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Coincidence is glorious fun sometimes! Just this week, I’ve been working with my grad students on how children develop their first understandings of gender identity during the ages of 3ish to 6ish. And along came this lovely conversation before storytime between me and a 4 year old boy.

He’s looking at a poster we have up for a showing of the new Chipmunk movie. Unprompted he begins talking to me.

Boy: Those are The Chipmunks.

Me: Yes, they are.

(He thinks for a bit.)

Boy: Those (pointing to the top of the picture) are the boy chipmunks. Those (pointing to the bottom of the picture) are the girl ones.

Me: Yes, there are boy chipmunks and girl chipmunks.

Boy (looking me right in the eye): Are you a girl?

Me: Yes, I’m a girl. (At the time I’m dressed in jeans and a purple shirt with a flower pattern on it. I have fairly short hair.)

Me: And are you a boy?

Boy: Yes, I’m a boy!

Me: And mama?

Boy: She’s a girl. (He says this very proudly, as if he really “knows” something important here.)

Then he wanders off.

We don’t find it hard to understand when children between one and two are trying to figure out the differences between a cat and a dog—and it doesn’t concern us when they “get it wrong” at first. Children look for and form a pattern (or schema) and “use it” to identify what something is—until they come across a new piece that doesn’t fit. Then they have to change the schema and it becomes more accurate.

We often get uncomfortable, though, when we see and hear them going through the same process concerning gender. We worry when they “get it wrong.” While in process, they might say quite strongly, “only girls can wear pink,” “boys don’t play with babies,” or “mamas and daddies are always married.” These are all characteristics they’ve picked out to form their initial patterns for what a girl/woman is and what a boy/man is. As they explore their world more, just like with cats and dogs, their schema changes and develops. With opportunities to play and explore and with exposure to lots of different people, their schemas become more and more accurate.

So when children declare “boys/girls ONLY….” at this age, don’t panic! They are not growing into narrow minded little adults. They are growing children. Just think back to their days of learning cats and dogs. “Dogs are bigger than cats!” A simple “Yes, many dogs are bigger than cats” affirms what they have figured out and learned. You might add, “And there are some dogs that are smaller than cats.” But unless you’ve got an example right in front of you, don’t expect much of a reaction! 🙂 Model your responses about gender similarly. “Girls have long hair” “Yes, many girls do have long hair.” Opportunities will come for further learnings as life goes on!

Finally, what, pray tell, does this have to do with books? Well, we can go overboard with our concerns, misinterpreting normal development for gender stereotypes–and then we push books into service for which they were not intended and is not needed. We do need to provide children with gender aware books and stories, rather than gender biased ones.  We do need books that show girls doing many different things and boys doing many different things.  But we  shortchange kids when we show only the either/or: either the traditional roles or the non-traditional roles but not both.  Providing both gives children the widest view of the marvelous variety and uniqueness of each individual.

So we provide good grist for the their mills and they develop in their own way and time.



One area of children’s books that often gets overlooked by parents and librarians is the emotional. Being a kid and growing up have never been easy. Trying to help a kid be a kid and navigate its particular waters has never been easy.

We forget as adults how hard it was to figure it all out. We forget that it’s all new for kids. And we forget that learning takes time and takes multiple tries. What is this feeling I feel? What do I call it and what do I do with it? If there’s a problem here to be solved, how do I do that? If it’s not something to be solved, how do I live through it? How do I process, understand, and make some meaning out of what’s happening to me?

It may be as “simple” as learning all the in’s and out’s of potty training (think about it, it involves way more than just getting it in the pot–there’s hand washing and door closing and seat lifting and on and on).  It might be as “complex” as learning to cope with the death of a parent.

To a child, it’s all new, it all takes time, and it all can be supported by a book.

I’m always on the look-out for books that are authentically supportive of kids and their learnings, transitions, and struggles. I discovered the blog, Books That Heal, yesterday and look forward to following its reviews and tapping it for ideas for books for my library’s collection and my community’s kids.

Be Aware,


from Cincinnati.Com, Reading Gap Can Be Closed: lots of good, mostly research based,  ideas and tips for parents, librarians, and teachers.

from OregonLive.Com, How to Prepare Your Toddler for Reading: summary of early literacy tenets.

from The Globe and Mail, Letting Students Choose Books: to require classics or not?, best of the article is found midway.

from Science Daily, Words Influence Infants’ Cognition: the power of words in the first three months of life.

Be Thoughtful!


Who would have ever imagined that two of the pillars of children’s books would have both struggled with reading and school? And that the two of them would become such a team over the decades?

I’m not a big fan of interviews, but there’s so much in this one with Eric Carle–including an interesting connection with phonological awareness. 😉 See if you can find it!



I’m going to try something new here. I read, and sometimes watch, a number of good pieces during the course of most weeks. But I don’t have the time to write about each as a post. Most I’ll tweet but I know you are not all twitter-ers. 🙂

So each week I’ll post a list with just the headline or brief summary of what I’ve read that I thought was especially good. Good might mean funny, clever, thought provoking, inspiring, important, useful–or who knows what else. That’s my call but I will always try to keep them to items worth your time.

So let’s start the ball rolling.

From David Elkind, Playtime is Over.

From Forbes, Young Learners Need Librarians, Not Just Google.

From Science Daily, Video Game Ownership May Interfere with Academic Functioning. (Want to learn more about research in this important topic? Read Boys Adrift by Lawrence Sax.

From Nicholas Kristof, The Boys Have Fallen Behind.

From AJC, Boys and School, None of It Good.

Be thoughful!


