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

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Interactive Books

There are SO many kids books available today. Books to take into the bathtub or to attach to a stroller, books with flaps, books with textures, books with multiple endings, sticker books, maze books -- the variety is mind-boggling. 

Interactive books are a great way to get kids excited about books. Whether lifting flaps, searching for clues or chiming in, these books require the reader's engagement. 

Interactive books can build skills. Touch-and-feel books build sensory awareness as kids finger soft fur, smooth balls and sticky frog's tongues. Books with flaps can help build toddler's prediction and fine motor skills. Kids who have tons of energy can pour their effort into lifting all of the flaps a book has to offer. 

Interactive books also allow kids to help "read" books well before they are able to read the words on the page. In the video below, an18-month-old helps read Where's Spot? by lifting the flaps and responding to questions.

Interactive books for babies and toddlers include the following:
  • Books with flaps, including Where's Spot? by Eric Hill,
  • Touch-and-feel books, such as the DK Touch-and-Feel series and Tails by Matthew Van Fleet,
  • Books made with interesting materials like pages of cloth or plastic,
  • Books that make noise (such as animal sounds) or play music.
  • Books with finger puppets, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar Finger Puppet Book.

Interactive books are just as important for older kids. Interactive books -- like sticker books, search-and-find books and books with optical illusions -- can be some of the few books that appeal to kids who are intimidated by a page full of text. Having fun and feeling successful with interactive books will help these kids see themselves are readers.  

For kids in the upper elementary grades, the Choose Your Own Adventure series by R. A. Montgomery is popular because it gives kids the power to determine how the story unfolds. At the end of each section of the story, readers decide between two options, each of which leads to different plot developments. The series has recently been expanded into versions for younger readers. 

Interactive books for school-aged kids include the following:

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Author Study: Roald Dahl

Best known for his wonderful characters from kids books -- Willy Wonka, Matilda, the Foxes and the BFG -- Roald Dahl was a many-faceted, multi-talented author. In addition to his books for kids, he wrote ribald and bone-chilling short stories for adults ("The Smoker") and the screenplay for the James Bond movie, "You Only Live Twice."

Dahl's writing for children draws on experiences he had growing up.  He often depicts kids encountering, and  enduring and outsmarting, badly behaved adults. Although his books have a fairy tale quality to them, Dahl never talks down to kids. His stories acknowledge the imbalance of power in the child/adult dynamic and the ridiculous situations kids face at the hands of grown-ups. He crafts his memorable characters and surprise endings in witty language and imaginative word play, making his books perfect for reading aloud.

Ask the nearest kid -- Dahl's books and characters will surely be cited as favorites. Kids love his mischievous characters, original word play and, last but not least, his "kid power" message. His books are also well known among kids because several have been made into successful movies.  ("Fantastic Mr. Fox,"  "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Matilda,"  "James and the Giant Peach" -- Hollywood has been a big Dahl fan!)  

His novels include the following:
  • James and the Giant Peach
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • The BFG
  • Matilda
  • The Witches
  • George's Marvelous Medicine
  • The Twits
Try reading a passage from one of Dahl's novels to give kids a taste of his memorable characters and invented words. 

He also wrote several shorter works, quick reads perfect for novice readers and listeners.
  • Esio Trot
  • The Enormous Crocodile
  • The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me
  • The Magic Finger
  • The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Quentin Blake illustrated most of Dahl’s books. Even Dahl's full-length novels have illustrations, but the shorter ones have illustrations on nearly every page.  For example, The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me is 79 pages long, but approximately 40 of those pages are illustrations.

Don't leave Road Dahl land without taking a look at his Revolting Rhymes. These edgy, fractured fairy tales may appeal to more sophisticated listeners who are already familiar with the original versions. (Beware: some contain PG-13 language. "Cinderella" is an example.) Read them all the way through yourself to assess appropriateness and your comfort level before you read them with kids.

Many of Dahl's stories have detailed passages about food that kids will love. His book, Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes, has recipes for many of the delightful dishes in his stories like stink bug eggs, lickable wall paper and eatable pillows. Kids will love cooking up some Dahlicious treats after hearing some of his stories.

If kids want to know about Dahl's life, they can check out his autobiographical works Boy and Going Solo. Boy explores his life up to age 20. Going Solo chronicles his experiences as young adult, including his time as a World War II pilot. They can also take a look at D Is for Dahl, a collection of biographical fun facts, arranged in alphabetical order and illustrated by Quentin Blake. 

