Now in its fourth edition, Books Are for Talking,Too! is a 551-page book of recommendations for children’s books. Unlike The Read-Aloud Family and other books that make recommendations for children primarily based on literary value, Books Are for Talking, Too! recommends more than 250 books that can also be used to help children develop oral communication and literacy skills.
The book was written by Jane L. Gebers, a speech-language pathologist. She writes primarily for professional educators and service providers such as herself, and her writing occasionally veers into professional jargon, such as “sufficient lexicon base” and “developing metalinguistic awareness” (both on page five). But she does explain what these phrases mean, and she doesn’t use jargon throughout the book. So, it should be very helpful for homeschooling parents with or without a professional background in education.
Gebers has compiled an amazing amount of detailed information about many children’s books, and she arranges the information in several ways that make it relatively easy to identify what should be useful for a particular purpose.
Geber’s recommendations are picture books because she believes the illustrations are a critical component of the learning experience. In addition, most of the recommended books have minimal text so they can be used in relatively brief sessions. This is especially helpful for those providing speech therapy, teaching phonological awareness skills, or pursuing other targeted goals within limited time periods, whether with an entire class or a single student.
Four Main Sections
After the introduction, the book is divided into four sections:
- Section 1: Books Are for Talking with Children in Preschool and Kindergarten
- Section 2: Books Are for Talking with Children to Build Phonological Awareness
- Section 3: Books Are for Talking with Children in Grades 1 through 5+
- Section 4: Indexes
Each of the first three sections begins with methods and activities the instructor might use to accomplish particular goals with children’s books in general. Following this “how to” information at the beginning of each section are one or two “catalogs” of the recommended books. The catalogs don’t just list books. Each book has one to four pages of information that varies depending upon the catalog.
The catalogs are the bulk of each section, and I will provide more details about each of them so you can see how unique this book is.
The first section's catalog recommends well over 100 books to be used for children in preschool and kindergarten. For each book, the entry begins with the book’s title, author, and publisher. Below this are four sections, and occasionally a fifth section.
The first section lists possible “Topic Explorations” within the book. For example, for the book Abuela, it lists “Cities; New York City; Culture and history, Hispanic; Family relationships; Speaking and communicating” (p.13). These topics are phrased in a particular way because the books are indexed under these exact topics in Section 4.
The second section lists “Target Skills” under one or more of the following headings that vary depending on the book: Concepts of print, Vocabulary, Grammar and Syntax, Language literacy, Articulation, Pragmatic language, Fluency, and Voice. Under each heading, it generally lists one or more particular skills. For instance, under Articulation, it might list particular letters, such as F, V, and L (for Bats in the Library), the sounds of which occur frequently in the book. And for the book Counting Crocodiles, under Language literacy, it lists sequencing and drawing inferences.
The third section is a synopsis of the story and key features such as rhyming verses or information about the setting.
The fourth section, “Method,” offers specific suggestions for teaching the targeted skills using that particular book.
A fifth section, “Extended Activity,” is included for only a few of the books. Often these are group activities such as games or play-acting, but some are drawing, crafts, or other activities that can be adapted for use with only one or two children.
Section 2 specifically addresses phonological awareness with games, activities, and stories. This section can be used with children who are preparing to learn to read, beginning readers, and others who can use these specially targeted lessons.
The section begins with lists of activities, like clapping out syllables. Gebers calls them games. These activities help children develop aspects of phonological awareness, such as initial sound awareness and syllable awareness.
Both the activities and the two catalogs in Section 2 are divided into beginning and advanced levels. The strategy for using this section is to first identify the skill the child needs to work on and which level it fits within, then select a book that can be used to teach the skill. Only 11 books are included for the beginning level and 10 for the advanced level. However, the three or four pages devoted to each book provide activities to teach several different skills, so you might use the same book multiple times.
The pages for each children’s book begin with the book’s title, author, and publisher. This is followed by a list of targeted skills, a very brief synopsis, and a brief paragraph on methods. After this introductory information, there are several activities with specific instructions for each.
The section’s instructions tell us to read the book aloud first, then use one or more activities. Many of the activities in Section 2 mirror those used within good beginning phonics programs. Books Are for Talking, Too! is not intended to replace such a program, but rather to provide targeted activities to supplement or to remediate problems.
Section 3 shifts to focus on books appropriate for grades one through five, with some stretching beyond fifth grade. Among the many skills addressed are those that help children:
- improve the way they speak, such as using proper syntax, good articulation, and an expanded vocabulary
- understand narrative schemes
- understand more complex written language (e.g., understanding inferences)
- learn appropriate oral communication skills for different social contexts
In the introductory section, general suggestions that can be used with most books include some that should be used both before and after reading each book.
This is followed by “A Catalog of Picture Books for Children in Grades 1 through 5+.” Each catalog entry for well over 100 books begins with the usual information about the book itself. However, it adds a line that tells the suggested grade and interest level, narrowing it down to something like “1 through 3” or “3 through 5.”
Like the other catalogs, it lists Topic Explorations and Target Skills, and it includes a one-paragraph synopsis. The rest of the one or two pages per book consists of specific methods to teach the targeted skills. For instance, for Cloud Dance, one method is, “Point out the use of figurative language, such as clouds ‘marching’ and brainstorm other words that can be used as metaphors or similes for the way clouds move. Use them in varying lengths of sentence constructions” (p. 293). Some lists of methods consist of activities that build upon one another, such as for Cloud Dance, where a series of steps have students practice expanding from a simple sentence to a more complex sentence by adding adjectives, an adverbial phrase, a reference to a person, and details about that person. You might use the first few steps but wait on using the others until the child is ready for them. Instructors will make choices such as this with many activities.
Section 4 consists of four indexes that make it easy to select the best books to work on particular skills. The indexes are titled:
The Skills index is the largest of the four. Here we find books listed under particular skills, and one book might be listed under several skill categories. For each book, it shows whether the book is suitable for PreK-K or grades 1-5+ (or both), and it also identifies each book as Easy Fiction, Nonfiction, Folklore, Poetry, or Juvenile Fiction.
Books Are for Talking, Too! is a very useful resource for those who want to target specific reading and language skills. It can also help homeschooling parents select children’s books based on themes such as seasons, pets, and music, or select books simply by reading the helpful synopses.