Workshop for Nation’s Best Read-Aloud Community support Program

June 24, 2011

Surrounded by the wonderful Family Reading Staff. Brigid, second from right

In front of the Jim Trelease quote which encapsulates the reason to read to babies.

One of the Family Reading banners you see all around town

I finally got to visit Family Reading Partnership, the best community read-aloud support program in the nation. It’s in Ithaca, New York, and I had the privilege of giving a talk to most of the participating agency heads, who support the partnership, at the Tompkins County Public Library on the morning of June 13.

The brilliant Director and creator of the program is Brigid Hubberman, and she and her busy staff are located in a vacated public school where they have huge spaces filled with what looked like thousands of books and other materials that eventually get to families who need them.

They have grown into an impressive organization in only fifteen years because of the passionate dedication of many volunteers. They produce a newsletter, a yearly calendar illustrated by well-known book illustrators, and one of my favorite ideas — giant banners that hang on buildings all over Ithaca and outlying areas. For a complete discussion on the extent of their programs go to

When we wrote Baby Read-Aloud Basics, this is the kind of program we were hoping the book would inspire or could use. Brigid is now looking for a benefactor to provide our book to the parents of each new baby born in Ithaca and the surrounding areas.

Family Reading Partnership gave each participant one of our books

If most communities in the US could adopt such a program, our literacy rate would no longer be a problem. Children need to hear language from birth if not before (as Brigid’s group is now emphasizing). We’re gathering more and more stories of the effects on babies of having heard books read to them before birth! Of course, we now know the urgency with which we need to get all parents reading to their babies from birth for language and literacy development and to insure academic success and a full, happy life. This is what Family Reading Partnership is all about.

Let’s celebrate them by not only donating to their non-profit, but by encouraging development of similar programs in your community. We all benefit from a literate, educated world. Oh, and I didn’t mention the most important side effect of reading to your baby — LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. To read to your baby is to love and bond with your child! It’s true: All you need is love, and everything good, such as self esteem, will follow.


Family Reading Partnership

October 5, 2010

“Read to Me” banner that can be hung inside or outside of buildings

I was completely blown away and inspired when I recently learned about this fabulous community literacy project which emphasizes “beginning at the beginning” a point we make often in our book, Baby Read-Aloud Basics.

Family Reading Partnership is at the national forefront of community literacy efforts. Their mission is to create a culture of literacy in partnership with every sector of the community in Ithaca, New York.

If you are inspired to start such a literacy project in your community (and we hope you are), you could not find a more effective model. Go to

Read to Me Calendar, illus. by Maggie Smith
Read-Along Songs, John Simon, Cal Walker
Books given from before birth to beginning school years
At Home with Books Newsletter

As you can see from the photos, there are many segments  to this exemplary Family Reading Partnership. The quarterly newsletter is filled with valuable information and news. Given away to preschool and Head Start children, the large beautifully illustrated calendar has valuable read-aloud tips. The CD with read-alouds that are then sung is a treasure the whole family can enjoy, and it’s given away to children with the books.

If every community, big or small, implemented a Family reading Partnership, we would not need to spend gazillions on programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

So go right to Just start with one or two of their initiatives and gradually build on what you create. Contact the Family Reading Director, Brigid Hubberman. She is a literacy Angel who has done a world of good for families and children.

Read to Me Banners on outsides of buildings

Welcome Baby Workshop in San Diego

September 8, 2008

On Friday, September 5th, 2008, Caroline (with Barbara assisting) gave a workshop to The Welcome Baby Program (Amy Chatten, Program Coordinator) in San Diego that partners with agencies and service providers who reach new parents. About 50 representatives from hospitals, community clinics, physicians offices, home visiting programs, childbirth education and parenting classes, childcare agencies and family resource centers were all there. What a wonderful group of people! These are the Angels who do their best to give parents the information they need to ensure that babies get enough language through reading books and plenty of conversation that books provide.


As an example, we used the baby book from the First Five Kit (First Five California – The California Children and Families Commission – We hope that other states and countries are reaching out to babies and toddlers to address their needs for neurological, language, and literacy development through reading aloud.


In our talk we emphasized the role dads can play in their baby’s neurological development. We showed a lot of photos in our Power Point of dads reading to their babies. No longer do dads stay in the background when babies are infants. Today dads can make a huge difference in their child’s development from day one. Research shows that babies who are read to daily have almost twice the amount of words they understand (receptive language) by 18 months as babies who are not read to. Success in school and all aspects of life depend on the amount of language heard daily.

 Note the Power Point Photo of dad reading to his newborn and two-year-old. Yeah Dads!


