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An interview with Nancy Lohr
1. What's your position at JourneyForth Books (about yourself, your experience, etc.)?
I am currently the acquistions editor at JourneyForth, but I have been a classroom teacher and an elementary school librarian. I am an avid reader, which is a direct result of my father’s regular reading on his own and to me and my siblings. His love of words was a part of his legacy to us.
2. What is your goal for the Summer Reading Program? (or) What is the purpose of the Summer Reading Program?
The JourneyForth Summer Reading Program is designed to give parents a manageable and effective way to keep their children reading through the summer months. Research shows that children can lose ground educationally during the summer months, and parents can minimize or eliminate this loss by establishing a pattern of leisure reading at home. Reading contests and programs can be notoriously difficult for the parent or teacher to execute, so we’ve designed our program to promote regular reading for children—we’re asking for reading five days a week for eight weeks during your summer—with a minimum of paperwork for Mom and Dad and taking into consideration the varying skills and interests of the children who participate. This gives families time for vacations, summer camp, and family activities while still making reading a priority, which in turn advances reading skills and fosters a love of reading.
3. Do you have some suggestions/encouragement for parents of reluctant readers?
If you as parents know why your child is reluctant, then you have some idea of where you need to focus your efforts.
Maybe you need to start the summer with an engaging read aloud for your family. This could be the fanciful My Father’s Dragon or the poignant Stone Fox or . . . you get the idea.
Help your child select books appropriate to his or her skills. Scour an anthology or your library’s catalog to find something that is engaging to your child and suitable for your family, or talk with your local children’s librarian for ideas. Get recommendations from the readers in your world. Try cooperative reading with your child, taking turns with paragraphs or pages or with each of you reading the words of specific characters. Or one of you signal the other when you are ready to handoff to the other reader. Some children like to re-read books; that’s just fine. Who doesn’t like to spend an afternoon with an old friend? Reading skills are strengthened even in re-reading. Consider why that book is your child’s friend, and then look for books that are similar in some way.
If your child has adequate reading skills, but doesn’t like to read, then it may be he or she just hasn’t found a home-run book yet. Reading fiction may not be your child’s cup of tea, so look for nonfiction that will answer questions or deliver information. It may be that a book about combustion engines or the Smithsonian Magazine satisfies your child’s need to know. Use the summer to find the kind of reading material that scratches the reading itch for your youngster.
4. What would you say to parents of special needs children who want to participate?
I would shout “Hurrah for you!” The fact that your child cannot lift words from the page without some help doesn’t mean his or her literary taste buds won’t enjoy the story just as much as other children. Customize this reading program to maximize its effectiveness for your child. You may need to break the reading sessions into smaller segments, or “read” audio books while following along in the print book. You can do the same kind of seeing/hearing with eBooks by using the text to speech function of eReaders along with the physical text on the screen. Some books are available in DVD format that you can watch with the closed captions turned on. Mice of the Herring Bone DVD from ShowForth is an example of this type of book. If you have other ways that you make reading accessible to your special needs child, we’d love for you share your approach with us on the JourneyForth Facebook page.
5. What's the most important thing for parents to remember when choosing reading materials for their children?
Summer reading qualifies as leisure reading, so engage your children in the selection process to find topics of interest. Let your children read the materials that they didn’t have time for during the school year. Children learn how to read in school; they learn to love reading when they are immersed in topics or stories that they enjoy.
Don’t be overly concerned about whether the material is “hard enough.” Certainly you don’t want to let a capable reader slide by and gain little, but experts agree that regular reading in materials of the child’s choice is one of the best ways to strengthen reading skills as well as to develop a love for the written word. And the children who learn to love reading are the ones who will be reading long after the last school assignment is complete.
As a librarian I often saw children who used their summer reading time to read all of the Hardy Boys—in numerical order—or some challenge of that nature. Those children did a heap of reading during the summer and had fun in the process. That’s huge motivation regardless of their skills. Reading is an accrued skill that develops as you regularly read.
6. Do you have any suggestions for dealing with objectionable content in children’s literature?
It is no secret that there are plenty of books published for children and teens that do not have a biblical worldview in either the philosophical foundation of the story or in the language and actions of the characters. So what are parents to do? One approach is to pre-read all of the books children read with the goal of presenting material that has no “warts,” but that can consume so much time that children will be waiting for you. Another approach is to choose books carefully but be prepared to discuss the content when your children encounter something in print that doesn’t square with Scripture and the direction of your home. Children in my library loved to recognize statements in books about dinosaurs that didn’t square with the creation account in Genesis 1. Depending on the age and skill of your reader, you might want to purposely read a book from a different perspective to open discussions. Armed with a trustworthy anthology, search for books from authors and publishers that are a good fit for your family. Read the annotations and discuss with your child what kinds of concerns he or she might find in a given book, and then ask your child to share a sentence or paragraph with you that matches your concern. Make these talking points, and . . . well, talk. Help your child build discernment as he or she reads. This is a perfect time to develop the concept of our being in the world, but not of the world. Show how to go to Scripture to determine a biblical response. And give your child permission to stop reading if the content is not suitable, and then move on to another, better book.
7. How can parents provide incentives along the way during the Summer Reading Program?
Additional encouragement through the eight-week program may be helpful if it is suited to the individual children. Perhaps your avid readers would like to shoot for a specific number during their reading time, like a large number of minutes or pages or books. These readers might like to read from a variety of categories that include their comfort zones, but stretch them into types of books they haven’t read yet.
Maybe the whole family can go to a favorite place outdoors and enjoy a “book-nic.” Take a blanket, pack a picnic basket meal, and carry along a book for everyone.
If your children like stickers or trinkets or snacks, consider earning these at milestones during the program.
Incentives can help keep your children motivated during the program, but the best outcome any of us could hope for is that the children begin to be motivated by reading itself with no additional motivation needed. You are there when you hear, “Please, Mom, just one more chapter?”
8. How can parents model good reading habits for their children?
Join your children during their reading time to read material that interests you, and if what you are reading makes you laugh out loud, I can almost guarantee that you will hear, “What? What’s so funny?” Be in the habit of sharing with them from your own reading. “Hey, listen to this” ought to be a common phrase in your home. Model for them what you are asking of them.