Floral Avenue gets a new Story Walk

By Molly Alexander

The Family Reading Partnership is celebrating their 25th anniversary with the opening of a brand new Story Walk in downtown Ithaca! On Saturday, April 30th from 10am to 11:30am families are invited to visit the Floral Ave walking path along the Cayuga inlet to celebrate with Family Reading Partnership and check out the story, A New Kind of Wild by Zara Gonzalez Hoang.

A view of the new Story Walk on Floral Avenue in Ithaca, displaying pages of “A New Kind of Wild” by Zara Gonzalez Hoang.

If you haven’t yet visited one of Family Reading Partnership’s Story Walks, you might be wondering what a Story Walk is. The idea was inspired by the StoryWalk® project out of Montpelier, Vermont and has spread to all fifty states and abroad to thirteen countries. Story Walks are a great way for young children to engage with the world around them and they offer an alternative to traditional book reading settings for those who prefer a more active learning style. Picture books are transformed into an interactive outdoor experience by laminating pages and mounting them on posts which are spread out along a trail or path.

“There is a wealth of research pointing to the importance of physical movement to learning in early childhood. While we often think of reading as a quiet, calm, and still activity, it is our hope that the Story Walks will encourage families to view books as interactive experiences that can happen anywhere” says Amber Smith, executive director of Family Reading Partnership. 

Tompkins County is home to seven free, public, read-aloud adventures encouraging families to get outside and enjoy books together. Each Story Walk location hosts a new book every three months, for a total of 28 books each year. “We are fortunate to have a wonderful volunteer corps who assist us in maintaining and updating the Story Walks” says Smith.

The Story Walk program began in 2018 and has grown quickly. The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. Smith says, “We have been working with the City of Ithaca for over a year to find a suitable place to install a Story Walk in the downtown corridor, and we are thrilled to have just recently received approval for the Floral Avenue site. Its paved path will be our most accessible and will allow families to watch the rowers and geese while enjoying a story together.”

The Story Walks are designed to appeal to families with young children, from infants through

the early elementary years. However, Smith says, “Family Reading Partnership often hears from adults who love them just as much without kiddos in tow!” The Walks themselves are typically between 1/8 and 1/2 mile, just right for little legs, and stretch through woods, along school playgrounds, and beside waterways to provide families a pleasant outdoor experience while they enjoy a story together.

“Story Walks are a great way for young kids to engage with the world around them while also doing something active!” says Beverly Wallenstein, Family Reading Partnership’s program and outreach coordinator. “Our Story Walks are often nature themed, helping kids create connections to the outdoors in a new way. Being outside and connecting both with nature and with a great book can truly be a magical experience!”

Family Reading Partnership’s Story Walks are spread throughout Tompkins County. At the Story Walk in Danby, at Dotson Park, families have the opportunity to climb grassy mounds and slide to the bottom, explore creeks and bogs, and watch birds beside the natural playground as they enjoy a book. The Dryden Story Walk is located at the Jim Schug Trail, along a small creek, only a block away from the public library.  

The Newfield and Enfield Story Walks are on the elementary school grounds, and these locations are great for incorporating more physical activity as children can also use the playgrounds and ballfields when visiting outside of regular school hours. The Lansing Story Walk is on the Lansing Center Trail, a meandering, flat path that leads through woods, fields, and marshes. The Story Walk begins at Scoops Ice Cream, which adds an element of fun for all! 

The Groton Story Walk is located on the Groton Trail System behind Memorial Park. This trail is wooded, hilly, and crosses small creeks. It’s a true hiking experience and offers some real exercise! The park adjacent to the trail offers the Groton public pool, playground, and picnicking sites where families can make a whole day of fun.

The Floral Avenue location in downtown Ithaca will be the most accessible for city residents and for folks using strollers, wheelchairs, or walkers. The first book, A New Kind of Wild by Zara Gonzalez Hoang, is the author-illustrator’s debut inspired by the stories her father told her about moving from Puerto Rico to New York as a child. It is a moving exploration of the value of friendship and imagination, and the true meaning of home. 

Limited parking is available along Floral Avenue, and extra parking can be accessed at Park Road off of Cliff Street, or at Cass Park. In the case of rain, the launch event will be pushed to Sunday, May 1st. Various kid-friendly activities will be available, and every child will go home with a brand new book! The Floral Avenue Story Walk is sponsored in part by Odyssey Bookstore, and Family Reading Partnership is looking for a co-sponsor. For more information, contact Beverly Wallenstein at Beverly@familyreading.org.

