Children's books in child care classrooms: Quality, accessibility, and reasons for teachers' choices.
The study of children's literature is a highly developed, long-standing field of scholarship (e.g., Bingham & Scholt, 1980; Huck, Hepler, Hickman, & Kiefer, 1997; Otten & Schmidt, 1989). One of the primary activities of scholars in this area is evaluating books along the dimensions of characterization, plot, theme, setting, style, point of view, creative use of language, and illustrations, and making judgments about literary quality. Although it is impossible to provide an objective definition of "quality" that can be applied to every book, terms and guidelines have been developed to help people distinguish the good and outstanding books for children from the mediocre (e.g., Bator, 1983; Haviland, 1973; Lukens, 1995; Nodelman, 1988). Evaluations of children's literature are made available to parents, teachers, librarians, and other interested groups through book reviews in journals such as The Horn Book Magazine and Bookbird, conferences, college courses, Web sites, annotated lists of recommended books, and announcements of awards (e.g., American Library Association, 2000; Bartle, 1997; Children's Book Council, 1992; Children's Literature Association, 1989; Gillespie & Naden, 1994). Adults, who are choosing books for children, can then consider the literary qualities of the book in conjunction with the developmental and individual characteristics of the child, as well as the child's preferences and probable response to the book (Huck et al., 1997; Raines & Isbell, 1994; Temple, Martinez, Yokota, & Naylor, 1998). Among the adults who regularly choose books for children are child care teachers. With the increasing number of dual-earner and single-parent families in many societies, large numbers of young children are involved in some form of out-of-home care (e.g., Scarr, 1998) and will thus depend on people who are not their parents for a portion of their literacy experiences. For some of these children, the child care setting need only supplement the rich literacy environment already present in the home. However, for those children whose parents may not have the interest, ability, resources, or time to provide such an environment, it will be their primary source of literacy experiences, and perhaps a resource for enriching the home.
The recent International Reading Association (IRA)/National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) position statement on developmentally appropriate literacy practices (IRA/NAEYC, 1998) highlights the crucial role of child care teachers in providing rich literacy environments for children from birth until entry into elementary school. Such environments include plentiful materials for reading and writing; responsive adults who read to children and talk about the meaning, parts, and sounds of language; and the integration of literacy props into play situations. The position statement specifically mentions reading "high-quality books" to individuals and small groups of children, as well as the necessity for making available a wide range of high-quality children's books in classroom, school, and public libraries. Thus, these guidelines explicitly recognize the importance of the child care teacher's role in evaluating children's books for their literary merit, and selecting those of high quality to read to, and make available to, children.
Given the importance of the child care setting as a context for children's early literacy development, it is crucial to determine to what extent teachers are reading and making accessible to children the books that scholars of children's literature have judged to be good and outstanding in terms of literary merit. It is also important to inquire about why teachers choose certain books to read to children, the resources available to them for obtaining books for their classrooms, and the physical and social contexts they provide for the exploration and enjoyment of books.
Importance of high-Quality Books
Why is it important for child care teachers to provide high-quality books, rather than simply any type of books, for the children in their classrooms? Such a question might seem absurd to people who are familiar with children's literature and who enjoy books themselves. These people recognize the wide range in quality among all of the books available for young children, with many of them being repetitive in style, format, story structure, and theme. Some of them appear to have been created simply as advertisements for television programs and the products associated with them (Lynch-Brown & Tomlinson, 1993). Many books are written in unimaginative language, contain flat and repetitive illustrations, and do little to extend children's thought processes beyond their everyday lives. Books that are mediocre in content and style occupy the time that children and teachers could otherwise be spending on books of higher quality. Regardless of how apparent the value of high-quality books might be to those who love chil dren's literature, the benefits of such books must be further documented because of the expense and time involved in obtaining them--commodities that are typically scarce for child care teachers.
One argument posed by scholars of children's literature is that books judged to be high in literary quality are more cognitively demanding for children. Kiefer (1985), for example, describes the responses of early elementary children to picture books, such as Outside, Over There (Sendak, 1981) and The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher (Bang, 1980). She argues that it takes repeated exposure and a responsive adult for children to develop their own personal and imaginative response to books that contain artwork that is initially unfamiliar to them. However, these efforts can result in children being able to see beneath the surface of everyday events to truths about themselves and their world.
It could also be hypothesized that high-quality books would positively influence teachers' interest in reading and their reading styles, thus making it more likely that the children would be exposed to books more frequently and would be attentive and responsive during storybook reading. Mutter (1990), for example, argues that children's books should be written so that they appeal to both the child and adult. If adults enjoy what they read to children, they will buy more books. Surprise, delight, fun, cleverness, and originality allow the book to resonate after the repeated readings demanded by the child. Mutter illustrates these points by referring to a number of highly recommended children's books: The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Potter, 1943), Madeline (Bemelmans, 1939), The Story of Ferdinand (Leaf, 1936), Go, Dog, Go (Eastman, 1961), and Goodnight Moon (Brown, 1947). He contrasted his response to these books with his response to a book with bland photos and irritatingly detailed firefighting vocabulary that hi s 23-month-old son requested repeatedly.