The Roald Dahl website is chock full of information, photographs, timelines and activities, as is Quentin Blake's. A more basic fan site,, has trivia, games and a gobblefunk translator where you can translate English into the language spoken by the Big Friendly Giant.  And last but not least, here's a quiz about Roald Dahl and his books from the BBC.

Roald Dahl's books are so beautifully crafted that they are beloved by children and adults alike.  His characters, inventive language and independent, problem-solving kids make his books a pleasure to read with children. Best suited for one-on-one bedtime reading or reading aloud to a group of older kids, he's one of the most beloved children's book authors of our time.

 To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Blue-footed boobies and whingdingdillies

If you are looking for a Read-Aloud theme that is light and fun, try this one about odd and unusual animals. This theme provides an easy way to include both nonfiction and fiction selections, as well as real and imaginary animals.

One volunteer's recent trip to the Galapagos Islands provided inspiration for a team from Next Steps (New Hope Housing). Some of the animals of the Galapagos Islands exist nowhere else on earth, and some have evolved to have highly unusual features. The kids loved seeing this volunteer's photos of animals she had seen and could tell stories about -- blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas and giant tortoises. Connecting the content with real-life experience helps kids understand the information and builds excitement.

If no one on your team has taken a trip to the Galapagos Islands, the library is a great source of books on the animals of the Galapagos; an internet search on "animals of the Galapagos Islands" will also yield wonderful photos.

Or, drop the Islands angle altogether and introduce the kids to your favorite quirky animals:  platypus, emus, angler fish, sloths or geckos that can regrow their tails. The animals section of the library will give you lots of options!  

You'll find fiction treatments of silly animals just as much fun.  

William Wegman's famous Weimaraners dressed as humans are a great example of visual humor that kids can appreciate. In this video, he introduces his new book, Flo & Wendell.  

Bill Peet and Dr. Seuss are authors famed for their imaginary animals. Peet, an animator for Walt Disney, develops a story around his imaginary animals.  Seuss' animals are more likely to appear as a name and a drawing in a larger narrative.   

Book list
Flo & Wendell by William Wegman
If I Ran the Zoo and other books by Dr. Seuss
Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent, The Whingdingdilly and other books by Bill Peet
But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton
Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French
The Cow That Went Oink by Bernard Most
Animal Tails by Beth Fielding
Never Smile At a Monkey by Steve Jenkins
Creature Features by Steve Jenkins
How to Clean a Hippopotamus by Steve Jenkins

In the activity portion of the Read-Aloud, the team at Next Steps worked with the kids to make silly animal masks from paper plates. When the children were told that they were free to make the masks as crazy as they wanted, they got very creative. The volunteers cut the centers out of the plates and stapled tongue depressors (handles) ahead of time. At the Read-Aloud, the kids used colored foam, paper, cotton balls and cotton-tipped swabs to make their imaginary animal masks. It was loads of fun!

To add some movement, play silly animal "Simon Says." "Simon says waddle like a penguin. Simon says show your feet like a blue-footed boobie. Puff up like a puffer fish!" 

For a song, make up a mixed-up version of "Old MacDonald" based on the mix-ups in the book, The Cow That Went Oink. Together with the kids, make up funny combinations of animals and sounds, and then sing your song.

Don't forget to congratulate everyone on their imagination and silliness!

 To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Everyone needs diverse books

This picture says it all. #WeNeedDiverseBooks...
There is a new resource for new and up-to-date information on diversity in children's books:  in the last few weeks, a new nonprofit called We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) has incorporated and set up its website. 

We encourage you to check out the WNDB website for book lists, testimonials, and to see what the authors, illustrators, teachers and librarians supporting WNDB are saying in their campaign to increase the availability of books that feature children and families of color and with disabilities.

Because a huge majority of the children in our programs are children of color, TRC endorses the idea that more books featuring kids and families of color are needed. To help TRC volunteers find and use more of the books that are available, we've put together some easy suggestions you can use to increase the diversity in your Read-Aloud book selection. 

Increasing diversity in Read-Aloud themes

If you are planning a Thanksgiving-themed Read-Aloud for this month, check out these wonderful choices: Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell and Gracias the Thanksgiving Turkey by Joy Cowley. Feast for 10 is a simple book featuring counting and food items as an African-American family prepares for a family feast. In Gracias, a Hispanic boy raises a pet turkey and waits for his father to arrive home for the holiday. 

