As I enter my third year as curriculum manager for FunShine Express, I can safely say that reviewing books for our curriculum is my favorite part of the job. Each fall, I work with our writers to finalize themes for the next year. Once those are in place, I can begin working with vendors and publishers to secure samples of books that explore the subject matter and concepts conveyed in each theme. My background is in writing for children and early childhood education, so I feel especially compelled to find books that are both imaginative and educational. Our offerings over the past few years have covered everything from concept and nonfiction books to retellings of nursery rhymes and books in song. We offered our first bilingual book in the September/October 2020 Buttercups Kit and strive to offer more in the future. This is just one highlight of many.
We are fortunate to work with many publishers whose work is continuously highlighted. Over the last couple of years, several of our offerings have been voted among the Best Books for Babies. Best Books for Babies is a cooperative project of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, The Fred Rogers Company, and Trying Together (formerly the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children). Here are titles that we used in the Buttercups curriculum recently that were on the list:
- Blocks by Irene Dickson (voted in 2017)
- Leo Can Swim by Anna McQuinn (voted in 2017)
- Getting Ready by Cocoretto (voted in 2018)
- Sleeping Bunnies illustrated by Annie Kubler (voted in 2020)
How We Choose Books
Choosing high-quality books for our curriculum is a challenge! Price is always a factor in our selection process, as we try to choose titles that support the affordability of our kits. We also try to balance the quantities of fiction and nonfiction books offered. We aim for all of our choices to:
- Reflect demographic, geographic, and cultural diversity.
- Lend themselves to repeated readings.
- Extend into opportunities for hands-on learning and/or thoughtful conversation.
- Introduce new concepts, ideas, and ways of thinking.
- Support the provider in successfully teaching early literacy concepts.
How much a book lends itself to activity is a significant factor. Repeated readings support children in developing recall and memory, fluency, vocabulary acquisition, and a love for reading. However, repeated readings in the Buttercups infant/toddler curriculum look much different than they do in the Fireflies preschool curriculum. In Buttercups, books must be durable. They are used to model book handling, introduce new words, teach social-emotional skills, and promote sound-making and movement. In Fireflies, books are used to teach age-appropriate grammar, assess comprehension, and introduce features of literary forms (sequencing, dialogue, etc.). Fireflies books are used to promote conversation about experiences and feelings and knowledge acquisition across the learning domains in nuanced ways.
In addition to a few Best Books for Babies accolades, our selection for this year brings continued excitement. Here are some of the upcoming titles in our spring and summer curriculum kits:
- Roar, Roar, Growl, Growl: Sounds from the Jungle by Jennifer Shand. This publication from Flowerpot Press features stone paper. This type of paper enables the youngest children to practice turning the pages without fear of tearing them.
- Wild Week by Teresa Porcella and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes by Skye Silver, both new publications from Barefoot Books.
- Tumble Bumble by Felicia Bond, a beloved children’s author/illustrator.
- The Wonders of the Color Wheel and Recycling Is Fun by Charles Ghigna, another beloved children’s author/poet.
- Little America by Jeannie Brett, a book written in rhyming riddles.
This sampling alone represents endless learning and creative possibilities! Each monthly Fireflies kit includes 2 books, and each two-month Buttercups kit includes 3 board books.
As you cozy up to read with the children in your care, keep these tips in mind for a meaningful experience:
- Make reading experiences interactive. Pause on pages and talk with children as you read. Ask questions about character dialogue and interactions. Encourage children to make predictions. What can they learn from observing illustrations that isn’t readily available in the narration?
- Use expressions, gestures, and pauses to make stories come to life. Such techniques will also support children in understanding the emotions and feelings of characters, process changes in time and setting, and nurture children’s interest in the story.
- Clarify vocabulary, especially during a rereading of a story. Storybooks will often include new words for children. Defining every word during the first reading could distract from the story itself. Use repeated readings as opportunities to highlight new words. When you come to a new word, pause mid-sentence and use a short phrase to clarify its meaning, e.g., “She frantically— frantically is another word for ‘in a hurry’—cleaned her bedroom.”
- Expect toddlers to move around! Small children are kinetic. Even when we think they’re not paying attention to a story they are. If the children seem especially ready to go, save reading for another time.
- Pause to let children (toddlers and preschoolers alike) finish common phrases and refrains in books. Not only does this reveal something about children’s fluency and comprehension, it makes the reading experience active.
- Keep texts short for toddlers and read favorites over and over again. If children have a favorite subject (vehicles, animals, etc.), choose slightly longer books about those topics to build interest, a love for reading, and attention span.