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Newsletter – Becoming a Book Whisperer December 15, 2023

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Hello Book Bums families!

I'm the kind of person who gets a little nervous when she doesn't have her next book lined up. So even though I currently have a few books in my to-be-read basket, I love perusing the end-of-year book lists that start popping up this month. This list from NPR is especially useful because you can break it down into categories like Rather ShortSeriously Great Writing, or Eye-Opening Reads.  You're sure to find something for yourself or the readers on your gift list. is an Amazon Associate; We earn from qualifying purchases. This means that if you click on a link to and make a purchase, We may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. We do recommend the products. Feel free to find them by other means.

Word of the Week

dulcet (dull-set) adjective/describing word - sweet and soothing, especially relating to sound

My mom's favorite holiday sound is the dulcet tone of her family gathered and chatting in the next room.

Literary Calendar

  • December 21 is Crossword Puzzle Day.
  • The first crossword puzzles were published in children's books in England.
  • Now they are a famous, daily feature in the New York Times, and enthusiasts complete books full of puzzles.

From our Bookshelves


Me . . . Jane, a picture book by Patrick McDonnell, is a Newberry Honor Book. The Newberry award indicates that this book is one of "the most distinguished contributions to American literature for children," and this one is just wonderful.

Favorite Quote:
But her mother encouraged her to follow her dreams.

Did you know that Jane Goodall was inspired, as a young girl, by the books she read about Tarzan of the Apes in which another Jane lived in the jungles of Africa?

Who knows what might inspire a young reader you adore?

Jane goodall I can read

Jane Goodall, A Champion of Chimpanzees, by Sarah Albee, is another great kids’ book about this woman who achieved her great goals against all odds. Though this I Can Read book conveys more information, it doesn’t have the beauty of Me . . . Jane.

I recommend you check out these two books as a pair.

You can also see Jane Goodall, Seasons for Hope at the Omnimax theater in the Cincinnati Museum Center. It’s showing now through mid-January. (Click the image to purchase tickets.)


Do you love giving gift experiences? Wrap up these two books, add some additional, immediate joy by including a stuffed chimpanzee, and attach the printed tickets to show you’re also going to see a movie together where there’s a five-story-high domed screen with a 72-foot diameter! Wouldn’t it be great to see lots of kids, toting their chimpanzees, excitedly waiting to see the Jane Goodall movie?


Tips for Families

During an assessment last week, I shared with a parent some ways to check kids’ understandings about what they’re reading.  I shared that asking kids, “What’s the main idea?” or “Who is the main character?” often isn’t effective because it feels too much like quizzing. Kids don’t enjoy being wrong, (None of us does.) so they often push back when our questions get too “school-ish.”

So how can we learn if children are understanding what they’re reading?

First, think about book clubs for adults. What kinds of questions do they ask there? They’re probably not “quizzy” kinds of questions.

I realized, when I was talking with my granddaughter on the phone last night, that she, indeed, understood what she’d read in The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes through a simple conversation.

The Hundred Dresses

Emry: Grandma, I read The Hundred Dresses tonight!
Me: Oh! I love that book, but I didn’t care for that girl, Peggy, so much. Did you?
Emry: No. She was mean.
Me: Maddie went along with Peggy, but she didn’t like it, did she?
Emry: Maddie at least wanted to say she was sorry, but she didn’t get to.
Me: Thank goodness Wanda sent that letter that made Maddie feel better.
Emry: Yeah. Grandma, this book made me want to draw dresses. Remember last year how I wanted to be a fashion designer? I want to work on that again.
It was such a simple conversation, but I knew Emry understood the story she’d read. Best, she didn’t feel like she was in school and being assessed (or judged) in any way.

Back in 2011, I read The Book Whisperer, by Donalyn Miller. It was delivered to Book Bums, and my husband opened it to check it out. He called me and said, “I think you could have written this book. She sounds just like you.”

Book Whisperer

Though I am an ardent proponent for explicit, systematic, synthetic phonics instruction, I long to be a book whisperer—one who inspires a love for all things books and a literature-rich life.

One lesson I learned from The Book Whisperer was to allow book characters to become a part of our classroom lives.

When students were feeling like giving up, I could say, “Little Willy wouldn’t quit, would he? He’d stick with it if it was important to him. You can do that too.” (Stone Fox)

When students weren’t respecting another student’s feelings, I could say, “None of us wants to treat others the way Peggy did, right? Be sure you’re being kind and respectful. (The Hundred Dresses)

I might also say “You have been such a good problem solver—just like Clementine, but without all the drama.”

Parents, you can do this too!

If you read about Jane Goodall with your kids, and one day your child is feeling discouraged, you can say, “It’s wonderful to have big dreams. Don’t count yourself out. Think of Jane.”

Tips for Raising Readers and Writers

Need stocking stuffers? Nothing inspires writing like fresh paper and pencils, pens, markers, and colored pencils.

For HS or college students, a nice pen/pencil set could be nice. You can have them personalized for a more luxurious vibe. You could even include personalized stationery.

For younger kids, most anything goes.

I just added watercolor pencils to one of our new Little Letter Learners lessons. Kids can write letters or words with the pencils and then go over them, again, with a wet paint brush for a satisfying effect.

You may want to try the following “ghost writing” activity, too, to encourage your kids to use proper letter formations. Simply write with a ball point pen, using heavy strokes, on one piece of paper in a spiral bound notebook. Flip to the next page and find impressions that make “ghost letters” for your kids to use as a guide. Using colored pencils may be just the inspiration your kids need to encourage them to practice! Of course, you’ll want to coach them to form the letters efficiently, noting where letters begin (never at the bottom). When kids do the work without a coach, they often reinforce poor formation habits.


I’ve shared this before, but these letter molds and kinetic sand can be purchased on Amazon. Put them in a plastic tub and let your kids play with letters!

more letters
magic sand

These Wax Craft Sticks can be tucked into stockings for anything crafty AND to encourage writing. *Warning: Remove these (and chocolates) if your stockings are hanging above a working fireplace. Ask me how I know this. Sheesh.


Pause for Poetry


Practical Grammar

  • Did you notice, in the Tips for Families section, the sentence that says, “None of us does”? Did that sound awkward to you? Here’s what’s going on there.

    None of us does = Not one (of us) does.

    The word none is the singular subject of the sentence, so we use the singular verb does.

    Why does none of us get this right? (Oh my! That sentence is written correctly!)

    Often, we don’t get it right because that prepositional phrase, of us, makes it sound like a plural. Prepositional phrases are used to describe the relationship between the object of the preposition and the word it’s describing. Of us provides clarifying information about the word none.

    If we changed the sentence to say, “Why does no one get this right?” it would sound correct.

    Just remember, none of us is perfect. We prove it’s so by mistakenly saying things like, “None of us are perfect.” Whoops.)

Just for Fun

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas?



Here’s one more:

What do you call a snowman with a six pack?
The Abdominal Snowman.

Speaking of snowmen, have you watched Jack Frost with Michael Keaton and Kelly Preston? It’s available, now, on some apps like Hulu, Sling, Max, and Amazon Prime Video.

The Jack Frost soundtrack is so good, I have a couple of the songs on my iTunes playlist. My favorite is “Have a Little Faith.” If you’re curious, listen to it here—but listen to the whole thing!

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