Sunday, July 09, 2006

From Now On, I'm Just Handing Out Copies of "Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook"

OMG - yes! times, like, a thousand.

I will go through the following conversation at least once a day - often several times a day on the weekend:

"I need a book for a boy."

Sometimes the parent will go ahead and add the age without my having to ask - but they rarely leave off the gender.

"What grade is he in?"

"He's six."

If the child is standing beside the parent, he or she will usually simply gesture to the child. Because booksellers, like animators, can tell not only the ages of children, but their reading level as well, just by standing in their presence.

This is, of course, where I want to say "First of all, that isn't what I asked, and secondly, I hate recommending books to six year-olds through their parents, so I'm afraid you'll have to come back either with your kid or after the next shift starts."

Instead I say:

"What grade is he in?"


I love the parents who will still simply say "first grade" betwen the end of June and the beginning of September. Are they aware their child is not in school at the moment? (Yeah, yeah, we have year-round schools, but the majority are still on traditional schedules - it's dangerous to assume that their kid is one of the few who have already begun the new year.)

"Is he starting first, or leaving first grade?"


(Just my luck.)

"Is he reading already?"


(Ok, so obviously, I need to stop asking so many yes or no questions. I'm a bit afraid anything more complicated mught scare them away, though.)

"What kind of book are you looking for?"

I really don't know why I ask this question - they pretty much never have an answer.

"Do you want a book for him to read - or for you to read to him?"

"Oh - for him to read."

Again, I don't know why I ask this question, because they all give the same answer. Does anyone continue reading to their child past age five? Parents, a word of advice: my mother is a first grade teacher and one of her biggest regrets is not reading aloud to us after we learned to read. I really hope you won't have the same regret and that it's just that you have all kinds of cool read aloud books picked out already.

"How well is he reading?"

"He's at a level 1 / level 16 / level (insert random meaningless number here)."

Like this actually tells me anything - besides the fact that you bother to show up for parent-teacher conferences. Every single damn school has pretty much their own system and every single publisher has their owm system as well. I wasn't asking for a lottery number, I was asking for actual information. Can he barely read "cat" or can he manage a whole chapter in one sitting? Does he understand only basic phonics or can he manage some of the more complicated stuff? Does he still need to sound everything out or does he have a decent number of sight words stored in his head?

After asking the same question again and again in various forms ("What is he reading at school?" "Which reading group is he in?") we finally determine his approximate reading level and I take the parent to the Beginning Readers section and point out the right level of books for the main publishers and warn him or her that all the publishers use different systems, so a DK Readers level 1 will be very different from An I Can Read level 1.

"So what's good for a boy?

"Well, what does he like?"

About half the time the parents will actually have a decent answer, but half the time they really don't - and that's just very, very sad.

And then - even when they do have an answer, it's often something that ends up not being helpful.

"He likes karate."

Yeah...there's just such a huge demand for karate books for kids that are able to read "cat", but still struggle with "balloon". Did I mention that I hate recommending books to six-year-olds through their parents?

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