In the Spotlight: LA Library Specialist Juliette Portnoy!

Juliette with the kids in the library.

Reading Role Models.
Literacy Leaders.

Our Library Specialists have a lot of unofficial titles, but what never changes is the importance of the work they do and the passion and dedication that they have for guiding our youngest readers towards literacy success.

Juliette Portnoy is our Los Angeles Library Specialist, and she found her way to us in 2016 after graduating with a BS in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and a Masters in Social Work from Columbia University. Her experience ranges from casework in foster care to working as a counselor in various school settings. In March 2018, she will celebrate her two-year anniversary with Books for Kids!

We wanted to give you a closer look at the work Juliette does day-to-day in our libraries. So we asked her a few questions.

Tell us about your first day in the library and how you felt. Has anything changed for you since then?
“When I first started working in the libraries, I myself was unsure of my ability to engage fairly large groups of children in StoryTime. I was worried that perhaps the children would be easily distracted or simply uninterested. Now, the children show me on a daily basis how excited they are and they request songs that have become a part of our routine. They love hearing new and old books and are always eager to take a book home from the library. In most cases also, the children have become responsible lenders and I am sure that most books will be returned in a timely fashion and in great condition!”

What techniques have you found most useful for engaging kids in StoryTime and Lending? What advice would you give to the parent of a “reluctant” young reader?
“I have found humor to be most effective in engaging children in StoryTime. The kids love the funny books, Pete the Cat, Here Comes the Big Mean Dust Bunny, Polar Bear’s Underwear, and books of that sort tap right into the child’s sense of humor and they immediately become engaged. In addition to choosing silly, funny books, adding funny voices and sound effects can really make a story come alive for the kids. Another technique that works well in engaging children is asking a lot of questions about what they think may happen or why a choice was made, etc. I even choose books without many words, like Rosie’s Walk, where, just by looking at the pictures, the children can tell the story themselves. Another way to get kids reading is by selecting song books, like Jamberry and Baby Beluga. Simple yet memorable melodies can make reading an exciting and engaging activity for the little ones!

The advice I would give a parent of a reluctant reader is, don’t give up. Similar to the introduction of different foods to babies, sometimes young children need to be introduced and reintroduced to story time and books several times before they get comfortable with the activity and find they like and enjoy it. Of course, choosing books that are about a topic of interest, like cats or ballerinas or garbage trucks, is always a great way to enhance engagement in young children. There’s a book out there for everyone!”

Tell us about a particularly special experience you’ve had in the library.
“Honestly, every StoryTime is special. I am always greeted with warm hugs and smiles and requests to hear songs and books over again. The children have made me cards and expressed their gratitude to me in a variety of ways that are so meaningful to me. One thing that always puts a smile on my face is when we are reading a story and a child relates something in the books to something that they’ve experienced personally and are so eager to share it with me, they can’t contain themselves!”

Here’s a multi-part question! What is your personal favorite picture book?
Which book do you have the most fun reading in StoryTime?
What is your favorite BFK library shelf category?
“There are so many great books, it’s hard to just choose one! I love the book I Like Me, about the pig who simply enjoys her own company and appreciates the little things about herself. I think this book teaches a lesson that all of us can benefit from. I also love reading The Best Nest, Are You My Mother?, The Cat in the Hat, Baby Beluga, Gaston, and countless others! I have two favorite shelf categories, the “Character Traits” section and the “Animal” section. These are both filled with my own and my students’ favorites!”

And finally, a question we love to ask our readers of all ages: What’s a book you read for yourself recently and loved?
“I am currently reading A Journey to the Heart, which is a daily meditation book that contains a lot of inspiration, especially when going through a tough time. I am about to begin Emerald City for my book club, and I am looking forward to that one! Should arrive in an Amazon package tomorrow :)”

Juliette with the kids in the library

8 for 2018!

