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Children and Books

Thoughts about Reading to Children and Children Reading

by Sondra Eklund

Go Crazy at the Library
October 6, 2005

Something we library employees hate to hear is a Mom or Dad refusing to let a child check out a book.  The parent, usually in a hurry, says, "No, you can't have a book!  We have too many books at home!"

Please, if your child wants to check out a library book, let him do so!  Let him appreciate the wonders of a place where worlds can open up to you--for free.

Are you worried that he won't be able to finish the book in three weeks because he has too many already?  It's easy to call the library and renew.  (Don't tell anyone, but our library doesn't charge fines anyway.)  Who knows, maybe that particular book that he has is eye on is exactly the book that will motivate him to read.

Besides, the more books checked out, the better our statistics look.  The better our statistics look, the easier it is to get funding for more books and to keep the library open.  We want you to check out as many books as you can carry!

Do you have a problem taking more books than you have time to read?  Always remember:

It's better to go crazy at a library than at a bookstore!

August 2, 2005

Another, more recent stage in a child's life is when they get to the age where they can recommend books to you.  This is a whole new level of enjoyment of the relationship between you, your child, and books.  Once they go to school, have access to a school library, and can read on their own, they can start telling you about the books they love to read.

And you can discuss books together.

For me, the optimum time seems to be the late elementary to middle school years.  As my older son entered high school, his taste got a little more dark and grim than what I enjoy.  Though he still recommends some outstanding books to me.  And I still feel highly honored when he brings me a book and says, "I think you'd like this book, Mom."

Those words are music to a mother's ears.

Reading as an Alternative to Sleep
May 12, 2005

You may have noticed this profound truth:  Kids don't like to go to sleep.

You can use this fact to help your kids love to read.  My own Mom used to require my siblings and I to take a "nap" for one hour every day after lunchtime.  However, this wasn't so bad when she made the rule that we did not have to sleep.  We did have to lie down, but we could read to our hearts' content.  Sometimes, we didn't stop after the hour was up.

I've used this in my own children's lives at bedtime.  Now it's only my ten-year-old, but we perfected the pattern with my oldest son.  First, we read aloud.  It began with reading picture books, and developed into reading a chapter a night from some wonderful book.  After we finish the chapter, he brushes his teeth and gets in bed. Then he can read on his own until it's really bedtime.

This bedtime routine with books has the advantage of winding down the kids for sleeping after an active day. (This is where my husband developed his fondness for books with the child sleeping at the end.)  It also comes at a time when the kids won't begrudge the time they're giving to books.  It could be tremendously boring, but it's better than sleeping!

Breaking the Code
April 22, 2005

There's nothing quite like that moment when your child breaks the code and those individual letters become words.

My firstborn was born with wide eyes.  The uncharitable called them bug-eyes.  I called them bright eyes.  I think his sight may have been overdeveloped, but I do know that he wanted to see the world, and what he saw amazed him.  His forehead would wrinkle all the way up his scalp, he would look at things so intently.

I think there's a connection with that and the fact that he was an early reader.  He liked to look at things, so books were naturally delightful to him.  When he was almost two years old and I had to drive a couple of hours away to get my ID card when my husband joined the military, I just put a big pile of books in the front seat.  Josh was in the back seat.

He'd look through a book, page by page.  Some he had memorized, and I'd hear the story of those ones.  When he finished a book, he'd throw it down, and I'd hand him back another.  This kept him happily occupied for two hours there and two hours back.  Rather amazing when he couldn't even read.

His little brother was another story.  Yes, he enjoyed sitting and looking at books with us, but without someone to read the story, he didn't find it so interesting.  I think he was in Kindergarten before the happy day when I was working at the library and he decided to occupy himself with a book while waiting for me.  The book was The Bravest Ever Bear.  I was working at my desk, pretending not to listen.  I heard him actually reading the story out loud, with some very difficult words.  But he was reading it himself, getting the story, not needing anybody's help.  I mouthed excited words of joy to my co-worker, over Timothy's head.

