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Sunday Morning Shout Out

Image Source: http://www.lego.com

Image Source: http://www.lego.com

Do you feel a little remorse after heaping the shopping cart with “toy of the moment” stuff from the big-box stores this holiday season? Are you already envisioning a yard sale in nine months, with much of the stuff you are buying right now?  Would you rather get your child some educational toys this holiday season, and find toys/experiences that will last more than a moment?  How about buying a toy that will help your little wonder and not so little wonder learn?

Now that I have asked these questions, I will point you in the direction of some sage advice.  Last year the folks at “Live Science” have come up a great list of toys that help children explore many science fundamentals.  From toys featuring old friends and familiar product s like Miss Frizzle and “The Magic School Bus,” and Lego sets, to toys that get at chemistry through cooking and exploration through a working microscope, there are a wide range of toys in every price range.  These toys offer toddlers through teens the chance to build robots, do chemistry, familiarize themselves with labs and lab equipment, and fit together gears.  As you shop for your family, picture the heap of toys gathering dust and taking up space in one corner, versus some great quality toys that will go far in encouraging them, to pursue science and find real learning satisfaction.  While there may some of that dusty heap, I am going to plan to offset it with quality items.


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10 Best Holiday Reads for Elementary School Students

SantaFamilyReadingChristmas is nearing fast and it is getting tough to know what to get those special children you want to get gifts for and you don’t want it to be another gift card.  Perhaps one of the best gifts is a book since it helps improve their learning. When your giftee’s are in elementary school, one of the best gifts you can give them is a desire to read. Reading books adds to your cache of general knowledge, improves your vocabulary and spelling and encourages great communication. Learning to read comprehensively and quickly will stand your giftee in good stead when they are faced with large amounts of reading in high school and college. Here are some great holiday reads for children in elementary school.

Note: There are some manga/anime books here which are illustrated novels. These work well for students who are not as enthusiastic about reading as they are a great segue into the world of books.

Kringle by Tony Abbot
This intriguing book about the heroism of an orphan who triumphs over dark forces is a great coming-of age tale. Featuring elves, goblins and flying reindeer, this thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
Peter is a ten-year-old boy whose sister is lost and presumed dead. When he visits a fortune teller, he learns that she is still alive and sets out on an adventure to save her.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
This delightful collection of Chinese folklore tales is beautifully illustrated. They tell the tale of a little girl who goes on an epic quest to fulfill her destiny.

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
This hysterical book looks at the adventures of the unfortunately named Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III; a boy Viking who must catch and train his dragon before becoming a hero.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Bod may seem like a perfectly normal boy, except for the fact that he was raised by ghosts and lives in a graveyard. This is a terrifying and thrilling look at the challenges Bod faces both in the graveyard and in the real world beyond its walls.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Artemis Fowl is a criminal mastermind who craves fairy gold. He hatches a plan to kidnap a fairy and demand a ransom. But he bites off more than he can chew as his prisoner, Holly Short, soon wins his heart and teaches Artemis that he isn’t as cold and calculating as he thinks he is.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
A wonderful series which follows the lives of siblings Sunny, Violet and Klaus who lose their parents at a young age and must overcome some difficult obstacles.

Angelic Layer by Clamp (manga series)
Misaki Suzuhara is a seventh-grader who just relocated to Tokyo to live with her aunt where she learns about Angelic Layer; a game where components manipulate robotic dolls with their minds.

Astro Boy (manga series)
This was first published in 1952 and is credited as the first ‘anime’ series. Astro boy is a robot hero created by the head of the Japanese Ministry of Science, Doctor Tenma. Astro Boy goes on adventures to save the city from a host of villains.

Kilala Princess (manga series)
Kilala loves the Disney princesses and, when she wakes a sleeping prince, she gains all the magical power of the princesses which she must use to help the prince.