Happy New Year! 2017 is done, but we’ll be reading the books it gave us again and again. Now it’s time to look ahead at what 2018 will bring. Mark your calendars, because here is a list of eight upcoming titles that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Want more book lists like this? You’ll receive recommendations on the latest and greatest in kid-lit each month when you sign up for the Books for Kids mailing list!

little blue truck springtime

Little Blue Truck’s Springtime
Written by Alice Schertle, Illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Publication Date: January 2, 2018
Ages 0-4

Little Blue Truck is on another adventure, and this time the world in spring is the backdrop. Kids can’t seem to help but fall in love with Little Blue Truck, and we’re sure this book will provide all the same sweetness and fun as its previous incarnations. Lift-the-flap and perfect for the youngest readers, you’ll want to pick this one up as soon as it hits the shelves.


Written by Matt de la Peña, Illustrated by Loren Long
Expected Publication Date: January 9, 2018
Ages 4-8

This story about love, with its many forms and the many ways it connects all people, will surely earn a spot on your shelf this year. It is the latest book from Newberry Medal-Winning author, Matt de la Peña (Last Stop on Market Street) and illustrator Loren Long (Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters).

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Harriet Gets Carried Away
Written and Illustrated by Jessie Sima
Expected Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Ages 3-7

Harriet wears costumes everywhere, but when she wears her penguin costume out to run errands for last minute party hats for her birthday party, she gets carried away from her home, her dads, her friends, and her normal life by real penguins to go live in the Arctic. But is that where she belongs? Jessie Sima’s Not Quite Narwhal was an instant success among our staff and kids, so we have a hunch Harriet Gets Carried Away will be an exciting follow-up to last year’s hit book.

ive loved you since forever

I’ve Loved You Since Forever
Written by Hoda Kotb, Illustrated by Suzie Mason
Expected Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Ages 3-7

A sweet meditation about the bond between parents and their children, Kotb wrote this book as a testament to love after the adoption of her daughter. It’s the perfect book for reading together with little ones, and we’re sure you’ll find yourself going back to it long after the first story time is done.

la vida de selena

La Vida de Selena
Written by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein, Illustrated by Citlali Reyes
Expected Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Ages 2-6

Bilingual books are some of the most loved books in our collections because reading in two languages is a valuable experience for language learners while also helping children whose families don’t speak English as their first language join in on the fun in another way. The latest from the Lil’ Libros collection, La Vida de Selena tells the story of Selena, the musical sensation whose work is still celebrated today.

she persisted around the world

She Persisted: Around the World
Written by Chelsea Clinton, Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Expected Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Ages 4-8

She Persisted: Around the World is the much-anticipated follow-up to Clinton and Boiger’s first illustrated collection of strong women that little girls (and everyone!) should know. We can’t wait for this latest installment which features the contributions and the important work of thirteen women across time and across the globe.


Written by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Expected Publication Date: May 8, 2018
Ages 4-8

The second installment in the Shape Trilogy, Barnett and Klassen are at it again with their simply funny illustrations and sense of humor that pleases both children and adults. This story about having an open mind, featuring Circle and Square, will surely liven up story time, so don’t be surprised if you hear, “Let’s read it again!” on a regular basis.

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The Day You Begin
Written by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by Rafael López
Expected Publication Date: August 28, 2018
Ages 4-8

When we saw there was a collaboration ahead from Woodson (National Book Award Winner) and López (two-time Pura Belpre Illustrator Award Winner), we knew it would be a dream come true. The cover has yet to be released, but it has already earned a spot on our “must read” list for 2018. About feeling different and feeling out of place, and the power of sharing your story, The Day You Begin is sure to help children navigate their world where connection can seem scary and reaching out can seem impossible. It’s also sure to let us know that there is hope, and what could be better to look forward to at the start of this brand new year?

17 FOR 2017!

It’s been a wonderful year in books! We wanted to present you with the titles that our staff has been raving about and that the kids in our libraries want to read again and again. A number of excellent books were published in 2017, and we hope this selection will inspire you to explore books you’ve yet to try and to branch beyond our picks.

