Celebrating Family Literacy Month
Written by Terry Witherell, Executive Director, First Literacy
Did you know that November is National Family Literacy Month? Well, it is!
National Family Literacy Month is a great time for families to learn and read together; and although our work at First Literacy focuses on adults, our work impacts the entire family. According to National Institutes of Health, the biggest determinant of a child’s literacy level is their mother’s. National Family Literacy month also celebrates the work literacy programs like ours do to empower families.
In honor of National Family Literacy Month, we sat down with Children’s Book Author Janet Costa Bates, whose books include Seaside Dream, Time for Bed Old House, and the Rica Baptista chapter book series. During the pandemic, as part of our Author Series hosted on Zoom, Janet read Time for Bed Old House to some of the children of our scholarship recipients. We saw firsthand how great it is for adult learners to be able to read to their children, and to instill in them a lifelong love of reading.
The Importance of Family Literacy
Hear from Janet herself as she tells us a little bit about herself and her writing, and why National Family Literacy Month is so important.
Janet, how long have you been a writer?
I’ve been a writer since about second grade. At that time, I mostly wrote poems. (Full disclosure: I didn’t say I was writing good poetry, but, hey, I was writing.)
What inspired you to start writing, and what inspires you to keep writing?
I don’t remember why I started writing. And, in my defense, it was a very, very long time ago. What I do know is that I can’t not write. (Yes, I realize that’s a double negative – don’t judge me.) Words, lines, and stories fill up my head. It would be much easier just to shake my head and let all of these things fall out, but it doesn’t work that way. So I write. I tried to quit writing a few times. It didn’t take.
Why do you write children’s books?
I wrote for years with no particular purpose for my writing. And then I had my sons. As I read book after book to them, it became crystal clear to me – this is what I want and need to write. Having worked at Boston College for years, I heard theology professor, Fr. Michael Himes, pose his three key questions many times: “What brings you joy? What are you good at? And who does the world need you to be?” Writing for children answered all three of those questions for me.
Where do you get the ideas/inspirations for your stories and your characters?
Ideas are anywhere and everywhere. Just look around and ask yourself ‘what.’ What do you see? What do you hear? What are you feeling? What if ‘x’ were to happen? What if ‘x’ didn’t happen?
What books have you written?
My first picture book, published in 2010, was Seaside Dream. My second, Time for Bed, Old House, came out in 2021 – 11 years later! Rica Baptista: Llamas, Iguanas, and My Very Best Friend is the first in a chapter book series and came out in 2022. The second Rica Baptista book, A Week of Shenanigans, is due out in April of 2024!
November is National Family Literacy Month. It’s an opportunity for families to learn and read together. It also celebrates the work literacy programs (like First Literacy) do to empower families. Are you doing anything special for Family Literacy month?
On November 4, I’ll be presenting at Lesley University’s annual Literacy for All conference. I’ll also be reading to my grandchildren, but that’s an all-year-round thing, not just November.
Why do you think Family Literacy is important? Why is reading to children so important?
Because it’s fun! Parents get to use all of their acting skills when they read to their kids. They can help bring a story to life by being funny or dramatic. And they can invite their children to join in with them. It’s like watching a movie, except that you are the movie. Even parents who are working on their own literacy skills can ‘read the pictures’ in a picture book or a graphic novel with their children. Maybe they’ll end up reading a slightly different story than what’s in the book, but I’m going to call that an excellent example of creativity. And everyone wins when families read together. It’s a time for parents (and grandparents, older siblings, aunts, uncles and whoever else is in the house!) to bond with kids. And kids get exposed to a greater vocabulary and a wide range of ideas and information.
The Number 1 determinant of a child’s literacy level is their mother’s; more than socioeconomic background, zip code etc. Are you surprised by that?
Children typically have a few years at home before they start school, so, no, not surprising at all.
Here’s another thing we’ve learned: The benefits of reading to kids are fairly well known, but the importance of reading to them can be understood with the following statistic: According to Ohio State’s Crane Center for Early Childhood Research, young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids whose parents never read to them.
What are some things we can do to celebrate Family Literacy month?
Read! Visit a library, a bookstore, or a little free library. Grab a stack of books and read! Get some hard copy books, audio books, or e-books and read! Go for fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, picture books, comic books – whatever you like – and read! Read silently, read aloud, read alone, read together – just read!
Thank you, Janet! And thank you to all who help adults and children to learn how to read!
Check out more ways to celebrate National Family Literacy Month. Or as Janet says, JUST READ!
To learn more about how First Literacy is changing lives through the power of literacy view our impact page.