I’m babysitting my 7-year-old niece and one-year-old nephew one day every week during the summer. When I agreed to do this I thought something like: oh, that will be a nice relaxing reprieve from the tumult of the work week.
Are you laughing? Because after one day my hip hurt so much from holding my nephew that I had problems with my sciatica (yes, my SCIATICA, like I’m ninety!!) that night in bed. And after they left, I took a nap that was so deep it became painful, and I dreamed I was paralyzed…
Holy hell, parents! How do you do it?
These kids are going to kill me if I don’t get creative.
I’ve always loved reading to my niece. Two of the first books I bought her were The Pout- Pout Fish and Children Make Terrible Pets. I read them to her so much that she had the words memorized at two, and could “read” the book to us with a lisping (lisping… can you tell I’ve read too many old English novels?) enthusiasm.
She loved picture books, but now she’s entered the realm of chapter books, and she’s wary. I can hear her thoughts: where are the pictures? Why is this so long? Why would I want to read something without pictures? And she’s right. Why would you, if given the choice? So we’ve done Free Comic Book Day and she enjoys graphic novels like Bad Guys and Phoebe and Her Unicorn, which is great. She could go on reading just those books forever and I’d be fine with that. BUT, I like reading to her.
So how do I get her to listen to me?
How do I compete with Barbies, Netflix, and her theater camp?
Yes, activities. She loves activities. She loves scavenger hunts, flashlight tag, card games, cooking, hide and seek, tag… anything that involves running around and wearing me out, so it’s time I got the upper hand.
My devious plan: combine read- alouds with different activities relating to each book we read. For example, I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to her, and each time we sat down to read we had chocolate. She loved it, and we got through the whole book. I’ve shared my plan with her, and she’s into it.
Now, Person With a Plan, what books? What activities?
Okay, so here’s what I’m thinking:
Holes by Louis Sachar
Stanley is cursed. His whole family is cursed thanks to his no- good- dirty- rotten- pig- stealing- great- great grandfather. Stanley is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to a detention facility, where he digs holes all day in the heat. No one knows why they’re digging the holes, but Stanley is determined to get to the bottom of it.
- eat donut holes
- play in sand
- make dirt cups
- or better yet: go on a treasure hunt
Also, to get her brother involved we could read Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen.
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
(The best book for children I’ve read this year) The Penderwick’s spend the summer in an idyllic yellow cottage where they meet a boy and two rabbits. Their summer is filled with gingerbread, soccer, burnt cookies, fancy dresses, a bull, a cute boy, and beautiful gardens.
- Dress up in fancy old dresses (old bridesmaid dresses) and have tea and cookies
- play soccer
- plant pretty flowers
- take the dog for a walk.
- make gingerbread cookies (or any kind of cookies)
For her brother we’ll read Summer by Alice Low
Bunnicula: A Rabbit- Tale of Mystery by Deborah and James Howe
(A book from my childhood I know she’ll love.) Harold the dog and Chester the cat suspect something nefarious when their family brings home a new rabbit with red eyes and a suspicious aura. And when vegetables start turning up with their color drained, Chester is sure the new rabbit is a vampire.
- color changing celery or cabbage (for a demonstration, watch this video)
- vegetable printing
- homemade dog treats.
For the baby we’ll read, Vegetables in Underwear.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
(This is one of my favorite books to read out loud) Kenny, Joetta, and Byron Watson live in Flint, Michigan. Byron, the oldest is getting out of hand. Kenny refers to him as an “official juvenile delinquent”, so the Watson’s decide it’s time to go visit their grandma in Birmingham, Alabama. This is a really funny book that concerns a really dark time in American history.
- Create a poster concerning an issue she cares about. In her case, she loves animals, so something involving animal protection
- play retro games like kick the can, four square, hop scotch, or jump rope
- write a postcard to our local representatives (it’s never too early)
For her little brother we’ll read I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison.
Wishtree by Katerine Applegate
Red is an oak tree that people in the neighborhood tie their wishes to. She is also home to many different animals and their families. She is a happy tree until someone carves something mean into her bark and the neighborhood decides it might be easier to cut her down. This story is full of hope, generosity, and secrets.
- (obviously) plant a tree. I love planting trees!
- use a tree identification book (try The Tree Book: For Kids and Their Grown- ups ) and identify trees in the backyard or at the park.
- make a bird feeder
- do a leaf experiment that demonstrates how plants “breathe”
For the little one we’ll read Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson
Read- alouds are a lot of fun for me, but not everyone feels the same way. If you read about my niece reading graphic novels by herself, and you thought: yeah, but where do I find those, and what are the best ones– try A Guide to Comics and Graphic Novels for reluctant Readers or More Comics and Graphic Novels for Reluctant Readers.
But if you also want to read- aloud to your kids and you’re looking for some different, but great, titles try these:
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams- Garcia
Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park
Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence
From the Mixed- Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
Charlotte’s Web E. B. White
The Adventure of Captain Underpants by Dav PIlkey
Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes
Matilda by Roald Dahl
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez
Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place) by Maryrose Wood
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
No matter what book you pick, make sure to find a way to make read- alouds enjoyable for everyone! It’s all about fun!