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:

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

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Being Thankful

By Katrina Morse

Being grateful increases a person’s happiness. Studies have proven this to be true even in some children as young as 5 years old! Show your children from an early age to be thankful for the things you value as a family and they could grow up feeling more content and optimistic as adults.

Model for children how to say “thank you” when others are helpful or kind. Point out to them the small things that make life pleasant such as a enjoying an apple, reading a book together, seeing the sun–and then the moon, or hearing someone laugh with joy. Everyone has a different list of things they are thankful for. Maybe your bedtime routine can include you and your child each sharing one gratitude for that day.

For suggestions of what to give thanks for, these children’s books give a multitude of ideas.

“Gracias ~ Thanks” by Pat Mora, illustrated by John Parra. A bilingual book in Spanish and English, this gentle story tells of the everyday things that bring happiness to our lives. “For the cricket hiding when he serenades us to sleep, thanks!”

“Thanks a Million” by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera. What makes you thankful and how to you show your thanks? In 16 poems in different formats, the author describes how nice it is to receive thanks as well as to give it. Appropriate for early elementary aged children.

“We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga” by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac. This story takes us on a trip through the seasons in a modern village in the Cherokee Nation. Thanks are given to the plants, animals, people, and rituals for each time of year. Some Cherokee words are incorporated and pronunciations are spelled out on that page of the story. “The Cherokee people say otsaliheliga to express gratitude. It is s reminder to celebrate our blessings and reflect on struggles daily, throughout the year, and across the seasons.”

“The Thank You Letter” by Jane Cabrera. A young girl writes thank you notes to her friends for her birthday gifts, but then sees all the things she appreciates in her life and writes a long list for herself. After reading this book, your children may be inspired to write their own list. Or help with the writing if they can’t write yet, and brainstorm the many small and big things that you both are thankful for.

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Celebrate Autumn with Children’s Books

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Nature puts on her brightest colors in autumn in the northeast. With the cooler nights and shorter days, leaves lose their green chlorophyll to reveal reds, oranges, and yellows. This year because of some dry weather at the right moment in September, tree foliage is even more brilliant than usual. Autumn crops are also colorful with deep oranges and dark greens of pumpkins, gourds, and others in the squash family. And of course the beautiful reds of ripe apples are a feast for the eyes and the tummy!

There are many picture books about the fall season that will enrich your child’s understanding and appreciation of this glorious time of year. More than just color changes, autumn is full of other natural wonders and family traditions.

“We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt” by Steve Metzger, illustrated by Miki Sakamoto. Rhythmic and rhyming text tells a playful story about 3 children going on a leaf collecting adventure. Over, under, through, around, and across hills, waterfalls, and more, the children find leaves of Maple, Hickory, Birch, and Oak trees. Lots of details for young children to point out in each charming illustration.

“Awesome Autumn: All Kinds of Fall Facts and Fun” is one book in the Season Facts and Fun series with text and photographs by Bruce Goldstone. Children can learn why leaves change color in autumn, which animals hibernate, and autumn holidays to celebrate. There are even autumn craft projects to create!

“Fall Mixed Up” by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Chad Cameron. If your child is old enough to know some of the signs of fall and has a good sense of humor, this book could be very entertaining! Every single page has a color, animal, or behavior reversed. The book ends with: “Can this be fall? Close but not quite. Go back and find all the things that aren’t right.” Fun for ages 4 and up.

“Autumnblings” is a collection of short poems by Douglas Florian, illustrated with his whimsical paintings. One of 4 similar poetry books about the seasons, each collection is a rhythmic adventure in words. His poems are written with kid-centric imagery and in different poetry formats. He plays with the spellings and meanings of words–writing techniques that 1st through 5th graders will find engaging. These poems may inspire some poetry writing in your own household!

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Who is in Your Family?

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Who is in your family? Mom, dad, sister, brother? Grandma, uncle, friend, neighbor, pet? Families are made of those that we hold dear – the loved ones who share our ups and downs. Family members are there for us when we need support and help us celebrate good times, too.

