By Christine Frackelton
For this doula, bookworm, and former school librarian, we are in an exciting week: National Library Week! Of course, all 52 weeks are suitable for you to go to your local library and check out informative and empowering titles about pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum, but if you’ve been putting off your parenting texts, National Library Week serves as a good reminder to take advantage now of all your library’s resources. I have my favorites listed on the resource page here at tremendoulas.com, if you are looking for inspiration.
National Library Week comes with a few highlights, but this day in particular — April 12th — is widely celebrated by bibliophiles. For one thing, April 12th is National Library Workers Day, as well as Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.). D.E.A.R. is an initiative to remind us all of the value of reading, no matter how young or old we are. You may recall, if you have read Ramona Quimby, Age 8, that D.E.A.R. was a program celebrated by the library in Ramona’s town. The author of the Ramona series, Beverly Cleary, celebrates her birthday on April 12th, which is why this date was chosen for the D.E.A.R. initiative. This year is particularly exciting, as the beloved author turns 100 years old! Happy birthday, Beverly Cleary, and thank you so much for charming me and my family members into becoming readers!
Today, I am celebrating D.E.A.R. here on the Tremendoulas blog by sharing some of my favorite picture books and read-aloud skills for parents of little ones. Prior to motherhood, I picked many of these up while working in a school library and reading to preschool classes, and in the nearly 6 years since becoming a mother, I’ve really had the chance to refine these skills and read more titles.
I have one caveat: don’t view this list of ideas as a “to-do” list. The goal is not to be stressed, but to nurture your child’s thirst for knowledge. Beverly Cleary herself is the perfect example of why it really does not matter how many literacy skills your baby has by the time kindergarten starts; Cleary could not even read on her own until she was in 3rd grade (which, by the way, is completely appropriate from a developmental standpoint, despite what American public school standards may suggest)! I know personally the sense of inadequacy we can feel when a neighbor or acquaintance posts a picture on instagram of her 18 month old child having been through all of the “1000 books to read before kindergarten,” but we can take comfort by adopting a long-term view of literature’s purpose. Rather than viewing your child’s literacy (especially as compared to peers) as a marker of their aptitude, I find it much more helpful to view literature as a tool for developing the whole child. With that in mind, pick and choose among these ideas, using what most appeals to your family:
- Make reading a ritual. This has changed for us with the years and seasons. When our children were tiny infants, we built reading time into the day. As they grew, it became a part of their bedtime rituals. Over the summer, when school is out, we have an afternoon reading ritual on our front porch swing, often with a popsicle to combat the heat. Rituals become cherished family traditions, and help us to find comfort, habit, and routine in what can be an otherwise chaotic life.
- Snuggle while reading. When we snuggle up close together to read, we make reading more of a bonding experience. Even with newborns, we cradled them in our laps while reading, knowing that nearby, they are more alert for the story and will associate literature with safety and comfort.
- Read early. While in utero, read to your baby, even if its just the newspaper. After your baby is born, read not only the little board books you think your infant may like, but also read aloud the novel or nonfiction title that you would normally read to yourself in silence. Research indicates that the more words per day that an infant or toddler hears, the stronger the child’s language development will be.
- Ask questions & talk about any pictures. Make books an opportunity for starting conversations. From an academic perspective, asking your children questions about the plot, characters, or pictures helps to promote reading comprehension skills. More importantly, though, asking your child questions about the story will engage them in the content, and will give you the chance to really get to know your child through his or her answers. Your child does not have to be talking yet for you to ask him or her questions; introducing questions early on will encourage your child’s language development and communication skills, not to mention demonstrate that you care about your child’s thoughts. Some examples of questions you may ask could be:
- What do you think will happen next?
- Can you find [object] in the picture?
- Do you know what that word means?
- What did you think about that story?
- Who was your favorite character and why?
- Read with expression! Play with intonation, different voices and paces of speech, pauses, and even your own facial expressions. When we get silly with our expressive reading, I usually catch our kids looking at me or my husband rather than the book, but that is perfectly fine with us! In these moments, our children are entertained, learning, and bonding with us.
- Have a puppet read the story! Folkmanis is my favorite brand of puppets — they are superbly constructed, realistic looking, and often have fascinating features — such as the 360 degrees rotating head of the snowy owl! As a bonus, the puppets double as toys to spark big imagination during playtime.
- Bring a prop. Several years ago, I found in my parents’ attic a large storage box filled with my old beanie babies, which I now love using as props for story time. If there is a beanie baby that is the same creature as one of the characters of a story, I’ll allow my children to pass the toy back and forth to each other every time that we turn a page. It does not have to be a beanie baby or other toy, though. Any object that relates to the storyline would be appropriate.
- Incorporate crafts, field trips, and snacks!
- When reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, try serving a cookie and milk to your little one (if they are old enough for cookies, of course).
- When you read Blueberries for Sal, go to a farm where you can pick blueberries off of the bush.
- If you’re reading Olivia, you could go to the beach or to the Norton Museum of Art, or just play dress-up!
