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Interview With Terry, The Reading Tub, Inc
How and when did The Reading Tub get started? What’s its mission?
I have always loved to read and, when our daughter joined us in November 2001, I found sharing books with her to be great fun! One day I was talking with my sister-in-law about children’s books (positives & negatives) and she suggested I start a website for parents and teachers.
So I did. I found a do-it-yourself website company in June 2003 and started playing around with ideas. The whole thing started out as a hobby site, with some research, and lots of input and creative ideas from two close friends. Within a year, it had started to grow, and authors started to find us. So I married my love of books with my passion for literacy and launched The Reading Tub, Inc. as a non-profit.
Our mission is to give adults (parents, teachers, librarians, tutors, grandparents, et al.) the tools they need for helping kids with reading. The website has two parts. There is what I call the literacy services side: facts about literacy, information about reading with kids, stats, etc. Then there is the reading side: our unique profiles that help parents find books that match their child’s interest whether they are an infant being read to, a pre-teen who is reading independently, or a child (of any age) who is struggling with developing their reading skills.
When I started the Reading Tub, I focused on the “learning” aspect of literacy. That’s where “Turning a page … Opening the World”® comes from. Get a child to love (or even just like) reading and you will expand his natural curiosity and imagination … and along the way engender a love of learning.
But our goal really is bigger than just learning. It’s simply to bring reading home to families. This is my mantra because it is a statement captures the various facets of children’s literacy and reading on several levels. We want to …
- Encourage parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles to read with the children in their lives … even kids who can read independently can benefit from time shared reading aloud with Mom or Dad.
- Help the adults find great books that match their kids’ interests and reading levels (and skip the over-hyped stuff!).
- Provide information that explains why reading with a child at home is so important.
- Post articles and provide links to resources that help parents/grandparents/teachers teach their children to read.
Who are your reviewers and how may an author or publisher contact you about a review request?
Our reviewers are parents who read with their children and kids who are reading themselves. Some of the parents are teachers or former teachers, some are reading mentors, some just like to read books with their kids. It is very important to us that when someone is trying to find a book for a child, that they know what other children think of the book. Professional reviews are great, but getting feedback from the person who is the intended audience is particularly important to us. We try to wear several hats … like the grandparent who wants to find a book for a child, but wants to know what other kids thought about it first.
In March 2004 we partnered with Be the Star You Are!® another non-profit that empowers children and families through positive media. Their message is that to be a leader you must be a reader. BTSYA runs an after-school center for youth at risk, and they created a Teen STAR Book Review Team. We send them books for the 9 to 12 target audience. The kids read the books and write the reviews. I post them on the website with their logo.
Authors and publishers can contact me through the Website. We have a contact form just for that purpose. I would like to add a footnote. We are more than happy to introduce the world to books published for kids, and we would love the opportunity to read yours. But our role is not to help you sell them. Over the years we have had authors who get angry at us for only recommending that someone borrow their book at the library and not buy it. I can truly appreciate the pride authors take in their work – we do, too – but asking for a review doesn’t guarantee that the reader will rave about it.
We are a public charity dedicated to children’s literacy and family reading. Our goal is to help get our kids excited about reading. We think telling people to ask for the book in their local library is an endorsement, too. Not everyone can afford to buy books for a personal library.
When we review a book, we are looking at its substantive qualities: did our child like this book? is this a story we enjoyed reading with our child? Does it have educational value (explicit or implicit) that can bring reading to life and make it relevant? Would we recommend that others read this book? We just want to make sure that kids have the skills to READ your book.
Do you have any data on how many American children read compared to other countries?
The National Center for Education Statistics has a chart that dates to 2003. In that chart, “Reading Literacy” for US students is 11th among OECD countries (countries participating in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development), and 15th when about a dozen non-OECD countries are added. [cite: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d06/tables/dt06_397.asp]
Statistics can be very valuable, but they can also be very pliable, so I try to use them judiciously. Generally, I will overlay them with behaviors and practices that are relevant to literacy in its broader terms. For example, one way to encourage kids to read is to have adults MODEL reading. If a child sees you reading then s/he will accept reading as something important. Well, I read an article not to long ago that said in a recent AP Poll, 1 of every 4 people polled (1,000 surveyed) did not read one book last year. That’s 25% of the adult population.
Layer on top of that that more than 20% of adults read at or below a fifth-grade level, and in 1992, more than 44 million adults could not read well enough to read a simple story with a child. [Cite: as presented on http://www.getcaughtreading.org] Blended together, it is a pretty clear picture of the behavior pattern we’re creating for our children.
