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Reading Partners: Sharing the Lead in Storybook Reading

father reading with child

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About this Video

Bilingual couples often hope that their children will grow up fluent in each of their languages. Reading storybooks in both languages can help support this ability. This clip shows the benefits of repeated readings of a familiar book in both English and Spanish. It features Miguel, a 4-year-old boy who has an English-speaking mother and a Spanish-speaking father. As father and son read together, Miguel’s father, Alejandro, uses several useful strategies that help sustain the boy’s interest in the book and strengthen his familiarity with Spanish.

These reading strategies are especially important in this case because this little boy was born with DeGeorge Syndrome, a low-incidence syndrome caused by a genetic mutation. This syndrome is associated with language and developmental delays, as well as learning and behavioral difficulties generally associated with attention deficit disorders. Miguel has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) because he has a one-year developmental delay, and he receives regular speech and occupational therapy.

In this video you can see several ways to help a child engage with books.

  • Select a Comfortable Setting.
    Alejandro has selected a pleasant setting and a comfortable chair (in an area with few distractions) that will contribute to making reading a pleasant experience. There is plenty of room for Alejandro to read with Miguel nestled against him. The chair is in a quiet area with limited distractions. We can see that Alejandro values this aspect of the setting as he signals someone else to be quiet.
  • Introduce the Book with the Title and Author.
    Whether the book is read in English or in Spanish, the author will be the same. We can tell this is a familiar book because as they begin reading the book, Alejandro prompts Miguel with the first name of the author (Margaret) and Miguel completes the name (Wise Brown).
  • Make Storybook Reading an Interactive Experience.
    Alejandro begins by reading the book and asking Miguel to point at the characters and objects. This process allows Miguel to participate in reading the book at a comfortable level. Miguel asks, “Can I read it?” and they move the interaction to a more challenging level; Miguel begins to “read” the book, although many of the sounds he is making are Spanish sounding and are not really words. Instead of correcting Miguel, his dad plays along with him. Encouraging Miguel to take on the role of “reader” helps him become more familiar with book-handling skills and the reading process. As he “reads,” Miguel sometimes pauses so his father can complete the sentence. For instance, Miguel reads, “Mama, mama, I’m the …” and Alejandro completes the sentence by saying, “baby.” Note that even though Alejandro has given Miguel the lead in reading, he is still able to ask him questions about the story. When Miguel begins to close the book, Alejandro opens it and once again moves into the role of primary reader, so that the storybook reading session can continue.
  • Use an Expressive Reading Voice when You Read.
    Alejandro varies both the volume and the tone of his voice as he reads.
  • Be a Playful Reading Partner.
    Alejandro is a playful reading partner. For example, he makes animal noises and encourages Miguel to join him, and he gasps at the surprising parts.
  • Ask Questions.
    Alejandro encourages Miguel’s participation by asking him questions. For example, he asks, “Donde esta el sol?”
  • Praise Attempts to Answer.
    When Miguel identifies the sun (el sol), Alejandro praises him by saying, “Muy bien” (very good).
  • Be Flexible and Accepting.
    Extend the storybook reading experience by adapting to changes in circumstances. When Miguel turns the book upside down, Alejandro does not correct him. Instead, he patiently guides the boy to turn the book right side up again.
  • Prompt Children to Participate.
    Alejandro sometimes begins familiar sentences or phrases and then encourages Miguel to complete them, or he asks Miguel to find or name characters or objects in the book.
  • Help Children Strengthen Their Skills.
    When a parent is aware of his child’s current level of development, he can challenge the child to use skills and concepts that are a little bit advanced for the child. For example, Alejandro has a good understanding of Miguel’s knowledge of numbers, so he encourages Miguel to find and count the “huevos” (eggs) on one of the pages. When Miguel begins to count in English, his father says, “No, no, en espanol.” Miguel quickly switches to Spanish and counts, “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco.”
  • Develop Shared Storybook Reading Rituals or Routines.
    Storybook reading can be a special experience that is shared by a parent and child. Routines or rituals can signal the opening or closing of a reading session. For example, after they finish the book, the father begins a shared rhyming ritual that they use to end their storybook reading sessions. The ritual ends with the father saying “muy” (very) and the child saying “bien” (good).



Father: By Margaret.

Miguel: Wise Brown.

Father: Very—

Miguel: Is wrong.

Father: It’s gonna be right. “Junto al gran granero rojo en el vasto y verde prado…”

Father continues reading in Spanish. Occasionally Miguel points to the pages as his father reads. Miguel picks up the book, and his father continues to read until Miguel asks in English if he can read it. As Miguel “reads” the rest of the book, his father responds with questions and encouraging comments.

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Home

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2017