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Dr. Briggs on Books

Banner Literacy: You always have books to recommend for everyone at Banner Literacy. Have you always been interested in children’s literature?

Terrie: I have always been an avid reader. When I started to teach, books of all kinds were an essential component of the curriculum and classroom environment. I spent, as I still do, hours in the children’s sections of local libraries. I also spent a lot of time at my favorite bookstore, The Bookstall, in Winnetka.

Banner Literacy: Was anyone in particular an influence when you first started to select books for your classroom?

Terrie: Pat, the former owner of The Bookstall, was a bookseller when I first started teaching. Every time I visited Pat, I left with an armload of books. She knew so much about children’s literature, and I would spend hours with her. One of my favorite memories involved Pat calling me at school and saying, “Don’t go home and cook dinner after school! Come up to the store. I found some books for you.” Pat really got me on the inside track of all the new books as soon as they were on the shelves. There are still great booksellers at The Bookstall today who help me select books for Banner Literacy and for work that I do in inner-city schools. Amy and Betsy have both helped me find just the right book for a student or a selection of books for a classroom.

Banner Literacy: What types of influences do you think that books have on kids?

Terrie: One thing that drives my love of books is my belief that they can be the best way to start a relationship with kids. As a teacher, I've realized this relationship is often the catalyst that gets children motivated to read. It is music to my ears when I see a child in the hall at a school, and they say, “Dr. Briggs, did you get me that book?” It’s equally exciting when I can ask a kid, “Hey, did you read that book? Do you want to talk about it during lunch?”

The great thing about children is that they are always willing to be patient if I tell them, “I know just the book you need, but it will take me a day to get it for you.” In my clinical practice, I’ll tell my students as we near the end of reading a book that, “I’ve got to start looking for a new book for you. This is my thought on a topic. What is your thought on it?” This way, they feel like they are part of the decision- making process. Motivation is always high when children feel that they are part of the process. To me, the best way teachers can reach children is to build relationships with them. I have always found the best way to start a relationship with a child through literacy is to let them know that they are important enough to me that I will find “THAT” book for THEM. This relationship is one that you can then build on for learning in the classroom or in a clinic. I think this is essential. I teach my graduate students that it is always possible to find a book related to a student’s interests. Find it, give it to him or her, and then watch the magic that happens.

Banner Literacy: Besides forging relationships, what else do you like about children’s books?

Terrie: I find joy in watching a kid fall in love with a book. When that happens, they make multiple connections, they begin talking more about the characters, and they reflect more deeply. Basically, they do all the things we want good readers to do with a book. I think the chances of this happening are excellent when you are extremely particular about the books you offer kids.

Banner Literacy: What is your secret to finding great books?

Terrie: I have no problem combing through the stacks to find a book, and I have a lot of resources that help. I am always online looking at Goodreads, Amazon, public libraries as well as my favorite bookstores. I also collect any booklist that I can get my hands on.

Banner Literacy: Why do you like to read in general?

Terrie: I am in “flow” when I read. I get jittery if I don’t have a good book that is waiting for me. I read anything and everything. For example, I just finished a children’s book, Jefferson’s Book. I am working with a child who is interested in the Civil War, and I want to show him an aspect of slavery that we rarely talk about ... the Founding Fathers had slaves. I am partial to history, but I read and enjoy any genre. I am pretty nosey – I like to know about everything!

Banner Literacy: What are some of your favorite kids’ books?

Terrie: Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey is a favorite that I opened every school year with. Eleanor Roosevelt is a photo-biography that is another favorite. Have I said I really like history? I just read The War That Saved My Life; a chapter book for elementary kids that gave me new insights into life during World War Two. I have a large stash of baseball books from a unit I did on baseball when I was teaching in the classroom. I still use two of those books with middle school students (The Violin and The Bat Boy and Teammates). These books have a lot of lessons about racial inequality and empathy that are wonderful for “Grand Discussions.” My list of favorites is actually probably endless!

Banner Literacy: Why do you choose the books that you do?

Terrie: Well, as I said, motivation is a big reason. Also, as a teacher, I am really fussy about not bringing in any more stress to kids’ lives by reading books that have all sorts of problems in them: divorce, drugs, or other potentially sensitive issues. If there is anything that I think a family may want to introduce themselves or discuss with a child on their own, I honor this by telling them about the book before reading it. I am careful with concepts, and I am mindful that themes are age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate.

Also, as a clinician, I am attentive to various aspects of books from how print appears on a page, to vocabulary that is used, to concepts and themes that are

part of the book. It’s also important to consider the cognitive load that decoding and vocabulary can add to a book.

Banner Literacy: Dyslexia, reading disabled or otherwise, does that impact your decision on what to read with kids?

Terrie: Yes. If there's a language or learning issue, I am probably over-cautious because I know they may be getting intervention in more than one setting. I often make sure, particularly with the first few books that we read, that they are easy enough to ensure motivation. Then I can start doing the harder stuff. I am usually not as cautious with kids that don’t have specific learning challenges.

In general, I do a lot of vocabulary work with kids. I also make sure that the books we work with, whether from a basal series or a trade book, have pictures that complement the print. This helps contribute to “confirmation redundancy”. In other words, when a picture matches the content of a word or sentence, a student can "confirm" or “reaffirm” what they have read.

Banner Literacy: Do you have any recommendations for parents or teachers who are looking for books for their kids?

Terrie: First, they can look at the books we recommend on Banner Literacy’s Facebook and homepages! We post lists on a regular basis. I would also use the internet, especially right now since it may be difficult to get to a library. Goodreads and library lists are frequently good. Schools usually have summer reading lists. When I use Amazon, I generally don’t use rating stars to select a book. Instead, I go by what the publishers have added ( they provide a pretty extensive description of the book and what independent critics have said about it ). For younger children, I try to see if I can preview a couple of pages of the book. Amazon and Google Books are good for this. I want to make sure that the child can actually read the words on the page. And, obviously, if libraries and bookstores are open, I check them out.

Banner Literacy: How many children’s’ books do you own?

Terrie: Walls full! Beside working with students, I am a grandmother too!

Banner Literacy: Can you give us a trick that you use that always gets children reading?

Terrie: One of the things that I used to say to parents in first grade is, "Mess your house up with books." Always have a million books on a table, so anyone can pick them up and look at them. I just started planting “Easy Read” books all over my house for my granddaughters, and sure enough, every time they walk by them, they pick up a book and look at it.

Banner Literacy: What has changed with kids’ books since you started teaching?

Terrie: Since I have started teaching, publishers have done a wonderful job with publishing non-fiction books for children. In the best cases, the pictures are beautiful, and the content is excellent. When I buy non-fiction books for kids, I only purchase those where the pictures are realistic ( e.g., photographs ). It is also important that the book has “text features”: table of contents, indexes, glossaries, etc. The Common Core Standards, which drives our curriculum, wants students to be exposed to and equal amount of fiction and non-fiction.

Banner Literacy: Why should people read your recommendations?

Terrie: Because I spend an inordinate amount of time selecting books for my clients and students in schools. Also, I would never on God’s green earth I let somebody else do it for me. NEVER! They can trust that if I recommend a book, that I have found out as much as I can about it. Also, without being repetitive I am very fussy about the content of a story or the concepts that are being taught. Also, I do clinic work with the books, so I want to make sure that there is stuff in there that I can do like vocabulary words, word study, etc. And last, but not least, I have spent the last 47 years with children and my doctorate is in reading and language.

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