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I live in one of the poorest areas in Colorado. I do storytimes at the local Head Start programs. I see kids who come from homes that are struggling. And the kids from these homes experience the wear and tear of such a life on a daily basis.

So what kind of books do I choose for kids who probably haven’t grown up being read to? Who might not know what a book is or is for? Who might not care or be interested in books? Who might have even shorter than normal attention spans?

Do I choose books by famous authors? Books with award winning illustrations? Or do I choose the shortest books? Books with the fewest words on a page? Books with sounds and lights and gizmos and gimmicks?

Nope! I choose books with “good stories.”

Let me give you an example. The Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday (so already I have one stroke against me), I visit a Head Start classroom. Actually it’s two classrooms combined into a teeny tiny reading space (two more strikes against me). And I start to read Don’t Want to Go by Shirley Hughes.

I can see the teachers look wide-eyed at me as I open this book. It’s got LOTS of words in it. And there’s nothing snazzy, razzle dazzle about the pictures.

It’s the straight forward story of a preschooler whose mom wakes up one morning with the flu. So dad (who has to go to work) takes her to an adult friend’s house for the day. The little girl’s plaintive cry is, “Don’t want to go!”

Of course, she goes anyway. She really doesn’t have much say in it. But there she meets a smiling mom with a friendly baby. The dog licks her hand, she helps the mom glue pictures into a book, she plays peekaboo and holds the dog’s leash on the way to the older brother’s school and even gets to watch a little TV with him.  At each transition her cry is, “Don’t want to go!”

And when dad comes to get her at the end of the day, once again she exclaims, “Dont’ want to go!” Adults love the ending–but kids? Kids love the in-between parts. These are situations and feelings they have experienced. They would want mom up in the morning.  They would want to stay home, too, not go to a stranger’s house. They would lose their mittens on the way and pout under the table and say “don’t want to” but then with warmth and understanding and careful coaxing find themselves enjoying the new moments–just like Lily.

What’s this have to do with “good stories?” An essential element of any good children’s story (for children of any age up through teens) is that the story needs to meet the kid where the kid is at developmentally.

The books that hold kids’ attention with no gimmicks or gizmos are the ones that reflect their experiences, their perceptions, their learning edges, their developmental issues, their world. These are the books with staying power. These become the classics.

Shirley Hughes understands three and four year olds. You hear it in Lily’s reactions, whether in her cry, her pout, her laugh,  or her saying no and then helping anyway. You see it in the illustrations–in the postures and faces of the characters. You hear it in the details she notices (“It was a yellow door, the color of the inside of Lily’s egg,” an egg which she remembers, btw, because she dropped it on the floor earlier). You see and hear it in the reassuring manner in which the adults react to her.

The book is clean and simple. It’s a “good story” for young children any time but perhaps especially right now during the holidays. There can be so many changes on a daily basis. And change is not easy when you are little and adults run the world.

So don’t let the number of words or the non-glamour of this book scare you away.  My Head Starters were dead into it, all the way through! Yours can be too! It is a winner–for groups or for just one or two in the lap–cause it’s a “good story!”

Give it a whirl!


Someone asked a great question about Storybox Special. How do you decide which books to put in your boxes? (If you don’t know about Storybox, click here to read more.)

Here’s the basic mix. Each box contains:

  • books that support at least one early literacy skill,
  • books that support a developmental task of children ages birth to five (for instance, a new baby in the family, learning about emotions,  or potty training),
  • bilingual books, and
  • at least one teacher resource book.

More specifically, each box will have at least:

  • 3 books for phonological awareness,
  • 1 book for letter knowledge,
  • 5 books for narrative skills,
  • 1 book for print awareness,
  • 2 books for print motivation,
  • 3 books for vocabulary,
  • 2-4 books for developmental tasks,
  • 2 bilingual books,
  • 1 seasonal book, and
  • 2 board books.

Each box contains about twenty-five books.

Through an El Pomar grant, we are wrapping up processing twelve new boxes and hope to start circulating them after January’s early literacy class. If you know anyone in Alamosa or Monte Vista who is a home childcare provider, let them know we’d love to have them join Storybox Special. There’s no cost to participate and the only requirement is to attend the one-time class.

Read on!




You may have already seen this–I hadn’t, though, and I think it is so clever. Thanks to Betsy Bird for posting it on Fuse #8.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar goes to dinner, click here.

