Emily is a strong willed girl that knows what she wants – and what she doesn’t. She’s full of temperament and can turn into a roaaaaaaaaring tiger when something doesn’t go her way… Read my review about “Emily’s tiger” here. Barefoot Books offers a preview of the book here.

Selecting the right books for your child AND yourself
So, we talked about WHY reading is so important. But how do you read to your child? How do you select the right books?

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When you attended my workshop and are reding this article you are probably already a great role model and show your child how much you enjoy reading. Show your child books that you enjoy – but be adventurous as well and let them choose books that they enjoy, too! Here we are back to the cultural part as well. The book you read doesn’t always need to be something that’s exactly designed for their age. For example: One of my favorite children books right now is “The Tear Thief”. “The Tear Thief” is appropriate for preschool age children, but it’s a fairytale that probably just adults get in it’s full meaning. But what does it matter? Finja loves that the book is about emotions, we talk about each page and she loves the rhythm of the story.

Book recommendation:
The Tear Thief

Singalongs
Wanting to hear the same book over and over again is normal for preschoolers and it’s okay to indulge them in that! At this age it’s also important to expose them to a variety of types of books so that they can develop a well rounded set of literacy and language skills.

AnimalBoogieI was surprised to learn that singalongs are actually one of the best kinds of books for developing Kindergarten readiness. They help develop children’s attention span and develop their ability to follow directions!

Book recommendations:
Portside pirates

Animal Boogie
Both books come with a CD!

Routine
What also helps is a reading routine. It doesn’t need to be a bedtime story – you can read at Breakfast or Lunch as well of in the afternoon. Whatever works for you and your family’s schedule! My daughter is pretty active and our bedtime routine takes ages – so I always read in the evening so she calms down a bit. But I can remember the time when she dropped her nap and we read after lunch! When do you usually read? I found that a good goodnight story helps our three-year-old to calm down after an exciting day!

Book recommendation:
Starlight sailor”: Sail away to dreamland! Follow a small boy and his dog as they navigate the land of dreams in a paper boat. As you journey through the night, you will meet all kinds of curious and magical creatures

Learning
Does your child love animals or motorcycles? Perfect! Don’t shy away from nonfiction picture books and literature. They grab your child’s attention – this not only goes for preschool aged children, but for the little ones as well! So why not connecting season and adventures with the books you are reading? It’s becoming summer. Do you visit the farmers market? Why not show your child where food comes from, which teaches the importance of teamwork and how to choose healthy foods, the plant life cycle and how to treat animals and plants responsibly?

Book recommendations:
Grandpas GardenMillie’s chicken”: Tend Millie’s backyard chickens from day to night in this rhyming picture book, which is right on trend and packed with STEM-friendly science info.

Grandpa’s garden”: A beautifully told story that follows Billy from early spring to late summer as he helps his grandpa on his vegetable patch. Children will be drawn in by the poetry of the language and the warm illustrations, while also catching the excitement of watching things grow!

Who’s in the garden?”: A delightful peek-a-boo book that Smithsonian Magazine called one of the “Notable Books for Children”. Children are invited to look through the holes on every other page to answer the repeating refrain, “Who’s coming to see how my garden grows?” The energetic, rhyming text introduces all sorts of creatures that are busy in the garden.

Let your child create a story!
Another interesting idea: Let your children tell a story. Take a picture walk: Especially with books that you’ve read a thousand times use a “picture walk” as a chance to notice details from the illustrations and to let your kiddo retell the story in their words. Don’t forget to ask questions along the way!

Book recommendation:
outoftheblue_wI reviewed “Journey”, a picture book without words, on my blog a few weeks ago. I liked the book, but had the feeling it was a little complex for preschool aged children. “Out of the blue”, a wordless book about the mysteries of the sea, is a little more kid friendly and will let them tell the story in their own words! I think it’s perfect for our trip to the coast in summer! 🙂

Puzzles and games
…or maybe today’s reading routine doesn’t come with a book… Did you ever think about making a puzzle or use cards? My daughter loves the “Children around the world” memory game – although she likes to change the rules sometimes…

Challenges
Well, it all looks good on paper. But you know that every age has its challenges… Right now Finja sometimes is a little distracted. She shows me which book she wants to read – and then she fishes out the next one before I can finish book number one… That used to annoy me. But, honestly – is it so bad? Sometimes it can help to let your child lead. The same goes for the books you are reading together. It’a all a combination of leading your child and let them lead. Be adventurous and have fun!

