Many of our favorite children’s authors blow out birthday candles this month, including Judy Blume, Jerry Spinelli, and Janet Yolen and Mark Teague–the duo behind the genius How Do Dinosaurs… picture book series (the parents’ facial expressions, realistic renditions of your child’s favorite reptiles, and witty rhymes hold up even after the 77th read). To celebrate, we reached out to children’s librarians Cathy Breen and Jenny Carroll at Mary Riley Styles Public Library in Falls Church, Virginia to find out how parents can give their children the gift that keeps on giving: a love of books. Read on for part 1 of our Q&A about encouraging even the tiniest book worms.
How can parents prepare for a “successful” trip to the library?
Kids appreciate being given a heads up. As adults living busy lives, we sometimes toss them in the car without warning. Tell them in advance—get them excited!—that you’re going to the library, and be explicit about how the visit will unfold. “When we arrive, we’ll pick out five books together, then we’ll play with the toys, then we’ll color, then you get to choose a sticker, and then we’ll go home.” Talk about the routine and follow it every single time. I often see kids losing it when they leave the library, but it’s because they don’t have a routine and they didn’t know what to expect.
How can parents best use library resources to promote language development?
Definitely take advantage of your library’s Story Time! Reading aloud with other kids generates collective excitement about reading and enjoying books. We also carry picture books on audio (which is another fun way to do read-alouds at home) and DVDs that are just still images accompanied by a voice-over reading the book. Ask your librarians questions—it’s why we’re here. Ask for suggestions. If you’ve found a resource online that doesn’t seem to be offered at the library, request it—we can’t always oblige, but we try.
Performing a theatrical and engaging “read aloud” can feel intimidating and awkward for some parents. What tips can you give for making reading aloud fun for both kids and adults?
Parents sometimes feel such pressure to be hilarious or make accurate animal noises. Remember that your children are not judging you at all. If they see you having fun, they will have fun. Find your “funny voice”—whatever that is—and go with it, because you never know what they’re going to think is funny. Make up songs. One of the reasons I sing during Story Time is because, hopefully, I’m giving parents permission to sing to their kids. When you’re reading and singing with your kids, you’re connecting with them: you’re sitting next to them and paying attention to them, and that’s all they care about. Remember that scene in, “Three Men and a Baby,” when Tom Selleck is reading the Yankee stats to the baby? “And his RBIs for the season are blah blah blah.” The baby was totally engrossed.
Also consider reading the newspaper aloud together—it doesn’t have to be political. Consider the whole range of your child’s interests. Even the comics or sports section can get kids reading. Listen to books on tape with your older children. I know one father-daughter pair who formed their own monthly book club—a really great way to “check in” with your teens. We also really like the Guys Read series (we hear from parents that it’s sometimes harder to get their sons to sit still and read). And a great overall reference tool is The Read Aloud Handbook.
What suggestions do you have for parents as they build their home libraries?
I hesitate giving advice that calls for spending money, but: if you find yourself repeatedly checking out a book and it’s financially feasible to do so, consider buying the book. Or add it to a birthday wish list for family members. One easy way to “journal” about your children’s favorite books (that you own as part of your home library) is to take brief notes in the inside cover. Say you notice that your toddler repeatedly fixates on the image of the bunny on page 8 and asks why the bunny looks sad. Jot that down in the inside cover: “Michael, age 2 years four months, was very concerned about the sad bunny…”
Also, be sure to have an accessible bookshelf in your home. Better yet—have several! We have a bookshelf in every room in our house except the bathroom (and, well, we have some books in there, too). Even a basket or a bag will do—just have them around and available.
Music can also be part of your home “library.” Your local public library likely owns a lot of cassettes, CDs, and DVDs, and you can often stream or download music from your library’s webpage.
What are some of your go-to print and online resources for learning literacy development strategies and for finding great books for kids of different ages?
We really like School Library Journal, which offers reviews of and recommendations for books and multimedia resources for children and teenagers. The Horn Book has book reviews, too, as well as creative ideas for choosing and using books for kids. We also subscribe to many blogs: Storytime Katie (authored by a librarian who chronicles her Story Time themes, songs, and book choices–check out the post on Dinosaurs!) and Jbrary (another great read by two children’s librarians who have literary ideas for kids of all ages) are two favorites.
Stay tuned for part II of our Q&A, when Jenny and Cathy will share some of their favorite titles for different ages, favorite books to give as gifts, and more tried-and-true strategies for growing young readers.