Cultivating Understanding Through Children’s Books 

As the state, country, and world contend both with the overrepresentation of Black Americans among those dying from COVID-19, among those incarcerated for non-violent crimes, and among those experiencing violence from law enforcement officers, we are all reeling. The ongoing global response—through protests, boycotts, and on social media—remind us at PRIME TIME that we cannot forget what children are experiencing at this moment in time.  

 There are the personal experiences of children like the 6-year-old daughter of George Floyd, who have lost a father at the hands of police officers. There are the indirect, though still significant experiences of children listening to the news in the background, overhearing adult conversations, or marching in the streets with their parents. These experiences call for direct and often difficult conversations like those that are at the heart of PRIME TIME Family Reading programs. 

Reading and discussing quality children’s books and the humanities themes found within them, together—parent/caregiver and child—can provide a launching point for conversations that cultivate understanding. Over the coming weeks, PRIME TIME will be sharing titles from our award-winning book series on our Facebook page, along with guiding questions to support meaningful conversations. We hope that you will join us in those conversations online, and, more importantly, at home. We offer up the following PRIME TIME titles and themes to get the conversation started. 

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, is the classic story of The Three Little Pigs but told from the perspective of Alexander T. Wolf. While baking a chocolate cake for his grandmother’s birthday, our protagonist realizes that he is out of sugar and decides to see if his neighbors might loan him someUnfortunately, he is suffering from a cold, and accidentally blows the first and second Little Pigs houses down with a powerful sneeze. Because the Little Pigs had died in the destruction, Wolf decides to eat them in order to not let a “perfectly good ham dinner go to waste.” By the time he gets to the third Little Pigs house (which was made of bricks), Wolf is treated rudely when asking for a cup of sugar. Wolf is provoked into a sneezing rage. The third Little Pig reports Wolf to the police and is sentenced to ten millenniums in prison.  

Ask a child 

If you were a judge in a court, would you find the wolf guilty? Why or why not? What in his story would make you believe him or not believe him? 

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in Peoples Ears by Verna Aardema

In this origin story, the mosquito lies to a lizard, who puts sticks in his ears and ends up frightening another animal, which down a long line causes a panic. In the end, an owlet is killed and the owl is too sad to wake the sun until the animals hold court and find out who is responsible. The mosquito is eventually found out, but it hides in order to escape punishment. So now it constantly buzzes in people’s ears to find out if everyone is still angry at it.   

Ask a child: 

Who do you think was really to blame for the sun’s not rising? Whom did the animals think was to blame? Do you think they were right? Why or why not? If you were on a jury and all the animals were arrested for the crime, which one (or ones?) would you find guilty? Why? 

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman 

Grace loves stories; especially acting them out. So when her teacher tells the class that they will be performing a play about Peter Pan, she jumps at the chance to take on the leading role. But her classmates tell her she can’t play the role because she doesn’t look like Peter Pan. This doesn’t sit well with determined Grace, who, with the support of her family and a spark of inspiration from an actress who plays roles that don’t look like her, pushes past the judgments of her peers.  

Ask a child: 

Have you ever been told you can’t do something because of the way you look? How did that make you feel? What would you do differently if you had the chance to relive that experience?  

Everett Anderson’s Goodbye by Lucille Clifton 

The winner of the 1984 Coretta Scott King Author Award, Everett Anderson’s Goodbye tells the story of a young Black American boy who is trying to come to grips with his father’s death. Everett moves through a range of emotions—denial, anger, despair—before coming to accept the loss of his father. The illustrations and spare text capture the vivid emotions tied to grief, and also the difficulty with articulating those emotions through language. 

Ask a child: 

This is a sad book. Did you like it? Do you prefer sad books or happy ones? Why do you think authors write sad books?  

Why does Everett say he doesn’t love his family or candy or Santa Claus or his mother anymore? Does he mean it? 

Click, Clack, Moo:  Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin 

After finding an old typewriter in the barn, a group of cows begin typing letters to their farmer to inform him that they are dissatisfied with their working conditions (the barn is cold and they would like electric blankets). The farmer refuses to address their demands. Later, he finds another letter on the barn door that says, “Sorry. We’re closed. No milk today.” With “duck” acting as mediator, the two parties eventually reach a compromise. Unfortunately for the farmer, another group of animals finds the typewriter and follows the lead of the cows.  

