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Cool Picks for Hot Summer Reading - Building Language and Literacy

By Sherry Artemenko, MA-CCC

It's summer. School is out, so grab a book, cuddle up with your child and take a cool break.

Reading to your child sets the foundation for emergent literacy skills—what children need to know before they actually read and write. With each story read, you are building your child's vocabulary, phonemic awareness (understanding that words are made up of individual sounds), knowledge of letters and the sounds they represent, and narrative skills or story telling. Reading to your child not only prepares him for academic success but also says I have time for you, strengthening the special bond you have with your child.

These new picture books will spark discussions with your child about feelings, reactions, situations, or predictions. The beautiful, intricate illustrations can encourage your young artist to illustrate their thoughts or reactions to the story. Help your child to relate her experiences to the story and the story line to her world, building language skills in the process.

by Barbara Lehman

Climb aboard this train, but be sure to sit next to the little girl rather than her parents who are engrossed in the newspaper and fall asleep, missing the whole adventure. Her face is pressed against the glass of the train car window, anticipating the new world she will enter after passing through a tunnel. Stepping out of the train into a world of tiny people, she is asked to help retrieve a toy airplane and pilot from the apple tree. Friendships develop, but it's time to hop back on the train to return to the city. The magic comes full circle when upon arriving home, the girl looks up to see her little friends flying by to deliver a tree of thanks.

Tips to Build Language and Literacy:

How can so many story possibilities be packed into a wordless book? That's the point. Beautifully illustrated wordless books provide a platform for creative story telling and writing. Encourage your child to examine the drawings and describe characters, contrast them, predict what they will do, describe their emotions and give them dialogue. Look at the parents versus the little girl—engrossed in their paper, falling asleep, indifferent to their surroundings while the child is anticipating adventure.

Your child becomes the author-storyteller as she orally illustrates each page and gives words to the drawings. Try collaborating by alternating as the storyteller—you describe the action on a page and let your child add on to the story on the next page. Or each invent your own story, share them and see how they differ. Make this a family activity, assigning one member to write down the story as it unfolds or illustrate it as a group.

Try these strategies to enhance language development with other magical wordless books:

by Barbara Lehman

by Arthur Geisert

Lights Out
by Arthur Geisert

Max's DragonMax's Dragon
by Kate Banks

Max's earnest search for rhyming words, sends him through a croquet game, rainstorm and adventures with his dragon. Initially an annoyance to his brothers, Max keeps up his lines, "If my dragon isn't faster, there'll be a big disaster" until brothers Karl and Ben are contributing too. When the dragon is threatened there is only one thing to do—create another rhyme to save the day.

Tips to Build Language and Literacy:

What a delightful introduction to poetry and rhyme! Since the understanding of rhyme is a precursor to reading, it is important to play with rhyming words with your child. Read the rhymes to a younger child, emphasizing the changing first sound (the "f" in faster and "d" sound in disaster), and then just repeat the two words: faster, disaster. With a child 4 years old and up, create your own one-liners. Start them off with a phrase such as "I can't wait or I'll be (late)." Look at a fun illustration and create rhymes based on the pictures. Throw out a word and see how many rhyming words you and your child can generate. A first or second grader can write his own poem based on a favorite activity, imaginary friend, or object. Sometimes starting with an illustration will help generate the language.

The Rubber-Legged DuckyThe Rubber-Legged Ducky
by John G. Keller

Watch out what you eat when you are expecting! Mama duck nibbled a rubber band along with a clump of grass before giving birth. When she hatched her brood, the fifth duckling bounced rather than waddled, and cried, "Bing-boing" instead of the typical "Quack, quack." This delightful tale is all about being different, or special with true potential, as only a mother could declare. Five's rubbery legs were good for strumming accompaniments to sing-alongs and lassoing bullies but his greatest act of bravery was to stand against the fox, using his special talents to protect his family.

Tips to Build Language and Literacy:

Take the opportunity to discuss with your child how friends are different, what special talents we all have—maybe a good listener, helper or storyteller—and celebrate the differences.

The Best StoryThe Best Story
by Eileen Spinelli

Take the challenge to write the best story and win the first prize ride on a roller coaster. This little girl sought her family's advice and one by one wrote a draft according to their suggestions. First she packed her story with action—pirates, sharks, and tornados—to please her little brother, Tim. When Dad said good stories had plenty of humor, she put the pirates in pajamas and revised her draft. Aunt Jane countered that the best stories have to make you cry. The little girl's revisions to cause tears didn't seem right either. Finally, Mom, the source of all wisdom, said, "I think the best story comes from the heart. Your own heart." The little girl began pulling her story out of her own heart and it was a winner, contest or not.

Tips to Build Language and Literacy:

Summer is a great time for your child to keep a journal and write from her heart. Write about the best thing that happened that day, a new word learned and explain it, a favorite storybook, or all about a beloved relative. If your child is too young to write her thoughts, you be the scribe and take down her words. Draw an illustration with special markers and make it into a book.

The Pout-Pout FishThe Pout-Pout Fish
by Deborah Diesen

Being grumpy is a lot of work. Mr. Fish can't seem to be cheered up by his convincing pals, Ms Clam, Mr. Jelly (Fish), Mrs. Squid or Mr. Eight (legged octopus). In spite of the efforts by his best-intended buddies, this dreary, sulking fish is convinced he is doomed to a life of mope. An unexpected visitor appears to plant a kiss on our prince to get this grump out of his slump. This charming tale is filled with strong vocabulary, rhythm and rhyme with stanzas to be sung with your little one.

Tips to Build Language and Literacy:

Model putting words to your emotions throughout your daily experiences. "I'm frustrated, I can't get this lid open" or "I'm tired and grumpy. I need a nap." "Please be patient, I can't help you right now." Identify and name emotions in stories that you read aloud to your child. "The little girl is selfish—always wanting her own way" or "Grandma is disappointed in her behavior." Brainstorm words that describe the main character and see how many you can list. After reading a story to a first grade class, I collected fourteen words to describe the "bossy, impolite, ungrateful" little girl. Our little pout pout fish is "glum," "mopey," "dreary," with an "unattractive trait."

Point out repeated words that are isolated in the text, "Blub, Bluuuub, and Bluuuuub!" Your child will begin to associate the sound with the letter as you stretch out the word and even "read" the word next time you encounter that page.


About the Author
Sherry Artemenko, MA-CCC, is a Speech-language pathologist and founder of

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