No empirical studies could be located in which the purpose was to demonstrate that books recommended for their literary merit affected young children and teachers differently than other types of books. However, related studies provide some evidence that the type of book and specific characteristics of a book do make a difference. In these studies, the researchers compared responses to books that typified specific contrasting characteristics.
Dickinson and Keebler (1989) observed and audiotaped three preschool teachers as they read a short, simple, familiar book and as they read a longer, more complex, unfamiliar book to a group of young children. They found that short, simple books that focused on labeling pictures were not as likely to stimulate discussion as were longer books with more complex story lines. In a related study on the long-term effects of teachers' storybook reading styles on 4-year-olds, Dickinson and Smith (1994) found that teachers who used a didactic style often used books with limited vocabulary and minimal plot. The didactic style is characterized by limited talk and teacher requests for children to recall specific information from the text. The authors speculated that the low level of vocabulary growth evidenced in these children could be due to the combined effects of the teachers' style and type of books they chose to read.
Pellegrini, Perlmutter, Galda, and Brody (1990) investigated the effects of genre (narrative or expository) and format (familiar and traditional) on the teaching strategies of mothers while interacting with their Head Start children during book reading episodes. The traditional narratives were well-known children's stories, and the traditional expository books contained pictures of objects and animals. The familiar narratives were contemporary comic strips; the familiar expository was a book-like construction of toy and school supply ads from the newspaper. These literacy materials were considered to be more familiar to these families than the traditional book format. The investigators found that both types of expository materials elicited more teaching strategies than either type of narrative, and so they suggest varying the type and challenge level of books read aloud to children.
Smolkin, Yaden, Brown, and Hofius (1992) investigated how preschoolers' ability to pay attention to print during storybook reading sessions with parents was influenced by the ways in which the print was displayed in picture books. Nine high-quality picture books were presented to the children in a time-series experimental design. The authors found that when print was made salient to children through artists' design choices, such as animals entwining themselves with the letters that begin their names, children were more likely to pay attention to print. In addition, certain genres are more likely to require salient print as part of a page's design. For example, information books are more likely to include labels on diagrams. The researchers conclude that the books selected for study of emergent readers' responses must be explored in multiple dimensions (i.e., the characteristics of the book must be considered as important potential determinants of the nature of the storybook reading interaction).
Several studies point to the importance of predictability and familiarity in determining children's choices of books to read independently. An early study by Martinez and Teale (1988) described the selections made by kindergarten children during their time in the classroom library. Books that were familiar and/or predictable were chosen twice as often as other books. Familiarity referred to the fact that these books had been read aloud by the teacher. Katims (1994) found similar results within a classroom of preschool children with mild to moderate disabilities. Not only did the children choose the predictable books more frequently, but independent re-enactments of the stories occurred far more frequently with the predictable than with the nonpredictable books.
Reid and Twardosz (1996) displayed both culturally diverse and Euro-American books in two classrooms for 4-year-old children arid observed their book choices during free play and before naptime for several months. It was determined that one category of culturally diverse books, "Culturally Conscious," was not being used as frequently as the others. These books accurately depicted aspects of Black, Asian, and Latino cultures. A simple intervention was then implemented, in which the teachers introduced some of the Culturally Conscious books at group time, and this procedure led to an increase in their use. The authors speculate that children may have initially chosen Culturally Conscious books less frequently because of the realistic, high-quality artwork and the close-ups of one or two faces on the covers, which may have made the books look unfamiliar to them. In addition, the stories tended to be lengthy and more reality-based than those in the Euro-American books, which were more often short, lighthearted, and humorous.
The studies reviewed above did not compare responses to books that varied in overall literary merit, but rather focused on differing characteristics such as complexity, print displays, or cultural diversity. Nevertheless, the results do provide some evidence that a book's characteristics can be viewed as part of the ecological context, influencing the style and content of interaction (e.g., McNaughton, 1987; Neuman & Roskos, 1992). Thus, it is reasonable to suppose that books ranked high in terms of literary merit by scholars of children's literature would evoke different types of responses from both adults and children when compared with other books. This point of view is both explicit and implicit in much of the emergent literacy research, where investigators typically chose high-quality books to use with the children in their studies (e.g., Morrow & Smith, 1990; Neuman, 1999; Smolkin et al., 1992).
There is ample scholarship from the study of children's literature and children's emergent literacy to warrant both interest and concern about the quality and variety of books in child care classrooms. Child care teachers are critical mediators of children's literacy development, yet we have almost no empirical information about how they exercise that role, nor about the constraints under which they do so. Thus, the present study was designed to obtain exploratory, descriptive information from a sample of community child care classrooms for 4-year-old children. The specific purposes are to: 1) determine what books teachers read most often during group storytime, what books are accessible for children's voluntary use, and the extent to which these books are recommended for their literary quality; 2) describe the teachers' reasons for their book selections and the resources they have for obtaining books; and 3) describe the reading opportunities they provide for the children in their classrooms.
