Rainy Day Reading is the Best!

Rainy day Wednesday makes going to the library a special cozy treat!

Friends Reading Together
Two pals reading together on Unintentional Matchy-Match Day!

Read Aloud
Auntie Nancy, the tallest kindergartner ever, reading a hilarious “almost bedtime story” to the kinder gals.


*You can always send me some of your favorite reading moments pictures, and I can feature them on Wordless Wednesday, or another day!

Youth Book Review: Between Shades of Gray

We will have occasional book reviews written by Bibliopolis patrons themselves. Today’s review is written by Elise, who is an 8th grader in our Gracepoint church’s Element Youth Group.

This is the original cover art. See the updated cover at the end of the post.

So far this year, I was able to read 30+ books to enter the Summer Reading Camp (DANSE-PO NBA). Out of these thirty books, the one I enjoyed the most is a book called Between Shades of Gray, written by author Ruta Sepetys. After reading through this book, it became one of my favorites, and today I will tell you why.

First of all, this book was written from the perspective of a young teenage girl who’s struggling through the times of Stalin’s regime. The book starts in 1941 in Lithuania, and follows the characters to the Siberian work camps. I personally enjoy books written for that time, because such a historical time filled with such horrific memories creates tear-jerking and heart-warming stories. Anyways, because of the time period in which the story was set, it was made emotional, and I was, at some times in the book, moved to tears. (Which, I must admit, doesn’t happen to me often).

In addition, the main character, Lina, was an artist, which shaped her character in the story. In that way, I related to her well, and the ways that she pushed through the struggling times in the story through art was so understandable to me. I also really thought her as an inspiring character, because of her bravery, and her strength to survive. Personally, if I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t have wanted to even live anymore after just the first of what she went through. Instead, she found ways that she should live, thought things through, and cared so much for the people around her besides herself. Her family meant everything to her, and she did anything to keep them going, whether that meant working harder to get extra food and time to care for them, and even stealing.

Another character I really appreciated in the story is a boy named Andrius. Of course, you would expect Lina and Andrius to have some sort of romantic relationship, but I think it was more subtle than a typical teen boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. It’s more like a good friendship she needed during that difficult time. It must have been so much more strengthening to have someone by your side. Andrius was perfect for that position in Lina’s life. He really lifted her up and made her days less dark. He understood her, and was there for her, even when it seemed like no one was.

The events that filled every page made the whole book exciting. I just couldn’t put it down! The only thing that made the book a little less readable for younger people is for its few questionable parts. I was advised by an older friend to skip a chapter. Though questionable, I understand that some of those kinds of horrible events actually happened during those times, and more often much worse. Because of these certain parts, I would recommend this book to the age group of around 13 years old and older. And if you like tear-jerkers, this book is for you!

The ending of this book… [Emily has redacted portions of this review to avoid spoilers.]  In it is a short letter explaining [redacted to avoid spoilers]…bittersweet. And that is why I love this book.


betweenshadeseyecoverEmily here: To the left is the cover art for the paperback edition. Can we agree that the hardcover art is far superior? It is subtle and symbolic, with the sapling growing out of the snow, and the barbed wire lining the corners. This one with the eye is a bit…too close!

This is one of my favorite historical fiction novels, and about one of my favorite periods in history — the World War II era. I loved this book especially because there are so many books written about the Holocaust, but this one is about the horrors of the Balkan genocide under Stalin’s rule. Like Elise said, I would recommend this book for 8th grade and up. The chapter she was referring to contains some soldier brutality and alludes to abuse of the women (it is not graphic, though horrible).

This was Ruta Sepetys’ debut novel, and her story was influenced by a visit she took to Lithuania to visit her relatives.

Here is a video where Sepetys talks about her book and the story behind the story.

Ruta Sepetys discusses her novel, Between Shades of Gray from Penguin Young Readers Group on Vimeo.

