Magdalena Teske works as a children’s librarian in a public library and has the opportunity to work with children who are not yet reading, in the process of learning to read, and already know how to read. She received her masters degree in library science from Dominican University and has recently written Children's Literacy Under One Hour.
The majority of the topics addressed in Children’s Literacy is easily accessible for parents to understand, yet the book occasionally touches on psychology. Did you do more hands-on research with kids for this book, or more of an academic approach?
I certainly got a lot of the information from books and articles. Early childhood development in particular is a hot topic. As a children’s librarian, I’m very familiar with the commonly acknowledged best practices for encouraging early literacy, so I thoroughly enjoyed researching the specific studies and psychological explanations behind those practices. I also drew heavily upon my educational background, since my classes for my library science masters degree was focused on children’s literature and children’s services. But I wouldn’t say I took a completely academic approach, because I was also informed by my experience working with kids. I get to see first-hand which books are most popular and which storytime songs and activities-- which can be repeated at home-- are most effective.
When discussing genres, you highlight classic mysteries such as The Hardy Boys and The Boxcar Children. Are these sorts of mysteries still popular with young readers? Are they able to relate to books that are decades old?
Children today do still read and enjoy classic mystery series! Although most books will only be popular for a few years, there are a fair number of fictional detectives who have been widely read for several decades. They may not be quite as popular as they were once, but they won’t be disappearing from libraries and bookstores anytime soon. In the cases of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, there are also multiple spin-off series that use the same familiar characters but modernize the setting.
Are preschool level iPad games helpful with getting children to read more? Are those eclipsing usage in books?
It depends upon which games and apps they’re using, how much time they’re spending with iPads, and how their parents are interacting with the kids even outside of screen time. There are lots of great educational apps out there, and I think that digital games can be a very effective way to practice letter recognition and phonics. But playing iPad games shouldn’t replace the experience of a parent and child reading books together; those kinds of games should be provided in addition to reading and other positive adult-child interaction. My experience has been that the popularity of digital games for young children doesn’t impact the usage of books. To a preschooler, iPads and books are two very different activities, and most preschoolers want to participate in both of them.
With regards to non-fiction, do find young children interested in history or any kind? Or does fantasy dominate their interest?
There certainly are some young readers who have little or no interest in non-fiction. Fantasy is a common genre preference right now, and certain realistic fiction titles garner a lot of interest. But there are a fair number of avid non-fiction readers as well. In the library, biographies are probably the most frequently requested type of children’s non-fiction.
In particular, a lot of children like to read about their favorite athletes. Some kids have a favorite scientific topic. Others are interested in specific historic events, such as the sinking of the Titanic. And for the youngest readers, animals tend to be popular subjects.
What would your advice be to parents who have children who are reluctant to reading? For the children who are intimidated by books?
My advice is to encourage the child to choose his or her own books. If the child finds that decision overwhelming, pick out four or five books on topics that your child enjoys, and let the child choose between them. That freedom will often be a bit of a motivator by itself, but the real turning point is when the child finds a series, author, or genre that he or she genuinely enjoys and wants to continue reading. Don’t be disappointed if that happens to be something non-intellectual like Big Nate or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. In fact, you could even recommend those books to your child to get him or her started. Any book can be a gateway to a lifelong love of books. Your first and most important step is to give your child positive reading experiences.