Constance Van Hoven and Her Reading Team
November 2020

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?

Let's Find Momo!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.


Nikhil and Priya search for Momo
Nikhil and Priya search for Momo

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.

Spot's TractorI 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.

Nikhil shares a book with his dad (and Connie’s son) Phill
Nikhil shares a book with his dad (and Connie’s son) Phill

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.

Nikhil reads Connie’s creation, a book featuring Reading Team dog Peg
Nikhil reads Connie’s cre­ation, a book fea­tur­ing Read­ing Team dog Peg

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.

Connie and Peg enjoy a virtual readaloud with their long-distance Reading Team
Con­nie and Peg enjoy a vir­tu­al readaloud with their long-dis­tance Read­ing Team

Small Walt Spots DotI’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.

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candice ransom
3 years ago

I love the way you approach find­ing books for your Read­ing Team: new books, old favorites from your own chil­dren, books that hit upon their inter­ests of the moment. But mak­ing a book about Peg is bril­liant … no won­der it’s the one most fought over!

Constance Van Hoven
3 years ago

Thank you, Can­dice. And Peg thanks you as well!