I’m so excited to introduce our “endnotes” post. On the last day of each month, Growing Book by Book will feature an interview with a variety of people who know a whole lot about literacy.
Today, we are talking with Tracy Reynolds. I met Tracy when the university she was working for partnered with the early childhood center where I worked. I was blown away by Tracy’s passion for literacy and her enthusiasm for sharing it with others. I hope you enjoy learning more about Tracy and her thoughts on literacy.
Tracy, tell us a little about yourself.
Family and parenting are the most important things to me. I have an awesome husband who is a great dad, appreciates and values my passion for early childhood education, and is also trying to find a cure for cancer in his spare time. I have four beautiful, healthy boys. Big, Big Brother (or B.B.B.) is 16, Big Brother (Big A.) is 4, and “The Littles” (twins) are 5 months old. There is definitely never a dull moment in our house, and I get to use all my parenting muscles every day. I also consider myself a life long learner and a lifelong educator. Right now I am staying home to raise my boys, but I am keeping my head in the education game as much as time (and energy) permits. When I have a spare moment (which doesn’t happen quite as much as I’d like if I am being honest) I drink a cup of strong coffee and read.
I know you’ve had my dream job of teaching Children’s Literature to education majors. What did you like about that job?
Oh gosh, it was my dream job too! I actually couldn’t believe that people would pay me to do something that I loved to do and felt so passionately about. There were so many things I appreciated about teaching children’s literature courses to education students and teachers, but I would bore people to tears if I mentioned them all. If I had to boil the absolute best parts down to three things they would be:
- I am fortunate to have had top notch mentoring and learning opportunities with some of the best professors in the field during my graduate studies. I was grateful for the opportunity to “pay it forward” and pass on my knowledge of and excitement about children’s literature and literacy development to other educators. It felt like an honor, and my biggest hope was that teachers from my classes would then pass that knowledge and love to their students.
- I love books, and I love to read. I am especially passionate about picture books. Learning about and sharing books with people is just extraordinarily gratifying for me on a personal level, so it was a gift to have that be my job.
- This will sound a bit cliché, but I am a real believer in the idea that if you are doing it right, you learn when you teach. Teaching children’s literature and other literacy courses gave me the opportunity to grow in my knowledge every day.
Can I add a fourth…
4. I also got to meet some really awesome educators that enriched me professionally – like you Jodie! I can honestly say that I learned something from everyone I worked with.
As a mom, what are some activities that you’ve done with your boys to promote literacy?
It is so important to me that my boys become good readers. I try not to go overboard, but my boys (like it or not) have a crazy teacher mom. The boys are so different in age, skills, personalities and interests, and it has been a real treat to watch each of them as their literacy development unfolds. Here’s what I’m doing now…
With my oldest (Big, big brother) I just try to encourage. He is a good reader, and will choose to read on his own without prompting. I just make sure he has interesting things to read, make suggestions for books that might stretch him, and ask about the books he is reading. Sometimes we do a modified book club. We read the same book and meet without the other kids to discuss the book. This has been really successful. It’s a nice way for us to bond over something we both enjoy.
My four year, Big A. old loves books and stories (big sigh of happiness) and is just about ready to read conventionally (can figure out the words himself). I have given him some support in this, but I make sure not to push. The most important thing to me is that he is enjoying himself. He likes to be read to, and he likes to read on his own (which is right now reading the pictures). We read together every day. He is pretty particular about what he likes, so book selection is key for him. He gets to choose what he reads himself, and what I read to him. He is very strong willed, so having a choice is VERY important to him!
Beyond books, there are some other things that we do that boost his literacy development. He likes me to make up stories based on his suggested plot lines and characters. He will often stop the stories in the middle to make additional plot requests. He also likes puppet stories, and has a number of puppets that he incorporates into lots of his play. Dramatic or imaginary play is probably what he does most right now. He incorporates vehicles, puppets, small plastic play people, and whatever props he can find to tell stories of his own. Sometimes the stories go on for hours (with breaks of course for snacks). I just let him go. Sometimes he wants me to voice particular characters, but he tells me what to say. Other than that, I just sit back and watch as the captivated audience.
Big A. and I also do some casual letter activities, but only when he wants to do them. I make sure that he has letters to play with. He has letter magnets, felt letters for a felt board, large foam letters, and little letter books. He mostly just plays with them, but sometimes we will just play a game where I will give him a letter or a letter sound and he will tell me a word that begins with that letter or sound. Also, I sometimes slip opportunities to break down a word into its individual sounds into conversation. I am very sly! We also have lots of alphabet picture books that we look at, and that is a great way for him to just see what the letters look like.
In terms of writing, we are working on writing his name conventionally (the right letters in the right order), but this is hard for him. His preschool would like to see him do it, so we are working on it this summer. I probably wouldn’t be pushing it if it weren’t for school. We are working on holding the pencil correctly. To encourage writing, Big A. has lots of different things available to him to write with (colored pencils, pens, pencils, markers, chalk, etc.) Again I want to make it fun for him. He loves felt tip pens, and has his own notebook, so he writes in his own way whenever the spirit moves him. He sees me write in a notebook quite a bit. I still use pen and paper – very old fashioned I know! He will often write in his notebook when I do. He loves to make lists by writing in his own way. The lists don’t look like anything anyone else would be able to read, but he can read them, and he is always quite proud of his work. We also do things to strengthen his small motor skills (hands and fingers) so it is easier for him to use them to write. This is not something that comes naturally to him. Things like cutting with scissors, painting, and working with dough are not his favorite activities because they are hard for him. He doesn’t do any of these things for very long at a time, but even in little bits they help.
