Read-aloud

Q&A Patrons ask; librarians answer: My preschool daughter is obsessed with sparkly princess stories! Is it time to worry?

Q:  My daughter wants even more books about princesses wearing beautiful, sparkly dresses. I would like her to read books about confident girls whose sense of self is built on their capabilities, dreams, and interests. Do Photo of princess dollsyou have any like that – or any in which the princess doesn’t marry the prince? 

A: Yes, there are princess stories that feminists can embrace! The trick is to find the ones that will please your daughter as much as they will feed your long-term character goals for her.  I would point you to the article by Naomi Wolf in the New York Times on December 2, 2011:  

She wrote, "If you look closely, the princess archetype is not about passivity and decorativeness: It is about power and the recognition of the true self...” cover image of To Be A Princess

 

The view from the Children's Reference Desk is that every child is the center of their parents' universe. Every child is like a prince or princess, and each of them is discovering their own power, potential, and relevance. No matter the gender or economic class; princess means person who can do anything, with grace and ease.                              

You can use these princess books to tackle the tricky conflict between your values and the valid desires of your children. Here's how to do that:

  1. Read a variety. Read multiple versions of the same story. This teaches your children that stories are written or told differently by different people. It reminds them that they can write their own story to suit themselves. This is liberating! Ask us for the Cinderella versions by Climo, McClintock, Sanderson, and Marshall, and The Twelve Dancing Princesses versions by Ray, Mayer, & Isadora. See also various princess stories, such as The Dragon Prince by Yep, Kongi & Potgi by Han,or Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by Steptoe. There are also collections of international princess stories.
    Cover of The Dragon Prince by Yep  cover image of Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters

     Cover image of Barefoot Book of Princesses  Cover image of Don't Kiss the Frog

  2. Respect your child's choices. If she says she wants the sparkly one, don't try to talk her out of it, just read it. Expect her to also respect your choices, and so read her the books that make more sense to you as well. For a preschooler, a parent's voice and close physical contact are fundamentally important. For sparkly, see: K.Y. Craft, Ruth Sanderson, Marianna Mayer, & Jane Ray. For anti-sparkly, see The Paper Bag Princess, Bigfoot Cinderella, and Cinder Edna.

    Cover image of The Paper Bag Princess by MunschCover image of Bigfoot Cinderellacover image of Cinder Edna

  3. Discuss the stories and the illustrations. Being opinionated, even disagreeing with the author or illustrator models good reading habits. Children are amazingly able to believe in a dream world, even when they are told it's not real. Ask questions, like; Would you rather be the kind of princess who has adventures, fights battles, befriends dragons, or has tea parties? See Pirate Princess, by Bardhan-Quallen, Princess Knight by Funke, and The Princess and the Pea by Vaes for girls who embrace traits and activities traditionally associated with masculinity.

    Cover image of Pirate Princess by Bardhan Cover image of Princess Knight by Funke cover image of Vaes' version of Princess & thePea

  4. Edit the text if you find it offensive. You won't get to do this for very long – she's going to learn how to read soon! Take advantage of this window of opportunity to make cultural adjustments and updates to anything you feel is important. (Writing this post, I discovered that my 15-year-old daughter believed that one of the sisters in Jane Ray's version of the Twelve Dancing Princesses was the shoemaker pictured on the final page, because I thought they should take responsibility for mending all their dancing shoes, so I changed the story. I remember that she and her sister argued with me about this point at the time, but I didn't realize until now that I had won.)

  5. Tell your own story. Make sure to supplement the fantasy stories in fairy tales with the real-life stories of your family's struggles and those of your personal heroes. Try one book from the biography section.

    cover image of Pocahontas Princess of the New World cover image of Hatshepsut biography cover image of biography of Savitri

Children ages two to seven repeat actions to master tasks – stacking blocks, tying shoelaces, etc. Repeated reading, or remaining focused on a single topic, is similarly how they build understanding.

Your daughter may revise her sense of self many times, or settle on it early. She is exploring, and you are one of her most important guides. Your support of and attention to her interests is crucial. Right now, it's princesses. It will shift over the years, and will be influenced by all the other people in her life, and the activities you share. She probably won't be sparkly forever.

cover image of Princess Boy

By the way, all of my suggestions would remain the same if the gender pronoun were changed. Your son is not the only one with a favorite princess & a collection of sparkly dresses.

 

 

Q&A Patrons ask; librarians answer. The Dangers of Reading Aloud (Reluctant Readers, part 2)

Illustration by Richard Scarry of bunny reading newspaperQ:  You say it's okay to read aloud to my daughter even though she's 9 years old and she thinks everyone in her class is ahead of her, BUT I'm still worried that it's becoming a crutch for her to avoid learning to read on her own. Are you sure I'm not sabotaging her work or impeding her progress by continuing to read aloud to her?

