Wednesday, May 7, 2014

First Barbara/First Reader by Jan Godown Annino

I like to keep up with my First Ladies.
Maybe this little hobby dates to third grade, when Martha Washington & George were my living history project.
And also maybe it’s because I know that many of them love to write. 
And, to read.

Can you find First Lady Barbara Bush in the book cover? Center front, 3rd from the left, in FIRST LADIES, above. Barbara Bush is the author of four books. One of them is from a dog’s point of view,  MILLIE’S BOOK, which our daughter owned as a middle-schooler.
Mrs. Bush’s father was in charge of the McCall magazine empire. Her parents encouraged reading in the evenings. This and other glimpses of her unusual life are shared in BARBARA BUSH: A Memoir, & also at her comprehensive biography created by the extraordinary resource,
National First Ladies Library in Ohio.

If you are a reader or children's writer, you will likely make time to visit the Barbara Bush Foundation, which is all about achieving a 100 percent literacy rate in the U.S. This hard-charging Foundation recently awarded a grant to a deserving public elementary in our area. If it is anything like the local school I visited weekly during a school year so I could to sit with a little boy in kindergarten, to help him begin his path to reading, those children are needy & will rocket ahead with this BBF project.

I exchanged emails with Liza McFadden of the Barbara Bush Foundation.
Later this month I expect to collect our conversation in one piece at Bookseedstudio. 
Please look for Part Two of this interview on Monday, May 12, 2014.

Part One - Barbara Bush Foundation interview

How might a family whose parents don’t demonstrate reading, affect their children's interest in books?

LIZA McFadden for the Barbara Bush Foundation
 As I talk to moms, I realize many of us have almost a collective memory about reading:  that as children we loved our parents wrapping their arms around us and reading.  We remember our favorites—mainly because we made our parents read them to us hundreds of times.  Those simple rhymes, the shape of those letters, the conversations about the pictures, all of those things were our parents being our first -- and best -- teachers.  

Too many people fall away from being in love with books – sometimes scarred by the way books were used in school, and frequently, I think, because watching TV or other activities seem more companionable.  I can provide lots of great physiological reasons to read:  reading has benefits similar to meditating like lower stress, and deeper sleep and lowered memory loss, and I can provide great psychological reasons to read:  a strong working vocabulary is the best defense we have against manipulation -- that’s why lawyers live and die by words.  

In the end, I think we pass on what we love. Having a child is a great time to remember that as a child reading brought you not only those stories you loved, but also, your vital vocabulary that’s helping to ensure you have a good job, and a healthy life.

Should children have to read books that they don't want to? (Outside of school assignments) 

I have a confession.  I’m a bibliophile.  In the last few months I just changed our living room into a library.  I’m guessing with Nooks and Kindles, those libraries are passé, but I love my books.  That said, you could guess I strongly believe children shouldn’t “have” to read outside of school but should “want” to read outside of school. 

I have two middle school children and they attend a school where they are required to read a lot.  In fact, the better reader you are, the more “Accelerated Reader” points you have to earn.  The difference between my two children is this: one loves to read, and this boy reads Hardy Boys and 39 Clues and every adventure book he can lay his hands on.  His sister, though an excellent student, is not in love with reading.

But, here’s what I have discovered: she does love books, she just prefers it when someone else reads them to her.  This weekend as we drove from South Florida to North Florida coming back from spring break, I read to them out loud, Waiting For Snow In Havana:  Confessions of a Cuban Boy. Everyone in the car loved hearing the story. It combined a love of killing lizards with a philosophical discussion on the proof of God – not always issues easily aligned.  Anyway, so here’s my belief:  I think reading can some in many forms, and I’m excited that the Nook and Kindle can read out loud for oral learners, as long as they have truly mastered the skill of reading.  
As I recently heard, language defines our palette of thought.  It allows us to be part of the intellectual discussion of our community and our country; it allows us to share memories of killing lizards, and to wonder in-depth about the proof of God. 

Note: Thank you, Liza. We hope our readers will return for more insights from Liza McFadden/Barbara Bush Foundation, tomorrow, Thurs., May 8, 2014

Jan Godown Annino is on twitter @BkSeedStudio. She is the author of an ALA-listed picture book, SHE SANG PROMISE: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper.


  1. Interesting info about Barbara Bush and her family. I didn't know all that. Thanks for the emphasis on reading. My kids love to problem except keeping them supplied with books.

  2. I look forward to the second part of your interview, Jan. I'm glad you asked the question about whether children should have to read books outside of school. Liza's experience with her daughter mirrors my own. Books on tape and magazines were my child's choice of reading.

  3. Reading is all reading, yes? Reading magazines, cereal boxes, bulletin boards, handbills, menus. The cereal boxes are now even going back to having a fold out story on them. I forget the cereal maker, but the fabulous book ALL THE WORLD was put on a cereal box in recent years. Did your kids like to spell with alphabet magnets on the fridge, too? There are just so many various paths into learning to love reading.

    And, thank you so much & Tina two, for taking the time to visit. I know it isn't easy!
    And books on tapes are the BEST. Miles & miles go by & stories unfold.