Happy Reading!

after the fal
After the Fall

Written and Illustrated by Dan Santat
Ages 4-8

city moon
City Moon

Written by Rachael Cole, Illustrated by Blanca  Gómez
Ages 3-7

creepy underwear
Creepy Pair of Underwear

Written by Aaron Reynolds, Illustrated by Peter Brown
Ages 4-8

crowd ode to fresh cut
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

Written by Derrick Barnes, Illustrated by Gordon C. James
Ages 4-8

here we are
Here We Are

Written and Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Ages 3-7

i wanna be a cowgirl
I Wanna Be a Cowgirl

Written by Angela DiTerlizzi, Illustrated by Elizabet Vucovic
Ages 3-7

jabari jumps.jpg
Jabari Jumps

Written and Illustrated by Gaia Cornwall
Ages 4-8

little leaders
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

Written and Illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Ages 4-10

mighty construction
Mighty, Mighty Construction Site

Written Sherri Duskey Rinker, Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Ages 2-5

noisy night.jpg
Noisy Night

Written by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Brian Biggs
Ages 2-6

not quite narwhal
Not Quite Narwhal

Written and Illustrated by Jessie Sima
Ages 3-7

magical do nothing day
On a Magical Do-Nothing Day

Written and Illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna
Ages 4-8

sam scared
Sam, the Most Scaredy-Cat Kid in the Whole World

Written and Illustrated by Mo Willems
Ages 3-7

sarabella thinking cap
Sarabella’s Thinking Cap

Written and Illustrated by Judy Schachner
Ages 5-8

she persisted
She Persisted

Written by Chelsea Clinton, Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Ages 4-8

sleep well siba saba
Sleep Well, Siba and Saba

Written by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl, Illustrated by Sandra van Doorn
Ages 3-7


Written by Julia Denos, Illustrated by E.B. Goodale
Ages 3-7

peppa and pete
Bonus Books: Peppa and Pete!

It’s no secret: Kids love Peppa Pig and Pete the Cat! So we wanted to dedicate a special spot on this list to the characters our library bookworms adore so much. These familiar characters found themselves in some new and groovy adventures this year, so if you’re looking for a book that’s sure to please young readers, be sure to check out any of the following: Peppa Pig and the Library VisitThe School Play (Peppa)Peppa’s Storybook CollectionPete the Cat and the Cool Cat Boogie, and Pete the Cat Treasury: Five Groovy Stories.

If your favorite didn’t make the list, let us know in the comments below!


2 Years with BFK! A Spotlight on Hannah Kowalczyk-Harper

Our Library Specialists are at the core of what we do. Once the library is built, it is the programs and people inside that truly make it a resource as they guide children toward a love of books and a lifelong journey of learning. As R. David Lankes said, “Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.” And Hannah, our Las Vegas Library Specialist, keeps community at the heart of everything she does. She’s been with us two years and we wanted to shine a little light on her important work.

Hannah has had a deep impact on the children and families that come through her library, so we’re sharing some of those fun and special moments with all of you.

Here are some of Hannah’s favorite moments from her last two years, in her own words:

It’s always really fun to celebrate the changing of seasons with the students at my schools. For example at two of my sites, we’ve had “Fall in Love with Reading” events to celebrate fall. For a parent event at Variety last year, I created a big, fake fireplace so families could “cuddle up with a good book.” If it hasn’t become clear, I love a good pun. After the event, I kept the fireplace in the library until winter ended. Sometimes during their library session, children would say they were cold. My response would be to pull the fireplace closer and let them carefully warm their hands. With warnings to be careful and not burn themselves, they would typically touch the tissue paper and, all smiles, pretend to have burned themselves. I love kids’ imaginations and how they’ll play along with almost anything!

