Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. This is part 2 of our two-part episode on reading aloud to children. In part 1, we discussed the benefits of reading aloud to children with MCPL’s children’s librarians, Jane Dorfman and Lauren Martino.
In this second part of our episode, we’ll hear samples of story time readings from both of our guests. The librarians will demonstrate how to bring a story to life and discuss what made their sample stories good for reading aloud.
Our guests will also answer questions that they have heard from parents over the years about reading aloud to children.
Welcome to the podcast, Jane and Lauren.
Jane Dorfman: Thank you.
Lauren Martino: Thank you.
Alessandro Russo: So we have a special treat on today’s podcast. We’re actually going to get some samples of story time. And our first title is –
Jane Dorfman: Bark, George, which is about a mother dog and her little puppy, George. It’s by Jules Feiffer.
And one day, George’s mother said, “Bark, George.” And George went, “Meow.” “No, George,” said George's mother. “Cat’s go meow, dogs go arf. Now, bark, George.” And George went, “Quack-quack.” “No, George,” said George’s mother. “Ducks go quack-quack, dogs go arf. Now, bark, George.” And George went, “Oink.” And after he went, “Moo,” she took him to the vet.
And the vet said, “I’ll soon get to the bottom of this. Please bark, George.” And George went, “Meow.” The vet reached deep down inside of George and pulled out a cat.
“Bark again, George.” And George went, “Quack-quack.” And the vet reached deep, deep down inside of George and pulled out a duck.
“Bark again, George.” And George went, “Oink.” And the vet reached deep, deep, deep, deep down inside of George and pulled out a pig.
“Bark again, George.” And George went, “Moo.” The vet put on his longest latex glove and he reached deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep down inside of George and pulled out a cow. And in the illustration, George’s mother has fainted away.
“Bark again, George.” And George went, “Arf.” George’s mother was so thrilled. She kissed the vet, and the cat, and the duck, and the pig, and the cow. And all the way home she wanted to show George off to everyone on the street. So she said, “Bark, George.” And George went, “Hello.” And that’s the end.
I really love this book. I’ve never seen it fail on kids. The pacing is just perfect. It has very few words. Everybody knows, I mean, a preschooler knows a dog doesn’t say meow, or quack, or moo. And I think they even get the end when he says, “Hello.” And you wonder what’s in there now. And I – and it always gets a laugh and it’s the very last page of the book and the expressions on the mother dog.
So I try to convey some of the expressions. Like, she’s getting a little put out with all these animal noises. “No, George,” she’s trying to be, you know, patient. “No, George. Ducks go quack-quack. Dogs go arf. Now, bark, George.” And he continues to make animal noises.
But I think the first time the child hears this book, they have no idea that these things are all inside of George and they’re pulling them out one by one. And I don’t think they even think about, “Oh, no, a cow would never fit inside of a puppy.” And the vet is very funny and he’s very matter – you know, he puts on his longest latex glove and it’s just a great story. And I think it’s perfectly paced, very few words and great illustrations. But I think, you know, it kind of works without even seeing the pictures.
Lauren Martino: I like using Story Time just because if I have a big group of different ages it works for little kids. It’s one of the very few books that work for little kids because they can jump in with the animal noises and even the grownups enjoy it like it doesn’t matter how old the kid is, they’re going to enjoy this book.
Jane Dorfman: I think they especially like the mother passing out.
David Watts: Well, as an observer, it had a good beat. It was easy to dance to. I think from ‘87, they might, you know, go over a lot of our listeners heads but, you know, from a band stand perspective, your cadence was good and you – the way you delivered it showed –
Jane Dorfman: I have read it a lot.
David Watts: – that you understand the nuances of it.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: All right. I have a book called The Monster at the End of This Book: Staring Lovable, Furry Old Grover by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin and I like to introduce the author and the illustrator whenever I read a book because kind of – it’s part of that being aware of what a book is. Let’s see and I just I have known – I wouldn’t choose just any random book dealing with a licensed character because there are a lot – you know, they vary widely in quality. Some of them are not – don’t make such good read alouds but this one, I listened to this one when I was a kid. It stood the test of time.
