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Interview: Terry Doherty, The Reading Tub

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Here is another in my series of interviews with kids books bloggers. Today I report on my interview with Terry Doherty (abbreviated “TD” below), who blogs at Children’s Literacy: Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, a Reading Tub Blog. Terry’s blog reflects her passion for children’s reading and literacy. The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent websites focused on kids’ books, including children’s reading and literacy resources. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Terry’s blog (link above), as well as the other excellent resources she points to in the interview.  Thanks Terry!

Q: How and when did you become interested in children’s reading and literacy?

TD: I have always loved reading. I was one of those flashlight-under-the-covers kids. The literacy light bulb turned on when First Lady Barbara Bush started talking about the importance of reading.

I was a young bureaucrat at that point, steeped in my career, so the spark just sat quietly and waited. Fast forward 12 years … I am a full-time mom and I want to share my love of reading with our new baby girl. As she grows as a reader, so do I. I volunteer in her school, and I have learned so much by watching her and her peers. Even in your (cough) 40s (cough) you can learn a lot from Kindergartners!

Q: What do you see as the biggest barriers to children’s reading and literacy in the United States today?

TD: Wow. I see the barriers like the ripple waves in a pond. They are reverberating in their own circle, but they are also banging into each other. As one ripple gets smaller, another is amplified.

Access to books at home, obviously, is the biggest barrier. I wish every child could come home from the hospital with 5 books – one for each of the first 5 years of their life. Even parents who don’t read would recognize the value of that gift and take care of those books.

There is also a critical shortage of read-aloud time, not only at home, but at school. Kids need people to model reading … and it doesn’t have to be books. Magazines, catalogs, letters, recipes, etc. I wish there were more ways to incorporate reading aloud at school, if not by a teacher, then a community helper. Having an airline pilot show kids how to read maps would demonstrate just how important reading is to “real life.”

Q: I understand you are currently the executive director of The Reading Tub® Inc.  What exactly is The Reading Tub®?

TD: The Reading Tub® started as a hobby. I was frustrated that my then 18-month daughter would pick out books at the library and then, when we sat down to read them at home, she’d close the book and say “no more, Mommy.” My sister-in-law suggested I start a website “because teachers and parents would love it.”

So I did. It was a great chance for me to do something challenging during nap time, and gave me an outlet to share what we were reading. We launched the site in late October 2003. In March 2004, authors started to find my site, asking if I’d review their book. (The first one was the incredible Toni Buzzeo!) As we got more requests, I realized that we didn’t need all these books – my daughter has a healthy library – so I decided to transform the Reading Tub from a hobby book review site to a nonprofit literacy program. We earned our 501(c)(3) exemption 2 days before Thanksgiving 2004.

Our mission is to “bring reading home to families.” It allows us to create goals that capture the various facets of children’s literacy and reading on so many levels. We want to …

* Encourage parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles to read with the children in their lives … even kids who can read independently can benefit from time shared reading aloud with Mom or Dad.

* Help the adults find great books that match their kids’ interests and reading levels (and skip the over-hyped stuff!).

* Provide information that explains why reading with a child at home is so important.

* Post articles and provide links to resources that help parents/grandparents/teachers teach their children to read.

We are an all-volunteer organization. There are drawbacks to that decision, because the staffing can be inconsistent and I end up wearing a lot of hats, but I want donations to fund the mission, not the overhead.

We have families, teachers, librarians, and teens all over the country who review books for kids from infant to 13. Our Board of Directors comprises literacy advocates and educators, and we also have experts who write articles for us.

The Reading Tub has become a facilitator for getting books to at-risk readers: kids who don’t have books at home or who are failing benchmarks for their grade. We will only donate to other US nonprofits or Title I schools. For example, we work with Read Aloud Virginia, which serves economically challenged students in the Richmond, Virginia, area; and we also work with The Reading Connection, in Arlington, that offers literacy outreach to homeless families.

