reading

Parenting a Baby Part 2: Parenting Collections @ OPL

Is your baby having trouble sleeping through the night?  Is breastfeeding not going well?  How and when do you introduce food to babies?  What are the appropriate developmental stages babies go through and when should babies go through them?  Can babies learn sign language?  And, of course, a topic close to my heart, how do you read to a baby?

Raising a baby is hard work and we are here to help.  Last month I highlighted  some of the programs we offer babies and their families.  This month, we look at some of the materials we offer.  All of Oakland's libraries have parenting books, magazines and DVDs that can help you figure out how to best care for a baby and answer any questions you might have.  In fact, we have parenting materials for all ages of children and all kinds of families.   Just go to our home page at www.oaklandlibrary.org and key in your search topic or ask a librararian for help.

Here are some of our favorite parenting books about babies.  What are some of yours?

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The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep /Harvey Karp

Feeding the Whole Family/Cynthia Lair

The Nursing Mother's Companion/Kathleen Huggins

The Read Aloud Handbook/Jim Trelease

What to Expect the First Year/ Heidi Murkoff et al.

My First Signs/Annie Kubler

Q&A: Patrons ask; librarians answer: Can picture books fix my kid’s behavior problems?

Q: Is there a Berenstain Bears book about not biting people? My daughter has been biting other kids at preschool. Her teachers say it’s getting worse! Is there a book I could read to her showing how wrong this is?

A: Yes! Your question is a profound one. Children’s authors, publishers, teachers, parents, therapists, and children themselves have been seeing books as bibliotherapy for generations. As a result, there are a variety of books both silly and profound that could help in this siNo More Biting for Billy Goattuation. How can bibliotherapy help?Among other things, kids realize...

  • It's okay to have feelings

  • It's okay to talk about it

  • Other people have faced similar problems

  • There are different solutions available

  • Kids can solve problems 

So, where to start? The easy answer is to look up your preschooler’s particular issue in our online catalog. (...type in biting – or any other behavioral issue – and limit to children's books.) If nothing comes up, we'd take a look at A to Zoo: Subject Access to Children’s Picture Books. It has picture books indexed under 1,215 subjects, including 53 different behaviors, from “animals, dislike of” to “worrying,” although, biting is not there – but we can look through the 35 books about “fighting.” A cool online resourcehas a few more titles. The Berenstain Bears books often have a clear behavioral message, and kids like to hear stories about characters they know and love. Since there isn’t one on biting, you might take a look at this one; The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Friends

Berenstain Bears & the Trouble with Friends

I am often asked for books to help a child overcome a particular problem – biting, hitting, whining, lying, stealing, teasing or bullying others, fears, sucking her thumb, screaming or throwing tantrums, etc. Practically every kid does something, sometime! So...is misbehavior a universal experience?

When I was a new parent, I read several parenting books that put forward the view that all children's negative behavior is an attempt to communicate. (Like the 3 below.) These authors proposed that when the behavior annoys, angers, scares, or hurts others, it's very likely an indication that the child has some strong or negative feelings. Therefore, the solution – to all irksome behavior – is to teach the child how to effectively communicate negative feelings & whatever caused them.

   

An adult who spends a lot of time with a child teaches this vocabulary simply by saying aloud what they observe and guess about the child's feelings – but some things just don’t come up until a moment when the parent isn't there to interpret.

Books provide extra scenarios to absorb or to discuss feelings – the characters’, your own, and your child’s – so you don't have to wait for something to surprise you. Any book that shows characters having any feelings can start a conversation. The language of feelings is complex and may take a lifetime to fully explore. Here are my favorite books on the general topic of expressing feelings, in order from those for the youngest kids (2 years) to the oldest (about 9+ years):

         

In addition, the popularity of some rather uncomfortable books illustrates how negative feelings are human and common– it really is a comfort when someone else (even a character in a book) struggles through similar feelings. Here are a few that are wonderful to read to a child. They convey that you will love her and take care of her, even when she has so-called bad feelings, and even when she makes mistakes:

     

All these books (and many others on unrelated topics) show characters feeling something and being heard – by the reader if not by the other characters in the story!