(This article can also be found in today’s publication of Tompkins Weekly)

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Tell Me Another Story

By Molly Alexander

In celebration of Black History Month, the staff and board members of Family Reading Partnership had the chance to watch and discuss a 30-minute free access documentary called “Tell Me Another Story: Diversity in Children’s Literature” produced by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. We encourage you to watch it! The film presents key figures from the past and present who have contributed to advancing diversity in children’s literature. 

The film opens with the question, “A book can show you the world, and it can also show you a reflection of yourself. But what happens if you never see a reflection of yourself in a book?” This is a profound question that we grapple with often in our work at Family Reading Partnership. In the film, we learn from acclaimed children’s book authors and illustrators of color as they respond to this question. Grace Lin talks about growing up in upstate New York in a town where there weren’t any people who looked like her at school, and there weren’t any people who looked like her in books, either. She recalls a librarian bringing out a book that portrayed a racist representation of Chinese characters, “I remember feeling so horrified because the characters in that book were so far away from what I wanted to be seen as.” Author Jessixa Bagley (2018 Ezra Jack Keats Writer Award Honoree) says that a child seeing themselves in a book is permission to be themselves— permission from the world to exist. Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie (2020 Ezra Jack Keats Writer Award Honoree) touches on this idea, saying representation in books gives children “permission to exist with your head up, to speak up, to raise your hand, to create that art.”

At Family Reading Partnership we are committed to centering diversity, equity, and access in our programming. We bring a rigorous criteria to our selection process for every book that gets distributed through our programming, with anti-bias books at the forefront of our minds. Through watching Tell Me Another Story, we have been inspired and motivated by the work of librarians, activists, authors, illustrators, and publishers who have challenged and pushed forward representation in children’s literature throughout history. Deborah Taylor, librarian and youth literacy advocate, discusses how children’s literature was always a tool of white supremacy until it was challenged: “It was a way of othering people that you intend to exploit. If you’re going to exploit people you have to have them in a position where there’s no possible hint of their humanity.” She discusses how the way people are represented and perceived in childhood sets them up for life, which is one of the reasons it is so critical to challenge representation in children’s literature.

The work toward positive representation of children of color in books has a long history, starting with the Brownies’ Book by W.E.B. DuBois, which showed Black children in a positive light. DuBois is quoted in the film: “What is light, but the attempt of human beings to be happy and contented in a world, which with all its ill, has a mass of sun and waters, of trees and flowers, of beauty and love.” The film also pays homage to the critical work of librarians Augusta Baker and Pura Belpré, who curated book lists and provided Black children with books and stories in which they could see themselves represented positively.

The publishing of The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats in 1963 was a wake-up call to the publishing community. As a Jewish American, Keats knew what it meant to feel like an outsider, yet doors were open to him in the publishing world that weren’t yet open to artists of color. He chose to represent Black children in his books purposefully, to “help fill this enormous void that is yet to be filled.” The Snowy Day features Peter, a Black child, enjoying a playful day in the snow. Author and illustrator Christopher Myers says, “One of the things I love about The Snowy Day is this moment of carefree childhood that is afforded to kids who care infinitely more than they should have to.” Not only was The Snowy Day groundbreaking for centering a Black child, it was groundbreaking for centering a Black child doing what all children deserve to do: playing. This year’s Black History Month theme is Black Health and Wellness. More and more research points to the value of play in promoting children’s health and well-being. Representation is powerful, and children’s books that represent children of color playing have an important role to play in advancing equity.

Keats is quoted in Tell Me Another Story,  “What goes on inside the hearts of kids to prepare them to live in peace and to understand each other? … That while we all have our differences, we all have our universality, too.” The Ezra Jack Keats Award celebrates the universality of childhood, as well as our differences. As a staff and board, Family Reading Partnership challenged ourselves to complete a mock Ezra Jack Keats Award. We hope you will be inspired to watch the film, and to check out our book selection:

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Visual Literacy

By Molly Alexander

As winter approaches, we hope everyone enjoys some cozy days curled up with a good book. Picture books have the power to take us on adventures to imaginary landscapes, transporting us to new places and experiences. Picture books can be especially magical when we take the time to slow down and pay close attention to the illustrations. The art in picture books can inspire even the youngest reader to become an active participant in the creation of a story. 

