Reading To Children

We've done this topic before, but it's come up recently, so it seemed workable.

What do you read to your kids? What are your goals in reading to your kids, and how does that inform your book selection? (My goal is calming my children down since they're often crazy, and so I read to them from the phone book. Not really, but I should. If only I owned a phone book... (wow the world has changed!)).

Anyway, books. We read them. Then talk about them. Let's do that here.

67 thoughts on “Reading To Children”

  1. Read Snap by Belinda Bauer and enjoyed it so much that I subsequently read Blacklands and Rubbernecker, too. All were quite good.

    As for non-fiction, I really liked The Gulf by Jack E. Davis as it told the story of the development of the United States's portion of the Gulf of Mexico from the indigenous people through the ecological issues being confronted today.

    For children's books, the littler one will crawl all over the living room until she finds That's Not My Snowman, and will then drag it to you and climb into your lap until you read it about ten times each and every day.

    The most "advanced" book I've read with the bigger one is Freckle Juice. I picked up the original Peter Pan but it still seems a little advanced for him because I had to stop and define a word in almost every sentence. He loves books but he doesn't like phonetically reading them to/with me. Whenever he catches that in having him read parts of it, he'll get annoyed and shut down.

      1. I bought it for a quarter from the used books section of the St. Cloud public library last time I was in court there

  2. I had a pretty extensive list quite a while ago here (or even on Stick's site?), but basically I decided that if I was going to read to Runner daughter, I was going to read stuff I liked, too. Once she was old enough for it, we got into the 14 Wizard of Oz books, some basic SciFi stuff, and other young reader books, the goal being to get her excited in stories and for her to also see me enjoy reading as well (and selfish goal to influence her interests as well, which I will call successful). I eventually have to take off the training wheels and send her on her own when I started losing my voice in the middle of the Harry Potter series ("One more chapter!")

  3. I've read more to AJR (8.8 years old now) than probably all of the other kids together. Part of that is that she gets into books without pictures and that we haven't read before (my challenge in reading to LBR: she wants picture books I have read before) and the other part that by the age she was old enough to get into what I was reading, she didn't have littler siblings being born (my challenge in reading the CER and HPR). AJR also has a liking for things that might be too dark or violent than her mom might want her to read. Early chapter books I read to her included The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes, which I could at least sell as perilous.

    I've read her at least 6 of Andrew Lang's Fairy Books (for sure Crimson, Pink, Brown, Orange, Olive, Yellow, parts of Green).
    I read these as directly as I can, with the only language changes being replacing "Negro" with "Black Man" and equivalents (this came up in a lot of stories from Arabia and Persia where it seems that Subsaharan Africans were seen as a race of giants).
    In the last of the books I read (Yellow), we noticed a lot of repetition, where it seemed the stories were remixes of pieces from other stories. Never exactly the same, but with too little variation.
    I wish there were more tales from American Indians in there; those I've read have been good and show fewer similarities to the other stories.

    Getting a bit bored by the similarities, I switched to a Padraig Colum's The Children of Odin: The Book of Northern Myths, which HPR owned a copy of (but might not have ever read). We're both getting into it. Loki is AJR's favorite (I use my fox/coyote voice for him). I enjoy reading some of the tough words and sharing their spellings with AJR, "Hlidskjalf" being particularly notable. ("I'm pretty sure I've typed that before by accident!" I told her.)

  4. TLO loves books. It was one of the first signs she learned.

    She will make you read to her. Like grab your hand, drag you to the couch, pat the cushion, then climb up next to you and drop 3 or 4 books in your lap. I love it.

    If she's acting up, I'll say "Sweetie, do you want some books?" That usually gets a "ya" and a calmer kid, which is great.

    We have a fair few books that are bilingual English/Spanish. I always ask "Do you want English or Spanish first?" Sometimes it's "Pan-ih" some times its "Eng-ih" (S's are still a work in progress)

    She can count equally well to 10 (~75-80% accuracy) in both.