One of our long-time partners is Cynthia Brian’s Be the Star You Are® (BTSYA), a nonprofit that “empowers youth-at-risk through literacy and positive media.” BTSYA created a “Teen Star Review Team” who read and review many of our middle grade and Young Adult books. We post their reviews – complete with logo – on our website.

Q: What is the content of your blog, and what are your goals for it?

TD: Great question … I actually went back and looked at what we talk about on the blog to get a sense of patterns over the last two years. Most of our posts are related in one way or another to literacy and reading news – anecdotal, newsy pieces that relay information that people can use. That is really important to me – my goal is to offer information that can be incorporated into real life.

My goals for the blog are to offer ideas, food for thought, and recommendations on ways to spark a child’s love of reading. I would love to have more ‘conversations’ on the blog. Learning how to do that better is an area I want to work on.

Q: What criteria do you use to evaluate the books you review?

TD: We read every book that is donated to us or that we borrow from the library. We also review books from our personal collections. Over the past three years, we’ve averaged about 475 book donations/year. We can read that many books, but we couldn’t possibly review that many books.

For the most part, we only review books that we would recommend people borrow from the library or buy, either as a gift or for their personal library. We really hone in on kid appeal and writing. Art is very subjective, so we try not to put undue weight on the illustrations, but when it comes to grammar and spelling … that’s different. I can work with books where spelling or grammar is part of the plot (think: Junie B. JonesJunie B. Jones book series), but a poorly written book – no matter how beautiful –  is NOT something I want to share with an at-risk reader.

We receive a lot of books with licensed characters or media tie-ins, but we don’t review those. Because our model includes the kids’ opinions, it takes us a bit longer to get a book read and reviewed – especially during school. So, by the time we get to some books, the buzz has come and gone. Unless we have something to add to the conversation about a book, then we won’t review it. Think: Harry Potter. What could we possibly say that hasn’t already been said?  [AM: click here for something I think still needed to be said about the Harry Potter series]

Q: Tell me about the “Children’s Literacy and Reading News Round-ups”.  What are they? How did they start?

TD: I published my first Reading Roundup in April 2008. Going back to my earlier comment, I wanted to find a way to have more regular content for the blog that would fill the “space” between the quarterly newsletters.

It was pretty slim compared to what we publish today. As the weeks went on, the roundup was getting bigger and bigger. I was finding lots of info in Jen Robinson’s Afternoon Visits [AM: for my interview with children’s book blogger Jen Robinson, click here], and we also had a lot of the same information. Although we both have individual reading audiences, we also share a lot of readers, and we didn’t want to turn them off to raising readers. Also, because the roundups were getting bigger, it was taking a lot more time to find unique content. So we combined forces and started alternating weeks.

Earlier this year, when Jen announced that she was expecting Baby Bookworm, we decided to transition to a biweekly Roundup. We trimmed some things – for example literacy tools is now a separate roundup – and raised the bar on others. Those two things help us keep it timely but also a manageable length.

When Jen’s daughter, Baby Bookworm, was born 10 weeks premature in April, Carol Rasco, CEO and President of Reading is Fundamental, [AM: for my interview with children’s reading and literacy advocate Carol Rasco, click here] stepped in to help with the Roundup. We are thrilled to have that added perspective.

Jen has been slowly getting back in the groove and published the Literacy and Reading News Roundup for early October. I’ll keep the mid-month review, and Carol will post at the end of the month with a review and a look forward.

Q: What are some of your favorite literacy resources online?

TD: My go-to blogs are …

Jen Robinson’s Book Page – I love her conversational, comfy style.

The Book Chook – Susan Stephenson explores EVERYTHING and reminds us that literacy is more than just books!

Literacy Toolbox – Dawn Little has a very life-oriented approach to reading. I like how she draws on the “science” to show parents/teachers how they can hook kids on books.

Jean Little Library and Kids Lit – Jennifer and Tasha, both librarians, have some of the best reviews, and they always talk about how the books can engage others.

