Monday, September 24, 2007

Literacy Charity Helps Kids Connect with More Books

While cruising the cyber-lanes of our Internet world, I came upon a great literacy organization for families with children called The Reading Tub.

The Reading Tub enhances the world of children through finding the best books for them to read. Grown-ups no longer have to spend hours mulling through book lists. They can now spend more time connecting through reading a great story together. The Reading Tub’s book list reliability is not a problem because each book is personally reviewed by one of The Reading Tub helpers.

I was curious about how Terry Doherty came up with the idea to help Kids read more books by reclaiming their book hunting time and if there really is a genuine TUB for reading, so I asked Terry for a cyber-chat. This is what Terry had to say:

J: Hi Terry, thank you so much for agreeing to answer a few questions. My first question is how did you start The Reading Tub?
The Reading Tub® started out as a part-time hobby for a Stay-at-home Mom. I love to read, and when Catherine was born, started sharing that passion with her. 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.

I found a do-it-yourself website company in June 2003 and started playing around with ideas. 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.

J: What inspires or motivates you to help families find books?
Oh, that is so hard! I guess what motivates me is charting a path that widens as others join in and ends with leaving this place a little better than I found it. I want kids to know the joy of reading. The statistics are raw and startling … kids aren't prepared to read, and their parents are struggling, too. TV and video games aren't just a problem for the "next" generation … they started the slippery slope with the "last" generation. Trying to find the key to combating that seemingly overpowering draw of "screen" media is very important to me.

J: Tell me how The Reading Tub services help families?
The website has two parts. There is what I call the literacy services side: facts about literacy, information about reading with kids, stats, etc. Our goal is to help kids read, but we need to help parents, too. Some parents find reading easy, but what about the parents who don’t? How can we encourage them to teach their kids to love reading when they don't like to read? We can help with that.

The other part of our site is the book bag: our unique profiles that give parents the details they want about books for kids. We built the site so that it is easy to search for books that match your child's interests and reading level. In addition to general keyword searches (like trains, frogs, princesses), you can use phrases like remedial reading to see if there is a book that matches your needs. When you look at the statistics for literacy at the 4th and 8th grade levels, it is more and more evident that we need to reframe books for that 9-to-12-year-old audience. It used to be mostly boys, but now the literacy levels for girls are starting to decline, too. Being able to find good books that are written for an older child but which fall within the remedial reading category is becoming critical for parents, teachers, and librarians.

J: In having a passion for literacy, do you have a favorite children's story?
My personal, all time favorite book (after the Nancy Drew series) is The Scarlet Pimpernel.

J: Finding the right book can be challenging, what seems to be the most popular themes at The Reading Tub?
The theme depends on the audience. For the 9 to 12 audience, there are lots of writers who want to be the next J. K. Rowlings. We review every book sent to us that fits our criteria (simply, any book for ages 0 to 12); and all of our books are placed with families. Frankly, they are tired of reading fantasy and wanna-be books. They want original material. There are some authors (including first-time authors) who have some incredibly original stuff. But on the norm, fantasies are becoming formulaic.

For the 5 to 9 audience, you can find books on just about everything. One of the things I love – and I admit I'm biased because I have a daughter – is the number of stories with strong, creative, down-to-earth female protagonists in traditional and non-traditional roles. I just read a terrific fantasy about a young girl who becomes a pirate!

J: Sometimes children are faced with unpleasant issues. Do you have some suggestions for helping grieving children?
Books are comfort food for the soul. Sometimes its lyrical words that touch our heart, sometimes it is an incredible illustration or photograph that just lifts us up. Children gain so much by "seeing themselves" in a story. We use picture books to teach them sharing and feelings, why not grief?

Picture books that can help children understand change, life, and loss can be such a precious gift. They may not be able to use words like "grief," but they can feel their heart ache, and they can be afraid to be happy because it seems selfish.

I have read a few books – one about SIDS, several dealing with the loss of a pet, one about a relative with Alzheimer’s, and one about organ donation. I freely admit I was squeamish when I picked up the book and thought about reading them with a child. But, they were incredible. If I were ever "in the moment" of dealing with loss, and at the same time trying to explain it to my daughter, I would want these books to help us both.

J: Any tips for grown-ups on how to get children interested in reading?
I think the most important part is think beyond the book covers. The idea is to present reading as a fun activity. You don't always have to learn something! So …
The next time you're in the grocery store, pick up some boxes or bags and discover them with your child. Or ask your child to locate the red cans in the aisle, then read what they say.
Let your child catch you reading. Whether it's a recipe, a magazine, the newspaper, even a catalog. It's not the content, it's the event.
Then invite your child to read with you. Look at the pictures in that catalog and talk about them.
Make reading a regular habit … and don't get upset if they don't sit still. Just keep reading. They'll either come back or tell you to pick something else. Helping them decide what they like is progress, too.

J: Do you have a favorite place to read, meditate or relax?
I love big, fat chairs that swallow you up, but I also love to read in the Tub.

J: Speaking of tubs, is there really a Reading Tub? If so how is it used?
Unfortunately, I've never gotten a picture of the real Reading Tub. When I started working on a children's book review website, I asked two friends to help because I needed some creative genius. And Eric had it! His mom worked in the library of an elementary school in Vermont … and Voila! We had a name. The reading tub sits in Mrs. Stoddert's Library at an elementary school in Vermont. It is porcelain, painted yellow and white, and outfitted with a pillow. Children select a book, climb into the tub and enjoy their story.

I also loved the name because reading in a tub is one of those "I'm relaxing now" images that creates a positive association with reading.

J: How can someone donate a book for your review?
The first stop for learning about book reviews is the Website. Just fill out the contact form and we'll send you what you need, usually within 48 hours.

All of the books we review are in turn donated to a non-profit working directly with children. This helps us pay it forward, so to speak, and also gets books to kids who need them. Some of the organizations are helping kids with their reading skills; and some are giving books to kids who would not otherwise have them. When I go through the books, I try to match the books to the organizations' preferences or needs

We also facilitate book drives. Some of the organizations we have worked with are listed on our Home page.

J: Do you accept any children's book?
Yes. The Reading Tub, Inc. has a very simple submission policy: if you send us a book for a child (infant to age 12), we will review it. We do not buy books. Donations keep the website operating for free to the public and underwrite our community projects.

I would like to add that we are a LITERACY organization. Our goal is to get kids excited about reading. We love to introduce the world to undiscovered children's books.

J: Inviting children to the adventuresome world of literacy is an undertaking that I applaud your efforts Terry. I would like to leave our readers with one of your favorite quotes. Do you have a favorite "reading" quote?
The easiest – and probably the truest – of my favorites is "I cannot live without books." Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, June 1815.

Thank you so much Terry for telling us about The Reading Tub. I wish you many years of success in helping Kids find that special book.

Terry Doherty interview was written by Jewel Sample, MS (C) 2007
Award-winning author of Flying Hugs and Kisses (2006), also translated: Besos y abrazos al aire (2006, Spanish edition) and Flying Hugs and Kisses Activity Book (2007)

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