  5. Other things I've read lately:
    Dreyer's English by Benjamin Dreyer. I actually bought a real-world newly-published hardcover book for myself in a bookstore that wasn't about birds or fungi. So it's a style guide. Still, it's one written in a readable way and I enjoy this sort of thing. See many of my comments on linguistic arcana. Dreyer's preferences generally line up with mine, so that helps, too. Also, I partially bought it because of the other book...

    Bleeding Cinderella by CER. This is my eldest daughter's own work, a book of about 200 pages in length that's a modern setting of Cinderella set in Charleston SC, written in first-person perspective alternating by chapter. It is not publicly available and I'm not sure she'd even like me talking about it. But its really good and I'm quite proud. I printed it out at the office on half-sheets and my wife "bound" it with dental floss (after using thread kept breaking). As with any book written by a 15-year-old, it needs to be edited (see above). Some parts are too similar to other modernizations of the story and will need to be rewritten. My wife thinks that the violence and gore (!*) would make this the equivalent of an R-rated film, but I think it's safely PG-13. I hope that someday you'll all be able to read it, but I think CER is staying away from it for a bit so she can look at it again with a fresh mind. But she also sortof-broke up with her sortof-boyfriend who the male lead may be sortof-modelled upon. So she may not be interested in coming back to it. (At the same time, the female lead is not based on herself too much.)
    *This from the girl that still has to cover her face or hide during tense parts of movies.

      1. I learned from his book that "Till" is synonymous with "Until"
        I'd swear a middle-school teacher told us otherwise, that "Till" was what one did to the earth.
        And I never looked at it again. Probaly won't be able to shake the feeling that "Till" used to mean "Until" is wrong and should be "'Til".

  6. Speaking of books for children, Anne Ursu has a new middle-grade novel out today called The Lost Girl, which is on my must-read list. She wrote a wonderful essay about it, which you can read here.

    Brief excerpt:

    But, also, what about the girls? What do they hear when we treat their stories as if they don’t matter, as if they take up too much space?

    I know, because I heard it growing up, loud and clear, again and again. No one ever said it, but I heard it. I know I spent most of my life not knowing I could be angry, not even knowing how to be angry. I know I spent most of my life feeling like I wouldn’t be heard and so there was no real point in speaking up, that what I had to say didn’t really matter. And I know how much that hurts.

    1. And a question for parents of young boys: do you catch yourself steering your sons toward books by male authors or books with male protagonists? I noticed this in myself a couple years ago as the jalapeno was becoming old enough to listen to chapter books. I was making assumptions that because he's a sports-loving boy, he's be most interested in sports-loving boy characters. But two of our favorite reads from last year were The Girl Who Drew Butterflies by Joyce Sidman (a magnificent nonfiction book about Maria Merian) and Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages (historical fiction set in 1957 about a girl who wants to join a Little League team).

      I've read time and again that in elementary school adult gatekeepers assume over and over that boys won't read books with female protagonists, while the boys themselves tend to be far more open minded than adults assume they are. But if they're told again and again (whether explicitly or implicitly) that they won't be interested in stories about girls, well...

      1. tbh, I don't think we ever thought much about the gender of the authors. We looked for "classics" and then for new stuff that was interesting and fun.

        the trope that boys won't read books with female protagonists probably has some truth in it, but I think you are right. Boys, left to their own, are more open-minded than adults often assume.

        A couple of classic examples come to mind: A Wrinkle in Time, Harriet the Spy, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and the Madeline books.

        1. I'm in agreement here. We have similarly focused on classics and new fun stuff. Also, we read a lot of books with animals or similar as main characters, and, while I suppose they're gendered, I think it isn't quite the same as it is when you have human protagonists.

          What I feel like I've noticed is that, when we've had a female protagonist it isn't that the boys are less interested, it is that my daughter is more interested. That's not universal either, though. We just finished James and the Giant Peach and she was equally engaged.

          1. Maybe not quite the same, but by and large, books with animal characters have a male characters. (Winnie the Pooh, anyone?) Check out this thoughtful blog post by author/illustrator Brian Lies about swapping a character's gender in his new book Got to Get to Bear's.