Who does your child consider as part of your family? It’s a great discussion to have. These children’s books explore the many forms families can have. Find all of these books read aloud online to preview them or share with your child if you don’t have the books on hand. Better yet, get a copy of these books at the library or your local bookseller, snuggle up with your child, and learn about families.

“Families” by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly. This book of photos shows how a family can be big or small, the people similar or different-looking, and they can be living together or apart. What makes a family is that the people care about each other. The book ends with the question – What does your family look like?

“Around the Table That Grandad Built” by Melanie Heuiser Hill, illustrated by Jaime Kim. This is a cumulative story that builds up to a delicious family meal. Each member of this extended family adds something to the table that grandad built, from a vase of flowers and napkins to food from a few different cuisines. The rhythm of the text makes a fun read-aloud.

“Love Makes a Family” by Sophie Beer. This board book is illustrated with playful images in bold colors that show many types of families and the activities family members enjoy doing together. Each page included lots of images for a young child to point to and name.

“Full, Full, Full of Love” by Trish Cooke, Illustrated by Paul Howard. Young Jay Jay and his Gran spend a day together waiting for a Sunday family dinner. Hugs, kisses, and happy faces finally arrive and friends and family sit down to a home cooked meal of collard greens, rice and red beans, chicken, potatoes and ham, cobbler with raspberry sauce, and more! There’s nothing like a meal to pull family together and create time to enjoy one another.

“Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born” by Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell. A young girl asks her parents for a retelling of the often-told story of when she was born and brought home to live with her adoptive parents. The recounting of the silly times and loving moments when she was a newborn baby is a celebration of what makes a family.

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Take Your Family on a Story Walk

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Take your family on a walk—a Story Walk! Stroll down a wooded path or skip through a mown field and read pages of a children’s book as you go. Dryden, Enfield, Danby, Groton, and soon Newfield have specially marked trails with the words and pictures from children’s books posted at intervals along your way. These five Story Walks in Tompkins County are a program of Family Reading Partnership.

“Over and Under the Pond” by Kate Messner is featured on the Dryden Story Walk

Start with the book cover at the trailhead then look for the book’s first page next on the path. Read aloud as you go and enjoy the story, illustrations, and being outside with your children. What happens next in the story? Look for the next page on the trail to find out!

Walking while reading can be the perfect way to share a book with an active child and can engage a range of ages from baby to early elementary school ages.

The books for these Story Walks are chosen by librarians and community members in each area and feature local authors and illustrators when possible. Books are usually nature-themed or have content related to the community itself and are replaced with new books seasonally.

When each Story Walk is launched, the featured book is given as a gift to families who attended the event that day, with funding for books provided by United Way of Tompkins County Youth and Philanthropy, Rotary Club of Ithaca, and in Dryden in memory of Grandma Alice Garmezy by her loving family. After the launch, the Story Walk trail is opened for all to enjoy year-round for new adventures each visit.

In Dryden you can read “Over and Under the Pond” by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. The Story Walk is located on the portion of the Jim Schug Trail between Agway (Main St) and South St. In this story children will discover how plants and animals live together on the land surrounding a pond and in the pond’s water.

The Enfield Story Walk is located on the elementary school grounds, starting in the orchard, and features “Mouse’s First Fall” by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Buket Erdogan. Learn about autumn with the book’s characters Mouse and Minka as they explore leaf shapes and fall colors.

In Danby read “Over in the Meadow” by John Langstaff , illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky on their Story Walk located at Dotson Park, in the area right in front by the natural playground. Based on the traditional counting song, each page of this book has new details for young children to see and animal noises to try out.

Groton is currently featuring “Izzy’s Groton Adventure” by local authors Janet Watkins and Mona Forney, and is located on the Groton Memorial Trail section that leaves from the Groton Memorial Park, behind the pool. Because this is a new Story Walk, free copies of the book are still available for families to pick up at Brittany Station gift shop, while supplies last. Store hours and location are posted at the Story Walk.

Published in 2013, this is the first of a series of books told from the perspective of a fictional, adventurous orange cat, Izzy P. Kitty, who lives in the Groton Public Library. Readers may recognize Groton landmarks and some town residents in the book. This Story Walk is recommended for slightly older children because of the steeper trail and longer story.

