UGH! The Elephant in the Room:

MC, Many of Your Books Are Challenging to Read!

My proud response: YES, THE ARE! AND there are reasons I’ve written many of them with rich vocabulary and alliteration. I’m on a mission to provide parents and teachers with books that will introduce children to new uncommon words and build phonemic awareness through alliteration. These stories are meant to be read to children by the adults in their lives. Children with extensive vocabularies and strong phonemic awareness have been shown to have more academic success. My goal is to support literacy development in students through the power of stories.

Benefits to Simplicity… Rich Vocabulary Requires Effort

Presently many of today’s picture books are leveled, as such, they have been written to encourage and empower children to read independently whether it be aloud or silently. This is great as children can look through the pages, see recognizable words, and feel relaxed to attempt decoding and understanding the text. These books build independent reading confidence.

Parents fall into the trap of looking for simple books. Often parents look for a quick read at bedtime since they are more exhausted than their kids. In addition, many parents are locked into the idea that bedtime reading is a time for their child to read to them and practice the skill of decoding, hence, wisely they choose a simple book at a child’s reading level.  For many parents, bedtime becomes a disengaged hurry-up read as they are preoccupied with the many things on their to-do list. I know because I fell into this trap myself when the kids were small.

In the classroom, the same thing happens, teachers are sometimes happy to embrace the easy simplistic text as it can be read with minimal discussion from the children. The read-out-loud becomes a relaxing break for everyone. Answers are simple. Extra time doesn’t need to be spent polling a variety of students for the ‘correct’ or insightful response. If a class is struggling to settle into cooperative group listening, waiting for something to be explained or shared can be difficult. Many teachers feel compelled to define every word that is challenging. A book with rich vocabulary is extra work.

If simple leveled picture books make bedtime and teaching easier, why introduce ‘difficult’ books to our children? It builds strengths in vocabulary and inferencing. It challenges a listener to look deeper into illustrations for meaning. It introduces new words and meanings to children orally so that when they see difficult words in print they will refer back and make strong educated guesses based on prior oral learning when attempting to decode. It’s like going to the gym and picking up that slightly heavier weight with the goal of increasing muscle strength. Hard and big words build literacy muscle. Literacy muscle builds confidence. Let’s not forget challenges build resilience.

How Can I Introduce Complex Picture Books So It is Fun and Relaxing?

1). Mindset:

  • First shift one’s thinking that complex picture books are difficult. They are less difficult than you think.

2). Scaffolding Strategies:

  1. First, do a picture walk from front to start. Ask your child what they predict the story will be about. Ask them why and what on the front cover leads them to think this way. Proceed through the book looking at the pictures discussing what you both see. This is a super easy and relaxed way of engaging in a book. You can even make up your own version of telling the story with the pictures. If you are super tired or need a quick read time this is a great strategy, then put the book down. There is not a rule that says you have to share stories by reading words.
  2. Before starting the story introduce the story to three to five of the new words they will hear. Ask them if they know what a word means and if not tell them. You could even look up the word on your device. Many of my books have vocabulary listings in the back to make sharing definitions easier.
  3. Remember that you don’t have to read a book in one go. It’s okay to stop part of the way and then pick it up later.

3). Play:

  1. Have fun acting out scenes with your child. Let the child direct what it should look like. It could involve speaking as characters or it could be that you create a still tableau (picture scene) from the book. Act out the hard words. An example might be what does furious look like?
  2. When faced with challenges when reading out loud, don’t be shy to slow down, re-read, discuss and also stop and play with the words. A book doesn’t need to be read perfectly and intensely. Once finished a book go back and re-read a portion of the text you or our listener might have found funny or interesting. There are no steadfast rules.
  3. Alliteration and tongue twisters are often silly and they can be practised anywhere. They are a fun alternative to browsing a cell phone or can bring a few laughs at the dinner table. Use some of the alliterative phrases from the stories for your tongue twisting play.

You don’t have to sacrifice time or ease to read a complex picture book. Ultimately my stories are intended to entertain and stretch literacy skills. Remember by including challenging reads in your bedtime repertoire you will be building literacy strength with your child. It’s easy as 1,2,3!

Flying Fairy with a Wand