Think about the long-term impact on our kids and their future success. Analysis of a study published by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2006 shows that nationwide, 38 percent of public school fourth-graders and 29 percent of eighth graders still read below basic levels. For fourth graders, state scores of children reading below the basic level range from 32 percent in Delaware to 67 percent in the Discrict of Columbia. That means one in three children are struggling in reading. Until recently, data suggested that the greatest deficiency was reading abilities among boys; data released this summer is showing that girls, too, are now struggling with literacy.
Then we send our kids to college! Kenneth Gray, in his book The Baccalaureate Game: Is It Right for All Teens? (1996), noted that 80 percent of entering freshman cannot read well enough to do college work. That analysis is now more than 10 years old, but I would venture that things haven’t changed much, because for the Fall 2000 semester 76 percent of colleges and universities were offering at least one remedial reading, writing or math course. And it doesn’t look like things will change soon.
What seem to be the most popular genre/themes with young children, middle readers, and young adults?
We ask visitors to register with the Reading Tub® so we can determine their reading interests. Having that data helps us prioritize the placement of books we already have for review; and it also helps us see if we are “thin” in a category that match our visitors’ interests. If we need to, we can send out a query to authors and publishers to refill the shelves with books that fit their interest categories.
Most of our visitors who registered are reading with kids ages 3 to 8. In that audience, “picture books” is the most common answer, but that covers a broad array of subjects. Animal stories and adventure are neck-and-neck for second place. In houses where families are reading with kids in the 9 to 12 audience, adventure beats out fantasy (though not by much). I need to add, though, that there are lots of registered readers who have no preference for a genre.
Do you think there’s a saturation of the fantasy genre at the moment, or simply enough to meet the demand?
The short answer is yes. One of my parent reviewers asked that I please give him a break from the fantasies. He wants to be able to have enough diversity in what he’s reading to give each book a fair review. And when you have too many fantasy stories together they begin to read like they’re using the same formula.
That said, for the reader who loves fantasies, there are some great ones out there. We created a page on our site to list some of the really good books we’ve found. Here’s the link: [http://www.thereadingtub.com/search_displayNew.asp?id=1]
I am pleased to report that we have gotten some (what I think are cool) historical fiction novels lately. I can’t wait to see those reviews come back.
The Harry Potter series has been wonderful for spurning creativity and getting (and keeping) kids reading, and there seems to be a rush to become the next JK Rowling. As a former editor, I think that there may be times when authors or publishers rush to get something out there so they don’t miss that “hot” genre. So sometimes, I think they push too hard or forget to take a step back and get a fresh look at what they’ve got. I’ve seen some books that are being touted as a series in Book One. It seems to me that if you’re holding out information for the next book, you could be shortchanging your readers on the first one.
What seem to be the best books for reluctant readers?
It is really important that reluctant readers feel they are moving through a book quickly. They tend to like books with lots of ‘white space’ around the edges and they need pictures to take up some of the page. Shorter sentences and action-driven plots also help.
During the school year, I volunteer with a program that offers tutoring to first graders who are struggling with reading. It is an incredibly enlightening experience, and last year I worked with a boy who would get discouraged when we read books that had more than two or three sentences on a page. So then we would partner read. He got to practice his reading, and I helped by moving the story along. In some ways it is more important to keep the child reading (he can see the words you read) than it is to MAKE him read everything on a page.
For third and fourth graders, we need books with pictures that offer more sophisticated plots. They don’t want to read Henry and Mudge or the Froggy books anymore. That just reminds them of how hard it was to read when they were in first and second grade. I have been very impressed with some of the books we’ve seen with more sophisticated stories and adventures. They are an excellent bridge and can encourage struggling or remedial readers.
How much reading is good reading?
I’m not sure about the best way to answer that. The general recommendation is 20 minutes per day, though I have seen a recommendation for 10 minutes/day, too. Reading with a child is a dynamic, individual process. The goal is to create a positive association with reading. The more it is forced, the more the child will struggle against it.
Reading isn’t always about practicing letter sounds or learning words. Some of the best reading can be the shared experience of flipping through the pages of a book to look at the pictures, and maybe talk about them. You can encourage your child to read just by sitting together and sharing a book. Wordless books are great for that.
As kids get older, the actual reading part will be more important. Reading is the one skill that has to be practiced at home, every day. You want to do your best to make this a positive experience. As much as you can, find books that match their interests and reading level. Librarians and teachers are incredible resources that can help you with that. The more you can offer books on subjects they like, the easier it will be to get in that practice time.
My daughter is just starting to read, so we’ve transitioned from some of the great books we love to share to books with vocabulary and sentence structure that suits her ability. She will rave about a book, and my husband will complain that it’s “boring.” But that’s part of the process … simple and repetitious. So we sprinkle in some of the family favorites with the learning-to-read titles to keep it fun for everyone.
