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, January 25, 2016

Race and reading: The power of finding yourself in a book

"Like many of his third-grade classmates, Mario Cortez-Pacheco likes reading the 'Magic Tree House' series, about a brother and sister who take adventurous trips back in time. He also loves the popular 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' graphic novels. But Mario, 8, has noticed something about these and many other books he encounters in his classroom at Bayard Taylor Elementary here: most of the main characters are white. "I see a lot of people that don't have a lot of color," he said." Motoko Rich, For Young Latino Readers, an Image Is Missing, Dec. 4, 2012, The New York Times.

Imagine never having found yourself in a book. Never having seen yourself, your family or your home reflected in a story you read. How would you feel about books, reading and your place in the world?

This post, in our ongoing series about race and reading*, focuses on the importance of books that reflect the diversity of the children TRC serves. The lack of children’s books portraying children of color in authentic, respectful and engaging ways has a negative effect on a child’s motivation to read.

“When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”  Rudine Sims Bishop, Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Doors,1990. 

TRC is dedicated to helping children become life-long readers, and that means building motivation and a personal sense of belonging in the reading community. Sharing books with kids that explore and celebrate their communities is crucial to building that motivation as well as their feeling of being a valued member of the reading community.

Historically, most of the children's books featuring people of color focused on historical figures (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Diego Rivera) or holidays (Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo). Only recently have publishers begun to include books showing children of color having everyday experiences with their families in their own neighborhoods.

It matters what theme you choose to present at a Read-Aloud and the books you bring to explore that theme. By intentionally seeking out the children's interests and providing them with high-quality books that reflect their experiences, you work to counteract the daily slights and snubs that marginalize children of color. So, don't just guess which theme to do next: talk with the kids. Find out what excites and intrigues them and then plan Read-Alouds that explore those interests.

So how do you make the very books you choose vehicles for fostering reading motivation? 

  • Ask the kids about their interests to help determine which theme to do next and which books might be popular in the give-away bin.
  • Vary your Read-Aloud themes so that each session is high interest. Volunteer Central has information on themes and links to Reading Road Maps.
  • Choose the books carefully. Bring high-quality books that are well written, beautifully illustrated, exciting and engaging. (This blog post gives guidelines.) Include both fiction and nonfiction, written at varying levels to accommodate varying interests and attention spans. And, of course, purposely use books that portray children of color in positive ways. The following lists provide information on a wide variety of diverse books:

We Need Diverse Books - Links to lists of books about various diverse groups

Reading Is Fundamental – List reviewed by RIF’s Literature Advisory Board. List includes books exploring a myriad of cultures

Cooperative  Children’s Book Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison - A list of children’s books by and about people of color

Award-winning Multicultural Books, National Louis University - 
Provides links lists of various multicultural book awards and a description of the award itself

ColorĂ­n Colorado - A site for English language learners. Provides lists on several cultures and the immigrant experience

Reading Rockets - Provides themed lists on several cultures 

Providing access to books that depict children of color in authentic and respectful ways and preparing exciting, engaging Read-Alouds on topics that interest the kids show them in deeds and words that they are valued and welcome members of the reading community and our society at large. 

*Previous posts on race and reading:
Race and reading: developing personal relationships
Race and reading: the Read-Aloud environment
Working toward the dream: race at Read-Alouds

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

Monday, January 11, 2016

Use the Force! Building imagination through book-inspired imaginary play

When Star Wars first appeared in movie theaters in 1977, I was nine years old. My younger brother and I were completely hooked on this space fantasy, as were our two cousins. The four of us couldn’t wait to find out what else was in store for Princess Leia, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

So we didn’t wait. We took George Lucas’ characters, made them our own and played Star Wars on many long, hot summer days.

Star Wars was a revelation for our imaginative play. It presented us with new characters, new situations and an incredible story with an amazing setting. We created our own characters; we thought there should be more girls. We all wanted to be part of the rebel forces, so we made the evil Empire an invisible terror we alternately ran from and attacked. I’m sure neighbors wondered why we were all in the yard wildly wielding sticks as we battled our unseen enemies in lightsaber duels. Other than the sticks, we didn’t have props or any costumes. It was just our four imaginative minds, working together.

Our biggest problem playing Star Wars was who got to be Princess Leia. Thanks to my brown hair, I won out most of the time. But my cousin did not ever want to be Chewbacca. So we added another princess to our band of rebels and Chewbacca went the way of Harvey

For some kids, imaginative play comes easily. Others need input and encouragement.

Often kids choose to "play" a favorite movie or TV show because that’s their experience. They know the story, the characters and what the characters usually do. But for some kids, all they do is repeat what they’ve seen. If you have few experiences to draw from or no one to show where imagination could enter in, it is hard to figure out how to play at a more sophisticated level. And children need to reach a sophisticated level of pretend play to help build skills such as creative thinking, visualization, self-regulation, reasoning and problem solving.

So what can you do to introduce alternate settings, characters and experiences and encourage kids to use this knowledge in play? Share books! 

Here are some simple examples:

  • Show kids how stories can be changed. Read or tell the traditional tale “The Three Little Pigs” (such as the version by James Marshall) along with The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf by Mark Teague. The kids will immediately see that the original version has been changed and will find the changes fascinating. Any story with an original version and variations will work. Fairy and folk tales are especially good.

  • As you read these titles (or any books!), ask open-ended questions, such as “What do you think will happen next?" Pretend play is all about “What happens next?"

  • Talk about the characters—their actions, what they are feeling and what they talk about.

  • Talk about how the versions of the story differ.

  • Get kids to act out “The Three Little Pigs.” Encourage older kids to take the lead and guide younger ones as they play. Make sure everyone understands the role they are playing and remembers how the story is structured. They should use their own words but stay true to their characters and the classic story.

  • Then, the idea is to get kids to change the story, using their imaginations to develop more elaborate scenarios for their characters or even create new characters, and play! If they are having trouble coming up with ideas on their own, help them mash up the pigs’ story with their own experiences or other stories. For example, the pigs might decide to go and stay in a hotel when they lose their houses. What happens? Or Batman comes to stop the wolf from doing any damage. Or Star Wars fans might come up with their own version—“The Three Little Droids”!

There should be a good bit of negotiating and lots of talking when play is working. You might need to step in occasionally to help things keep moving smoothly and model some good play behaviors. If you are playing along, you might also consider throwing some obstacles in the way to encourage everyone to work together to meet a challenge—“let’s figure out how to organize the furniture in the pig’s new house”—or solve a problem—“what can we do to help a little pig with hay fever?”

Listening to stories read aloud gets kids' imaginations working as they create images of the story in their heads. Getting them to act out and change the stories takes their imagination to a new level, encouraging creative thinking, problem solving and reasoning. Especially since so much of our culture is screen oriented, it's important for kids to have practice creating their own images and scenarios. 

Guest blog post by Belle of the Book, Rachael Walker.

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