54 posts categorized "Parents" Feed

A Tip for Growing Bookworms: Avoid Bookshaming

A post at the Nerdy Book Club this week really made me think. Priscilla Thomas, an 11th grade teacher, wrote about the repercussions of what she called "bookshaming". Thomas says:

"To be clear, opinion and disagreement are important elements of literary discourse. Bookshaming, however, is the dismissive response to another’s opinion. Although it is sometimes justified as expressing an opinion that differs from the norm, or challenging a popular interpretation, bookshaming occurs when “opinions” take the form of demeaning comments meant to shut down discourse and declare opposing viewpoints invalid."

She goes on to enumerate five ways that bookshaming (particularly by teachers) can thwart the process of nurturing "lifelong readers." I wish that all teachers could read this post. 

But of course I personally read this as a parent. Thomas forced me to consider an incident that had taken place in my household a couple of weeks ago. We were rushing around to get out of the house to go somewhere, but my daughter asked me to read her a book first. The book she wanted was Barbie: My Fabulous Friends! (which she had picked out from the Scholastic Book Fair last fall). 

I did read this book about Barbie and her beautiful, multicultural friends. But at the end I made some remark about it being a terrible book. And even as I said it, I KNEW that it was the wrong thing to say. Certainly, it is not to my taste. It's just little profiles of Barbie's friends - no story to speak of. But my daughter had picked out this book from the Book Fair, and she had liked it enough to ask me to read it to her. She seemed to be enjoying it. And I squashed all of that by criticizing her taste.

Two weeks later, I am still annoyed with myself. Priscilla Thomas' article helped me to better understand why. She said: "When we make reading about satisfying others instead of our own enjoyment and education, we replace the joy of reading with anxiety." What I WANT is for my daughter to love books. And if I have to grit my teeth occasionally over a book that irritates me, so what? 

Rather than continue to beat myself up over this, I have resolved to be better. The other night I read without a murmur The Berenstain Bears Come Clean for School by Jan and Mike Berenstain, which is basically a lesson on how and why to avoid spreading germs at school. As I discussed here, that same book has helped my daughter to hone her skills in recommending books. It is not a book I would have ever selected on my own. But I'm going to hold on to the image of my daughter flipping to the last page of the book, face shining, to tell me how funny the ending was. 

Growing bookworms is about teaching our children to love reading (see a nice post by Carrie Gelson about this at Kirby Larson's blog). They're not going to love reading if we criticize their tastes, and make them feel anxious or defensive. I'm sorry that I did that to my daughter over the Barbie book, and I intend to do my best not to do that again. If this means reading 100 more Barbie books over the next couple of years, so be it. Of course I can and will introduce her to other authors that are more to my own taste, to see which ones she likes. But I will respect her taste, too. 

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate.

Back to Bed, Ed!: Sebastien Braun

Book: Back to Bed, Ed!
Author: Sebastien Braun
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-5

I must confess that when I first received Back to Bed, Ed! by Sebastien Braun, I didn't fully appreciate it (and didn't review it). This was back in early 2010, when I was pregnant with my daughter (my first and only child). A picture book about a boy (well, a mouse) who keeps getting into his parents' bed, and the solution that his family finds for the problem, well, it seemed a bit ... slight to that pre-parent me. But NOW, 3 1/2 years later, I have come to consider Back to Bed, Ed! necessary and relevant. Now that I have a child who climbs into my bed multiple times a night, I can appreciate how spot-on Braun's work is. (Or at least I would be able to appreciate it if I wasn't so tired all the time.)

ClosedSignIn fact, my plan for tonight is to copy Ed's parents' solution. Since this is a picture book, I'm not going to worry too much about spoilers, so I'll tell you. After many nights of being woken up (and kept awake) by Ed, his parents hang a "Closed" sign on the door. When he gets out of bed, he is stopped by the sign from entering their room. His dad walks him back to his room, where he gathers up all his stuffed animals into his bed and tells them "There's no need to be scared. I'm here now." (Image created by me, though similar to the one in the book.)

My daughter loves Back to Bed, Ed!, and she was actually the one to suggest the "Closed" sign (she's much braver by daylight than she is at night). We're going to bring all of her stuffed animals up from the playroom, and put them nearby, so that she can gather them into her bed, just like Ed does. I can only hope that life will imitate art. 

For those of you facing a similar problem (or anticipating the possibility of facing a similar problem), Back to Bed, Ed! is an essential book for any preschooler's home library. The reactions of Ed's (tired) parents are spot-on. Braun's illustrations are a mix of realistic (groggy parents spilling cereal on the table) and fanciful (the monsters that Ed imagines following him into the bedroom).

Nothing in Back to Bed, Ed! is actually scary. The monsters look like friendly dinosaurs, and the night-time background colors are blues and purples, rather than the inky blacks of Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen's The Dark. Jammie-clad Ed, clutching his stuffed bunny, is determined, then sad, and then, ultimately, pleased with himself. 

I kept Back to Bed, Ed! around, even when I didn't really anticipate needing it, because I found Ed a likeable character. Now, he's practically a member of my family, and I highly recommend this book for anyone struggling to keep a preschooler in bed. It is still in print, with a paperback coming out in February, which suggests that I am not alone in my assessment.  

Wish me luck!

Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (@PeachtreePub)
Publication Date: February 1, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Reading Aloud to Kids Builds Background Knowledge

I recently read the 7th edition of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook (more details here). The section (in Chapter 1) on Background Knowledge stood out for me. Trelease says: 

"Background knowledge is one reason children who read the most bring the largest amount of information to the learning table and thus understand more of what the teacher of the textbook is teaching... For the impoverished child lacking the travel portfolio of affluence, the best way to accumulate background knowledge is by either reading or being read to." (Page 13-14)

There is no question that my daughter has acquired background knowledge from books. Recently we were in the parking lot at the grocery store, and a taxi cab passed by. My daughter said: "Look! A taxi cab! I've never seen one in real life before." (Forgetting various airport trips, I guess.) She had, however, seen a taxi cab in Night Light by Nicholas Blechman. And despite the one in the book having been somewhat stylized, the rendition was accurate enough for my Baby Bookworm to know one when she saw it. 

Do you have examples of ways that your child has used books to build background knowledge? Or is this so pervasive that you don't even notice? 

See also my related post about making connections between books and day-to-day life, from this year's Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 

Idea for Increasing Your Child's Literacy: A Rear-Facing Stroller

I'm sharing some ideas that I picked up from a recent read of the 7th edition of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook (more details here). In Chapter One, Trelease proposes "one inexpensive, commonsense move that parents could make that would impact their children's language skills". The simple idea is to purchase a rear-facing stroller. Turns out that:

"Researchers (of parents using rear-facing strollers) found it makes a huge difference in how much conversation takes place between parent and child--twice as much when the child faces the parent." (Page 17)

The larger idea is that talking with your child is one of the ways that you help to build your child's vocabulary (on which much of the success of their future education rests). So, if you are regularly taking your infant out for walks in a stroller, using a rear-facing stroller increases your opportunity to engage with the child. Such a simple idea, but one that could make a big difference. (Obviously, this is less practical with a curious 2 year old who wants to see the world, even if you could find a rear-facing stroller). 

We actually did have a rear-facing stroller when my daughter was an infant (it was like the one shown above, where the car seat snaps into a base). But I must admit that was luck (and generous friends). Have any of you deliberately tried using a rear-facing stroller, so that you'll talk more with your baby?

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 

Actions I'm Taking After Reading the New Read-Aloud Handbook

I've included some general responses to my recent reading of the 7th edition of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook in a separate post. Here, I'm sharing the bits that motivated me to want to take a specific action, and/or change something that I'm doing, in terms of my daughter's reading experience.

Mind you, I'm already reading to my daughter (now 3 1/2) regularly. She visits the library, and chooses her own books. We have books in the car, and we take books with us when we go on trips. We read mostly picture books, but are dabbling in early readers, and even dipping our toes into chapter books. I've read at least two earlier editions of The Read-Aloud Handbook, as well as various other titles on this subject, and I'm confident that we're doing a reasonable job already. 

Still, I found some useful take home messages, places where I think we can do a little bit better. Like these:

Perform Repeat Reads of the Same Book

"Research shows that even when children reach primary grades, repeated picture book reading of the same book (at least three times) increases vocabulary acquisition by 15 to 40 percent, and the learning is relatively permanent." (Page 10, Chapter 1)

The immediate take-home message for me on this is to make sure that we do read new picture books at least three times (unless we dislike them, of course). This isn't much of a problem with books that we own, but sometimes the big stack of library books goes back with books that were only read once or twice. I guess mostly this is a reminder of being patient about re-reads. 

Fill More Book Baskets

Another thing that Trelease advocates is the placement of book baskets in strategic locations throughout the house. I did this when my daughter was younger, but I haven't updated the baskets and locations recently. I need to stock a basket for the bathroom, and figure out a way to keep books closer to the kitchen table. This is going to tie in with another project that we're just starting - putting aside some of the board books (sob!), which currently fill the baskets. 

Get A Bedside Lamp

A related idea, Trelease also suggests buying your child a bed lamp, and letting them stay up 15 minutes later if they are reading in bed. We're not quite ready for this idea in my house yet (we tend to read to her until she falls asleep), but a bed lamp is clearly something that we're going to need soon.  

Read More Poetry

Trelease also talks about the need to read aloud stories that rhyme (Chapter Two). I haven't been as good about reading my daughter poetry as I would like. She's now starting to play with rhyming herself (and has just discovered tongue-twisters), and I think it's time for us to add more poetry to our repertoire. 

Always Say the Title and Name of the Author

In Chapter 4: The Dos and Don'ts of Read-Aloud, Trelease says:

"Before you begin to read, always say the name of the book, the author, and the illustrator--no matter how many times you have read the book." (Page 74)

I used to be very good about this, and had been letting it go a bit lately. This reminder has already gotten me back on track with attribution. I also like to say where the book came from, if it was a gift. 

Read More Slowly

Another reminder from Chapter 4, always good to hear again:

"The most common mistake in reading aloud--whether the reader is a seven-year-old or a forty-year-old--is reading too fast. Read slowly enough for the child to build mental pictures of what he just heard you read. Slow down enough for the children to see the pictures in the book without feeling hurried. Reading quickly allows no time for the reader to use vocal expression." (Page 75)

I think it's always tempting for adults to read quickly, and get through more books. There's a feeling of accomplishment if we read five books tonight before bed. But reading them better, more slowly, with more expression and discussion, is clearly better in the long run. I'm going to work on this.

