Books & Beyond: Going back to our literacy roots

What would you think if you saw this headline:

Where are the books about kids like us?

Would you think We Need Diverse Books? I did. Then I read the article, a feature on the KidsPost page commemorating Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday.

That question was posed to her in the late 1940s; and it led to the birth of Henry Huggins in 1950. I’m sure many of you know the story. Cleary was a librarian at the time, and a young boy “who wasn’t impressed with the books on the shelves” wanted to know where he’d find a book about a boy like him.

The first thing that struck me is that boys DO want to read. They want to see themselves. The other thing that struck me is the timelessness of readers want to know *they* are in a book.

As I was still thinking about those two things, I spotted another headline. This one at the top of the Washington Post Sports section: ‘I didn’t see many players who looked like me.’ It is a story about Willie O’Ree, the first black player to skate in the National Hockey League (NHL). O’Ree is working to make sure that “children of all colors have opportunities to learn and excel at the sport.” Since 1998, when the NHL launched its Hockey is for Everyone initiative, 45,000 boys and girls have been introduced to the sport. Cool, huh?

It’s been a couple weeks since those articles came out, but my thoughts keep going back to them.

  • All of us want the comfort / confidence / sense of belonging that comes when you connect with others in our community. Whether it is the characters in a book, the kids on your hockey team, and many other corners of our lives. This isn’t a “phenomenon” it is a timeless feeling that resides within our hearts.
  • “Be the change you want to see.” O’Ree was making a difference in hockey well before 1998 when the NHL created a program to bring his work to a national level.

So why am I getting all philosophical? Because I’ve grown weary.  I feel as though we, as folks passionate about literacy are going in circles. We share ideas and recommendations among ourselves, but not breaking through to get the message where its needed most. It also seems as though there has to be a “cause” or a hashtag or other rallying cry to *think* about taking action. Last, it seems that the acrimony of the presidential race seems is spilling over into other areas, and meaningful discussions where people listen and/or can agree-to-disagree are hard to come by.

Put all that together, and being passionate about literacy isn’t as much fun as it used to be. For me.

So for the time being, I’m going to step away from blogging and go out into the real world.

Rather than write about literacy, I am going to volunteer and work with kids who need literacy help. The summer slide is coming and there are kids who can use the extra help this summer.

Rather than support a rallying cry or talk/argue about what is wrong with and/or missing in publishing, I’m going to seek out the books that are already here and rely on you to tell me about new ones. I will read as widely as possible so I can help readers find books where they will see themselves.

I will still be running the Reading Tub and building the FLIP app, and I’ll continue to write The Wash Rage, our newly revamped newsletter.  I’ll still be active on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, sharing great ideas and book reviews wherever I find them.  Where this blogging hiatus takes me, I don’t know … and that’s Okay.

Spring Break Ideas to Take Into Summer

spring break ideas literacyLast week, several friends and I were talking about Spring Break. We don’t remember traveling or family vacations. For us, Spring Break was a chance to stay up later, sleep in longer, and hang out with our friends to run around the neighborhood.  Admittedly, that was a different time, but that doesn’t mean that our memories were any less special.

For a myriad of reasons, Spring Break is a staycation in our house. We stay up later, sleep in longer, and break away from the usual routine so that the week feels special. Now that my daughter is 14, her idea of fun is shopping and screen time. Even the mall and watching videos gets boring!  It can take a bit more convincing, but it is possible to nudge her into other kinds of fun.

Spring Break Ideas

These are ideas that we’ve used not only for Spring Break over the years, but also in the summer when we (inevitably) hear “I’m bored.”

A. Grab your phone and go!

Rather than watching their screens, plan an activity where the kids use their screens – namely their phone camera. Whether its a walk in the neighborhood, a visit to the playground,  our a tour around the house, encourage them to

  • experiment with different filters / settings;
  • create collages or other visual images;
  • host an art exhibit; or
  • craft a story.

If they don’t like to write, then let them tell the story as a wordless book or graphic novel.

B. Visit the library!

During the school year, we don’t go to the public library as often as we should. Spring Break is a great time to revive an interest and kickstart the habit of more regular visits. Check your library’s website for the schedule of youth activities.

C. Go on a picnic.

draw leafIt can be in the living room or at the park. Get the kids involved in filling your basket with lunch or snacks, as well as an activity.

  • Toss in a couple of picture books and/or a chapter book to read aloud.
  • Pack drawing paper and pencils for sketching, leaf rubs, or games of tic-tac-toe.
  • Grab coloring books and crayons or colored pencils.

If you’re visiting a local park or playground, plan a scavenger hunt. You can create game cards ahead of time – and even get the kids involved in thinking of items to search for at your destination.

D. Organize their bookshelves.

Maybe its time for some spring cleaning – books they’ve outgrown can be passed down to younger siblings or donated. Yes, this will take a bit of nudging. BUT! Once you start, you will likely be re-reading beloved books and hear cries of “no, I can’t give that one away because …”

These are just a few starter ideas. What activities would you add?

The Wash Rag Returns

The Wash Rag Returns! It could be a fun name for a book, but it is the long-time name of the Reading Tub’s newsletter. As you may remember, one of my goals for this year was to “get a regular newsletter going by spring.” Woot! Spring is three days away and we have a newsletter!

wash rag newsletter

The Wash Rag is a curated newsletter with a few articles. It is “short, sweet and filled with literacy ideas and news. [You can subscribe here.] For those who are new to Family Bookshelf or missed The Wash Rag, we’re republishing it here so you can get a sense of our editorial intent.

The last article includes links to a survey to help us build our FLIP App. We’d love to have the input of our Family Bookshelf readers, too!

The Wash Rag, Spring 2016 Issue

Spring Forward – A New Wash Rag

Welcome Spring! One of our goals for 2016 is to bring back The Wash Rag.

With Daylight Saving Time pushing us ahead, it seems like perfect time to spring forward with a newsletter (re)launch. We’ll keep them short, sweet, and filled with literacy ideas and news.

It’s been a busy first quarter. We just passed the 50 Books Read milestone, and by next quarter expect to have 2,700 reviews in our book bag!

The most exciting news is that the Family Literacy Integration Project is moving forward. Read on to see how you can be part of our project.

Happy reading!


Terry Doherty
Founder & Executive Director

Genre Reads and Nonfiction

What makes wordless picture books and nonfiction wonderful genres for young readers is that it sparks thinking. Wordless picture books and many nonfiction titles are powered by imagery. Photographs and illustrations that grab the reader without saying a word.

award winning wordless picture booksJust last month, the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards (aka Cybils) announced the winners of its 2015 awards.

  • The Fiction Picture Book winner is Sidewalk Flowers, a wordless picture book by JonArno Lawson.
  • The Young Adult Nonfiction winner is Most Dangerous, Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin.

In two recent posts at Family Bookshelf, I wrote a how-to on reading wordless picture books and the diversity of nonfiction options for teens. I hope you’ll click through.

The Cybils lists – from nominees and finalists to winners – are a wonderful resource for finding books that combine the best of literary quality and reader appeal.

FLIP Update

We are most excited to announce that our Family Literacy Integration Project (FLIP) is now moving forward.

As a Reading Tub subscriber, we value your input as we seek to make FLIP a forward-leaning, first-of-its-kind literacy tool. We have created a short survey to collect data in three essential areas:

  • Literacy-related Needs and Habits
  • Patterns of Technology Use
  • Roles & Experiences

Please take our short survey to help make FLIP the best family literacy tool it can be. [Survey length: six minutes or less.]