A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reading for fun

Every year, one of my most popular columns has been the annual Mrs. Dittmer's Summer Reading List, compiled by Helen Dittmer, the beloved librarian at Redwood Day School in Oakland.
But Mrs. Dittmer retired last summer, and since then many of my readers have been wondering which books they should give their kids this year.
Not to worry. Nobody can possibly replace Mrs. Dittmer, of course, but Redwood Day School has found a worthy successor - former fourth grade teacher Jen Ammenti.
Like Mrs. Dittmer, she's on a mission to turn kids on to the joy of reading. And she's keeping many of Mrs. Dittmer's traditions, including the annual summer reading list.
"I feel really lucky to be able to continue Helen's legacy," she says. "And I really miss her."
Ms. Ammenti and I met in the newly-named Helen Dittmer Library, where she revealed a secret weapon that even Mrs. Dittmer might not have thought of: comic books!
"I've seen 'Calvin and Hobbes' turn around so many kids from being struggling and reluctant readers to being willing to pick up anything, any time," she says.
She has fond memories of her own childhood summers, spent devouring "The Baby Sitters Club," the Cam Jensen mysteries and "The Secret Garden," which she read and reread more times than she can count.
"It was wonderful! Nobody telling me what to read, no book reports to write, no forced research to complete, just simply reading for the joy of reading."
In that spirit, here is Ms. Ammenti's Summer Reading List. Each section is listed with increasing difficulty. Simpler texts come first and become more challenging as you move across the list:

Great Series for Early Readers (Grades K-2): "Fly Guy" by Tedd Arnold, "Good Dog Aggie" and other Aggie stories by Lori Ries, "Roscoe Riley Rules" series by Katherine Applegate, "Sugar Plum Ballerinas" by Whoopi Goldberg and the "Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist" series by Jim Benton.

Favorite Chapter Books (Grades 3-6): "The Monster's Ring" by Bruce Coville, "The Gold-Threaded Dress" by Carolyn Marsden, "Riding Freedom" by Pam Munoz Ryan, "Maniac Magee" by Jerry Spinelli and "The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan."

Young Adult Top Picks (Grades 7 and up): "Leviathan" by Scott Westerfeld, "Graceling" by Kristin Cashore, "The Vinyl Princess" by Yvonne Prinz, "The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom" by Margarita Engle and "Hold Still" by Nina LaCour. (Please note: These books contain mature subject matter that might not be appropriate for every teen.)

And no matter what your child's age, Ms. Ammenti recommends anything by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
"She is by far my favorite new discovery. Amy tackles topics, such as bedtimes, healthy eating and what it's like to be the middle child, in fun and refreshing ways. You can't help but fall in love with the sweet illustrations, and they are a delight to read aloud. Be sure to check out her website, www.whoisamy.com, and enjoy her books for grown-ups as well."
She also recommends joining your local library's "Making Waves" summer reading program or setting some time aside each week when the entire family can read interrupted.
"Let your child pick whatever they like, whether it's a comic book, magazine or lengthy novel," she says. ""Remember that the love of reading is nurtured when we have the space to find the stories that speak to us."

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