Participants and Settings
Stratified random sampling was used to select a total of 21 child care centers located in a medium size southeastern U.S. city from a statewide directory of licensed, approved, and registered child care centers. The sample was selected from the population of full-day centers serving a minimum of 50 children; there were 82 of these centers. In an effort to ensure that an equal and representative sample was obtained from the various areas, the city was divided into quadrants using a method developed in consultation with the City Planning Commission. Several maps of the city's census tracts, as well as information regarding the median household income of each tract, were used to determine quadrant boundaries. After each of the qualifying centers was located on a large city map, 25% of the centers in each quadrant were randomly selected to be included in the sample. This process created a sample of 21 centers, because one quadrant had three more centers located within its boundaries than did the other quadrants. Sixteen (76%) of the centers were incorporated or privately owned, for-profit centers, while five (24%) of the centers were church-affiliated. Tuition ranged from $40 - $135 per week across the centers. Average tuition ranged from $61 - $94 per week across the four quadrants.
The refusal rate was 28%. Reasons reported for declining to participate in the study included teacher turnover, absence of regular teachers during the summer, the summer program being different from the regular program, an outbreak of chicken pox, and that summer is too busy a time to take part in a study. Whenever a center director declined to participate, the next center on the list for that quadrant that met the criteria was selected. If that center director also refused, the center immediately preceding the original center was selected. One teacher of 4-year-olds at each center participated. For centers having more than one 4-year-old class, the director made the teacher selection. All classrooms except one were staffed by one teacher, and one classroom had two teachers. Seventeen teachers were Euro-American and four were African-American. All were female. Nine of the teachers reported having a high school education, seven reported having some college courses, and five reported having a baccalaureate degree. Their child care teaching experience ranged from less than 1 year to 19.5 years.
The child care classrooms were generally set up to support a play-oriented curriculum. However, there was wide variation in the richness of the environment. Some classrooms were organized into well-defined areas such as art, dramatic play, blocks, and books. Others had a variety of play materials that were not organized into specific areas, and several classrooms were relatively barren.
Self-report. Teachers provided information through three self-report measures. First, the investigator conducted a 20- to 25-minute, on-site, open-ended interview with each teacher, either in a conference room with only the teacher and investigator present, or in the classroom during naptime or free play, because the teacher was needed to supervise the children. The interview was used to collect the following information: 1) the five books that the teacher remembered reading most often to children during the past year, 2) the teacher's reasons for selecting the first three books that she mentioned, 3) classroom activities that were related to books, and 4) resources available for obtaining books. (1) Interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed by the investigator, except in the cases of two teachers who declined to be taped. The investigator took notes throughout the interviews for those teachers.
The second measure was a questionnaire that was completed by each teacher immediately following the interview, and that required approximately 10 minutes. This measure was designed to yield information about the teacher's education level, teaching experience, specialized training in child development or child care, and personal book-related habits. The teachers were also asked to mark three characteristics that they most often consider when choosing books for children. (1)
The third measure was a list of books that was developed to prompt the teachers' recall of books that they might have read to children over the past year, in case they had trouble recalling them during the interview. The list was compiled by consulting two university faculty who teach in the area of children's literature, as well as a graduate student who is proficient in the use of children's literature with preschool-age children. The investigator also browsed through the children's book sections of the university library, local book stores, and department stores. Books recommended by at least two of the previously mentioned individuals were included on the list, as well as a sampling of books displayed in the library and stores. A list of 22 books was compiled.
Each teacher was given a copy of the booklist after completing the questionnaire and was asked to mark each book she remembered having read to her class during the past year. If the teacher had read another book by the same author or any type of poetry book, she was encouraged to report it. The investigator provided a copy of each book on the list for her to inspect. To ensure that a true recollection was obtained during the interview, teachers did not see the booklist or sample books until after the interview was completed. This segment of the data collection process lasted approximately 15 minutes.
Observation. The fourth measure was a classroom observation that was used to gather information about the books that were easily accessible for children's voluntary use, as well as any others stored in the classroom. It was also used to obtain a description of the book area, if any, to report the general condition and age-appropriateness of the books; and to describe any physical evidence that books were integrated into other aspects of the classroom, such as posters depicting reading or children's art that reflected themes from books. The criteria used to determine the existence of a well-defined book area were minimal, and consistent with some of those identified by Morrow (1982). They included accessible books (usually displayed on shelves) with seating (such as a couch, beanbag chairs, or rockers) grouped near the books.
The investigator visited the classroom on the same day that the self-report measures were obtained while the children were sleeping, playing outside, or engaged in activities inside. She went to the book area, book box, or any other location where books accessible to the children were located, and counted and recorded the titles. Then she asked to see any other books stored in the classroom, estimated their number, and briefly described them. If there were no books accessible for children's voluntary use, the investigator asked to see any books stored in the classroom.