June 17, 2008

Can We Inoculate Children Against Illiteracy? 


By Caroline Blakemore


Yes we can, if we start early enough. At present in America most of the attempts at solutions to illiteracy have been in the form of interventions after kindergarten. This is too late. Language develops starting at birth; children begin speaking between one-and-a-half and three years. Where do these words come from? They come from hearing adults and family members speak and read to babies and toddlers from birth (and even in the womb).


Research clearly states that the amount of words heard daily from adults speaking and reading aloud to babies before three determines a child’s reading ability, IQ, and success in life.


It is this research that explains the present gap in reading abilities between the children from professional classes and those from parents in the low socioeconomic stratum. Since we know the causes (low word or vocabulary input), we know the solution. It is now time to act. There are already models and proposed solutions in place to mount a campaign to Inoculate Children Against Illiteracy. Our book, Baby Read-Aloud Basics has all the information needed to serve as the handbook for Illiteracy Inoculations.


Let’s take a look at some of the ways to Inoculate for Illiteracy:


* Start at the beginning with the OB/GYN visit. The doctor gives parents a flyer (in various languages) on the importance of reading to babies for proper language development and future school success. Many parents including some immigrant populations don’t realize they are their children’s most important teachers. This flyer would also point out the negative effects of too much TV.


* Then at the time of birth in the hospital, parents watch an instructional DVD with examples of what reading to newborns and babies looks like. They are also given another flyer, plus a packet of baby books with instructions on how and when to read them. Parents who don’t know how to read, or read in a different language will learn that they can “read” the illustrations and/or that reading in their own language counts as word input. They don’t have to read in English for the inoculation to be effective!


* At the first “well baby” visit to the pediatrician, parents are asked how the reading is going, and get more help and advice. There already is a program (Reach Out and Read) in place, but it starts too late at 6 months, and not all pediatricians are using it. Parents will learn that Illiteracy Inoculations are just as important as childhood disease inoculations, and that illiteracy and all the suffering it causes, is a disease.


* The President of the United States and the Secretary of Education can fully support such an Inoculation process by advocating a universal TV campaign not unlike that to stop tobacco use (which was a huge success). Many experts could weigh in. For example, showing how this widening literacy gap becomes a source of social instability, Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen states that, “illiteracy and innumeracy are a greater threat to humanity than terrorism.”*


* Preschools and elementary schools could reach out to new parents and have them come to school for training (this has already been accomplished in a few areas, but needs to be universal).


* Aides are trained (through doctors or schools) to go in to homes and show parents how and when to read to their babies. They could bring books with them to give or loan (There is a model for this program, see #1 under research below).


* Baby book banks could be established to ensure a massive supply of books that could be circulated according to need.


* Adult literacy classes already in place incorporate the knowledge that is in our book, Baby Read-Aloud Basics, so that parents, grandparents, and family members can learn how to prevent the spread of illiteracy in their own families.


* Funding for the above Illiteracy Inoculation Campaign is enacted through Congress and The President and would cost far less than the Billion a year spent on the failed No Child Left Behind.


The costs in human suffering and societal chaos we are now experiencing with our over crowded jails, 82 % of the inmates of which are high school drop outs, and 60% illiterate or semi literate. We now do not have enough candidates to fill the engineering positions needed in our high tech industries and have to rely on those better educated from China and India. Illiteracy also causes poor choices in life, in the home, the marketplace, the jury box, and the voting booth. All this adds up to insurmountable suffering that is similar to what is experienced in third world countries. As an advanced nation, we should not only be concerned with our illiteracy at home, but take our Illiteracy Inoculation Campaign to other parts of the world where illiteracy (that leads to overpopulation and poverty) is rampant.


Every parent wants to do the right things to ensure their child’s happiness and success. Please join what is surely one of the greatest tasks of our time: to inform parents that they are their children’s most important teachers and that it is the responsibility of all of us to educate children to achieve the levels of literacy and education necessary to meet the critical challenges we face in a time like no other. A time that requires a critical mass of enlightened problems solvers to take on what many consider challenges that could affect the continuation of life on our planet.


Below is some of the research on which the handbook for the Inoculation Against Illiteracy Campaign is based:



Babies who were read to regularly starting at six months had a 40% increase in receptive vocabulary by the time they were eighteen months of age. Babies in the study who were not read to had only a 16% increase in receptive vocabulary. This study was accomplished with inner city parents, who formerly didn’t read to their babies, but were given books and instructed how to read them to their babies at bedtime. At the end of the study, parents revealed that reading to their children was the best part of their day, and they could see how important it was. It brought them closer to their children.