            1. There's one book that has all male vehicles and it seemed silly to have the vehicles require a gender. When I was reading it daily, I would switch around the genders randomly. At first I opted for ungendered, but there's one spot where "its" and "it's" occur close together making it flow poorly. Instead, I would decide initially how to split up the five vehicles and go with that. I tried to switch around which had the majority to get it to average evenly. The sequel does use male and female so I don't change anything.

              1. TLO has a 5 Little Monkey's book. Every single monkey is "He fell off and bumped his head".

                I alternate "she/he fell off and bumped her/his head" when I read it out loud.

                  1. Our's ends with the last page saying "But nobody said anything about the couch."

                    We skip that page.

                    We actually editorialize a lot, like inserting "please"es and"thank you"s a lot

                  2. Actual thing that happened today: I was saying this poem (nursery rhyme?) to Heidegger as she jumped on her bed. Aquinas came in after the second verse and told me I needed to say "bumped her head too, not just "his" head. (He missed my first one, which was "her"). He wanted it to be equal. I was proud.

                    1. Understand is joak, but I can't resist the compulsion to respond that he actually specifically mentioned equality as his reason for being inclusive. It was a really cool moment.

              2. Perhaps referring to vehicles & implements as “she” is a regionalism? Seems like I only ever heard them gendered as “she” when I was growing up, and gendering itself was likely as not.

                I’ve appreciated Katy and the Big Snow for its portrayal of the titular snowplow — a strong, hardworking heroine who saves the city and its many (primarily male) municipal departments & civil servants (police, fire, doctor, post office, etc.). I don’t think we’ve read Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel yet, but Mary Anne is similarly diligent, strong character (though she lacks agency). Not bad for books that are 75–80 years old.

                Conversely, The Caboose Who Got Loose subtly contrasts a female caboose (cleverly named Katy!) who longs for a freer, more pastoral life, with the loutish, pampered male engine who pulls her train.

                We’ve been starting to get into more vehicle books, so I’ll be paying even closer attention.

                  1. Oh man, do I know that feeling well! The moment I remembered Miss Twiggley’s Tree, which was my favorite book at my grandmother’s house, I snapped up a copy. I was so relieved it wasn’t impossible to find.

              3. I typically change the two "Guy"s in Seuss's Oh , The Places You'll Go! to "Gal"s, as I'm usually reading it to girls:

                You're on your own. And you know what you know.
                And YOU are the [gal] who'll decide where to go.

                works OK, though "gal who'll" probably belongs in Fox in Socks, but the second time, it ruins the rhyme, but I was committed after the first change.

                With banner flip-flapping,
                once more you'll ride high!
                Ready for anything under the sky.
                Ready because you're that kind of a [gal]!


                And I change Ali Sard's pronouns in Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? to female ones, as that's how we shorten AJR's name. (Also, I pronounce "Ali" like "Alley".)

                Think they work you too hard? Think of poor ["Alley"] Sard.
                [S]he has to mow grass in [her] uncle's backyard
                and it's quick growing grass and it grows as [s]he mows it
                the faster [s]he mows it the faster [s]he grows it.
                And all that [her] stingy old uncle will pay
                for [her] shoving mower around the hay
                is piffulous pay of two dooklas a day.
                And Ali can't live on such piffulous pay!
                ...So [s]he has to paint flagpoles on Sundays in Grooz.
                How lucky you are you don't live in [her] shoes!

        2. My favorite picture book as a boy was Polly's Oats, about a mare workhorse who's neglected in favor of the farmer's show stallions: Prince, Prance, and Ponce. It didn't matter to me that Polly was female (though the Farmer and the Vet are both men).

      2. I try to steer them to the opposite. It's easy to find books by male authors and many of the classics are. When at the library, I "penalize" books written by male authors since there are so, so many of them. especially since their interests are in vehicles at the moment.

            1. Nonbinary vehicles!

              There's a new picture book about construction vehicles that uses lots of female pronouns. I will let you know as soon I remember what the heck the title is.

                  1. I say just capitalize all first letters in a title. Why distinguish? You're already changing the normal rules for a title anyway.