You’ve probably heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” As one of our five senses, vision is relied upon to make sense of our world beginning in infancy. Young children can read pictures long before they can read words. Pictures have been used to tell stories throughout human history, from cave paintings, to ancient pottery and stained glass windows, all the way up to contemporary picture book art. Images tell stories and they should be read as carefully as any text. As children’s book author and illustrator Uri Shulevitz puts it, children’s book artists are “writing with pictures.” 

What happens when we slow down and take the time to look closely at illustrations? Looking closely helps us to see so much more than we may have noticed upon our first impression. When you engage with your child around illustrations, wonderful conversations can take place by asking simple questions such as “What do you notice? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we find?” 

Line, color, proportion, and shape play a central role in telling a story. Meaning and emotions can be conveyed through color, texture, and perspective. The design elements of picture books (size, orientation, use of space, borders and frames, etc.) also participate in the telling of a story. For example, in Jan Brett’s The Mitten, images along the borders are used to provide additional information and foreshadowing as the story unfolds. A square layout of a book such as A Good Day by Kevin Henkes can conjure feelings of safety and coziness, while a large vertical layout of a book like Madeline by Ludwig Bemelman creates the space for the viewer to experience the height of the Eiffel tower and the “old house in Paris covered in vines” as well as the smallness of Madeline.

Wordless picture books in particular show us how a story can be told through images alone. One of the most delightful aspects of wordless picture books is that they can be “read” by pre-readers and beginning readers, speakers of all languages, and illiterate or semi-literate adults who want to read with children. Simply exploring the illustrations on each page, discussing what you see, what the characters are doing and feeling, the setting, and sequence of events can lead to a rich shared family reading experience.

One of the most pleasurable aspects of focusing on illustrations with your child is getting a little window into their observations and thoughts! Every person brings their own prior visual experiences into how they understand an image. For example, one day shortly after Halloween, after many experiences playing with pumpkins, my toddler looked at the cover of I Like Me! By Nancy Carlson and announced, “She’s sitting on a green pumpkin!” Once you get into the practice of talking about what you see together, you will start to hear more and more of your child’s unique perspective.

Time spent noticing and appreciating the illustrations together in picture books will support your child’s development of visual literacy skills. The National Art Education Association describes visual literacy as the ability to interpret, comprehend, appreciate, use, and create visual media. Visual literacy is critical in helping us understand our world, especially since we are surrounded by visual images— on boxes of food, signs, murals, television, social media, emojis, the internet, etc. How can children learn to interpret images and make meaning out of them? Reading picture books together is a fantastic way to promote visual literacy skills. 

The next time you settle down with a book together, whether it’s a new title or a beloved old favorite, we encourage you to pay more attention to what the illustrations have to offer. We hope you discover something new to savor! Here are some recommendations for excellent wordless picture books:

The Red Book by Barbara Lehman

Draw! By Raúl Colón

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Flotsam by David Wiesner

A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka

If you’re feeling inspired to dig deeper into visual literacy, we encourage you to check out these wonderful resources:

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Music and Language Development

By Molly Alexander

Have you ever heard a toddler recite the lyrics of a song for the first time? Research tells us that babies can understand words before they can say them, so it is not surprising that toddlers will eventually be able to sing the words to a song that they have heard over and over. Nonetheless, it is a thrill to witness! Often a toddler will sing several lyrics all at once— more words than he or she is yet able to string together in everyday speech. What is it exactly about music that is so powerful in connection to language acquisition?

Family Reading Partnership prints the slogan “Talk, Sing, Read, Play” on many of our materials because we know that these four types of interaction promote language and literacy development. When it comes to singing, the benefits are profound. Singing throughout the day helps babies feel safe as they move through daily transitions. For example, have you ever noticed that if you sing a song to your baby while changing her diaper or to a toddler while getting her jacket and shoes on to go outside, that she is more content? It’s as if the song carries her through that transitional space from one moment to the next. Singing also promotes bonding. Looking lovingly into your baby’s eyes while holding him and singing to him strengthens your connection to one another and creates the feeling of being in sync. Infant-directed singing by a parent signals to the infant that her parent is paying attention to her, which makes her feel safe. Singing is also extremely effective at calming a fussy baby. The attentive, secure, and calm state that singing facilitates is optimal for infants to learn and absorb language. Music, along with facial expressions and gestures, creates a rich and pleasurable context for language learning.

