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The Great Escape

My original intent with this blog was to focus on tools and ideas from experts in children’s literacy and to specifically avoid writing too much about my own efforts to instill a love of reading in my two year old – but I can’t help sharing the following story.

My husband and I have been wondering when my son would learn to get out of his crib and just what he would do with his new found freedom.  Its been an ongoing source of speculation because he has never shown too much initiative relative to physical pursuits (he pretty much requests to be carried the minute we get out of the car and squeals “stroller!” with delight when we pull it out of the trunk).  We figured it would take some serious incentive for him to bother attempting an “escape” from the crib.

Usually a very good napper, he was having nothing of it this  Sunday.  I was listening to him chat to himself in the crib while working on the computer.  Next thing I knew there was a huge thump on the ceiling.   I glanced over at the video monitor (yes, husband and I are THAT over the top!) and there he was with a book in each hand whining because he wanted to get back into the crib with his books!  As much as he loves his books, I really never believed they would be the incentive he needed to climb out of the crib.

I guess its time to go “big boy” bed shopping.

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Today I stumbled on an excellent post by Elizabeth Bluemle on the Publisher’s Weekly Shelf Talker blog reviewing a few ebooks on the Ipad.   She writes from the perspective of a bookseller curious about a product that could have a large effect on her business and as a  “bookie” who also loves technology.   Her descriptions of why she loves “real” books is far more eloquent than I could write as is her analysis of the elements that ebooks gets right and those that fall flat – hence, I am pointing you all to her post rather than try and create one on the same theme myself.

I have to agree with her underlying premise that while ebooks are here to stay, there will always be a place for paper books.  Though, I will confess in moments of extreme irrationality I fantasize about maxing out my credit card at Amazon and stockpiling my basement with paperback books.   Silly, I know, especially for someone who doesn’t even stock up on bottled water, bread and milk before a hurricane.   Ludicrous as it sounds, I can accept that my children’s children’s children will life in a markedly different world from us even possibly one similar to that of the post-apocalyptic best sellar The Road but certainly NOT one where libraries no longer have book on their shelves and all our text is on a computer screen.

That diatribe aside, my personal resistance to buying an eReader or Ipad is mostly a result of my natural frugality combined with my current unemployed status and a small bit of my minimalist/environmentalist angst at owning yet another piece of electronics that will just need to be upgraded in another year or two.    Admittedly, I would love to be able to travel with a device that could carry my entire “to read” pile and I would love to explore some of the animation and graphics of the Ipad.

But it is Elizabeth Bluemle’s description of how the much celebrated Alice and Wonderland on the Ipad falls flat that reinforced my view that these books should complement our children’s book reading habits rather than replace them.   She writes:  “When kids read, they create the world along with the writer. Pictures serve as touchstones, but the real world-building in books goes on inside the reader’s head. This app is more like TV, in that the reader is more of a passive receptacle for the media experience of the book than a co-creator.”

It actually causes me quite a bit of sadness my son (who is two) will  most likely watch all the Harry Potter movies before reading the books, ensuring the visions he will create in his head will come largely from the movies and not from the beautiful mix of an author’s words and a reader’s imagination.    The movies are incredibly fun and I’ve enjoyed watching them all with my husband, but reading them in solitude is pure magic.  I want to make sure my son understands, appreciates and experiences that magic as much as possible which is why I spend so much time reading to him and why I buy him more books than toys.

Yes, when he gets older I will cave when he lobbies for whatever the “must have” gadget of the year is, but you better believe he will also be unwrapping a paperback copy of one of my favorite books from my stash in the basement.

I was inspired by author Eric Luper’s book drive for St. Anne Institute, a residential and therapeutic facility in Albany for at-risk girls ages 12 to 18.  After joining the Board, Eric requested a tour of the facility.  He was disappointed to see that the library was sparse and out-of-date.   Recognizing  literature’s power to change the lives of at-risk youth, he  requested donations from his author friends as well as the larger kidlit community.   So far his book drive has collected over 350 books from a variety of genres.  You can read about it and see a short news segment on his blog.