Now he, like me, keeps multiple books to read with him at all times.  He's only in fifth grade, but his backpack is almost as heavy as a high school student's, simply because he isn't sure which book he'll be in the mood to read that day.

When my oldest boy was a winner in the Fifth Grade Reading Festival, one of the organizers told me I must be very grateful to his teachers.  I felt rather indignant.  Josh was reading long before he got to school.  My Mom always said that kids who learned to read at home tended to read with more expression than those who learned at school, because their pattern was people reading for pleasure, not other kids stumbling slowly over words. Teaching my kids to read was a privilege that I couldn't bear to give over completely to their teachers.

So this is another benefit of reading to your children--the inexpressible joy of seeing the light come on and hearing them break the code and step into a whole new world.

Sharing Books
March 29, 2005

Another beautiful thing about reading to kids is simply the fact of sharing something you love with someone you love.  If you read to them a book that you loved as a child, you also get the fun of remembering what it was like to be a child hearing the story for the first time.

Even adults can form a bond by reading aloud together.  My husband and I used to read aloud to each other when we were dating.  Sharing a wonderful book together can build a bond between two people.  And isn't that what we all want in our families?

Books at Bedtime
February 19, 2005

How do you get kids to like books?  One method that words surprisingly well is to make it an alternative to sleeping.

My own mother, with her many children, needed a break in the middle of the day.  She sent us all to bed after lunch for an hour-long nap.  However, the only requirement was that we stayed in bed.  We were not required to sleep, and could read the whole time if we liked.  I did prefer reading to sleeping, and that hour lull with a good book in the middle of the day made a nice habit.  Often, I'd keep reading past the hour.

I suppose this might be why I still like to read in bed.  If I read nonfiction, I end up thinking about it far into the night. However, I've found that a nice cozy novel is a great way to shut off my mind and let me go to sleep.  At least if I can stop reading!

For my own kids, I've found that bedtime is a great time to share books with them.  Kids don't want to go to bed, but if you start the "bedtime routine" with books, it helps wind them down for sleeping.  When my oldest was small, we'd read picture books before putting him in bed.

One night, I told Josh to pick some books while I went to the bathroom.  When I came out, I found the rocking chair piled high with books and Josh dancing happily around it.  After that, we made a policy of three books every night.  This lets the child know what's coming and also helps him learn to count to three!  Of course, as they started picking longer books we'd change it to three short books or one long book.  Eventually, we switched over to chapter books.

Now our routine is that my husband and I alternate reading a chapter to our ten-year-old son.  We each pick the book we read, so he gets a little variety.  We start books about an hour before we want our son to go to sleep.  After we read, he brushes his teeth and gets in bed.  Then he can read any book he wants until it's time for lights out.

As much as Timothy loves books, this bedtime reading is often the only reading he gets done in a day, besides reading done after finishing his assignment at school.  This way he gets a chance to read, and it also helps him relax and get ready for sleeping.

A mom recently wondered to me how to get her son to enjoy reading.  I suggested letting him read for awhile instead of turning off the lights at night.  Almost any kid likes an excuse to go to sleep a little bit later.  They may not like reading, but at least it's better than sleeping!

Books for Babies
February 3, 2005

After my last posting (See below--They're in backwards order on this page.), a friend asked about some specific recommendations of books for babies--books with only a few words on each page, the kind to read to a child before they've learned to sit still and listen to a story.  I realized that as much as I love and loved those books, I'm not reviewing them now, since my own kids are long past that stage.  So this time, I'll talk about some of our favorite books for babies.  I'll provide a link to the Amazon page for each book.

I mentioned how much Josh loved My Dad Is Brilliant, by Nick Butterworth, the first book he memorized.  The copy we had was from Discovery Toys, and was the original British version.  That book is now in print in an American version as My Dad Is Awesome.  

