Kathleen Martin, Ph.D., has a page from the oversized children’s book See Spot Run hanging on the wall next to her desk.

Kay Emfinger (left) and Kathleen Martin are co-authors of the new book Sharing Books Together: Promoting Emergent Literacy Through Reading Aloud and Home-School Partnerships, which encourages teachers and parents to read aloud regularly to children.

The page is three feet in height and was taken from an original copy of the book that Kay Emfinger, Ph.D., inherited as an elementary school teacher at East Tallassee many years ago.

“Kay gave me this page as a Christmas present,” Martin says. “Children’s books are a real art form, and I think they are being recognized as such now. They also are crucial to the success of children learning to read.

“The oral language and oral vocabulary is the engine that’s driving the ability to make connections with phonics.”

Martin and Emfinger, associate and assistant professors of education, are passionate advocates of promoting children’s literacy. Their new book, Sharing Books Together: Promoting Emergent Literacy Through Reading Aloud and Home-School Partnerships, shines a light on the importance of reading aloud to children to help develop oral language. The book is being published by the Southern Early Childhood Association and soon will be available for purchase.

Research shows that reading aloud to a child regularly is the single greatest predictor of a child’s success in learning to read.

“It’s never too early to begin reading aloud to children,” Emfinger says. “I started reading to my daughter at birth. Every language has its own cadence and rhythm, and the earlier children start to hear those nuances of the language the better is their chance for future success in reading.” 

Professional development materials
Martin and Emfinger wrote the book as the final project of their Early Reading First grant. Their charge was to produce materials that could be used for professional development, especially in under-served communities.

“Many times children who live in poverty don’t have that vocabulary base that’s necessary to facilitate reading later on,” Emfinger says.

“In the book, we emphasize that reading to children will help expand their vocabulary and enable them to read.”

Two years earlier they developed a DVD series for preschool teachers that focused on several topics — literate classroom environment, storytelling, reading aloud, writing skills and oral and language-development activities.

The book and DVD series were distributed free to preschool teachers in Alabama, primarily in low-income and under-served communities.

Emphasizing words is key
The book has three areas of focus: helping children learn by reading aloud to them; setting up their classroom environment so books are accessible and parental engagement is successful; and providing a list of inexpensive paperback books and short summaries and activities that help children learn the concepts of print.

Reading with emphasis is a key to language and reading development, Martin says. It enables children to pick up on the nuances of the language and gives them a context in how to process the meaning of words.

“If you read the book in such a way that you pause when you come to a word that you think the children may not understand and give a common synonym, you really are teaching children a richer vocabulary,” Martin says. “It’s just a simple change in the way you read a book, and it can make a big difference in what children process and learn.”

Contact Emfinger (emfinger@uab.edu) or Martin (kathmart@uab.edu) for more information on the book or their DVD series.