Welcome Back to School!

Going back to school is an exciting and happy time of year for children, with friends to make, a new teacher to meet, and a classroom to explore. But, there can be anxiety, too. Different schedules, feelings, and expectations can give a child butterflies and even create some queasiness for parents. We all want our children to do well and adjust quickly.

To keep your family positive and ease any trepidation about starting a new school year, establish a few daily routines so there are at least some things to count on that aren’t new every day. Keep your child’s morning “get-up and get off to school” routine the same each day, so everyone knows what to expect. Do a quiet activity or snack every day when your child comes home as a way to transition from school. Keep your child’s bedtime the same time each night so your child is well-rested for the next day at school.

And, of course, build in some read aloud with your child. Even after he or she learns how to read independently, snuggling up with a parent and hearing a book read aloud reassures your child that some things don’t have to change. Quality time together is still part of everyday family life.

Older children can listen to chapter books read aloud and will learn new vocabulary and ideas hearing you read. Younger children listening to you read picture books will learn words and ideas too, and can come to understand their feelings and how to handle new situations that arise at school.

Reading any books together is comforting, but here are some books especially about the elementary school experience that open up discussions for you to have with your child. Laugh, talk, and learn together!

“The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School” by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery. In this book the gingerbread man chases after the school children instead of the other way around. He just wants to join in the fun, but can’t quite keep up! He enlists the help of all the grown-ups at the school and finally does meet up with the children, after touring the whole building.

“How Do Dinosaurs Go to School?” by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague. Huge, colorful dinosaurs innocently create havoc as they start a new school year. The rhyming text has a rhythm that keeps the story going as the dinosaurs learn what kind of behavior is appropriate at school. As they get used to school, they share, are polite, and even keep things picked up.

ItsHardtoBe5“It’s Hard to Be Five: Learning How to Work My Control Panel” by Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell. This is another winner by this writer/illustrator team. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis writes with humor and honesty at a level that children embrace. It really is hard to be five-years-old. The book describes how the days of being little are gone, but you still haven’t practiced a lot of self-control. Thank goodness that we each have a “control panel” that we can learn how to use!

“The Incredible Book Eating Boy” written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. This is not a typical “back to school” book, but has just that kind of humor a kindergartner will enjoy. When a boy develops a habit of eating books, yes, actually taking bites and swallowing books, the words get all jumbled in his stomach (and brain). He finally learns he can “digest” a book much better just by reading it. The illustrations are collaged type written words, images, and drawings.


Leave a comment

Filed under back to school, family reading

Tips for Reading to an Active Child

Young children are on the go from the moment they wake up until they collapse at naptime. Crawling, toddling around, reaching, grasping, and chewing on everything is the norm. How can quiet book times fit into such a busy life? If you choose your read-aloud times and books strategically and you can include lots of words and stories into your young child’s day.

Tips for sharing books and words with your wiggly one:

  • Give your child a small toy to hold on to while you read (or one for each hand). It’s a simple thing to do and it really helps!
  • Make the read-aloud experience full of activity by asking questions and pointing out details. You can put your finger on and count objects in the pictures, do the actions that are in the story you are reading, or point out objects in the book and say “What‘s this called?”
  • Before sitting down to share a book, do something physical with your child like having bath time, playing with toys, or trying to chase ducks at the park. After all that activity, your child will be more ready to sit down and relax.
  • Read books that are short, that match the length of your child’s attention span.
  • If your child isn’t able to sit down and focus, leave the books and just talk about what you are doing, tell stories or rhymes, or sing songs.
  • Make a habit of reading aloud when your child is naturally less active before nap or bedtime. By making it a routine, your child will come to expect and enjoy hearing books at those times.
  • If your child obviously isn’t in the mood to sit still or doesn’t have interest in the book you are reading, try a different time to read or a different book.