The procedures used for recording accessible books were as follows: 1) the books were counted; 2) if there were 25 or fewer books, all titles were recorded; 3) if more than 25 books were counted, the observer recorded the titles of all those that would possibly be included in sourcebooks of children's literature; 4) a large proportion of the other book titles was recorded; 5) if books could be categorized and grouped, they were recorded in this way (e.g., Golden Books -7, or Sesame Street Books - 10). This measure required 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the number of books in the classroom.
The investigator obtained interobserver reliability on the accessibility of classroom books by using three observers who were unaware of the study's purpose. The observers included a graduate student and two university instructors. After receiving instruction in the procedures used to record classroom books, an observer and the investigator recorded the information simultaneously but independently in five of the 21 centers. Interobserver agreement scores were calculated for the number of books recorded as accessible to children by counting the number of book title agreements and dividing by the number of agreements and disagreements. Interobserver agreement scores ranged from 89.5% to 100%, with a mean of 93%.
Recommended Books. A procedure was developed by which book titles generated by the self-report and observation measures could be classified as recommended by experts in children's literature. Three well-respected, comprehensive sources listing books that meet the standards for high-quality children's literature were selected after consulting with faculty in children's literature and librarians. These were: 1) Choosing Books for Kids (Oppenheim, Brenner, & Boegehold, 1986); 2) The New York Times Guide to the Best Books for Children (Lipson, 1991); and 3) Children's Literature in the Elementary School (Huck, Hepler, Hickman, & Kiefer, 1997). If a book mentioned by a teacher in the interview, appearing in the booklist, or recorded as accessible in the classroom was listed in at least one of these three sources, it was classified as "recommended" for the purposes of this study.
Agreement scores for books classified as recommended were calculated by comparing the percentage of books independently classified as recommended by the investigator and the observer, and by dividing the larger percentage into the smaller for each center. Interobserver reliability ranged from 92% to 100%, with a mean of 94%.
In order to provide an ecological context for understanding the data on teachers' book selections, results pertaining to the third goal--to describe the reading opportunities provided for children in this sample of child care classrooms--will be addressed first. Table 1 presents the percentage of classrooms in which six types of reading opportunities were available to the children. These results were obtained by examining the interview and observational data for each center and noting whether or not a particular opportunity was mentioned or observed.
Each teacher reported reading to the entire group of children at least once a day, and more than half reported having two or three scheduled story times per day. Sometimes these story times were used to read books that were connected to a weekly theme or lesson. In all but one of the classrooms, books were available to the children for voluntary use, and there were opportunities to use them. However, in two of these classrooms, books were stored out of children's reach. The majority of the teachers reported that free-play or center time was an opportunity for children to use books if they wished. Several teachers mentioned transitions--such as before lunch and naptimes, at the end of the day, and after playing outside--as times for the children to read. Two teachers described independent reading times, when all of the children looked at books without the teacher reading a story. In one classroom, the teacher reported scheduling 30 minutes for looking at books in the morning while children were arriving and before all the toys were brought out. Another teacher reported that she had all of the children look at books three or four times per week when they needed to sit down or when she wanted them to be quiet.
Fewer than half of the teachers reported providing book-related activities for the children, but some of those mentioned were quite elaborate. For example, one teacher described book-based skits that were put on by the teachers at the center for all of the children every Friday. Another teacher responded that the children learned to square dance and would put on a play in connection with Barn Dance (Martin, 1988). Other teachers described book-related art projects, such as making rainbow fish to place on a mural, providing a flannel board so that children could re-enact a story, and cooking green eggs and ham. Finally, a teacher who described herself as a "whole language person" talked about incorporating math and science, using big books, and making books.
The teachers who reported using the public library typically used it themselves to borrow books for their classroom. Very few teachers actually took the children to a public library on a regular basis. The teachers who did not use a public library reported that a substantial number of books were available within the child care facility.
In fewer than 30% of the classrooms observed did the teacher provide a well-defined book area, even using the minimal criteria of a book display and some seating. This is lower than the figure reported by Morrow (1982) in her investigation of literacy practices in nursery rooms. The books in classrooms without a book area were usually found on display shelves, but with no seating, or the books were stored with their spines facing outward on shelves, or stacked in plastic crates. In several classrooms, a rug was located next to the book display, but there was no other seating. However, the books were judged to be in good to fair condition in the majority of the classrooms. In only four classrooms were the books judged to be in poor condition, with many having broken spines, missing covers, or torn pages.
While Table 1 and the descriptions presented above provide information about the occurrence of specific reading opportunities across the sample of classrooms, they do not convey the range in the richness of the literacy environments available to the children. The following classroom profiles will attempt to illustrate some of this diversity. Some of the classrooms in the sample provided a very rich literacy environment. For example, Classroom 12 had books accessible for children's voluntary use as well as times during the day for children to use them. There were daily story times, a well-defined book area, and a very articulate teacher who provided a variety of types of books and was able to describe why she chose them. Displayed within this classroom were book related themes and posters. This teacher routinely incorporated a variety of book related themes into the curriculum, such as cooking, art, and movement.
