Reading Archives - Eva Varga

September 28, 20151

There are all kinds of reading challenges out there, some are genre-specific while others are truly arbitrary. No matter how the challenge is designed, the ultimate goal is to help you read more and that is always a good thing.

Even for those you love reading, it can be easy to let it fall by the wayside. This is certainly true for me! Life gets busy. Dirty dishes have piled up in the sink. The kids need help with this or that. Admittedly, my phone seems to scream at me!! “Pick me up! I have important notifications you must read NOW!”

Reading Challenges for Parents & Teens @EvaVarga.netBefore I know it, I’ve run out of hours in the day for reading. If I try to read a little before bed, I’m too tired to finish even a page. It’s alarmingly easy to let it slip. When I realize I haven’t read a book for fun in a month, I am shocked and disappointed.

We all want to read more. Yet to achieve this goal we need something more quantifiable. That is where a reading challenge can help – you’re not just trying to fulfill some vague goal of “read more.”

Family Five Book Talk

One of the easiest ways we have found to assure that my husband and I read more is to give a book talk at our monthly Family Five Share. For years we had expected the kids to share what they are reading. Then one day Jeffrey asked, “Why do we call this a Family Five Share when you and Dad don’t share? Shouldn’t it be called Kids Share?”  Light bulb – of course!

Banned Books

One of my favorite reading challenges is reading banned books. Not only is it important, it is usually pretty interesting; we all know that boring stuff doesn’t get banned. The whole idea is to have fun and read some books that censors have tried to keep off the shelves. There isn’t one specific list to work from, but there are many different resources you can check out for ideas:

  • The ALA’s lists of frequently challenged books. There are multiple lists split up by author, year, decade, and a separate list for classics, so there are a lot of options from all different genres.
  • GoodReads has several listopia lists on the subject — this is particularly helpful for identifying books you already have on your shelves if you are a user of the site.
  • The Banned Books Week Facebook Page is great about reporting current information on bans and challenges.

Classic Great Books

Homeschool families that follow the classical model for education in no doubt are familiar with the Great Books or classics suggested by Susan Wise Bauer in The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. She has also published a companion guide for parents, The Well-Educated Mind.

In high school, the classical student actively engages with the ideas of the past and present — not just reading about them, but evaluating them, tracing their development, and comparing them to other philosophies and opinions.” For those interested, Bauer provides a list of Great Books for each year of study; the ninth grade list is the shortest, the twelfth-grade list the most complex.  

epic reads365 Days of YA

If you enjoy the Young Adult genre, you’ll love the 365 Days of YA by Epic Reads. “We have compiled a *full* reading list, with book recommendations for every season, month, week and day of 2015.”

Young-adult fiction or young adult literature, often abbreviated as YA, is fiction written, published, or marketed to adolescents and young adults. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen.

The subject matter and story lines of YA literature are typically consistent with the age and experience of the main character, but YA literature spans the spectrum of fiction genres. Subject matter can be controversial, however – parental caution is advised.

The American Library Association also publishes a list of the best Young Adult books each year. It is a general list of fiction and nonfiction titles selected for their proven or potential appeal to the personal reading tastes of the young adult.

POP Sugar’s Challenge

This is a fun one! The writers at PopSugar have created a reading challenge that is not only fun, but will certainly diversify your reading. “From a book your mom loves to a book with a love triangle, we’re giving you a wide range of reads, spanning eras and genres, instead of specific books.” This list of 50 books (or technically 52 since one item is to read a trilogy) includes a checklist to make it easy – simply print it out and check each off as you go.

DeweyDecimalSystemDewey Decimal System

On Goodreads a short time ago, I read a review whereby the reader stated, “I read this book as part of my personal challenge to read a book from every ten places of the Dewey Decimal System.” My first impression was, “Really?! Why?” Then as I thought about it more, I realized how this one could broaden my horizons and force me to read books about things I wouldn’t normally choose.

Unfortunately, I fear the challenge will be dominated by the western world. To elaborate, the 400s are the language category. The 490s consist of pretty much every non-European language. Many European languages get 10 numbers all of their own, while all languages of East and Southeast Asia are in 495.

This brings me to my next challenge …

My Little Pocketbooks

Diversity on the Shelf

For too long it has been far too easy to read nothing but books by white people — and maybe not even notice that is what you were doing. “The aim of Diversity on the Shelf Challenge is add diversity to your bookshelf by reading books by authors of color and/or about a main character of color.”

