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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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!”

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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.

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.

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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:

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The Earth Book 
by Todd Parr

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

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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:

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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:

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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.

Stories to Learn From: Women’s History Month and Beyond

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March was Women’s History Month, but that doesn’t mean that because March is done we have to stop learning. We created a book list so that you and your family can keep the learning going all year round. Picture books are great for introducing young readers to famous women in history while novels and biographies can be perfect for older children looking to learn more about an era in history or a woman they admire. Whether reading about the arts, science, or politics— you can be sure there’s an admirable lady for kids to look up to and learn from.

Happy reading!

In The News: Literacy and Education news for February 2017

The New York Times: From Children’s Books to Live Theater: Mo Willems and Oliver Jeffers Have New Tales to Tell
“Mo Willems and Oliver Jeffers — two of the most beloved, and singular, creators of children’s picture books working today — have both seen their literary creations head to the stage.

The Hechinger Report: Can private Pre-K for All providers survive in New York City?
As “New York City continues to expand its nationally lauded free preschool program, private providers contend with high expectations and exacting requirements.”

The Washington Post: Why it’s important to read aloud with your kids, and how to make it count
“Study after study shows that early reading with children helps them learn to speak, interact, bond with parents and read early themselves, and reading with kids who already know how to read helps them feel close to caretakers, understand the world around them and be empathetic citizens of the world.”

The Boston Globe: State early childhood education system ‘in crisis,’ says DeLeo
“Last year DeLeo asked local business leaders to find ways to increase access and improve the quality of the state’s early childhood education system, which serves children from birth to 5 years old. His presentation Wednesday marked the release of that report.”

Education Week: Head Start Could Be Innovator for Early-Childhood Workforce, Ed. Group Says
“Head Start, the venerable 52-year-old federal preschool program for children from low-income families, could be [sic] serve a role in improving the early-education workforce as a whole, says a new report from Bellwether Education Partners, a Washington-based consulting firm.”