In contrast, some classrooms exhibited few of these reading opportunities. For example, no children's books could be located in Classroom 8. A stack of magazines (e.g., Ladies Home Journal, Redbook) was observed on a low shelf, and these were obviously used for cutting activities. When the teacher was asked where books could be found, she directed the investigator to another classroom. No reading-related themes or posters were displayed in this classroom. As a matter of fact, the walls were almost bare. The teacher could not describe any book-related activities or name sources of children's books that the center used.
Most classrooms fell in between these two extremes. Classroom 15, for example, had books accessible for children's voluntary use and several daily story times, but no book area. The teacher gave short, undeveloped answers about why she chose the books she read most often to children, and mentioned only one book-related activity. One reading-related poster was visible in the classroom.
Types of Books Read by Teachers and Made Accessible to Children
The results reported in this section pertain to the primary goal of the study, to determine what books teachers remembered reading most often to children during group story times, what books were accessible to the children for voluntary use, and the extent to which those books could be classified as "recommended" by experts in children's literature. Data were obtained from the interview, booklist measure, and classroom observation.
During the interviews, teachers either named the titles of specific books, referred to a group of books, or mentioned the name of an author. The total number of individual books, groups of books, and authors mentioned by the teachers during the interviews was 95. Most of these were the names of individual books. The most frequently named books were Dr. Seuss books, referred to either as a group or by individual titles 14 times. The Berenstain Bears books were mentioned four times, and Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak, 1963) and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? (Martin, 1991) were mentioned three times each. All of these books were classified as recommended. Other groups of books teachers reported reading included Clifford (Bridwell), Little Critter (Mayer), Sesame Street books, and Disney books. Authors who were mentioned included Mercer Mayer, Eric Cane, Leo Lionni, and Richard Scarry. In two cases, a book was accompanied by a tape. Three alphabet books are included in the total list, but The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Carle, 1987) seems to be the only counting book. One teacher reported that she read a book of nursery rhymes, and this was the only book of poetry mentioned. No information or nonfiction books were named by the teachers. (2)
Table 2 presents the percentage of teachers who recognized each book on the booklist. Five of the books recognized by at least 75% of the teachers were recommended; those had also been mentioned most frequently during the interviews. However many of the recommended books were recognized by fewer than half of the teachers, and the three multiethnic books were recognized by very few teachers.
Table 3 presents the percentage of books recalled and recognized by the teacher in each classroom that were classified as "recommended." It also reports on the number of books accessible to the children and the percentage of those that were classified as recommended, and whether or not the classroom had a book area. The books named by the teachers during the interview that were classified as recommended ranged from 0 - 100% across the classrooms, with a mean of 60%. Two teachers named no books that could be classified as recommended, while six teachers named books that were all classified as recommended. For a majority of the teachers, at least half of the books they named were classified as recommended. However, the percentages of recommended books for this measure could be slightly inflated, because if a teacher mentioned reading a book that could exist in both recommended and nonrecommended versions, such as a traditional fairy tale, the book was classified as recommended.
Similarly, teachers recognized a large percentage of the recommended books that were on the booklist measure (16 of the 22 books on the list were classified as recommended). The range was 19% to 81%, with a mean of 53%. Thus, these results indicate that the books most of the teachers reported choosing to read to the children in their classrooms were frequently those that have been recommended by experts in the field of children's literature.
Table 3 also shows that the data obtained from the classroom observational measure paint a somewhat different picture of the opportunity for children to be exposed to recommended books. In seven of the classrooms, none of the books that were accessible to the children were classified as recommended. In a Large majority of the classrooms, 25% or fewer of the books recorded were classified as recommended. There were two classrooms, however, in which at least 50% of the books displayed were classified as recommended. In 18 of the 21 classrooms in the sample, the books accessible for children's voluntary use contained far fewer books that were classified as recommended than did the teachers' report of the books they read most often. Books that the teachers reported having read to the children were three times more likely to be classified as recommended than those observed to be accessible for children's voluntary use.
One possible reason for the difference is that a self-report measure yields a different type of information than an observation. Teachers were asked to recall the books they read most often to the children over the past year, making it possible that the recommended books were easier for them to recall than the others. Perhaps if an observer had recorded the books read during story time for a year, the results would have been different. Moreover, the book observation occurred only once, making it possible that the books present at other times contained a greater number of recommended books. However, it is also possible that the teachers' practices produced part of the difference. During the interviews in four classrooms, the teachers volunteered information about how and why the children were denied access to many of the books that were read to them. Some of the comments included: "I keep my books in a high cabinet because the children are careless with them." "I put out the older, well-used books for the children to look at." "One child at a time can sit in a chair next to my desk if he/she wants to look at my books or the books from the library." Perhaps more of the teachers would have described similar practices if the investigator had asked a specific question about this issue. However, one of the teachers did report that she left books from her personal collection out for the children to use because they took care of them.
