Dec 242018








It was probably a high school reading assignment that introduced me to John Steinbeck’s novels. My guess is that we started with The Grapes of Wrath and, while I may have grumbled about the assignments as much as anyone else, guess who dominated my independent reading for some time after? I’d be hard-pressed to choose between Cannery Row, Tortilla Flat, and Travels With Charley. I loved each and every character and was hooked on feeling transported to a completely different place and culture.

If you’ve visited my blog before, you know I’m fascinated by thinking. And brains. Click To Tweet

If you’ve visited my blog before, you know I’m fascinated by thinking. And brains. I’ve noticed that, as I think about various books and authors, they show up as a category. For example, when I was a single Mom with a young child, we were fortunate to leave New England in early spring and visit relatives in the sunny South. At the time, the release of John Grisham’s novels coincided neatly with those trips and became a bit of a tradition for me.  Runaway Jury comes to mind.

That leads to my love of series. Andrew Vachss’ Burke series is full of honest, gripping stories and compelling characters. It’s dark. And accurate. And has been described as “prose as forceful as a hollow-point slug.” When recommending a starting place, I can’t choose between FloodBlossom, or Hard Candy.  They all fit the bill as novels that tell the truth. Hard truth.

Every novel in Andrew Vachss' Burke series fits the bill as fiction that tells the truth. Hard truth. Click To Tweet

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series (One for the Money,   Two for the Dough) is as silly as Vachss is revealing. They’re a lot of fun.

And of course, there are my friends who write. I love them — no only for the feedback and encouragement they share but for the work they produce. They keep me traveling to genres that I might now always choose for myself. I enjoy David-Matthew Barnes’ short plays and romances. (Ambrosia is pretty funny.)

I turn to my sometimes-neighbor Barbara Bond for mature chick-lit that takes place on my island home… although I’m going to a launch party for her new release Everyday Enemies next week. And I can’t thank Nancy Blanton enough. Sharavogue — the first book in her series of 17th-century Irish historical fiction — boasts well-drawn characters and enough “action” to make me a fan of a previously untasted genre! There’s something wonderful (and a little naughty) about knowing The Prince of Glencurragh is waiting for me on the bedside table.

Do you read fiction? Please make a recommendation or two in the comments.

Feb 042013

by Esther Jantzen, guest poster

Think-aloud is a simple yet powerful activity you can do while reading a book to a child. It is just stopping occasionally to tell thoughts and feelings about what you read, or to ask about the child’s reactions.

It is good for children to hear adults do this because it shows them that talking about stories helps to understand them, and that it is fun to interact with a book. But don’t stop so often that it destroys the flow of the story!

Here are some ways to do this:

1) When you are reading a story aloud and come to a part that reminds you of an experience, stop and briefly share about it. Make a connection between what happened to you and what happened in the book.

2) When you are reading a story and come to a part that puzzles you, stop and ask questions like, “I wonder why that character just did that?” or “Wow, I’d better read it again. It doesn’t make sense to me!” or “What do you think that’s about?”

3) When you notice a story reminds you of another book, stop and say something such as, “Oh, this is like another story we read. Here’s another character who wants to have a big adventure! I sure wonder whether he’s going to get caught in a bind somewhere.”

Before you go back to reading aloud, see if your child wants to say something. Listen and encourage your child to talk about what you have read together. When grown-ups share their thoughts and reactions to a story, children learn to do that, too. It is a good way to encourage understanding.


Esther Jantzen, Ed.D, is a mother, an educator and the author of Plus It! How to Easily Turn Everyday Activities into Learning Adventures for Kids and the Way to Go! Family Learning Journal

Feb 022013

by Esther Jantzen, guest poster

We all usually feel calmer, happier, and more energetic when we write down things we need to remember. It helps un-clutter our minds and it creates “brain-space” for new ideas. Children benefit greatly from the simple act of making a list. It’s an organizational trick they can apply to their schoolwork and their lives. It teaches them to take personal responsibility and be prepared. And it’s fun to brainstorm lists together as one person writes down the ideas that others give! Here are tips for doing this:

1) You or your children can handwrite lists or keep them on a On the (Summer) Job Training — Take 2!. Some lists are reusable (like what to pack for an overnight visit). Others change each week.

2) Think about what kinds of lists would make your lives easier. Start them now, add to them as you think of new items, and let your children see you using them! Here are some suggestions:

  • Gift ideas
  • School projects
  • Household chores
  • Things that need to be done for the day, the week, or the weekend
  • What to pack for a trip or overnight slumber party
  • Favorite family meals (for when you can’t think of what to make for supper)
  • Birthdays of family members and friends
  • Lunchbox food ideas, a picnic supplies list, or a grocery-store list
  • People to call in emergencies
  • Things you want to do in the summer or on vacation
  • Books, CDs, DVDs, video games, movies you borrowed or loaned
  • Stores that carry things you need
  • Things needed for a birthday or holiday celebration

3) Kids may want to create their own lists of things like friends’ names, addresses, and phone numbers; toys or games they like; things they want to do or make, and so on.

4) We recommend you put family lists in a central place.

Make a List! supports the English-Language Arts Content Standards related to writing strategies, organization, and focus.

Esther Jantzen, Ed.D, is a mother, an educator and the author of Plus It! How to Easily Turn Everyday Activities into Learning Adventures for Kids available at and the Way to Go! Family Learning Journal available through

Jan 312013

By Esther Jantzen, guest poster 

A great thing to teach children is how to get something done. Often kids want to accomplish something, but they don’t know how to start or where to get supplies or what to do next. Yet reaching a goal is a satisfying adventure! The first step is to imagine it completed just the way you want it to be in your mind. Once you clearly know what you want, it’s easier to take the next action steps.

Here are steps to teach your children:

 1) Ask your children to tell you about something they really want. It could be a small or large goal, a skill they want to develop, an interest they want to expand, or something they want to own. For example, a child may want to build a tree house, be on a sports team, make a birthday card, have a special costume for Halloween, learn to ride a bike, dig a hole to China in the backyard, become a bird-watcher, own a pet, etc.

2) Ask your children, ‘What could that look like and feel like?” Let them pretend seeing it in their mind’s eye. Ask appropriate questions: Does it have a color? How big is it? How do you feel when you imagine having it? How would you use it? Would you share it with anybody? Would you need a place for it? What would happen if you had it or could do it? (It’s possible they may start by telling you what their goal is NOT like. That’s fine, as it may be part of the process of getting things clear.) Let them enjoy their imaginations, for the human imagination is creative, powerful, and useful.

3) Next, invite your children to talk about all the things or experiences they would need to reach this goal. Write down these ideas or steps on a sheet of paper.

4) Then ask your children, “What’s the very first thing you need to do to achieve this?” Guide them to identify one single next step. It might be getting a phone number, asking for help, gathering supplies, making space in a room, or starting to save money. Help them take that first step. And then identify the next one… and the one after that….

5) Support your children over time to stick with their goals by consistently encouraging them to take the next action step. Assisting kids to create a plan to go for what they want is a hugely valuable gift!

Reach for the Goal! supports the English-Language Arts Content Standards related to organizing information and sequencing ideas.


Esther Jantzen, Ed.D, is a mother, an educator and the author of Plus It! How to Easily Turn Everyday Activities into Learning Adventures for Kids and the Way to Go! Family Learning Journal

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