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Handbook of Early Literacy Research.

S. B. Neuman & D. K. Dickinson, Eds. New York: Guilford, 2001. 483 pp. This publication helps to establish the importance of the study of early literacy, so essential to later reading achievement. Neuman and Dickinson have assembled a very useful collection of 30 research studies, with contributions by some of the most prestigious people in the field.

Both editors have impressive research backgrounds in early literacy development. Neuman is Professor of Educational Studies at the University of Michigan and the Director of the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Ability. Dickinson, a Senior Researcher at the Education Development Center in Newton, Massachusetts, is the co-author of several books on beginning literacy.

Educators of early childhood teachers, bilingual specialists, literacy educators, and policy and program developers in preschool settings would find many, but not necessarily all, of the articles pertinent to their work. A brief abstract at the beginning of each article would have facilitated the selection process for readers.

This collection is organized into six sections, which range from more theoretical conceptualizations of literacy development to a review of practical applications of special intervention efforts. Of particular importance are more than a half dozen articles that address the critical problem of underachievement among children of poverty, who are children from language minorities and children of color in disproportionate numbers. Each of these articles examines the specifics of home and community, schooling influences in the preschool years, instructional materials and classroom practices, and special intervention efforts. These articles point to the need for large-scale studies of the relationships among language, literacy, and poverty.

In "Early Language Literacy Skills of Low-Income African American and Hispanic Children," the authors examine the reasons why poor children lag behind their peers in early literacy development. Although the lack of a stimulating literacy environment has received the greatest attention, what is often overlooked in addressing this critical issue is the biological / health environment in which such children live and how such associated problems as poor nutrition, chronic ear infections, and low immunization rates can affect low-income children's achievement. Finally, but not least of all, these children face discrimination in school and from society at large. The authors cite examples of African American students with superior narrative skills gained from a tradition of storytelling; these talents, however, often do not translate into school literacy achievement.

In "Young Bilingual Children and Early Literacy Development," the authors examine family and community language environments for bilingual children from birth through age 5, including the first-language classroom, the bilingual classroom, and the English-language classroom. Their findings indicate multiple pathways to literacy. Literacy acquisition in the home language between parent and child can transfer to literacy acquisition in English. "It is the quality of the literacy interaction, not the language that it is carried on in, that is the critical factor," they write (p. 175). Reviewed by Anita Page, Director, Early Childhood/Elementary Teacher Training Programs, Mt. Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA
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Author:Page, Anita
Publication:Childhood Education
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2002
Previous Article:Success for All: Research and Reform in Elementary Education.
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