The components of language that infants are attuned to during the first year of life can be seen as musical. There is fascinating research in music cognition exploring the evolutionary significance of music that proposes that music is in fact fundamental to language development. From this perspective, language is made up of words that symbolize meaning and the sounds that carry their message are perceived first. An infant’s earliest exposure to language can be seen as a sort of vocal performance, in which infants first pay attention simply to sounds. Parentese— the high pitched vocalizations and sing-song speech patterns practiced by parents all over the world, is the type of speech that babies are most drawn to. When babies first start vocalizing, they play with sounds in the form of cooing and babbling. Only later, after this initial period of playing with sounds, do babies begin to play with meaning. Even earlier than babbling, an infant’s first form of communication is crying. Some music researchers suggest that crying can be considered musical, too, as cry melodies become more complex during the first months of life. 

Music cognition researchers also explore the overlaps between music and language development in the brain. Modern brain imaging tools show that our brains process music and language in a similar way. Recognizing the sounds of different consonants requires rapid processing in the temporal lobe of the brain. Recognizing the difference between two instruments like the trumpet and the piano also requires temporal processing at the same speed. Music and language processing have neurological overlaps, and musical experiences positively impact the trajectory of language development. For instance, exposure to singing can strengthen language development in infancy and even pave the way for improved reading skills later on. When babies hear songs, they begin the process of phonemic awareness— the ability to identify individual sounds in words. Phonemic awareness is fundamental to the letter-sound connections that are needed for reading skills. Songs also introduce new vocabulary and expose babies to rhythm and rhyme, key elements of language. 

Here are some helpful resources with suggestions for how to incorporate music into your family’s life:

Making Music: Literacy Tips for Parents 

Sing To Your Baby: Create Your Own Lullaby 

Songs, Rhymes, and Fingerplays in English and Spanish 

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Rainy Day Reading

By Molly Alexander

We have certainly had our fair share of rainy days this summer. We hope everyone enjoys the much deserved sunshine this week! Here are some family reading suggestions for the next time we are met with a rainy day.

The Family Reading Partnership advocates for children to play outside every day, rain or shine. Rather than racking our brains to come up with fun indoor activities, there’s a whole world of adventure and open-ended play to be had when we gear up and step outside. But, when it is too stormy or when we are simply tired of all the rain, sometimes curling up with a bunch of good books is the coziest way to embrace the day. 

Here are some book suggestions for rainy day family reading with infants, toddlers, preschoolers and early elementary aged children. Most of the following books are available through the Finger Lakes Library System. Each book explores different aspects of rain- the rhythm and sounds of rain, the role of rain in nature, stories of joyful and playful rainy days, and books that speak to the fear and disappointment that might come up during thunderstorms and days stuck indoors. We hope these books will bring your family some comfort on the next rainy day!

If you feel that your child is old enough to discuss the increased rainfall in connection to the climate crisis, reading a book together can be a helpful way to begin your conversation. It’s worth noting that there is an oversaturation of children’s books about climate change right now— the number of new children’s books about the climate crisis and wildlife more than doubled in 2019! It can be overwhelming to sort through all these new books and choose which ones would be most meaningful and engaging for your child. Here is an excellent list of suggested reading put together by environmental educators. 

Rainy Day Reading List:

The Itsy-Bitsy Spider Illustrated by Rosemary Wells

Age: Infants and Toddlers

This illustrated version of the beloved classic nursery rhyme is a warm and comforting book that will have even the very youngest readers eager to turn the page and remember the words. Babies and toddlers will be drawn in by the illustrations of the friendly-looking goose, chicken and spider playing by the water spout, and the melody and rhyme of the song will capture their attention. You might find yourself reading it again and again!

Who Likes Rain? By Wong Herbert Yee

Age: Toddlers and Preschoolers

“Pit-pit-pit on the window pane. Down, down, down come the drops of rain.” Toddlers will love the rhyming and expressive language in this book that invites the reader into a guessing game to find out which animals like the rain and which ones don’t. The illustrations are just as cozy and soothing as a rainy day. Toddlers will especially relate to the child in the book who excitedly jumps barefoot into a puddle with an adventurous “Ker-splat!”