Chart Reading Progress

My daughter loves to look at her growth chart, and see how much she's grown. Trelease advocates creating a home or school wall chart so that kids can see how much they've read. He says that:

"images of caterpillars, snakes, worms, and trains work well for this purpose, with each section representing a book. Similarly, post a world or U.S. wall map, on which small stickers can be attached to locations where your books have been set." (Page 76)

I especially like the map idea, because we LOVE maps in my house. I'll have to think about the best way to do this. US map? World map? Both? 

Initiate Home Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) Time

Trelease suggests setting aside time each day for the child to read by herself (even if she is just flipping through books that she can't yet read). He adds: "All your read-aloud motivation goes for naught if time is not available to put that motivation into practice." (Page 77)

We've done this informally, especially in the car. But I like the idea of having a designated quiet self-reading time. I'm happy to also use the time to model reading, by reading my own book. I'll have to think about how this could be integrated into our schedule. 

Spend Less Time Pecking Away on My Phone

I don't have one quote for this, but a number of references in The Read-Aloud Handbook have affirmed something that I've been concerned about for a while. I spend too much time looking at things on my phone, in my daughter's presence. I'd rather either be present with her, or have her see me reading books (or newspapers or magazines). If I am going to read electronically, I prefer to do it on the Kindle Paperwhite, which is only for reading books. I always call this my "Kindle Book", to reinforce the idea that when she sees me with it, I am reading.  

Continue Limiting TV Time, and Turn On the Closed Captioning

Trelease has a whole chapter on the impact of television and audio on kids and reading. I've been determined since before she was born that my daughter will not have a television set in her bedroom (and I won't have one in mine, either). We currently only allow her to watch television on weekends (though she does sneak in a bit of extra time on the iPad during the week sometimes). But she's like an addict, constantly asking if it's the weekend, and then binging on movies when it is. 

I'm particularly struck by the results of a study that found looked at children's schooling level by age twenty-six vs. the amount of television watched in childhood. "Children who viewed less than one hour a day were the most likely to achieve a college degree." (Page 147) Another study suggested "no detrimental effects on learning (and some positive effects) from TV viewing up to ten hours per week; however, after that, the scores begin to decline. The average student today watches three times the recommended dosage." (Page 148)

I'm not going to make any changes right now, besides turning on the closed captioning (something that Trelease has recommended for years, so that kids SEE the words). But I'm going to keep an eye on how many hours of TV watching creep in over the weekends. Just as soon as the baseball playoffs are over, anyway. 

Limit iPad Time When Traveling

We don't have a portable DVD player, or a DVD player in the car, and I don't see much need for one. But we have downloaded a few select movies onto the iPad. We've found this useful for long car trips, or other times when we need a break. (Most recently, when we brought our daughter along on a wine tasting trip to Napa.) I'm not prepared to give this up - it's been awfully handy on long flights. But I do take this point by Trelease into account:

"The recent addition of the DVD player to family transportation does nothing but deprive the child of yet another classroom: conversation with parents or the shared intellectual experience of listening to an audiobook communally." (Page 154)

I don't think that  my daughter is quite ready to follow along with an audiobook, but I do plan to use them for car trips when I think that she's ready. In the meantime, I'm going to work on talking more, and resorting to the iPad less, especially in the car (though I won't give it up entirely). 


A pretty fine list of actions to take, considering that this is at least the third edition I've read of The Read-Aloud Handbook (out of 7 published editions). Trelease has said that this will be the last edition that he writes, which makes me sad. But I'm very happy to have this one. 

How about you all? Have you read The Read-Aloud Handbook? Has it affected your efforts to grow bookworms in your own household? I'd love it if you would share. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 

The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition: Jim Trelease

Book: The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition
Author: Jim Trelease
Pages: 384
Age Range: Adult nonfiction (for parents and teachers)

The 7th Edition of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook was published in June. I pre-ordered my copy, and it arrived that day, but various things kept me from reading it until this week. I reviewed the previous edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook in 2010, having also read an earlier version before starting my blog. I was fortunate enough to hear Jim speak to parents at the Santa Clara City Library in January of 2007. My notes from that session are here. I have referenced Jim's work on encouraging reading aloud to children many times over the course of my blogging. So you may consider this more a recommendation and discussion than a formal review. 

Let me first state for the record that I believe that all parents of young children should read The Read-Aloud Handbook, as should all elementary and middle school teachers. The Read-Aloud Handbook started out as a little booklet that the author self-published in 1979 to encourage other parents to read aloud, and talk about books, with their kids. It became a phenomenon, was picked up by Penguin, and was named by Penguin in 2010 as one of the seventy-five most important books published in the company's 75 year history. It certainly had an impact on me, though I first read it long before I had a child of my own.

GBMantraThe Read-Aloud Handbook posits that instead of focusing on test-prep, flashcards, and the like, what parents and schools need to do to improve life-long levels of literacy and critical thinking, is simply read aloud to kids. I obviously agree (and posted the Read-Aloud Mantra to the left several weeks ago on my blog). 