Teachers' Selection Criteria and Resources for Obtaining Books
The results pertaining to the second purpose of the study--to determine some of the reasons teachers report for choosing particular books to read to children--will now be addressed. During the interview, teachers were asked why they had selected the first three of the five books they named as most often reading to children. The interview transcripts were read and reread, and the teachers' comments were classified into six distinct categories. Table 4 presents the number of statements made by the teachers that fell into the six categories and some examples of comments illustrative of each category. The majority of the teachers' reasons for selecting particular books for classroom reading involved the children's preference for the books, their teaching function, and literary qualities.
Teachers' views about the importance of a book's literary qualities were examined further by summarizing their responses to the questionnaire item about the three book characteristics that they consider when choosing books to use with children. The number of teachers who chose each characteristic were: illustrations (19), theme (11), moral (11), length (9), number of words on a page (7), colors (6), and rhyming words (0). Most of the teachers indicated that the illustrations were important. During the interviews, many of the teachers' comments about the books they chose to read most often also concerned the illustrations. Some teachers commented that large, colorful illustrations capture and maintain the children's interest and enhance their imagination and creativity. Similarly, the frequent choice of theme and moral mirrors the teaching function category of responses from the interviews. Several of the teachers reported that many children are less likely to sit still and listen to a very long book or to a book with many words on each page. None of the teachers marked "rhyming words" as a characteristic that they considered when choosing books to use with children.
The specific reasons teachers gave during the interviews for selecting the books they read most often to children were quite diverse and varied in complexity. Some of the comments indicated that the teachers had observed children carefully and were committed to exposing them to books. For example, one teacher described reading Waldo (Hanford, 1997) because the boys loved it; they became engrossed in trying to find Waldo and gradually learned to look at other things on the page. Another teacher, who expressed a personal preference for Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak, 1981), also described its importance for empowering children, the children's roaring as she read it, and her observation that they pretended to be Max when they were playing.
Finally, the data concerning the resources available to teachers for obtaining books for their classrooms were examined. During the interview, teachers were asked how they obtained books for their classrooms. Their responses were read and classified into five major categories, including purchases by the center (12), teachers' own collections (11), donations (10), book clubs and fairs (9), and the public library (7). In addition, two teachers reported that a set of books accompanied the center's curriculum, two reported making books with the children, and one mentioned that children brought books from home.
In the vast majority of classrooms, the teacher was responsible for making the book selections when purchases were made, sometimes in conjunction with the director. Almost as many teachers reported that they used their own personal collections of books in their classrooms as reported that the centers bought books. Half of the teachers in the sample bought books with their own money or brought in those that their own children had used. Donations took a variety of forms, from a parent bringing in a bag of books to a teacher asking each family to donate a book to the classroom for Christmas. The book clubs mentioned were Scholastic and Troll. Classrooms earned points when parents ordered books from the company, and these points were exchanged for books. Only one-third of the teachers reported using the public library. One said that she did so in the past, but stopped because the center had to pay for the books damaged by the children.
The results of this exploratory study suggest that, to some extent, child care teachers read and make accessible to the children in their classrooms books that are considered to be high in literary quality. Furthermore, the teachers articulated specific reasons for reading certain books. Some of these reasons were relatively uncomplicated, referring to the immediate reactions of the children or the desire to teach a specific lesson, but some were quite elaborate, taking into consideration the needs and responses of the children as well as the literary characteristics of the books. Finally, although some of the teachers reported that they incorporated activities related to books into other parts of the curriculum or used the public library, these reading opportunities were not characteristic of the classrooms.
The results of this study, although tentative, reveal several areas for concern. First, despite the large amount of information available about the importance of, and ways to design, a book area, fewer than one-third of these classrooms had one. In particular, comfortable seating was frequently not located near the books, which may mean that few children actually use them. The presence of a well-designed book area does not, by itself, ensure that the children will use it when other activities are available. However, providing comfortable seating near the books may set the stage for the teachers, as well as the children, to enter the area and use them (e.g., Morrow, 1982).
A second area of concern is the disparity between the proportion of recommended books recalled by the teacher during the interview and recognized on the booklist, and the proportion of recommended books that were found to be accessible to children in the classroom. As mentioned previously, this disparity may be attributed partially to the ways in which the data were obtained. Perhaps if the storybooks read during group story time had been recorded on a daily basis rather than recalled during an interview, the proportion that were recommended would have been much lower. However, the remarks of several teachers indicate that there maybe another reason--the deliberate decision not to make the higher quality books read during group storytime accessible to the children because of teachers' fears that the books would be damaged or destroyed. Because a specific question was not included in the interview about this issue, we do not know how many of the teachers in our sample actually followed this practice, but the rationale for doing so is obvious. It is expensive to replace damaged books, whether they are part of the center's collection or obtained from the library, and if they are destroyed, then they will not even be available for group story time. In addition, more than half of the teachers reported that they used their own personal collection of children's books in their classrooms, and it is understandable that they would not want to expose them to possible abuse.