Rain by Peter Spier

Age: Toddlers and Preschoolers

This wordless picture book uses illustrations to tell the story of two children in a rainstorm. The children play in a world transformed by rain and each page is filled with activity and life. Reading a wordless picture book together is a wonderful way to connect and talk about what you both see!

Rabbits & Raindrops by Jim Arnosky

Age: Toddlers and Preschoolers

This beautiful book follows a mother rabbit as she leads her five baby rabbits out of the nest for the first time. They nibble clover, meet grasshoppers, spiders and bees, play tag, and then suddenly rain begins to fall on their exciting day. The rabbits must quickly duck back to their shelter under the hedge— for as readers will learn, rabbit fur is not waterproof. Arnosky’s watercolor illustrations are up-close and detailed, allowing children (and adult readers alike!) to feel like they are experiencing the rain from the rabbit’s point of view. This book is currently on display as a Story Walk behind Enfield Elementary school, starting at the apple orchard to the right of the school!

On Monday When It Rained by Cherryl Kachenmeister, photographs by Tom Berthiaume

Age: Preschooler

“On Monday when it rained my mother said I couldn’t play outside. I wanted to ride my new red bike with the blue horn to my friend Maggie’s house. I was… disappointed.” Matter-of-fact language and real-life portrait photographs of a child’s face come together to create a book about different events that occur throughout one child’s week and how he feels in response to them. This book will help children to identify and explore their emotions in a way that feels safe, clear, and accepting. It is a great choice for those rainy day blues.

Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Jon J Muth

Age: Preschoolers and Early Elementary

“Up and down the block, cats pant, heat wavers off tar patches in the broiling alleyway.” The summer depicted in this book is quite different than our own has been— there’s a heatwave and a drought and everyone is hoping for rain to come. The plants are parched and drooping, and a young girl hopefully watches the sky for rain. When she sees the rain clouds rolling in, she finds her friend and they go outside in their bathing suits to dance under the rain. Soon her mama, and then the entire neighborhood, are outside together dancing in the rain and everything is springing back to life.

Thundercake by Patricia Polacco

Age: Preschoolers and Early Elementary

In this enchanting book Patricia Polacco tells the story of how her grandmother— her Babushka— helped her to overcome her fear of thunderstorms when she was a little girl. It’s thundering outside and a storm is brewing. Grandma finds her special recipe for Thunder Cake and they embark on an adventure to collect all the necessary ingredients to bake the cake before the storm rolls in. Collecting eggs from mean old Nellie Peck Hen and milk from old Kick Cow, and even a secret ingredient last, they hurry back inside all while counting the seconds between the lightning and the thunder to know how many miles away the storm is. What better way to enjoy a storm than by watching it out the windows while safe and snug with a slice of warm cake. This is the perfect story to read to a child who might be afraid of thunderstorms. If you’re feeling inspired, you could even try baking your own Thunder Cake following the recipe at the end of the book!

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Bonding Through Books

By Molly Alexander

When we talk about the benefits of reading at home with infants and young children, we often focus on the language and literacy skills that can be gained. While that focus is essential, reading together can also nurture the parent-child bond and promote a positive relationship.

The first relationship in a child’s life with her primary caregiver can be described using the framework of attachment theory. When the attachment relationship is secure, the primary caregiver serves as a secure base from which the child can confidently venture out into the world around her and return to for comfort and connection. Many research studies show that secure attachment develops during infancy through attuned, responsive, and sensitive parenting. When it comes to experiences at school in particular, research shows that secure attachment relates to curiosity, eagerness to learn, and enthusiasm in problem-solving in the preschool years and beyond. 

A secure parent-child attachment relationship develops through everyday interactions, and when put into practice as a daily ritual, reading books with your child can be a special interaction filled with affection and attuned, undivided attention. Even very young babies learn to associate the act of shared reading with the feeling of comfort and being loved. The act of reading books at home together even has the power to heal and improve relationships. A study on youth in care in the UK showed that carers who read daily with their child reported that it made a positive difference in their relationship. 