People are taking to social media to express their desire for diversity in literature: more young adult novels starring protagonists of color, more multicultural writers recognized for their work, more female superheroes in fantasy, fewer stereotypical portrayals of minority characters in fiction — I don’t have to keep going. #WeNeedDiverseBooks is trending. 

Whether you have fallen into this trap or you’ve been adding diversity to your shelves for years, it never hurts to support more authors of color. As homeschoolers, we can add to the richness of our cultural geography and history studies by including books from the cultures we are studying.

Reading Challenges for Parents & Teens @EvaVarga.net52 Weeks 52 Books

Reading a book every week of the year is a challenge I have taken upon myself for many years. I haven’t always succeeded, but it is a fun way to keep me motivated.

I utilize Goodreads to keep track of the books I have read, am currently reading, as well as those I want to read in the future. I love that I can create my own lists as well as see recommendations from friends.

If you aren’t already familiar with Goodreads, I encourage you take some time to explore the site. It is a fabulous resource connecting readers with similar interests via challenges, book clubs, and even special author talks.

Other Challenges

How about you? Have you taken on a reading challenge yourself? What reading challenges have you and your teens enjoyed?

August 7, 20142

I recently shared a short fan fiction piece my daughter wrote and not surprisingly, her grandmothers were not familiar with the genre. The writing of fan fiction has become increasingly popular in recent years, and the vast majority of the writers and readers in this genre of fiction are teenagers.

What is Fan Fiction?

One of the fastest-growing literary genres is fan fiction, a term for stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator.

Writing fan fiction involves the creation of stories and books around already existing characters from a previously published work of literature or other art form (television, movies, etc.). This type of story cannot be published for profit as the characters belong to the original author.

Writers of fan fiction are technologically savvy, having grown up in the internet age. They have thereby discovered ways in which to share their work with others – not for profit – but to develop a fan base and to get feedback on their writing.

fan fiction

What is Wattpad?

Wattpad is a place to discover and share stories: a social platform that connects people through words. With Wattpad, anyone can read or write on any device: phone, tablet, or computer.

When my daughter first approached me to ask about downloading “Wattpad”, I was skeptical. “You already have an e-book reader app, Sweetheart.”

“Yes, but this one has more than classic books, Mom. With Wattpad, you can share your own stories and read the stories that other kids write. My friend K told me about it and she says there are a lot of great fan fiction stories.”

My daughter is not a reluctant writer. She has always enjoyed the craft and completes assignments without complaint. Wattpad, however, has inspired her to write more frequently.

In the past, she seemed to only want to write stories about cats – akin to the popular Warriors series by Erin Hunter. Now, she has expanded her repertoire, exploring human characters and emotions.

Writing Fan Fiction

Students can learn a great deal about the fiction writing process from writing fan fiction. The advantage of writing fan fiction is that the characters are already familiar to both the writers and most likely to the readers; therefore, young writers can concentrate on manipulating the plot as they are already familiar with the characters and settings.

Students can also create new characters – as my daughter has chosen to do with her Harry Potter fan fiction, “The Special”. The main character in her story is Aira, the twin sister to Scorpius, and the only daughter to Draco Malfoy.

Homeschool With Wattpad

With Wattpad, students can write stories and publish them chapter by chapter. Along the way, others can comment on their work, allowing the writer an opportunity to change things, delete things, and make improvements immediately.

Wattpad stories are free. Whether you’re online or off, use the devices you already own to carry an entire library wherever you go. The interactive, social aspect is one component that makes it such an appealing app for youth.




January 29, 20131

We’ve always enjoyed exploring antique stores and generally visit one every three months or so. Two weeks ago, Sweetie asked to buy a piece of Vaseline glass for her project on Marie Curie. We found the perfect piece … a small owl figurine that complements her owl collection perfectly. She was ecstatic when the following day we stumbled upon a black light in a local hardware store.

When the coordinator of the leadership conference in which my husband would be participating learned that we would be accompanying him, she sent a brief email informing us that, “[Georgia’s] Rome is a fairly small town. There are quite a few antique stores on Broad St. and movie theatres. Other than that, there [isn’t much to see outside of Atlanta].”

I read her email aloud to the kids and they responded with gleeful remarks, “Cool!”. “Can we go?” She had made no mention of the Civil War or Cherokee / Chieftans Trail museums and national historic sites in the area which were already on our ‘must-do’ list.