More than 30 years after initial publication, The 7th Edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook retains Trelease's passion for reading to kids, but has a lot more references and research. The 7th Edition is about 40% changed from the 6th Edition, with new research findings, book recommendations, and discussions of the impact of eBooks and tablets. Even as someone who had read earlier editions (and follows published research studied pretty closely), once I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down. I finished it in about a day (it helps that nearly half of the book consists of a treasury of recommended read-aloud titles, which I only skimmed). 

My reading of this edition was certainly colored by the fact that I have a three-year-old daughter who I very much hope grows up to be an avid reader. I flagged a mix of items throughout the book - interesting things that I might want to share on the blog, as well as action items for myself (like getting around to putting a basket of picture books in the bathroom). I'll share some of the former here, and put the latter into a separate post. 

Here are some of the many quotes that I flagged:

"Why are students failing and dropping out of school? Because they cannot read well enough to do the assigned work--which affects the entire report card. Change the reading scores and you change the graduation rate and then the prison population--which changes the social climate of America." (Page xxvi, Introduction) 

"If we're waiting for government to save our reading souls, we've got a long wait. Ultimately it will come down to the individual student, parent, teacher, and librarian." (Page xxix, Introduction)

"One factor hidden in the decline of students' recreational reading (as they get older) is that it coincides with a decline in the amount of time adults read to them. By middle school, almost no one is reading aloud to students. If each read-aloud is a commercial for the pleasures of reading, then a decline in advertising would naturally be reflected in a decline in students' recreational reading." (Page 6, Chapter 1)

"Students who read the most also read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don't read much cannot get better at it." (Page 7)

"What motivates children and adults to read more is that (1) they like the experience, (2) they like the subject matter, and (3) they like and follow the lead of people who read a lot." (Page 10)

"The message in this kind of research (especially the Hart and Risley study on Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children) is unambiguous: It's not the toys in the home that make the difference in children's lives; it's the words in their heads. The least expensive thing we can give a child outside of a hug turns out to be the most valuable: words. You don't need a job, a checking account, or even a high school diploma to talk with a child." (Page 16)

 "Here is a crucial fact to consider in the reading and writing connection. Visual receptors in the brain outnumber auditory receptors 30:1. In other words, the chances of a word (or sentence) being retained in our memory bank are thirty times greater if we see it instead of just hear it." (Page 43, Chapter Two). 

"So how do we educate the heart? There are really only two ways: life experience and stories about life experience, which is called literature. Great preachers and teachers--Aesop, Socrates, Confucius, Moses, and Jesus--have traditionally used stories to get their lesson plans across, educating both the mind and the heart." (Page 45)

 "(Expectation of Reward / Effort Required) = Frequency of Activity... When you maintain strong reward factors and lower the number of difficulties, you will see a higher frequency of reading... If you really want to get more reading done, then take control of the distractions: needless trips to the mall, phone calls, multiple televisions, DVD players, e-mails, computer games--each calling for immediate attention or multi-tasking." (Page 84-86, Chapter 5)

"Make sure you, the adult role model, are seen reading daily. It works even better if you read at the same time as the child." (Page 92, Chapter 5)

(On applying Oprah's example of generating enthusiasm for books) "What can we apply from this to our work with children? Well, let's eliminate not all but much of the writing they're required to do whenever they read. ("The more we read, the more we gotta write, so let's read less and we can work less.") We adults don't labor when we read, so why are we forcing children to? It hasn't created a nation of writers or readers." (Page 103, Chapter 5)

"It's difficult to get good at reading if you're short of print. Government programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top ensure that children who are behind in reading are entitled to after-school tutoring and extra help with phonics. Nice. But giving phonics lessons to kids who don't have any print in their lives is like giving oars to people who don't have a boat -- you don't get very far." (Page 107, Chapter 6)

"By the reckoning of its own Department of Education, California's ratio of school librarian to student ranks fifty-first in the nation, with 1 librarian for every 5,124 students, more than five times the national average of 1 to 916. Even the state's adult prison system does better, with 1 librarian to 4,283 inmates." (Page 109). Sigh!

(On reading blogs, tablets, social networks instead of books) "Reading, when it's done today, doesn't go very deep, and it's so private it's invisible. The trouble is, how do you pass invisible torches? How do you pose as an invisible role model?"

"...the e-book is here to stay, for very legitimate reasons. It's a win-win situation: a moneymaker for the publisher and a money saver for the buyer. It also saves time, space, student spines, and trees, to say nothing of what it does for the visually impaired." (Page 131, Chapter 7)

"The research clearly shows that we read more slowly (6 to 11 percent) from a screen than from paper. As with automobile driving, humans may get better and faster at e-reading over the years--but that could take generations." (Page 133) I did not know this, and found it fascinating.

