When she was little, one of our girls had a foolproof way for postponing bedtime—she’d plunk herself on my knee with a book. In her honor, I present Mom/Grandma’s top tips for raising eager readers. (Here I’m using your child to mean your child, grandchild, niece, neighbor. . . .).
- Black and White for Tiny Babies
Is that new to you, too? Two-year-old May, recently adopted by our daughter and son-in-law, has enjoyed books for much of her long life. (Credit goes to the foster mom here.) May really liked Baby Animals Black and White, and her profound comments on that wordless little volume ushered in an illustrious career as my most junior book review assistant.
Perhaps May had done her research and was hearkening back to her early infancy. According to Gary Heiting, OD, she could only see in black, white and shades of gray for the first week.
I suspect, however, it had a lot to do with the endearing faces of the animals.
- Growl, Meow and Roar
Read with lots of expression. This may seem obvious, but I just learned it—again—the other day when reading Franklin in the Dark at the after school care centre. Franklin’s would-be counsellors growled, roared, quacked and chirped their sage counsel, and the children loved it. Little ones love to participate, too—encourage your child to meow and growl!
- Drama Kings and Queens
Acting out the stories can be a lot of fun. Our grandson enjoyed Be Patient, Little Chick again and again because of the opportunities for role play. He kept quite close to the script on the little chick book, but used others as springboards to explore different roles.
He and I acted out Leo Tolstoy’s famous Christmas story, Martin the Cobbler, for lower elementary children. (Please note in my blog post the key part the staff played in making it a success.) The link above will take you to the entire story. This classic take on Matthew 25: 34-40 can be retold very simply for younger children, and it gives older ones an understanding of another era, and of hardships that few of us have experienced.
Drama can play a critical role in teaching children to be kind. According to Marie E. Cecchini MS, “Children who participate in dramatic play experiences are better able to show empathy for others because they have ‘tried out’ being that someone else for a while” (Early Childhood News).
- What are we really teaching?
What I learn from a story about a famous cookie that was eaten by a fox is that lying gets you dinner. If you like reading such classics to your child, are there ways to offset some of these “lessons”? Could you, for example, talk about misplaced trust?
Are there values you want to promote? Our children enjoyed Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories for years, with their highly transparent lessons on courtesy, honesty, kindness and faith. I can still remember my friend reading “Jesus Understood” to the class when I was in grade two, and I read it to our children. However, for this and other older books that were written at a time when political correctness was not an issue, I recommend reading the story over first. You may want to make some small changes, or be prepared to explain the context.
My Bible Friends presents Bible accounts in a clear, gentle manner. When scheming Queen Jezebel meets her doom, for example, children are told that she was taken away. Beautiful paintings and sensitive text make this series highly appropriate for young listeners.
If you prefer a more secular approach to values, Little Croc’s Purse presents honesty and courage with a great deal of humor and cuteness, and Tanglebird shows the compassion of a human family for a klutzy bird. Ingenuity and compassion play pivotal roles in A Storm Called Katrina, a realistic tale of one family’s struggles after the hurricane, and their kindness to a little dog seeking a playmate.
I like a couple of indie books for beginning chapter book readers. In Cool Kids Wear Glasses, an eyewear prescription and two girls who think for themselves propel Mandy on a journey from Queen of Mean to truly cool. Human and rodent youngsters learn valuable lessons in You Can Go Home Again, a suspenseful, family friendly story of an irresponsible little girl and her pet mice.
- How would you feel?
Promote empathy by talking about how the lost baby bird (Are You My Mother?) and other characters in the stories feel.
“Black Beauty helped people see animals in a new way,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley. “As soon as you say that an animal has a point of view, then it’s very difficult to just go and be cruel to that animal. . . .”
A Home for Dakota is a well-deserved rant against puppy mills. However, it can be presented to the younger set as a simple story of a sick and angry girl and a frightened dog finding friendship and healing. There are interesting possibilities for promoting empathy here. Why did the girl dislike Dakota when she saw that the dog’s fur was falling out? And why was Dakota hurt by words that she couldn’t understand?
- In the forecast . . .
Children love to predict, and what a great way to build suspense before you turn the page! In fact, I’ve read that children’s books should be laid out so that the suspenseful parts are on the righthand page.