Instead of the usual "winter holiday" themed Read-Aloud focusing on Christmas and Hanukkah, put the emphasis on New Year's Day. In addition to American New Years traditions, Japanese New Year is also celebrated on January 1. You can further extend the theme to diverse groups by including lunar new year celebrations. Lunar new year celebrations (usually occurring in late January or February) include Chinese New Year and Vietnamese New Year.  Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin, Dragon Dance:  A Chinese New Year Lift-the Flap by Joan Holub and This Next New Year by Janet S. Wong are some great titles. 
For a Women's History Month (March) theme, increasing the diversity of women featured can be easily accomplished by looking at books by well-respected author and illustrator Jeanette Winter. Winter's picture book biographies include Wangari's Trees of Peace, a Story of Africa, (about Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, Kenyan environmentalist) and The Librarian of Basra, A True Story of Iraq. Balance these stories of far away places with Winter's biographies of American and English women, such as Jane Goodall (The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps) and Georgia O'Keefe (My Name is Georgia:  A Portrait). 

For a back-to-school Read-Aloud, consider including No English by local author Jacqueline Jules, which follows the adjustment of Diana to her seatmate, Bianca, who speaks only Spanish. Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco, is the author's  story of her own struggle with dyslexia. 

Although the following chapter books are too long for the traditional Read-Aloud, the Joey Pigza series (Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is the first book in the series) by Jack Gantos is a funny and illuminating series about Joey's life with ADHD. Wonder by R. J. Palacio, is a thoroughly enjoyable story of a boy with facial-cranial deformities and his adjustment from home-schooling to school. Keep them in mind for kids who ask for suggestions. 

It's not hard to make diversity a part of your Read-Alouds. Your fellow volunteers have put together wonderful Read-Alouds that exemplified diversity. One team conducted a Read-Aloud on the theme of dance that included a visit from a Bolivian dance group. Teams have also enjoyed implementing Read-Alouds on jazz music, a subject that children's book giant Chris Raschka has treated in several books. (Charlie Parker Played Be-Bop is just one.) Finally, one team chose Africa as a theme.  The kids loved it!  

If you find yourself stymied, the children's librarian at your local branch will be glad to help. Or contact us at the TRC office. We have lots of suggestions!

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fall crafts

Now that the weather has finally cooled off, and it feels like fall, you'll probably be moving towards fall themes at your Read-Alouds.  Fall is great for craft options -- leaves changing colors, spooky Halloween decorations, etc. Have other ideas?  Please share them in the comments section.

Celebrate the colors of fall. Cover the tables with newspaper because this can get messy. Cut leaf-like shapes out of coffee filters and let the kids color them with magic markers. Then spray the coffee filters with water to create an amazing watercolor effect. After the leaves dry, gather them to create a colorful display.

These paper pumpkins work well as hanging ornaments or room decorations. For this simple craft, you need only construction paper, staples and string.  It results in a gorgeous end product. Different size strips of orange paper stapled at the ends make the pumpkin shape.  Add a stem and leaves for the complete look.

Everyone can make his or her own fall tree with this tissue paper craft. Let the kids draw their own tree trunks or, for a fun twist, trace their hands and arms on construction paper to serve as the trunk and branches. Then provide a variety of colors of tissue paper and encourage the kids create leaves for their tree. They can glue them flat, as in this picture, or crumple them to make a 3-D effect.

An empty toilet paper roll can become a cute bat! You'll need a black bat body, which is the toilet paper roll either colored with black crayon/marker or covered with a 4" x 6" piece of black construction paper. A template for the wings can be found here. You can collect toilet paper rolls for the craft or pick them up at the TRC office. This craft could be paired with the nocturnal animals Read-Aloud or with books like Stellaluna or Bats at the Ballgame.

These paper bag owls are a hoot! Transform brown lunch bags into adorable owls. Gauge the scissor skills of the kids in your group; if they're up to it, they can cut out their own wings, ears, eyes and beaks, or they can glue on pre-cut parts. Which other animal puppets would the kids at your Read-Aloud like to make?

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fall 2014 at TRC

Fall started with a bang at TRC with a brand new Read-Aloud site and a fantastic Community Reading Festival in Maryland and our volunteer picnic in Arlington. We'll continue our active fall with a family-friendly race on October 19th.

New Read-Aloud Site
TRC's Read-Aloud is up and running at the Greentree Shelter in Bethesda, Md. Volunteer teams began reading weekly at the site run by the National Center for Children and Families on August 19. We're thrilled to be reading with the kids at Greentree and working with our new partner.

Community Reading Festival
TRC hosted a Community Reading Festival at Ivymount School in Maryland on September 13 to celebrate the opening of our newest Read-Aloud site at Greentree Shelter in Bethesda.  Librarian Susan Modak and children's authors Mary Quattlebaum and Erica S. Perl read to and interacted with kids. Participants also could do crafts, get their faces painted, have snacks and enjoy a show by magician Jack Julius. 

Erica Perl engages young readers!

