Despite the coronavirus pandemic and a way-too-long physical separation from her Reading Team, Connie Van Hoven has continued to find creative ways for them to enjoy books together. Here, Connie describes some of the tactics she’s using — including technology and canine love — to assist her in Raising Star Readers:
My Reading Team is going to the dogs!
I have been unable to visit my Denver grandkids, Priya and Nikhil, since last January. While I’m grateful we can keep in touch with Facetime visits and Zoom get-togethers, it just isn’t the same. The kids will turn four (Priya) and two (Nikhil) in the next few weeks; I feel deeply the passing of time.
To help keep the kids’ attention while we communicate online, I enlist the aid of our black Lab, Peg. Peg is eight years old, but she has the heart of a toddler, so she’s always curious when she hears the kids’ voices and is happy to wave a paw. More about Peg in a moment though….
Both kids are crazy about dogs, especially Nikhil. So, in an effort to appeal to Nikhil for this installment of our Reading Team experience, I decided to send several dog books to Denver. Let’s see — so many dog characters to choose from! Biscuit, Clifford, Carl, Skippyjon Jones, Martha, maybe even Walter?
In the end, I chose a newer dog on the block. I found this title on the New York Times bestseller list: Let’s Find Momo! A Hide-and-Seek Board Book by Andrew Knapp. Momo is a border collie and an Instagram hit turned book celebrity. The author created a series of books featuring photographs of his dog, Momo, posing in fun and interesting settings. Both kids enjoyed this book; Nikhil searched for Momo on each page, while Priya studied the puzzle aspects.
Next up, the top dog: Spot. The Spot books, written and illustrated by Eric Hill, were relatively new when Priya and Nikhil’s dad was a little boy. I still have his dog-eared copy of Where’s Spot to share with the kids when they can finally come for a visit.
I did some research on Eric Hill and discovered he wrote this first Spot story for his son, born in 1976. Hill incorporated flaps inside the book — an innovation that we all know became wildly popular. Mr. Hill, who often referred to himself as “Spot’s Dad,” is no longer with us, though the legacy of his books (more than 60 million sold) lives on.
The attraction of puppy Spot is that he’s playful with just a hint of mischief. And the situations Spot finds himself in aren’t always totally predictable. I chose a Spot book that features a tractor, because Nikhil likes trucks and tractors almost as much as he likes dogs. After Spot’s Tractor arrived in Denver, I was told it was the most requested bedtime book of both kids, and that sometimes a squabble ensued over which bedroom the book would go to.
Following the success of Momo and Spot, I wondered if I could create a simple book with photos of Peg that might delight the kids. As mentioned, Peg is like a toddler — she always wants something: her Frisbee, food, water, a walk, a swim, a romp with other dogs, etc. So, I titled the book What Does Peg Want? To make it, I collected photos and assembled them into a simple story.
The photo book was a success. I’m happy to report that Peg is the current “fought over” bedtime book. My son reported that Nikhil studies each page and simply says in his sweet voice, “Hi, Peg.” I don’t know why, but that brought both a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.
I’m sure Peg is almost as anxious as we are to see the kids again. (She hasn’t forgotten the joy of retrieving fallen Cheerios.) In the meantime, virtual visits will have to do. And with the onset of snowfall, I’m sending a new book, Small Walt Spots Dot by Elizabeth Verdick (illustrated by Marc Rosenthal), to Denver. Nikhil will be over the moon getting to know the intrepid little snowplow. This is the third book in Verdick’s popular series about Walt the small snowplow and driver Gus. In this story, Walt and Gus come upon a stray puppy (Dot) that needs their help.
I’m sure the book will engage Priya as well. But I’m guessing she will intensify her pleas for the family to get a dog — maybe a shelter dog. Priya has been asking for a dog ever since the family’s beloved yellow Lab, Lola, passed away several years ago.
Lola had a habit of bolting out the front door when the UPS truck pulled up, leaping onto the front seat. I guess she just wanted to go for a ride. Which I can sure relate to during these days of limited socializing! Someday soon I’m planning to brainstorm with Priya about a story we can write featuring the adventures of Lola the Delivery Truck Dog.
Meanwhile, I’m grateful to have dogs, books, stories, and video chat to maintain a precious connection with my Reading Team across the long miles.
Bookology is always looking for new Reading Teams to help us celebrate the joys of reading aloud together. Contact Lisa Bullard for further information if you’re interested in participating.