Cricket Magazines are Better than Books Because…

Parental confession time: I’ve hidden books from my children.

(Start shame spiral)

Yes. It’s true.

Don’t get me wrong – I love, *LOVE* reading to my kids. I love snuggling with them in bed. I love watching them become engaged in the story and when they turn the page to find out what happens next. As they get older, I love when they start following along, sounding out words. I love watching them learn to love reading.

However, all my kids had certain books they couldn’t seem to get enough of. We’d read them over and over and over. And over. Despite having a bookshelf jam packed with approximately two billion books, they always chose the same two or three at bedtime. Every night. And after reading these certain books exactly 874,392 times, I couldn’t take it anymore. The books mysteriously disappeared. The kids HAD to pick something new. Sometimes this resulted in a brief stint of tears that the beloved books were lost, but usually the kids bounced back with a new favorite within a few days. And selfishly, their heartbreak wasn’t as important as me losing my sanity over reading that book an 874,393rd time.

Enter the magazine.

Short, concise, and most important, disposable if need be. Brand new fun-sized stories show up to my door each month, perfect for the short attention span of my kids, and even more perfect for my dreams of one and done when it comes to reading out loud. They are basically my savior.

Of course I have to plug Cricket magazines as I grew up with Cricket and my kids are all exploring various titles each month. The stories in all the Cricket titles capture my imagination too – I have to admit, I’ve actually kept a few to re-read to my younger kids as they age up. And I have to tell you, we (me included!) have all learned so much since we started getting them. After recent editions of Ask, Faces and Muse, my daughter found out how much she likes geology, my son discovered a great deal about some cultures in South America that none of us knew anything about, and we all remembered the elements on the periodic table (Well, some of them. A few. Three.).

What I especially love about Cricket magazines though is that the quality is so good that we’ve been known to save and frame some of the illustrations and poems. You can’t do that with books – especially the ones I’ve hidden.

Cricket Media Mama can recite at least 15 children’s books by memory, forwards and backwards. She wonders what important information this has replaced in her brain. Probably the rest of the periodic table.

Touring that Place Like it was 1999

The title of this blog comes from a line in a story my 9-year-old daughter wrote recently. It’s funny, right? My daughter is not so good with capital letters or commas or periods (not yet, at least), but she does have a way with language that gives me great hope that she will be a good writer someday. As a writer myself, that makes me happy, but as a person who spends many hours reading poorly written stories, emails, blogs, texts, and other correspondence, I realize how important good writing is and will continue to be in this digital age where no one wants to answer their phone.

As a writing teacher, I often get asked: “How can I improve my writing?” Or “How can I help my child improve his/her writing?” The answer is three-fold and probably not all that surprising:

  1. Read other peoples’ good writing.
  2. Practice writing as much as you can.
  3. Take comments and suggestions on your writing gracefully.

In my experience, getting children to read good literature is actually more difficult than getting them to write a story or take suggestions. Is this as surprising to you as it was to me? There is just so much intentional mediocrity out there in children’s literature that picking up something good is not always an option. By “intentional mediocrity”, I mean that the stories are purposefully similar to each other and contain very few new words or concepts (Like these Rainbow Magic Fairy books my daughter loved) in an attempt to get kids practicing the skills associated with reading instead of expanding their world through literature. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for the Fairies and other books of this ilk. She picked them up, she read them, she gained key literacy skills that will serve her well. But they are not literature. They are not inspiring. They did not make her want to write her own stories or help her understand the world in a universal way.

Luckily, even as my daughter was reading Rainbow Fairies, she was also reading Spider Magazine. Here was an easy place to find the quality literature that inspired her to write her own stories. Below, you will find one such story. The Last Bicycle appeared in the July 2012 issue of Spider. It is literature that has the power to touch your heart and bring tears to your eyes. I hope you will share it with the young writer in your life. Perhaps it will inspire you both to give the world your best writing. For more stories like this one, be sure to subscribe to Spider.

The Last Bicycle
By Betty X. Davis
Illustrated by Daniel Clifford


Touring 1JACQUES COULDN’T KEEP from grinning as he rode his bicycle along the cobblestone road, past the old castle, and down to the town square. From a mile away he could hear singing and cheering as the townsfolk celebrated the end of Hitler’s war. That day, August 26, 1944, Charles de Gaulle marched triumphantly into Paris, and the proud song of La Marseillaise lifted millions of hearts.

Jacques not only grinned for France, but also because he had found the last bicycle in town.

His friends stopped in their tracks when they saw his bicycle. “Hey, Jacques, where’d you get that bike?”

Jacques felt a lump in his throat. Then he squeezed out the words, “My brother Philippe hid it really well.”

