Just the other morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee and visited my library. I was still in my pajamas. It was okay, the librarians didn't mind. In fact, they didn't even notice. Why? Because I was visiting the library from the comfort of my house.
Don't get me wrong, I L-O-V-E going to the library. Frankly, if I could live there, I would. There are times, though, when the library's hours don't work for my schedule. So I improvise. One of the great things about living in the 21st century is that we can go to the library whenever the mood strikes. It doesn't matter that the library itself isn't open, we can check on - or check out - all of the wonderful offerings that live there. Many (if not most) library systems have at least a Web site with an online catalog of their holdings.
As an example, in my local library - Jefferson-Madison Regional Library - I can search for talking books (aka audio books, books on tape, books on CD), videos, musical recordings, scripts for plays, and of course, books. I can find them by subject, author, and title; and in a HUGE leap from the card catalog I grew up with, I can find them by just about any keyword, too.
Aside from the "cool" factor of searching the stacks with coffee in hand, what makes visiting the library after hours so great is the opportunity it creates for parents and readers alike. Here are some ways that those early morning or late night visits can help you.
Reserve books you want to read. Let's say a friend recommended a "must read" book to share with your kids during a recent play date. Odds are you aren't the only person who is going to want that book. Head to the online catalog and place a "hold" to reserve it. You may need to wait a day or two until it is pulled, but having the book waiting for you can save a lot of time on one of those days when your schedule is more than a little pinched.
Create a cheat sheet of the books you want. One of the great things about visiting the library is looking through the stacks. Sometimes, though, fate intervenes and there isn't a lot of time for browsing. On the days your toddler is overdue for a nap or your first grader is ready to melt down, it helps to have a ready-made list (with call number) of the books you plan to read. If your child is fixated on trucks, then having that list of picture books about trucks - with an X next to the ones you've already read - can save a lot of time and frustration!
Check on book availability. Forewarned is forearmed. It helps to know BEFORE you get to the library whether the book on [pick a subject or author name] that your child desperately wants to read is available. One of the most important tools in the parenting toolbox is "redirection." If you know ahead of time that the book your child is looking for isn't available, you may be able to offer alternatives and avoid a conflict. Many library websites have a page for new arrivals. You may be able to entice your young reader to be the first person in your library to read a particular book.
Maximize your read aloud time. Libraries are filled with a lot more than paper versions of books. Within the various collections - including children's books - you can find audio versions that complement the traditional editions. For example, in my library I found Amelia Bedelia and the Surprise Shower by Peggy Parish as both a hardcover and a book on tape. My daughter and I can listen together, and while she follows along with the book, I can stir the spaghetti!
Get a few book ideas. Holiday shopping has begun, and books make great gifts. Let's say you heard about a book that sounds like it might be great for your nephew. Yes, the publisher's blurb can help you; but your nephew is particular about his fantasy (and his parents are particular about violence). So before you decide, why not borrow it from the library?
Do some in-depth research. With more than 10,000 libraries listed, Worldcat.org is the largest network of library content and services. Worldcat is also a portal for building research bibliographies and digital content like downloadable books. A simple search will tell you whether or not the book/CD/video/periodical/etc. you are interested in is at your local library or a neighboring one.
These are just a few of the ways that you can take advantage of all that the library has to offer and ensure that your visits go smoothly. A tool I discovered this summer is Library Elf. The Elf is a FREE service that can help you keep track of your library holds and due dates. You can register all of the library cards in your family to help you manage who has what checked out and avoid overdue fees. Having the Library Elf's assistance was particularly handy this summer when all of us were borrowing books on our own cards and more recently during this first round of Cybils reviews to let me know when holds were available.
Spending the day at the library, wandering in and out of the stacks, and talking with the librarians is my idea of a perfect day. Nothing can replace the fun of chatting with the librarians. They are the most helpful, insightful, excited readers I know. But at the times they aren't available - and you want to sneak in some of that library quiet at home - the online catalog can fill the gap.
For some reason, Terry and I have come across quite a few articles lately for parents on encouraging young readers. Since I had several articles stacked up, I decided to share them with you this week. I'll be back next week with Tip #2 in my new Tips for Growing Bookworms series (Tip #1 is here). But for now, here are ideas from a variety of smart people across the blogs and the press.
The Book Chook, Susan Stephenson, shared a fun post about the "sheer pleasure" of playing with language. She said: "Children are hard wired to enjoy nonsense, (as are Book Chooks!) and playing with language is something they take to immediately. From early peek-a-boo and finger rhymes, through nursery rhymes, poems and songs, we are exposing our kids to new vocabulary, and the rhythms of language, as well as reinforcing the sheer pleasure of messing about with words." She then suggested several fun wordplay activities for parents and their children.
