Pick the best books for kids

Teaching your child

Teaching your child


"I couldn't sleep, so I stayed up half the night reading."

If a colleague spoke those words, I'd smile sympathetically and give a knowing nod.

Who hasn't had a fitful night that only a good book would remedy?

But this time those words came from someone who sleeps just down the hall.

My 7-year-old was explaining over breakfast why he felt tired.

I had two questions.

"Why couldn't you sleep?" and "What were you reading?"

He was hesitant to answer the first question. He had a nightmare and didn't want to talk about it.

OK. No need to stir up unpleasant thoughts.

When I asked him about what he read, though, he wouldn't stop talking. For the next 10 minutes he told me all about a little boy named Marky who likes to go fishing and feed seagulls at the beach.


He had read "Marky and the Seagull" and "Marky and the Mouse," both by Deanna Luke.

I had placed those books in a conspicuous spot. He found them like he finds many of the books I put around the house in all the places a 7-year-old is bound to jump, wriggle and crawl into.

I don't want him to read just anything.

When I hear a parent say, "Well, at least he's reading," I cringe. We shouldn't settle for anything but the best when it comes to reading material for our children.

Children should have access to good literature from the past and works of current authors who write stories with a purpose.

Luke, a writer who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, aims to write books that teach character-building values.

"What I found often as I was reading to my grandchildren, right in the middle of it was something I didn't want to say," Luke says. "I believe what we put in children is what we'll get out of them."

Her hope is that parents will use her books as a springboard for conversation about various topics.

"Because they're written in a conversational voice, that brings forth conversation," Luke says. "I think it's the voice I use when I write that makes people want to talk."

She aims to "speak up" to children.

"Some children's books are patronizing," Luke says. "A really key thing for me is to speak to people as if they know."

"Seagull" is the sixth book in the Marky series. Luke plans to have 20 volumes.

The first one was published in 2000. When she submitted the manuscript 25 years ago, the publisher wanted to keep the storyline but remove the values-based content. Luke didn't want to do that, so she refused the offer.

About five years ago she tried again with a different publisher, and the Marky series was born.

Luke uses a double story line to teach the moral of each story. The upper story is something that's going on in Marky's family. The lower story pairs Marky with an animal. At the end of each book, the story lines intertwine.

The series was recently accepted into the Renaissance Accelerated Reading Program, which means it will be available for required reading opportunities in schools across the country.

The issues Luke raises are those faced by many 6- to 9-year-olds.

In the first book, "Marky and the Mouse," Marky learns that it's OK to change your mind about something. (Sometimes parents even do this.)

In "Marky and The Cat," Marky learns that the truth can be surprising. His cat is male until "he" has kittens.

Luke deals with the sibling rivalry between Marky and his sister, Missy, in the third book, "Marky and The Rat."

In "Marky and The Fish," Marky is about to turn 9. He learns that growing up brings new choices and that his decisions affect others.

In the fifth book, "Marky and The Rooster," Marky learns about himself and others when his family moves from the city to the country.

When Marky is introduced to his newly adopted cousin in "Marky and the Seagull," he's not sure how to respond. He learns about helping those less fortunate while watching an injured seagull.

Future books will focus on a friend's sister who has leukemia and the divorce of a friend's parents.

A few days after our breakfast conversation, I talked to my son again about the books.

"I'm interviewing Deanna Luke today. She wrote the Marky books. Is there anything you'd like me to ask her?"

He didn't hesitate.

"Yeah, ask her where we can get more of those Marky books."

The books, which are $8.95 each, are available at, and

At, children can play in Marky's clubhouse, where there's an animal trivia game, word search, pet show, portrait gallery, young writers' contest and coloring page.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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