So we have Grover on the parenthesis. This is a very dull page. What is on the next page? What did that say? On the first page, what did that say? Did that say there will be a Monster at the end of this book? It Did? Oh, I am so scared of Monsters!!! I’m turning the page. This is important. Shhhh Listen, I have an idea. If you do not turn any pages, we will never get to the end of this book. And that is good because there is a Monster at the end of this book. So please do not turn the page. What do think? Should I turn the page?
Jane Dorfman: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Should I turn the page? Okay. You turned the page. I’m going to turn the page again. Maybe you do not understand. You see, turning pages will bring us to the end of this book and there is a Monster at the end of this book. But this will stop you from turning pages. See? I am tying the pages together so you cannot – what do you think? Should I try it? I’m going to do it. Okay. Okay. Now, these pages are tied together so I’m going to go snap. You turned another page. You do not know what you are doing to me. Now stop turning pages. There. I, Grover, am nailing this page to the next ones so you will not be able to turn it and we will not get any closer to the Monster at the end of this book.
And this page is nailed together. You think I can do it? You think I can do it? All right. All right. All right. Do you know every time you turn another page, you not only get us closer to the monster at the end of this book but you make a terrible mess? Okay, so I’ll stop right there. But you can there’s a lot of opportunity here. It’s kind of hard to read this book without a kid present to be honest because you really want their input. You really want them egging you on. They get really into that. But, yeah, it’s very participatory. You can’t read this book without a back and forth exchange. But, yeah, and it’s also fun to ham up. You’re making it really hard to turn the pages.
Now, if you have the kid do the pages, you know, they’re just going to turn it and then you can – you know, make a big deal about how strong it is and, again, it’s fun to get the kids involved, too, doing that. Yeah, and turning pages is a skill. It’s not easy.
Jane Dorfman: As witness, both you and my book have patched up tear – torn pages.
Lauren Martino: Oh, yes. These are well-loved books.
Jane Dorfman: Library books, yeah. That’s what’s supposed to happen to them.
Lauren Martino: I think we picked good ones. Should I tell them the end of the book? The monster at the end is Grover himself, so, you know, it’s really not a – there are some kids – you know, I think the first time I read this to my daughter, she’s like, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to hear – I don’t want to see this monster either.” But once they’re in on the joke, it’s like, “Yeah, this is a fun book to read.”
Alessandro Russo: So we have a few questions from parents and caregivers. First question, what should you do if your baby is more interested in eating the book than reading it? Should you wait until they’re older to start reading?
Lauren Martino: Well, the earlier you start, the better. And, you know, it’s understandable you’re going to feel a little strange reading to a child that can’t respond to you that, you know, is barely looking at you. But it’s a really good time to start because they’re captive audience. They’re not going to move away from you. They don’t have much of a choice. And it’s okay if the baby chews on the book. I mean if it’s a library book, we’d rather them not, quite frankly, but that’s why you have books –
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, those board books will take a lot.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: They’ll take a lot.
Lauren Martino: Go from that.
Jane Dorfman: You can give them a book to hold and play with and you can read some totally different book and have them so they can see the pictures.
Lauren Martino: Oh, yeah. That’s a good one.
Jane Dorfman: And I notice that I avoided this pun. You should take it in small bites. But, yeah, read – you know, you can read a few minutes and – a bright colored picture and if they need something to hold, you know, they can have a board book to chew on.
Lauren Martino: And that’s how babies learn about the world at that point. Put everything in their mouth.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: And it’s – you know, if you find you can’t read them to them on the floor, there’s always the car seat or the bathtub or the high chair. Like there is always a point at which they, you know, can’t get away from you.
And with tiny, tiny little babies, you can almost read anything to them because really it’s just exposing them to a language of – I guess that brings up another point. I don’t know if it’s on here but, you know, people have their different personalities reading. Like I tend to be very animated and Jane tends to be a lot more low-key and subdued but there’s value in that. Like I’ve got – you know, people I trained to do story time under me and some of them are like, “I can never be as bouncy and huge and loud as you are.” Well, I’ve made babies cry, reading the way I do. So, there’s value in a lot of expression and value in more toned down, so you just work with your personality.
David Watts: What could I read to my baby or toddler that would not put me to sleep?
Lauren Martino: Well, there’s a few authors that tend to be a little bit more adult-friendly. Sandra Boynton tends to go over well with adults. I don’t know that we have the board books with these but there’s a series by Dav Pilkey called Big Dog and Little Dog. There’s always some crazy punch line at the end. I personally enjoy them. I don’t think we have the board books but we do have the easy readers that are based on the board books. So if you have a baby that’s not necessarily going to crunch up the pages, that might be a good way to go.