The Littles are still very young, but literacy starts early in our home! J I’m a big believer in kids just having access to books, so we have infant/ toddler books all over the house (wait we have lots of stuff scattered all over our house, but now I’m off topic). Our house looks a bit like a library after a bad wind storm. Cloth books are a favorite right now. We have many board books with interesting textures in them, but the Littles aren’t quite ready to appreciate them as anything more than chew toys right now. I just have the books mixed in with the other toys. We read at least one book read to them every day as well (and it is usually two or three). We also sing lots of songs. This is a favorite of all of the three little guys. Big, big brother doesn’t really like to sing with us though!
What were some of the favorite books you’ve enjoyed with your boys this year?
Well, Big A. loves vehicles! Many of our favorites recently have been vehicle or firefighter themed. Some favorites right now are…
Truckery Rhymes by Jon Scieszka
Airport by Byron Barton
Freight Train by Donald Crews (there is a great smart phone/ e-reader app for this as well)
The Little Train by Lois Lenski
Big Frank’s Fire Truck written by Leslie McGuire and Illustrated by Joe Mathieu
The Old Blue Pickup Truck written by Candice Ransome and Illustrated by Jenny Mattherson
And one non vehicle book…Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons story by Eric Litwin and Illustrated by James Dean
The Littles are loving …
Peek-A Who by Nina Laden
Peek-A-Boo Forest (a Lamaze cloth book)
That’s Not My Monster (Usborne Touchy Feely book) by Fiona Watt
Do you have any literacy rituals in your family?
Our most important rituals involve bedtime reading. We never miss a night, even when things are crazy (which happens frequently right now with infant twins). It is both a priority and a pleasure for us. My husband read to our 16 year old until he was 14. It was a great bonding time for them. My husband would still be reading to him if our teenager would let him. Now, Big A. likes to read a bedtime story to the Littles. It is very cute, and makes me cry a little bit now and then (but I am a sap).
If you could give parents one piece of advice about reading with children, what would it be?
I think the most important thing about helping children become readers is to help build interest in reading. I call this engagement. I love to see kids who WANT to read. The two most important things I see for building engagement are honoring what kids want to read by encouraging THEIR choices, and by helping them see the connections between things that interest them in the real world, and then helping them find attention-grabbing books about their interests.
You are getting ready to embark on a new blogging adventure. Would you like to give us a little sneak peek and tell us about it?
Given my limited technological expertise, it is definitely an adventure!!!! I am working on a website and blog called Remarkable Reading in my free time (which is never – tee hee). Because my time is so limited it is a bit slow going right now. The site, remarkablereading(dot)com is still “under construction,” but I am hoping to preview it soon. The purpose of the website will have some similarities to yours Jodie. I want to help parents and caregivers, and even teachers if they are interested, by offering up what I have learned as a classroom teacher and children’s literacy educator. My main goal is to help people build the same interest and excitement around literacy that I have, with their own children and students. I will offer information about text sets (sets of books on one topic, like trucks) that I put together, reviews of books, and activity ideas for those books. I’m excited about it, and am enjoying learning something new even though the technology part does not come easily to me.
Getting To Know You A Little Bit More…
If you could have brunch with three characters from children’s literature, who would you invite?
What a great question, but it’s hard for me to answer. The list of characters would probably change given my mood and what I am reading. Having kids myself, I know that I would not get to eat much if I dined with some of my favorite characters, but I would say…
- Max from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak,
- Pete the Cat from the Pete the Cat books by Litwin and Dean,
And right now at this moment,
- Sam, the library mouse, from Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk.
I’m going to cheat. I would also add in Mr. Morris Lessmore from The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce, but this is not really a children’s book. It is more of a picture book more for adults who love books. I could think of so many more characters, particularly from YA fiction that I would love to meet too, but then it would be less of a brunch and more of a literacy banquet.
Hardcover or e-book?
That’s another hard one. I would still go with hardcover, but I love my e-reader. The e-reader makes things convenient in many ways, but with hardcovers, I love the smell, holding the actual book in my hands, and being able to move back and forth in a text easily. I am torn about picture books in e-format. I don’t like all the bells and whistles that are accompanying many e-books for kids. I think the bells and whistles distract from the actual story, but they do build engagement.
What is a fond childhood memory you have?
I have three younger sisters, and my mom was a busy lady taking care of young children (I can now identify with her). I loved having her read to me because it was “my” time with her. I learned to read on my own when I was fairly young, but I didn’t want my mom to know. I was afraid she wouldn’t read to me anymore if she knew I could read. I would take my books outside, climb this giant crab apple tree in our yard, and read in the tree. I still can’t walk by a crab apple tree in the spring, and smell the blossoms without thinking of sitting in that tree in our yard, reading books. Of course, being four, I thought I was being sneaky. I guess I wasn’t aware that my mother could see me hauling a big bag of books into the yard.
Where is your favorite place to read a book?
I like quiet when I read. My very favorite place would be a quiet place in an overstuffed comfy chair. I also love to read in bookstores, libraries, or pretty much anywhere else that is quiet and filled with books.
What book is on your nightstand or e-reader now?
I have many books in the reading queue…parenting books, books about building a website, books about books, but the novel I’ve been itching to read (it’s on my e-reader) is In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson.
Tracy, thank you so much for sharing your wonderful ideas on literacy. I can’t wait to start following your new blog! I’ll be sure to let Growing Book by Book readers know when it is up and running.
Would you like to be featured on an endnotes interview? Please contact me if you are interested! Next month, we will be interviewing Laura Mueller, teacher and mother.