Use the plot and pictures to make predictions
Franklin Wants a Pet is great for that. After all, what could Franklin possibly want other than a kitten or puppy?
Where Is That Cat? is a perfectly predictable story—and perfectly delightful because of it. We all know that the cat will hide from those who would take him away from Miss Perkins. The only things we don’t know are where he’ll hide next, and when Miss Perkins will realize that he’s right where he belongs.
The Monkey Goes Bananas is an unusual story with very few words and a wealth of opportunities for predicting.
Wolf’s Coming! had us all fooled.
Use the facts to make predictions
What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? is the ultimate guessing book, and provides opportunities for questions like, “Does your mom ever tell you to roll up your pant legs so you can hear better?”
In the same vein, Whose HOUSE is This? has us guess what (besides termites) live in a termite hill, and what lives in a burrow, flaps its flippers, and screams like a donkey.
Use the language itself to make predictions
Many of the Dr. Seuss books (Green Eggs and Ham, anyone?) provide opportunities to predict based on rhyme and pictures. I found Pierre the Penguin a little advanced for the kindergarten/grade one set. However, the rhyming that I’d found distracting when sharing the book with a nine-year-old helped to keep the younger ones in the story.
- We have a secret
Your child will also enjoy stories where the two of you can share the delicious feeling of being in the know. In Where is That Cat? only you and the cat know where he’s hiding. And when Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, the dog and the reader know what’s going on—the two diggers, not so much.
- Chamomile tea
Read a sweet, comforting story at bedtime—and try not to get tired of reading it night after night! Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon is a classic, and so is The Runaway Bunny. I Love You, Daddy is an oversize board book with wonderful, comforting pictures.
You might like to listen outside the bedroom door after storytime. The first story our daughter heard her little girl “read” was “Horse. Horse fall down.” You may hear some literary gems as well.
- Take turns
If your older child finds reading tiring, take turns reading aloud. I found that when sharing You Can Go Home Again with my granddaughter, some of the language was a little heavy. Taking turns (with me taking much longer turns) worked very well.
- Child author
One really interesting way to get a very imaginative child to settle down and read is to have him dictate a story to you, then read it back.
- Follow the leader
Does your child want to paint a picture from the story, or act it out? Would costumes or props help? How about changing the ending, or writing a sequel? Follow her lead, and when interest wanes, be ready to allow her to go on to something else. Then it will be fun to come back to stories later.
- Have fun
Be astonished when your child predicts that the monkey will get the bananas, or that Sam-I-Am will eat green eggs and ham in a house AND with a mouse. Who knew?
- Don’t break the bank
Sharing a variety of books with your child needn’t cost much. New books can be very expensive, but a library card is not. And some of my best treasures, like Be Patient, Little Chick, were picked up for next to nothing at a secondhand store. The 1990 publication date didn’t bother my grandson one bit.
- Time for two
This is your time with your child. Remember the Quaker saying, “I shall not pass this way again.” Trust me—today he’s in kindergarten, tomorrow he’ll be in junior high.
Savor the moments!
Margaret Welwood savored storytime with each of the five children she and her husband raised. She now delights in writing books for children, reading and playing with her grandchildren, and sharing stories with a group of youngsters at an after school care centre.
How do Tommy, Tina and Katie Kat save their town from the pink-slippered, scissors-crazy Slicers and Dicers? Described by a Pastor of Community Life as “a delightful story with many layers of meaning,” Scissortown is Margaret’s first picture book for children. It’s available from her website as a paperback, e-book, and enhanced e-book with text narration and word-by-word highlighting.
Margaret’s next book, Marie and Mr. Drone, is a sweet story that she believes has that “chamomile tea” quality. A little girl rescues a drone from the angry worker bees and then . . . . leave a comment on Margaret’s website or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to be notified when Marie and Mr. Drone is available. (Hint: Marie uses a wheelchair. A colleague whose daughter uses a wheelchair was pleased with this story about a person with a disability where the disability is not the focus. An administrator who works with children who have learning challenges was pleased with the emphasis on what Marie CAN do. Perhaps you will also appreciate these perspectives.)
Follow Margaret on this blog and Goodreads for more about the stories she writes and shares with children.