But with babies, it’s not even necessarily about reading exactly the text. You get into the pictures, you can talk about, you know, it’s the cat like the one we saw yesterday on the neighbor’s porch. You don’t have to limit yourself to the text if it’s boring. You can find something interesting in the book even if it’s, you know, an interesting pattern on somebody’s shirt.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, I think it is great to talk about the pictures. But there’s a whole wealth of board books. I think the parent who found this boring just needs to look a little bit more.
Lauren Martino: Ask your librarian.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, ask your librarian –
Lauren Martino: We’ll help you out.
Jane Dorfman: – for any good suggestions, yeah.
Alessandro Russo: My second grader still wants me to read to him. What about reading out loud to older kids? Does that tamper their ability to read on their own? So basically, is there an age –
Jane Dorfman: Cutoff?
Alessandro Russo: – cutoff?
Jane Dorfman: No. I think I would read to my kids. In fact, I did read to my kids as long as they would still listen. And that was way past the time when they could read for themselves. I think they like that. They like the parent involvement, you sharing a really good story with them. You know, a long chapter book that you read a little bit every night is just wonderful. It’s good for everybody. And I think it probably only helps their ability to read if they’re constantly exposed to these wonderful books.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. I tend to think of reading aloud to older kids is sort of advertising it for reading beyond the early readers because, you know, when you’re learning to read, you’re reading – you know, about Dick and Jane or whatever, the modern equivalent is – they’re not – you know, that they’re only so interesting. There’s only so much you can – they do a lot to make them interesting but it’s good to let kids know there’s something beyond that. And if they keep going through the effort, they’re going to get –
Jane Dorfman: Get to that book, yeah. I think so, too.
Lauren Martino: Exactly. And also, you’ve got the vocabulary again. Kids’ listening vocabulary is usually way ahead of what they can read. So if you’re exposing them to more words, more words, more words that they’re listening to and they’re getting what it means, then ultimately when they begin reading them, it’s going to be a whole lot easier to decode. That’s why audio books are good for kids, too. Anytime in the car, when they have to do chores, it makes life a lot more pleasant and also keeps exposing them to those good books and the vocabulary.
Alessandro Russo: I know I valued – I remember in elementary school, we had – all my teachers read us chapter books –
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmm.
Lauren Martino: Oh, yeah.
Alessandro Russo: – and I remember particularly our fifth grade teacher, he loves The Great Brain series by Fitzgerald and we couldn’t wait until he finished one book and we went for the – and he was going to say, “Oh, tomorrow we’re going to start the new Great Brain book.” And it got me, you know, to like books.
Lauren Martino: I think we’ve all got memories like that, yeah.
Alessandro Russo: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
David Watts: My child wants me to read the same book every night. How can I introduce new books to her?
Jane Dorfman: You might do a compromise. Read the same book and then read a new one. I think children find a lot of comfort especially if it’s bed time book, that repetition of the book, they know what – and no surprises, there’s nothing scary. It’s like a visit with a friend, you know. We went through that with my kids with Bread and Jam for Frances, a book I just adore but I did get a little tired of it, over and over and over. But, you know, it’s not worth fighting about. You should just read the book, same one, and slip in a new one every now and again.
Lauren Martino: Also, repetition is also is really important to the way kids learn. It’s like you’re sick to death of it. You don’t want to read it again. But your child is actually – there’s a good chance your child is getting something different out of it every time you read that. I mean even as an older kid, I remember I read books over and over and over again. Like in third, fourth, fifth grade, I would take the same book and I would get something out of it every time. It drove my mother crazy that I kept having the same book around. People made fun of me at school. But I was – I, you know, could tackle in much harder book that way and then get a grip on it.
You can also look, too, for books that are similar. If you need a break from bear stories on, you can try one of the other bear books by Karma Wilson and ask a librarian. Again, we can – we can help you find something similar, something based on something else your child is passionate about.
Alessandro Russo: My child wants me to read books to them that are not written in my first language. I’m afraid I mispronounced too many words. Is it still beneficial to read out loud to them from books written in another language?
