Remarks at Every Child Reads Legislative Briefing, The State House, Boston , MA February 8, 2018
My name is Megan Dowd Lambert, and I am honored to be here at the State House with all of you today to advocate for early literacy, a cause that is dear to my heart not only as a writer, but as a mother, too.
I am a Senior Lecturer in Children’s Literature at Simmons College, here in Boston, but before I began this job I worked at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst for nearly a decade. I worked in the Reading Library at The Carle, maintaining the collection and running the storytime program. It was there that I developed a storytime model I call the Whole Book Approach, which I write about in my book, Reading Picture Books with Children. The Whole Book Approach is interactive. It centers children’s ideas and questions about books during shared reading so that children’s responses to books are as important as the words and pictures of the book are. This sends a message to children that they are important and that what they think and feel matters.
The impact of this interactive shared reading is that it empowers children and validates them as active learners. In terms of bolstering early literacy, the Whole Book Approach meets children where they are by acknowledging that before children are reading text, they are reading pictures. It offers adults tools and questions to use to prompt children’s responses to art, design, and story, and in this way it creates a dynamic of reading with children, as opposed to reading to children.
A lot of my work developing the Whole Book Approach is rooted in my life as a mother of seven children, four of whom are adoptees who came home to our family through the foster system here in Massachusetts. My oldest son is a junior at Suffolk University, and my youngest is a fourth-month-old baby at home with Daddy today. My school-aged children are enrolled in Amherst Public Schools. All of my children have taught me a great deal about engaging children with books, in part because their early lives—some with our family since birth, and some of whom came home to our family as older children, some with learning disabilities, some without—positioned them differently as they became readers.
One thing that’s been true for all of them is that when we read together we experience something I call book bonding. Book bonding occurs because we share the stories we read together, yes, but we also share ourselves as we meet in the pages of books and respond to them based on our individual feelings, histories, ideas, and questions. And then we learn from one another’s reflections: we learn to see books from different perspectives; we learn about each other; and we learn about ourselves. I want my children, and all children, to have such rich, shared reading experiences at home and at school because they support the development of strong independent readers able to access reading as a pathway to stories, art, knowledge and ideas, and also to self-discovery and empathy.
As I take this stand for children, I think not only about how we read with children, but what we read with them, too. In my new role as a children’s book author, I’m committed to helping all children see reflections of themselves and their families in their books because I believe that inclusivity fosters engagement. There aren’t a lot of books out there about adopted kids, for example, or kids with two moms or two dads, and so I write stories that include themes of adoption and family diversity. I’m glad that there are other children’s book authors with me here today to talk about their work, too. We need the voices of writers and readers, parents and teachers, grownups and kids, too, as we champion the need to fund and support early literacy in Massachusetts as a birthright for all.