Note: adapted from a post originally published 12/20/2013 on the Tutor Doctor Corp. blog

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Best Holiday Reads for Teens

Best-holiday-reads-for-teensAre you looking to get your teen into reading? Holiday reads make great stocking stuffers and help to keep your students busy and brainy over the festive break. The key to getting students hooked on books is to find the genre that suits them best. Try anime books, magazine or ‘how to’ manuals to get them reading.

Reading improves their general knowledge, their language skills and their communication skills. The more they read, the faster they read and this is a huge advantage during exam time. Reading also broadens the vocabulary and this helps your student to express themselves succinctly.

Here is a list of some of the most popular books for teens. They include some anime/manga options for those who are reticent to read.

Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa (anime)

Two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, explore the art of alchemy to change their natural world. Now they are locked in a race to find the ultimate weapon of alchemy, the philosopher’s stone, with enemies who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Socrates in Love by Koi Suru (manga)

The all-time best-selling book in Japan, Socrates in Love is about a romance between an average high school guy and a breathtakingly beautiful girl. Their romance is cut short when she is diagnosed with leukemia. Socrates is a heartwarming story of love, devotion and loss.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay follow the life of Katniss Everdeen, the spirited young protector of the freedom of the people of Panem. She fights to protect her loved ones and free the people of Panem from the oppressors in the Capitol.

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare

This book follows the Shadowhunters; warriors tasked with ridding the earth of demons. After witnessing a murder, fifteen-year-old Clary Fray is drawn into the world of the Shadowhunters in this gripping thriller.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein

This classic is now a major motion picture series, but still has the power to enchant. This is the tale of Bilbo Baggins and his big adventure with Gandalf the wizard as he leave the comfort of the Shire to wreck vengeance on the dragon Smaug.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Steven Chbosky

Charlie is a geek and being shy doesn’t help him to fit in either. As he takes up his usual position on the sidelines of life, he meets some fellow wallflowers who help to teach him about love, life, first kisses and the perfect song.

The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon

Christopher John Francis Boone is wise beyond his years when it comes to facts and figures, but he has no aptitude for human emotions and can’t stand the color yellow. Christopher’s autism is both a blessing and a curse, but he managers to navigate through a complex world. When the neighbor’s dog is killed, Christopher uses his unique talents and way of looking at the world to solve the crime. It’s a funny, poignant book that you will love.

Note: adapted from a post originally published 12/16/2013 on the Tutor Doctor Corp. blog

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Sunday Morning Shout Out

Many parents ask what they should get their children’s teacher at the end of the school year.  One year, my daughter’s teacher shared her own gift of kindness when she graciously accepted our homemade, laminated place mats. There have been the other homemade treats, with a side of egg shells, that were also well received.   A few years in a row, there was the gift of clove apples, after a Little House on the Prairie kick. With a nod to reading, my girls’ teacher appreciatively and pleasantly received their fragrant fruit.

My parents always played it safe and sent us in with plants for our teachers. It didn’t hurt that they had a side floral and plant business, outside their regular jobs.  After deciding a large bottle of alcohol was a tacky choice, albeit one some parents and teachers might pick on a bad day, I decided to do some online investigating.   The Great Schools staff at recently featured an article titled ‘If you give a teacher a cookie…‘ that discussed what teachers really appreciate. Some things that were mentioned included nixing the homemade goodies. While the article did not mention my girls’ egg shells, it did mention the fact that many teachers get inundated with baked goods and truthfully do not eat them all. It suggested if you go homemade and edible, to go for something with a longer shelf life, like jam or a sauce.

Similarly, it suggested plants, over flowers because of a longer lifespan.  One year my oldest gave her teacher a potted plant with some personalized art on it. That following fall, the teacher told me how well the flower did in her garden, all summer long.  Another possibility that was mentioned was a gift card. As you may or may not know, teachers spend a lot of their own money on classroom supplies. A gift card to a favorite bookshop, coffee place, restaurant, or store is a welcome treat and break for a weary teacher, whose extra energy and money go into their classroom. Other ideas include the group (I love this phrase) “love bomb” where the class goes in on a large gift for their teacher; classroom supplies-the most practical, if not least exciting gift; and last but not least the heartfelt, sincere card or picture of thanks. Teachers in this article were most touched by heartfelt appreciation and gratitude, that crayola colors and little hands so wonderfully do.  This has been my go-to item many times. In these tough economic times, but really in anytime, where such dedicated people work so hard with our children, and have received a lot of flak from certain segments in society, I think cards/pictures of appreciation are great! Remember great doesn’t have to be expensive or even bought.

