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I am often frustrated when I talk with adults about how important talking conversationally with children is (giving directions or commands and saying “no” do not count).

Children between 18 months and 3 years learn a new word (that’s vocabulary, folks) every two hours that they are awake.

By age 3 they have deduced most grammar rules for their native language.

They have done ALL this by simply listening. But that listening and learning only happen if there is a live human being to listen to–and interact with.

Hearing language from a computer or TV is not interactive. A machine cannot replace a live human that responds to what each individual child does, when he or she does it. This is why research shows that screens do not increase language development. They are not even neutral. Screens  slow language development.

Watch this brief video clip to get an excellent feel for what the child and his or her brain needs in these years when such tremendous language development is taking place. The brain is so hardwired to learn language that it will actively protest when it is not able to participate in the activities that enable it (if lack of response continues, however, humans learn to quit trying).

Talking works. It’s simple. It’s essential. Talking leads to language development and language development before age five leads to learning to read after age 5.

Here’s to the power of conversation!


“You’re a children’s librarian? So whatta you do, read stories to kids all day?” the woman on the other side of the front desk asked me. Honestly, it’s the first time I’ve ever had anyone ask–and I’m embarrassed to say it caught me off guard.

In my defense, I had just spent the entire morning with the staff of an afterschool program we have here in town for kids whose parents are in our area’s homeless prevention program. One of their staff members had died a couple days before in a biking accident. Our whole community is reeling.

All of us can only imagine how these kids, who are already so vulnerable and have so few resources materially and emotionally, are going to deal with this death.

Yeah, I’m “just” a children’s librarian. But I’m also the person who sees these kids each month for storytime. I’m the person who talks to their parents about literacy. I’m the person who brings them cool books–and they are surprised every month that “cool” and “book” can go together. I’m the person they run up to in Walmart to give me a hug.

I know them. They know me. And I know their staff. They stop at the desk and they talk to me as well about the needs of the kids. I work hard to find resources to help and support them.

So I offered what I could to help. I know child development, I know books, and the non-library bonus, I know grieving. We talked about what children under 7 need to grieve and what over 7’s need–and how they are both different in some significant ways from adults in their grieving. We talked about what helps with grieving and what doesn’t.

And then we read and talked about books that might help the kids over time.

Not your typical “day in the life of a children’s librarian.” But I don’t think it’s that atypical either. We are a well-educated, well-trained, passionate bunch of folks. We are out here, day after day, doing our utmost (d’–est) to make a difference in the lives of children and their families.

Yeah, I read stories to kids–and a whole lot more. Come back and ask again. I’d love to tell you all about it. 🙂

Hugs to you all,


Now that all the hoopla has died down–and since you asked–here’s my take on the supposed demise of the children’s picture book (read the NYT article that started it all here).

My take? It’s much ado over nothing (except on two points). Here’s why:

  • The article’s point is a business point. Sales have dropped. The most obvious reason should be the economy. Did anyone check the sales on other goods purchased with disposable income? Are the figures on picture book sales really that much different from those of skateboards or barbies?
  • Second, why does it sound like  consumers are such dumb sheep that they will only buy what is on display right under their noses? If you want to buy a picture book, shop for a picture book, no matter what marketing ploys the seller is utilizing.
  • Third, if we buy them, publishers will print them. If we don’t, they won’t.

So why should adults purchase (or check out of their friendly neighborhood library ;-)) picture books for kids?

The two most important reasons are:

First, for most of the time, for most kids ages birth through six-ish to seven-ish, picture books are developmentally the most appropriate reading format.

What does that mean? It means the child will enjoy the reading experience more. They will not feel pushed, rushed, or bored as they will with a chapter book or beginning reader. (When’s the last time you read one? They are good for practicing reading. They are not highly motivating.) Children who enjoy reading read more.

The second reason involves choice. Children who are allowed to choose their own books read more. Choice means they can choose anything, even if a grown-up deems it “too easy.” Reading increases reading. The type of reading “matter” is not what increases reading. The quantity of reading is what increases reading (as long as it is enjoyable). So if your child enjoyed hearing the phone book read aloud, that would make him or her a better reader!