Pamela C. High, MD and her associates at the Child Development Center at Rhode Island Hospital conducted this study. (See PEDIATRICS, Vol.105 No.4, April 2000.)




Children who hear a wealth of language before the age of three will experience success at school. The Hart-Risley long-term study shows that it’s the amount of language a child hears per hour before the age of three that determines future academic success. This language must be positive and articulate and must be directed at the child in the form of a conversation that includes questions and following the child’s lead in determining where the conversation goes. This study also shows that children who have experienced an abundance of language in the form of talk and read-alouds will have heard 32 million more words by the time they are four than children who haven’t had a language-rich environment.

Drs. Betty Hart and Todd Risley T., Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children (Baltimore: Brooks Publishing, 1996). p. 98.



Children’s books contain three times more unusual (rare) words than the everyday conversation between parent and child. These rare words are the words that children need not only to read more difficult books as they go through school but also for higher level and creative thinking skills required for today’s digital, connected world. There are 5,000 most commonly used words that we speak most of the time, and there are an additional 5,000 words less often used.  Rare words rank above the 10,000 word Common Lexicon and play a critical role in reading success. Ordinary everyday spoken language is in the 400-600 range , which is quite low. The word “the” for example, ranks #1 as the most commonly spoken word, while the word “amplifier” is ranked at 16,000. By hearing the rich language in children’s books, children develop the vocabulary they need to love and excel in reading.

Donald P. Hays and Margaret G. Ahrens, “Vocabulary simplification for Children: A Special Case of ‘Motherese,’ ” Journal of Child Language, Vol.15, 1988, pp.395-411.



Excessive TV viewing in preschoolers can delay reading skills. Children in “heavy” TV households are less likely to read.

Victoria J. Rideout, MA, Elizabeth A. Vandewater, Ph.D, Ellen A. Wartella, PhD, in partnership with the Henry J. Kaiser Family foundation and the Children’s Digital Media Centers (CDMC) 2003.



Reading aloud to children from birth and throughout the grades at school is the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading.

Anderson, R, Ph.D, Hiebert, E., Ph.D, Scott, J, and Wildinson, I., Ph.D, Becoming a Nation of Readers, Champaign, Il, Center for the Study of Reading, 1983.


*Lester R. Brown, Plan B 3.0, Mobilizing to Save Civilizations, p. 133










Letter to LA Times, April 29, 2008 (it didn’t get in because too long)

March 20, 2008

Finally a candidate is not soft-pedaling the issue of parents taking responsibility for being their children’s first and most important teachers. In “Obama raps an adoring crowd’s knuckles” (LA Times, Friday April 29th, Campaign 08 section), Obama told the audience that they are responsible for their child’s success in school. As a retired reading specialist, I’m delighted that a candidate is awakening parents to the urgency of their responsibility to turn off the TV and help with their children’s homework. In addition parents need to start reading aloud to their babies from day one so their children can develop the vocabulary necessary to thrive and contribute in our complex world.    Literacy begins at birth, and only parents who are there for their children at the critical early periods of brain and literacy development can give children the daily dose of reading aloud and conversation that produces language development.  Politicians need to open a dialogue about the power that parents have to determine their children’s educational fate. When parents become more involved, schools will be reformulated beyond the soulless, impotent No Child Left Behind to address a new internet-connected world with issues that are a matter of life and death of our planet.           Parents know in their hearts what they need to do. That’s why Obama’s audience was so receptive. Research affirms that TV does NOT help children learn vocabulary, nor do the so-called “educational” videos. Only one-to-one, intimate read-alouds and discussions between parent and child create the magic and fun necessary to hook a child on beautifully illustrated children’s books that lead to language and literacy development. Many parents can’t afford books, but getting books to parents and children who need them can easily be achieved.           Children’s books contain three times more unusual words than everyday conversation. It’s the unusual words that children need for higher thinking skills that will determine their academic success. Children who are top students and go on to college are the kids who read for pleasure outside of school. Children need to see their parents, their role models, reading.           Research shows that toddlers and preschoolers who are read to and talked to, will have heard 32 million more words by age 4 than children who are subjected to endless days of TV and little parental conversation. It’s the children who hear the most words from a real person with whom they are interacting who become successful adults who will make a contribution to society.    As read-aloud guru, Jim Trelease, said, “ If the child has never heard the word, the child will never say the word: and if you have neither heard it nor said it, it’s pretty tough to read it and to write it.” 


November 3, 2007

This is now my favorite kid’s Santa book. It was only published a couple years ago by Harcourt, Inc. Actually, it’s one of my favorite books. Period. Marla Frazee’s illustrations make me laugh. There is a lot of colorful detail, but it’s not confusing. It’s easy to scan. This is why it’s perfect for anyone from one to one hundred. It’s not too wordy. The pictures do most of the talking. Your toddler will enjoy conversations about various illustrations that are pointed to.