Clearly, the teacher plays a critical role in children's emerging literacy, not only by choosing the books that will be read during group story time, but also in deciding whether to allow children to have free access to those books at other times of the day. Shickedanz (1978) suggests that children must have the opportunity to practice matching their "by heart" story words with printed or "by sight" words in order to make letter-sound associations. She also indicates that mere access to books that have not been read may not be particularly beneficial to the development of emergent reading skills. More recently, Sulzby (1985) has documented the variety of ways in which very young children do emergent readings of books with which they are familiar, eventually demonstrating an understanding of the difference between the language of books and conversational speech. If the books that the children have heard are not available to them, then they will not be able to re-create the story for themselves, perhaps with a teacher or peer as an audience.
A third area of concern is the limited number of genres mentioned by the teachers during the interview. The vast majority of the books that teachers reported reading were narrative picture books or picture storybooks. It is possible that the teachers did read books of different genres during group story time but simply did not remember them, or that they read these books less frequently than the ones they mentioned. The data from the booklist measure does indicate that some teachers remembered having read poetry, while a small proportion did recognize the multiethnic books. The limited amount of empirical evidence available about the influence of genre on children's and adults' responses to books (e.g., Pellegrini et al., 1990; Smolkin et al., 1992) suggests that the types as well as the quality of books to which children are exposed in their child care classrooms is an important area for future investigation. If teachers consistently expose children to only one or two genres, it is possible that some children may not become intrigued by books at all. For example, there is some evidence that boys respond more positively to informational books than they do to storybooks (Barrs & Pidgeon, 1994).
A fourth area of concern is the wide variability across classrooms in the quality of the literacy environments made available to children. Such variability undoubtedly reflects, to some extent, the economic wellbeing and attitudes towards literacy and education of the local community. However, additional factors include the teachers' widely varying educational backgrounds. Child care teaching positions are low paying and frequently require only a high school diploma. Many teachers have not had access to information about children's books through any formal training, but may encounter some information through their colleagues, workshops, and conferences, or through their own personal efforts.
The results of this study should be interpreted and generalized with caution. Although a systematic effort was made to obtain a representative sample of centers from a defined area, self-selection did occur. Some directors refused to allow their centers to participate in the study, and if there was more than one classroom for 4 year-olds, it is likely that the teacher who was most interested in books participated. Thus, these results probably present a more positive picture than what actually exists.
The methodology used in the present study provided a limited amount of information about each classroom, and much of it was obtained through self-report. However, various steps were taken to help ensure the validity of the results. The interview, booklist, and questionnaire tapped the teachers' memory of past classroom events through recall and recognition. To ensure that the interview responses were not simply an artifact of the methodology, the teachers were asked to recall the books they had read before they saw the booklist or box of books. The interviewer did not indicate approval or disapproval of any book recalled by the teacher, but simply asked about the reasons that it had been chosen. The interview format was therefore openended, with probe questions asked as teachers brought up relevant information.
However, a number of improvements in the measures can be made in future research. For example, data collected by the teachers on the books they read during group story time over a period of several weeks would be an informative supplement to the data obtained during the interview. Such data would allow more accurate statements to be made about the different genres of books to which children are exposed, particularly those that are used infrequently. It also may provide more accurate information about the proportion of high-quality books that are read. However, the value of the additional information must be balanced by the difficulty of obtaining reliable data from very busy teachers and by the potential reactivity of such a system. Future studies also should include more than one observation of the books accessible to children to assess the occurrence of book rotation, and to see if a similar proportion of recommended books was again available.
Finally, the measures developed for use in this study must be validated. For example, the booklist measure was included to probe the teachers' memories further by presenting them with titles and the books themselves. Senechal, LeFevre, Hudson, and Lawson (1996) developed a similar book and author recognition list for use with parents, and found that parents' performance on this measure more accurately predicted children's vocabulary scores than did parents' self-reports of time spent reading to their children. Thus, further development of this measure for use with child care teachers would be beneficial. In particular, the list needs to be revised to reflect a greater variety of genres.
The issue of quality in children's literature is difficult to address empirically because it is so difficult to define. Thus, rather than evaluating each book mentioned by teachers or found in classrooms by a set of guidelines that could have been developed for this study, the researchers chose to consult the opinions of scholars of children's literature, as they have been translated into recommendations for teachers and parents in the three sources of children's books. The results of this study might have been slightly different if different sources had been used. The three used in this study were chosen because they were intended for different audiences, and together might be as comprehensive as possible.
Furthermore, the focus on "recommended" books in this study is not intended to convey the impression that these are the only types of books that should be available to children in child care classrooms. First, it is impossible for every book that exemplifies standards of high quality to be reviewed by scholars and included in sources for teachers and parents. Second, books that are a reflection of popular culture, such as the latest animated film, may not be recommended for their literary quality, but may provide a great deal of pleasure to children and perhaps be more attractive to children than other types of books. What is important is that children have the opportunity to be exposed to what scholars of children's literature have evaluated highly in terms of literary merit, and that teachers consciously develop their own standards for choosing the books that will be in their classrooms.
