Children's Books in Child Care Classrooms: Quality, Accessibility, and Reasons for Teachers' Choices

Article excerpt

Abstract. The importance of child care classrooms as contexts for early literacy development makes it critical to investigate the child care teacher's role in selecting, reading, an d making accessible high-quality children's books, and in providing a variety of reading opportunities. The present study was designed to obtain exploratory descriptive information about this neglected topic. Twenty-one teachers of 4-year-old children from a stratified random sample of 2l child care centers participated. Data were obtained using interview, questionnaire, booklist, and observation measures. The results indicate that more than half of the books teachers reported reading during group storytime had been recommended for their literary quality, and that teachers had specific reasons for choosing the books they read. However, a much smaller proportion of the books that were accessible for children's voluntary use were of high quality. Additional concerns relate to the limited genres teachers mentioned, the absence of boo k areas in most of the classrooms, and the wide variability across classrooms in reading opportunities. Results are discussed in terms of the resource constraints under which child care teachers operate and the need for teacher education and support in the area of children's literature.

The study of children's literature is a highly developed, long-standing field of scholarship (e.g., Bingham & Scholt, 1980; Huck, Hepler, Hickman, & Kiefer, 1997; Otten & Schmidt, 1989). One of the primary activities of scholars in this area is evaluating books along the dimensions of characterization, plot, theme, setting, style, point of view, creative use of language, and illustrations, and making judgments about literary quality. Although it is impossible to provide an objective definition of "quality" that can be applied to every book, terms and guidelines have been developed to help people distinguish the good and outstanding books for children from the mediocre (e.g., Bator, 1983; Haviland, 1973; Lukens, 1995; Nodelman, 1988). Evaluations of children's literature are made available to parents, teachers, librarians, and other interested groups through book reviews in journals such as The Horn Book Magazine and Bookbird, conferences, college courses, Web sites, annotated lists of recommended books, and announcements of awards (e.g., American Library Association, 2000; Bartle, 1997; Children's Book Council, 1992; Children's Literature Association, 1989; Gillespie & Naden, 1994). Adults, who are choosing books for children, can then consider the literary qualities of the book in conjunction with the developmental and individual characteristics of the child, as well as the child's preferences and probable response to the book (Huck et al., 1997; Raines & Isbell, 1994; Temple, Martinez, Yokota, & Naylor, 1998). Among the adults who regularly choose books for children are child care teachers. With the increasing number of dual-earner and single-parent families in many societies, large numbers of young children are involved in some form of out-of-home care (e.g., Scarr, 1998) and will thus depend on people who are not their parents for a portion of their literacy experiences. For some of these children, the child care setting need only supplement the rich literacy environment already present in the home. However, for those children whose parents may not have the interest, ability, resources, or time to provide such an environment, it will be their primary source of literacy experiences, and perhaps a resource for enriching the home.

The recent International Reading Association (IRA)/National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) position statement on developmentally appropriate literacy practices (IRA/NAEYC, 1998) highlights the crucial role of child care teachers in providing rich literacy environments for children from birth until entry into elementary school. Such environments include plentiful materials for reading and writing; responsive adults who read to children and talk about the meaning, parts, and sounds of language; and the integration of literacy props into play situations. …