The boys fell quiet. Pierre, one of Jacques’s schoolmates, said at last, “It sure is a beautiful bike.”

“Yes . . . Philippe love it. Hey, anyone want a ride?”

The boys clamored. “Me, me!” “Let me ride it, Jacques!”
After they all took turns, Pierre offered, “I’ll pay ten francs for it!”

Jacques laughed. “It’s not for sale.” The bicycle was priceless beyond measure.

Almost nothing was for sale in Uzaire, not bicycles or cars or fuel—only secondhand clothes and rusty tools. Food was scarce. Edgy, wary of danger, people emerged from their stone cottages and scattered farms, getting used to a world without constant fear. A few shops and an inn opened. Trains ran, carrying mostly troops.

But no one forgot the awfulness of war, especially Jacques. Four years earlier, Philippe had told him, “I heard that in Chinon the enemy torched the buildings and smashed whatever was left. They’ll come here next.”

Jacques’s family hid what they could in the rubble of the old castle. Jacques and Philippe stashed the bicycle up in the tower. The enemy raided the castle soon after; the bicycle survived. But Philippe—kind, handsome Philippe—went to war for his beloved France and didn’t return. For Jacques nothing would ever be the same, though now he could finally once more breathe the air of freedom.

One morning he pedaled along past the vineyards, the scent of newly replanted grapes on the breeze. The French countryside was coming alive.
He turned onto the paved highway that led to Paris. Ahead, he saw a man in soldier’s clothing.

Jacques’s stomach tightened. Recently, there had been rumors that enemy spies still hid in the countryside. Jacques again tasted the bitterness of fear. The uniform, dusty and worn, was not French.

Touring 2The stranger’s shoulders, hunched under a heavy backpack, straightened as he turned and stared at Jacques, then at the bicycle—Philippe’s bicycle. Jacques gripped the handlebars until his knuckles turned white.

Jacques tried to sound normal, unafraid. “Bonjour, monsieur. Comment


Bonjour. I’m sorry, but I don’t speak French very well,” the man answered.

Jacques was relieved. “You’re an American! Why are you still here?”

“I stayed behind to treat small children. I’m an army doctor.”

“You care for the French as well as Americans?” Jacques asked.

“Of course. There’s been an outbreak of scarlet fever.” Jacques could see the exhaustion on the man’s face. “I’ve just come from the train station. I missed the last train to Paris. And now I might lose my place on the ship that will take me back to America.” His shoulders drooped. “You see, my father is very ill. I must get home.” Then, a hopeful spark lit up his eyes. “May I borrow your bicycle, son?”

“Borrow? I’d never get it back.” The man pulled a gun from his backpack. Jacques drew back.

“I’ll give you anything. This gun is valuable. I’ll trade it for the bicycle.”

Jacques shook his head. No guns.

But Jacques saw the desperation in the man’s eyes. He remembered that
American boys had died alongside Philippe. America helped liberate
France. But—Philippe’s bicycle! Did Jacques owe it to this man?

Jacques slowly relaxed his grip. Then, as if it had a life of its own, the bicycle was suddenly in the hands of the American.

“You’ll not be sorry, I promise. I’ll send you an even nicer bicycle from Texas.” The American looked at the identification on the handlebars.

“Thank you, Philippe Dupont. With all my heart, I thank you,” he said as he jumped on the bicycle, pedaling away.

“My name is Jacques!” the boy called after him. The doctor turned back and nodded. Jacques watched him grow smaller and smaller as he cycled up the road.

When his friends heard what Jacques had done, they yelled at him. “Jacques, you’re crazy! You gave away the last bicycle in town!”

Day after day, month after month, Jacques waited for the promised bicycle. Always, the stationmaster shook his head.

Slowly, Uzaire found its way back to an orderly life. Trains once again arrived on time. Food, clothes, books, even an old car could be bought. But
no bicycles.

Then, one spring day when the fields were blooming with the fleurs de colza that looked like sunshine, Jacques heard the whistle of a train. As he walked by the station, the stationmaster called out, “Vien vite! Jacques, come look!”

Touring 3When Jacques saw the shiny new bicycle, he felt joy bursting inside him. He had been right to trust the doctor! With his hands on the handlebars, he grinned and claimed his prize. Ready to zoom away, he put his foot on a pedal.

But the stationmaster stopped him. “Wait, Jacques, you must sign
for the rest.”

“The rest?” Jacques scratched his head in puzzlement.

“Yes, indeed,” the stationmaster said, handing Jacques an official paper to sign. He gestured for Jacques to follow him toward the boxcar, joined by the assistant stationmaster and ticket clerk.

Then Jacques’s jaw dropped, as the men began unloading ninety-nine shiny new bicycles from the train!

The stationmaster handed Jacques a note.