- For a plethora of multidisciplinary games and crafts to link to your reading, search Pinterest for the title of the children’s book you’re reading — it will be hard to come up empty handed!
- Read favorites again and again. You may wonder what new things your child may be learning by hearing the same old Pokey Little Puppy for the 75th time, and boy, do I feel ya if that is your situation! They really are gaining reading skills when you indulge them in their favorite stories, though, and more than that, you are really nurturing their love for reading. I’ll never forget my son, right around his first birthday, kissing the inside of Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go. My husband must have read it to him every day for at least a month, yet our son’s priceless adoration for such a whimsical and wise book is a memory I’ll treasure forever as a mother. If you want to, you can take your child’s favorite story and make it a theme for your child’s next birthday! Over the years, we have done this with Go, Dog! Go! and Where the Wild Things Are. If these are your child’s favorites too, feel free to message me for the book-themed party game plans we implemented.
- As they’re older, play “stupid.” Act like you forgot how to read, or forgot the details from one of your children’s favorite stories. Mix up details of the story by calling the cow in The Very Busy Spider an alligator. Or say “the cow says ‘cluck, cluck’.” Not only will this make your children giggle outrageously, but it will also give them a chance to confidently correct you, beaming with satisfaction over their participation and knowledge.
- “Read” when you’re too busy or absent to read. If you need to leave your baby to work, consider ordering one of these recordable Hallmark books, and recording your voice reading the story to your child. It is not as ideal as reading in person to your child, but when time is restrained, your voice will give your baby reassurance that you are thinking about and caring for him or her.
- Make and read customized board books with either the pictures of people in your family or with drawings that an older sibling has done.
- Follow your child’s lead. Whether your child is fascinated by animals, superheroes, sports, music, or painting, ask your librarian for suggestions of titles that align with your child’s interest. If the topic is meaningful to your child, they will obviously be more eager to learn about it through books. This is especially important for reluctant readers (even reluctant adult readers)!
- Introduce books that seem to have gone by the wayside. We live in a world where Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle are brightly showcased in every department store that sells children’s goods. Have you heard of Hans Christian Anderson’s or Grimm’s Fairy Tales, though? Or Beatrix Potter’s series? Sometimes these stories require a little more imagination from the child to create the pictures, but these tales can be just as captivating, and some have major life lessons and teachings about morality.
- Familiarize yourself with Newberry and Caldecott winners and honorable mentions. The Caldecott Medal is given annually to the illustrator of an acclaimed picture book, and the Newberry Medal is given annually to the author of an acclaimed children’s book. If you’re looking for a new title and aren’t sure where to start, the lists of current and past winners and honorable mentions are a great place to start.
- Choose books that relate to the transitions your child is going through. Whether your child is potty training, starting preschool, getting a pet, or is about to become a big sibling, books can provide a sense of normalcy to the fears and challenges that a young child may face. Franklin the Turtle, The Berenstain Bears, and Little Critter are a few series that feature empathetic charcters undergoing common childhood trials.
- Pick out seasonal books, such as:
- Valentine’s Day: The Story of Valentine’s Day
- Spring: My Garden, The Very Hungry Caterpillar
- St. Patrick’s Day: Green Eggs & Ham, The Leprechaun’s Gold
- Easter: The Parable of the Lily
- Cinco de Mayo: Hola! Jalapeno
- Summer: Wet Dog!, Ten Seeds, Blueberries for Sal
- Fourth of July: Fourth of July Story, By the Dawn’s Early Light
- Fall & Halloween: The Scarecrow’s Hat, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, Room on the Broom, Go Away, Big Green Monster! (especially if you also buy the fun big green monster puppet)
- Election Day: Duck for President
- Thanksgiving: Bear Says Thanks
- Winter: Tacky the Penguin, Thomas’ Snowsuit, The Snowy Day
- Christmas: The Legend of St. Nicholas, The Legend of the Candy Cane, The Night Before Christmas Pop Up
- This is not a read-aloud-specific tip, but is still fun: discover books in new places! Try story time at Mounts Botanical Garden, check out books from your neighborhood park’s Little Free Library or from your church’s library, consider joining a book club (either for parents, or for your children once they are school-age), flip through new titles at Barnes & Noble, and of course, visit your local public library!
- Choose books that show how much you love your children: Love You Forever, l Love You Because You’re You, and The Runaway Bunny are a few favorites in our home. When a child knows they are loved, their aptitude for learning is so much higher than if they are merely being filled with information.
At the end of the day, yes, having read to your child is likely to reduce his or her odds of flunking grades or living in a prison cell one day, yet, as with anything in life, it is so much better to read not out of fear, but out of love. Read for those moments when your children giggle at the sounds of the nonsense words in The Book With No Pictures. Read for those moments when your overtired toddler sweetly falls asleep to the sound of your voice. Read for those moments when your curious baby grabs the fuzzy touch-and-feel board books with wide eyed wonder. Read to pass along folklore, tradition, values, and above much else, a joy of literature and love for learning.
So what are you reading today? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below, and I hope you have a great DEAR day!