The literacy experiences available to children in child care classrooms can affect the knowledge and attitudes they bring to the task of learning to read and write conventionally in elementary school (e.g., Neuman, 1999), particularly in situations where home environments offer few literacy opportunities. Therefore, additional research that describes the literacy practices that occur in typical community child care programs is necessary. Teachers' reasons for the existence of certain practices must be probed, and literacy must be examined as only one of a myriad of concerns that face child care providers, who typically operate under severe budgetary constraints.
For example, the extent to which teachers keep higher quality books inaccessible to children, except during group story time, is an important issue. If this practice is indeed widespread, then it is critical to develop and disseminate methods for teaching young children how to care for books so that teachers will be more willing to make the highest quality books accessible throughout the day. It also may be useful to document the extent of the damage inflicted on books by children in child care, and the resultant expense. Normal wear and tear that results from appropriate usage must be discriminated from intentional damage and rough usage, and accepted as a legitimate child care expense.
Similarly, more information is needed about children's and teachers' responses to books that vary in quality during group story time and throughout the day. The literary characteristics of a book are only one component of the storybook reading experience; they are inextricably intertwined with the mediation and support of adults. Thus, a cognitively or artistically demanding book would require skill on the part of the teacher to make it available to children, and a teacher with such skill might be more likely to choose a book that was cognitively or artistically demanding. In the process, the teacher may be communicating to children that such books are worth the time and effort, and may influence children's future choices of books. Thus, it appears that child care teachers should have easily available access to resources, education, and support in the area of children's literature. Similarly, the public needs to be educated about what constitutes a stimulating literacy environment in a child care classroom, so that they can serve as a source of moral and financial support.
Authors' Note. The authors wish to express their appreciation to the directors and teachers of the participating child care centers; to Rita Boydston, Susan Epling, Laura Phillips, and Kathie Reid, who assisted with data collection and analysis; and to Carole McDonald, who assisted with the preparation of the manuscript.
(1.) The interview guide and questionnaire can be obtained from the authors.
(2.) The complete list of books mentioned by teachers during the interviews can be obtained from the authors.
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Table 1 Reading Opportunities Available to Children Categories Percentage of classrooms (N=21) Daily story time 100 Availability of books for voluntary use (a) 95 Opportunities for voluntary book use 95 Book-related activities 43 Use of public library 38 Well-defined book area 29 Note. Data were obtained from interviews and observations. (a)In two of these classrooms, books were stored out of children's reach. Table 2 Books Recognized by Teachers Titles % of recognition The Cat in the Hat (a) 100 The Berenstain Bears Get in a Fight (a) 95 Where the Wild Things Are (a) 81 The Very Hungry Caterpillar (a) 81 The Snowy Day (a) 76 The Jungle Book (Disney) 76 Lady and the Tramp (Disney) 76 Winnie the Pooh (Disney) 71 The Little Mermaid (Disney) 67 When I Get Bigger 67 Stone Soup (a) 62 There's Something in My Attic (a) 57 If You Give a Moose a Muffin (a) 52 The Wheels on the Bus (a) 52 Bear in Mind: A Book of Bear Poems 52 Make Way for Ducklings (a) 48 Is Your Mama a Llama? (a) 38 Where's Spot (a) 38 Anansi the Spider (a) 14 The Napping House (a) 14 Lon Pa Po: A Red Riding Hood Tale 10 from China (a) Abiyoyo (a) 10 (a)Indicates a recommended book Table 3 Number and Types of Books Read and Accessible to Children Classroom % recalled % recognized # books % accessible RCMD books (a) RCMD books (b) accessible RCMD books 1 20 44 20 25 2 80 50 20 0 3 60 81 16 56 4 80 70 14 0 5 100 38 10 20 6 20 81 5 0 7 40 50 10 0 8 40 31 0 0 9 0 19 27 22 10 60 69 15 (c) 33 11 100 31 15 6 12 100 69 25 (c) 32 13 40 63 60 (c) 5 14 100 44 22 14 15 20 56 30 10 16 60 48 0 0 17 60 38 11 (c) 46 18 100 56 12 (c) 50 19 0 31 0 0 20 80 69 11 (c) 29 21 100 69 50 20 [M(SD)] 60 (35) 53 (18) 18 (15) 18 (18) (a)Based on a total of 5 books recalled by each teacher. (b)Based on a total of 16 recommended books (of the 22) presented to teachers. (c)Classrooms with book area. Table 4 Teacher's Reasons for Selecting Books Most Often Read to Children Categories No. Statements Children's preference 28 Teaching function 28 Literary qualities 21 Classroom management 9 Children's interaction/talk 6 Teacher's preference 4 Categories Examples Children's preference It's one of their favorites. The kids request it. Teaching function I use it to teach the alphabet. It teaches truth and honesty. Literary qualities The sense of humor, it's funny. The artwork is great. Classroom management It reads fast and doesn't get very involved. The children will sit still and listen to it. Children's interaction/talk They ask a lot of questions. They like to make the nosies as I read it. Teacher's preference I like the pictures. I enjoy the humor.
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|Publication:||Journal of Research in Childhood Education|
|Article Type:||Statistical Data Included|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2001|
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