Jane Dorfman: Mispronunciation, you know, I think it’s good for kids to see you trying hard to do something. This is – it is very hard to learn English. And you – if the parents is really working on that and reading aloud and maybe the child will even correct you if they’ve picked up, you know, English faster, it’s cool.
Lauren Martino: Kids love that.
Jane Dorfman: They love to do that.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: Well, I think just the active reading aloud and working hard at something is good. But to read aloud or tell stories in your first language I think is really also beneficial. Not only do they get exposed to another language, but, you know, they get exposed to your culture in the stories that you remember.
And the library can help you with a lot – we have books in Spanish and French and Farsi and Russian and Chinese and probably I am skipping a couple, but lots of different languages. Maybe not every branch, but if it’s in the catalogue, we can get it sent to whatever branch is convenient for you. And we have, you know, children’s books in those languages.
Lauren Martino: And we can point you to resources, too, like the International Children’s Digital Library. And if we don’t have it in the library system, we can get books from other library systems.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Lauren Martino: We go all over the country for books for people. It’s a wonderful gift to be able to teach your child a language besides the one they encounter in their environment every day. And the more you expose children the language when they’re young, no matter what language it is, the more they’re going to benefit from it. So absolutely read, tell stories in whatever language you’re comfortable in. Just keep doing it, keep doing it, keep doing it. And don’t forget, too, about wordless picture books. We’ve got a number of picture books that don’t have any words at all and you can take them and tell them in whatever language you speak, that’s the same. Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
David Watts: My preschooler chooses picture books that are much too long to read in one setting. What suggestions would you make on how I could break up the story?
Jane Dorfman: Well, I’m afraid my suggestion would be to make a longer sitting, but if your child doesn’t want to do that, you know, decorated beautiful bookmark together and say, “This is where we’re going to get to tonight and we’ll hear the rest of it tomorrow night.
I do think it’s nice to let children choose books even if it looks perfectly random when they run into the library and they just start pulling things off the shelf for home, you have to take these home and read them.
But I think it gives the child some validation that, “Oh, you picked a good book. You picked a really interesting one. And it’s really long, we’re going to read half tonight and half tomorrow night.”
Lauren Martino: We’ve got a four-book limit at bed time in my house and that’s four chapters if it’s a longer book. And some of the books we – you know, dad will read it and I’ll read it, you know. And, you know, we can start wherever we happen to be. But we end up reading it so many times that, you know, we can dip in and out. It’s good to get it linear at some point, but you can always kind of recap, oh, I remember this happened in the beginning and so this is kind of where we’re at.
Jane Dorfman: And that would be good for your child to recap too, telling –
Lauren Martino: Oh, absolutely.
Jane Dorfman: – what happened last night? What do you remember before you fell asleep or whatever.
Lauren Martino: Why is he here? How did he get here? Oh yeah.
Alessandro Russo: Are there good books to encourage my preschooler to use their imagination or to read to me?
Jane Dorfman: I think that Lauren mentioned some of the wordless picture books. We can really get the pace of those. They can think what’s happening. They can read you the pictures. So many books for preschoolers. I think they’re just imagining themselves in the book anyway or they have kind of limited real life experience and when they read about the bear hibernating or the child sailing a ship off to where the wild things are. I think almost any good book is going to help them use their imagination.
Lauren Martino: And you can also just invite your child to tell you a story and write down what they say and have an illustrator or you can illustrate it and it would be really fun to see later on what your child comes up with.
David Watts: Help us to know how we can change our read aloud style as your child grows older and you’re trying to connect. Do you read the same way to a newborn as you would to an elementary school age child?
Lauren Martino: With very small babies, again, you read it – any language is good language. You can have a conversation about the book. You’re obviously not going to get a whole lot of –
Jane Dorfman: Interaction.
Lauren Martino: Exactly. Yeah. Your interaction is going to be limited. But as the child gets a little bit older, if you pause – if I pause and say, “Should I turn the page and wait,” and you wait longer than you think you have to because that child’s going to take a while. Pretty soon, you know, even if they’re grunting in response or, you know, making any kind of noise looking at you, that’s a response.