"So what happens to the creative process when there is no disconnect time, when we and our children are constantly downloading, uploading, texting, YouTubing, Googling, or tweeting our 742 "friends"? Less "deep thinking" takes place, less creativity." (Page 139)

"It is not so much what children are doing while they watch multiple hours of TV; it is the experiences they are not having that make the viewing so dangerous." (Page 142, Chapter 8)

"A California professor, Jo Stanchfield, once told me that girls tend to be extrinsically motivated in their reading (favoring the choices of their peers, mom, and teacher), while boys are intrinsically motivated (favoring what they themselves are interested in). I agree. Call it selfish or pragmatic, but guys are drawn more to what interests them, not what interests the crowd." (Page 169, Chapter 10)

There's lots more to the book, obviously, but those quotes should be more than sufficient to give you a feel, and hopefully inspire you to want to read the rest. I feel that if you have kids, or you work with kids, you should read The Read-Aloud Handbook. If you feel like you don't have time, at least read the introduction, which sums up many of the findings discussed throughout the book. The Kindle edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook is $7.99, and you can read it on your phone. (I prefer the print edition for things like this, that I'm going to refer back to, but if cost or time is an object, e-books have advantages.) 

I'm pulling out a few other ideas from this edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook, and will be sharing them as separate posts in the coming days. I welcome your feedback. 

Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source of Book: Purchased

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Does It Matter If You Read to Your Kids at Bedtime (Specifically)?

The Guardian recently reported, in an article by Liz Bury, on a study that found that "only 13% of parents read to their kids at night every day of the week." The title of the article is:

"Children's bedtime stories on the wane, according to survey"

It's a brief article, but says:

"A poll of 2,000 mothers with children aged 0-7 years, carried out by the clothing and homeware retailer Littlewoods, highlighted the extent of the change. Only 64% of respondents said they read their children bedtime stories, even though 91% were themselves read bedtime stories when young."

Participants said things like that they were too stressed, or didn't have time to read to their kids before bed, even though they think it's important. This part is sad: "Only 13% of respondents read a story to their children every night, but 75% recall being read to every night when they were kids."

I shared this link on my Facebook page with a sigh, and my friend Jennifer remarked that she would have to answer no to the question, because she tends to read to her kids at other times, rather than at bedtime. Which got me thinking that perhaps this survey wasn't really asking the right question. (To be fair, the survey was focused on whether bedtime reading was on the decline, more so than bigger picture questions. So it was the right question for them, but not for me.)

RAM1_shadowI've been helping the organization Read Aloud to spread their message, which is: Read Aloud for 15 Minutes. Every Child. Every Parent. Every Day. This is delightfully concrete, and I've been happy to share it. But I still see people saying: "But I want to read for more than 15 minutes." Or, "I can't read every day." 

ReadAloudMantraTo me, the right message is something like:

Read aloud to your child whenever you can, as often as you can, for as long as you can.

For many families, bedtime is the easiest time for reading aloud, because you have a routine in place, and it's relatively straightforward to make reading aloud part of that. This is great when it works. But if you can’t read at night without falling asleep after 5 minutes, or you have different kids of different ages, and you're working on the older kids' homework, and you just can’t fit the reading in then, ok. Find another time.

It doesn’t matter if you read in the morning before breakfast, or after lunch during quiet time, or before bed. It matters that you:

  • Always have books around that you can read to your child, whether they are your family’s own books or library books.
  • Try to say yes when your child asks you to read aloud.
  • Make reading part of your daily routine, no matter how busy that routine is, by fitting it in somewhere.
  • Keep reading together fun!
  • Keep reading aloud to your child even after your child can read to herself, for as long as she will let you.

These are the important things. These are things that you can do as a parent that will make a difference in your child’s happiness now, and future success later.

In my house, I tend to let read aloud time be dictated by what my daughter requests. Sometimes she wants to read a couple of books before even heading down for breakfast. Often she asks her babysitter to read to her after lunch, in the time period that she used to nap. If a new picture book arrives in the mail, she’ll usually want to read it right then. Same for times when she arrives home from the library with new books. I can't always say yes to reading at any particular minute, but I try to say yes as frequently as possible. 

We do usually read to her at bedtime. Mostly my husband does the nighttime reading these days, because my daughter in a major “daddy phase.” I’ll often sit nearby and read my own books, so we’re still together. But sometimes she falls asleep on her own before we get to the bedtime reading, and, well, there isn’t any. Especially if we’re out somewhere, and she falls asleep on the way home (sound familiar, anyone?). But most of the time, she’s been read to at some other point during the day. Some days she’s probably been read to at 5 or 6 points during the day. So I figure that what we’re doing is working for us, and I don’t get too hung up about the occasional missed night.

I know that I'm lucky because I work from home, and can sneak in extra reading time during the day. I'm lucky because I have other people who read to my daughter, too, and because I only have to worry about one child's schedule. I realize that it's going to get harder as my daughter gets older, and has homework and activities. But I'm going to try to keep this mantra in my head:

Read aloud to your child whenever you can, as often as you can, for as long as you can.

I'm going to try to seize, and appreciate, those moments, regardless of what time of day they occur. 

How about you? Does your family read before bed, or at other times, or both? 

 © 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

How We're Doing with Screen Free Week

SfwAs I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Screen Free Week is being observed this week, April 29th - May 5th. Random House has been urging families to Unplug and Read. As you might infer by the fact that I'm blogging right now, I'm not going screen free myself. However, I am attempting to keep my 3 year old daughter, Baby Bookworm, free of screens. Because she never uses screens during the day anyway, this mainly consists of three things:

  1. Not letting her use the iPad in the morning after breakfast (something that I often allow, so that I can read the paper, shower, etc.).
  2. Not letting her watch television in the evening (we sometimes watch a movie or television episode after dinner - she's currently in the middle of Season 1 of Full House). 
  3. Not using my iPhone when she is around (because this makes her want to play with it). 