It got me thinking about what organizations could use the books that are on my bookshelves right now.   I give adult titles to the local library and my church for their yearly used-book sales and assumed I would do the same when my little Wild Thing outgrows his board books.   But now I think I’d like to donate them to an organization who will put them directly into the hands of a child with few books in the home.    Reach out and Read DC is seeking gently used children’s books.   While sadly many of my toddler’s books do not survive to be described as “gently used”, especially the “life the flap” variety, a few should make it relatively unscathed.  This could also make an excellent neighborhood or school project.

So where do you donate your used books?  What organizations are in need of gently used books?

Cultivating a love of reading in my little Wild Thing has been one of my favorite aspects of parenting thus far.  In addition to sharing my love of reading and the written word with him, I have fallen back in love with picture books myself.  I never cease to be amazed at the creativity in storytelling and artwork in both the classic and newer picture book titles.  Another benefit is the rare snuggling time it affords us.   While my nephews all liked to cuddle after their naps, my guy jumps up and wants to play with whatever toy or book he was playing with prior to going into his crib.

This week, I decided to start a routine of going to the library every few weeks to load up on picture books.  While I have taken him to the library before, it was always a quick trip because of his tendency to rip every book off the shelf (this is also the reason I avoid taking him to play at the train table int Barnes and Noble’s kids section like most stay at home moms in my area).  But recently I discovered a library branch near me with a separate room (with a door!) for toddlers.  Pure genius!  The room is full of open bins of board books and puzzles.   As the books aren’t alphabetized, my little Wild Thing can take books out and pile them on the floor to his heart’s content  (of course I pick up after him before we go).  I love not having to shush him or quell his interest in each and every book.

Walking into the library yesterday morning, I practiced whispering with him and told him he could take out any book he wanted.  His response: a very loud “truck book!”   He explored the picture books until I felt we had maximized our quota of books pulled from the shelves with no intent of checking out, at which point I ushered him into the board book room and let him run free.   We left with three books on trucks, one train book, and one Dora the explorer book.   The remainder of the afternoon was dedicated to him holding the Dora book but insisting I read Tip, Tip,  Dig, Dig by Emma Garcia over and over.

I went to bed pretty proud of myself.   The little Wild Thing learned that the library had just the books he was looking for (lets hope he is always so easy to please as a generic ‘truck book’ request), he found new books he loves and I finally got a reprieve from the constant refrain of “watch Dora, watch Diego” that I hear every afternoon before dinner.

Fast forward to 5:45 this morning.   After the toddler wake up call, I tried to convince him to lie down in our bed with us, but nothing could deter him from Tip, Tip, Dig, Dig which I wound up reading roughly 25 times before my first cup of coffee.  Be careful what you wish for, indeed.

Keep it Simple

I have been mulling over the following facebook update posted yesterday by the Joint Council for International Children’s Services, one of the amazing organizations I follow: “Whatever you do, you make a difference. Whatever you don’t do, you don’t.”

Sometimes problems seem so large that you wonder how little ol’ you could possibly make a difference.   But even though mountains may need to be moved to create significant and lasting change, we shouldn’t forget that pushing a few rocks out of the way can have an enormous impact on individual lives.

Take the relatively simple (and easily duplicated –  hint, hint)  Summer Reading Bags program blogged about by Dr. Joanne Meier at Reading Rockets.   Dr. Meier’s school collects and sorts used book donations from the community and invites students that don’t have much access to books at home to fill a bag to take home and read over the summer.   With research demonstrating a significant link between access to books and a lessening of the “summer slide” in reading achievement, such a simple program is likely to have a dramatic effect on the kids bringing home a summer reading bag.  (For a more detailed look at the program, you can read her blogs here and here)

What other simple ideas are floating out there that need to be passed on?