    2. We don't have a lot of character-based books in the rotation yet. Lots of numbers, animals, colors, things around the house books.

      She does love Curious George, who I suppose is male, though not a man.

      But in reference to your quote there, we're working a lot with TLO on how to be angry/upset. If Daddy tells her "no pretzels right now, it's almost dinner time" we're at that stage where this'll trigger a meltdown.

      I try to answer with "I know that's upsetting, to be told no. It's OK to be upset." But if she slaps something - she likes to smack the cabinets or chair, almost never a person - I say "Being upset is OK, but we don't hit. That's not an OK thing to do. We have to be upset without hitting."

    1. Hey Mags, guess what book I read tonight?!?!

      Since I don't know exactly what your question is (other than that it has something to do with character names), I'll subject you to my other thoughts about the book. I read it to my boys before bedtime, and I'll flip through it again now as I note my thoughts.

      Actual Spoiler SelectShow
      1. My question is about the naming of the characters. All of the single creatures seem like that's their name (capitalization, lack of article) "Wake up, Bear" "Fox had come to say hello", etc. While more than one animal is not their name - "beavers gnawed at trees", "the funny possum family".

        But when Little Owl is watching the fog roll in, it's "LIttle owl visited his friend the raccoon."

        Why isn't it just "Little Owl visited his friend Raccoon"?

        Also, from the weather vane it looks like the sun is rising in the West.

        1. Also, from the weather vane it looks like the sun is rising in the West.

          Does he keep on wakin' fully confused?

        2. That's got to be a mistake. Can you tell what printing you have? (Look at the string of numbers directly above the copyright info on the last page.) The library book I have is a first printing, and it says "Little Owl visited his friend the raccoon."

          Usually reprints are a chance to correct errors, not introduce them, so that's odd that your book has that error! (Or maybe you have it as a board book?)

          Very funny about the weather vane. I suppose one could argue that at sunrise, the opposite horizon does glow a bit as well, but I'm kind of grasping at straws with that one. It's funny what real-world details can get missed when making a picture book. (It can also prompt some funny conversations--in a world with talking animals, what "rules" from our world apply?)

          1. Yeah, mine says the same - "Little Owl visited his friend the raccoon."

            My question is why is it not just "Raccoon", like "Bear" or "Fox" or "Turtle" was. Seems like an odd one out.

            1. Ahhhhh, okay. Yes, it is odd that the raccoon doesn't get to be Raccoon. I'm also seeing that Bear changes to "the bear" from one spread to the next. I can't offer any real explanation for why this is.

              1. Fair enough. I wondered if there was some double-secret editorial rule for that sort of thing, but a solid ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ is also a totally cool answer. I bust that one out all the time.

                Thanks for all your thoughts on the book. So much I would never have considered.

                1. Alas, no, but I love the idea of double-secret editorial rules.

                  You're so welcome--I will take any excuse to delve into a picture book!

              2. The question is why "his friend the raccoon" vs "his friend Raccoon". Because the capitalization seems correct.
                The character's name is "Bear" and he is a bear, then "the bear" is correct, if an odd choice.
                Like a boy named "Boy"... without an article, "Boy" is his name; with an article, "the boy" is just a noun.

                1. The capitalization is correct. But the rationale behind which animals in the book get to be proper nouns (e.g. Turtle) and which are relegated to the status of "the [animal]" (e.g. the raccoon") is undeniably murky.

      2. Where did Mama come from? Why can't we see her anywhere in the art?

        She does show up on a few pages. First is with the moths, where you can see her wing and again after bear where you can see her tail.

        1. Haha, I'm going to have to look again! Still I stand by my assessment that she's a terribly negligent parent. 😂

  7. My primary goal when reading to the Poissonnière is to enjoy reading the story together. That takes all kinds of forms — using special voices, leaving out words for her to fill in when reading books she’s memorized, taking notice of little things in the illustrations (attention to detail!), and of course working on vocabulary. I figure the more we can make books something to enjoy, the more we’ll encourage reading as a central part of life. Recent favorites include Katy and the Big Snow, The Little House, Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, and Happy in Our Skin.

