Teachers and parents strive everyday to prompt conversations among children about books. Sometimes starting these conversations can be like pulling teeth. Aidan Chambers realized this and sought to create a framework for adults to engage children in reading thoughtfully and responding articulately to the books they’ve read. In his book, Tell Me: Children, Reading, and Talk, Chambers outlines steps for adults to take in sparking conversations that make children excited, not just about reading, but about talking about reading.
Chambers places equal value on reading books and talking about books. He states:
“Talking well about books is a high-value activity in itself. But talking well about books is also the best rehearsal there is for talking well about other things. So in helping children to talk about their reading, we help them to be articulate about the rest of their lives” (2).
I love that Chambers sees the act of reading in this constructive manner. Reading not only has intrinsic value in itself, but the activity can be used as a tool to enhance individualism and overall personal development. But, in order for books to have this transformative impact, the adults in a child’s life must place value on reading and engaging children in a dialogue about literature. Chambers is clear that children cannot become avid readers if they are not within an environment that supports and encourages this activity. Adults need to be available to help a child make sense of the marks on each page of a chosen book. There is a direct correlation between the richness of a child’s reading environment and the richness of the talk surrounding the books they have read.
But how do adults create such a positive environment? It starts with two words: TELL ME. Adults can prompt meaningful conversations simply by uttering these unassuming words. Chambers advocates that adults ask children to tell them about the following aspects of a book:
- Tell me what you liked
- Tell me what you didn’t like
- Tell me what puzzled you
- Tell me about patterns you noticed
These simple requests will do so much more than asking a child the most common question: Why? The Why? question can often be too big for a child to process. Chambers states that Why? can overwhelm a child because he assumes that the adult already knows the answer and is expecting something specific. Contrastingly, Tell me… frees a child from assumed expectations and allows him to generously articulate true responses.
Try using this approach while reading to your children, and see if more thoughtful and excited responses emerge in your book-talk. More posts on the specifics of the “Tell Me” approach will be coming soon!
I accidentally did something interesting at my last trip to the library. While browsing the children’s books, I selected one book each from Eric Carle and Margaret Wise Brown. Honey for a Child’s Heart advocates books by both of these authors for children under the age of one, and I wanted to expand my Bucca’s (and my own) awareness of these authors. The books I chose were The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle and My World by Margaret Wise Brown. Without immediately realizing it, I chose companions to books that are already on our shelves: Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Brown’s Goodnight Moon are the partner books.
Stella and I read each author’s books back-to-back. She was especially interested in Carle’s books as we compared the blue horses in each story. She was also very intrigued by the large and colorful illustrations of the other animals in The Artist. This was actually the first book she pointed towards as it was sitting on our coffee table. Needless to say…this is quite a special book for us now!
What companion stories have you found in literature for young children? I’d love to hear your favorites and suggestions!
Lindsay (and Bucca)
Some dear friends gave my husband and I a copy of Honey for a Child’s Heart for our co-ed baby shower when we were expecting our Bucca. This book by Gladys Hunt offers helpful advice on how parents can encourage reading and, more importantly, cultivate rich experiences for children through books. As someone interested in experiential children’s literature, this book was a welcome addition to our library.
The title of the book implies the basics that parents offer to their children: milk represents a child’s physical needs and honey represents the richness of life. While many parents are primarily concerned with providing the milk, the honey is just as important. Hunt states:
To give honey, one must love honey and have it to give. Good books are rich in honey, and hence the title of this book. (25)
While the first part of the book is interested in providing guidance to parents on how to create growth through books, the second part contains reading lists based on a child’s age. While I’m not one to segment books to children based on only their age (I believe that books – and toys for that matter – should be chosen based on the uniqueness and individual nature of the child), I am thankful for Hunt’s suggestions. The first book list is for children ages 0-3, and I hope to expose Bucca to all of the books in her first three years through frequent visits to the library. I thought I had curated quite a beginning book collection for Stella, but to my surprise, we only have three books recommended on Hunt’s 0-3 list:
- Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
I’m excited to take Bucca through this list and record her reactions and responses to the books recommended in Honey for a Child’s Heart. Hey…I’ll take any opportunity to read more books to her! More to come!
Lindsay (and Bucca)