How do I “get” my child to read?! (Part 2)

In my previous post, I gave three tips on how to “get” your child to read. Today I want to focus on what WASN’T on my list!

Again, before you read on, make sure you’ve watched the video from Drive by Daniel Pink, which you can find in last week’s post. Today, you’ll find that what DIDN’T make it onto my list ties in with all three principles of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Test yourself to see if you can find the connections. 🙂

#1 Paying your child to read. Whether it is with money or other rewards, please try to resist the urge to bribe your child to read. I realize that your child will respond to money, or other incentives, and may end up reading more, but it will likely NOT result in genuine love for reading.

Let’s take the example of paying your child to do chores. Learning how to manage money is a good thing. And doing chores to understand that we all contribute to the family and home is also a good thing. And what do you know? Your child does the chores in order to get the money! But say you stop paying them. How likely is it that your child will continue to do the chore?

If your goal is for genuine love of reading, bringing in an extrinsic motivation will be a deterrent. As cheesy as it sounds, you really want your child to experience the reading as its own reward! The only situation in which I would say an external reward makes sense is if the reward is MORE BOOKS! 🙂

You might be saying, “Hey, didn’t you have a reading challenge with the 7th & 8th grade girls this summer, where if they read 30 books, they got to go with you to Monterey House for a reading camp? Isn’t that “paying” kids to read?” Why yes, I did (future post to come), but guess what we did at the reading camp? Not even kidding, we READ…and we read a lot. And we wrote in our writer’s notebooks, and made blackout poetry. So I think it falls under the category of reading 30 books being an accomplishment that was its own reward. And I rewarded them with…more reading!

#2 Forcing your child to read ____ minutes/hours every day. Yes, it’s true that reading 20 minutes a day can have a powerful impact on your child’s education. [Where did you get that statistic, Emily? Don’t leave us hanging! Well, stay tuned because it shall be revealed tomorrow!]. HOWEVER, you don’t want to FORCE your child to sit down and read. If your child is a reluctant reader, the worst thing you could do is to force them to read. That will only reinforce reading as a dreadful activity in their mind. That will put reading on the same level as practicing piano, which most kids will do anything to get out of!

Again, you have to remember your goal. If your goal is for your child to develop an actual love of reading, you want to create as many positive associations and experiences around reading for your child as possible!

(Just in case it’s not perfectly obvious, any combination of #2 with forcing them to read a specific book you have chosen would also be…pretty dreadful and counter-productive to your ultimate goal.)

#3 Requiring your child to write a book report for every book they read.  Like the now-famous quote/phrase from James Kim that Pastor Ed Kang used in his Perfectionism III message a couple of weeks ago, you’ll end up “ruining both things.” The both things in this case being reading and writing*! Think about the books you love(d). Did you write essays about them? Teachers, and parents who have their kids write book reports, say, “How else can you have them prove they read the book?” Oh my, oh my, don’t get me started. There are so many ways to “prove” we have read a book, but a book report isn’t one of them. You and I know (some of you know better than I do) that you don’t have to have READ a book in order to WRITE A BOOK REPORT that would get an “A” grade from a teacher!

I’m all for having rich text-based discussions about a book. I’m for really different kind of written projects that involve a lot more critical thinking. I’m for creative projects that require a child to make connections, and really enjoy the process of communicating something important about the book.

And trust me when I say that if your child really read the book they chose, they won’t be able to help but talk about it, tell other people to read it, and maybe even pick up another book to read because it’s similar in theme, or someone who liked their book recommended it, or because it is by the same author. It’s amazing really.


Safe-space confessional time: Have you done any of the above? Was it successful? Did it backfire? Did you have any of them done unto you? How successful was it?




*About writing: kids have so many things they want to write about. 99% of them don’t involve the canned book report!

How do I “get” my child to read?! (Part 1)

You’ve noticed by now that the questions the parents here at Gracepoint Berkeley church ask me are pretty much permutations of the same central question. But today I want to focus on the “getting” your child to read. But before you read on, be sure to watch the video from the post about Daniel Pink’s book Drive. You’ll see that my list today focuses mostly on the principle of “autonomy.”