A Year of Reading – Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn help me stretch. They do a lot with nonfiction and poetry reviews.

The Big Fresh – This is the Choice Literacy newsletter. Every week Brenda Power has a theme and she pulls together resources/links that I usually haven’t seen.

Q: What are some practical ways that ordinary adults can further children’s literacy?

TD: Ordinary? Adults are extraordinary, particularly as teachers … they just don’t often realize it, or accept it as true.

Reading is like exercise – to be “fit” you need to do some every day. It may help to remember that reading is like breathing: it is a natural part of our existence. Whether it’s the stop sign or the menu at McDonalds, it’s reading.

Reading doesn’t have to be an extra thing you do, just make it a conscious part of what you are doing.

* Sitting at a stoplight? Point out the birthday board at the carwash and read the names to your kids.

* Grocery shopping with your preschooler? Ask them to walk ahead of you in the aisle and find the yellow rectangle/box. Discerning things like color and shape are precursors to recognizing letters.

* Driving to grandma’s? Sing along with the radio or a CD. Maybe pop in an audio book for a change.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your work around children’s books and literacy?

TD: This is going to sound corny, but I love that Christmas morning feeling. When a child figures out a word by him/herself that first time … that instant when they’ve discovered they can read. When an envelope or box of books arrives and the smell of a new book sneaks out. When I read the blurb and think “oh, this is so cool … it is sure to be a hit with [pick your audience].”

Last but not least, watching my almost-9-year-old daughter get excited about a book. Just this week she grabbed Lots of DotsLots of Dots on Amazon by Craig Frazier, which I had literally just opened. She was so excited about the story that she started transcribing the text onto a piece of paper. When I asked what she was doing, she said she wanted to share the story with her friends at school, so she was writing it down. I said she could borrow it to take to school, and she immediately put it in her backpack. The next day when she got off the bus, unprompted she said “Mom, everybody L-O-V-E-D Lots of Dots. They really liked all the things the dots could be.”

Knowing that there are lots of kids who can get turned on by a book like she was—and that it can cause a chain reaction—is what keeps me going.

Q: If you were standing on a soapbox full of children’s books, what advice would you give your audience?

TD: Knock me off my box. Take my box away … take every book I’m standing on, find a spot somewhere and start reading. If there are kids within earshot they’ll come … just keep reading.

Seriously, I would say that helping kids learn to read doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to be an “extra” thing.  Not every adult likes to read and not every child is going to be a bookworm, but we owe it to our kids to give them the one tool that can help them fulfill their dreams. They need to know how to read.

If you enjoyed this interview, or found it helpful, why not “like it” (button at top of interview), or post it on Facebook or Twitter? The “Share/Save” button below makes posting it easy. Thanks!

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7 Comments

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris Singer, Aaron Mead. Aaron Mead said: Children’s Reading and Literacy: Interview with Terry Doherty of The Reading Tub http://goo.gl/fb/XpLJA […]

  2. […] Reviews, and he has some of the best interview questions I’ve ever answered. Here’s his interview with me about the Reading Tub. He’s added lots of great links to my answers … including why […]

  3. Thanks for the interview Aaron … I was quick to post about it but forgot my manners and didn’t stop by to say “Thanks!” I loved the questions, as they gave me a chance to think and add some fresh ideas to my discussions about reading with kids. Thanks again!

  4. Aaron Mead says:

    Great, you’re quite welcome. Your fresh ideas are now helping us all… Hope you’re getting a little traffic bump too!

  5. Jen Robinson says:

    Great interview, Aaron and Terry! Of course Terry and I are kindred spirits, and share many of the same views on these topics, so it’s an interview that pleased me immensely. Terry, I loved the Lots of Dots story. I look forward to those types of experiences with Baby Bookworm.

    Thanks for linking to my blog (and my interview here), too.

  6. BookChook says:

    Great interview! Terry’s passion and commitment to children’s literature and literacy are revealed in her answers.

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