Check out kids' books for good read

2:10:07 PM CDT - Wednesday, April 05, 2006

By Shannon Littlejohn

If Dennis Kear could skip school and observe Drop Everything and Read day, what would he read?

Children's books, he said emphatically, nodding toward a colorful stack of potential material for D.E.A.R. day when it comes around this year on Wednesday, April 12.

Kear, a professor in curriculum and instruction in the College of Education, specializes in children's literacy and teaching teachers how to teach children to read.

Photo by David Dinell
Dennis Kear, a curriculum and instruction faculty member who researches children and reading, checks out the children's section at a local bookstore.
"The children's book area is so wonderful right now," he said. "It just seems like every year there are more and more great books coming out with fantastic illustrations."

Ideally, teaching a child to read should begin early with parents, Kear said, and they don't need a Top 10 list of best children's books to get started; it's tough to come up with, anyway, with all the categories.

"What I would recommend, rather than my throwing out one, two, three titles, is for parents to visit the library whether it's the school library or the public library and ask the librarian for some tips."

A targeted Internet search works well, too, in helping parents assess what's right for their child.

Liz Kennedy runs the Web site http://childrensbooks.about.com and also directs programs for Arts Partners, a Wichita school district initiative that coordinates outreach programs of arts organizations, including WSU's College of Fine Arts, to area schools.

Kennedy said other sites for book recommendations include publishersweekly.com, the Internet Public Library at http://ipl.org and  authors' sites such as http://janbrett.com. Brett, in fact, is a favorite author/illustrator of both Kennedy and Kear, who also suggests a Google search for "children's books."

Reading aloud to children is fun, Kennedy said, and helps children expand their imaginations because their ability to comprehend is bigger than their reading ability.

Kear also stresses another component to reading success.

"If you're going to get kids excited about reading, you have to be excited about reading," he said, "and you have to read."

In informal surveys, Kear asks his graduate students, "How often do you read for pleasure? How often do you read things that are different from what your work life involves?"

"That's really where you broaden your mental capacity and increase your vocabulary size," he said.

Kear's enthusiasm for reading goes back to a childhood full of books that carried over to family read-aloud time with his own children, the oldest of whom fell in love with "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" and read the whole C.S. Lewis series.

"Sometimes it's books that turn kids on; sometimes it's particular authors," said Kear.

For small children, it's usually the same book over and over again.

"Children love the repetition," said Kear, "and it's important to developing fluency and smoothness in their reading, so that they're reading in word strings, not individual words."

Letting the child talk about what's been read, stopping for questions or prompting, brings them into the story, Kear said, and the discussion itself helps build vocabulary.

Reading in patterns, he suggested, can help a struggling reader; over time as the child listens and gets the pattern, the reading will come along. Or read aloud together, Kear said. It's a strategy that a lot of teachers use because it helps children solve word problems. Or check out books on tape at the library and the book, too, so the child can read along.

Kear also urges parents to turn off the television in favor of family reading time.

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