Always keep reading together fun and something your child looks forward to doing with you. Recommended books for active young children:

  • Full of Action: “Ten Little Fingers,” “I’m a Little Teapot” and “Itsy Bitsy Spider” are board books published by Child’s Play, that are familiar children’s songs. Most of us grew up knowing the motions that go with these rhymes. Continue the tradition by teaching your child your favorites. Annie Kubler illustrates these board books with her whimsical, round-headed children depicting a multitude of ethnicities.
  • Short Text: “Tickle, Tickle,” “All Fall Down” and “Say Goodnight” are all short board books with few words and lots of action. Written and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, these books are just right for a young child with a short attention span. They aren’t stories with a beginning and end, but rather a series of actions that your child will recognize.
  • Rhyming and Word Fun: “Maybe My Baby” by Irene O’Book with photos of babies by Paula Hible has a bouncy text and some words that may be new to your child. Another great rhyming book is “Peek-a Who?” by Nina Laden. The pictures are boldly colored and the text brief with cut out holes that give a peek at what comes next. Your child may giggle at the silly, repetitive sounds.

Leave a comment

Filed under board books, books for babies, books for toddlers, family reading

Reading Fits into the Flow of Summer

How is your summer going? What have the kids been doing to keep busy? Running, jumping, swimming, exploring, and hopefully some relaxing have all been part of your family’s summer fun.

Summer reading fits right into the flow. Read a book aloud with your children for some quiet time and then get up and go with a related activity to make the book come alive! Here are some suggestions:


  • Read “The Salamander Room” by Anne Mazer, then go on a walk in your neighborhood and look under rocks, in streams, and in trees for creatures you may not usually notice.
  • Read “The Doorbell Rang” by Pat Hutchins, then bake some cookies and count them. If you eat 2 cookies, how many are left? What kind of cookies did you make? Did you follow a recipe in a cookbook?
  • Read “How Rocket Learned to Read” by Tad Hills, then write an alphabet letter in mud with a stick or in sand with your finger. A good letter for any child to learn is the first letter of his or her name.
  • Read “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” by Mo Willems, then take a bus ride. Where did you go on the bus? Who did you see? Who drove the bus?
  • Feast for 10Read “Feast for Ten” by Cathryn Falwell, then go grocery shopping together. Make a list of what you need for the day. Check off each item on your list as you find it and put it in your cart.
  • Read “Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crab Cakes Later)” by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, then try on all the hats you have at home. What shapes, colors, and sizes of hats does your family wear?
  • Read “Feathers for Lunch” by Lois Ehlert, then go on a walk to look for birds. You’ll find out the names of some local birds, what they look like, and what their call sounds like in this book. Can you spot any near where you live?
  • Read “A Splendid Friend, Indeed” by Suzanne Bloom and ask a friend to come over and share a snack. Or you could ask your friend to play a game or draw a picture. What do you like to do with your friends?

Have a great summer!

1 Comment

Filed under family reading, summer

What Makes a Classic?

I was talking to a friend recently who said the 1969 picture book “Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb” by Al Perkins was a favorite of her grandson when he was a young boy. He wanted to hear the book read aloud repeatedly and chose that book to buy as a gift for every friend’s birthday. Her grandson, now an adult, loves that book even to this day and will no doubt read it to his own children when he has a family.

Hand Hand Fingers Thumb

What makes a picture book a classic? How does a book become timeless and relevant to children over many generations?

There are a few qualities that classics share. At the core, the story has some ideas or actions by characters that are already part of a child’s life, and so are easily understood by a child. There are also some elements that are new, exciting, funny, curious, or sometimes even a little dangerous. That bit of the unknown makes the story memorable.

The familiar plus the new equals a classic story, especially if the theme is about a childhood issue such as conquering a fear, keeping hope, being accepted, knowing you are loved, or just having unrestricted fun! A classic story, even if published decades before, inspires a child to think bigger and imagine more.

Does your family already have children’s books that have become classics in your household? Here are some that have stood the test of time:

  • “Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb” by Al Perkins, illustrated by Eric Gurney. The characters of this book are all monkeys that act like children. They shake hands, sneeze, say hello and goodbye, and do everyday things (the familiar), all while they are drumming on drums (the unusual). The story is very simple with lots of rhythm, rhyme, and repetition, so it is predictable and enjoyable to hear read aloud. These monkeys are all friends who have fun together–a reassuring theme for any child.
  • “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd. A young bunny goes through his bedtime ritual of saying goodnight to all the things in his room, including the paintings on the wall and even the air in the room. The story takes a familiar part of a child’s life and expands it to be magical.
  • “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson. Ferdinand the bull is expected to be fierce and wild, but turns out to be peaceful and gentle. Every child can relate to wanting to be accepted for being himself and not what other’s think he should be.
  • “Curious George” by H. A. Rey. This is another monkey story about a curious little guy who unwittingly breaks all the rules, but is forgiven every time. Does that sound like any child you know?
  • “Corduroy” by Don Freeman. Similar to Curious George, Corduroy has an innocent, child-like curiosity that puts him into some predicaments that are a little scary for a small teddy bear. In the end he is always accepted and loved for who he is.


