Katherine Hauth on Summer Reading Seeds

 

From Katherine Hauth, on summer reading, books, and life.

My children’s lit. teacher had required each student to read aloud to children at least once a week during our course. If it weren’t for that experience, I likely wouldn’t have realized the value of “just reading” to children and the summer reading group never would have happened.

That class always started with her asking each student to share a first or strongest memory of being read to. Some years after my class, one student cited a summer neighborhood reading group as her strongest memory. When the teacher asked where the student lived, she learned it was my group. That girl had been among the first five participants. A few years later her son joined the group when he visited his grandmother, my neighbor.

That young boy, now 6′ 3″, stopped by my house to visit this last vacation. I hadn’t seen him since they moved to California about eight years ago. Such visits, as well as invitations to graduations and weddings, suggest that something personal and valuable happens when people share stories and time.

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Now that I’m officially a Canadian resident, I can claim the Greater Victoria Public Library as my own neighbo(u)rhood library. Here’s last year’s summer reading program logo–seems apt for what Katherine set out to do in Rio Rancho, NM

Reading group ended (or did it?) when there were no longer young children on my block. It was then that a former neighbor contacted me about starting a reading group. This was the mother of a girl who’d had problems reading, the catalyst for my reading to children. They’d recently moved to a new neighborhood with lots of children and the daughter mentioned how much she’d enjoyed our neighborhood reading group. The mother knew that a reading group could make a difference in a child’s life. Her own daughter was then working on her Master’s degree in a health science field.
We talked about many things, including making good friends with children’s librarians who are wonderful resources for the books children love and need. I emphasized reading each book aloud before reading to a child. Some good silent reads don’t translate well to read-alouds. It’s also good to know the story and where to place emphasis, slow down or speed up effectively the first time a child hears it.

What had started with a conversation between neighbors, plus a seed planted by a teacher, could continue growing, and planting new seeds.

Katherine Hauth on Summer Reading Traditions

From Katherine Hauth, author of What’s For Dinner? Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World, a follow up to my video interview on the summer reading program she began years ago in her neighborhood:

The weekly reading tradition played out on our Reading Rug surrounded with books according to children’s ages. Depending on the number of children, each selected one to three books. I read one book for each child starting with the youngest to the oldest. That way those with the shortest attention spans, who might want to leave early, heard at least one of their books read. Sometimes one of the younger children would cuddle up to me as I read. (This doesn’t happen between a child and an e-book.) I continued reading, from youngest to oldest, as long as a child wanted to be read to. Once I read for only thirty minutes. Another time, for three hours.

(One day the doorbell rang. A boy had forgotten to leave early for a dental appointment. We were near the end of a story so I asked his mother if we could finish. She listened intently as I continued with a voice of a lion and some other beasts. Later, she told me she’d been a foster child. No one had read to her, and she could barely read. My heart hurt, but I was glad I could do for her son what she could not.

Since some neighbors weren’t readers, I established a mini-library that I supplied from the public library. I first checked that the parents were willing to have their children borrow and be responsible for books. No one refused. Over the years, a few books become temporarily misplaced, but only two had to be purchased.

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Only a sample of the many children’s books about bees that lend themselves naturally to summer reading

I made an exception to our “no eating” rule after gathering several books about bees and getting real honey from a beekeeper friend. Each year after that, someone would ask, “When are we going to do the honey?” Bee books, eating honey from the comb, and chewing the wax like gum became an annual ritual they looked forward to–even those who spit out the wax.

When a new neighbor or a guest of a neighbor joined us, some were shy and didn’t want a hug. After all, I was a stranger. That inevitably turned to an exchange of hugs by the end of reading…after we had become friends through stories.

 

Why Talk About Summer Reading Now?

Isn’t it passé, like Christmas in July? Not really. The waning of the year is a good time to reflect on years past, and to imagine summers that lie ahead. It’s the gift of seasonal change, that inevitable cycle of challenge and comfort in temperate regions of the world.

Katherinebooks1In her video interview with me, Katherine B. Hauth talked about how a group of neighborhood children came together to form a summer reading group.It ran for many years in her home in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. She Doc-12_01_15, 08:52 - 1collected books,  arranged them on the floor, and opened her doors to neighborhood children whose parents had agreed to the impromptu routine. She didn’t know all the families. She certainly didn’t know all the kids. I asked Katherine to tell me how the rules of the group were established.

Here is what she said:

My idea of reading to one child had spontaneously spread in the neighborhood. Now six children, boys and girls from five to ten–I didn’t know with what kind of parenting–would soon be inside. I didn’t have a childproof house so we needed some rules. No matter how much children dislike them, I’d observed that one of the first things they do when creating their own games was establish rules. I reasoned that the rules should be set primarily by the children. We stopped at my front door; everyone bunched together.

“Since we’ll be reading inside,” I said, “what should some of the rules be?” They could hardly wait to be the first to offer suggestions, and they figured things out just fine: no yelling, sit quietly, no talking during reading, and they could leave when they wanted. “But not until the story ends” I added. The rule that surprised me (the joy of letting rules come from the kids) was that they decided, “We need to take off our shoes.”

As they removed and lined up their shoes by the door, I gathered books from my office according the varied ages. Then I read to them as long as they were interested.

The children asked if we could “do reading” every week. I wrote their names, ages, and interests. I checked with the parents to learn that Wednesday at 1:00 was a good time.

Once familiar with our reading environment, the children wanted to examine things they hadn’t noticed at first. I added a rule: Before touching anything, ask permission. Questions about paintings on the walls and fossils on a shelf led to conversations about careful handling, different kinds of art, and how insects become encased in amber. Questions and conversations led us to new books.

We did not eat, drink, or go to the bathroom during reading. They were “responsible” for taking care of those things before they arrived. We were free to immerse ourselves, uninterrupted, in the new worlds that books took us to.

Our first reading session ended unexpectedly with each child hugging me. Hugs became a beginning and ending tradition for each reading day—that continued, even as the group changed, for about seventeen summers.

Seventeen years! Those kids grew up and went on to the rest of their lives. Katherine continues to write and read in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. But those seventeen summers left their mark on a lot of children and perhaps their families as well.

Katherine Hauth on Children, Summer Reading, and the Passage of Time

Delectable poetic lessons on the food chain designed to help young readers rather literally digest the natural world.

That starred review quote from Kirkus Reviews is a punny summary of Katherine B. Hauth’s picture book published by Charlesbridge, What’s For Dinner? Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World. In a post on the publisher’s blog , Katherine writes:

For me, a silver-haired eight year old, what it means to be a poet is to be childlike, in the sense of seeing with unbiased eyes and heart, and to write honestly in the best language possible for the subject and for my audience.

But writers can only be nourished, so to speak, when readers read. In this video conversation with me, Katherine talks about a summer reading program she created, pretty much out of dust and juniper pollen, in her neighborhood in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. It grew over the years. It created its own story.