As we wandered about, we came upon a used  book store. We must have spent an hour in there enjoying the many, many old books. There was a large section on the Civil War and local history. We were also impressed with the children’s selections which features a large collection of school books including readers and spellers.

Buddy picked up a book and opened it to a poem by Clinton Scollard. “Mom, that name sounds familiar. Who was it?”

“He wrote the poem you both memorized a while ago called The Archer. Do you remember?”

“Oh yeah! Can I get this book?”  We walked back to the hotel and he opened it up immediately and began reading the first story, a non-fiction selection about Balto. He hasn’t yet been bitten by the reading bug like his sister, but it won’t be long.

November 8, 20101

For the past few weeks, my little guy has been reading every Biscuit book that he can get his hands on at the library. They are perfect for him as a beginning reader.  The Biscuit Books use short words, short sentences, and simple stories.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading one of these easy reader books, Biscuit is a sweet-faced puppy you want to grab right out of the pages and cuddle. He and the little girl share the simple joys of childhood, like getting ready for bed and having a picnic. They share the excitement of adventures like being in a pet show and having a birthday party. They share the ability to take things that don’t turn out quite right and make them wonderful.

P.S.  For those who don’t know, Book Sharing Monday is hosted by Alex at Canadian Home Learning.  You can join in as well as find others participating weekly. 

February 16, 20102

I have been having much more success teaching Buddy to read than I did with Sweetie (she and I just butted heads too much). When we first started, I tried to use Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons but it was clear that he didn’t like it either. I thereby opted to go with a suggestion a veteran homeschool mom had mentioned to me early on … simply putting sight words on 3×5 cards and slowly building from there.

We began with words he’d picked up on his own; train, stop, go, Polar Express, North Pole, round trip, and engine. Then I introduced the Now I’m Reading! series by Nora Gaydos. I read the first book aloud to him a few times then we read it together. Of course, as he read, he relied solely on the illustrations and his memory. I then wrote the key words from the reader on cards and we practiced daily. The following week, we proceeded with the second reader and did the same. Additionally, we started using a phonics workbook and added the words it introduced to cards as well.

With the cards, we’ve also started practicing writing skills. I lay out the cards he can read independently on the floor and ask him to pick a few to make sentences. He writes out this sentence in his writing notebook. On Wednesday last week, these were his sentences:

I go to the North Pole.
I go see the train.
I am happy.

He is now comfortable reading 50+ words and though I have to bribe him with stars (that can be converted into dollars and treats) to sit down and practice, he doesn’t get as frustrated as Sweetie did. He is progressing very well and I’m so pleased.

November 11, 20081

I came across a great activity in a Mailbox magazine I picked up at the library last week. Essentially it was station activity that provides an opportunity for learners to create a list of words with similar sounds or spellings. As teachers & parents of young learners, these are typically referred to as word families. For example, at, cat, hat, and fat are a family of words with the “at” sound and letter combination in common.

Utilizing the Word Families chart from Enchanted Learning and the creative idea from Mailbox, I created a simple game for Sweetie to discover the word families on her own. Here are the steps to create the game:

  1. Using red construction paper, I traced out a circle shape several times.
  2. I then stacked several sheets together and cut out the circles.
  3. The circles were then cut in half to create half-circles.
  4. On one half, I wrote the word endings (-all, -ink, -ore…. )
  5. On the opposing half, I wrote the beginning sounds (st-, m-, b-…. )
  6. **Optional: I then created one slightly larger black circle with a half circle on one side to which I glued a pair of craft eyes.

Sweetie then played the game with me – I assisted her in sounding out the blends (a skill she is still working on). Here are the steps to play the game:

  1. Select one word ending (one right wing) and place a beginning sound (one left wing) next to it on the black template.
  2. Sound out the word and if it makes a true word, write it down on a piece of paper.
  3. Then select another beginning sound, continuing in this way until all the beginning sounds have been used.
  4. At that point, select a second word ending and proceed in the same way.

As I opted to create a wing for every word in the word family chart at Enchanted Learning, Sweetie created a words lists for only 2 families. It would have taken a long time to do all of them. I was thereby very pleased with little time was invested in creating this activity whereby its return will be great.

Sweetie and I are also putting together a variation for Buddy, using a simple picture on one wing and the starting letter sound on the opposing wing.