Here is my super long list of ways to get your child to read:

#1 CHOICE. Allow them to choose what they read. If you want them to develop a love for reading, they need to read what they love. Telling them, “Read this. It’s a good book.” will rarely work. Consistent with the human condition, most (if not all) children, especially teens, will not want to read it simply because you recommended it. EVEN if they were thinking of reading it before you said anything. (Even when kids ask me what they should read, I usually give them a stack of books to choose from.)

Resist the temptation to say, “That’s too easy for your grade level” or “You should be* reading _____ by now.” Your child is forced to read books with his or her class, and their teachers are choosing books they deem appropriate for their developmental stage. If reading a book you think is “too easy” for your child gets him or her hooked on reading, maybe even FOR LIFE, it’s totally worth it, wouldn’t you say?

Your child is apt to read more if they feel confident as a reader, so give them the time and space to develop their confidence through reading what they choose. Trust me that in time, they’ll push themselves to read more challenging books. It’s in our nature (future post to follow).

#2 FLOODING. As in a “book flood.” One of the reasons I invested hundreds of dollars (if not more) in my classroom library was because I firmly believe that if kids are surrounded by reading materials of all genres, they are more likely to find something they like, and therefore more likely to read it. What this means for you doesn’t necessarily mean spending hundreds of dollars on books! It might mean making trips to a local bookstore, used bookstore, and/or library, and making that a “thing” you do together.

As a side note, this is the reason I have worked pretty hard at creating a space kids want to be in over at Bibliopolis. I want them to love being there, and definitely want them to be surrounded by books so they’ll always associate books with something special or even slightly magical, or at the very least, something positive!

#3 MODELING. The more your child sees YOU reading for pleasure, they will see reading as a pleasurable activity. You know by now that your kids notice everything you do and say. Sometimes they can even imitate the way you do and say it!  This means that they are aware of your relationship (or non-relationship) with books. Studies around kids and technology reveal that one of the biggest frustrations they have is that their parents are hypocrites when it comes to technology.

The same goes for reading. Your kids know if you’re just telling, or even forcing, them to read, but you never do it yourself. Even though we’re all super busy, please believe me when I say that developing your own reading life, and sharing that with your kids, is one of the most powerful ways you can influence your child to be a reader.

You don’t always have to read aloud to your child, which some feel too pressed for time to do regularly. But what I’m suggesting is a win-win! You can read whatever you’ve been meaning to read** — fiction, non-fiction, apologetics, biographies, poetry — and you can spend time with your kid while they’re reading their book too.

And there you have it. That’s my list. My teaching colleagues often asked me how I got my students to be such book nerds. And I always tell them the above three things. I let my students choose what to read, out of a gazillion books that they have access to right there in the classroom, and I constantly talk about the variety of books I’m reading, regularly doing book talks, asking them about what they’re reading, encouraging lively conversations and even arguments around books, and making it a priority to set aside “sacred time” for silent reading all together (including me) every day.

What strategies or practices have you tried to “get” your child to read? How did you become a reader yourself? Looking forward to sharing our reading successes!




*We impose our “should be’s” on others!

**Try to read something that’s in physical book form.

Favorite Friday: Most Underrated Fantasy Series

Nothing can hold a candle to what I think of as the Fantasy Trifecta throughout our Gracepoint ministries: can you guess what they are? Of course I’m talking about The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and the Harry Potter series.

chronicles of narniaLTR Harry-Potter-the-Complete-Series-Paperback-721150e1-d7d0-4582-ad0b-de4cd3d2b5a5_320An aside: whenever I’d post a “wanted” listing for book donations for my classroom library, these are the books I would mostly get. So much so that my students wondered if my friends only read those books. To which I would answer…”Um…by the looks of it, that could very well be the case!” But then I would defend you all (thank you for your donations, by the way) by saying, “What can I say? My friends have good taste in books!”

