Book Love by Melissa Taylor

Book Review

Long ago, I was taught that children learn to read till about grade 3. By grade 3, they should be fluent readers (decoders of words and sentences) so that they can start reading to learn (comprehend to scaffold). My faith in this rule of the thumb consolidated over the years when I came across many capable students and adults who are disadvantaged in writing, speaking and listening as a ripple effect of their inability to read well.

At whatever place I called home, I have picked up the spoken dialect through socialization. But I could never read/write the language as that requires formal learning. Such is the case with the young children who enter structured learning spaces. The pieces of reading, writing, speaking and listening are so symbiotic that we often focus on one, neglecting the others under the misconception that development of one will magically develop the others. That is perhaps the reason for the oft heard complains of educators/parents: “Jack speaks very well, but his reading/writing is poor” or “Julie writes so well, but gets so nervous when she has to speak”. Reading and writing are synergestic just as speaking and listening are particularly in the case of young language learners.

Last month as I was working with some 40 teachers/administrators from my client school, helping them design the reading program for pre and early primary students. Students in this school are struggling with reading confidently and fluently. The mandate is clear – design a balanced reading program and enable teachers to deliver that as per design expectations.  So for me, there could not have been a more timely launch of Melissa Taylor’s book “Book Love”.

This book is significant for two reasons- firstly, Melissa wears the bifocal lens of a parent and seasoned educator making the book relevant for both classrooms and living rooms; secondly, it is both a visual and mental candy for parents and educators alike. A former elementary and preschool award winning teacher and literacy trainer working with inner-city schools in Denver, Colorado (USA), Melissa has valuable experience building interest and ability of young EFL & ESL readers. On the personal front, she has transformed her own daughter from a reluctant reader to an avid one.

At the very onset, Book Love succinctly outlines the reasons why most early learners find reading to be a chore that they would rather not undertake. These freewheel from books being ‘boring’ to ‘sitty’ as Melissa lays bare the possible reasons for this disengagement and apathy and turn apathy into interest in a practical and fun way. Each of these reasons is dissected and discussed at appropriate length in separate chapters. Of particular interest to me, as a mother of a 6 year old boy, was Chapter 5: Too Sitty as my son also reads in all possible postures and paces.

Book Love has precious pearls of practical wisdom on all aspects of building the ability to read at a very young age- from phonics to comprehension and from decoding to enriching vocabulary- that is playful and engrossing both for the teacher and the taught alike. It is also a treasure trove of ideas for raising enthusiastic and competent reader, both at home and in class. The forty-something, early primary teachers that I was interacting with, found Melissa’s Five Finger Book Selection Test an easy guide for reference.

For most early primary teachers loyally following the prescribed textbooks, selection of developmentally appropriate and engaging books can be challenging, particularly so in regions where both the teachers and the booksellers are clueless about diversity of such reads. Book Love comes to the rescue with its exhaustive list of recommended age appropriate books organized under every conceivable obsession/ interest that the early readers have.

In the midst of the 4 days session, I decided to surprise the teachers with a Skype chat with Melissa where she could take their questions and tap into her expertise and experience in this domain. In spite of her busy schedule, after the launch of her book, the author of Book Love, Melissa Taylor was magnanimous enough to fir this in. Her pedagogical grounding and simplicity cut through the jargon and leapfrogged the session across the ealry reading spectrum- from reading challenges among students to reading space in classroom, from phonics to comprehension. Melissa was able to give succinct and specific strategies to address a volley of questions around ability and interest in reading, making chewiest of literacy theories digestible through bite-sized doable interventions with little or no special materials/preparations. While I was always certain about her erudition, Melissa’s ability to connect with an audience that was very new to all this and culturally very distinct left me impressed.

So for any parent/educator/caregiver dealing with beginner, reluctant, struggling or any early reader, Book Love by Melissa Taylor is a must have.