Captain Q and Crabclaw Chris
  explain their pirate ways.

Volunteer Appreciation Picnic
Delegate Lopez reads the resolution
As a part of our 25th anniversary celebration, TRC wanted an event to honor volunteers. We hosted a volunteer appreciation picnic for TRC program, community and corporate volunteers at Quincy Park in Arlington on September 28. Delegate Alfonso Lopez attended the picnic an presented TRC with a resolution from the Virginia House of Delegates recognizing TRC's 25 years of service to the community. 

TRC volunteers and family members enjoy lunch and each other.

Staff members from Nando's Peri Peri
Delicious food was generously donated by Nando's Peri Peri and drinks were donated by Honest Tea.  NexGenNow Arlington provided event volunteers.

In addition to food, games and camaraderie, TRC volunteers received new t-shirts pictured below.
TRC staff (and Eileen's son) sporting the new t-shirts
at the Boeing backpack stuffing event this summer.
Race for a Cause

JOIN US! TRC is partnering again with Acumen Solutions for its sixth annual Race for a Cause 8K and 1-Mile Fun Run on Sunday, October 19, 2014, in Arlington, Va. TRC is one of 10 charities benefiting from the race, and it's up to the registrant to pick the charity his or her registration will benefit. 

The start/finish line is centrally located in Ballston and is Metro-accessible. 

Our goal is to have 500 participants in this year's race. Sign up today!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The WorldCat World

When looking for Read-Aloud titles, there’s a great big world of books from which to choose. You know what makes a great Read-Aloud book — big, colorful illustrations, memorable characters and words that dance off the page, whether whispered, bellowed, chanted or crooned. 

But how do you get your hands on the actual books?

If you are taking advantage of the suggested titles you find on this blog or in TRC’s Reading Road Maps, it shouldn’t be too difficult to locate a specific book in your local public library. That’s because The Reading Connection staff checks to make sure titles are readily available before recommending them to you!  

This is possible thanks to WorldCat, the world's largest library catalog. Developed and maintained by the nonprofit library cooperative OCLC, WorldCat’s database has more than 2 billion items available in libraries from around the world. Whether you are looking for a book, article, magazine, pamphlet, map, video game, audiobook or eBook, the chances are good that you'll find it in WorldCat — and then be able to find the nearest library that holds it.

Quickly locating a specific title nearby is handy, but there’s much more to WorldCat! You can
·       Read a book summary and reviews, including DOGObooks reviews from kids. You can write and add your own reviews, too.
·       Often, you can preview the contents of titles. This could save you a trip to library!
·       Get information about other editions and formats, which is helpful if you want to read the book in another language.
·       Find links to similar items and related subjects. This great feature can help you locate titles appropriate for specific themes. And if you are really interested a topic, it will help you find the books and other information sources that exist on the topic — not just the ones that are available in one library. There are also links to vendors if you want to buy the book.
·       Explore lists of recommended titles created by WorldCat users, including TheReadingConnection.

To take advantage of this free resource, all you need to do is visit the WorldCat website and start browsing. If you decide is useful, create a free account and a profile and you’ll be able to save searches or create your own lists.

Local public libraries that share their collection databases with WorldCat include Arlington Public Library, Alexandria Library, Fairfax County Public Library, and the Mary Riley Styles Public Library. Several local universities, as well as the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Library, also share their library catalogs through WorldCat. (If you are served by public libraries in Washington, DC, or suburban Maryland, you’ll have to rely on their individual online catalogs.)

WorldCat can point you in exciting new directions, lead you to previously unexplored resources and make your world of books bigger and better than ever. Your next great Read-Aloud book could be just a click away!

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

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Maryland program expansion

We are excited to announce a new partnership with the National Center for Children and Families (NCCF) to launch a Read-Aloud program at the Greentree Shelter in Bethesda, Md. In conjunction with our 25th anniversary, we are expanding our programming into a new jurisdiction and a new state. We’re pleased to be able to reach a new population of kids in need.

The Greentree Shelter is located in Bethesda, Md, near the National Institutes of Health and just a few minutes drive from Bethesda's central business district. The shelter has 46 beds for homeless families and serves as a transitional home for homeless families, primarily single mothers and their children. The shelter provides a wealth of support services for its clients including life and financial skills training, education and employment development and child-care services.

The Read-Aloud program at Greentree is held on Tuesdays from 7 to 8 p.m. and kicked off in mid-August, 2014. 

To celebrate our expansion, TRC will be holding a Community Reading Festival in Montgomery County on Saturday, September 13 from 2 to 4 p.m.  The festival will be held at the Ivymount School at 11614 Seven Locks Rd. in Rockville, Md.  