My absolute favorite book for babies, especially two-year-olds, is Blue Hat, Green Hat, by Sandra Boynton.  In this simple board book, you have three animals modeling clothes:  Blue hat, green hat, red hat.  Then we see a fourth animal, a turkey, wearing his hat in the wrong place.  The text reads:  "Oops."

The pattern continues, with the other three animals wearing different colors of shirts, pants, and socks.  The turkey always gets it wrong, wearing his socks on his hands and his pants on his head, for example.  The baby gets to hear that delightful word, "Oops," on every page.

At the end, the turkey gets it right--He appears all dressed up in an entire outfit, with every item in the right place.  The only trouble is, now the animals are going swimming, and all the rest are in their bathing suits.  Oops.

Of course, it took me more words to describe the book than Sandra Boynton uses in the whole book.  I can't imagine a more completely fun way to teach a child colors.

Sandra Boynton has many other wonderful board books including Moo Baa La La La.  All of them are great for enticing a baby with the delights of reading.

Another book that is special to me because my son memorized it at a very early age is the Tom and Pippo series by Helen Oxenbury, beginning with Tom and Pippo Read a Story.  This series features toddler Tom and his stuffed monkey Pippo.  In the first book, Tom likes to have his Dad read him stories.  When Dad gets tired of that, Tom reads to Pippo.  Unfortunately, Tom gets tired of reading even though Pippo still wants to hear more stories.  Maybe one day Pippo will be able to read on his own.

Helen Oxenbury perfectly captures a toddler's perspective.  She puts only one sentence on each page, and there aren't a lot of pages, but she does tell a complete story in each book, a charming picture of life with Tom and Pippo.

I bought Zoom City, by Thacher Hurd, a little too late for it to become one of my own kids' favorites.  I donated it to our church nursery, and it has become a big hit with the toddlers there.  I didn't know that some of them could talk until I started saying words like "Beep" and "Stop" and "Zoom," all words found in this simple board book about cars in the city.

Every baby loves peek-a-boo, and Where's Spot, by Eric Hill, puts peek-a-boo into a book.  The dog Spot hasn't eaten his dinner, so his mother Sally goes to look for him.  There are flaps on each page which the baby can lift to look for Spot, and each has a different animal hiding instead.  The text consists of simple questions like, "Is he in the basket?" Until the end, the answer is always a resounding "No!"  Of course, there's a joyous reunion at the end.  Eric Hill continued with a whole series of Spot books, which are also good, but the classic is the original Where's Spot.

Speaking of classics, you can't beat Goodnight, Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown.  In the great green room, you have a baby bunny going to sleep.  First, the book simply catalogs things in the room.  Then it wishes all those things, and the world itself, goodnight.  It's lyrical, simple, and soothing.  The perfect first bedtime story.

I have to warn you, though, that Goodnight, Moon together with Sesame Street once made my little boy cry.  We were watching Sesame Street when Elmo asked Gina to read Goodnight, Moon.  Joshua was delighted.  He sat mesmerized as Gina read every familiar word of the book to Elmo.  Then, just as Josh was starting to say, "Read it again!", Elmo took the words out of his mouth and begged Gina to read it again.  She opened the book and began again, "In the great green room. . . ."--and then they skipped out to a cartoon about the letter F.  Josh stared in dismay, and his face crumpled into tears of disappointment.  I had to run go get our copy of Goodnight, Moon and read it a few times in order to make it up to him.

I remember that Goodnight, Moon was one of the books I brought with us on the airplane when we moved from California to New Jersey and just-turned-two-year-old Josh and I were meeting Steve at the Philadelphia airport. (Steve had driven our car across the country ahead of us.)  After we read it, the lady in the seat in front of us turned and told me that she also loved that book.  Later, when the plane landed, she complimented me on what a well-behaved toddler I had.  (Part of the secret was not giving him a clue that it was possible to get out of his carseat on the plane. The other part was having a baby who loved to look at books--portable, relatively quiet entertainment.)

