Reading with Baby Bookworm: An Interview with Jen Robinson

Years ago, when I first started reading blogs, one of the first I discovered (and, yes, I probably did yell “Eureka!”) was Jen Robinson’s Book Page. I have used Jen’s reviews for years now, to suggest books to my son and to add to my own reading list. Jen  is so much about the things I love–reading kidlit as an adult, by choice, and getting new kids to fall in love with books for life.  Since starting her blog, Jen has taken on many roles. She is an advisor to the  Foundation for the Santa Clara City Library and Literary Evangelist for the Cybils awards. She also maintains the Children’s Book Review wiki.

I know I’m not the only person in Jen’s virtual circle who cheered when I found out she was going to have a baby. That was just so…right, the knowledge that a very lucky baby was going to come into the world, a baby that would be surrounded by love and books and the best combination of both. When Baby Bookworm (who we’ll call BB for the rest of the post!) was born early, I think we all held our breath, and then we cheered again when she came home–even more loudly this time.

I love reading Jen’s Facebook posts. Yes, all of them, including the links to new reviews and to important literacy articles. But the posts about BB and books–well, those just make me smile. A lot. And I thought it would be fun to interview Jen about their reading–about how Jen’s reading has changed since BB came into her life and about BB’s own reading–with Mom and by herself. Luckily, Jen thought it would be fun to do the interview.

And I know you’ll have fun reading it!

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BL: If I’m remembering right, Baby Bookworm (BB) was born early, and I think she spent some time in the hospital before coming home. I’m guessing you were reading to her there. Do you remember the first book you read to her and why you chose it?

JR: The first book that we read to her was One Night in the Zoo by Judith Kerr. That was a book that we had read to her in utero, and it was on top of the stack when my husband went home to pick up some books (we didn’t have a lot of time for planning). One Night in the Zoo is a lovely, soothing read-aloud, and I was pleased with it as our first book. I still know it by heart.

BL: In general, were the first books you read to BB picture books? If not, what age/genre did you start her on?

JR: While she was in the NICU, I actually started reading her The Secret Garden by Frances Hodsgon Burnett. It was easier to hold than the picture books, and easier to just stick with one book over longer periods of time than to have to switch. I figured that the important thing was that she hear the sound of me reading. She wasn’t really able to look at pictures at that point anyway, though we did read her some picture books in the hospital. After she came home I read her a mix of picture books, board books, poetry, and chapter books. We read the first Harry Potter book and the first Penderwicks book before she became too restless to sit still for books that didn’t have pictures.

BL: I know your reading habits/patterns had to change tremendously once BB was born. What would you say were the biggest changes between the year before her birth and the year after?

JR: Well, quantity, obviously. I just had nowhere near the time for reading that I used to have. In 2009 I read 167 books (not counting picture books). In 2010 (she was born in April), I read 67. I’m pleased to report that for 2012 I was back up to 134. In general, I read a lot more picture books now than I used to. And I’ve gotten better at squeezing in reading time.

BL: I know from your Facebook posts that BB definitely spends time on her own with books. Is there a difference between the books you and she read together and the ones she reads to herself? Do you think her self-reading times are mostly when you’re not available, or do you see her choosing times to read by herself and times she wants you to share a book with her?

JR: She’ll tend to pick books with which she is very familiar to “read” on her own. And she’ll say the words that she knows aloud as she does so. She also favors wordless books for this activity. I’ve seen her sit down with Good Night, Gorilla, and all I’ll hear is the “Goodnight, goodnight, etc.” on the page where the animals all say goodnight to the keeper’s wife. She will choose self-reading sometimes even when I’m available. She’ll just say “I’m going to read in my Little Corner,” and off she’ll go. I justify the time that I spend reading in front her as “modeling reading,” and it does seem to work  She’ll also pick up chapter books sometimes, and pretend to read those, which is always entertaining.

BL: How do you set up your day (or week!) so that you have your own reading time, with just you and the book you want to lose yourself in?

JR: I nearly always read in bed for at least a little bit before I go to sleep. I also use audiobooks to squeeze in reading time while I’m flossing, cooking, etc. (though I can only do that when BB is not around). Lately when my husband reads to BB before bed, I’ll sit with them and read my book. But the days of reading for long stretches of time, and losing myself in books, are pretty much on hiatus, except for special occasions. Sigh!

BL: I just read your post on the Mercer Mayer books, and I love the honesty of these lines: “I must admit, these books are not my favorites. But I must also admit that Baby Bookworm, at nearly three years old, adores them. How often does this happen, that BB likes/loves a book that just doesn’t get you? Have you discovered the magic trick of balancing between letting your child pick their reading and making sure you get to read what you want?

