Using children's books with adults: Family literacy (part 2)

Week four. She read through Something For Nothing, struggling with the many ways Joseph's mother described his clothing ("splotched" "tattered" "droop"). It really was too hard, but she chose to take it anyway. She also borrowed Mercer Meyer's I Just Forget and The Paperbag Princess. Then we turned to adult materials and her reading / writing work.

But just before we did, I asked, "Do you like this? Borrowing these books?" waving generally at the stack of titles.

"Yes," she said, as though it were obvious. "I read them to the kids."

So, why don't you just go to the library and get these books.

"No way to get there. And I don't know what I'm looking for."

What do you mean you don't know what you're looking for?

"I don't know which books are easy and which books are hard."

What do your kids think of this?

"They love it. I'm reading more to them more often."

Then she added, "It'd be nice to have something to read - something easy and not too hard in adult books." (Which was only a small reminder that I'm supposed to be writing the fourth Liz Tracy book for her to read.)

So far, so good. But these things are always precarious.


I met another young mom recently; one who was driving in from outside the city. "What are you doing here?" I asked.

"Reading," she said, in a defeated voice. "I want to work on my reading 'cause I'm not... well at it."

I said, "Stay here a minute. I'll be right back." Then I dashed across the hall and grabbed my PRACE Pageturners. I deliberately started her off with What?, a humorous level 1 reader.

"Read this - to yourself, not to me - and tell if it's too hard or too easy or just right or whatever." She read it and pronounced it too easy.

I handed her Peanuts, a slightly harder reader. Same thing. I gave her Spare Parts, a high 2, low 3 humorous story. Still easy, she said, so I gave her Bikini Sandals. That one slowed her down - she'd tell me later there were some words she didn't know - and she said, "That was kind of easy but kind of not."

I spread the four books out in front of us, and said, "Pick one of these books and tell me what it's about." She gave me a good summary of Peanuts. "Pick another," I said; and so on until she had retold them all.

"Well," I said, trying hard to appear confused, "you read these books okay, and showed that you understood them.... Why do you say you don't read very well?"

"I want to read books to my child. But sometimes I don't know the words, and then I get frustrated."

Ah. Now I knew what her goal was: family literacy. We talked a little about her child, and about reading with kids. Then I left her again, and returned with my small stack of easier-to-read board books. She took a moment with each, and then picked out three to read at home; after which we turned to work with some adult materials.

Then, her partner's work schedule changed, derailing both her transportation and her childcare.

I haven't seen her since.



Anne D said...

I had a bunch of men in an evening literacy class, and several of them wanted to be able to read stories to their kids. So we started with the Berenstain bears -- Bears in the Night, and we read it together in a bunch. Lots of repetition in the story, lots of fun reading it, a dozen men in unison. Up... Spook... HILL!

One of the few times I've used kids books with adults.

Wendell Dryden said...

Yay for Bears in the Night! I love that one, and would have used that one if we hadn't lost it (yet another example of an effective children's book which our bookstores won't stock).