Guest readers, including authors Mary Quattlebaum and Erica Perl and children’s librarian Susan Modak, will share some of their favorite stories with the kids in attendance. The festival will also include crafts for kids and families to complete together, face painting and snacks. The festival is free and open to the public and is geared toward children aged 4 to 8 years old.  If you're planning on attending, please RSVP here.  Please email Stephanie Berman if you are interested in volunteering at the event.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Hello Ocean

Hello Ocean, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, translated by Yanitzia Canetti and illustrated by Mark Astrell, is one of TRC's favorites for reading aloud. The lyric language, rhyming text and rich description of a child's day at the beach engage readers and listeners of all ages. The book's lush and vibrant acrylic illustrations capture the sun, wind and water's movement and strength.

As an ode to a summer day, it is delightful, but as an exploration of the five senses, it is masterful. Ryan moves carefully through each of the senses as the young beach-goer describes her experience.  

Each of the senses is treated to several pages of evocative text and beautiful illustrations, and a concluding section repeats each of the senses, anticipating a return trip to the beach in the future.

The author emphasizes words relating to each sense by using bold font, and includes different forms of the verb for each (see/looks, hear/sounds, touch/feels, smell/smells, taste/tastes), ensuring that kids notice the sense being showcased. You might think that with this framework the language would sound stilted, but it doesn't.  The story and rhyme flow beautifully. 

This aspect of the story, along with rhyme and repetitive structure, helps the reader engage the listeners and builds anticipation about what the girl will experience next. Available in a Spanish/English bilingual format, the book makes this beach trip widely accessible.

When you read Hello Ocean aloud, encourage kids to point to their eyes, ears, hands, noses and mouths as the story works its way through the senses. Ask the kids to brainstorm more words describing the wind, sun, sand, salt water and all things beachy.

Many kids TRC serves may have never been to the beach. You can provide an actual sensory experience by bringing sand and shells to look at and touch (TRC has some in the office for your use), salt water and seaweed for the kids to taste, sunscreen to smell and audio recordings of ocean sound for kids to listen to. Round out the experience with towels and beach balls to play with, or set up a deep sea fishing expedition like this one at a Read-Aloud. 

Whether you are reading books about beaches and oceans, summer adventure or the five senses, Hello Ocean will be a hit with the kids.

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Babies need books — and not just for chewing!

It all begins when you read to your baby.

No baby is too young to benefit from being read to! Faced with a newborn, concepts such as vocabulary and a love of books may seem remote, but even the youngest baby will often calm and seem attentive when she hears the sound of familiar voices reading in a gentle cadence. Studies show that babies in utero calm when the mother slows down and reads aloud to her baby.  

When read to, babies hear and learn words and also build an early interest in books and enjoyment of reading. Reading to babies provides them with the interaction and experience they need to learn about both the sounds that form words and spoken language in general. Numerous studies confirm that reading to infants not only encourages speech and language development, but can also boost overall brainpower.   
Physicians and researchers have known about the value of this experience for decades. The pediatric literacy program Reach Out and Read has been prescribing books and reading to low-income families for more than 20 years. Now, all pediatricians are on board with this practice!

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently announced a new policy recommending that doctors “promote early literacy development as an important evidence-based intervention at health supervision visits for children beginning in infancy and continuing at least until the age of school entry.”

In other words, during well-child visits, medical professionals with training in early literacy development will give parents concrete and age-appropriate advice about books and reading, and prescribe a regular reading schedule at home.  

Here are some favorite titles to help fill that prescription:

Babies love faces! The Baby Faces series of board books by Cartwheel Books (Scholastic) offers titles filled with faces of adorable babies sleeping, eating and smiling. Read the brief rhyming text (available in English or Spanish) or make up your own stories about what these captivating babies are doing. The expressions you make as you share these board books will help your baby learn to communicate.

As babies get older, they will want to handle books beyond putting them in their mouths. Look for titles with tactile appeal and lift-the-flap action like Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt (Random House Children's Books) or Where is Maisy? (A Lift-the-Flap Book) by Lucy Cousins (Candlewick Press).

Books that rhyme and play with words and sounds will entertain and engage both parent and child. Have some silly reading fun with Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) or Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss (Random House Children’s Books).

Just as important as reading is talking and singing with your baby. Like reading, sharing conversation and songs help to increase the number of words kids hear during their earliest years — and helps build social and communication skills. If you’re not sure how to keep conversations going with your infant, brush up on Mother Goose or your favorite show tunes and watch just how much your baby enjoys the attention and the sound of your voice.

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

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.