Contact
I hope I could give you some ideas about sharing literacy with your children! Ask any questions below or send me a message. You can contact me at Facebook or directly on my Barefoot-Book-Ambassador-Page.

If you are interested in any of these books/puzzles/games/CDs let me know and I can help you place any orders. Also, keep in mind that I just showed you a very small sample of Barefoot products. If you’re looking for other gift ideas for a special occasion or for a specific child, I can also help you find age-appropriate presents.

Thanks a lot for joining me!

Excited about my first Literacy workshop!

Exciting news – I’m preparing my first Children’s Literacy Workshop on Facebook on March 28 2016!

Our daughter has not only one, but three favorite books. Anyway, I know that it’s not always easy to find the right book for children. That’s why I want to help bringing children and their favorite books together. Because kids who learn to LOVE reading are more compassionate and adaptable, risk-taking and goal-setting, open-minded and open-hearted. Reading is fun. Do you remember these magic moments of your childhood, curled up with a book, escaping to an alternative reality, learning about foreign cultures?

Barefoot Books is one of my favorite children book publishers. As a bilingual family we love Barefoot books’ multicultural background in combination with meaningful stories and fantastic illustrations. That’s why decided to work further with the great people from Barefoot an become a Barefoot Ambassador. I will be able to offer you videos and training about children literacy – from choosing the right book to reading to your child. My mind is already swirling with ideas and I’m preparing my first Children’s Literacy Workshop on Facebook on March 28 2016!

Why not creating an event every parent can access from home. No need to pack the kids up and drive to the library! And nobody will know if you are in your PJs or your toddler is running around with a princess dress… I’m excited about this new opportunity and will keep you posted!

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Please note: My opinions are my own and my reviews aren’t sponsored by Barefoot or any other publisher.

Little Free Library: Take a book – return a book

On a short taper stroller run Finja and I discovered something awesome: Not just one, but three new Little Free Libraries in our community!

Little Free Library - a great place to exchange books!
Little Free Library – a great place to exchange books!

A Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” book exchange. The most common version is a small wooden box of books – anyone may take a book or bring a book to share. Right now there are over 36,000 registered Little Free Library book exchanges in all 50 U.S. states and over 70 countries around the world! And these are just the registered Little Free Libraries…

I knew about the concept before, but actually never checked if there were any in our area – one reason might be that I prefer to read my personal books on my Kindle… 😉 Now that Finja grew out of some her board books it’s a great chance to exchange books!

…because let’s be honest, if your “reading nook” looks like this you have enough books to share. My husband were joking just yesterday: “There are three things our household has in abundance: Running shoes, camera equipment and books – all of them all scattered all over the house.” He could be right…

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Welcome to the Reading Castle!

We are a family of readers. Of bilingual readers. My husband and me both grew up in Germany and moved to the United States in 2010 – our daughter Finja is one of the lucky kids to grow up with two languages.

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My bookworm career started with “Tao Tao, the little panda bear” and continued with countless teenager horse books, young adult and finally novels. Even my career always brought me back to reading – and writing. I wrote short stories for a local newspaper during high school – yes, they were mainly about horses… Studying chemistry and biology in Munich it was clear, that my future wouldn’t be in a lab – I started working for an online science magazine and later started my own publication. “Pfotenhieb” is an independent magazine for cat owners and one of the first e-magazines in Germany. A personal dream came true when a publishing house in Germany gave me the opportunity to write a textbook for cat owners. By now I published five books. As day job I coordinate social media activities for a charity brand.

But this blog isn’t about me or cats. It’s about children books – and for me that comes connected to our daughter Finja. It started right after she was born, as reading books to her in the middle of the night was the only way to keep me awake for a feeding – and was a good way to practice my English. By now Finja’s bookshelf is clearly dominating her room. So are the piles of book in and in front of her bed… This girl loves reading – or looking at pictures and let me read, that is. After all she’s just three (and a half). But that’s how long it took me to realize that spending hours browsing for children’ books is a symptom of serious children’ book addiction in me…

We read everything. German or English, fiction or non-fiction, fairytale or practical learning…

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Anyway, I realized that not every book could keep up to it’s cover text. Not every great illustration means an extraordinary content. And sometimes I just purchased a book to realize that it had to sit on the shelf for another two years. That’s fine with me, you can often find me curled up with another story book for elementary school kids at night – but maybe you are not as crazy and just want to find the right book for your child. That is what this blog is for: To help you selecting great, extraordinary books for your child.

Enter the reading castle and enjoy our countless rooms, shelves and books!

Oh, and if you took the wrong way and are searching for a German book blog I can recommend „Kinderbibliothek“.