Book Review – Angeline Aow

My son is three years old. We recently went on a one-month holiday to visit family in Australia. To get there, from our home in Berlin, we got on two very big aeroplanes and flew through very large and busy airports. During the trip we took along the book Der Flughafen (Airport in German) and have since spent many hours reading it, answering questions about it and making comparisons with the information found in the book with our shared flying experiences. Months after this trip, Der Flughafen has become a book of choice for my son. No matter how many other books I lay out for him and strategically place around the house, he chooses to read this familiar text. My conclusion was that he must really love aeroplanes and airports. After reading ‘I am reading: Nurturing Young Children’s Meaning Making and Joyful Engagement with Any Book’ by Kathy Collins and Matt Glover, I came to realise that there was more behind my son’s choice than first meets the eye.

Ask my husband, who is not an educator, why our son chooses Der Flughafen over and over again and the answer is a mumbled “because he’s trying to torture me”. For him ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Collins and Glover believe that “there are many positive attributes of familiarity and potential opportunities in the world of the familiar, especially with regard to familiar reading”. For the authors “Familiarity breeds comfort, enthusiasm, and confidence.” The benefits of reading familiar books is explained so that one understands what children are doing and thinking about when they reread well-loved and familiar books.

Once Collins and Glover establishes their stance and joint belief about familiar books, they go on to explain how we can support children’s reading growth. Through QR codes and website links, Collins and Glover share video clip examples from their research to illuminate their points. They also devised Language Levels that are explained in detailed tables. These Language Level tables articulate what a child might do when reading, how educators can support or nudge readers forward and transcripts of what support might look like between young readers and an adult.

Collins and Glover emphasise that skill development is not the only aspect of reading and that a love of reading and the development of a healthy reading identity is also of vital importance.

“Although we’ve categorized the ways that children may approach the reading of familiar texts into language levels and offered ideas for what to say to children to nudge them forward, we want to be clear that our biggest priority in these conferences with early readers is to make connections with them and to enjoy the book together. It’s important to bear in mind that we aren’t just teaching children how to read, we’re also supporting them so they love to read.”

A part of fostering a love of reading is understanding how to empower children to choose texts and to help them develop a positive image of themselves as readers. Collins and Glover share how to motivate early readers to choose unfamiliar books, how to intentionally provide opportunities to navigate unfamiliar texts as well as instructional support ideas to “open up new frontiers for young children’s reading explorations”.

Throughout my years as an educator I have been an avid promoter of nonfiction texts as I believe that this genre is vastly underrepresented when modelling and promoting reading. I remember, in a lead up to Book Week, working with my teaching assistant to reconstruct the cover of the 2004 edition of Lonely Planet Berlin’s city guide for our Grade 4 classroom door. That year I was transitioning from being a homeroom teacher in Nanjing to Berlin and that piece of nonfiction was a well-thumbed, well-loved resource. Needless to say, my favourite chapter in I am Reading is Chapter 6 – Reading Informational Texts Before They’re Reading Conventionally. This chapter was like reading 20 pages of belief validation that affirmed my personal reading identity. It also made me understand that although reading Der Flughafen aloud may not make for the most engaging or dramatic bedtime story, Collins and Glover reminded me that:

“To best support children’s growing comfort and familiarity with informational books, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of providing children with many examples by regularly reading aloud informational books whether or not they connect to a study, inquiry, or theme.”

Collins and Glover’s book is mostly focused on the time when children are reading unconventionally and developing their relationship with texts. Towards the end of the book they focus on what growing independence with texts looks like and the intersection between their language levels and the independence levels. The authors also provide strategies for supporting emergent kindergarten and first-grade readers in the next stages of development. For those of you who value mapping out your literacy curriculum there is also guidance on yearlong planning and support on how to turn your new learnings into strategic action.

Kathy Collins and Matt Glover’s book has made me rethink how I need to provide my son with opportunities and motivation to pick unfamiliar books. It has also opened my eyes to notice what my toddler is doing whenever he selects (again!) his well-thumbed, well-loved nonfiction book about airports. More importantly it has equipped me with strategies on what to do next to further his development and love of reading. I must also get my husband to read this book, then again I wouldn’t want to be torturous to my non-educator spouse. So, for now, I would recommend this book to early years educators, parents of toddlers and children entering formal schooling, teachers in the early primary years, pedagogical leaders and any administrators who need to look beyond reading levels as a measurement of early literacy success.

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