Newfield will be getting their Story Walk installed later in August or September. Location and book still to be determined.

Want to get involved? Groton and Enfield Story Walks are still in need of sponsors. Volunteer liaisons are also needed for each Story Walk to walk a trail every week or two and let Family Reading Partnership know if anything needs attention. Contact Family Reading Partnership at 607-277-8602 or for more information. Follow Family Reading Partnership on Facebook and Instagram for read-aloud tips, inspiration, and activities.

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Stargazing with Children

by Katrina Morse
for Family Reading Partnership

What do your children see in the night sky? The moon, stars, and planets? A fish, a bear, or even a lion? The night sky has been a source of wonder and inspiration for people since we first looked up! Science researchers and explorers have provided us with facts about the vast universe of celestial bodies and phenomena, and they are still discovering more. And before we knew the science of the skies, people were seeing shapes in the stars and creating stories to explain the world they knew.

Plan a midnight star gazing with your children and they will never forget time spent looking at the sky when normally they would be asleep. Right now in the Northern Hemisphere you can see the Perseid Meteor Showers, which peak this year around August 11 and taper off 2 weeks later. The meteors are made of grains of dust and ice left behind by the Comet Swift-Tuttle. As the debris hits the Earth’s atmosphere it burns and creates shooting stars.

The shooting stars seem to originate around the area of the ancient Greek constellation of Perseus in our northeastern sky, and so are named after that mythical figure. Cultures across the Earth have seen many figures in the sky based on the animals, people, and life that they lived.

For a taste of the variety in constellation myths, the picture book “Star Stories from Around the World” by Anita Ganeri and illustrated by Andy Wilx tells twenty-three sky legends accompanied by beautiful artwork.

Weaving science and storytelling into one children’s book is “What We See in the Stars: An Illustrated Tour of the Night Sky” written and illustrated by Kelsey Oseid. Learn about the Northern Lights, planets, deep space, and constellation myths from other cultures.

“They Dance in the Sky: Native American Star Myths” by Ray A. Williamson, illustrated by Edgar Stewart tells about the night sky with stories from many of the native North American tribes.

“Follow the Drinking Gourd” by Jeanette Winter is a picture book recounting a song passed on by African-American slaves who used the Big Dipper constellation as a guide to travel north to escape slavery.

“50 Things to See in the Sky” by Sarah Barker, illustrated by Maria Nilsson is a non-fiction book that will give your family facts about more than just stars and planets.

“2020 Guide to the Night Sky: A Month-by Month Guide to Exploring the Skies Above North America,” by Storm Dunlop and Will Tirion can be read over time as you explore the sky each month.

Look, learn, and imagine the sky you see and how others saw the sky long ago. You’ll see the night sky in a new way, and maybe be inspired to create some personal family constellations and stories in the stars!

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Teaching Young Children about Social Justice

by Katrina Morse by Family Reading Partnership

Children are constantly sorting their world into categories of “same” and “different.” This is how they learn language and how to read. They learn different shapes, colors, and numbers. Seeing what is the same and different also helps children develop their personal identity.

Young children are looking at how they are the same and different from others by observing, not judging. Children will notice the variety of skin colors and put them into categories of being the same or different compared to themselves. Where judgment comes in is by listening and watching the people they know, the media, and our society. Young children learn from others to label the differences they observe as good or bad and so begin having biases.

You can start when your child is a pre-schooler to talk about race and racism in a way that they understand. Children recognize when something is not fair. You can explain racist events in simple terms that point out the unfairness that happened. Should people be treated differently just because of their skin color? Have conversations about the differences and similarities in people, be a good listener, and encourage your child’s curiosity.

There are many good resources available for parents and educators that give ideas and booklists supporting anti-racism work with children. Here are some you may find helpful:


About the Brown Bookshelf

Social Justice Resources

Other books you may already read with your children can be effective teaching tools even if not specifically about race and discrimination. Stories that have themes of fairness and justice can be compared to similar events in your child’s own life. When you talk about the books you read together, you’ll learn more about what your child thinks and can add your own ideas.

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