TRC Read to Kids

Welcome to The Reading Connection’s blog, where you’ll find the best guidance on reading aloud to kids. Whether you are a TRC Read-Aloud volunteer, parent or student, the book themes and crafts ideas, child development guidelines and recommended websites will expand your world. For 25 years, The Reading Connection has worked to improve the lives of at-risk kids by linking the magic of reading to fun experiences that inspire a passion for learning. Visit our website at

Monday, February 18, 2013

I don't get it

The Dalai Lama walks up to a hot dog vendor and says, "Make me one with everything."

I smiled broadly when I first heard this joke in college but only because everyone around me was chuckling. Really, I didn’t get it. I had only a vague idea of who the Dalai Lama was and didn’t connect the “one with everything” with Buddhism—which I knew nothing about.

You need a frame of reference to connect to new and existing information. And that comes from the things that you are exposed to. To me, “one with everything” was a hot dog with all the fixings (including cole slaw). To a Buddhist, becoming “one with everything” (or moving past a sense of individual identity), is a spiritual goal.

Growing up in southern West Virginia, I wasn’t exposed to Buddhism through my family, culture, surroundings, or schooling, so a spiritual leader ordering a hot dog with the works was funny only because a hot dog seems far from divine and the guy ordering it is wearing a robe.

Kids naturally have limited knowledge about the world. They have had fewer experiences. But with fewer experiences to draw on, making connections and learning from what they read is challenging.

The good news is that knowledge brings more knowledge and improves thinking. And the sooner kids start to build that store of knowledge, the better. Interesting experiences, reading and sharing books are great for building knowledge. 

Start with pre-reading activities that introduce unfamiliar concepts or vocabulary. You might show photographs, bring in props or costumes, play music, or do some role playing.

When you’re ready to pick up a book to activate and expand their knowledge, try these tips:

  • Read the title, show the cover and ask kids to tell you what they think the book is about. 
  • Talk about what kind of story it is—a fable, historical fiction, tall tale, nonfiction, poetry—so listeners know what to expect
  • Give kids ideas about where to focus their attention. They will be excited when they recognize things you’ve asked them to look for or make a connection to a pre-reading activity. 
  • Talk about the author to help kids recognize how authors may bring specific themes or characters to different books.
  • Think aloud when you are reading to share your own experiences and connections to the story and encourage kids to do the same.
  • Talk about what the story is about and ask kids to tell you what it personally reminds them of.

Remember that the experiences and culture of others may be very different from your own. In order to help kids make stronger connections, you may want to build your own knowledge of the foods, historical figures, musical traditions and geography of other countries and cultures. 

Apparently the Dalai Lama himself had the same problem with a different version of the joke that an Australian reporter tried on him in 2011, “So the Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop, and says, ‘can you make me one with everything?’”

Rachael with 
Dr. Seuss' Horton
The Dalai Lama didn’t get it. He’d had no experience with pizza shops.  

Guest blog post by TRC Advisory Council member and Belle of the Book, Rachael Walker.

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