The articles ‘Teacher gifts with the homemade touch‘ and ‘Last minute teacher gifts‘ at the Great Schools website offer up some other good ideas for fretting parents.


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Books Also Make Great ‘Tween’ Gifts

A couple of days ago we put out a post that suggested some books for younger children (4-8). The holiday season is also the perfect time for middle school students to get some reading in before the new semester. The weather is cool and they have a bit of time to catch up on some fun reading. Here are some books you can gift to your student to help encourage holiday reading. Some of the books Tutor Doctor and I’d recommend (most have been tested on my daughter the English Lit. Masters student) are:

The Mysterious Benedict Society
Students reply to a newspaper advert and have to pass a series of tests in order to qualify for the team which embarks on a mysterious investigation. The students go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened where they discover all manner of secrets.

The Harry Potter Box Set
If your student hasn’t experienced the joys of the Hogwart’s School of Wizardry, then this will make a gift of epic proportions. It doesn’t matter if they have already watched the movies; the books are far more action-packed and intricate and will still be a thrilling read.

The Giver
This coming-of-age novel investigates the world where Jonas lives free of choices, pain or war, until (at the age of 12) he is exposed to these elements by the Giver. This is a great novel and your student will not be able to put it down!

The Hobbit
Try to get your student to read this before going to see the movie. The Hobbit is a classic for good reason as readers are taken on scintillatinly exciting adventures with Bilbo Baggins as he sets off from the Shire with Gandalf the wizard to battle dragons for stolen treasure.

When Stanley Yelnats goes to Camp Green Lakes for the summer, he is transported to a desert devoid of any greenery at all. As Stanley’s summer takes a turn for the worse, he is accused of stealing a pair of shoes and made to dig holes in the desert sand. He soon figures out that the dastardly camp leader is searching for a hidden treasure…

Twilight Saga
This is a favorite that will have your student sitting on the edge of their seats as they enter the intriguing world of vampires and werewolves and follow the tales of Isabella Swan and her romance with 100 year-old vampire Edward Cullen.

Esperanza Rising
Esperanza lived on her affluent family ranch in Mexico until the Great Depression forces her and her mother to flee to California. Esperanza must learn to face life as a farm worker, as well as overcome the hardships of their new financial difficulties to carve out a life in her new home.

Artemis Fowl
Artemis Fowl is a twelve year old with a difference; millionaire, genius and criminal mastermind. Artemis bites off more than he can chew when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit.

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Books Still Make Great Gifts

It is getting down to the wire for Christmas gifts and one of the toughest gifts to get young children are books. Luckily Amazon has not put all the local and national book stores out of business. I say this because going to the store is a great way to look for book options and to discuss them with individuals who generally love books. It makes a difference when you can touch the book rather then just look at something on your screen.

Some of my favorite books this year are:

Julie Andrews, Emma Walton Hamilton, Marjorie Priceman (Illustrator) – Treasury for all Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year

Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell – My Brave Year of Firsts: Tries, Sighs, and High Fives

Sally Lloyd-Jones & Jago – Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing

Chris Alexander – Star Wars Origami: 36 Amazing Paper-folding Projects from a Galaxy Far, Far Away….

Deborah Underwood, Renata Liwska – The Christmas Quiet Book

Jane Yolen, Heidi E. Y. Stemple, Rebecca Guay – The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories

Another great source of suggestions is your local library and you can also check the NY Times best-seller list.