So how are we doing on these three things?

  1. Monday morning she cried for a few minutes over not using the iPad. But then we did some gymnastics, pretended we were taking an airplane to Los Angeles, and read two books. Tuesday morning she didn't even ask for the iPad, wanting instead to play a game in which I was the baby, and she was the daddy. I convinced her that "the baby" wanted to read books, and she went and dug out some of her early baby books for us to read together. Wednesday morning, again, no request for the iPad. We did puzzles, read several books, and packed up for a pretend trip to the beach. 
  2. BooksReadSFWMonday night she protested quite loudly about wanting to watch "a movie" (she calls everything on the TV a movie). But only for a couple of minutes. Then we went into the playroom and played Little People, and she went on a pretend camping trip with my husband. Tuesday night she asked a couple of times for television, but was even more easily deflected by puzzles and pretend camping. We also read a lot more books before bed than usual, because we got started earlier (see stack to the right).  
  3. Not looking at my iPhone screen when she's around has been the hardest one for me. Baseball scores! Facebook! Checking my email! But I don't think that she has even noticed. This one is going to be a lot harder on the weekend, when I'm with her all day. 

We're only a couple of days in, but already, I'm noticing a few things.

  • It doesn't take very much time to make or break habits when you're dealing with a three year old. I was surprised that on the second day she didn't even ask for the iPad. It's possible that we'll get the to end of the week, and she'll completely stop asking for the iPad at all. 
  • When she's not watching TV or using the iPad, she is engaging in more creative play. We did at one point pretend to be watching television, I must admit, but she was perfectly happy to pretend, and didn't ask for the real thing. While I do think that she learns some things on the iPad (we have apps that are helping her with letter recognition, for example), I have to think that active pretend play is more beneficial at this age. We are also reading more books, which is certainly a good thing. 
  • I think that the reason she is ok with giving up the screens (which she loves) is that she gets more of mommy and daddy's time and attention. If I was trying to send her off to play by herself in the mornings, I don't think that this whole thing would be very successful.

There's no question that this is a sacrifice in terms of my time. I feel like I'm starting off every day behind, because I get so little time to myself in the mornings. I'm not sure whether I'll be able to continue after this week is over. But there's also no question in my mind that this Screen Free Week is having good outcomes for my daughter.

It's not too late to jump in to Screen Free Week, if any of this sounds interesting to you. My personal view is that it's a good excuse to look at how much time your kids are spending on screens, and see what happens if you scale that back a little bit. I'll report back again after the end of the week. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Another Little Literacy Milestone

LiteracyMilestoneABaby Bookworm also had another little literacy milestone this week. She came running in from her playroom, all excited, waving an orange marker. "Mom, I drawed an A." Alas, the A was drawn on the floor, and didn't actually look a whole lot like an A. But she gets that drawing letters is an accomplishment, so that's something to celebrate.

Thank goodness for washable markers. I don't know how any parent manages without them. 

This post © 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

A Recipe for Growing Bookworms

ReadAloudEveryDayI've written quite a number of posts about growing bookworms (i.e. raising children who love books). I've shared many, many other people's post and articles on this topic in my literacy roundup posts (with Carol and Terry) and my Twitter and Facebook links. But today I was thinking that it really boils down to a recipe with three ingredients: 

Books + Parents + Time 

Combine these three ingredients by reading aloud together, every day, and you'll most likely grow yourself some bookworms. 

Let's talk about these ingredients for a moment, shall we? 

Books: You need to have books in your house, all the time, if you are going to grow bookworms. They can be your own books or library books (or ideally both). They can be new books or books that you buy for 25 cents at your library booksale. They can be recently published books or classics (ideally a mix of both). But there have to be books. As many, and as varied, as you can manage. This is why I love programs like Reach Out and Read, RIF, and First Book (and many other local programs). But library cards and book sales work great, too.

Parents: While it is certainly true that other people have an impact on whether or not children grow up to love books (librarians, teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.), parents are positioned to have the MOST impact. Parents are the ones who are there, every day, and can read aloud, every day. (This does hold for other adults who live with children, of course.) I can (and do) buy books for my niece and nephew. I will talk with them about books when they are older. But they live 3000 miles away from me. Their parents are the ones who will grow them into bookworms, not me. Parents grow bookworms by getting all of those books into the house, by modeling reading as a positive and desirable activity, and, most of all, by reading aloud. 

Time: It's not enough to have dozens or even hundreds of books lying around the house. Parents also have to make time for reading aloud. This means turning off the television in the evening, so that there's time to read before bed. It means starting the bedtime routine early enough that there is time to read before the child, or the parent, falls asleep. It  means carving out other times for reading during the day, whenever you are home with the kids. I'm a working parent myself. I know that this is not always easy. But time spent together enjoying books is a crucial ingredient for growing bookworms. There are no shortcuts. No real ways to multi-task or make your time more efficient. There's just you, your children, the books, and the time to read them. 

JRPB-NoText-smallThere are other things that help, of course. Having great teachers and librarians. Having people to help you find the right books. Going to the library and to bookstores. And there are things (like learning disabilities) that can make this more difficult. But in general, if you want to grow bookworms (and there are many, many reasons why this is a good idea), you need books, parents, and time. Stir these ingredients together by reading aloud, and you're on the right path to grow some bookworms. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.  