Ask a child: 

Suppose you got to vote. Whose side would you be on in this story—the farmer’s side or the cows’ side? Why? 

Does someone always have to lose in a conflict like this, and does someone have to win, or can both sides win? Can both sides lose? Or think about it this way: can the cows and chickens prosper without the farmer? Can the farmer prosper without the cows and chickens? 

Why do you think this story is told through animals rather than people? Does this type of incident happen in the world of people? Can you think of any current examples?  

 


About PRIME TIME

Created by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (LEH) in 1991, PRIME TIME, Inc. (PTI) offers a set of unique, humanities-focused, and outcomes-based programs designed to engage, support and educate underserved children and families. PRIME TIME programs are proven to generate long-term improvements in family engagement and student academic achievement. Programs include family reading and discussion programs, teacher professional development workshops, and head start services. PRIME TIME programs aim to create communities in which children and their families develop into self-directed, self-motivated life long learners who are eager to absorb the world around them through literature, questioning/inquiry, and meaningful interaction with others.

  • Mission

    The mission of PRIME TIME is to create the precondition for future learning among economically and educationally vulnerable families.

  • Vision

    Creating a literate society where a quality humanities education is accessible to all.

Impact

PRIME TIME programs aim to create communities in which children and their families develop into self-directed, self-motivated learners who are eager to absorb the world around them through literature, questioning/inquiry, and meaningful interaction with others.


  • Increase reading frequency
  • Improve reading attitudes and behaviors
  • Increase library patronage and parental engagement
  • Increase key cognitive skills
  • Increase vocabulary
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Families Served

“My child doesn’t speak in school, but actually raise her hand & answered questions here. WOW! She has less anxiety during reading because PRIME TIME made it fun.”Parent from University Park Library, Florida

2017-18 Head Start Early Learning Outcomes

PTI believes that all children can learn, and we are committed to doing what it takes to help each child thrive. During its 2017-18 school year, PRIME TIME Head Start set an early learning objective focused on supporting school readiness for students. A progress measure for that objective aimed for 35% of transitioning children achieving a mastery level score in each domain measured by Teaching Strategies Gold by the 3rd quarter of the year.

47% of transitioning children achieved mastery (scored 5.86 or above) in Social-Emotional/Active Learning and Play, 41% achieved mastery (scored 5.20 or above) in Language/Literacy, and 38% achieved mastery (scored 5.50 or above) in Math/Science.  The progress measure of 35% was exceeded in all three domains.

Click here for more information.

2016 Testing Results

ReNEW Charter Schools in New Orleans recently shared a study comparing the scores of students who participated in PRIME TIME Family Reading programs versus those of non-PRIME TIME participants.

The 2015-16 report shows that students who attended PRIME TIME outperformed their peers on two literacy assessments of students’ language and early reading and writing behaviors. Additionally, teachers who participated in PRIME TIME also benefited from the program. Students of the teachers who participated as PRIME TIME facilitators or coordinators in 2015-16 scored 10% above school average in the STEP end-of-year mastery of print awareness objectives.

Click here to download the report.

Ten Year Impact Study

Stemming the Tide of Inter-generational Illiteracy: A Ten-Year Impact Study of PRIME TIME FAMILY READING TIME, is a longitudinal analysis of the program’s impact on student achievement. The study concludes that students who participate in the PRIME TIME program during their early elementary years, first through fourth grades, performed at a higher level on grade level content areas of LEAP, iLEAP, and GEE.

The study compares statewide-standardized test scores of PRIME TIME participants to a control group and offers statistical evidence that PRIME TIME’s preemptive approach to addressing the problem of inter-generational illiteracy can significantly impact and improve student learning.

Click here to download report.

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2017: Best Practices Award

Awarded by the Library of Congress for implementation of best practices of literacy promotion.

2003: Advancement of Literacy Award

Winner of the National Public Library Association’s Advancement of Literacy award for making a significant contribution to adult literacy.

2000: Outstanding Program of the Year

Honored by the National Federation of State Humanities Councils as the outstanding program of the year.

2000: Coming Up Taller Award

Winner of the prestigious Coming Up Taller award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.