Using children's books with adults: Family literacy

Storytent had wrapped up.  We were getting ready to write the report.  And so we embarked on a door-to-door survey with families we knew had attended.

At one house, meeting a mom we'd known for some time, we asked, "What would you miss most about the project if it wasn't here?"  She answered, "The kids not being able to get to read books.  They’re not canceling yous are they?" Dodging that question a bit, we asked, "Do you have any stories you can share?" She answered, "They don’t read their books to me, they look at the pictures and put them away."  Then she added, "I can read them to them if they’re certain books.  But I can’t read certain books."

I stuck both those answers, and what they said about her perceptions of the value of reading and her own abilities, in the back of my head.  Then, a few weeks later, I had a chance work with her directly.

The first week, before we met, I went to Coles and picked up 8 or 10 books of differing degrees of difficulty.  I targeted the "c" through "k" guided reading scale - Brown Bear Brown Bear through to Frog and Toad or Wocket in my Pocket.  I showed them to her, and asked if she thought she could read any of these books to her children.


Which ones?  Are there any here you would like to borrow?

She tried Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, but was defeated by the nonsense words: "Skit skat skoot" and so on.  There were some superhero books her kids would like, but they too had odd words she was unfamiliar with: Gotham, Metropolis, bat-a-rang.  She passed over Mortimer and tried Up, Up Down.

To her surprise, she read it aloud with no real difficulty (a few self corrections). Then, she read near-effortlessly through Make-Up Mess.  There was also a Lego brand book on firetrucks or firemen that she found easy to read.  So, she took it, along with the two Munsch, and we turned to adult reading and writing materials.

When we met on our second week, she complained, as only a successful learner can, "These books were too easy!"  (Later, she told me she had read the other books to her partner first to make sure she knew all the words.  "That way he could help me if I needed it.")

She looked through the pile, and settled on two Frog and Toad books and Brown Bear Brown Bear.  She was uncertain about Frog and Toad due to the length, but I showed her that she could think of each one as 5 separate books in one, and that seemed to please her.

On our third week meeting, she said the Frog and Toad books were "tricky" and "had some hard words."  These books are usually rated a "k" - along with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom - so that gives me a pretty good idea of where she's at.  The "c" book, Brown Bear Brown Bear posed no problems.

Looking over what we had left to pick from, she chose Mortimer, Mercer Meyer's The New Baby, and, with reservations ("I'll trrryyyy these") Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Batman and Friends.

Meantime, I'm going shopping for "h" books (e.g., Goodnight Moon), "i" books (e.g., Something From Nothing) and "j" books (e.g., Cat in the Hat, Jillian Jiggs, Owl at Home, Peter’s Chair or Where the Wild Things Are).  I'll set aside some "k" books (maybe Donald Crew's Harbour, or If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, or Madeline) which I think we have.  And also some "l" books (like George and Martha Round and Round, or The Paper Bag Princess, or Whistle for Willie).

If we don't have them, I'm sure I can find the right titles at Coles.

I'm sure I can.

But here's the thing: having the right books is awfully important for adult learners (or children) who learn to read better by reading more at the right level. That last post I did about changes to our local bookstores wasn't just a personal whine.  The availability of books matters to our work.

It is ridiculous to suppose we could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a promotional campaign to get parents to read to their kids, and then be side-lined for want of a half dozen ten-dollar books.

But, then, we seem to be living in ridiculous times.

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