Not only do my students say the cutest things, but they make the silliest faces! Last year, I laughed way too hard at our impromptu “David Face” contest. Prior to going to the library that day, I hadn’t planned on having any contests. But when I told kids to make a face that looks like David from the series by David Shannon, it was too funny for their classmates and teachers not to see. We decided to have a contest where Books for Kids staff would decide which children made the best “David Face” and give them a free book. All participants received a sticker. With fun activities like this, I hope to reinforce that books aren’t just serious, they’re fun!

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Marlowe, Hannah, and the rest of the class enjoying The Black Book Of Colors.

Each year I have some returning students and meet lots of new children that I haven’t worked with before. This year, one of my new students is Marlowe*. Being blind, we wanted to make sure Marlowe still felt represented in the library. The moment I asked Lisa about braille books, she started looking for books we could add to our collection. I wouldn’t be able to do my job nearly as successfully without Lisa’s constant support and the enthusiasm of the entire Books for Kids staff. I chose to read The Black Book of Colors not just to Marlowe’s class, but to the all the children at every site. Students loved touching the bumpy pictures in every class. However, it was extra special during Marlowe’s class when she enjoyed the book and never wanted to stop touching the pages. Several staff members have reached out to me and said that Marlowe loves the library books she takes home. She finishes a book and then starts it over again right away. Sometimes it can be difficult for teachers and librarians to see the impact they make, but in this case, I can tell something special is happening.

As a staff, stories like Marlowe’s are shining light posts that take us from day to day and year to year. When books can bring that special feeling of being seen to a child and bring a class together, it is all the proof we need that books can change lives. We hope these stories have given you a glimpse into the world Hannah has created for the kids in Las Vegas.

Thank you, Hannah, for all your work and all your love over the last two years. Books for Kids is glad to have you in the family.


*Name has been changed for privacy.

Spotlight on our literacy leaders: the Library Specialists!

“The most important asset of any library goes home at night – the library staff.”
–Timothy Healy

Without our dedicated Library Specialists, our work would be incomplete. They work each week with our teachers and families to make the library come to life for the children. We often share our favorite parts of the job with each other, but we especially want to share them with you, our supporters! So what is it really like working in a Books for Kids library? Let’s hear what our Library Specialists have to say about our work…

Hannah: Las Vegas, NV
“I’ve been with books for kids since September 2015. I believe our most important job is helping to instill a love of reading in young children. Through listening to and interacting with stories we read, these students can explore feelings, relationships, and the world. When we send books home, both checked out books and gift books, we give families extra opportunities to enjoy literacy together and foster a bond over a love of reading.”

Kids in Las Vegas gather for StoryTime with Ms. Hannah.

Vanessa: Boston, MA
The group photo is a favorite! It is lending time. The books to borrow have been selected and everyone is getting an early start on reading and waiting to check out.”

Lending-ready books mean kids get to borrow their favorites again and again.

Jackie: New York, NY
“The big smiles and hugs that I get when the children enter the bright, colorful space brighten my every day. What I love about coming here is how much the families and children relish getting a book to take home every week and are so conscientious about returning it so their children can get a new one. It makes me so appreciative of the work Books for Kids does in enriching these children’s lives.”

Kids in Ms. Jackie’s StoryTimes know they get to bond over books each week with their dedicated Library Specialist.

Ashley: New York, NY
“I love blending early literacy education with performing arts to get the children excited about reading more in and out of school. I enjoy bringing the characters to life and teaching the children a dance or movement to go with the story so they can have something to take away and get excited about for the next time they open a book. We work with a lot of bilingual children and songs have been a useful tool in learning and understanding the books we are reading (Vocabulary, Pronunciations, Rhythms, etc.). I love to see my kids light up when they see me pulling out the book for StoryTime. I create a little suspense and magic each time I reveal the next story. It’s a joy watching the children at my schools grow and their love for books increasing throughout the school year!”