How do you see the future of children’s books now that electronic and print-on-demand publishing are becoming increasingly popular?
I have mixed emotions. On the one hand, I think they offer parents an educational alternative to television and computer games. On the other hand, though, it is yet another format that sits a child in front of a screen. Like TV, sitting at the computer could become a babysitter that absorbs lots of time and doesn’t encourage human contact. The average Kindergartener has spent more than 5,000 hours in front of a TV! That’s a lot of “screen time.”
We have received and reviewed a number of electronic books. Some are CDs that you listen to in the car or on your home stereo. Others are DVDs. Some are books with virtual pages that you click with a mouse and require someone to read the screen. We have received some DVD stories that include audio (i.e., there is a reader and moving highlights to point out words as it reads). We have also gotten multi-media products that offer the story, as well as additional educational material.
The multi-media products are my favorite, because I think they engage a child more than just a book. They also don’t require my 100% participation for reading the book and give the child a sense of independence in their reading.
Are ebooks and POD books popular with your readers?
Actually, I have found eBooks hard to place with families. Most of our reviewers like/ want the experience of sharing the book with their child. Unless you have a laptop, when you read a book on the computer, you need a desk and enough space for two chairs. It’s not quite the same cozy experience.
We were reading an eBook on the computer recently and my daughter complained that it was just like watching TV. She tends to like the eBooks that are CDs that she can put in her little Boombox. She will listen and re-listen to those stories for hours. I like that. She gets the benefit of reading by learning words and language, but she also has to use her imagination to visualize the characters and events.
I think if you have children who read independently, eBooks and POD titles could be popular. Especially when you are traveling!
What can people do to help The Reading Tub and literacy in general?
Please read with a child. Just 20 minutes of reading each day can make a HUGE difference in a child’s reading achievement. There is a website called Ladders to Learning, and they had this to say about why we need to read with our kids: The group of children who were read to on a daily basis were 1.6 times as likely to be rated by their teachers as being near the top of their kindergarten class in learning skills, and 2.3 times as likely to be near the top of their class in communication skills. These relationships hold true regardless of the income of the child’s household and the education of the child’s mother.
If you don’t have children, visit your local library and see if you can volunteer to read during story time. Or call your local family services center to see if there are programs you can volunteer with. If you’re worried about “how” they teach reading these days, don’t be. The important thing is that a child has an adult who supports them and says “I believe in you” just by helping. Last year we commissioned a set of articles about Guided Reading by Cathy Puett Miller, the Literacy Ambassador. The articles offer steps about ways to read with a child. Here’s the link: http://www.thereadingtub.com/pdfs/our_guided_reading_set.pdf.
We would love to have some more book reviewers. We have a list of more than 200 titles on our “wish list.” Some of these are books that people have asked us to read, but we haven’t been able to get to them because we have so many sitting on our shelves already. All it takes is a trip to the library to read one of these books.
When you visit our Website, please take the time to register. We don’t ask for a lot of information, and we don’t send out a lot of eMail. We just want to know about the books you are reading with kids (grandkids, kids in playgroup, kids at school). Tell us your zip code and we can add your local library to our list. We don’t have any registered readers in Nebraska or North Dakota, so if you know someone … spread the word. I would love to have a link to at least one library in every state by the end of the year!
Some people believe there’s simply too much sex and violence in young adult novels these days, while others believe books should reflect our present culture and society. What’s your opinion?
I don’t know that I would limit the “too much” label to just young adult novels. I have been very surprised at the content marketed to younger children in picture books and early reader chapter books.
That said, we don’t tend to get many books that cause us to raise an eyebrow. It may be that our target audience is younger; or it could be that authors/publishers for YA material don’t see us as fitting their review demographic.
I would like to add, though, that we have received some incredible books for young adults that our teen reviewers have loved. The teens see stories with lots of action and characters they can relate to; the parents see books with wholesome stories and life lessons.
Keeping an eye on what our kids read is part of being a parent. I would put it in the same box as knowing about what movies they watch, what video games they play, or who their friends are. I think there is more to our culture and society than sex and violence. Yes, there is plenty of it and it is marketed to our kids as “cool.” We can only shield our kids so much. At some point, we have to have faith that they will make the right choices. As parents, we get the “pleasure” of making the hard call when we have to.
Is there anything else you would like to say about you or your organization?
The Reading Tub® is the result of my own love of reading. I am very lucky to be able to build this resource and share my enthusiasm with others. If we can inspire just one person to read with a child, then we will have helped the world!
Thank you for this opportunity to share my passion.
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