The quality of the reading experience is what matters most, not the quantity of books read. When we shift the focus of reading together onto relationship building, there are practical ways to tailor our approach accordingly. Here are some tips for making shared reading a pleasurable and comforting experience for both you and your child— one that has the power and intention to nurture your bond:

  • Make reading together a daily routine. Reading together at the end of every day, no matter what else may have happened that day, is a way to show your child that he is loved no matter what. The routine of reading daily can instill a sense of calm; the consistency and predictability can provide a sense of security.
  • Invite your child to snuggle in your lap for a story. It can feel good for both parent and child to cuddle up with a book. Feeling safe and secure while sharing a book every day is a wonderful way to bond.
  • Think about the experience as an interaction. You can initiate interactions while reading together by pointing at pictures, asking questions, labeling and commenting on the illustrations, and making connections between something in the book and something in your child’s life. Take it as an opportunity to listen to what your child has to say. The more your child feels heard and understood, the more connected she will feel to you. When she chimes in, this is her way of participating in the interaction. When you acknowledge what she says, or even the babble sounds that she makes, and respond with enthusiasm, it sends the message that you are paying attention to her and that you value her voice and presence. 
  • Allow your child to turn the page even if you haven’t finished reading that one. Let him turn back to a page if he wants to look at it again. As adult readers it can be the default to prioritize the text and plow ahead with reading. Remember that your baby or young child is looking closely at the artwork while listening to your voice as you read. Perhaps your toddler loves a particular illustration on one page. Or perhaps the sound of a certain phrase on a page delights him and makes him laugh and he just can’t wait to skip ahead to get to it. You will learn something about what interests your child when you follow his lead, and when you take pleasure and interest in what he delights in it is an opportunity to strengthen your connection and bond. 
  • Talk about feelings when reading together. Through stories and books, your child is beginning to learn about the range of human emotions. Stories and books are a safe place for her to begin to experiment with emotions, and doing so with you can send a message that you accept her no matter how she feels.

Looking for a book recommendation? Check out I Love You Because You’re You written by Liza Baker and illustrated by David McPhail. This wonderfully reassuring book captures a parent’s unwavering love and the many emotions of all children through its comforting rhythmic text and cozy watercolor illustrations.

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Literacy Outdoors!

By Molly Alexander

As the weather finally begins to get warmer and the sun sets later each day, here at Family Reading Partnership we are thinking about the connections between playing outdoors and literacy development!

There is a lot of talk right now about COVID-19 learning loss, especially reading skills in the early grades. Now more than ever we see the need for children to experience literacy learning outside of the classroom, and at the same time we recognize the need for parents and children to have time to de-stress amidst all the challenges of this past year. We are here to remind you that spending time playing outdoors can actually be beneficial to your child’s language and literacy development. 

Did you know that the gross motor skills that children develop when they swing from the monkey bars or climb trees form the basis for the fine motor skills that they will use to hold a writing utensil? When children move their bodies outdoors they develop physical skills that are actually stepping stones on the path to literacy development. You don’t need to have fancy playground equipment or anything special- just time outside running, jumping, swinging, and moving!

Spending time outdoors provides endless opportunities for speech and language learning. When you’re with your child outdoors you can support her language development by talking about what she is doing. For example, if she jumps high or runs fast or touches a bug gently, all the language you use to describe her actions will become concrete vocabulary words that she learns within the context of her experience. Learning in this way leads to long-lasting word comprehension because it is rooted in meaningful lived experience.

When playing outside, you can also engage in dialogue about the natural world around you. For example, “The wind is blowing” or “The mud feels sticky and gooey.” Ask your child what he notices and feels. Your child’s experiences outdoors can lead to language development that would not happen indoors because the ever-changing outdoor environment provides vast potential for actions, observations, sensory perceptions, challenges, feelings, and imagination. The sense of freedom and the active learning that take place outdoors can open a child’s mind to making new cognitive connections. Best of all? It’s joyful.

When it comes to how we learn, a child’s well-being, and a caregiver’s, is fundamental. Research shows that time outdoors improves attention span and reduces stress, leading to an optimal state of mind for learning. With all the stress over learning loss and all the pressure to catch up, it might be reassuring to remember that sometimes the best path forward is getting back to the basics. After all, the original meaning of kindergarten was children’s garden. Freidrich Froebel founded the first kindergarten in 1837 at a time when early childhood education did not yet exist, well before the advent of standardized testing and reading levels. Froebel believed that very young children had the ability to develop cognitive and emotional skills through education. However, the original concept was learning through active, hands-on experience with a teacher as a loving and attentive guide. So we hope you will get outside to connect, move, talk, play, and enjoy the moment- knowing that you are supporting your child’s learning at the same time!

