A celebrity has just arrived in Mr. Madison’s classroom at El Verano Elementary School and the 3rd graders are beside themselves. “Here he is!” they exclaim as the visitor walks through the door.
This special guest has not come to give a lesson or tell a story. He is neither a star athlete nor a movie star. He doesn’t play an instrument, sing, dance or do magic tricks. His tricks are mostly limited to sit, stay and shake. He is a dog. His name is Fenway Bark.
An eight-year old chocolate-colored Labrador retriever, Fenway has been coming to El Verano for six years with his owner, Mara Kahn. He has helped hundreds of children become better readers. Fenway is a literacy dog.
“Fenway’s job is to listen while you’re reading,” explains Mara to the class, which is gathered in a circle around her and Fenway.
One of the best ways for children to improve their reading is to read aloud, but reading in front of an audience can be scary. What if Chelsea mispronounces a word? Or if Alex loses track of where he is on the page? Will everyone laugh? The fear can discourage some children from reading aloud at all.
Solution: read to a totally non-judgmental audience that doesn’t care what you read or how you read it. Read to a dog! When reading to dogs, young readers don’t have to worry about saying “whoof” when they meant to say “which.” With less anxiety and more confidence, young readers increase their reading fluency. That’s why literacy dogs visit hundreds of schools and libraries as reading buddies for children.
Vanessa sits cross-legged on the rug in Mr. Madison’s classroom. She gingerly opens Strega Nona by Tomie De Paola. Softly, slowly, she reads about Big Anthony who ignores Strega Nona’s instructions not to touch her magical pasta pot. Fenway sits up and looks at Vanessa. He gazes at the floor. Vanessa keeps reading. The pasta starts flowing. Fenway stretches out. Vanessa reads a little louder, a little faster. Pasta floods the town. Fenway licks Vanessa’s knee. She giggles and goes back to her book.
Today, six children got to read to the canine visitor. “It’s so cool to read to a dog,” said one boy who will get his chance next week. He was already thinking about choosing a doggone good book
MLA 8 Citation
Schwartz, David M. "Reading Has Gone to the Dogs." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 20 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/Reading-Has-Gone-to-the-Dogs. Accessed 20 Dec. 2017.
The Master Chef of Kids' Hands-on Science
I’m often asked where I get my ideas for books. Let me give you an example:
The other day, when I was walking in a neighborhood park, there was a man doing whole-body lifts on a piece of exercise equipment with a huge, brilliantly–colored parrot on his shoulder. It was so unusual that, without thinking, I called out: “What a beautiful bird! May I take your picture?” I was full of questions so we chatted for a while.
Me: “What kind of bird is that?”
Scotty, the parrot-man: “She’s a green-winged macaw.”
Me: “What’s her name? How old is she?”
Scotty: “Her name is Lucky. She’s 2 ½ years old but she can live more than 60 years. She’s a vegetarian, like me. Her beak is a nut-cracker. ”
Lucky repeatedly kissed Scotty on the lips with her giant hooked beak as he turned to talk to her. She had been an expensive gift to him—they cost about $1500 at Bird Jungle, our local bird store. She couldn’t fly because he kept her wings clipped; it’s dangerous for a 2 ½ pound bird to be able to fly around the house. He had given her a bath that morning. She had communicated that she wanted one by putting her head under the faucet and looking at him.
“Why did she want a bath?” I asked. “Was she dirty?”
Scotty wasn’t sure why, except that it rains every day in her natural habitat—the rain forest. Then he pointed out a new feather on her neck. It was encased in a white sheath. A bath makes the sheath fall off and the feather fluffs up. Maybe that feels like undoing a pony tail
This is often how I get ideas for books. I find something interesting and start asking questions. Of course, I paid a visit to Bird Jungle. What a noisy store! There I found more people to interview. It’s amazing how much you can learn from people who are experts.
After a while I ran out of questions. That’s because I didn’t know enough to keep going. How can I remedy that? Go read a book or two about green-winged macaws and other rain forest birds. It could lead to a book idea about the rain forest like: This Place Is Wet.
When I write, I don’t write just about content. I write what interests me about content. There’s a big difference.
Vicki made a trip to the Amazon rain forest with her good friend, Alaskan artist, Barbara Lavallee. You can find out what they learned there by reading This Place Is Wet. For more information about the book, click here.
Vicki Cobb is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through FieldTripZoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Cobb, Vicki. "I Met a Man about a Parrot." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 18 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
I-Met-a-Man-About-a-Parrot. Accessed 18 Dec. 2017.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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