Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Smart, by Anne E. Cunningham, Ph.D. and Jamie Zibulsky, Ph.D.

I was curious to read Book Smart: How to Develop and Support Successful, Motivated Readers simply because I love reading. I have three small(ish) children of my own who I hope will grow up into great readers. I was curious to see if this book would have anything to offer to mothers - including myself! - who want to help their children learn to love reading for themselves.

With that explanation, I launched into the pages of Book Smart eager to glean. There is a lot of advice for how to encourage a child to want and like to read. There are suggestions for everything, from how to speak to your child directly and descriptively, (early and often), as well as how to peruse picture books with them. If you need some help formulating ideas for story comprehension or the hows and whys of the importance of reading aloud together then you will likely find this book motivational. In the end, I think it might benefit a personality which is different than my own. (Sometimes books just suit certain types of personalities.) I have to explain my personality a bit to help you figure out whether or not you yourself would find this book useful.

I'm pretty certain of my own mind and opinions, with few exceptions. (Which is not to say that I'm not open to hear other people's perspectives, but simply to say that I don't verbally process all of my decisions with other people and don't always feel the need for validation.) If I want to teach my kids about some topic that is not very familiar to me, I will research the web, ask specific people for advice when I'm fairly certain they have some to give, read books, watch videos and try to catch a clue for myself. In the case of reading though, I don't much speculate upon my ability to help my kids learn to love it. We read books together all of the time. There are books all over our house - in every nook and cranny. (Some might say it's "clutter" but I say it's "knowledge" and an assortment of other things.) From the time my babies were placed in my arms I was flipping through picture books with them. (Well, that's a slight exaggeration. First I woke up from newborn delirium and then we started flipping through books together.) My first memories of my oldest are of our quiet cuddly times wherein we would read books and then doze off into naptime (yay!). And, of course, I talked to him all the time because he was everything there was and not many other distractions.

By the time my second arrived - age 9 months when we welcomed him home - he had clearly never been read a book before in his life! There was a time when I admit that I despaired he would ever love to read. Our local librarian gave me great comfort when she told me that just putting books into his hands was likely to do the trick as he would learn to turn pages and look at pictures that way. She said it didn't matter if a book were upside down or even if they were chewed on - just put the books in hands. One of his favorite things to do now (at age 5) is to look through books and read them with his sister. Speaking of the sister, she also had a hard time sitting still to gaze upon the glorious Roger Priddy Happy Baby Books. I didn't panic over her though because I'd already been through Book Disregard from one wiggly baby. I figured, in time, surrounded by books, she would be forced to pick one up. She did and she does and we read together often.

We read together because I love it. And now we also read together because they love it. I can sort of see how Book Smart would be more motivational and instructional if you, the adult, had a hard time with reading and wanted to know how to improve your own abilities. Or perhaps this book full of articles and recommendations would also be good for a teacher who enjoys the inner workings of education and applying theories and practices on young minds. (I say that last sentence with a smile because one of my closest friends is this type of person and I think she would find great enjoyment and satisfaction from this read. She loves hearing about theories and applications.)

I guess what I'm saying is - those who love to read are already set up and designed to automatically do everything in their power to make their children readers. We readers know the value of story and so we try to find ways to communicate with our kids through the written word. Even reading parents with reluctant readers seek out words and stories with which they entice their children into books. We seek out books that they will delight in and we encourage them in their own particular interests. Frequently this works to great a new reader. To me, Book Smart reads off as common sense. However, I also know that sometimes people need the added encouragement of pursuing something with their kids with the advice of "professional educators" behind them and that's ok too. If you are that type, then this book is a worthy read.

My general opinion explained, Book Smart was a very good reminder to me to talk to my kids and make sure my vocabulary is expansive and refined enough to help educate them as they grow. The more variety in my vocabulary the more they will understand about the world around them. It's so tempting and easy to tune out the noise of multiple children that I frequently forget to talk and explain things to my younger kids the way I used to explain them to my oldest. I no longer walk through the grocery store pointing out all the variety of foods that we see. I don't talk about colors and contrasts and the unique things that surround us. My vocabulary is more limited to phrase like, "Don't touch!" and "Pay attention to ME, please", etc. I've become more worried about getting in and out of the store in the shortest amount of time possible with the least amount of guidance possible that I don't seem to have time to discuss the produce. I guess you might say that this book was a good reminder that it's a good idea to take life at a slower pace.  Living simply and calmly - rather than with a gigantic, all-consuming To Do List is better for my children's mental health just as much as my own! Taking time to just be and to describe green grass and clouds floating in the sky opens up the world around them in new and beautiful ways and draws them to the beauty of the written word and story. That's important and I appreciated the reminder.

I do hope my kids continue to love books. I'll do everything that I practically can to help them find delight in the written word. why? What is my ultimate reason? Because God gave us His written word so that we might know Him. I want them to find Him in the Word.

Developing a love of words, love of knowledge and a delight in truth and beauty is a worthwhile goal and I delight in it! I might even say that it's my favorite aspect of parenting.

Although I cannot say that I love this book as being Beyond Valuable I did find it curious and encouraging in spots. I leave it to you to figure out if you would find it useful. You might!

Many thanks to Oxford University Press for sending a copy of this book my direction in order to facilitate this review. I received no additional compensation and all opinions are 100% my own.


Barbara H. said...

It does sounds like a lot of common sense. I can see someone picking this up who had a child who didn't seem to like to read but hadn't received the great advice you had gotten and were worried about it.

All of mine loved to read when they were little: only one is an avid reader now, but one has come around a bit more in adulthood. I have high hopes for the last one. :-)

Jessica B. said...

My husband and are both readers and my kids on a path, so it seems to be so also.
But I work with 2 children from a family who spend all of their time on the iPad, with video games or watching tv. I can't convince the mom that to have children become readers they have to be read to and also read themselves. I fear that these kids, age 9 and 12 and both struggling readers may not be able to become readers. Do you think this book might help her? Have you read the Read Aloud Handbook? That book comes to mind too...
jesslburke (at)

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