If you’re looking for more ways to connect with literacy outdoors, our Story Walks are here for you! Take a walk through a book in parks within Tompkins County, NY. Children’s book pages mark the way along a path you can explore with your child. Family Reading Partnership just updated two of our books in time for spring and we hope you will check them out:

Daniel’s Good Day by Micha Archer is now on display in Enfield, located behind Enfield Elementary School starting in the apple orchard to the right of the school. Daniel’s neighbors always say, “Have a good day!” as he walks to Grandma’s house. Daniel decides to ask each of them, “What makes a good day for you?” He gets answers that reflect something important about each of their lives, and illuminate the value of the little things in life that give us joy. Archer’s mixed media illustrations create a vivid depiction of a lively community, and the pictures and text come together beautifully to tell the story of Daniel’s day.

Flower Garden by Eve Bunting is now on view in Dryden at the Jim Schug Trail, which can be accessed next to the Dryden Agway. Filled with excitement, a young girl and her dad pick out flowers and potting mix at the store and bring them home on the bus to create a window box as a birthday surprise for Mom. The rhyming text bounces along cheerfully and the bright oil paintings capture the vibrancy of a flower garden, even a small one.

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Black History Month

By Molly Alexander

By Molly Alexander

It’s Black History Month! Here at Family Reading Partnership we celebrate the many courageous people who have advanced critical reforms in children’s literature in order to amplify and uplift Black stories and voices. 

Did you know that Dr. Carter G. Woodson, founder of Black History Month, led a publishing company called Associate Publishers, which during his lifetime became the most important black-owned publishing house in the United States? Dr. Woodson was determined to publish well-written children’s literature free of racial prejudice, featuring Black protagonists that truly represented Black lives and Black history. Black librarians Augusta Baker in Harlem and Charlemae Rollins in Chicago worked tirelessly to advocate for improvements in the representation of Black children in children’s literature. They developed new criteria for evaluating children’s books and pushed publishers and editors to take a more critical look at how Black children were represented in children’s books. Rudine Sims Bishop’s groundbreaking research in “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” informs us of the necessity for diverse representation in children’s literature, for all children. 

It is thanks to the legacy of the many scholars, librarians, educators, organizers, activists, authors, illustrators, and publishers who dared to push children’s literature forward that there now exists an abundance of high quality, diverse, unbiased children’s books for readers to choose from. The work toward progress is ongoing, and here at Family Reading Partnership we are committed to doing our part to increase the distribution of high quality children’s books in Tompkins County that represent Black families- not just during Black History Month, but all year round.

What children’s books are you choosing to read to honor Black History Month? If you’re searching for ideas, we recommend Diverse BookFinder and The Brown Bookshelf as excellent resources. We also recommend checking out the resources that Reading Rockets put together, including the inspiring interviews with several Black children’s book authors and illustrators.

Looking for a way to celebrate Black History Month locally as a family? We invite you to get outdoors and enjoy one of our Story Walks!

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is currently on view in Dryden, NY at the Jim Schug Trail (and can be accessed next to the Dryden Agway). The Snowy Day is a delightful story featuring Peter, a young Black boy who playfully explores his neighborhood on a snowy day. The story and beautiful collage illustrations in The Snowy Day capture the joy and wonder of a child waking up to fresh snow. This Caldecott Award-winning book was first published in 1962 and broke ground as one of the first picture books featuring a Black child as the protagonist. It has been beloved by generations and in January 2020 the New York Public Library announced that The Snowy Day was the most circulated book in its 125 year history.

Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats is currently on view in Dotson Park in Danby, NY. Whistle For Willie is a charming book that follows The Snowy Day’s Peter on a warm summer day as he tries and tries to learn how to whistle for his dog, Willie. With delightful collage illustrations and minimal text, Whistle for Willie sweetly captures the theme of persistence from a child’s point of view.

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Snuggle Up and Read!

by Katrina Morse

It’s time to get cozy. Put a little hygge in your family’s winter! The Danish word hygge, pronounced “hue-gah,” describes the safe and cozy feeling of togetherness, the kind of feeling you get when snuggled with a child sharing a heart-warming story.

