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, September 20, 2016

Happy Birthday, Brown Bear!

This September, a special 50th anniversary edition of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle finds its way to bookstores. In anticipation of a year-long celebration of the 1967 publication of this beloved picture book, Macmillan publishers have produced special editions and planned a year of events. They even created a dedicated website for the Brown Bear celebrations to come.

Eric Carle celebrating 50 years of  Brown Bear
at the Eric Carle museum. Photo by Jim Gipe.

What makes a picture book worthy of all this hoopla? This classic picture book appeals as much to kids today as it did 50 years ago, and has introduced millions of kids to the joy of reading. It is often the first book with Eric Carle’s distinctive illustrations that kids encounter.

Courtney Kissell, TRC's executive director, shares Brown Bear with kids at ARHA.

At The Reading Connection, Brown Bear is our go-to book, whether our topic is the importance of rhyme and repetition or the appeal of illustrations.

We love Brown Bear’s
  • Vibrant, cut-paper collage illustrations,
  • Rhyming, rhythmic, repeating text that is fun to chant,
  • Colors and animals,
  • Just-right length and
  • Surprise ending.
These qualities build reading skills. Colorful illustrations and familiar animals hold kids' interest, while galloping rhyme and repetition and frequent chances to predict what comes next teach phonemic awareness and build comprehension.

We asked Angus Killick, Vice President at Macmillan Publishing Group, what he thinks gives Brown Bear it's enduring appeal.
It's the perfect picture book! Bill Martin, Jr.'s skill was bold rhythmic text and word repetition. Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? is a fine example of his genius in that respect. It is also a wonderful example of the drama of prediction and that's why children who are not yet reading can appreciate the predictive nature of the text and participate in the many readings. Martin's text, paired with Carle's gorgeous illustrations featuring impressionist portrayals of colorful and playful animals ('blue horse', 'purple cat' anyone?), make for nothing more than a perfect picture book to read aloud and share with a small child over and over again.

Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr.  in 1992

Twenty-five years after Martin and Carle created Brown Bear, they collaborated again to create Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? This time, zoo animals make a ruckus, inviting kids to bellow, flute and snort along with the story.

Next came Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? This time, 10 years after Polar Bear, Martin and Carle featured endangered species strutting, soaring and strolling through the pages, daring kids to romp along.

Finally, Martin and Carle created Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? Their last collaboration, published in 2007, follows a baby bear as he looks for his mother among animals from North America. As with its predecessors, Baby Bear’s simple rhyming text delights children and invites them to chant and move along with the story.

"All together, the four Bear books have sold 50 million copies in the U.S., including 14 million of Brown Bear,” according to Kare Rauquist in the August 10, 2016 edition of Publisher’s Weekly. The numbers don't lie. Brown Bear and his relatives have enchanted millions of kids, and at 50, they are still going strong. These books are fun to read and to listen to and a delight to look at, making learning to read a pleasure.

Move over, Cat in the Hat. The Bears are coming for you!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Summer Superheroes: We Are Readers 2016

Just a few weeks ago, The Reading Connection (TRC) finished its We Are Readers summer reading program at five participating sites. I am happy to report that it was both super fun and successful! TRC augments its regular Read-Aloud schedule every summer to include two days of reading, as opposed to the normal one day per week during the school year. Engaging kids in reading aloud and related activities is important because they are at risk of losing reading skills during the out-of-school months. These activities are especially important for the disadvantaged, at-risk kids that TRC serves.

Here’s a quick look at the success We Are Readers saw this summer. 

We Are Readers Kits 

We provided each volunteer team a kit for its Read-Aloud that contained books, an activity and a snack, chosen specially for the day’s theme. Every Read-Aloud at every site had a designated bag, which provided support to both summer-only volunteers and regular Read-Aloud volunteers.

Superhero Theme

All the We Are Readers Read-Alouds this summer revolved around a unified theme: superheroes! We kicked off the first week with the subtheme “Be your own superhero.” Volunteers encouraged the kids to reflect and consider what their superpowers are because not all superheroes have the same powers.

We reinforced the kids' superhero identities (and tracked attendance) by asking the kids to create a superhero poster that included their superhero name, picture and a description of their super-selves and powers. The kids placed a sticker on the corresponding date on the poster to track their attendance. We also gave every child a charm necklace for which they received a new charm every day they were present.The kids enjoyed both the posters and the necklaces. The Polaroid "instant cameras" used to take their pictures intrigued them, too!

After working through the concept of “be your own superhero,” we introduced kids to more superheroes and super things during weeks two through six: superheroes of the community, superheroes of the animal kingdom, super-foods, super-STEM and super-authors.

Because We Are Readers lasts six weeks and we used six subthemes, we spent a week (two Read-Alouds) exploring each theme. This is twice as much time as kids usually spend exploring a theme in our program, and we found that the kids were very engaged, asking questions and discussing the new ideas presented in the Read-Alouds.  

For example, I led a Read-Aloud about super-foods during the third week of We Are Readers at Sullivan House. There are tons of interesting books about food, of course, like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Stone Soup, which we took advantage of before our activity.  A local bakery, Village Sweet, provided “super-food muffins” (made with zucchini, carrot and currants) for the kids to try, and they loved them! Trying the muffins and other super-foods provided by our volunteers sparked a conversation about which foods they had and had not tried, and they started to make a game of it.

Since the kids expressed an interest in discussing all the foods they knew, we stopped and read Eating the Alphabet together, which is basically about a ton of fruits and vegetables from A to Z. They really enjoyed thinking of the fruits and vegetables not shown in the book, and it helped them learn a lot about each other’s cultures and backgrounds through food.  

Using a more unified theme structure this year worked exceptionally well. It allowed the kids to get more immersed in the subject matter than in previous years, when the themes rotated more quickly and were less woven into the overall structure. For instance, connecting the subtheme of super-foods to the overall theme of being your own superhero made it easier for the kids to establish a good background knowledge of healthy foods and how they can help kids' development into super-people. 

Special Guests 
To help drive home the ideas from our theme, we invited several special guests to speak during We Are Readers. One set of special guests was Zach and Bentley (pictured on the right), who visited the kids at ARHA during the “superheroes of the animal kingdom” week. From the age of five, Zach has suffered from serious seizures that can be harmful to his health. To help manage the seizures, Zach got a service dog, Bentley, who can help alert Zach when he’s about to experience a seizure. Zach and his mom, Mary, were kind enough to bring Bentley to ARHA and talk to the kids about service animals. Bentley was kind enough to let everyone pet him! 

The kids at New Hope Housing got a special visit from Mr. Berman, a chemist, during super-STEM week. He taught the kids about how light and light waves work, and they thought it was super cool – as you can see. 

Firefighter Mike Kelly, a superhero of the community from the Bethesda Fire Department, was kind enough to visit our kids at Greentree Shelter, showing them his firefighting gear and letting the kids try it on. Zookeeper Becky Malinsky from the National Zoo visited our kids at Sullivan House to talk to them about superheroes of the animal kingdom. The Reading Connection staff, volunteers and kids really appreciate all of our special guests! 

We Are Readers made an impact in the lives of 114 children and provided them with over 500 books this summer, and we couldn’t have done it without our many wonderful volunteers – thank you! We’d also like to thank the “behind the scenes” volunteers who provided materials for various activities, such as the superhero cape materials provided by Susan Kelly for the kids at New Hope Housing. 

This post was written by Zach Griffin, TRC's AmeriCorps VISTA dedicated to the We Are Readers Program.