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, 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.