Whoever you want to point the finger at for “pushing” kids into beginning readers and chapter books, the deciding factor is you, the parent. You hold the wallet–not the publishers, book sellers, school district, or teacher. Listen to and watch your kid. What is he or she truly turned on to in books? What does he or she choose? Buy it, check it out of the library, get more of it until he or she is ready to move onto something else. Read aloud even after he or she has learned to read. Make reading enjoyable. For most young children, that enjoyment will be through picture books.

Off my soapbox now,


I’m generally not too much into lists of this sort. After a while, they all seem to say the same thing–again.

But this list for making reading fun is worth perusing.

I especially like the first one. Why? Because it works! It’s so simple–but it still works! It’s so enjoyable for everyone–and it still works. Trust in the power of reading aloud (and for more motivation check out Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook). It still works!

I do wish the list makers had clarified in the read aloud tip that reading aloud needs to continue even after a child learns to read.

Even once a child has “figured it out,” learning to read is hard work. It takes lots and lots of practice. And most of that hard work practice time is not much fun and not very motivating.

Reading aloud, on the other hand, is fun–because mom or dad or any fluently reading person can read anything! And that’s fun!

Hearing sentence structure and vocabulary that’s above a child’s current reading level also helps them later when they get to that reading level. It’s not foreign; they’ve heard it before. In fact oral vocabulary and comprehension is directly tied to reading comprehension.

So please, continue reading to your children! For how long, you ask? Well, there’s absolutely no reason to stop. 🙂 (Btw, I’m currently reading aloud Shelley’s Frankenstein to my 14 year old.)

Read on,


This article by Dr. Perri Klass is so chock full of information on early language development that I would like to just string quote after quote after quote together here.  If you have a small child, if you work with small children, please take the time to read it carefully, all the way to the end. Paragraph after paragraph holds a gem.

Klass begins with, “If a baby isn’t babbling normally, something may be interrupting what should be a critical chain: not enough words being said to the baby, a problem preventing the baby from hearing what’s said, or from processing those words. Something wrong in the home, in the hearing or perhaps in the brain.”

Babies need to be talked with, back and forth, by human beings, conversationally. Not enough talking happening with baby, not just around baby? Babbling will not happen. This is why that, in addition to encouraging reading with babies, we must also encourage talking with them. And with lower literacy parents and parents in poverty, we may actually have to teach talking with babies.

Another  important idea is that babbling comes in two stages: first, the “noises” stage and then the adding consonants stage. If a child older than 7 months is not making consonant sounds, asking why not needs to happen.

Notice how much the article then talks about the physicality of learning to babble consonant sounds. I have been struck over the years at what seems to be the growing number of children needing speech therapy as preschoolers and kindergartners.

Two factors can contribute to this:

One is mentioned in the article: “Babies have to hear real language from real people to learn these skills. Television doesn’t do it, and neither do educational videos…”

Why do TV and video not help with language development? Because while baby or young child may be able to respond to the TV, the TV will not respond to the baby or child. The interaction is at best only one way. It is not true interaction. There also is not the chance for the child to see and even touch what is going on with the mouth and face that is making those sounds. Learning speech, learning consonants especially, is a physical activity.

So that leads to my next point: Pull the plugs. Babies and toddlers cannot be physical with their mouths when they are plugged with a pacifier. The two are incompatible. If a child uses it to get to sleep, that may be one thing (they aren’t listening to speech and responding), or there may be special circumstances like with TV (watching when sick). But overall pacifier use does more harm than good. (Not only can they slow this mouth muscle experimentation and development, they also affect tongue thrust which affects speech.)

Enough from me though! Scroll back up, read Dr. Klass, and think how the info contained can be applied to your storytimes and to your parenting. Your children will benefit!

Cheers for babbling!


I just finished teaching a workshop on early literacy tips, those nuggets of info and encouragement that you “give” adults when you “do” an early literacy storytime. Giving tips, in whatever format (printed, oral, conversation, etc.), is one of the elements that distinguishes a “regular” storytime from an “early literacy” storytime.

Where do you find these tips? One of my favorite new sources for them is a blog call Early Brain Insights. It’s not specifically about early literacy but it is about early development. Many of the posts are about language development and even reading. Each post is just a few sentences, a perfect length for sharing in storytime.

They come to me through the wonders of RSS and my Google reader. Check them out; maybe they’ll help you too.


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