“We are making no progress at all in teaching children to read in the United States….But our failure is less one of education policy, than the simple fact that we are wedded to a demonstrably flawed model of how to teach children to read. ”

Thus begins an excellent column by E.D. Hirsch in the Washington Post. Reader beware, though; he’s jam-packed this article with more than the usual one-liners about the dire state of our education system. He’s actually got some useful info in here.

He says it best so I encourage you to take the time to read his thoughts, but here’s a few of his main points:

Language mastery (of which reading is just one piece) requires broad reading. Translated that means reading more than just fiction, poetry, and “literary stuff.”

Gaps in reading are often actually  gaps in knowledge.

Reading is not a purely transferable skill. It is “domain specific.” Just because I can do well on a “find the main idea” reading quizzy doesn’t mean I can read an op-ed piece about the Tea Party, an excerpt from Kant, or one of Feynman’s books about the beauty of physics.

But correcting our literacy instruction problems is not simply a matter of adding more non-fiction readings to the quizzy practice books. It’s an approach and attitude that Hirsch leaves at the door of “curriculum coherence.” While not disagreeing with that, I bring it to the door of learning. Are we designing educational systems that allow for and even encourage learning–or are we simply going through the motions of teaching?

What can we as parents and librarians do in the meantime?

  • When’s the last time you and your child browsed the non-fiction section of the library? There are some amazingly well-written, well-photographed kids’ books on a fascinating array of topics just waiting for you over there. These non-fiction books are not your “school report” type books that you remember. These are more like in-depth, glossy magazines, enjoyable to read, interesting to look at, exciting to discuss.
  • Continue to read aloud with your children during the elementary years–and include some non-fiction. Read and talk about it together. Make it a shared experience, not a school lesson.
  • Keep a stack of these books around the house. At least three or four times a week, have a “turn off the screens” time for 15-30 minutes when everyone in the house finds something to read (including you). Watch how these books start getting picked up.
  • Your library doesn’t seem to have these kinds of books? Well, find a librarian and ask for them! If you are a librarian, get them! We can’t make this kind of shift happen for students if the materials are not available.
  • I believe this is one reason homeschoolers typically do so well. This kind of reading is encouraged and is a core of most of their school days. Based on informal observations, we already have a population in which we can see this “method” working and working well.
  • Finally, added bonus? Boys are more often interested in this kind of reading. 🙂

Read On!


It’s been quite a while since I found  a really enjoyable, clever video (at least one that I could post here :-)). Pixels Take Over NYC qualifies.

Kids and adults alike will enjoy this one–but are you old enough to identify all the game references?



Today’s storytime was a chance to see print awareness, or lack of it, in action. Print awareness is exactly what it says: the awareness of print on the page–letters, words, sentences–and understanding the connection between the print on the page and what is read aloud.

It sounds really easy, really obvious, really simple. And in a way, it is–if you are read to, if you have an adult to talk with you about books, if you are already a reader.

But for kids between the ages of birth and age five, print awareness has to be developed. They do come “pre-wired” with the  drive and ability to learn language (and reading’s one part of that development) but we as adults have to provide the means for the learning to happen. Children are not born with print awareness.

In today’s storytime with kids from a local preschool,  I’m holding up and talking about the book, The Surprise, by Van Ommen. The kids recognize that it’s a sheep on the cover. We talk about wool, and I pass around samples to feel. I show them the first pages. A sheep is standing on a bathroom scale. We laugh at it and talk about what the sheep is doing.

Then I ask them, “What’s different about this book?” I get blank looks.

“What do you notice is missing on the pages?” More blank looks.

I’ve asked them these questions because The Surprise is a wordless book. But the real surprise?  Not one child could tell me that there were no words on the pages. (And it’s not because they are shy; they answered previous questions easily.)

We look at more pages in the book. I hold up another book that does have words and ask them what is different.  (Remember those same and different puzzle sheets you did as a child? Here’s one reason why.) They come up with some very good answers. The other book has a jeep in the picture, it has grass in the picture, there is a bird in the picture.

Do you see a trend here? Everything is about the pictures.

When I finally cover the picture up and ask again what’s different, they all study and study some more.  And at last, one little boy finally gets it. He shouts it out–WORDS!

And then we spend more time looking at the two books’ pages and talking about what words are for, why they are there, how they are different from pictures. They are fascinated as they should be because they are learning something so vitally important about language and how it works.

And without that knowledge in another couple years, they would be lost as they tried to figure out what reading was, how it worked, and why they wanted to learn it.

Final point, the fact that ALL the kids were clueless suggests to me that building print awareness is not happening in those classrooms. And that’s why librarians have storytimes and model to teachers and give tips about what it is and how it works. It’s why we go out into the community and teach classes about early literacy and talk every chance we get about these very simple but essential skills.

If we don’t, it simply will not happen. And that’s no surprise.

Talk on!


I did better than average on this quiz concerning Google searches, but I also learned a few things I didn’t know.

It’s quick to take and would be handy for teachers, school librarians, and homeschoolers to use for a lesson on search engines.

Happy Searching,


And no, I don’t mean your money (we all know the loser on that one–your wallet takes the hit for iPad)–but the environment.

Which is greener, a book or an iPad? Read more here at NYT.

But the best summary of the fight is the last line: “All in all, the most ecologically virtuous way to read a book starts by walking to your local library.” 🙂

Read on!


Here’s the definitive list for online, techie April Fools pranks.

I just busted a gut watching how to make your own iPad–for only $49.99! 🙂 (See “Crunch Pad Kit.”)
This could turn into a biiiiiig time waster but I oh so love clever!

Happy April Fools Day!


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email babette(dot)reeves(at)gmail(dot)com
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