How important is it to keep your children reading this summer? What should they be reading?
Ken Setterington is a widely respected and internationally known authority on children’s books and literacy. He was named the first Children and Youth Advocate for Library Services by the Toronto Public Library and won the prestigious Toronto Arts Award for Writing and Publishing for his work with children’s literature. Most recently, he co-wrote A Guide to Canadian Children’s Books. He has published two books for children with Tundra: The Snow Queen and Wild Swans.
Setterington answered your questions in the Star's most recent online education forum.
If you have any comments on this forum or ideas for future ones, please contact the Star's education editor.
Q: Why is reading so important to children? What does research say about literacy and a child's development?
A: Reading is fundamental to a child's development. Life will be more challenging in so many ways from school, to entertainment if a child cannot read. There are many studies that show how a lack of facility in reading simply makes life more difficult for children and adults. Children who cannot read well often have a lack of self esteem.
There are also many studies that prove that the oppportunities in life are greatly diminished if one cannot read. If one thinks of a child in school who is struggling with reading - all their classes will be difficult.
Q: You are involved with a summer reading program. What is the impact of summer reading clubs? What do studies tell you about summer reading in general?
A: The TD Summer Reading Club is run in libraries in Toronto, Ontario and in many parts of Canada to help children find enjoyment in reading throughout the summer. Librarians and educators have long known that children who don't read over the summer lose some of their reading skills and start the school year disadvantaged.
Reading, like any skill, must be practiced. Studies in Canada, England and the United States all atest to the importance of summer reading. A recent study conducted across Canada, including Toronto, showed that children read more because of a summer reading club and wanted to join again. Children who join the TD summer Reading Club this year will get a terrific poster, stickers and a booklet full of activities. The theme is "Quest for Heroes" and we want children to be reading heroes this summer.
Q: Any other books/tips/ideas you have for families to keep reading this summer, and throughout the year?
A: First idea - go to your public library!
Aside from that parents need to remember that reading needs to be fun and interesting. Some ideas to consider:
* Turn the TV off
* Read out loud - even if your children can read on their own
* Make sure that Dad spends time reading out loud
* Model good reading behaviour - have everyone spend time each day.
* Use whatever interests your children - include newspapers, magazines, comics websites, as well as books
* Buy books as presents
*Visit Kids' Space on the Toronto Public Library website for a more complete list of tips.
Q: My daughter hasn't begun school yet, but I have a reading question for you. She is to start kindergarten in the fall. She's 5. I am curious as to what we should be reading to her now; she can't read on her own. Is it too young to introduce chapter books? What kind of books would you recommend for her as preparation for real school?
A: Chapter books, picture books, and also the easy-to-read books with large simple text are ideal to read with your daughter. She may not be able to read on her own, but she can get involved with the story and appreciate that books are fun. When you are reading with her, let her point out what is happening in the pictures, helping her develop her narrative skills.
If you are looking for simple chapter books, there are a number of them written by Jean Little that might appeal to her. Some children's chapter books deal with topics that are advanced for 5-year-olds, but there are many that you will enjoy reading out loud and she will enjoy hearing.
My strongest recommendation would be to encourage her to pick out picture books that she would like you to read to her (some will be read over and over again). The stories in picture books can prepare children for school and life. Some of my favourites are:
* Celia Lottridge, The Name of the Tree
* Ken Oppel, Peg and the Yeti
* James Sage, Sassy Gracie
* Marie-Louise Gay, Any Stella title
Q: I hear all the time about how boys don't like to read; and that too has been my experience. Are there any materials you can suggest for boys, seven and ten years old?
A: I think we have to be sure that we are respecting what boys are interested in. They might not be keen on picking up a novel, but they might enjoy comics or graphic novels.
In a recent study conducted across Canada, it was clear that boys like myths and legends as well as adventure, mystery and humourous books. We need to find out what the boys are interested in and then provide the materials for them. Novels may be intimidating, but there are many non-fiction books and magazines with lots of pictures and small bites of text that encourage reading. These materials are not as daunting as novels.
Visit the public library and browse through the vast non-fiction collection. The TD Summer Reading Club's theme "Quest for Heroes" was chosen because we know that boys are interested in heroes. There are lots of good legendary heroes that can be explored.
If your family is going on a family car trip, pick up a talking book. Listening to a great story on tape might encourage boys to read into a series after being introduced to the characters on tape. Try Linda Sue Park's A Single Shard or Christopher Paul Curtis's Bud, Not Buddy.
Finally, spend time reading aloud to your boys; they will enjoy it and so will you. Alan Cumyn's The Secret Life of Owen Skye will have everyone enjoying the story as will Brian Doyle's Angel Square. Children need to see their parents reading if they are going to want to spend time reading - thus let the children see the adults in the household reading.
Q: How important is it to keep children reading after school is out? Are there any tips for parents - how can you make reading a fun summer activity?
A: Like any skill, if you don't keep it up you lose proficiency. We know that children need to read over the summer if they are going to start school in the fall with the same reading ability they finished with in June.
Parents can make reading fun by reading aloud - using different voices for different parts reading together. Have your children read out jokes to you from a joke book or listen to books on tape - the public library has many of them.
Don't always read at night, but find different times of the day to share stories and books. Take children to the library and let them choose their own books. For special occasions let children buy their own books - everyone likes a new book.
Make reading a part of every day. That could be reading together on the computer, reading a recipe, reading instructions to put something together or reading an interesting story out loud from the newspaper.
Q: What books are out there for kids who have just learned to read? Any titles you prefer for beginner readers?
A: There are a large number of series are aimed directly at children who are just learning to read. They have controlled vocabularies, large print and have only a few words on every page. Series titles include "I can read," " Ready set read," "Jump into reading" and a multitude of others.
My personal favourities include the "Frog and Toad" books by Arnold Lobel and the easy-to-read books by James Marshall. Also look for simple titles by the ever-popular Dr. Suess and Canada's Jean Little. Boys often enjoy the crazy antics found in the Time Warp Trio books.
Q: My nephew, who is 7, seems to really like Geronimo Stilton. Is this appropriate for his age? What book series are there for boys or girls of that age or a bit older?
A: If he really likes the books, then he is well on his way to becoming a lifelong reader. He will no doubt soon be on his way to reading the Captain Underpants series. There are a variety of series that willl appeal to him, but he might like the challenge of something more demanding. Books like The Cricket in Times Square or Stuart Little. These books might be too hard for him to read on this own, but he will no doubt enjoy having them read to him.