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Top Books For Teenagers and Young Adults

(Note: I have a bit of work to do on this edition but wanted to get it up ASAP. Watch for revisions in the next day or two)

Many gift givers forget that teenagers of today like previous generations like to read. This desire to read is in spite of the fact that today’s teens have more responsibilities, more distractions, and less time to read as an article on Scholastic.com suggests.

As an article by Erinn Hutkin in the The Roanoke Times (2007) reported teenagers want books that reflect real life and problems they have or may confront. “The practice, said Ferrum College English professor Lana Whited, is called bibliotherapy — working through problems using literature. One reason she said the “Harry Potter” series is so popular is because the main character is very much a real boy. Flying and magic aside, Harry deals with bullies and girls and feuding friends.”

What does today’s young generation of Americans enjoy reading about?  Buying engaging books that your teenager will enjoy over the holidays is a daunting task. One of the first hurdles is determining if the book is appropriate for the person. In a country founded on the belief of free speech and choice there are responsibilities you need to take on. Typically, when government, civic or educational authorities take on the censorship role the results are quite startling as a brief listing by the University of Pennsylvania shows. Even Mark Twain and his books Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn have been banned in parts of the USA.

This list contains books that are primarily for enjoyment as well as those that have social and historical significance. We have added a link to each of the book titles for Barnes and Noble so you can get more information on the book and perhaps purchase it for your reader.

1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

From the moment Arthur Dent woke up, it’s been the strangest day. First, a construction team attempts to demolish his home. Then he discovers that aliens exist, that his best friend Ford Prefect is from a distant planet and that the earth is about to be destroyed by an alien construction crew; and that’s all before morning tea. Take this amazing, bizarre, mind-expanding adventure through time and space with Arthur and Ford but beware; you’ll never be able to think of cricket in the same way again.

2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

An epic fantasy adventure that chronicles the battle for middle earth against the evil Lord Sauron. It’s got elves, trolls, wizards, orcs and creatures of a more sinister nature that try to wrest the ring of power from the hobbit, Frodo in an attempt to gain ultimate power and rule all of middle earth. The trilogy (plus 1, the Hobbit) is the third bestselling novel ever written with 150 million copies sold.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

An American classic dealing with important themes of acceptance, racism, oppression and injustice as told by Scout, a young girl living in depression-era Alabama. The book is told from the perspective of this young southern girl and invites us to learn life’s lessons along with her. A poignant expose’ of how society judges people by the way they look and how these judgements mould perception.

4. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

This book is best suited for the more mature teen and really challenges the concept of social norms. This crazy rollercoaster ride tells of a group of friends who shun the traditional societal stalwarts of family, work and home to take to the road. These perpetual travellers have a series of hair-raising adventures that act as a manifesto for the beatnik genre.

5. Slaughter House Five Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Vonnegut’s unconventional style has greatly influenced pop culture in our century. This is the most critically acclaimed of Vonnegut’s books; a satirical novel that tells the story of World War II through the eyes of the soldier Billy Pilgrim. Irreverent and controversial, the book has made it to the top 100 list of both Time magazines and the Modern Library.

6. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

When Bella Swan falls for Edward Cullen, she gets far more than she bargained for because Edward is a 104 year old vampire. The series consists of four books: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn which are available individually or in a box set. The series has won numerous awards most notably the 2008 British Book Award and the 2009 Kid’s Choice Award.

Bottom line is that a book is a great gift for the teenagers on your list. Your librarian or local bookseller can help you make a great selection that will appeal to all the readers on your list. I still remember being young and getting a book from one of my parents friends for Christmas. I wasn’t exactly happy as if I had gotten a toy or something cool at the time but it was better then cloths! The book was Jack London’s ‘Call of the Wild and White Fang collection’ and I can still remember the exciting shinny hard cover of wolves fighting and the new book smell. The book drew me in and gave me an escape and new thrill over that boring holiday period off of school. What a lasting gift! Thank you Mr and Mrs. Reiger. (Note: Much of Jack London’s work was banned in European dictatorships in the 1920’s and 1930’s)

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