The Eden Prairie (MN) News recently shared tips from Heather Peterson for motivating "reluctant readers". For example, "Family reading time. Families read together - either aloud or silently, either the same book or separate books. It is a time when adults model good reading habits for their children."
The FirstBook blog published a guest post from Tina Chovanec, the director of Reading Rockets.org, chock full of suggestions for helping "parents jumpstart reading and learning together". I especially liked "Game night. Start a new weekend tradition centered around family games. Rediscover classics like Memory, Scattergories, or Scrabble, or explore something new."
At Moms Inspire Learning, Dawn Morris suggested that an important way for parents to raise literate children is by listening. She said: "Before children learn to read or write, they first need to listen to what people are saying and respond in an appropriate manner. The more they are spoken with and read to, the greater the chances that they will grow into active listeners, speakers, and storytellers. THEN they can become the strong independent readers and writers we so want them to be." She also included some concrete suggestions for more active listening and support of literacy development.
The Bolingbrook Sun published an article with simple steps for parents to help students read better. The author (no name was listed) focused on helping kids improve their reading comprehension by asking them frequent questions, and thus teaching them to think critically about what they're reading. I think this makes sense, to a point, as long as you don't stop and ask so many comprehension questions that you make the whole thing feel like work. The author added: "Experts suggest that what they read is not as important as the fact that they read. Encourage her to read often from a variety of resources; books, magazines and newspapers, just get them reading! Let them see you read as well. Children learn to value what the caring adults in their lives value. If they see you reading, they may be more willing to read regularly, too." (All of which you know I agree with.)
In a related vein, at Parents and Kids Reading Together, Cathy Puett Miller shared resources to help parents find the right books for their children. The column placed particular emphasis on resources for gifted readers, but the author said that "many of the resources here will also be terrific for all families, with children of all ages so read on and see what you can find that works for your child." Here's a snippet, "Remember that you are the commercial for reading and that motivation is an important indirect component." Cathy also included lists of book recommendations, including "books under the 9-12 year area that are "safe" content for younger children."
Finally, The Hindu Newspaper's Magazine section published yesterday a detailed, thoughtful article for parents about the benefits of raising readers, and ways to do so even in today's digitally-saturated environment. Aruna Sankaranarayanan wrote "Reading can give children analytical skills in this age of information overload. As another Children's Day comes around what can we do to foster this habit". She concluded: "For India to achieve 100 per cent literacy in the fullest sense, it is not enough to simply teach the mechanics of reading and writing. Ultimately, literacy informs a way of life. Instead of children reading under pressure, we should strive to be a nation full of children reading for pleasure." Of course, her ideas apply to children everywhere, not just in India.
by Leslie Patricelli
Bright colors suck the reader into the world of a little girl and her dad, and carry through into the world of her imagination. As dad pushes the swing, she indeed goes Higher, Higher passing the head of a giraffe, the top of a building, and the summit of a mountain. With a special extraterrestrial high five, she slows down and returns home again without ever leaving the swing. With very few words, it's more like a wordless picture book, where the story is contained in the illustrations. Even then, it's a simple story of bright and lively imagination, making it a great book for younger tots.
by Mem Fox, illustrated by Steve Jenkins
It would be hard to beat the combination of these two powerhouses in writing and illustration. Mem Fox gives us the simple, rhyming story of looking for baby and finding animals. Steve Jenkins lends his amazing artwork to each creature, making the porcupine prickly and the elephant wrinkly all with cut paper. Don't miss the deep and varied greens captured in the crocodile, with a glorious reptilian eye peering out. The word baby in the title should tip you off that this is indeed a book for the baby and toddler set. Older preschoolers would appreciate the artwork more, but they'll be ready for the many, many Steve Jenkins books for their age group. As a baby/toddler book though, it's way above average.
If you're looking for something a little different for your youngster - simple yet interesting - then turn to the French. While the cover shows the bright colors and hints at the simple text inside, it can't prepare you for the first page where the goldfish is holding up the bowl with the text reading, "My goldfish is the strongest goldfish in the world." While keeping the same simple artistic features of the goldfish, we see the little guy in a Halloween costume, coming back from vacation sunburned, and even falling in love. There's even allusion to the day that the goldfish will leave the bowl and "finally swim with the great white fish." It's meaningful and imaginative, silly and strange, and in the world of very safe books for the littlest kids - absolutely exceptional.
Author/illustrator extraordinaire Mo Willems has many fans here at Booklights (and beyond), and Mom Karen counts herself among them.
"My daughter loves Knuffle Bunny in all its forms (including the sequel). She adores the combination of photography and cartoons and has been able to recite the story since before she could read."
Many kids know a story word-for-word before they can read. Do your kids have any favorites that they know backward and forward?