A few moments after her compliment, the pilot got on the intercom and announced that we'd be sitting on the runway for about ten more minutes.  In the moment of silence that followed his announcement, my sweet, well-behaved baby shouted for all the plane to hear, "I WANT OFF!  I WANT OFF DA AIRPWANE!"  Fortunately, everyone else on the plane felt exactly the same way, so I don't think they begrudged Josh's expressing it, but I wanted to crawl under my seat in embarrassment.

January 8, 2005

Reading books like Raising a Reader, by Jennie Nash, Raisin' Brains, by Karen L. J. Isaacson, and The Child That Books Built, by Francis Spufford (which I'm currently reading) have made me want to talk about my own experiences reading to children, teaching kids to read, and how they remind me of the wonders of a childhood spent reading.

You can think of my contributions on this subject as essays or, in more modern terms, blogging.  I'll give you musings about children and books.  I'll add a little bit each time I post an issue of Sonderbooks.

Why do I feel qualified to talk on this subject?  It's not formal training.  I do work at a library, but I only took one "Children's Literature" class in college.  I do have two sons of my own, and I did read to them (and still read to the ten-year-old), and did successfully help them become people who love to read.

My experience with my sons is probably where I gave the process the most attention.  However, I also have the experience of reading to several other children and guiding them as they learned to read.  I am the third of thirteen children.  Most of us were reading well before we reached Kindergarten age.  My mother deserves all the credit for teaching us older ones, but when it got around to numbers seven and eight and following, you can only imagine the delight of a preadolescent girl watching the light come on as those letters formed themselves into words in my little brothers' brains.  I've seen kids learn to read.  I've read to kids. There are few delights equal to showing children how magical books can be.

Reading to kids is cuddly.  Reading to kids can be silly, scary, funny, playful, magical or musical.  As a big sister, I especially enjoyed Dr. Seuss and the challenge of trying to read Fox in Sox as fast as possible and still have it make sense.  Okay, I enjoyed that as an adult, too.

What better excuse can there be for transporting yourself back to the wonder of childhood than reading to a kid?  What joy is greater than sharing the books you loved with your own children and watching their faces as they experience the adventure along with you?

Starting Out

Partly I'm thinking about reading to kids because my co-worker complained that her little nephew's parents don't read to him.  They've told her to stop sending him books because he "doesn't like them"!  This little guy is only fifteen months old.

You can't expect a fifteen-month-old to know what a book is all about.  Our oldest son's favorite activity as a crawling baby was to rip paper.  We had to turn all the books on our lower shelves around backwards so that he couldn't rip a strip off the covers down the center of the spines.  There weren't so many board books out then (or at least we didn't have many), so we didn't let him near books until he was about a year old.  However, once he stopped ripping and eating them, he quickly came to learn that books meant cozy time with Mom and Dad.

We let him turn the pages, and he turned them much more quickly than we wanted him to.  The key to that stage was books with only a few words per page.  We had a favorite called My Dad Is Brilliant, by Nick Butterworth.  It had one phrase per page, with a picture of the magnificent father.  Lines went like this:  "My Dad is brilliant."  [page turn]  "He's as strong as a gorilla." [page turn]  "He can sing like a pop star." [page turn]  And so on.

My Dad Is Brilliant was the first book that little Josh memorized.  I'd read the first part of the sentence:  "My Dad is. . ." and Josh would chime in with his sweet little voice, "Bree-yant!"  "He's as strong as a. . . "  "Go-wee-ya!"  Along the way, he learned that books have words that are the same every time and that it was worth listening before you turned the page.  He learned to be a little more patient to hear what this book had to say.  But he never would have learned if we hadn't taken the time to sit down and read to him.  And trying to read books to him with paragraphs of text on each page was still an adventure for a future time.

My husband reminds me that besides the rule of "a few words per page," another important rule in choosing books for a toddler is:  "A kid asleep at the end"!  If reading time makes the child sleepy, that book is a gem indeed!

Sonder is a German prefix meaning "special."

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved. 

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