A Love of Reading Starts Between Us

This post was originally published on the Nerdy Book Club blog on February 24th 2012.  Next week my Grade 2/3 class begins reading with their Kindergarten buddies for the 2012/2013 school year and I am excited about the magic bound to happen once again!

A Love of Reading Starts Between Us

I teach at a tiny inner city school, located in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. The school is located in what some have described is the country’s poorest postal code. Looking at factors from census statistics like parents’ educational attainment and the number of families living below the poverty line, our school is described as vulnerable even amongst schools who also have inner city status.  So, like all teachers my mission is to teach children to read and hope that I can also make them passionate life long readers. But I know the statistics that link poverty to limited access to books and limited access to books to levels of school achievement. So I feel an urgency to create a community of readers in the classroom. And . . . I want that community to extend into children’s homes and futures.

We do a lot of fabulous things at my school to ensure that our children read and have access to fantastic books. What I am particularly passionate about this year is the buddy reading between my Grade 2/3 class and the K/1 class. (“Really? We’re the big buddies? Wow!” my students marveled when I revealed our buddy reading plan) We meet together Wednesday afternoons for forty minutes but my class spends time everyday making sure this weekly reading is as successful as possible.

My role is collecting books, modeling reading aloud, nurturing the joy and providing feedback. I have raided my home bookshelves for early picture books I read to my children. Beautiful alphabet books so letters can be chased all over the page, Thanks to Audrey Wood for the popular Alphabet Adventure.  I brought in lots of rhyme and repetition like Phoebe Gilman’s feisty Jillian Jiggs, Mem Fox’s Where is the Green Sheep? and all of the Five Little Monkeys books written by Eileen Christelow.

Recently I received some designated funds for my classroom book collections. I purchased board books for our buddy reading. My students will tell you that board books are great for little five year old hands and you don’t need to remind anybody to be gentle turning pages. Each morning I read a new book to my students with the intention of doing a few things. Of course, sparking excitement and interest in the new book is a priority. But I also model. “When you read to your little buddy you could ask them to guess which animal is on the next page,” I point out while sharing Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett. “Ask your little buddy to do the animal sounds with you,” I encourage as we read Alice Shertle’s Little Blue Truck. Now I have students coming to me with classroom books. “Look Ms. Gelson I could read this book to my little buddy and they could say the parts that repeat with me!” One girl found a Fairy Tale book told in rebus style. “This is a good one for little kids, you can ask them what the picture is.”  Thinking about our little buddies is hardly just a Wednesday afternoon event.

Now as I watch my students together with their little buddies, I am delighted to hear them trying out new things we’ve talked about. My eight year olds are encouraging choral reciting, asking little ones to guess, predict and turn the page to find out. There is reading, laughing, talking and much joy shared.

I have one student who won’t read to any adult who visits our class but he is a star in buddy reading. A little kindergarten girl who struggles a lot with managing her emotions in class and often needs breaks and extra supports makes a beeline for this boy every Wednesday afternoon. She sits engrossed in their book sharing for forty minutes. None of us can believe it. But of course we should. It is the magic of books doing their thing!

This boy in my class who shines as a buddy reader is reluctant to accept compliments. So I sneak them in casually but my feedback is specific. “Erich,” I say. “It is amazing to watch you read to Kayla. You involve her in the stories. You listen carefully to her questions. Reading with you is such a happy time for her.” Erich grins cautiously but his pride radiates. Now I am passing him books to take home and read to his younger siblings. “You are so great at this. It is such a wonderful thing to be able to share books.” He doesn’t tell me a lot about reading at home to his siblings but he brings the books back and he asks for more.

I know these Wednesday afternoons mean a lot to all of us. The little buddies and the big and the lucky teachers who witness it all. A love of reading starts between us and it spreads. Together my students and I are passing on the joy of reading. We are letting books work their magic. Books are the tickets to our future and we are loving every step of the journey!

Read more here about some of the board books we love for buddy reading.

New Books for Buddy Reading

Thanks to a generous donation towards books for our classroom and funds matched by Adopt a School, we have some amazing new titles to share when our Grade 2/3 s invite the K/1 class up for buddy reading once a week. It is an important time we all enjoy and now we have some wonderful new books to share together!

Hug Time by Patrick McDonnell is a tiny little book all about having a huge heart. A little kitten so filled with love decides to give the whole world a hug and sets out with friends and a Hug-To-Do-List to travel the world from pole to pole and do just that – hug every living thing he comes across. My favourite? Hugging a big blue whale!

Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett has wonderful rhyming, repetitive text perfect for sharing with our 5 year old little buddies.

Monkey and me, Monkey and me,

Monkey and me, We went to see,

We went to see some . . . .

Flip the page and who knows what you might find? Bat! Elephants! Penguins! All beautifully illustrated in classic Gravett style.

Antoinette Portis created the extremely clever Not a Box. Little Rabbit is in the first picture sitting in what looks like a box. “Why are you sitting in a box?” the text reads. Next picture, little rabbit is in a race car, “It’s not a box,” he explains. And so the book continues. The power of imagination means that a box is really anything a child can make of one. Fun to read and more fun to begin a conversation. What else could a box be?

Hello Baby is written by one of my favourite authors for young children, Mem Fox and illustrated by the incredible Steve Jenkins.

Hello, Baby! Who are you?

The book begins with this first question and goes on to ask many more, Are you a . . . ? Everything rhymes, images are striking and often surprising and at the end, you want to go back and read it all over again. Yes, our 5- 8 year olds aren’t babies but many of them are intrigued by animal babies and Fox and Jenkins have created an engaging delight in a tiny little book.

It is hard to resist the humour in Jeremy Tankard‘s Grumpy Bird. Grumpy Bird wakes up, clearly on the wrong side of his nest, too grumpy to do anything. He won’t eat, play or even fly. His grumpy march across the land looks lovely to every other animal who joins him as he trudges along snipping and quipping at everyone he meets.

“WHY DOES EVERYONE WANT TO KNOW WHAT I’M DOING?” shouted Bird.

In the end, as you might guess, Grumpy Bird has found a cure for his grumpiness and he gets to share it with his friends. Lots of fun, especially for those of us that work really hard to stay mad even when we aren’t anymore . . . .

Little Blue Truck is written by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. In this sweet little story, Litle Blue Truck shows a Big Dump Truck the power of many helping hands. I think this book will be a favourite as it is full of rhyme, repetition and animal sounds! So fun to read aloud and have a little buddy join in as they are able: Oink! Quack! Baa! Moo! Cluck! Peep! Neigh! Croak! Maa!

I absolutely adore this book by James Mayhew and now, happily have a copy for the classroom! Saber-toothed tigers. Wooly mammoths. Sleepy dinosaurs. A little boy exploring the world around him. In Boy, author James Mayhew explores a little guy’s yearning for independence while at the same time honouring his deep connections to home (and the happy snuggles from Mom and Dad). Where in the world do we find warmth? In the security and love from our own family.

How fun is this book by Edward Gibbs?! In I Spy with My Little Eye, we turn page after page of eye spy riddles – on each page, we get a clue, the name of a colour and that same colour in a perfect circle that turns into the eye of each creature.

I spy with my little eye . . . something that is gray. I have a very long trunk.

Flip the page and of course you find . . . an elephant! So much fun to look through a spy hole to discover an exciting parade of gorgeously illustrated animals in bright and beautiful colours.

Note: I purchased many of these books in board book version – to give them more lasting power and to be easily held in tiny hands. 🙂

Thanks to our generous donors and the Adopt a School fund for supporting early literacy at Seymour! We are keen to put the remaining funds into other important book purchases to share with our students.