Tag Archives: independent reading

Of Reading and Cookbooks

I’ve been in full on reflection mode lately.  Thumbing through the portfolios, I saw where BalletBoy had set one of his goals at the very start of the year to read five books completely on his own.  He had done it and we listed the books, which, with one exception, were all picture books and easy readers.  Sometimes I get slightly frustrated because he’s not a super fast reader and he only rarely reads for pleasure outside of our silent reading time or when he’s stuck somewhere, like in the car, with nothing else to do.  But he probably read about ten chapter books in the same amount of time over the last month.  Just last week, he devoured a chapter book level graphic novel series (not a single graphic novel, but the whole four volume series) in less than a week.

Mushroom is also plugging along with reading and he seems to finally be getting the message that he can read (and therefore shouldn’t turn to his brother and ask him to read things for him!).  He still has that guessing tendency, but I’ve been working with him on it and he’s slowly improving.

We read silently every day (or nearly).  Usually, I read with Mushroom and let BalletBoy curled up in the big sofa chair and read silently.  But not always.  Occasionally, I read with BalletBoy and let Mushroom read alone.  Sometimes he’ll read something super easy, like a Berenstain Bears book or an Usborne phonics reader.  But often he’ll go get a cookbook.

That’s right.  My son reads the cookbooks.  The other night, it was time for the bedtime story (we were reading Edward Eager’s Magic or Not) and he didn’t want to put down his cookbook.  He sat up in bed reading it, planning an elaborate meal of small dishes for us that simply had to be carried out the the next day for dinner.  That’s why we sat down to an elaborate meal of salmon skewers, arancini (fried rice balls – he made the balls, I did the frying), and bruschetta.  It wasn’t his first big cooking project either.  His favorite meal to make is chicken tikka masala.  And there he is below hard at work on some Swedish meatballs.

Usually, though, there’s not any actual cooking involved.  And he’s not an especially adventurous eater.  I can make him sound that way when I explain how much he loves chicken tikka masala, but really, this kid won’t even try mashed potatoes.

I think the main reason he likes the cookbooks is because he can “read” them during our silent reading time.  They’re more engaging than picture books for him.  But if he could sit down with a book and read it alone, I doubt he would have developed this particular interest.  That would have been a pity too.  I’ve been appreciating his ability to sit and focus on a book even without reading the words.  He appreciates books, so maybe the part where he has to read words doesn’t matter so much yet.  He’ll get there.

Annabel Karmel - You Can Cook  Around the World Cookbook 

Above are some of Mushroom’s favorite cookbook choices.  Unless it’s my dessert cookbooks, he likes ones specifically intended for children best and you can see Annabel Karmel is one of his favorites.  A lot of children’s cookbooks don’t have any actual photographs of the food, just cute doodles.  Let me tell you.  That does not inspire a kid to cook.  We have checked out a lot of books like that, but they’re all just gone back to the library without any real use and once Mushroom “read” them once or twice.  Some popular titles, like Emeril Lagasse’s children’s cookbooks and standards like the Betty Crocker children’s cookbooks all used illustration instead of photos,which was very disappointing.  Williams-Sonoma and Dorling-Kindersley (DK) are the big exceptions.  They seem to have realized what a better look that is for a children’s cookbook.

Now, let’s see if he manages to save up for his own Easy Bake Oven.  He really, really wants one.

What Makes a Book a Good “Read Aloud”

I have this idea, which is perhaps just my own, that some books should be reserved for kids to read themselves, some books are better read aloud and some books are good both ways.  I don’t know if I can totally express what the difference is.  Certainly it’s a subjective sort of thing.  However, I’m going to try to offer some guidelines.

A good read aloud book:

  • Tells a simple story in rich language. Kids in early elementary school are ready to head Charlotte’s Web, but the vast majority aren’t read to read it yet because the language is too complex.  Some books, like The Jamie and Angus Stories, which I keep recommending as a good first read aloud for younger children, will even be boring by the time kids are able to read them independently.
  • Is enjoyable for the reader too. There’s nothing worse than having to read your kids something that you find trite or predictable.  Good children’s literature, on the level of Cornelia Funke, Kate DiCamillo, EB White, or Beverly Cleary, is just good literature.  End of story.
  • Sometimes deals with emotional issues or mature topics. This isn’t every read aloud, but more than just telling a story in more complex terms, a read aloud can touch on deeper topics for kids by dealing with death, bullying, anger, sadness, or any number of issues that kids may not want to tackle alone or may not be able to really get at unless the book is read aloud and talked about.
  • Or is sometimes very funny. Laughter can be good to share and a way to keep a kid interested in a longer book.  Of course, Roald Dahl is excellent for reading aloud.  Nothing better.

On the other hand, a good book to save for independent reading…

  • Tells a story in simple terms. The term “simple,” when you’re talking about independent reading, is not a put down from me.  It’s a positive quality for new readers to read things in simple terms.  That’s how they build up to reading longer, more complex books.
  • Is graphically intensive. I know some parents have figured out how to do it, but the verbal hoops required to read a comic book aloud make me batty.  Ditto to all those nonfiction books with numerous text boxes and little captions for pictures.  Graphic novels encourage reading.  And the nonfiction books are the kind of book that it’s perfect to sit and pour over once you can actually read the text.
  • Is repetitive. Series books, I’m looking at you.  Again, nothing wrong with them.  Repetitive stories can be high interest and can teach children about plot elements and how to anticipate.  They serve an extremely important function.  Some of them are very detailed and well-written.  However, they should be allowed to serve their function, i.e. encouraging kids to read, by being left for the independent readers.
  • Endorses something parents don’t really like. I think it’s fine to let your kid read fart jokes in Captain Underpants or mischievous behavior.  It’s something else to read it to them.  I’ve written about this before, but I believe strongly that kids should choose their own books to read themselves.  However, if I’m doing the reading, I’m also involved in the choosing.

Of course, I break my own rules sometimes.  The kids have been enjoying the Ivy and Bean series aloud, so I know I’ve ruined those for independent reading.  Drat!  Plus, there’s a certain joy in reading a very short book or a pile of picture books after you finish something like Dragonrider. And the best reward should be reading a book independently once they’ve already heard it.  Every kid should hear Charlotte’s Web as a first grader and reread it as a fifth grader, don’t you think?