Pretty good, huh? 🙂


Oh my, you may get tired of hearing me sing the same tune. It is in a different key today, though. 🙂

It delights me to no end when I hear the same message coming from different directions and different voices. A few weeks ago I posted about the interactive nature of developing language and the importance of babbling in all its stages.

In the last week I’ve come across two more supporting voices.

First, Deb McNelis at Early Childhood Brain Insights shares the importance of a child being exposed to a large number of words or vocabulary. And then she reminds us that these words must come from a “live” human in order for them “to work” in the child’s developing brain. Merely hearing them from a “screen” (TV, computer, iPad, etc.) doesn’t help and it does hurt.

Second, two pediatricians interviewed in the NYT for their new baby care book offer a fabulous quote: “We’re trying to help people understand the basis of language development in really young children. The data are so impressive. If only we could take a functional M.R.I. and make people understand how it translates into reading “Goodnight Moon” to your child. Read books to babies. Talk to them (bold and italics mine).”

It’s simple. It’s important. It works. Read to your children. Get the word out to others. Change a life; read to a child.


Some books are so amazingly put together that one can’t help but wonder if the author and illustrator were totally aware of what they were doing–or if they got a little lucky.

I know they most likely knew what they were doing; people who are great at what they do make it look so simple and easy.

Yet I am still blown away by the book Maggie’s Ball by Lindsay Barrett George for the seamless way it puts together a good story with several early literacy skills.

Maggie is a dog with a yellow ball who is looking for someone to play with. The ball gets away from her, though, and rolls into town. Here’s where the fun begins.

The double page spread of the town has four shops around a circle. Lots of people are in town, doing and carrying a variety of “things”–hoops, scooters, dumbbells, wheelchairs. There are poodles, balloons, drums, easels, lollipops, monkeys. These illustrations provide lots and lots of “things” to talk about, encouraging conversation and building vocabulary.

What makes the picture different, though, is that virtually every image involves circles.

What’s special about circles? A circle is a shape and letters are made of shapes. As a child plays with, talks about, and recognizes shapes, he or she lays the foundation for recognizing letters years down the road.

Maggie goes to town to look for her ball and visits each shop. At each one there are many more circular “things” to talk about and name. There’s cakes, cookies, clocks, pizzas, pets, balloons. There’s also practice with discrimination skills. Is the lemon her ball? It’s yellow, and it’s mostly round. How do we know a lemon is not a ball?

Print on these pages is very succinct and very clear, building print awareness on each page, until finally a girl finds the ball and asks Maggie to play.

Remember how I mentioned that shapes build the skill of letter knowledge? Here it’s masterful: The girl has the round yellow ball in her hand. She says “Go fetch” across four pages. The “O’s” in “Go” are stretched out though, each letter “O” set clearly and distinctly across the four pages, even bouncing like a ball until the last “O” turns into Maggie’s “O” shaped, yellow ball.

The girl and dog play ball, become friends, and end the story by sitting together reading a book, an ending tying it all up with a dash of print motivation. I mean, if I could play and read with a dog as darling and expressive as Maggie (pages where where she is sad about losing her ball and then the ones where she is happy finding her ball just tug at you), I’d certainly want to read!

So there you have it: five of the six early literacy skills effortlessly wrapped up in one fun book. (Recap of the skills included: print motivation, vocabulary, print awareness, narrative skills, and letter knowledge).

Maggie’s Ball works on so many levels. I hope you’re kids will enjoy too!


It’s taken several weeks to get the following posted, but I’m afraid getting storytimes back on track and finding my desk again under the piles took precedence! 🙂

I presented More than Eensy Weensy Spider: Early Literacy Storytimes and Your Library at the Association for Rural and Small Libraries conference in October in Denver.  With an understanding of the basics of early literacy, it’s possible for any library, of any size, to adapt their current storytimes into early literacy storytimes–with no extra staffing, time, or money needed.

The links will take you to presentation slides and the handouts. Handouts include addresses for all the links used in the presentation, books referenced for each early literacy skill, references for statistics used, planning sheets for two age groupings, and a flow chart to show the changes from “regular” to “early lit”.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to drop me an email. And permission is granted to use and share for educational purposes with credit given.

Hope these are a help!


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Contact Info for Babette

email babette(dot)reeves(at)gmail(dot)com
snail mail
73 State Avenue
Alamosa, CO 81101

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