Since the winter holidays are in the air, we’re thinking what presents would be good for our children. Most of us are now thinking about toys in a different way because of the lead paint in some Chinese-made toys. Also we know that some plastics are not good for children, because they get absorbed in the system and mimic hormones, potentially causing problems later on.

In the June issue of Parents Magazine, there was an article entitled, “Boost Your Childl’s IQ (IMAGINATION QUOTIENT). Recent research according to the article shows that IMAGINATION may a bigger factor in academic success than the traditional IQ intelligence. It’s important today that children can become original thinkers. That means thinking outside the box. The only trouble is, our schools are increasingly going the other way: encouraging all children to get the so- called right answers on tests. Yet creative children know there is often more than one answer, just as they know there is more than one way to solve math or any other problems. What’s a parent to do?

•Number one is to reduce time in front of TV.
•Encourage unstructured play – remember when you went outdoors to play and pretend by playing house or whatever?
•Provide your children with blocks that can be made into anything without any necessary direction. There is no right way. Children who played with blocks, according to a study, scored 15 percent higher on a language development test than kids who didn’t have blocks.
•Allow your child to spend time each day outdoors in unstructured play time. My grandkids and I used to have so much fun going on “treasure hunts.” We would take bags and pick up anything that seemed interesting (old nails, bottle caps, acorns, leaves, pieces of wood, or foil from wrappers, etc.) We’d bring the whole mess home, dump it out, and get some glue and make all kinds of images for a collage effect. I framed one of our efforts, and it’s a great memory of that particular time in my grandson’s life. He was about 3 1/2 or 4 at the time.
These treasure hunts provided far more interest, interaction, and creative thinking than any so-called “educational toys.”
•One of the most fun toys is a big box. Kids love to pretend they are a house, a garage, a fort.
•Get the book Unplugged Play that I recommend earlier. This has so many idea you can use. It will give you sources for where to get wooden toys made right here in the USA, free of toxins.

•Books. There are so many wonderful children’s books. Today I went into our local children’s book store, ADVENTURE FOR KIDS. I was spellbound by the treasure of beautiful books availale. Of course, I had to buy some, as I always do. I’ll be writing about what I bought later.

As our book BABY READ-ALOUD BASICS states so clearly, if you want your child to be happily and intelligently imaginative with great language skills, read, read, read to him and her every day.

Santa Claus The World’s Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee
Harcourt, Inc. 2005, hardcover

About the writer of Book Babies Blog

October 11, 2007

This blog is written by Caroline Blakemore, coauthor of BABY READ-ALOUD BASICS, published in July 2006 by AMACOM Books. I am a retired Reading Specialist who worked for 30 years with children who had minor or major difficulties learning to read. I loved these kids, and felt that most suffered needlessly because of their lack of exposure to language and read-alouds before the age of three. Research that we present in our book shows that the number of words heard per hour before two and three predicts success at school and even IQ.

If you go to our website:, you can read a lot of good information on literacy and language development in babies and toddlers.

The intention of this blog is to continue the conversation about anything related to baby’s language and literacy development.

There may also be an occasional reference to baby’s number sense too, as Caroline is now working on a book about babies and math. Yes, you heard that right! Babies have an innate number sense. Stay tuned!

Welcome to Book Babies Blog

October 11, 2007

Did you hear the news about Baby Einstein DVD’s? These popular DVD’s do NOT support language development in babies. In fact, when babies are put in front of screen media (TV, DVD’s, Videos) for as much as two hours a day, their language development is interrupted. There isn’t much language in Baby Einstein anyway, but even if there were, babies don’t absorb language that way. Babies need one-to-one, eye-to-eye communication from a warm-hearted adult who speaks lovingly to them. We stress this in our book, BABY READ-ALOUD BASICS. The author of this latest study, Dr. Dimitri Christakis, MD, was cited in our book for another study that linked ADD to frequent TV watching.

We know that most parents use the DVD’s so they can get dinner ready or just take a shower. I know how difficult it is for parents, especially when you have two or more under five years of age. Since I’ve watched my daughter-in-laws (both devoted, caring moms), I personally know the stresses that today’s mothers feel.