Filed under classics, family book traditions, family reading

A Prescription for Reading Aloud

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced recently that it is asking its 62,000 members across the country to be advocates for reading aloud to children. Along with the usual attention to healthy physical child development, the AAP is now recommending, for the first time, that pediatricians inform parents about early literacy education. Families will hear from their doctors that the words children learn early on are critical for later success in talking, communicating, and eventually independent reading.

In the first 3 years of a child’s life his or her brain is growing faster than it ever will again and children thrive on hearing words as others talk, sing, and read aloud. Studies have shown that there is a “word gap” that is evident as early as 18 months between babies who hear an abundance of words in everyday life and those who don’t.

Thankfully, every family in our own community has been given this message from their child’s doctor since 2002, when Family Reading Partnership’s “Books to Grow On” program was launched. Children have been receiving a brand new book at 6 different child-well visits before the age of 4 and have come to expect that a visit to the doctor means a book to take home. The books gain value as they come as gifts from trusted medical professionals.

Each book in the “Books to Grow On” program is chosen especially for the age of the child who will be taking it home so that families have the best possible read-aloud experience. This summer 2 more books will be added to the “Books to Grow On” library so families will be getting 8 books in their child’s first 4 years. New books titles are also replacing old favorites at the 12 offices in Tompkins County, NY that see children, so in the coming year families will receive these beautiful new books at well-visits:

  • 2 months: “Baby Cakes” by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Sam Williams. Rhyming words give parents love language to talk to their baby.
  • 4 months: “Moo, Baa, La, La, La!” by Sandra Boynton. These silly animals noises are just the kind of sounds a baby is beginning to say as he practices vocalizing.
  • 6 months: “Clap Hands” by Helen Oxenbury. A short story with pictures showing babies doing baby things like clapping, eating, and waving.
  • 12 months: “Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo” by Kevin Lewis, illustrated by Daniel Kirk. From sun up to sun down a toy train picks up all the other toys in the playroom with a “wooo, wooo!”
  • 18 months: “I Can Do It Too!” by Karen Baicker, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max. As a toddler becomes more independent, she can help out the grown-ups with every day fun.
  • 2 years: “Roadwork” by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock. All kinds of vehicles and what they do to make a new road.
  • 3 years: “And Here’s to You!” by David Elliot, illustrated by Randy Cecil. Colorful, whimsical pictures of people, plants, and animals around the world with words of gratitude for all of life.
  • 4 years: “My Village: rhymes from around the world” collected by Danielle Wright, illustrated by Mique Moriuchi. Poems written in English and the native languages of many peoples in many countries show how children are fun-loving no matter where they are from.

When pediatricians give a prescription to parents to read to their young child, doctors are looking at the wellness of the whole child, not just their physical well being. Giving young children lots of words and loving attention gives them the emotional and cognitive foundation to have the best start in life!

Leave a comment

Filed under family book traditions, family reading

Read-Aloud Especially for 3 Year Olds

When you look at your 3-year-old child running and climbing it’s hard to remember that just a short time ago she was a tiny baby in your arms! Since her birth, your child has soaked up all the words she has heard spoken, sung, and read aloud to her. Now she has more of the words she needs to tell you how she is feeling and to describe the wonder of the world she encounters every day.

Your 3 year old has his own opinions and is becoming more independent. He can imagine, and even though he is still the center of his own world, he is starting to understand that other people have different ideas and feelings than he does. He may even be able to take turns and share toys!

What should you read aloud to this newly confident, yet still dependent child? 3 year olds have a longer attention span and can listen to books with more words. They also appreciate stories that are silly and make them laugh.

