One of our favorite daily rituals is sharing bedtime stories with our daughter. In addition to it being a nice way to end the day, sharing a book is a nice way to reconnect and say "I love you."
When Catherine was an infant, my husband had long workdays, so he really looked forward to having that daddy-daughter time each day. When he moved into his new job, he traveled more, and he hated the separation as much as Catherine did. Because he was often in a different time zone, it wasn't always easy to sync our schedules so that he could read to her over the phone. So we started "taping" books so he could read her a bedtime story.
For our first recordings, we hooked up a microphone to the computer, read a book into a music program, and then burned the recording onto CD. It worked, but was cumbersome. Neither of us are gadget geeks which probably added to the awkwardness of the process.
About six months ago, we purchased a hand-held digital recorder ($10). We bought it for another purpose, I went to Book Expo America, I recorded a bedtime story (and a few night-time messages). The digital recorder works MUCH better. Because I am old enough to remember cassette recorders, I like that the gadgetry is identical to the play, stop, record buttons I know. The recorder can hold more content than a CD, so we can read more books. What I really like, though, is that you can easily change out individual stories in the collection. Although we use the recorder to stay connected when one of us is traveling, there are other ways you can use it. These are just three ideas ... I'm sure you've got some suggestions, too.
Send a recorded gift. Grandparents could read a story or stories and send it along with the actual book(s). They might even add personal stories about growing up, too.
Try a reverse gift. Select a picture book or chapter book and have all the kids take turns reading them ... and have them autograph the book, too. Adults LOVE to hear the sound of their little relatives.
Create a book club. Send the recorder back and forth, with each recipient taking a turn reading a book or chapters from a book. This makes great practice in reading aloud for kids, too.
Ultimately, this is an easy, fun way to get in that daily dose of read aloud. Any book that is fun to read together is perfect. The sound of your voice is what makes it special. In sharing a recorded book with a child, you are enriching their world. Not only are you giving them wonderful memories, you are helping them grow as readers. Because the recorders are portable, kids aren't tied to their computer or their boom box and they can carry that little bit of love with them anywhere!
I'm always on the lookout for new book ideas, so if you could have a friend or relative read a children's book, who would it be and what book would you want to hear?
Do you know the story of The Cat in the Hat? Not the one about hat-wearing mischievous feline, but how he came to be the world's most recognized cat. In 1954, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist John Hershey wrote an article for Life magazine called "Why Do Students Bog Down on First R?" In his article, Hershey said that the primers given to kids to help them learn to read were "antiseptic." For one thing, the children were "unnaturally clean." He said what they needed were better illustrations ... like the kind Walt Disney and Theodor "Ted" Geisel created.
As a result of the article - and Rudolf Flesch's book Why Johnny Can't Read and What You Can Do About It (1955) - publishers Random House and Houghton Mifflin joined forces and hired Ted Geisel (known for his illustrations) to create a primer using new-reader vocabulary. The result was the 220-word story known the world over as The Cat in the Hat. This book catapulted the writing career of Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss.
Through repetition and rhyme, Dr. Seuss' books not only have given us hours of pleasure reading with our kids, but they helped many of us become accomplished readers. Many of the Dr. Seuss books we love sharing with our kids are, in fact, what we now call easy readers.
So what IS an easy reader? They are books designed for children learning to read. These are books with short, simple sentences. Many of them have a banner or label that says "learning to read" in some form, but others look like picture books. Here are some clues. Look for ...
• books sized for the reader's comfort, usually 6 inches by 9 inches.
• lots of white space on the page and the print style is larger.
• illustrations or images that match up with the text so kids can "decode" the words in the story.
You can sometimes gauge the "level" of an easy reader by the illustrations. In the basic books (sometimes called level 1), illustrations are still a prominent feature. Usually they fill most of the page and there is a word or a sentence or two at the bottom. As you "move up," the illustrations shift. First, they may move to one page while the text is on the other. Then there may be half-page illustrations on both pages and then smaller illustration on one page of a two-page spread.
Fifty years later, you can still find "antiseptic" books that take the fun out of learning to read. Luckily, there are authors and illustrators who have followed in Dr. Seuss' path, creating engaging books that help kids grow as readers and have fun learning, too. Here are two places you can go to find some of the best easy readers available.
Visit the American Library Association (ALA) Website and see the Geisel Award Winners. Each year, the ALA sponsors the (Theodor Seuss) Geisel Award to recognize and celebrate the legacy created by Dr. Seuss. The award, first presented in 2006. "recognizes the "the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year." In addition to a medal winner, the ALA commemorates honor books, too. The 2009 medal winner is Are You Ready to Play Outside? By Mo Willems. This is the latest addition to Willems' Elephant and Piggie series.
Check out the 2008 Cybils List . Since 2006, the Kidlitosphere has had an award program to recognize distinguished books for children. The Children's and Young Adult bloggers Literary Awards, aka "Cybils," annually recognizes books that combine the highest literary merit and "kid appeal." For the first two weeks in October, nominated by parents, librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, nominate "favorite" for the year in one of nine categories.
Easy Readers was a new category last year. The panel winnowed 31 Easy Reader nominees to a list of 5 Easy Reader finalists to 1 winner: I Love My New Toy (Elephant and Piggie series) by Mo Willems. The 2009 nominations won't close until Thursday, but already there are more than 35 titles in the Easy Reader and Short Chapter Book category.
I could do a whole post on Mo Willems, but I'd have to arm wrestle Pam, and I know I would lose. I'll just say this: I love introducing kids to Elephant and Piggie. The stories are wonderful, engaging, and always have a little twist. What I like best is that they are "built" to give new readers confidence. Willems uses different sizes to help kids visually recognize how the word should be read. They can instantly see the difference between what? And WHAT?
When you are ready to for new stories to sit side by side with The Cat in the Hat and his friends, you can't go wrong using these lists for recommended reading. Do you and your kids have a favorite Dr. Seuss book or easy reader? I would love to hear about them!