The Art of Book Conversations

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“All of the reading she had done had given her a view of life they had never seen.”

[Roald Dahl]

In my last post, “Trust Your Storyteller,” I briefly touch on the idea that reading with a child should be an invested time with a conversation on each page.  Now I will expand on that idea!

This month in my preschool and kindergarten class we are learning about frogs, toads and the miracle of metamorphosis!  I, after hunting through many pet stores in the area, even brought in two little tadpoles for us to observe.  

— Before I go any further, I highly encourage any educator, caretaker, or parent to bring life science into the classroom or home.  Children love observing and caring for other creatures or plants.  In my classroom we have three different animals to observe: I have my three mice (Despereaux, DiCamillo, and Dantès), a Beta fish (Kubo), and two soon-to-be frogs (Arnold and Lobel).  My students can spend the entirety of work time making sketches and observations about our little animals.  We have child-sized clipboards, magnify glasses and observation papers next to each terrarium that offer space for a drawing and written notes.  I encourage my younger students to sketch our pets and bring their papers to me and I will help them write down their observations.  For my older students, I encourage them to come up with stories about the creatures and to put their letter-sound skills to work by attempting to write out these notes on their own.  They love it!–

Now, back to my story.  

To go along with our amphibian theme, we have been reading a lot of Frog and Toad stories by Arnold Lobel.  On top of these books being filled with charming tales about the optimistic Frog and his grumpy best friend, Toad, these books can help introduce the concept of a chapter book to young children.  Each book is a collection of five short stories and comes complete with a table of contents!  Take some time to look at this page and discuss its purpose in the book!

But, the first thing to do when introducing a new book to children is to read the front cover.  I know what you are thinking, “Duh, everyone knows that!”  But remember how earlier I mentioned that there should be a conversation on every page, this should include the cover!  

The first book my class read was Frog and Toad are Friends.  I gathered my class to our circle rug and showed the group the book cover.  Pointing to the words I say, “Today we are going to read a story from the book Frog and Toad are Friends.  What do you think the stories will be about in this book?”  

You don’t even have to open a book to get the conversations started!  

 

Look at the cover of the next book you are going to be reading to your children.  Think of some conversation starting questions:

“Who do you think this book is going to be about?”
“What are they going to do in the book?”

Please note that questions while reading should be open-ended.  This means that you are looking for questions that cannot be answered with yes or no, or with only one correct answer such as, “What colour is Frog’s coat on this page?”  Instead, ask, “Where do you think Toad gets his clothes?”  Not only is this way more fun,  but it will also get those imagination juices flowing!       

This past week one story our class focused on was The Letter.  This story starts with Frog finding Toad sitting glumly on his front porch.  Frog soon finds out that Toad seems down in the dumps because he is waiting for the mail, but he never receives any, so it is a sad time of day.  Frog then sits with his friend and the Mr. Lobel writes that they both feel sad together.  

Let the conversations begin!  

I stop the story there, and while still holding the book open to the page of Frog and Toad both looking sad together and I ask my class, “Why is Frog sad, friends?”  My group sits quietly for a moment, making those cute faces children make when they are thinking hard about something, then one boy says, “Well I think he’s sad because he sees his friend sad and that makes him sad for his friend.”  Another chimes in, “Yes, that’s it!  One time, my sister was sad because she bumped her head, and I was sad with her because I love her.”  These are genuine responses from three through five-year-olds!  

So we put the book on pause and talked about the concepts of empathy and sympathy. And the class began to share politely with their friends, without even being asked, about times they felt the same as a friend because of something that had happened.  These conversations went on for a couple minutes, and all started because we saw Frog having empathy for his friend!

When an adult is taking care to invest in quality reading times with a child, so much can be learned and strengthened.

In this example, the children are not only reading about two very fun characters who go on imaginative adventures, they are also learning social skills such as listening and responding to their peers in a conversations.  Additionally, they are expanding their critical thinking skills by taking the information presented and answering the question, “why?” And of course, they are strengthening their make-believe muscles by thinking about and answering open-ended questions!

Want more open-ended question ideas for your next reading time with your kids?  Leave a comment or email me at roseonreading@gmail.com. And keep a lookout for my next post.  

For now I leave you with this quote by one wise and cherished author:

“The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think.”

[Harper Lee]  

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