Ideas from "How Can We Help Parents Find Quality Books?" Responses

The other day I shared a post asking "How Can We Helps Parents to Find Quality Books for the Children?" I received a number of thoughtful responses in the comments on the post, as well as on Google+. Here, I'm summarizing some of the ideas (there's other good stuff in the comments, too, but I'm focusing here on specific ideas):

  • Amazon Suggestions. A good source of book ideas for parents is the lists of like books displayed on Amazon, when you search for or purchase books ("you may also like ..." and "customers who bought this item also bought"). This suggestion came from author E.S. Ivy, and it is a method that I have used as a parent. There are acknowledged problems with this approach (broad age categories, a few popular books showing up over and over again), but if you have a book that you know your child likes, this can be a quick way to find other, similar books. 
  • Better Classification of Review Books: Include narrower age ranges on book reviews, as well as more subject information, suggests  E.S. Ivy. Consider using Accelerated Reader classifications for the age ranges, as they may be narrower than publisher classifications. I think that I could make improvements in my own blog in this area, though I do have concerns about making age ranges too narrow on book recommendations. There's such a wide range in reading ability at each age range that classifications are very difficult. But for sure I could do better in providing more easy to search subject classification. Our Learning mentioned experimenting with including more detailed categories in the blog sidebar, and is working on evaluating the effectiveness of this. 
  • More Lists: Erica MomandKiddo talked in her extensive and helpful comment about making booklists for parents, because she finds those useful herself. They are easier for parents to print out and take to the store or library. I've been dabbling in this already of late, and I do think that people are more willing to spread the word about booklists than about individual reviews. 
  • Facebook and Pinterest: Build "respected collaborative resources on the media platforms that most moms are on (ie. Pinterest & Facebook)", suggests Bethany @ No Twiddle Twaddle. +Erica Mom and Kiddo shared similar thoughts on Google+, saying "I feel no shame about trying to promote my book lists on platforms like Pinterest and Facebook even though I know those platforms are not widely used by Kidlitosphere folks. They are super-popular platforms with moms and they find books there." I agree with Bethany and Erica that something based on these platforms would be worth pursuing (and I know that people like Bethany and Erica and Pragmatic Mom are pursuing it at various levels, through group Pinterest boards, Google+ communities, the new collaborative Facebook effort The Niblings, etc.). The idea of leveraging Facebook was echoed by mom Jenny from BooksBabiesBows
  • Smart Phone Apps (?). Bethany's comment also made me wonder it some day there will be some sort of collaborative children's book finder smart phone App. Because that's the other place moms and dads spend their time these days, right? Tapping away at smart phones.
  • Pooling Existing Resources. "Maybe we can pool resources and come up with a better way or organizing the info that we already have as a first step", suggests author Barbara Mojica. I think that the idea of actually tacking something like this is daunting (given the volume of information, and the freewheeling nature of the Internet), but potentially very high yield. Of course there is overlap here with the idea of doing something on Facebook, Pinterest, or an App platform. The "go where the parents already are" message continues to ring in my head. 
  • Focus on the Message, rather than the ToolsRead Aloud Dad thinks that rather than trying to give parents shortcuts to the book selection process, "we need to promote the idea of investing time in finding good children's books." His extensive comments are basically a short blog post on the value in parents spending precious time finding the best books for their kids. At Google+, +StackingBooks shared a similar view: "To me a blogger's job is to get to the "good" content and then broadcast it and make it as "discoverable" as possible. The rest is really up to the parent. :)" I don't disagree that parent involvement and investment is key. But I still think that there have to be ways to make the process a bit easier, and to help people get started. Erica responded to this point with "I think it is pretty unrealistic that parents will spend a few hours every week doing so. Parents are busy!! ... Better to help them out with an easy way to find titles so they can spend the hours actually reading! :)" This is pretty much my view, too.
  • Search Engine Optimization. The Book Chook also shared extensive comments on this topic (she was the one who brought my attention to the original article). Like me, she's a bit concerned about issuing narrower classifications of books, for fear of "constrict(ing) kids' choices." And she acknowledges that to a certain extent "we are stuck with the transitory, fragmented and idiosyncratic nature of the way we publish information for parents and other book buyers about books." But she does suggest a couple of concrete things, including working on search engine optimization (so that people can find our blogs more easily. What if every blog-posted children's book review was tagged with a standard set of tags? Would you be able to search for those tags on Google? (This last thought came out of a discussion on the Kidlitosphere Yahoo Group.)
  • Reaching Out to Other Communities. The Book Chook also talked about "reach(ing) out to other communities. There are parent forums, teacher groups, librarian lists. If we join in their discussions, answering questions where we can, participating rather than promoting, I believe we have a chance of extending our reach." This last point is similar in spirit to Bethany and Erica's thoughts about finding moms where they spend time online, but with a different means of execution. 
  • An Idea for Libraries. Author and mom Rosanne Parry suggests "a parent component to preschool story time. My own half hour w/ a book person who could help me find what my family needed." There's not much I could personally do in that direction, but it is a neat idea for a library program, isn't it? Help for parents to find great children's books. 
  • Don't Forget Libraries and Bookstores. Like some of the commenters on the original article, Sara Lane suggests that parents take advantage of the wonderful resources that libraries and bookstores offer to help in selecting books. I certainly agree that this is a good idea. But I would like to also come up with resources to make things easier for parents for whom regular visits to libraries and bookstores, for whatever reason, aren't as good a fit. 