Bedtime Stories

I was talking to a friend of mine today about our kids’ bedtime routines.  She was telling me that when her three year old resists bedtime, they reduce the number of books they read so she doesn’t go to bed too late (as in “if you don’t get your pjs on now, I am going to read you 2 books instead of the usual 3).   She told me that she hates to cut back on reading time, but she didn’t want her daughter up too late and she also needed something to wrangle her into bed.  As we were talking, I realized that I had heard other mom friends doing this very thing while I was downstairs nursing a glass of wine waiting for them to get their kids in bed.

While I try to make it a policy not to make any rules against reading, I can understand how this can happen.  When you are trying to get a toddler to do anything, you need some kind of leverage.  And if the last treat they get before bedtime is a story, well – you don’t have much else to work with.

The trick, I think, is to make sure that bedtime isn’t the only story time they have.  If your kids are being read to throughout the day, sacrificing one story book at the end of the day isn’t as big of a deal.

So far, my little Wild Thing has shown a very strong interest in books and will often stop playing with his trains and bring me and my husband books to read to him (though I will admit we did impose one rule against reading – we won’t read to him if we are still at the table finishing our meals after he has been excused)  I really believe that one of the best things we did to get him so engaged in books was scattering them all over the house so that they are always in easy reach.  There is a bag of books in our living room (the little Wild Things primary play room), a shelf of books in his room which is the source of our pre-nap and bedtime stories, water books in the tub (before he liked sitting in the tub these books were the only things that would keep him from trying to escape), a bunch in the car, and a few in his “activity bag” that I bring into restaurants to keep him entertained.

Bedtime stories have a certain kind of magic.  I can still remember snuggling in bed with my sister while my dad read us the Little House on the Prairie books and I can’t wait until my son is old enough for me and my husband to read the Harry Potter series.   Reading my son a bedtime story is definitely one of my favorite times a day (okay, truth be told, its not just the story time I love but knowing there is going to be a bit of peace and quiet in the house until my own bedtime!).  But there’s enough of that magic in books to be sprinkled in through out the day.  And come on, who of us can’t use a little more magic in our lives?

Smash! Crash!

Since I decided to start this blog, I have been trying to figure out what child literacy effort I should showcase first.  Ultimately I turned to my two year old son for inspiration.  The whole point is to find books and events that grab the kiddos attention, right?

When my son (who will henceforth be called “Wild Thing”) turned two, a friend gave him a copy of the book Smash! Crash! written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by David Shannon, Loren Long and David Gordon which instantly became one of his favorite books.   Had I not been lurking in the kid lit blogosphere for so long, I might not have realized that the book is actually just one component of a mulitmedia project called “Trucktown”, a project under the auspices of Scieszka’s literary organization Guys Read (www.guysread.com).

Trucktown is a series of books which includes board and picture books for younger kids and ready to read and activity books for the older set.  There is also an interactive website (www.trucktown.com) with educational games and activities for kids, and handouts for teachers, librarians and parents.  What really makes the series stand out is how the story and illustrations capture the energy that toddlers bring to everything they do – I mean seriously, how many book titles have two exclamation points?  The illustrations practically jump off the page as two trucks who are best friends drive through Trucktown leaving a trail of mischief in their wake.

The primary audience is preschoolers and kindergartners, but that didn’t stop my two year old from insisting I read it over and over for a week after he received it.   Given his love of anything on wheels, that wasn’t too surprising.  What did amaze me was how much he loved just staring at the illustrations.  I would be cranking through the story and he would stop me and turn a few pages backwards saying “see cement mixer” and then he would just stare at the picture not allowing me to move on with the story until he was ready.

I have started giving books as birthday presents to our friend’s children.  This series is going to the top of my shopping list – especially for those boys I know who have uncontainable energy.  I can’t wait to see what else rolls out of Trucktown.