How can illiterate or semiliterate parents
read to their children?
Fifty years ago, this would have been an insurmountable problem, but not now. One kind of book and a piece of technology help to save the day. The books are wordless and predictable books (or easy readers) and the technology is the tape deck or CD player.
Thirty thousand years ago, in a step toward writing, our ancestors used cave drawings to tell stories without words—and wordless books follow that tradition. These books convey a story without using words; pictures (interpreted orally by the reader) tell the whole story—books in pantomime, if you will. The parent who can’t read (or can’t read English) has little difficulty in looking at the pictures and talking the book to the child.8 The popularity of this genre has increased in recent years, and there are now dozens of wordless books in print, from the simple (like Deep
in the Forest by Brinton Turkle) to the complex (The
Silver Pony by Lynd Ward, or Tuesday by David Wiesner). Ask your librarian for the wordless books in the library's collection.
Forty years ago, a person had to be blind to obtain a book on tape in America.
Now thousands of titles are available for parents or anyone wishing to listen,
learn, and enjoy a good book, all for free at the public library. Illiterate
or semiliterate parents can listen to these recorded books along with the
child, and hearing them often enough, will begin to memorize them. The illiterate
parent and child can sit together and listen to a book, even follow along
on the page. They’re sharing time and a common story. Is someone else’s voice
better than the parent’s? No, but it’s a whole lot better than no story at
all. Taking the time to listen beside the child—instead of watching TV or
talking on the phone—sends a message to the child about the importance the
parent places on books. For
parents or teachers of older children, see Audio
a discussion of children’s books on audiocassette.
Could you read chapter books at preschool level?
In 1999, my daughter came home for Thanksgiving with a letter she had received from my grandson Connor’s preschool teacher at Battery Park City Day Nursery in New York City. “You’re going to love this!” she exclaimed as she handed it to me. I’ve shared it with almost every teacher and parent audience I’ve had since then. The teacher was a talented young woman with fourteen years’ experience working with four- and five-year-olds, and here’s what she wrote:
Ordinarily, I do not go out of my way to recommend
movies to my students’ parents,
however, there is a movie coming out which could help to extend your
child’s learning. On December 19th, the movie Stuart Little will
be opening. It just so happens that we have just finished reading the
book by E. B. White, which the movie is based on.
Throughout the year we will be selecting a few chapter books to read
to the children who stay for nap time. Year after year, Stuart Little
is always my first selection because each chapter of the book is short
enough to be read in one sitting and, most especially, I choose it because
Stuart is a character that can easily capture the imagination of a young
child. You see, Stuart is a young boy who just happens to look like a
mouse! Because of his diminutive stature Stuart gets into all kinds of
wild and crazy adventures.
Reading chapter books such as Stuart Little helps
to build a child’s
visualization skills and helps them to appreciate stories that are told
over more than one sitting. By taking your child to the movie, you may
be able to initiate a conversation about the similarities and differences
between the chapter book and the movie version, as well as the similarities
and differences between watching a movie and reading a story. Your child
might also enjoy rereading the book with you at home. If you haven’t
ever read a chapter book to your child, Stuart Little might be just the
right book for you to get started with.
—Happy Reading (& movie-viewing), Karleen Waldman
For anyone unfamiliar with Stuart Little, it’s a charming 130-page
novel by the same person who wrote the classic Charlotte’s
Web. Karleen Waldman understood that children are ready for chapter
books long before most people think they are. Our continued exclusive reliance
on four-minute picture books is an insult to their growing minds and attention
spans. No, Ms. Waldman didn’t begin the year with a novel, nor did she abandon
picture books for chapters. She began with picture books and built the children’s
attention spans (see class photo, right). By the end of the year, these same
children had also heard Cricket
in Times Square by George Selden, and Mr. Popper’s Penguins by
Florence and Richard Atwater. I’m not suggesting we abandon picture books.
Instead, add a few novel pages and then a daily chapter to the picture books
you read to preschoolers.
What about reading aloud nonfiction?
Nonfiction will often read like a boring textbook unless there's a strong
narrative to it. One of the publishing highlights of the last two decades has
been the proliferation of outstanding picture books devoted to American history,
many of which contain a strong story line. Here are some that make excellent
Excellent Nonfiction Picture Books
Saving the Liberty Bell by Megan McDonald
The Flag Maker by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Mary Anning and the Sea
Dragon by Jeannine Atkins
The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse
Hawkins by Barbara Kerley
The Boy Who Drew Birds:
The Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline
The Bobbin Girl by Emily Arnold McCully
Thank You, Sarah by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Last Princess: The
Story of Princess Ka’iulani of Hawai’i by Fay Stanley
Alice Ramsey’s Grand Adventure by Don Brown
Rocks in His Head by Carol Otis Hurst
The Greatest Skating Race by Louise Borden
Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
When Esther Morris Headed
West: Women, Wyoming, and the Right to Vote by Connie Nordhielm
Liberty Rising: The Story
of the Statue of Liberty by Pegi Deitz Shea
You’re on Your Way, Teddy Roosevelt by Judith St. George
Odd Boy Out: Young Albert
Einstein by Don Brown
Eleanor by Barbara Cooney
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuk
My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
Harvesting Hope: The Story
of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull
Richard Wright and the
Library Card by William
Marvelous Mattie: How
Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully
You might also consider adding to the above list an anthology
of 100 stories about American history for fourth-graders and older: The
American Story by Jennifer
Armstrong(Knopf, 2006) which covers U.S.
history from its first city (St. Augustine, 1565) to the controversial 2000
Presidential Election, told in 100 fast-paced narratives that seldom reach
more than three pages in length. Roger
Roth's hundreds of color illustrations
make this a nonfiction gem.
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