The books discussed in this post were gifted to me by Jolie Canoli for the purpose of review. All opinions are entirely my own!
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The school year is dragging on, and yet, it is almost over for many students. Virtual learning is just not quite as effective as in person learning, is it? Even if your child is going to school in person, they may be missing quite a few days due to the current circumstances. Especially for very young children, reinforcing the basic foundational skills they learn at school has become all the more essential.
Enter Jolie Canoli Phonics!
If you are looking for a supplement to school based reading instruction for your preschooler, kindergartener, or even early elementary student, these books are an amazing resource. They are also great for families looking to give their children a head start on the foundations of fluent English reading. As I’ve previously shared, literacy science indicates five critical areas of reading instruction, and phonemic awareness and phonics (together making up the larger category of phonological awareness) are two key areas to focus attention on early during reading development (National Reading Panel, 2000). I’ve also noted that many kids’ books and programs do not adequately promote development of critical phonological awareness strategies. Given this fact, I am happy to add Jolie Canoli texts to the list of books that I can enthusiastically endorse as using effective letter sound mapping strategies. Plus, these books have the added benefit of promoting decoding/carry over of skills.
Each text starts with an introduction for parents and caregivers. Essentially serving as a crash course in the basics of how to use the text and concepts of reading and reading instruction, these brief instructions are in simple language that even those without a degree in education can easily retain. But they don’t just focus on speech sounds. Both books in the phonics series offer prompts for how to write each letter. This is the only widely available phonics/alphabet book series I’ve found with that feature, setting them apart from competitors.
About the Alphabet Book
In the alphabet book, the text is presented in rhyming form, and ties the grapheme characters into the story seamlessly. Onomatopoeia is used as a device to help children further understand the sounds that letters make. Phonemes are repeated multiple times in different words, as well as different places within the words. The author also provides fun rules for letters that have multiple phonemes to help children understand where a letter might make one sound or another (my noting this inherently means she also spends time focusing on the fact that different letters can make many different sounds in the first place; one example is the hard and soft G that many books neglect to explicitly address).
Periodic check ins provide an opportunity for children to practice blending/decording using the phonemes and graphemes they have just reviewed. As I’ve previously noted, decoding/word segmentation is a critical skill associated with later reading fluency (eg. Muter, 1998; Hjetland, et al., 2017). While it is not the primary focus of the text, the introduction to blending/decoding practice is a fantastic addition that many children’s alphabet books neglect.
About the Vowels Book
The vowels book pairs with a song by the author, available for download on her webpage. Like the alphabet book, the vowels text reviews the multitude of sounds each letter can make, in a variety of places within the words, and introduces phonics rules in rhyming form. The characters each letter becomes also helps indicate to readers what sound each respective letter makes (e.g. up vs. unicorn for the letter u). Like the alphabet book, the pages are colorful, fun, and interactive.
While there are no major drawbacks within these texts, there were two areas where I could see some minor room for improvement. Both were in the alphabet book, and the first can easily be addressed by using the vowels text in addition to the alphabet book. This was that the letter A was not addressed using one of the most common sounds it makes; a as in apple. Instead the author uses the word ant for the short a sound, and a in acorn for the long a sound. As a former educator training in the Wilson school of phonics instruction (a methodology supported by extensive research), I would much prefer the boring a for apple over a for ant. [Note: I am not in any way sponsored or affiliated with Wilson; I am simply a major proponent of their method). That said, this is not something I see as a major problem with the alphabet book given the audience is parents and their children rather than teachers involved in early reading instruction, and the vowels text does address the matter further. The second critique I had of the alphabet book was that one of the blending practice words used a double e (which makes a long e sound), despite not explicitly covering this concept. However, this is a children’s book we are discussing here, not a curriculum package (reference my audience comment prior). I am not horribly concerned as a result!
These books get a definite recommendation from me! I am pleased to add them to my child’s library, and would certainly encourage other parents to do the same! They are fun, engaging, and importantly, have content presented in a way I believe would aid in the development of early reading skills*.
Where can you find the books?
Other books by the author
*I say believe because, as a scientist reviewing a program not supported by science, I am incapable of drawing causal claims. That said, these are children’s books, not a curriculum program, and as such, there is no necessity to support the books with scientific studies.
As some of you may know, prior to having my human child, I was the proud mom to a pack of fur babies... including two dogs. Our dogs are our children, too. They are a huge part of our family, and that didn't change when our human child arrived. Our love for them has only grown as we've seen them bond with our sweet baby.
Needless to say, we are dog people.
I am also a cognitive scientist. So it stands to reason that my reading preferences would include some intersection between the my professional and personal interests!
Below is a list of some of my favorite nonfiction books that I know dog parents will absolutely love.
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Gregory Berns' How Dogs Love Us perfectly fuses memoir and science text into a compelling look at just how incredible the mind of a dog is. You will never look at your fur baby the same way after reading this book. As a neuroscientist, I was amazed at just how similar the dog and the human minds are, in ways I never would have expected. I know you will love this book as much as I do! It is also available on Kindle.
Alexandra Horowitz is a cognitive scientist specializing in canine cognition at Barnard College (which just happens to be located at Columbia University, where I study and work!). Her book Inside of a Dog is a New York Times Bestseller. I thoroughly enjoyed this scientific review of canine perception and cognition, as well as Horowitz's anecdotes about her own dogs. It is a bit more dense than Berns' book, but still an excellent read.
Anyone who has spent time with a dog likely already knows that a canine's dominant sense is smell. In Being a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz dives deep into the dog's olfactory sense. I've just begun reading this text, but thus far, it is just as good as Inside of a Dog.
Okay, so this title can't be a surprise. John Grogan's memoir has been on dog lovers' must read lists for years. It too has been on the New York Times Bestseller list. But it is worth mentioning all the same, because what list of great nonfiction for puppy parents would be complete without it? If you saw the movie, I'm sorry. Okay, it was a great film (in my opinion), but as is often the case, the book was so, so much better. Marley and Me is heartwarming, tear jerking, and will remind you of how precious the bond is between humans and their fur babies. If you haven't read it yet, you really should. Even if you saw the movie first (there are lots of little details the movie missed).
Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence-and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process
Okay, so this one isn't about dogs. But if you love reading about canine cognition, you will likely find this memoir/science read just as interesting. Alex the African Grey Parrot may be one of the most famous birds in history; upon his untimely passing, Alex received obituaries in such publications as The New York Times and The Economist. Alex helped us cognitive scientist learn that the phrase "bird brain" should actually be a complement. No, really! Alex may have been one of the smartest birds on record, but his intelligence isn't unique. Pepperberg's discussion of her deep relationship with this loveable soul will pull at your heart strings, and absolutely merits its status as a New York Times best seller.
The following are books that I am adding to my reading list, and look like promising candidates to add to this list once I've completed each. Have you read one of these titles? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments!
Love pups as much as we do?
Be sure to comment below with stories about your own dog, or book recommendations. Know someone who loves dogs? Be sure to share! And be sure to follow our pups on their Instagram account @shepherd.sister.squad!
May 2020 (Prior to 5/31)
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