To Jacques Dupont:

For you and your friends in Uzaire. A hundred thanks.

Your grateful American friend,
Steven L., M.D.


Touring 4“Thanks, doc,” Jacques whispered. “And Philippe, merci beaucoup.”

4 Tips for Getting Teens Excited About Reading

I’m pretty lucky as a mom. My daughter loves to read. My husband pointed out today that her book-bag weighs 50 pounds. There are exactly two spiral notebooks in it. The other 49.5 pounds come from books she’s reading for pleasure.


I was a big reader as a kid, so it makes me happy that she loves to read – and more so now that she’s starting to read material I enjoy as well (Trading The Hungry Caterpillar for The Hunger Games? Upgrade!). However, I do worry that as she heads into the wonderful world of full-blown teenagedom, she may lose interest, or more likely time, for this very important habit.


So I was excited to hear about Teen Read Week, a national adolescent literacy initiative created by the Young Adult Library Services Association that is held annually in October. This celebration of reading is a teen itself – in 2015 it commemorates 17 years of spotlighting all the great resources and activities available to help adolescents build literacy skills. The site offers tons of great tips to get teens excited about reading. I recommend parents of tweens and teens everywhere check out the site. Here are a few more ideas:


Audiobooks – If your child has any sort of workout time, getting them access to recorded books is a great way to keep them entertained while exercising. We listen to audiobooks all the time in the car, and the best part is that my daughter often reads the book after listening to it.


Write – If you have a teen who likes to write, tie that into reading. It’s well-timed that Teen Read Week comes right before NANOWRIMO (a month-long writing challenge, which my daughter and I are both tackling this year). One way I told her to get prepared was to read as much as she could this month (hence the 49.5 pound backpack) in order to determine what kind of genre she is interested in, the approach she wants to take, and what elements published books contain.


Short Stories – One of the biggest obstacles to getting teenagers to read is the investment of time. Between school, TV, jobs, social time, parties, friends, fighting with parents, gossiping, after-school activities, texting, eating, sports, sleeping, videogames, showering, and homework (okay, that last one was maybe aspirational), our teens have a severe deficit of free time. Short stories can be quickly digested and cater to the short-attention-span mentality that most teens possess. Plus, reading three stories in the time it takes to read half a novel provides a feeling of accomplishment that will keep your teen coming back for more.


Magazines – Reading doesn’t have to be confined to books. Teens love magazines of all types and reading is reading, right? Not so coincidentally, amazing, award-winning, and entertaining stories and articles for teens and tweens are found each month in both Cicada and Cricket. Putting these magazines in front your reluctant teen reader may help keep them off their phone for 10 or even 20 extra minutes a day. Hey, that’s something, right?


Cricket Media Mom is currently reading and just wants to be left alone! Please go away and don’t come in here without knocking first next time! Jeez!

Happy 25th, Ladybug!

Ladybug celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this month. For twenty-five years, the magazine has tried to reflect the world of young children—and make it a little broader—through stories, poetry, art, and activities. Each issue encourages kids to take a closer look at the people and places around them. Ladybug invites children to bring their whole selves—their acute ear for language and keen eye for illustration, as well as that unmatchable sense of play and imagination—when they sit down to read.


The significance of Ladybug’s long history is clearest to me as the editor when I talk to parents of grown children. They often respond with surprise: “Ladybug? With the poems, and the stories, and the crafts to cut out? We used to read that when the kids were little.” And then there is a moment of quiet, as if the father is searching for a particular poem, or the mother is remembering the feel of a restless child’s head when it finally settled against her shoulder. It is a great pleasure to contribute to a magazine that families remember with affection.


Some anniversaries are formal, but at Ladybug, we approached the September issue as if it were a birthday party. It’s full of lively company, jokes, and music, with stories and poems that celebrate special days and growing up. In this spirit, we offer one of our favorite birthday stories, “Big Bear and Skinny Rabbit,” from an issue that came out a few years ago. It is part of a series about two friends who couldn’t be more different in temperament, yet more perfect for one another. (If you like this story, you can find another Skinny Rabbit and Big Bear tale in next month’s issue so be sure to subscribe to Ladybug!)


Big Bear and Skinny Rabbit

By Kathleen Stevens

Art by Terri Murphy




Big Bear tucked the last bit of blueberry pie into his mouth. “That was a delicious birthday lunch, Skinny Rabbit,” he said with a satisfied sigh. “You must have spent the whole morning cooking.”


“Only the best for my good friend and neighbor,” said Skinny Rabbit. “Now it’s present time.”


“A present—for me?” asked Big Bear.


“It’s your birthday, isn’t it?” Skinny Rabbit replied. Big Bear pulled the ribbon off the box and lifted the lid. “A hammock! I have always wanted a hammock. A hammock is the perfect place for a lazy nap.”