You may not need a book about a biter, a hitter, a screamer, a liar, a thief, or a tantrum thrower. Children's books, by providing a wide range of situations and responses, build the child's repertoire of familiar life experiences. Each book, on any topic, can build understanding, empathy, and self-awareness, and allow your child to witness or imagine possible responses.

 

Q&A: Patrons ask; librarians answer: Or, occasionally – Young patrons gawp; librarians guess.

Q: My child is too shy to ask questions. I want him to be confident, and to ask for what he needs. How do I get him to ask you questions himself? Graphic from the ALA; National Library Week Logo - Lives change @ your library

A: Yes, it's our job – parents, caregivers, and librarians, working together – to model the interactions that we'd like young people to conduct independently someday. Your child is learning a million tiny things by simply observing you as you conduct yourself daily. With very little conscious effort, he's learning by watching what you do.

When you bring a young person to the library, show him (you may not need to tell him) how you wait your turn, make a friendly greeting, ask a question, clarify if we're on the right track or not, and thank the staff person for the help you received.

Once your child has observed this several times, pick an unhurried day and ask him if he's ready to try it on his own. Some kids are bold and need very little prompting. Others want to know it will go smoothly before they even try. Many kids start, and then get stuck and need a little help. Eventually, we learn to speak up on our own behalf.

The interaction below is NOT ideal! Sometimes the librarian has a line of people waiting. However, I'm sharing it because it illustrates something not everyone realizes: The librarian is friendly. She or he is going to do whatever she or he can to get what information or reading material you need or want.

You can play “library” at home or in the car, and pretend/practice the question-and-answer process. Then come by and give it a try. We love talking to kids about what they're reading and helping them find information.

One afternoon at the library:

A mother and her son enter the library, and walk toward the Children's Reference Desk. They wait for the person ahead of them in line to finish, and then approach the Children's Librarian.

MOM (to Librarian): Hello! We'd like a little help.

MOM (to child): Tell the librarian what you need.

KID: No, you tell her.

MOM: No, go on. You tell her!

KID: No, no, no. I won't. You have to.

MOM: Go ahead and ask your question. Look, it's your turn now.

KID: You ask her!

Librarian: Okay, okay, I'll ask you!

(Kid is surprised & looks directly at Librarian for the first time)

Librarian: Okay, let's see...You have a question, right?

KID: (quietly) Yes.

Librarian: Let me see...Do you need something at the library?

KID: Yes.

Librarian: Okay, I'm going to guess. Is it a book?

KID: Yes!

Librarian: Okay, a book. That's good. We have lots of books. Hmm...Is this a book for your own fun, or is this for a school assignment?

KID: For school.

Librarian: Okay, for school. ...and what grade are you in?

KID: First.

Librarian: Okay, a book for a school assignment for first grade. That narrows it down....but I need more information. Are you going to tell me, or should I guess?

KID: You guess!

Librarian: Okay (rubbing my face, thinking...) ...Does this assignment have to do with the Phases of the Moon?

KID: No!

MOM: Just tell her, don't make her guess!

KID: (looking at her like she is crazy, because obviously this could be fun)

Librarian: ...Is the assignment about an Animal?

KID: No!

Librarian: Ummm...Is the assignment about...The Revolutionary War?

KID: No!

Librarian: I could really use a clue here...Do you want to tell me what you need a book about?

KID: Keep guessing!

MOM: ...but it does have something to do with history...!

Librarian: Oh, good, I needed a clue!  So, it's about history...Is the assignment about World history, or United States history?

KID: The United States!

Librarian: Great! We are really narrowing it down...Are you looking for a book about the history of a person or a place or a time period?

KID: It's a report about a place.  I Heart My Library buttons

Librarian: All right, now we're cooking! I wonder if it is about a state?

KID: Yes, it is about a state!

Librarian: All right...is it California, by any chance?

KID: No, that's my friend's state!

Librarian:  Oh, no! You are not going to make me guess every single state are you?

KID: (gleefully) Yes!!!

Librarian: ...Wait a minute, I think we are close enough already...(getting up from desk, walking past them)...Follow me! We're going to figure this out!

