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Interview with Terry Doherty, Creator of The Reading Tub, Inc., Part Two

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The Reading Tub, in promoting reading and literacy, is devoted to "Turning a Page… Opening The World."® I recently had the opportunity to talk with the non-profit organization's founder, Terry Doherty, about her labor of love. This is the second part of a two-part interview. Read part one.

What seem to be the best books for reluctant readers?

It is really important that reluctant readers feel they are moving through a book quickly. They tend to like books with lots of 'white space' around the edges and they need pictures to take up some of the page. Shorter sentences and action-driven plots also help.

During the school year, I volunteer with a program that offers tutoring to first graders who are struggling with reading. It is an incredibly enlightening experience, and last year I worked with a boy who would get discouraged when we read books that had more than two or three sentences on a page. So then we would partner read. He got to practice his reading, and I helped by moving the story along. In some ways it is more important to keep the child reading (he can see the words you read) than it is to MAKE him read everything on a page.

For third and fourth graders, we need books with pictures that offer more sophisticated plots. They don't want to read Henry and Mudge or the Froggy books anymore. That just reminds them of how hard it was to read when they were in first and second grade. I have been very impressed with some of the books we've seen with more sophisticated stories and adventures. They are an excellent bridge and can encourage struggling or remedial readers.

How much reading is good reading?

I'm not sure about the best way to answer that. The general recommendation is 20 minutes per day, though I have seen a recommendation for 10 minutes/day, too. Reading with a child is a dynamic, individual process. The goal is to create a positive association with reading. The more it is forced, the more the child will struggle against it.

Reading isn't always about practicing letter sounds or learning words. Some of the best reading can be the shared experience of flipping through the pages of a book to look at the pictures, and maybe talk about them. You can encourage your child to read just by sitting together and sharing a book. Wordless books are great for that.

As kids get older, the actual reading part will be more important. Reading is the one skill that has to be practiced at home, every day. You want to do your best to make this a positive experience. As much as you can, find books that match their interests and reading level. Librarians and teachers are incredible resources that can help you with that. The more you can offer books on subjects they like, the easier it will be to get in that practice time.

My daughter is just starting to read, so we've transitioned from some of the great books we love to share to books with vocabulary and sentence structure that suit her ability. She will rave about a book, and my husband will complain that it's "boring." But that's part of the process … simple and repetitious. So we sprinkle in some of the family favorites with the learning-to-read titles to keep it fun for everyone.

How do you see the future of children’s books now that electronic and print-on-demand publishing are becoming increasingly popular?

I have mixed emotions. On the one hand, I think they offer parents an educational alternative to television and computer games. On the other hand, though, it is yet another format that sits a child in front of a screen. Like TV, sitting at the computer could become a babysitter that absorbs lots of time and doesn't encourage human contact. The average kindergartener has spent more than 5,000 hours in front of a TV! That's a lot of "screen time."

We have received and reviewed a number of electronic books. Some are CDs that you listen to in the car or on your home stereo. Others are DVDs. Some are books with virtual pages that you click with a mouse and require someone to read the screen. We have received some DVD stories that include audio (i.e., there is a reader and moving highlights to point out words as it reads). We have also gotten multi-media products that offer the story, as well as additional educational material.

The multi-media products are my favorite, because I think they engage a child more than just a book. They also don't require my 100% participation for reading the book and give the child a sense of independence in their reading.

Are ebooks and POD books popular with your readers?

Actually, I have found eBooks hard to place with families. Most of our reviewers like/want the experience of sharing the book with their child. Unless you have a laptop, when you read a book on the computer, you need a desk and enough space for two chairs. It's not quite the same cozy experience.

We were reading an eBook on the computer recently and my daughter complained that it was just like watching TV. She tends to like the eBooks that are CDs that she can put in her little Boombox. She will listen and re-listen to those stories for hours. I like that. She gets the benefit of reading by learning words and language, but she also has to use her imagination to visualize the characters and events.

I think if you have children who read independently, eBooks and POD titles could be popular. Especially when you are traveling!

What can people do to help The Reading Tub and literacy in general?

Please read with a child. Just 20 minutes of reading each day can make a HUGE difference in a child's reading achievement. There is a website called Ladders to Learning, and they had this to say about why we need to read with our kids: The group of children who were read to on a daily basis were 1.6 times as likely to be rated by their teachers as being near the top of their kindergarten class in learning skills, and 2.3 times as likely to be near the top of their class in communication skills. These relationships hold true regardless of the income of the child’s household and the education of the child’s mother.

If you don't have children, visit your local library and see if you can volunteer to read during story time. Or call your local family services center to see if there are programs you can volunteer with. If you're worried about "how" they teach reading these days, don't be. The important thing is that a child has an adult who supports them and says "I believe in you" just by helping. Last year we commissioned a set of articles about Guided Reading by Cathy Puett Miller, the Literacy Ambassador. The articles offer steps about ways to read with a child.

We would love to have some more book reviewers. We have a list of more than 200 titles on our "wish list." Some of these are books that people have asked us to read, but we haven't been able to get to them because we have so many sitting on our shelves already. All it takes is a trip to the library to read one of these books.

When you visit our website, please take the time to register. We don't ask for a lot of information, and we don't send out a lot of email. We just want to know about the books you are reading with kids (grandkids, kids in playgroup, kids at school). Tell us your zip code and we can add your local library to our list. We don't have any registered readers in Nebraska or North Dakota, so if you know someone … spread the word. I would love to have a link to at least one library in every state by the end of the year!

Some people believe there’s simply too much sex and violence in young adult novels these days, while others believe books should reflect our present culture and society. What’s your opinion?

I don't know that I would limit the "too much" label to just young adult novels. I have been very surprised at the content marketed to younger children in picture books and early reader chapter books.

That said, we don't tend to get many books that cause us to raise an eyebrow. It may be that our target audience is younger; or it could be that authors/publishers for YA material don't see us as fitting their review demographic.

I would like to add, though, that we have received some incredible books for young adults that our teen reviewers have loved. The teens see stories with lots of action and characters they can relate to; the parents see books with wholesome stories and life lessons.

Keeping an eye on what our kids read is part of being a parent. I would put it in the same box as knowing about what movies they watch, what video games they play, or who their friends are. I think there is more to our culture and society than sex and violence. Yes, there is plenty of it and it is marketed to our kids as "cool." We can only shield our kids so much. At some point, we have to have faith that they will make the right choices. As parents, we get the "pleasure" of making the hard call when we have to.

Is there anything else you would like to say about you or your organization?

The Reading Tub® is the result of my own love of reading. I am very lucky to be able to build this resource and share my enthusiasm with others. If we can inspire just one person to read with a child, then we will have helped the world!

Thank you for this opportunity to share my passion.

Thank you, Terry! It was a pleasure to have you here!

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.
  • http://www.readingisforeveryone.org Cathy Puett Miller

    I loved this blog interview – especially the parts about how important it is for parents to read with their children and the plug for the Reading Tub, a worthy organization. Keep up the good work.