My personal feeling, after having watched a number of Baby Einstein DVD’s is that your child’s language will not be compromized by watching one 20 minute DVD four or five times a week so moms (or dads) can do something around the house. My four grandkids from my two son’s and daughter-in-law’s families are proof of this. The older ones were brought up with books from day one, never missing a day of read-alouds. Now they are the top readers in their classes in school, and read voraciously, independently for pleasure every day. My two and a half year old granddaughter gets read to as much as five to 10 times a day because she requests it. Her spoken vocabulary is phenomenal. Her baby sister, of course, has been read to since birth too.

I have to add here that, like a number of the examples we discuss in our book, my grandkid’s parents do not watch much TV. They don’t have time. In otherwords, their parents are great models of not being dependent on TV. The TV is just not on at night.

It’s so important for parents, who want their children to be successful at school, and want them to love reading and learning, to be models of the love of reading themselves. Do your kids see you enjoying a book?

I know that parents don’t have time to read. But somehow, you’ve heard of a good book, and you want to read it. You have it on the table next to the rocking chair, or where ever, and you can’t resist grabbing it and reading a paragraph or page here and there in between moments of chaos. You’ll find your first grader doing the same thing the minute she or he learns to read independently. You have shown them how. This is how good readers are created.

UNPLUGGED PLAY, No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure Fun. by Bobbi Conner

October 11, 2007

Nearly all children’s learning involves play even all the way through school. All kinds of play develops higher level thinking skills and brain connections. We’ve seen children in kindergarten who have watched so much TV that they don’t know how to pretend or imagine. So here’s a book that gives you all the ideas you need about what to do instead of watching TV or a Video. You’ll have as much fun glancing through the book as getting your child involved in activities that will improve the lives of your whole family.

Along with your important baby health books, and of course Baby Read-Aloud Basics, every parent will benefit from Unplugged Play. It provides parents with over 300 pages of activities for children from age one to ten. None of these activities require batteries or purchased toys. They only require things you can find indoors or outdoors at home and a little imagination, the kind that is good for brain development. The book is organized for finding what you want quickly: tab-like color coding on the sides of pages organizes activities by age. In each section, there are helpful quotes from experts. For example, here’s a quote from page 37 by one of the authors of a book we used and recommended in Baby Read-Aloud Basics:


“the mother and father and other caretakers are really the baby’s favorite playthings. Toy manufacturers are desperately trying to make a toy that lights up, makes sounds, and moves, all in synchrony with one another. This is really what parents and caretakers naturally do when they interact with babies.”
Andrew Meltzoff, Ph.D. Professor of psychology and coathor of The Scientist in the Crib

There are also ideas for birthday parties for each year. There are rhymes and jump rope jingles as well as ideas on reading aloud at different ages along with book recommendations. Need ideas on what to do about toddler biting? you’ll find it on page 75. In each section there a number of “parent tips” given by parents who share their good ideas.

This book goes way beyond a book of activities; parents will find many answers to all kinds of questions from behavior to where to find quality wooden toys, and how to evaluate any toy you buy (so important today with the lead scare in toys from China!)

Bobbi Conner, the author couldn’t be more qualified to write this book. She’s the host of the award-winning syndicated radio program The Parent’s Journal (I was interviewed by Bobbi for a half hour on January 10, 2007, and it was the best interview I’ve had so far – go to our website to listen!). She is the author of many articles and books including Everyday Opportunities of Extraordinary Parenting.


UnPlugged Play, No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure Fun by Bobbi Conner, Paperback, Workman Publishing, 2007

Bear on a Bike Written by Stella Blackstone Illustrated by Debbie Harter

September 13, 2007

Recommended for Stage 4: The Babbler (eight to twelve months) and beyond.

Bear on a Bike will be one of your baby’s favorites for many months. Here’s why. A quick glance through the book reveals simple illustrations with lots of color and design that clearly match the rhyming text. The bear and other cast of characters are appealing and fun to talk about and point to. There are lots of questions waiting to be asked.Where’s the boy or the spotted dog, for example?

The text offers some rich vocabulary. We discuss the importance of “rare” or unusual words in Baby Read-Aloud Basics. Children’s books have three times more vocabulary than spoken language between parent and child. For example, in Bear on a Bike, you’ll read the following less common words: marigold, raft, fearsome, prowl, snarl, dart, herons, groves, carriage. These are words you probably wouldn’t say to your baby or toddler in everyday conversation. Reading those sample words may even peak your interest. Something magical is happening is this book. Try reading it to your baby or toddler and observe his or her reactions. You’ll find your child eager for you to extend the book by talking about it. You’ll also be asked either verbally or nonverbally to “read it again.” Reading a book over and over is good for language development. This might be one book you won’t mind reading again and again. Enjoy!

Bear on a Bike
Written by Stella Blacksone, Illustrated by Debbie Harter
Board book
Barefoot Books, 22 pages, 2001