KID: (looks up at his mom with wide open eyes)

MOM: Let's follow her!

Librarian: Right over here...these shelves right here have all the books on the United States, one state at a time. Starting with the north-east, going to the south-east, then the mid-west, then the south, then the west...Hmmmm...Which state could it be?

MOM: I see it!!!

KID: Where?!?!

MOM: (Mom craftily plays both sides of the game...the knowing and the not-knowing side...)  What letter does it start with?

KID: It starts with a "V".

...He's looking...The adults are waiting...It doesn't take long...

KID: Here it is! I found it!

Librarian: Aha, it was Virginia! And it looks like we have more than one book.  I'm so glad you found something. Go ahead and take them all off the shelf, and open them up. We have books for different reading levels, so you'll want to pick the one that is just right for you.

MOM: (to Librarian) Thank you so much.  (to her son) Say thanks!

KID: My grandma & grandpa are in Virginia.

Librarian: You're welcome. (His look of astounded satisfaction is a sufficient expression of gratitude.)

 

I'm sure he and I will have another opportunity to practice the Q&A process. People who know how to ask librarians for help get a lot more out of their tax dollars. It's National Library Week. Practice asking your librarian a question today!

 Virginia from the OPL Catalog

Q&A Patrons ask; librarians answer. Killjoys: Judgment, Shame, & Frustration (Reluctant Readers, part 3)

Q: I'm ready for him to move on! My son has been reading Garfield books forever! (or Junie B. Jones, Captain Underpants, Rainbow Magic, Geronimo Stilton, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or endless hours of comics.) Isn't it time for him to read harder books? Old illustration of baby getting thrown out with bathwater

A: Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. While those books may seem as worthless as old bathwater; repetitive, stale, and stagnant to you, in fact re-reading or reading formulaic writing builds fluency and increases comprehension – but the baby in this metaphor is your son's fledging motivation. In your efforts to dump those stale books, make sure you're not dumping something much more valuable and significant: his sense of autonomy, confidence, and inspiration. 

How can all those positive feelings come from reading formulaic writing? Well, let me ask you: Was your son eager to get another book in the series? Did he focus on it to the exclusion of other activities? Was he so enthralled by it, he recounted the whole story to you? Did he beam at you with the next volume in his hand? Well – You can't separate his enthusiasm, focus, and spontaneous memorization from the qualities of the particular books he chooses. However, you seem to have an avid reader on your hands, so your work here may be done! He is building neural pathways that connect the activity of reading with feelings of joy. Brain research confirms that Aristotle was right when he wrote “We are what we repeatedly do.” Adult avid readers confirm that they built their own habit of reading with practically any content – pulp fiction, comics, magazines, or whatever else might have motivated them when they were young. (See this study for the science behind building positive habits.)

So, do not get all boy reading mangacontrol-freakish at this point. How you handle your frustration with his reading choices matters. Don't battle over this. If his reading choice seems too easy, too obnoxious, poorly written, or a challenge to your values, try to not judge. If you object to the content, discuss it with your child and add your own perspective and understanding. In fact, this is an excellent way to make sure he knows your values!

It won't hurt to promote the reading choices you prefer – the books you consider more quality literature, the challenging ones, the ones you learned so much from when you were his age. However, my observation and experience is that your influence is strongest when it is respectful and without shame. Shame kills motivation.

Okay, so what do I do? When you visit the library together, let him pick out anything he wants. Accept it. You can also pick out what you want him to read. You can share book trailers to turn him on to literature outside his comfort zone. (Here are some kid recommended ones, some from Washington, DC, some chosen by OPL librarians, and some from the recent 90-second Newbery film festival.)

 boy reading to his mom at bedtime

You can also wave your arms around and tell him why your favorite book is truly fantastic! That's wonderful and funny. But you must respect his process. Don't push too much.

Your child’s feelings of confidence and autonomy are more important than your pride in his accomplishments. Be patient, and you are likely to get both. Do not let your judgment (or society’s) squash his enthusiasm and kill his reading habit before he gets to what you think is the good stuff.

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