    There are so many mediocre, lazy children’s books out there that I try to be pretty choosy about what books we keep in the house. Books with weak plots, and especially those with cutesy, predictable, sing-songy rhyme schemes, are heavily penalized. (Stories are a timeless coding format for the brain, and language bounds the limits of our world. Limiting her fluency in either would be, to me, cruel.) It seems to be working. Earlier this week Mrs. Hayes asked her to tell us a story to buy some time at the end of supper, and we were treated to one with all the elements of dramatic structure, from exposition to dénouement. We couldn’t place any of the action or characters from anywhere else, and some things were oddly specific — the monkeys lived in the People’s Republic and ransacked a museum. We resolved to request more stories.

    Every gifting occasion includes a few books for her library, and sometimes I’ll add a book to an order simply because it bubbled up from a childhood memory or a recommendation from someone we know. I try to cast a fairly wide net when looking for new books, asking friends from different walks of life about their favorites. We’ve found many new favorites from folks who have their own children, their own grandchildren, and no children of their own, but I’ve also picked up some fondly-remembered books from childhood that, reading with an adult’s perspective, I’ve decided not to share.

    1. those with cutesy, predictable, sing-songy rhyme schemes, are heavily penalized

      Newbish loves Obi-123, which is a Star Wars counting book. The rhyme scheme in that book is a complete disaster. I've had to add and subtract so many words to hammer out some rhythm, and now that he's starting to be able to read a bit, he's looking at the pages, like "where's 'for'??" and I have to sheepishly admit that it's....not actually there.

      Now that he's starting to be able to do some proper phonetic reading, he's really excited by the fact that there are words that sounds the same, but are spelled differently and mean different things. The fact that some of these words are numbers makes him the happiest person.

      1. The rhyme scheme in that book is a complete disaster.
        Let me introduce you to A Crack in the Track (appropriately authorless), which starts and stops meters without warning.
        You build up a head of steam and get momentum, and then you're derailed. Over and over.

        And then there's the worthless story that samples from a lot of Awdry's stories without building a coherent narrative out of the bits. It's got plot holes Sir Topham Hatt could walk through.
        Now if story had been sacrificed for rhyme and rhythm, or meter scrapped for story, I might forgive it. But it's none of those.

        1. If it's the same as what we have, then my favorite part is that a frog in the road makes it impassable for the bus.

          1. Yes. That's one of the plot holes. Even though it's a ginormous toad (for the rhyme with road), there's a whole entire other lane there. Or they could wait for it to pass. Why make everyone disembark in the middle of the country (and then walk right past the said toad)?

        2. Let me introduce you to A Crack in the Track & You build up a head of steam and get momentum, and then you're derailed.

          So it's a meta book?

          1. I considered that when I was writing this, but no. If it were a book about sitting in rush-hour traffic...

    2. Missed your (correct) take on Scuffy, but Newbish does love himself some Scuffy the Tugboat. It's part of Tibor Gergely's Big Book of Bedtime Stories -- most of which are fairly delightful, but several of which are (to put it kindly) artifacts of their time ("The Happy Little Whale" ends with the protagonist being "just as happy" in its Sea World size pool and it ever was out at sea).

  8. Every year our kids' school has picked out a family book for I Love To Read Month, and they give out discussion questions and make it a big theme in the school and such. Plus they show the movie at the end of the month (so far, only books with corresponding movies). Last year was Wonder (which was great, read it.). This year it was Babe, the Gallant Pig. We're big fans of the movie Babe in our family, so this was a pretty fun read.

    Philosofette did the actual reading this time. I had just finished reading James and the Giant Peach, so I guess it was her turn. She read them Gary Paulsen's My Life In Dog Years before James. When she was working before, I was pretty much the only one who read longer books to the kids, but I think this alternating thing is a very good idea (much like in terms of exposure to different protagonists and writers, readers matter too, right?).

    1. In terms of both parents reading, it also has to be helpful in terms of showing children that different people prefer different types of books (assuming you and Philosofette don't have identical taste). I regularly tell my kids if we all liked the same stuff, life would be boring.

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