StoryTime with Ms. Ashley is anything but dull, especially when Peppa Pig is involved.

Tanya: New York, NY
“This student was very quiet in StoryTime and was often looking at the rug or had her hands over her ears. She connected with the book I was reading a few times but then went back to looking at the rug. BUT….when I brought out Peppa, her head flew up, eyes bright, and she began cheering and dancing around the room! She totally came alive in that moment. So it just goes to show the power of picking the right book for each individual child and what that can do! Needless to say, I will be bringing in more Peppa to this class in future!”

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During our final Build-a-Home Library giveaway this year, kids went CRAZY over the Peppa book they got to take home to keep forever.

Amanda: New York, NY
“I first met this mother when she stopped by the library to look at books with her son. Now they stop by the library together every Tuesday. This student loves books about animals and listens intently during every StoryTime. He likes stories about bunnies most of all. His mother says, ‘I have been reading to him since he was one day old.’ (And it shows) I have been truly touched by their bond. They are both always smiling and laughing together. They demonstrate the powerful impact that reading to your child can have on essential development and on the parent/child bond. This mother said that for her son’s first birthday she gave him a Dr. Seuss themed party and everyone that came got a goody bag with a Dr. Seuss book, which they brought to the library to show me. It is a bound book she made for him full of poems, quotes, and photographs from his Dr. Seuss party. In the photos from the party, there is indeed Dr. Seuss everywhere, from the cake to the tablecloths. What I noticed, however, was a photo of the student’s mom and dad wearing t-shirts that said, ‘Thing One’ and ‘Thing Two.’”

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Our libraries provide joyful spaces for children and their families to share special moments.

Sam: New York, NY
“There are few things as exciting as hearing children exclaim, ‘It’s library day!’ when they see me in the halls. I wish I could be at my schools every day to continue my not-so-quiet StoryTimes and spread the love of reading.”

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Ms. Sam is at it again, proving that the library is a space for learning AND laughs, with her not-so-quiet StoryTimes.

Where’s All The Noise Coming From?: A Spotlight on StoryTime

Where’s All The Noise Coming From?

The library!

But, I thought libraries were quiet?

love storytime, and that is definitely not a secret. But I also love StoryTime. What’s the difference you might ask? Storytime is the actual reading of a book to at least one person. The StoryTime Program at Books For Kids includes much more than just reading stories to children. It is composed of library storytime, book lending, book distributions, and family, teacher, and community literacy-based events.

So what is StoryTime like with Ms. Sam? LOUD! The louder, the better, in my opinion. When we read books that are interactive and fun, students should be able to participate. Reading is a social activity. When an adult reads a book they love, they share it with their friends. The same is true at the BFK libraries. During book lending, students proudly show their book selections to their friends. This is one of the reasons we have waiting lists for certain books (I’m talking about you, Peppa Pig).


Over the past two years, I have formed strong bonds with the children in the libraries I visit, and Wednesday afternoons and Thursday mornings are my favorite days of the week. When the children see me in the halls, their eyes get big and they say something along the lines of, “I forgot my book!” or “MISS SAM! It’s Thursday.” I hypothesize that our StoryTime program assists the teaching of calendar skills, as each student surely knows which day they visit the library with their respective Library Specialist.

IMG_4666.JPGOn library day, I arrive at the school at least thirty minutes early. This is when I run into children as I am collecting their returned books and checking in with teachers. Once this is finished, I select the books to read.

I use StoryTime to introduce new books and also revisit familiar, favorite books. Some of the favorites in our libraries are: Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter, Open Very Carefully: A Book With Bite by Nick Bromley and Nicola O’Byrne, and The Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera. The more we re-read these books, the louder the library becomes because the students are reading along with me. Aside from the major benefits of re-reading, reading loved books is exciting. The students also know my major weakness: book requests. If a child walks into the library and asks me to read a specific title, I simply cannot resist! How does one say no to a three-year-old who asks, “Can we read Pete the Cat Buttons today?” meaning Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons.