“Come outside and we’ll hang it up,” said Skinny Rabbit.


Two trees grew in the space between the friends’ houses. Skinny Rabbit and Big Bear tied the hammock between them. “Try it out,” suggested Skinny Rabbit.


Big Bear settled into the hammock and folded his paws across his belly. “How does it feel?”


“Just wonderful! Except—” Big Bear lifted his head. “A pillow would be nice.”


“Of course,” said Skinny Rabbit. “Why didn’t I think of that?”


Skinny Rabbit hurried into his house for a pillow. He slid it under Big Bear’s head. “Better?”


“Much better. Except—do you see how the sun shines through the branches, Skinny Rabbit?”


“I do. It shines straight onto the hammock.” Skinny Rabbit tugged his whiskers thoughtfully. “I have an idea.”



He hopped to the garden shed and dragged out his striped beach umbrella. Skinny Rabbit opened the umbrella. “How’s that?” he asked.


“What a clever rabbit you are!” said Big Bear. “Why, it’s almost perfect.”


Skinny Rabbit’s ears drooped. “Almost?”


“This hammock needs a friend to share it. Will you join me for a nap, Skinny Rabbit?” ask Big Bear.


Skinny Rabbit’s ears turned pink with pleasure. “What a fine idea, Big Bear.” He squeezed into the hammock beside Big Bear.


“Comfortable?” asked Big Bear.


“Perfect,” said Skinny Rabbit. “Absolutely perfect.” And the two friends took a lazy nap together.



Favorite First Lines to Keep Your Kids Reading

A story is only as good as its first sentence. That’s probably why some authors spend as much time crafting the perfect first sentence as they spend writing the rest of the book. If you can’t reel your audience in with the opening line, what’s going to motivate them to stick around for any line after it? And especially when it is a child doing the reading, grabbing his or her attention right away becomes even more important if you want them to stick with the story and earn that “I read for 20 minutes” stamp for their reading logs.


That’s why one of my favorite features in Cricket is “Favorite First Sentences”. This is a prime example of authors who really nailed that first sentence in a way that is so memorable it is worthy of recognition. Consider this line, featured in the July/August edition of Cricket from the book Savvy by author Ingrid Law:


When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he’d caused it.


This raises so many questions! Inland of what? Which state do they live in? Which hurricane are they talking about? Why is the narrator’s brother named Fish? And, of course, how in the world did HE cause a hurricane?


Must. Read. More. My daughter and I went out and got Savvy the weekend after we read this first line in the July/August issue of Cricket. We read the book together and loved it. The first line is a sublime introduction to a fascinating story. I think the sweetness of reading this book was made even sweeter by the fact that this is a book we never would have picked up if we hadn’t read that first line in Cricket.
If you are wondering how Cricket complies these first lines, you should know that it is usually kids who submit them. When kids remember the first sentence of a book, and care enough to take the time to send it in to their favorite magazine, you know it’s a story that resonated with them, one that is well-worth checking out.


In honor of National Book Lovers Day, below you’ll find the other “Favorite First Sentences” from the July / August issue of Cricket. We hope you’ll show your love of books by picking up one of these wonderful stories or another that strikes your fancy and spend some quality time sharing it with your family. And if you or your child have a favorite first line of your own, please tell us about them in the comments section below.



Favorite First Sentences


“Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt.”

THREE TIMES LUCKY by Shelia Turnage
submitted by Sydney Brooks of Hopewell, NJ


“My father is always talking about how a dog can be very educational for a boy.”
IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT by Emily Cheney Neville
submitted by Rebecca C. of Bloomfield, NE


“Kansas is not easily impressed.”
DANDELION FIRE (The 100 Cupboards, Book 2) by N. D. Wilson
submitted by Corinne K. of Arlington Heights, IL


“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.”
ENDER’S GAME (The Ender Quintet, Book 1) by Orson Scott C
submitted by Max Elinson of Brooklyn, NY


“When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he’d caused it.”
SAVVY by Ingrid Law
submitted by Grace L. Talley of Oakland, CA


“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.”
THE BAD BEGINNING: OR, ORPHANS! (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket
submitted by Victoria K. of Greeneville, TN


“Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”
submitted by Emmy Udry of Upper Nyack, NY


“The end of the world started when a Pegasus landed on the hood of my car.”
THE LAST OLYMPIAN (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5) by Rick Riordan
submitted by Corina H. via email and Katie H. via email



Looking for other tips to get or keep your kids reading? Sign up for Motivational Monday to get great suggestions mailed right to your inbox every week. And to see all the “Favorite First Lines” be sure to subscribe to Cricket.