JR: Well, at this age a big part of the trick involves selecting the books in the first place. When books come into the house, I usually screen them first, and Baby Bookworm never sees the ones that I don’t think I could stand reading over and over again. There are also certain locations where the books that we read most frequently live, and I can sneak books into or out of those locations. But she always has veto power, too, and she’s not shy about using it. She’ll say that a book is “too long,” or “maybe for when I’m older,” and cast them aside without a backward glance. In truth, though, as with the Mercer Mayer books, if there are books that she loves, I’m so happy to hear her seek them out that I tend to have a pretty high tolerance. She has certainly expanded my perspective.

BL: Do you do any reading with BB on an e-reader? Does she spend time reading books on an e-reader herself? If yes, do you see any difference between sharing print books and e-books with her? Do you see any difference in how she responds to the differences?  If no, are you choosing for her not to read electronically yet, and would you share your reasons?

JR: I do allow BB a certain amount of time interacting with apps on the iPad. Some of the apps that she has are book-based, like The Monster at the End of this Book. But I still view them as a different sort of activity than reading books, and I prefer for her to read print books. I have purchased or borrowed a few Kindle books for trips, but haven’t found that they capture her interest. I think that she’s come to expect a high degree of interactivity to the apps that she uses, and to just look at a non-interactive book on a device doesn’t do much for her. She is fascinated by my Kindle Paperwhite, though. She doesn’t want to use it herself, but she will pick up other objects, and tell me that they are her “Kindle Book.” I’m always careful when I’m using the Kindle to tell her that it’s a special book, and that I’m reading it, because I don’t want to undercut that whole “modeling reading” idea.

BL: With all your research about and advocacy of literacy, have there been any surprises for you about reading with a child/raising a reader, since BB was born? What were those? What has BB taught you about reading?

JR: I don’t know that I would call it a surprise, exactly, but I think that BB has taught me to expand my perspective. There are books that show up at our house now that I would never have given a second glance when I was just an adult reviewing children’s books. But I appreciate them now. For instance, I was thrilled to see Big Girl Panties by Fran Manushkin arrive on the doorstep, because I knew that she would love it. Also not a surprise, but something that I love, is how often we make connections between books and our daily life. We are constantly referring in daily life to things that happened in books, and we love when we’re reading a book, and can relate it to something that we’ve done recently. I’ve seen literacy advice to work to build on those connections, but I had no idea how much fun it would be.

BL: If you got to share (only) three of the best read-aloud books that you’ve discovered since BB was born, what would those be? Would BB choose the same ones and, if not, which would she choose?

JR: Such an impossible question. There are so many books that we enjoy. But three of my favorites for reading aloud are: Good night, laila tov by Laurel Snyder, All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, and Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown. BB would probably choose those first two, and then she would try to sneak all three Knuffle Bunny books in as her third choice. Because she is always trying to get some extra books in.

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16 thoughts on “Reading with Baby Bookworm: An Interview with Jen Robinson

  1. Such a lovely post. Thank you Becky and Jen! My own daughter is six, and reading to her and with her has been a revelation. It’s been great to find new books with her, and to see old books through new eyes. And yes, the connections between books and life have never been more vital.

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    • beckylevine says:

      Amy, it’s always been like this for my son and I. Even now, when I haven’t read TO him in years, it’s words we share. Passages from something we’re reading, a joke from something we read years ago, a debate about which Discworld book to recommend first for a new Terry-Pratchett fan. I figure, as long as we’ve got this, we’re doing okay!

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  2. No wonder you were so excited about this upcoming interview! So delighted to hear about Jen and her Baby Bookworm. I love that BB will say “maybe when I’m older” and set a book aside. I also love that they were reading to her in utero and continued reading and reading after she was born. This is great! (Sharing…)

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      • “Maybe when I’m older” is really code for “I don’t like this that much.” But it’s surprisingly diplomatic, isn’t it? She’ll also sometimes say “We read that one already”, if she doesn’t like a book. The ones that she LIKES we can read multiple times a day.

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  3. Thanks for the great interview! BB sounds like she’s well on her way to spending a lifetime with books! I miss my own picture book days….I’ve kept lots of them around the house, even though my own little one is nine now, and sometimes will pull an old one out, and wave it at him for old time’s sake, even though he’s burning through over 1,000 pages a month on his own now.

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    • beckylevine says:

      I still share the ones I bring home from the library with my 16-year-old son. We do have a more critique-based discussion of them than we used to, probably, but there is still utter delight & out-loud laughter. He is MUCH more visual than I am, so he sees a whole lot more in the art.

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      • Right now, I can’t even imagine what the house would look like without all the picturebooks. I’m glad to think that I have at least several years to keep reading them. There are a lot that we have that she hasn’t taken to yet, or that I’m saving for when she’s older 🙂

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        • beckylevine says:

          Well, not all the picture books have left son’s room–the Dr. Seuss are all still there. And some made their way back to MY shelves, rather than being totally cleaned out of the house. 🙂

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