After the stories are through, it’s time for lending! I absolutely love this process because the students have complete freedom over which book they choose. Usually, at the beginning of the year, students will simply choose the books that are on display, but after a couple of months, they know where their favorites are and ask for books read previously during Storytime.

As I was greeting the rest of the class at the door, someone decided to be “Miss Sam” and read Pete the Cat: The Wheels on the Bus to the class!

I have been a Library Specialist with Books for Kids since September 2015, and I have read over 1,400 books during StoryTime. Almost 1,400 of those readings have been a boisterous event, but as Maya Angelou said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” If I don’t follow Maya Angelou’s lead, then what am I doing in a library?


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Reading the Build-A-Home-Library book, Maria Had a Little Llama/Maria Tiene Una Llamita in English and Spanish with Mr. Chris



By Samantha Murray Doktor, Books for Kids Program Officer.
Follow Sam her on her literacy Instagram account @gabandgrow for more book recommendations and tips.

Books for Kids in Boston: Two New Libraries!

In the words of Elephant and Piggie, “We are growing!” We are pleased to announce that we’ve opened, not one, but TWO brand new libraries in Boston, Massachusetts. Thanks to the generosity of the Mario Batali Foundation, a long-time Books for Kids partner, the more than 430 children and families served by ABCD Geneva Early Head Start and Horizons for Homeless Children now have Ms. Vanessa as their dedicated Library Specialist in the library.

Opening a library is no small task. My favorite part of the process is calling the organizations to notify them of their future library and literacy programs. The joy that comes when children are provided these kinds of resources is infectious, and I know how much it’s going to mean to the kids, their families, and their teachers. But every moment, from the build and installation to the ribbon cutting day, is thrilling to our team, so we thought we’d share a little of that excitement from the Boston opening with you all.

Once the library location was chosen, our partners from Windmill Studios traveled to Boston in March to bring the library vision to life. There are many considerations when designing a library for the youngest learners (think: can they reach the shelf?), and we make sure that it’s an environment that’s both fun and encourages developmentally appropriate learning. Once Windmill takes over, they paint, install shelving, and affix the decorative wall elements. The process takes about one to two days for each library.

And now, it’s time to talk about the best part: the books.

What’s a library without books?

I ordered the books for each library in February, and the boxes were all delivered in March. The number of books purchased for any of our libraries depends on the number of children enrolled, so collections can vary drastically. BFK’s Executive Director, Amanda Hirsh, and I traveled to Boston on March 29th and went straight to ABCD Geneva, the larger of the two new libraries. With the help of several volunteers, Amanda, Vanessa, and I unpacked and organized over 2,000 books! (That book order is one of my proudest accomplishments!) The following day, we did the same at Horizons. This collection, of which I am also exceptionally proud, was a collection of over 1,000 books.

Look at all these books! And there are many, many more.

The only thing left to do was open the library.

On March 31, 2017, Books for Kids participated in Read Eat Grow, an event sponsored by the Mario Batali Foundation to celebrate their dedication and support for Books for Kids, as well as to two other organizations they help support: FoodCorps and First Book. The ceremony took place at ABCD Geneva, and all the attendees got to see the brand new library in person, complete and brimming with books. Children wandered in and out of the library, enraptured, one even exclaiming, “I saw this when there weren’t any books! It looks better now!” High praise. First Book distributed thousands of free books to educators and FoodCorps passed out a delicious and healthy treat. The event epitomized the mission of the Mario Batali Foundation: to ensure all children are well read, well fed and well cared for.

And what happens after a library opening, when the speeches are done and the cameras go away? Literacy programs began at both schools the following week. Our Library Specialists lead magical StoryTimes, facilitate book lending, and plan and implement literacy events for families and teachers in all their libraries. Ms. Vanessa noted that two of the most popular StoryTime books at both schools are This Book is Out Of Control by Richard Byrne and Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson. The students at Horizons studied authors at the beginning of the school year, so they tend to choose books by Mo Willems to borrow for the week to read at home with their families. The students at Geneva love borrowing Peppa Pig books each week.

