I know you can relate when I say that the quality of a good children’s book should not be measured by its ability to captivate the attention of adults! How many times have you read “Good Night, Moon” or “Guess How Much I Love You?” only to hear “again, again!” as you close the book?
Children crave the repetition of simple words and familiar sounds because that’s how they acquire the language they need to interpret the world around them and communicate their experiences. Time spent reading to a child is never wasted. Present rewards are countless, and the dividends multiply well into the future.
One of the tools of measuring–as well as teaching–reading comprehension is a cloze puzzle. (Think “close the gap.”) It’s like a game. While reading aloud with a child, strategically leave out a word here or there so he or she can “fill in the blank.” The idea is to give them a chance to come up with a word that makes sense in context. It may be the precise word used in the text, if the child is familiar enough with the reading, or another that gives the story meaning.
This interaction motivates children to focus on and enjoy the story while getting practice with the sound of correct English grammar and vocabulary. Let’s face it, we don’t think about the rules of grammar before we speak, we learn to feel what sounds right, and that’s a lot to expect of a child! This is especially difficult when English isn’t spoken at home or when there’s a lack of interaction with others who are already proficient. I have used cloze puzzles in various settings within schools with students of varying ability and interest, and I believe developing this skill is worth every effort with children of all ages and circumstances.
While watching home movies the other day, I discovered that I had unknowingly practiced developmentally sound methods for teaching English language. (Many parents probably do, but the the occasional affirmation is encouraging.) I was barely able to keep the camera focused on my two-year-old daughter as she flitted around the yard happily chattering with me about her most recent favorite story “Cow’d’y C’yde,” as she called it. I had read Bill Peet’s “Cowardly Clyde” to her enough times that she had most of the story memorized. She could retell the plot with animation and discuss each character’s plight compassionately. She celebrated at the end of the story when Clyde conquered his fears. YEAH!
Then the movie switched to a scene inside the house where the same two-year-old sat quietly on my lap filling in the words I left out while reading to her from another of of Bill Peet’s books, “Cock-A-Doodle Dudley.” She was as fully invested in this story and characters as in the previous book. I realized, that I was witnessing the birth of an extensive vocabulary and an affinity for words and their use as building blocks for expressing her ideas. Using this method of interacting with my toddler came naturally out of a love for her and a love for books.
In my experience, the biggest hurdle in the acquisition of reading skills is to prevent a feeling of hopelessness while it’s still difficult. If desire and curiosity have been instilled in a child, the battle is nearly won, and they’ll have the persistence to achieve independent reading skills. In the meantime, read aloud, invite them to follow along, fill in blanks, and maintain hope and interest. Choose books together that are interesting to the child and discuss what you’ve read. Conversing about everything around you builds a foundation of understanding and connecting with what he reads. Make an effort to see that it’s a cozy, enjoyable, memorable, interactive time together. Most importantly, pick up a book now and get the summer started off right! Read! Read! Read!
You can find many good book lists for children. Even though they are grown, my kids still enjoy reading books aloud with me in the summer. We would highly recommend a few of our favorites from their early years:
- At the top of our list is Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book by the one and only Dr. Seuss (need I say more?)
- Joey Runs Away by Jack Kent (Well worth finding!)
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault
- The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward
- The Blueberry Pie Elf by Jane Thayer (I’ve spent years searching for this! It’s finally in print again! Yeah!)
- Piggies and The Napping House by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood
- Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton
- We Were Tired of Living in a House by Liesel Moak Skorpen, illustrated by Doris Burn
- The Hat, The Mitten, and The Umbrella in particular, but you can’t go wrong with anything by Jan Brett. I added The Easter Egg because it’s my most recent favorite by her. (go to Janbrett.com. You’ll love it.)
- What book list could be complete without Curious George? Any of the stories about this charming little monkey by Margaret and H.A. Rey are a hit.
- Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey made the Boston Public Garden famous. See the bronze statues of the Ducklings HERE.
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn (Especially great for the first day of Kindergarten)
- Animalia by Graeme Base is a spellbinding alphabet book to lose yourself in.
- Two By Two illustrated by Barbara Reid in her unique plasticine sculpted illustrations. You must check out her website: click right here.
- Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear; Let’s Go Home, Little Bear; and the other “Little Bear” books by Martin Wadell, illustrated by Barbara Firth.
- Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type; Giggle, Giggle, Quack; Dooby Dooby Moo; and Duck for President by Doreen Cronin
- Thank You, Mr. Falker; Thunder Cake; and Christmas Tapestry by Patricia Polacco
- Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies by Carolyn Crimi is so quotable!
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buener
- Pretty much anything by Bill Peet is a sure kid-pleaser. One of our favorites, from when I was young, was Farewell to Shady Glade (We even named our secret hideout in the lilac bushes after it.) My kids loved Jethro and Joel were a Troll. After you read his books, check out his website RIGHT HERE to be surprised how much of his creative work at Disney Studios you’re familiar with!
- Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
- The Tale of Theodore Bear by Cecile (Stith) Green, illustrated by Gene Lysaker
- If You Give a Pig a Pancake, If You Give a Moose a Muffin and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie all by Laura Numeroff
- All the Froggy books by Jonathan London (His baby sister, he goes to bed, he rides a bike, He plays in the band and all the rest.)
- Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
- Alligator Baby by Robert Munsch
- Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban (You won’t want to miss her Birthday, Baby Sister, Best Friends, Bedtime, or Bargain, either.)
- A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
- Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner
- Tacky the Penguin, Tacky and the Emperor, Tackylocks and the Three Bears, and the rest.
- All the Little Critter stories by Mercer Mayer (These will have you laughing out loud! Don’t miss a single one!)
After you’ve read all our favorites, I hope you’ll make a list of your own. And I hope it will provide you with the full spectrum of emotions–from laughing out loud to touching sweet memories–as ours did for us!