So you’re practicing having this conversation around the book that’s teaching this back and forth needed for a conversation. It’s one of those important language skills.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: And again, toddlers, you’re going to – you can start asking them to point to things, to label things, to get them involved. You know, they’re not going to be able to answer – you can ask them, you know, what do you think he’s going to do, just to model that you should be thinking about it. They’re not going to answer you, you know, exactly how you would answer it as an older kid. But you can start asking those questions.
Preschoolers, you’re going to ask longer, more complicated questions. They’re going to comment on stuff they remember from their lives that relate to the book. And when you get to the second grader, the third grader that you’re asking, you can – what would you do in this situation, things like do you agree with what he did. You get into the really kind of deep nitty-gritty questions that are going to be asked on essays when they get in fifth grade. But, you know, in a fun sort of non-judgmental sort of environment where it’s just you and your child interacting.
Jane Dorfman: I think the pace will change, too. You do want to wait slowly to the babies and then to –
Lauren Martino: Slower than you think.
Jane Dorfman: Slower than you think.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: Because you hear sometimes people reading aloud, they’re just whipping through that book and like, you know, the child really does need a little time to consider and to let that soak in. But by the time, you know, that you’re still reading to your second and third graders, you can pretty much read as you would read to an adult.
Lauren Martino: And they can take over some of the reading, too, if they want.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, that’s – and I think you need to – one thing I think, older kids are afraid you’re going to stop reading to them when they learn to read it themselves. And I remember somebody saying that her kid won’t read aloud to her and I think that was a fear. Okay, if I show you how well I read, you’re going to not read to me anymore and I’m going to miss that. So assure them that that’s not going to happen.
Alessandro Russo: Should I only read books that are on my child’s reading level?
Lauren Martino: I don’t read books that are only on my reading level.
Jane Dorfman: No. I think you can read way beyond your child’s reading level and I think that’s part of the joy of reading aloud. It would be very tedious if they could only read beginning readers and that’s all you could read.
Lauren Martino: And at the same time, if they show – I hear it all the time, it’s like, “Oh, that’s a baby book. We’re not reading that book.” It’s like –
Jane Dorfman: Oh yeah, I hate that.
Lauren Martino: But if your child’s interested in it, there might be a reason for it or, you know, even if it’s, you know, not as complicated as you might think it would be and there’s still things in that book you can discuss –
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmm. Or parents will say, “You’re too old for those from that section.” Oh, I hate that.
Lauren Martino: Oh. I mean, there are picture books for really, like, elementary school kids and up that – they have picture books in the grownup section –
Alessandro Russo: Right.
Lauren Martino: – right, that would not be appropriate for kids. So, you know, you can’t judge a book by the genre. There’s always something in there for a child that’s interested in it.
And it may surprise you, again, with what they’re interested in. I have this memory of wanting to read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry when I was probably in second grade and that was completely inappropriate. My media specialist let me know it. They would not let me check out that book.
But if your child shows interest in it, you could always give it a shot. I mean, my three-and-a-half-year-old just glommed on to this series from the ‘30s about Betsy from like Carolyn Haywood that my mom really loved and I read them as a kid. And there’s just something in there that she was able to grasp even as a very young child. So, lower or higher, your kid surprises you.
David Watts: We like to ask all of our guests if you have a favorite book or what’s on your nightstand now.
Jane Dorfman: I have lots of favorite books. I’m re-reading a book by Ann Patchett called The Magician’s Assistant which I just love that book. It’s got a little magic – it’s an adult book. It’s got a little magic, a realism, it always carries me away. And I think I’m somewhat like kids that if I don’t have something really pressing to read, I’ll go back to these old favorites and read them again. I know exactly what happens. But it’s a comforting thing to do, yeah.
Lauren Martino: My childhood favorite is a Wrinkle in Time. My adult favorite book is called Redshirts and it’s by John Scalzi who – actually, he wrote science fiction TV. And so it’s like parody of Star Trek and yet very, very clever, witty, hilarious if you know it or if you don’t. But toward the end, there’s like this separate section kind of based on the fall out from everything else and it just – it blows your mind. It gets really thought-provoking. I love books like that, that are super entertaining and also just open up new horizons. It’ nice to know that authors can do both.
Alessandro Russo: Thank you, Jane and Lauren, for sharing your stories, experience and enthusiasm with us. Let’s remember this is part 2 of 2. If you missed part 1, make sure to check it out. There’s a lot of great content about reading aloud to children. Keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.
Also, please review and rate us on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.