A:  Yes, I'm sure. From my experience – talking to kids, parents, and teachers for the past 18 years, and reading studies on literacy, the only potential down-side of reading aloud to your daughter is that she may do worse on spelling tests. The up-sides, on the other hand, are many:

  • She can relax and enjoy the story. (Enjoying reading is crucial. See last month’s blog entry.)
  • She can do other things while listening. Sometimes the issue with late-blooming readers is they don't want to or can't sit still long enough, or hold their eyes steady long enough to get from the top of the page to the bottom. Let her do a puzzle, play with string, squeeze a rubber ball, fold laundry, brush the dog's hair. She will develop stillness in her own time.
  • She'll understand more of what's happening in the book, especially if you read in your most dramatic voice, emphasizing the emotional content and the action. Your voice amplifies the meaning behind the words. She is more likely to become absorbed in the story.

Drawing of kids doing puzzle, listening to book

  • When there's a vocabulary word she doesn't know, or the story brings up complicated issues, she can ask you any questions she has instantly.  (Of course this applies to all genders. If you have a reticent child of any gender, feel free to start the dialogue. It's okay once in a while to ask, “Do you know what this means?”...but don't ask too often – it can be insulting. Asking “What do you think?” or “What would you do?” Can be alternated with sharing your own thoughts and experiences, so it won’t feel like a pop-quiz.)
  • She could develop a habit of talking to you about complex issues or things she doesn't understand, knowing you will discuss things without judgment. Wouldn’t it be great if she continues this habit into her teenage and adult years? The part about being non-judgmental matters; all questions are good ones. 
  • As a result of hearing books read aloud to her, she’ll be better able to participate in classroom discussions. Her enthusiasm (without the trauma of forced reading) may inspire her to speak up, and she’ll be better prepared after the thoughtful discussion you've started together.  She’ll become a part of the reading community.Drawing of dad reading to kid, who imagines adventure

Okay, but…“What if my daughter’s teacher insists that she reads on her own? What if she still worries she may be teased about not managing by herself?”  Try this: Pick out any book she wants to read, read a chapter together at home, and when she takes it to school she will re-read it on her own. Reading aloud to her in a calm, relaxed environment will help her build a rich and varied vocabulary, and keep pace with her friend's reading. 

NOTE: At any age, the effort to call up memories of stories is a great way to improve reading skills.  Even if your daughter is accused of “memorizing” chunks of text to impress her teacher or classmates, appreciate her desire to participate in class! Not everyone can pull this off – give her a high-five if she can recite pieces of the story from memory.

Don't try this at home!  - Just kidding; the whole point is to try this at home. There is no danger in reading aloud to a fellow human being, of any age. Many other things can hurt them; not this.

Q&A Patrons ask; librarians answer. The Reluctant Reader

The Reluctant Reader. Part 1.

Q: My son is 8 years old and he hates reading. It's like torture to get him to sit still for the 20 minutes each day his teacher requires. I'm at my wit's end. I'm worried about him, and I know he's feeling stressed about it, too. What can I do?

sketch of a librarian ready to take notesA: It's not time to panic. I've met plenty of kids who say they don't like to read, and who avoid reading at all costs, and yet they grow up to be readers. Parents don’t always know that each person starts reading in their own good time. Statistically, this often happens sometime around or before 3rd grade, but it's not universally true that by 3rd grade everyone reads on their own. Plenty of bright children become readers later than anyone expected.

The single best predictor of whether or not a child will learn to read, read capably and with ease, and read for pleasure for the rest of his or her life is whether or not he or she enjoys reading.

“Yes, but how do I make this happen?” you ask? The two best ways you can help your child enjoy reading are:

  • Read aloud to him
  • Let him choose his own reading material

If we enjoy something, we put more energy into it, we are patient with ourselves about it, and we keep trying even if we don't succeed immediately. You are the ideal person for this job; to give your child the joy of reading. Share your enthusiasm with your son. Allow him to choose what he wants to read, and then read it to him – up until the moment when he says he wants to read it on his own.

sketch of a kid reading to her mom

As you visit the library and read aloud to him, try for a light-hearted, breezy, low-stress attitude. If your son continues to express dismay, frustration, disappointment in himself, or fear about his abilities, I would suggest that you acknowledge his feelings, and then tell him that eventually it will “click” for him. In the meantime, enjoy your time together.

Don't fear that you must read aloud to him for the rest of his life. This phase can last just long enough so he gets the strong message that reading is fun, it's important enough to you to really spend time on it, and you are enjoying this parent-child activity as much as he is. At some point, his ability to sit still, focus on the page long enough, recognize a sufficient number of words by sight, and bring various decoding skills into play without strain will all reach critical mass, and he'll embrace reading on his own. It will happen eventually.

Note: If your child is struggling with other issues like nearsightedness, dyslexia, or another condition that might need some attention, know that the signs of those kinds of constraints could be subtle, and not very different from what is perfectly, developmentally normal in all children. It doesn't change the advice here, but there may be other work involved to get him from where he is today to being an enthusiastic reader. If you observe or suspect something like this, talk to your child’s teacher or pediatrician.

“Wait!” you say? “I need a book, not advice.” Okay, I get it! When you go to the library, talk to the children's librarian. Mention that you want to find a good book to read aloud to your son, age 8, and to make sure it's a really captivating, exciting, wonderful story. So many people ask this question, that we will know how to take it from there. Try us.sketch of mom reading to kids at a table