- Watt, Mélanie. Scardey Squirrel. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press, 2008.
- Justice, Laura and Ann Soka. Engaging Children with Print. New York: Guilford Press, 2010¹.
I am so lucky! I attended a workshop on “Building Emergent Literacy Skills in Students with Disabilities” given by Dr. Laura Justice. All I can say is wow! I received 3 new books and my head is full of new thoughts. I have always thought that reading was important for all children. You may have noticed this theme in my work. I read to my girls when they were little, because it was fun and engaging for each of us. My girls are excellent readers. Would they have been better readers, had I had this information when they were young? Who knows?
My girls grew up in a language and print rich environment. We had books, newspapers, and magazines. Both their parents and all their grandparents were avid readers. The girls saw us read for work and for pleasure. We spent countless hours reading to each of them. We talked about books. We wanted them to share our love of books and reading. We wanted them to be good readers, too.
When I taught preschool, I tried to provide my students with a language rich environment. As a former speech pathologist, I knew the value of developing good language skills in children. I tried to model language for them. I didn’t have any formal training in reading, but I tried to provide the students in my class with the same kinds of experiences that I gave my girls. I had lots of books in my room. I tied activities to some of the books we read. I thought seeing objects with words labels around the room would help my students with their basic reading skills. With what I know now, I could have been a much better teacher.
I never looked at children’s books quite like I did over the two days of that workshop. It made me think about what skills we hope children bring to kindergarten. We’d like them to know how to hold a book. We’d like them to know what letters are and we’s like them to know some of them. We’s like them to know that letters make up words. How do they gain these skills? They gain these skills from reading with someone. Children, who come to kindergarten, without some of these basic skills have a learning gap. It is good to know that some of the gap can be closed with specific book intervention at an early age. For more specific information, check out Laura Justice’s book, Engaging Children with Print.
I think when I was reading to young children, I hit the language skills you need for reading, but I missed the some of the other aspects of print knowledge. What is print knowledge? Print knowledge is the understanding of the form and function of written language. I don’t want to spend too much time on this subject, you will have to read this information for yourself! I just want to share this book and point out some of the print elements in this story.
Scaredy Squirrel is a very funny book. It is about a squirrel, of course, who is risk averse. He doesn’t want to leave his tree. It is dangerous out in the unknown. He is afraid of a few things, including green Martians and sharks. He thinks about the advantages and disadvantages of leaving his tree. We find out that his schedule is the same day-to-day so that it is predictable. He has an emergency kit, an emergency plan, and an exit plan. He feels very prepared. He keeps watch. As with most well laid plans, something goes awry! He drops his emergency kit. What happens? Is there a tragedy? Does he survive? Read this book for yourself. It is wonderful.
Now that I know more, I can see why Laura Justice calls this a book that just keeps giving! First, it is a fun engaging story. Kids will want to hear it and read it. Second, it has examples of different types of expository text embedded in the narrative. What do I mean? There are labels, schedules, routines, and compare and contrast examples within the story. They are all important form of written expression. And last but not least, it also contains a wonderful assortment of power words. Power words are those words that have important meaning across disciplines, but are not in lists of high frequency words. These are words that are important for children to learn to expand their understanding of language and literacy. This story has a wealth of them. Here is a short list of some of them: unknown, risk, venture, scary, afraid, advantage, disadvantage, predictable, control, and those were in the first eight pages.
Pick up this book and read to your child or a young friend. As you read, take the time to subtly point out some of the expository pieces in the book. You might connect Scaredy Squirrel’s daily schedule with your family’s daily schedule you have posted on your refrigerator or on your phone. Do you have an emergency kit in your house? You might compare and contrast what you have in your kit and what Scaredy has in his. Think of creative, but explicit ways, to connect your child’s daily life to some of the power words in the book. Through this shared reading time, you can build a language and literacy rich environment for your young learner.
¹Available to download for free from the Crane Center For Early Childhood Research and Policy: https://earlychildhood.ehe.osu.edu/files/2016/04/Engaging-Children-with-Print-Building-Early-Literacy-Skills.pdf