Levi inflects appropriate emotion, offering each ‘moo’ the tone requires to portray the tale in his book.
“Moo!” by David LaRochelle (Mike Wohnoutka illustrations) doesn’t have a lot of narrative. The word moo appears multiple times with varying punctuation and spelling as the cow steals the farmer’s car and crashes it – onto (yes onto, not into) a police cruiser.
Levi knows all the words and their circumstances, noting the “little moos” require a hushed tone as the sad cow trudges shamefully back to the farm.
“It’s pretty hilarious,” the three-year-old said, hinting at an impressive vocabulary then insisting, in true toddler form, that we sit for a spell and read.
It is, after all, a favoured pastime for Levi, his 18-month-old sister Emma, dad Lucky Budd and mom Jessy Friedenberg. The family visits the Oak Bay branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library regularly, selecting and devouring books as a family.
Budd is a writer, Friedenberg was raised in a TV-free home, so it may seem a no-brainer.
“[Levi] drives the train… books are what he’s all about,” Budd said. “We go through literally 20 or 30 books a week.”
A member of the summer reading club, he got a medal last summer for reading every day.
“We get as many as we can fit in our bag,” Friedenberg said. “Sometimes Levi goes in with a list.”
Among his favourite people, perhaps on the planet, are librarians, and leading that pack is Oak Bay library’s Devon Tatton.
“There are so many families that are really, really engaged in their child’s reading … families that come in multiple times a week or on a regular day of the week,” said Tatton, children and family literacy librarian. “We are our children’s first teacher, so modelling the behaviour of being engaged in reading … It’s all about making it fun and making it something that’s important to them and making it something they enjoy.”
Fun is part of the equation as the GVPL celebrates Family Literacy Week starting in Oak Bay with ABC Fun on Jan. 26 at 11:30 a.m. Young children and families will hear alphabet stories and create an alphabet collage book to encourage family reading time.
“I want children to enjoy reading because it’s something I enjoyed as a kid,” Tatton said. “You knew you were going to have that one-on-one time to sit down and read with mom or dad later.”
When Emma and Levi sit down with their parents for reading time, mom and dad have already had their say on what books come home.
“There are certain words we try to keep away from,” Friedenberg explained. The word ‘hate’ for example is easily left behind while subject matter too must befit a three-year-old.
“There’s a lot of books and we need to save some for later,” mom added.
The piles and piles of books they walk away with each visit are augmented each trip by just one video, and those too are carefully selected.
“We make a conscious effort to stay away from things we know we’re going to read later,” added Budd. Things like Winnie the Pooh and The Wizard of Oz are on the back burner, so Levi can develop the characters through his reading.
That level of interaction from the parents, and the abundance of books in the home on a regular basis, set Levi and Emma up for a good future of literacy, says Dr. Orla Colgate, who has both a Masters (University of Auckland) and PhD (University of Sydney) in education. Her research area is parent involvement in education, specializing in literacy in the home.
“Parents can have a profound effect. In terms of reading at home and that development of their basic skills, but further than that, developing a love of reading,” Colgate said. “A child learns to read and then they read to learn. Once they’ve got that they can then move forward to do any kind of learning.”
Colgate will lead a workshop to wrap Family Literacy Week called Help Your Child Succeed at Reading on Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. It focuses on how children learn to read, how parents can assist and how to create a home environment that encourages learning.
“There’s so much more from reading, families reading together builds strong family relationships,” she said.
“Research shows parents get their kids to a stage where they can read, then they tend to back off and think the school, the teacher will take over from there. They can and should still be involved … they can inspire their kids. We start with them and we look up to them so they can have a very powerful influence.”
Levi’s love of reading – and Emma seems to share the literacy bug – started with story time at the library. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that he fills out the characters’ voices, and makes a drama of each book. His current favourite (bearing in mind the changeability of a three-year-old mind) doesn’t even have words, but fills his brain with stories as the detailed images follow a year in the lives of characters.
He creates the story himself, often with a vocabulary impressive for his age. That too isn’t a surprise, Colgate says, it attests to his voracity for reading. Rare words, those not commonly used in spoken language but often appear in print, appear in books that don’t even have much text, such as children’s picture books and board books.
“Even children’s books are 50 per cent more likely to give you rare language than graduates’ conversation,” Colgate said. “The more you practise reading the more they build up vocabulary. As the child gets older they’re less focussed on processing, and focus on the message … You build those skills through reading.”
Family Literacy Day is a national awareness initiative created by ABC Life Literacy Canada in 1999 and held annually on Jan. 27 to raise awareness of the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family. The GVPL aims to inspire literacy, lifelong learning and community enrichment, providing services and collections in 10 libraries and online to more than 300,000 residents in 10 municipalities. Register for courses online at gvpl.ca or call 250-940-4875.
Oh, and if you want to know what happens to the cow when he gets back to the farm, head to the library, Tatton can probably help you.