So pick some favorite books to read together and find a comfy spot, maybe with some pillows and a blanket. You’re ready to create a hygge atmosphere that will comfort everyone in the family. Try some of these books about finding warmth through family, friends, and a little imagination.

“The Thing About Yetis,” by Vin Vogel. Yeti loves almost everything about winter. He likes snow, sledding, skating, hot chocolate, and making snow Yetis. But even Yeti can get tired of the cold and long for summer days. His solution is to dream about warm weather fun!

“When the Snow Falls,” by Linda Booth Sweeney, illustrated by Jana Christy. Delightful illustrations accompany the rhyming text. “When the snow falls… Saucers spin. Sleds slide. Hats fly. We ride!” From backyard to sledding hill, woods to barnyard, into town and back home again, two children and their two grandparents spend a full day enjoying the cold and beautiful snow and then return inside to get warm and cozy.

“Lost and Found” by Oliver Jeffers. When a penguin shows up on a boy’s doorstep, he isn’t quite sure what to do. Is the penguin lost? Should he help the penguin find its way home? They plan an epic adventure together to the South Pole and discover more than they expected about the warmth of friendship.

“In My Anaana’s Amoutik” by Nadia Sammurtok, illustrated by Lenny Lishchenko. An Inuit toddler describes how safe and snug he feels in his Anaana’s (mother’s) Amoutik (pouch) in the back of her furry coat. He feels warmth like the sun’s rays, softness like puffy clouds, safety like a sturdy igloo, and peace like the sound of ocean waves.

“Bear Can’t Sleep” by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman. Bear is snuggly wrapped up in a quilt in his den, while snow blows and swirls outside. He is supposed to be hibernating, but poor Bear can’t get to sleep! All the woodland animals try their own ways to help Bear nod off for winter.

“Snow Sounds: an Onomatopoeic Story” by David Johnson. Great for the littles in your life, all the words in this book are sounds – of the snow swishing, snowplows scraping, cats meowing, and the school bus coming. Beginning on an early winter morning, the outside world is blue and indigo and the inside of a house aglow with warm orange hues. Make the sounds with your child or create a story together as you look at the pictures.

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Travel by Book!

By Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Take your family on a trip into a wintery wonderland in Jan Brett’s magical children’s stories. Travel by book through her snowy landscapes that depict arctic animals in their winter white fur or in Scandinavia with mischievous trolls hiding among the snow-covered evergreens.

Brett’s illustrations are detailed watercolors that she creates after researching and sometimes visiting faraway places like Russia or Switzerland. Many of her books are reworked traditional folk tales such as “The Mitten,” “The Three Snow Bears,” and “The Gingerbread Baby.” All of her books are delightful and a feast for the eyes.

Brett began illustrating children’s books in 1978 and started writing and illustrating her own books in 1985. Brett lives just south of Boston, MA, but studies the remote locations of each of her stories so she can include authentic costumes and realistic animals and plants of the area. Each page has images of the story surrounded by a border made of artifacts and other cultural details, including cameo portraits of characters in ovals.

If your children are fascinated with “I spy” games, they will want to look at Brett’s illustrations over and over again. A little know fact is that because Brett’s favorite animal is a hedgehog, she includes a hedgehog in almost every one of her books, even if it’s not quite the right climate. Keep a lookout for the little animal as you are enjoying her stories.

Brett has more than a dozen books with winter settings and another handful specifically about Christmas. Unfortunately she has no books of other winter holidays, but does have many more retellings of classic tales such as “The Owl and the Pussycat,” “Cinderella,” and “The Hat.” She also has one story set in India, “The Tale of the Tiger Slippers,” one in Africa, “The Three Little Dassies,” and “The Umbrella,” set in Costa Rica.

Jan Brett’s latest book is entitled “Cozy.” Following the progressive story line of “The Mitten,” Cozy the Musk-Ox offers a warm and snug place to one Alaskan animal after another until there are more animals than could possibly fit under Cozy’s long, thick fur. Readers will learn about polar animals, their habitats, and behaviors as they see the fantastical story unfold. Combining realism with the magical notion that animals can talk to each other makes an endearing and memorable story.

For a listing of Jan Brett’s books, videos showing her illustration techniques, a wealth of activities, and even a card generator that uses her artwork to create cards you can print out, visit her website: www.janbrett.com.

Family Reading Partnership is a community coalition that has joined forces to promote family reading. For information visit www.familyreading.org. You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram.

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