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Creating Geniuses, One Book at a Time

    If your children watched the “Baby Einstein” videos, but failed to turn into geniuses, you can get your money back.  A recently settled suit against Disney, the owner of the popular series, asserts that the claim that the videos are educational is unfair and deceptive.  Parents can get a refund of $15.99 for up to four of the videos.  

    Fortunately, at least one way to help your child to grow intellectually is free and widely available.  You guessed it – reading to your child from books you can borrow from your local public library.  Not only is it free, but numerous studies show the benefits of early read-aloud sessions.  Just pick up one of our “Every Child Ready to Read” brochures, and plunge in!

    The brochures outline the six early literacy skills that children need to start school ready to learn.  Librarians can help you find age-appropriate books for each one.

    Narrative skill is the ability to describe things and events and tell stories.  For children three and up, familiar tales like “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” are perfect for this.  Paul Galdone’s oversized picture book version is crammed with eye-catching illustrations and the kind of language that invites children to chant along with the reader. Playful repetition makes the story easy to remember, and it’s always fun to see a bad guy – the troll in this case – get his comeuppance.  This is lots of fun to act out, with puppets or with a make-believe bridge.

    Letter knowledge means knowing letters are different from each other, knowing their names and sounds and recognizing letters everywhere.  Alphabet books like Chris Demarest’s “The Cowboy ABC” feature nice big letters, interesting vocabulary (F is for Farrier, Q is for Quirt), and appealing illustrations of the horses, landscape and gear that make up a cowboy’s life.

    Speaking of vocabulary, it’s important for children to hear lots of different words, so they will be familiar with them once they learn to read.  “Mr. Gumpy’s Outing” by John Burningham offers plenty of unusual words like “squabbled” and “bleated” in a story about some exuberant animals who tip over a boat in the river.  Lively illustrations help children understand any words that are new to them, and the story has just the right mix of drama and happy ending for preschoolers.

    Phonological awareness is a mouthful, but it’s one of the most important skills children need to learn.  The ability to hear and play with the smaller sounds in words is crucial for sounding out words.  Rhyming books like Eileen Christelow’s “Five Little Moneys” series help children to hear these sounds.  Another favorite, Karen Beaumont’s “I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More,” encourages children to guess the next silly rhyming word.  Singing with children helps this skill, too, so check out the library’s collection of music CD’s for little ones.

    Print motivation means getting kids excited about books and reading.  Check out Ed Emberley’s “Go Away, Big Green Monster!” and watch children’s eyes light up as the scary monster slowly takes shape and is then banished by the reader.  Print awareness, knowing how to handle books and follow words on a page, is another skill this book encourages.

    Librarians make no claims that your children will be geniuses, but reading aloud to children is easy, fun and a great way to build early literacy skills.
First published in the Free Lance-Star on November 3, 2009.