We thank The Mario Batali Foundation and all our other generous supporters for helping us spread the love of reading and high-quality programming across the country. We look forward to all the exciting opportunities and special StoryTime moments to come.

Here’s a library from start to finish:

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by Samantha Murray Doktor, Books for Kids Program Officer, in collaboration with Samantha Salloway.
Follow Sam Murray Doktor her on her literacy Instagram account @gabandgrow for more book recommendations and tips.

Saturday Stories: Earth Day with Kids

Butterflies fascinated me as a child. They still do, and I have to believe at this point that no matter how old I get I’ll always have to stop whatever I’m doing when one flutters by and shout the obvious: “Look it’s a butterfly!” People raise their eyebrows now as if to say, Yes, Sam. What powers of observation you have. We have eyes too. But when you’re a kid, such exclamations are met with a much different reply. A chorus of people will smile and praise your wonder at the natural world and ask you what you know about butterflies and what books you’ve read and if you know that a caterpillar actually becomes a butterfly.

This fact is still as shocking to me now as it was then.

I had to know more, and books were my way in. My parents shared with me the classic Eric Carle tale, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Lois Ehlert’s Waiting for Wings. And whenever we visited my grandparents we stopped by the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. It became my new favorite place.


My mother and I “waiting for wings” to appear at the Butterfly Center. 

From there I moved on to non-fiction books and promptly decided that my favorite butterfly wasn’t a butterfly at all, but a moth. The Luna Moth became my obsession, and suddenly there was a lot of reading to do about the differences between moths and butterflies. Then in the third grade our teacher did a butterfly project with the class where we raised Monarchs and released them. I can still see them flying away from me. I won’t forget that moment, or the books I read, or standing with my mother looking for butterflies in the museum.

Earth Day is the perfect time to spark a year-long love and sense of awe for nature in children and in yourself. It’s important to teach about sustainability and how to meaningfully interact with the environment, but it all starts with that sense of wonder and appreciation for all the Earth does and is. We keep many books about nature in our libraries (we have a whole shelf for the topic plus additional books in the non-fiction section) and love to work with teachers and caregivers to help them develop creative ways to encourage children to care about their world, no matter where they live- rural, urban, or suburban.

The list of ways to inspire children to love and care for their environment while still keeping literacy goals in mind is endless. It’s all about making connections and reinforcing learning while you’re out and about in the world together.

Was you child enamored by the pigeons on the walk home? Remind them of Pigeon, the lively main character of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems, and read it together at home or in your local library.

Are you planting seeds together now that spring is here? Share Lois Ehlert’s Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf to learn about the life cycle of a tree.

One of the best ways to reinforce vocabulary acquisition and letter recognition in young children is to point out signs as you go through your day together. We may look past all those “Don’t walk on the grass” warnings where grass seed or flower bulbs have just been planted, but it will be a new concept for children and will reinforce words they’re learning.

Here are some of our favorites books about nature and environmental awareness that both children and adults will love to share together:

earth book
The Earth Book 
by Todd Parr

charlie and lola
Charlie and Lola: We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers 
created by Lauren Child

curious garden
The Curious Garden 
by Peter Brown

By Samantha Salloway, Books for Kids’ Administrative Assistant and caretaker of our blog. She spends her time doing all manner of reading, writing, editing, and learning.

From Page to Screen: Addressing Screen Time for Children

“From birth to about three years of age, each second represents the creation, by the brain, of seven hundred to one thousand additional neuronal connections.”

Dana Suskind

Lately, I have been on what feels like “A Screen Time Crusade.” Whether I’m informing parents of the dangers of their child spending too much time in front of a screen or questioning our nation’s obsession with technology-literate toddlers, I am working to educate caregivers and help them combat the potential consequences of prolonged exposure to screens.

