Dawn Babb Prochovnic is the author of Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?; Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?; First Day Jitters, featured in the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud; and 16 books in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes Series, including one title that was selected as an Oregon Book Awards finalist. Dawn is a vocal advocate for school and public libraries and was honored as a 2015 Oregon Library Supporter of the Year by the Oregon Library Association. She is a frequent presenter at schools, libraries and educational conferences, and the founder of SmallTalk Learning, which provides American Sign Language and early literacy education. Dawn loves to travel and has visited thousands of potties across the Pacific Northwest and around the world. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, two kids, two cats, and a feisty dog. Learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.
Please share about your experience of connecting with books as a child. What positive memories do you have?
What a great question, Aimee. I’m now flooded with positive memories of connecting with books as a child. I always had a supply of books at home, but my earliest book-related memories are associated with my Grandma Lynn. She lived in the upstairs apartment of a commercial building that housed the hair salon she owned and operated. Her building was on a busy street without a safe outside play area, so when I visited her (which was often), I listened to music (Sonny & Cher and Donny & Marie), and I read. I still have copies of a few of my most treasured picture books from that time. Two of those books, The Best Nest and A Fly Went By were likely rattling around in my brain when I wrote my book, The Nest Where I Like to Rest.
I also have positive memories of my elementary school teachers’ daily readings of beloved books such as, Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, Charlotte’s Web, and Harriet the Spy. One summer, I actually became Harriet the Spy … I carried my spy notebook with me everywhere so I could jot down my many observations.
Fifth grade was a particularly momentous year for me in terms of reading engagement. That was the year I earned the coveted Pleasure Reading Award in Mr. Snook’s 5th grade class. Mr. Snook ran a pleasure reading contest each year; the student who read the most books during the school year won the award. That school year, I started at one end of my school library and snaked my way around the room. I do not remember how many books I read or how far I got into the library’s shelves, but I do know that I read the most books of any student that year.
Tell us about your experiences of being an adult and reading to a child or children. What are your favorite aspects of sharing good books with kids?
Reading books with kids is sincerely one of my favorite things to do. I first got the “reading to children bug” when I taught my younger sister how to read. I have a distinct memory of the evening I patiently worked with her until she “got it.” I remember the glee on her face and the excitement in her voice when, as if by magic, she suddenly understood how to sound out the letters and read the words on the page.
Fast forward to parenthood about two decades later, and some of my happiest memories involve reading to my own two children. When my daughter, now in college, was an infant, I held her on my lap and read to her for hours. I taught her how to communicate using basic American Sign Language (ASL) signs before she could communicate verbally, and I have clear memories of her vigorously signing MORE! as soon as each book ended. As she developed a stronger and stronger ASL vocabulary, she signed along with key words in the story, and she made signs that matched with the objects I’d point to in the illustrations.
Three years later, my son came along, and the three of us would sit together and read for hours. He was less gentle on books than my daughter was (I didn’t understand the purpose of board books until he came along!), but he still enjoyed reading. I started writing my first picture books when my son was an infant. My book, See the Colors, first came to me as a song. I worked out the rhymes and “verses” during tuck-in time. Each evening I would sit next to my daughter and scratch her back while I rocked my son and sang the verses of my story/song. As soon as the kids fell asleep, I would dash into the kitchen to write down whatever words/verses came to me that evening.
Shifting to group settings, I especially love reading stories that have some element of repetition and/or opportunity for participation. For example, in my story, The Big Blue Bowl, there is a repeating phrase: “Fill it up, fill it up, fill it up, I say. And my friends fill it up with me.” I absolutely love when a room full of kids (and their grown-ups!) join in on that repeating phrase as I read the book.
My college-aged daughter is currently the summer nanny for two 4 1/2 year-old twin boys. I have a soft spot for preschoolers, and these boys are no exception. This past week my daughter brought the boys to our house for a couple of hours for a visit. The last time she brought the boys for a visit was about a month ago, soon after I had received my Advanced Reader Copies for my forthcoming books, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? During that earlier visit, I read my forthcoming books to the boys. Imagine my delight when, upon their return to the house, they noticed the cover image for one of the two books sitting on the counter and called out the title by name, enthusiastically asking me to read them both books again … and again … Here’s hoping my test-market of two is a strong indication of how the books will do when they hit bookstores in the fall!
What are your thoughts on and tips for sharing good books with children?
I have three main tips: 1) Take your child’s lead; 2) Lean into pleasure reading; 3) Read during non-traditional times.
Children will tell you what they want out of a reading experience. Many kids want to read a story over and over and over again. Indulge them. Some kids like to fast-forward to their favorite parts of the book and skip the rest. That’s A-Ok. Some kids want to stop reading before the story is over. That’s okay, too. Some kids really get into “their part” in the story. Some kids really, really love when the reader uses a variety of voices. Some kids memorize the words on the page and will call you out if you miss a word. Other kids are so enraptured with the illustrations that they don’t care much about the written story and instead want to read the visual story.
If you take your child’s lead in each of these circumstances, you will naturally flow into my second tip: Lean into pleasure reading. Let kids choose the books and genres that they want to read. Let kid re-read the books they love, over and over again. Let kids read books that are “not challenging enough” or “not sophisticated/literary/honorable/etc enough.” Reading is reading is reading is reading is reading. When a child finds the experience of reading pleasurable, they will more likely become readers for life vs. seeing reading as a chore.
Speaking of chores, please resist the temptation to categorize reading as a daily “chore” or task that a child must accomplish. I understand that reading logs and assignments come from good intentions, but in my experience these tools hurt young readers more than they help them. When reading is viewed as a required chore (that is coupled with the added task of writing down what was read), reading becomes less pleasurable. What if we re-framed reading as a reward: “Yay, you! You’ve earned 15 minutes of time to yourself to read whatever book you choose!” “Oh, lucky you! How many chapters (or books) did you get to read this past week?” “Turn to your table partner and tell him/her something amazing about the book you are currently reading…” Doesn’t that sound more fun than “You are required to read for at least 15 minutes each and every day, and you must log the title, author, genre, and number of pages read for each day …”
My third and last tip is to find ways to incorporate reading into nontraditional times of the day. We often think of reading with a child as something that we do at bedtime, but bedtime can be a hard time of the day to allow your child (and yourself) the pleasure of reading for long stretches of time. What about “bathtime stories?” Or “books on tape while we’re cooking dinner” stories? Or “Storytime while we’re waiting for the school bus to come…” Think outside of the box. Bedtime stories are great, but there are other parts of the day that might be more suitable for reading with wild abandon.
Thank you, Dawn, for these great suggestions and for sharing your childhood experiences with us. I, too, loved the book The Best Nest when I was young!
Giveaway: Dawn is offering two prize options if you are the winner of the giveaway. You can choose an advanced reading copy of either Where Does a Cowgilrl Go Potty or Where Does a Pirate Go Potty OR you can opt to receive a manuscript critique from Dawn! Just comment on this post to enter.
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