This question of how to help motivated parents to find quality books for their children is clearly something that many of us have struggled with. Just as clearly, there is no silver bullet. Some of the commenters would push most of the responsibility back onto the parents, telling them to spend more time, visit libraries, etc. But I still think, and a number of people seem to agree, that there is room for us to do more.

That "more" could involve something as ambitious as building a new collaborative platform to better share information. Or it could take the form of more incremental steps, tweaking individual blog reviews to make them more useful, publishing more themed book lists, reaching out to other communities, and working together on existing platforms like Google+, Pinterest, and Facebook.  

I'm going to keep thinking about this. I hope others will, too. I have always believed that by bring great books to the attention of people who can put them into the hands of children, I am making a positive difference in the world. I still believe that. I believe that each book review that I post is a tiny ray of light pointing out into the darkness. But now I'm trying to figure out a way to turn up the wattage of that light. I appreciate all of you who have taken time to help me think about this. I hope that our discussion will continue. 

This post © 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

How Can We Help Parents to Find Quality Books for their Children?

I found considerable food for thought in this TeleRead article by Joanna Cabot (brought to my attention by Susan Stephenson from The Book Chook). Cabot shares some thoughts from her "Beloved's" sister, the mother of a toddler and a newborn, regarding the problems that this mother sees in the marketing of children's books. She would like to see more advertising and special promotions, and fewer books that are media tie-ins. But the bottom line is that, as the person selecting books for her children, she has difficulty discovering books. 

The author's conclusion is that there's a gap (and hence a marketing opportunity) in reaching parents like this one. She's talking about parents who have some money to spend on books, and a willingness to spend it, but have difficulty in finding quality books that aren't brand extensions or re-issues of classic titles. She says:

"I do think it’s clear that there is a promotion gap, and perhaps an information gap, too. There’s certainly room for improvement.

Customers are willing to spend in the children’s book category. Indeed, the primary feeling she has about children’s books is guilt—guilt that maybe she isn’t reading to them enough.

A smart publisher—a smart marketer—can sell to a customer like that! So … why aren’t they?"

To me, this is not just a question (and opportunity) for publishers. It's an issue that's important to all of us who want to see children, as many children as possible, grow up with a love of books. How do we help parents find the right books for their children? For the purposes of this discussion, let's stick to parents like the one described in Joanna Cabot's article, parents who want to buy books for their kids, and have the resources to do so, but don't know what books to buy. (Not that the question of reaching parents who don't fit this description isn't important, but let's table that for another day.)

There is a lot of interesting and useful discussion in the comments of the TeleRead article, including people suggesting visits to the library and bookstores. But (as is also clear from the comments), this is not a sufficient solution for many parents. There's a barrier to entry to gathering your kids up and taking them to the library or the bookstore. There's a comfort zone issue - many parents  may not be comfortable asking librarians or booksellers for help. And ever-shrinking budgets for librarians in elementary schools exacerbate the problem. 

I know for me, I'm something of a homebody. I tend to find out about books that I'm interested in online (though various sources), and then order them from Amazon, because that's what's easy for me. (I also receive books from publishers, but that's clearly not the situation that most parents are in, so we'll discount that). If I find myself out and about near an independent bookstore, I'm happy to buy books in person. If I'm at the library, I'm happy to be able to check out books, too. But I work from home and have a small child. I spend many hours every day on the computer, and what is easiest for me when I hear about a book that I want is to order it online. My guess is that this is true for many other parents, too.

What is also true, however, is that most parents don't have the exposure that I do to ideas about quality children's books to buy. I learn about new books by reading blogs and Facebook posts, by reading e-newsletters from publishers, Publisher's Weekly, and School Library Journal, and by reading print publications like the Horn Book Magazine. But how do other parents, who work in other industries and don't read these various publications, learn about books to buy for their kids? 

There's a wealth of information available online via blogs. But it's scattered and disorganized. There's no one place that a parent can go and rely on finding everything they need. Just taking my own blog, I've published hundreds of reviews. I have them categorized by age range, and I do have a list of all of the titles in one place. But if you're looking for great books for your 10 year old girl who likes magic but no kissing, I don't have an easy way to generate that list for you (though I've certainly been known to pull together such lists manually).

There are other sites that are more organized than I am, in terms of providing lists (StorySnoops, The Reading Tub, the Cybils shortlists) and there are many other sites that are more focused than I am by age range or genre. That all helps. But still, parents have to be able to find these sites. And no one site is going to give them everything they need. The average parent isn't going to spend an hour every day scrolling through the new posts from 158 blogs in Google Reader, either. 

So what can we do? How can we, collectively, the Kidlitosphere, make it easier for parents who AREN'T bloggers, who aren't part of our sometimes self-referential circle, find books? Can we start a discussion about that? And if you're a parent who reads my blog, do you have suggestions for how I can personally make finding books easier for you? I know that there are no easy answers, but I do welcome your feedback. Thanks for listening. 

This post © 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.