Back in 2007 I wrote a post on my own blog called 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. This has remained a popular post, and people have suggested several other tips in the comments there. I've decided to expand upon each of these tips, and create a new Tips for Growing Bookworms series here at Booklights. Of course other Booklights contributors talk about tips for encouraging young readers here, too, as in Terry's Bedtime from Afar post from last week. But I say, we can't focus on this important topic too much. So, without further ado:
Tip #1: Read aloud to your children from (or even before) birth, as often as possible, and keep reading aloud to them even after they can read on their own. Reading aloud has been shown to have a huge impact in raising readers, and is the number one thing that parents and other concerned adults can do to help grow bookworms. By reading to kids in a comfortable, safe environment, you help them to think of reading as a pleasurable activity. You also increase their vocabularies and attention spans, and show them that you think that books are important. And with all of the many wonderful books out there, reading together should be enjoyable for you and the kids.
It's especially helpful when Dads or other male caregivers can participate in at least some of the read aloud activity. This shows boys that reading isn't just something that girls do, but rather something that's fun for everyone. A recent survey by UK charity Booktrust found that "some 67% of mothers of four to five-year-olds claim to be the principal reader, compared with 17% of fathers, although many more fathers were said to be reading than in last year's survey." The Booktrust study (as reported by BBC News) found that 96% of children surveyed reported enjoying reading, but also reported that only one in three families read with their children every day. I would personally love to see that last statistic increase.
It is, of course, tempting to think that once your child can read on his or her own, you can stop reading aloud. However, if you can find the time and the motivation to continue reading aloud with your older children, your whole family will reap rewards. You'll be able to read books that they aren't ready to read on their own, and share the experience of discovery. You'll be able to introduce your kids first-hand to the books that you loved as a child, and talk about why you loved them. You'll be able to discuss all sorts of topics that are raised in books, allowing you and your kids to learn from and about each other. Andrea Ross from Just One More Book! wrote a wonderful article for Canwest Newspapers last month about the benefits to parents of reading aloud with their children.
Of course sometimes it's hard to find the time for read-aloud. But I promise that if you do, you and your children will find the time well-spent. For parents who aren't comfortable reading aloud, you can listen to audiobooks together (libraries have audiobooks you can check out), or turn the pages of a picture book and make up your own stories. Children, young children especially, are a forgiving audience. They'll find the attention and the closeness and your time much more important than your particular pronunciation of a word, or the fact that you aren't skilled at giving the different characters distinct voices. The more you try, the easier it will get, too. See also Susan Kusel's post at Booklights about the ups and downs of reading aloud.
Reading aloud together. It's enjoyable time for parents and kids. It helps kids to do better in school, and builds family closeness. And it's free (all you need is a library card). It is well worth a try. Do any of you have success stories or tips that you'd like to share about reading aloud with your kids?
October was certainly an action-packed month for those at Booklights! In addition to Pam making great suggestions of Halloween books, she organized and led an excellent meeting of children's book bloggers gathering in Washington, D.C. It was a pleasure to get to meet colleagues who constantly read and think about how important quality literature is for children and their families.
Susan T. recommended good books for children who have developed a passion for volcanoes. One suggestion was Magic Tree House #13: Vacation Under the Volcano, by Mary Pope Osborne. Parents should also know about Ancient Rome and Pompeii, the non-fiction companion Magic Treehouse Research Guide #14. Steven Bush may also want to be sure to share this before heading out with his son in February to see a real volcano!
The non-fiction companions provide fascinating information that supports the travels of Jack and Annie in the Magic Treehouse fantasies. Boys, in particular, love knowing the real facts and I have never failed to learn new, accurate, scientific information when reviewing these guides as well.
Terry's posting Reading from Afar brought back so many fun memories. When my own niece was about three-years-old, she overheard her dad say he needed to be sure to pack a book for a very long international flight. When he went back to finish packing his suitcase, he found that Sarah had placed in his bag her favorite picture book! While Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse was surely not the novel he anticipated reading on the flight, it provided a wonderful thing for him to read to her when he called to check in back home.
It also reminded me of a community service project that one of my college students implemented. While volunteering in a Nashville women's prison, she noticed that incarcerated mothers had very little to talk about with their children after the first few minutes of a visit. She was able to take children's picture books to the prison for the mothers to read and record. Mothers then had a set of books and tapes to give their children during visits, and wonderful topics of conversation for subsequent visits.
Jen ended last week's posting talking about the importance of knowing your child's independent reading level. In addition to being sure your child is able to read the text with around 95% accuracy, also check out comprehension every now and then. And having lots of picture books around helps, as illustration often aids in comprehension.
Finally, Gina asked what readers' opinions have been about the movie Where the Wild Things Are. She asked if true fans should avoid it or give it a try. I can only report the words of a 10-year-old friend as he left the movie, "Max has anger issues!" Not a movie for young viewers, for sure! But we can all continue to love the book.