If you’re a parent, you know that there are a bajillion fantasy series out there. And the little reviews always say, “Like Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games meets Enders Game!” or something of the sort. I love me a good fantasy series myself (better yet if it’s a dystopian fantasy sci-fi mix), but man, are there some subpar* ones out there. It seems all you have to do is sell the rights for a movie, and ta-da, you’ve got yourself a multi-million dollar franchise!

But enough of my negativity, on this Favorite Friday, I want to share with you my favorite underrated (no pun intended) fantasy series. It’s The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. Yes, that’s right, she of The Hunger Games** fame. In fact, I find this series to be far superior to The Hunger Games in terms of her writing, thematic exploration, and world-building, even though she wrote The Underland Chronicles first.

This series is a middle grade series, targeting 8-12 year olds. It seems to be a hit with middle schoolers, but I’ve also recommended it to 3rd graders who are avid readers, as well as 9th graders who want a fast fantasy series to enjoy. Last year I had a 7th grader who was deemed a “non-reader” (no one is a non-reader!) by his previous teacher, and he worked through the entire series and not-so-secretly liked it. I also know some people in their late 30s who have enjoyed it too. 🙂

underland-chronicles1I thought I was going to hate the series, because it involves an Underland where anthropomorphic rats, cockroaches, and other lovely creatures have been awaiting the one who will fulfill THE PROPHECY. But I was able to get over the anti-vermin feelings pretty quickly and get into the story. In the first book, Gregor is 11 years old. His family has been going through some hard times ever since his father went missing. So it’s just his mom, his 2-year-old sister Boots, and him. He and Boots are doing laundry in the laundry room of their apartment complex when Boots accidentally slips down the grate. Being a good older brother, he naturally follows her into the grate to find her. Gregor falls…and falls…and falls…until he reaches — YES, the Underland. And then the adventures begin.

You’re thinking this is predictable. Trite even. Let me tell you though, Collins develops her characters so well that you get sucked in pretty quickly. You want things to start going well for Gregor, who just misses his dad so much, wants to do right by his hard-working mom, and isn’t too cool to show how fiercely loyal he is to his younger sister. I won’t tell you much more than this, but one funny part is that the cockroaches think Boots is a queen…because of her full diaper. (OK, I thought that was funny anyway!)

These books have great themes for conversations with your kids: courage in the face of fear, sacrifice, trust and betrayal, loyalty, and more.

An added bonus: the audiobooks for this series are GREAT! Perfect for road trips with your family.



*Can we agree that Subpar, while punny, is a rather subpar name name for a mini-golf place? (I get it, subpar is a good thing in golf. But…)

**Many people ask my opinion on The Hunger Games. I’ve got some, but I shall leave them for a future post.





Throwback Thursday: Drive by Daniel Pink

TBTBefore I start, a little shout out to my library elf who designed the new Throwback Thursday logo!


While I realize 2011 isn’t so long ago, I figure throwing back to four years ago is better than no post at all. Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is sometimes classified under Business Culture and Management or Health & Psychology. I found out about this book through a professional development class I took at a Literacy Institute, where the topic was on motivating our students to read and write.

Rather than write a long review about the book, I want to show you a video. It’s in sketch note form, so it’s super engaging. And all you have to do is to think about the real-world implications of these principles in your own context. Easy as pie! While you’re watching, I’m sure you’ll see the implications in areas of your life, such as in ministry, work, from when you were a student, or in some kind of avocation or passion you have. But try also to consider the implications as a parent who is trying to motivate your child to read, write, study, or practice piano/soccer/taekwondo. If you don’t have children, you can just think of it for yourself, for people you are trying to raise up, or your future children.

I hope you were able to catch the three driving (pardon the pun) principles: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. What implications do you see in terms of the topics we discuss here on this blog, such as fostering genuine love of reading?