Research about the long-term effects of screen time are still developing, but because we know that interacting, playing, talking, and reading with our children is crucial to maximum brain development, we also know that constant screen time will not match or exceed the value of face-to-face learning. For this reason, among others, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children under 18 months old should only be in front of a screen while video chatting. Children ages two to five should not exceed one hour of screen time each day, and that is only for high-quality and interactive programming (AAP).”

What are babies really learning if they are passively watching material while simultaneously over-stimulating their brains with the pace, sounds, and colors of videos and “educational resources” presented to them on a screen? “In 1970, the average age in which children began to watch television regularly was 4 years. And today, based on research that we’ve done, it’s 4 months. It’s not just how early they watch but how much they watch. The typical child before the age of 5 is watching about four and half hours of TV a day. That represents as much as 40 percent of their waking hours” (Dr. Dimitri Christakis on NPR’s When It Comes to Kids, Is All Screen Time Equal? September 11, 2015). Each of those seconds matters, and it’s important to not waste time with screens that overstimulate the brain with flashing colors and sequences that are too fast to process. These types of programs teach the brain that life is constantly moving, changing scenes, and that one can receive immediate gratification. This is why it’s not surprising that one study from Seattle Children’s Hospital found that, “For each hour of daily TV viewed by the child before age three, the risk of Attention- Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by age seven increased by 10 percent,” (Jim Trelease, The Read Aloud Handbook, 145).

Have you ever come up with amazing ideas in the shower? Perhaps while walking your dog? Maybe when you’re about to fall asleep? That’s because you’re allowing your brain to reflect on the day and make new connections. We all know we should not fall asleep in front of screens, “but scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: When people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas” (Matt Ritchel, Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime, New York Times, August 24, 2010).

All parents and caregivers want their children to achieve their greatest potential, which is why we must lead by example. It breaks my heart when I see adults wearing headphones or earbuds, ignoring the child’s needs and curiosity of their surroundings. Not only is wearing headphones during daily interactions sending a message (intentionally or not) to the child that their questions, desire for interaction, and love are not important, but they are learning that those adult behaviors are acceptable, and they will do the same as they age. Just like we model good reading behaviors to our little ones, we need to model appropriate usage of screen time. We cannot avoid technology, but we can put the screens away in order to be more present in our children’s lives. How about pointing out the signs and logos in your neighborhood, grocery store, or on the bus? It’s an easy way to read, wherever you are. And is there anything better than reading together? You can also make sure you are prepared for times when you may need to occupy your child by carrying board or paperback books, paper and crayons, or word games you can play together.

Not all screen exposure is harmful to children, which is why the AAP includes video chatting as the acceptable form of technology use for children younger than two. Another way you can make screen time valuable is to use closed-captioning. “Enabling the TV’s closed-captioning is the equivalent of a newspaper subscription, but unlike the subscription, it costs nothing” (Jim Trelease, The Read Aloud Handbook, 153). This is especially beneficial to lower-income families who may not have access to a library or additional income for books.

Screen time is an almost unavoidable activity in all of our lives. In order to make the most of technology, participate with your child, even if it’s simply asking a question when the program is finished, discussing the topics covered, or pointing out features from the program in your real life. Make the screen time valuable, and share the experience.

Your turn! What are some of your favorite strategies for making the most of and limiting screen time? Let us know in the comments below.

Book recommendations to enjoy with little ones:

screen time recs

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty & illustrated by David Roberts
Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis
Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima
Play by Dr. John Hutton & illustrated by Sarah Jones
Tek: The Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell

And a book recommendation for those interested in further reading:

read-aloud handbook

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

by Samantha Murray Doktor, Books for Kids Program Officer
Follow Sam her on her literacy Instagram account @gabandgrow for more book recommendations and tips.