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, February 24, 2015

The Amazing World of Children's Nonfiction

What do kids love to read, is abundantly available, feeds reading motivation and strengthens comprehension, all at once?  Nonfiction books. Kids love nonfiction and they benefit from reading it, and yet one study shows that first-grade teachers allotted only 3.66 minutes per day for reading nonfiction in the classroom.


Why read nonfiction with kids?
Kids are curious. They are hungry to learn facts about subjects that interest them (think dinosaurs, for example). In a recent survey by Scholastic, when asked what kinds of books they want, 43 percent of kids ages 6 to 17 said they want books that will teach them something new. Kids are asking for nonfiction! The great news is that half of the library is nonfiction. There are so many topics and formats to interest kids, literally something for everyone!

We can also see physiological evidence that kids like nonfiction. Brain scans show that the medial ventral orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with rewards, lights up when readers “get it." This is in addition to the part of the brain that reacts to pleasure, which also reacts when a kid enjoys a nonfiction book.
medial ventral orbitofrontal cortex

Reading nonfiction builds vocabulary and background knowledge, which play a critical role in reading comprehension. This is important for all kids, but for kids who are learning to speak English, exposure to nonfiction books is one of the best ways to build their vocabulary and background knowledge.

Background knowledge is like learning Velcro: it helps kids catch and connect what they know with what they are learning and also helps them retain new ideas. Sometimes it is hard for kids to build their background knowledge or hard for them to use it, so they need lots of practice. Reading nonfiction can provide that opportunity.

Reading nonfiction also helps kids learn complex sentence structure. In addition, it exposes them to academic language such as "compare and contrast" and "analyze," which they need for test taking. Those words almost never occur in fiction.

What qualities should you look for when choosing nonfiction to share with kids?
When looking through nonfiction books on your chosen topic, look for books that are engaging, accessible, multi-layered and accurate.

Engaging: having high-quality writing, illustration, design and content, and featuring topics that interest kids

Accessible and age-appropriate: gather multiple texts on the same topic to provide varying degrees of difficulty and different points of view

One word and bold pictures
for babies and toddlers
Large font, simple text
and experiments
for preK-2nd grade

More information, headings,
and graphics for 2nd-5th grade


Small font, lots of text, complex
explanations and experiments
for 4th grade and up

Multi-layered:  containing layers of information with degrees of difficulty, so you can learn from a quick first reading but also gain more knowledge by re-reading and digging deeper

From Steve Jenkins' Biggest, Strongest, Fastest
Here is an example of a book that provides information in layers.  You can read the large text on each page quickly with a young child.  You can read smaller text and explore illustrations with an older child. You can also dig deep into appendices and charts provided at the end of the book.

Accurate: Look through books for obvious inaccuracies before sharing them with kids and point out inaccuracies or discrepancies if you find some when reading with kids. Science and countries' borders change quickly these days.

Some of TRC's favorite nonfiction authors include the following:

Byron Barton, Nic Bishop, Lois Ehlert, Steve Jenkins, Gail Gibbons, Anne Rockwell, Seymour Simon and Joan Sweeney.

Favorite Series:

Books in the Let's Read and Find Out series, some of which are pictured above.           


DK has made nonfiction books its niche.  They publish nonfiction board books, early readers and formats for older readers. Some of their series are Eye Know, Eye Wonder, See How They Grow, Watch Me Grow, and Eye Witness.

Books in the Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen

Magic Tree House Research Guides by Mary Pope Osborne

Scientists in the Field series

Books published by National Geographic Kids, including board books, early readers, picture books and almanacs.

The children's librarians at your library can provide excellent guidance and suggestions if you are looking for nonfiction for a certain age range of kids or on a specific topic. From history to science, math, music, art and biography, there's a kids' book out there to feed your young readers' curiosity.

In our next blog post we'll explore the best ways to share nonfiction with kids.

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The power of choice

Book choice is part of every Read-Aloud. Choosing a book isn’t the icing on the cake, it’s an important layer of the cake itself! Empowering kids to choose the books they want to read is important to their literacy development and reading motivation.

We know helping kids choose books can be challenging for Read-Aloud volunteers, especially if kids are shy or you don't know them well. There’s a fine line between providing support and guidance and making the choice for the reader. If two kids want the same book, of the remaining books, what's a good substitute?  

Know your customer. 
The publisher Scholastic surveyed kids and found that 70 percent of kids said they wanted books that made them laugh. Check out the graphic to see the other categories kids say they're most interested in.  

Get to know the kids at your Read-Aloud (or in your life). Find out what interests them. Ask them questions about their likes and dislikes. Pay attention to how they react to various books and topics you present. It helps to have a sense of their age, grade at school and reading level, but don't let these factors  prevent a kid from choosing a book outside her “range.” 

Know your stock.
Be familiar with what is available in the give-away bin (or the bookstore or library, whichever is appropriate). As you set out the selection of books, take time to keep your eye out for authors, illustrators and series that kids have asked for or have been excited about. If you are at a library or bookstore, ask the staff about authors, illustrators and series that are especially good or popular. Learn about the different formats and genres available for kids. Check out this blog to build your children's book expertise!

Early Reader

Make suggestions.
You may think of “Customers who bought this also bought…” as an Amazon invention, but booksellers and librarians have been doing it since bookstores and libraries were invented. If you know a kid likes a certain author or illustrator, help him find more work by that person. If you know she liked a particular story or topic, help her find more of the same. If a kid seems curious or uncertain about a book, help him look through it or provide a preview by reading a little bit aloud. 

The key to this process is asking questions and listening carefully to the answers the kids give you. Remember that you can request specific books or series for kids at your Read-Aloud from the TRC office. Just include the request with the kid's name on your Read-Aloud report form or send Stephanie an email.

Encourage the reader to "try it on."
I-PICK is a method for choosing books used in some schools. If you find yourself with a kid stymied over whether a book appeals to her, encourage her to pick it up and take a look. Then walk her through the I-PICK questions. If she answers yes to the last three letters and has a reason (even just "it looks fun") to read the book, then it's a good fit.

Have the child read a page or two of the book to himself.
As he is reading, tell him to put down one finger for every
word  he doesn't know

If a child asks you if a book is too hard for him, have him try the five-finger test and make his choice based on that. But don't prohibit him from taking the book even if it is challenging. Interest and motivation can help a child build tenacity. 

Let it be.
This isn’t a do-or-die situation. TRC kids will get another chance next week to choose another book. Hopefully, the kids in your life will have many more chances to choose and try out books too. Even if you think a book is too difficult or too easy for a child, honor her choice. People are drawn to books for all kinds of reasons: inspiration, comfort, motivation, curiosity, the desire to be one of the crowd. These are all perfectly good reasons to choose books.

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