Since your 3 year old is busy and on the go, read when there is a natural break in your child’s activity, such as during snack time, bedtime, or during a bath. Reading aloud is a great way to unwind and refocus a child’s energy. Ask lots of questions about the story and the pictures so your child can develop his or her curiosity and keep building vocabulary.

Here are some books that keep reading fun and introduce new ideas:

  • “Bark George!” by Jules Feiffer. A humorous encounter with a dog who has trouble saying, “Arf!”
  • “Pete’s a Pizza,” by William Steig. Pete’s mom and dad make him into a pretend pizza with some things they find around the house. Do this at home for loads of giggles!Image
  • “Yoko,” by Rosemary Wells. When Yoko starts school she is the only one who brings sushi for lunch. What will the other children say?
  • “Are You My Mother?” by P.D. Eastman. A baby bird hatches and finds his mother isn’t in the nest, so he starts on an adventure to find her, making many unintentionally silly mistakes along the way.
  • “The Doorbell Rang” by Pat Hutchins. Grandma makes cookies, but then friends come to visit. Will there be enough for everyone?
  • “The Salamander Room” by Ann Mazer, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Francher. A boy finds a salamander and his imagination turns his whole bedroom into a woodland paradise for his new friend.
  • “Owl Babies” by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson. Three baby owls are left in their nest while their mother goes off to find food. Will she ever come back? The end of the story is reassuring.
  • “Lyle, Lyle the Crocodile,” by Bernard Waber. This series of books about a lovable crocodile who lives in an apartment on East 88th Street in New York City is filled with many occasions that need creative problem solving and end up in fun.


Leave a comment

June 13, 2014 · 11:50 am

What Do You Want to Be?

Where do you go to work, Mommy? What do you do at work, Daddy? Picture books can help explain the adult, working world to young children and prompt them to think about the perennial question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” There are both books that are filled with photographs and straightforward facts about different occupations, and books that are stories made up of dramatic interpretations of various work situations. Try both styles and see which one your child enjoys most.

As grown-ups we know that a person can have many interests and jobs in a lifetime. Read aloud with your child to explore the possibilities. Each book is a conversation starter. You can talk about people you know with different professions and your child’s own dreams about what the future holds.

To extend a book further, visit the businesses you read about. Read a book about a police officer, then get a tour of the police station. Read about farming, then visit a farm and see the animals that live there. Ask your grocery store or local bakery if your child can have a special tour after you read about those things. Your child will learn new words and ideas and remember them better when you connect the book’s words to the real world.


  • “Officer Buckle and Gloria” by Peggy Rathmann, is a humorous story about a police officer and his companion at work, a dog named Gloria. The officer’s job is teaching children at a school about safety, but he puts the students to sleep with his talks until Gloria comes to the rescue.
  • “New York’s Bravest” by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, is a folktale about Mose Humphreys, a firefighter in New York City in the 1840s. The qualities of all firefighters are exemplified in this giant of a man, who is a brave and selfless hero.
  • “Pig Pig Gets a Job” by David McPhail will tickle the funny bone of your pre-schooler. Pig Pig has grand ideas about jobs he could do, but his mother scales down his wild plans to make them practical.
  • “Kitten Red, Yellow, Blue” by Peter Catalanotto teaches numbers, colors, and professions, as sixteen calico kittens each find their niche in life.
  • “Whose Hat is This?” by Sharon Katz Cooper, illustrated by Amy Bailey Muehlenhardt, will keep your children guessing–and learning–about all the things people do for work. Other books in the series explore jobs that use different tools and vehicles.
  • “Mommy Works, Daddy Works” by Marika Pederson and Mikele Hall, illustrated by Deidre Betteride, explores a multitude of professions. From the child’s point of view, mom or dad could be a writer, a chef, president of a company, or a farmer, “but there is always time for me!”
  • “Where’s Our Mama?” by Diane Goode is the story of two children looking for their mother with the help of an officer at a Paris train station. Although the professions of the eight women the children meet isn’t named, there is plenty of opportunity to talk about what jobs the women are doing. The text of each page is a teaser for the picture on the next page.
  • “I Want to Be…” series by Stephanie Maze is made of books filled with photos of real people going about their workdays. You can read about the day of a veterinarian, engineer, astronaut, dancer, chef and many other professionals. If the text is too long for your young child, you can talk about the pictures.

Leave a comment

Filed under family reading