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5 Bookish Ways to Boost Kids' Twenty-First Century Literacy | Barefoot Books

Do you ever wonder how you’ll keep up with our ever-changing, information-saturated world? How you’ll teach the children in your life to navigate its twists and turns? How they will gain the skills they’ll need to thrive in our complex present and uncertain future?

We do, too. Through recent chats with teachers, we’ve discovered that encouraging your children or students to read nonfiction is an effective way to prepare them for our brave new world. In addition to opening “possibilities” for children, nonfiction builds skills vital to twenty-first century literacy, particularly the ability to teach themselves. “The ability to discover information and tools for yourself,” as technology teacher Vanessa Vosburg explains, “is absolutely vital in our constantly-changing world.”

Whether you’ve got an avid or reluctant reader on your hands, it’s easier than ever to find great nonfiction books your children or students will love, thanks to the recent boom in children’s nonfiction publishing. So help give him or her a headstart on developing twenty-first century literacy by following these easy tips:

  • Find nonfiction books that “specifically relate to his or her interests,” Ms. Vosburg says. “The topic could be a traditional academic area, such as a scientific book about animals, or just something the child is passionate about, such as a favorite movie or music group.”
  • Don’t shy away from nonfiction picture books, Ms. Vobsurg suggests, as they “grab kids’ attention”—even the littlest ones!
  • “Encourage your children or students to share any interesting facts they learn while reading,” Ms. Vosburg says. “Ask them questions about the topic. Having kids retell parts of books to you will help build their paraphrasing skills and cement their understanding of the material.” It’ll also give you an opportunity to ask discussion-starting follow-up questions. The more practice kids gain discussing topics that interest them now, the more capable they’ll be as adults of participating in the conversations that will shape our world’s future.

5 Bookish Ways to Boost Kids' Twenty-First Century Literacy | Barefoot Books

  • Read intentionally—and interactively! Walk your children or students through how to navigate a print nonfiction book, from the Table of Contents to the Index and everything in between. Ask them how the book’s organization makes the topic easier to understand, as in Wonderful Words—or, as in our World Atlas, even adds meaning (Find out how here!). Grab multiple pens in various colors and index cards; in one color, write each of the book’s main ideas or major sections on a different index card; then, in a different color, write each individual section’s main ideas on a different index card. Work your way through the book like this, then lay all the cards out on the floor. What can you see now about how the author constructed the argument or narrative? Then grab all the cards and toss them in the air! Rearrange them at random on the floor and take another look. How does reordering the cards show new relationships between the ideas? Then, imagine that you’ve just Googled a keyword related to this topic; all the cards on your floor represent a small fraction of the different webpages that appear in the search results—and they may be buried under hundreds of less reliable, relevant or interesting results. How would you find the pages you need? How would you know which ones to read? Which is most important? Which is most relevant? Finally, without referencing the book, try to reorder the cards to reconstruct the book’s main narrative or argument. How does this help you think about the way you gather, analyze and synthesize information online?5 Bookish Ways to Boost Kids' Twenty-First Century Literacy | Barefoot Books
  • Help your child or student follow her interests from one medium to another. If she’s already adept at navigating a print nonfiction book, help her research the same topic online, at the library, even on YouTube or Netflix. It may sound counterintuitive, but reviewing the same or similar content on a different platform—such as reading our print World Atlas and then exploring the mobile and tablet app—opens up new avenues of understanding. By interacting with a topic on more than one medium, you’ll not just learn new facts about the topic, but you’ll begin to see how authors have to structure their text differently on different media platforms, and how that difference impacts what you learn from the text as the reader.

However you incorporate nonfiction into your children or students’ reading routines, keep it fun! As media theorist Henry Jenkins explains, “In a hunting society, children learn by playing with bows and arrows. In an information society, they learn to play with information.” So give them children’s nonfiction, and let them play! With strong twenty-first century skills, your children or students will find today’s fast-paced, information-saturated world an endless source not of worry, but of wonder. Empowered by children’s nonfiction, they’ll keep on teaching themselves, learning and adapting and thriving, all throughout their lives.


How Does Children's Nonfiction Build Twenty-First Century Literacy? | Barefoot Books

“What does print nonfiction do for children that a web or mobile resource can’t?”

This question concluded our previous post about children’s nonfiction, in which we chatted with three teachers about why nonfiction is great for kids. Among other things, we learned from elementary and middle school technology teacher Vanessa Vosburg that children’s print and digital nonfiction work together to build vital twenty-first century literacies.

What is twenty-first century literacy?

Ms. Vosburg defines twenty-first century literacy as the ability to participate in and contribute to our information society. “It’s not just creating a PowerPoint based on information you’ve read about animals,” she says. “It’s starting a discussion on the topic, noticing trends and patterns. It’s understanding why those patterns are important and what they mean in the big picture.”

“Previously,” she explains, “elementary school students would memorize facts, like the fact that polar bears live in the Arctic and penguins in the Antarctic. Now, we’re teaching children to participate in discussions and use their innate reasoning skills to understand why a polar bear lives in the Arctic, and why that fact is relevant to their lives.”

How Does Children's Nonfiction Build Twenty-First Century Literacy? | Barefoot Books

Developing twenty-first century literacy is thus as complex a goal as our twenty-first century world. But, parents and teachers: don’t feel overwhelmed! Children’s print nonfiction lays a strong foundation on which kids can build the twenty-first century skills they need to succeed in school—and the rest of their lives.

Reading print nonfiction teaches children “how to teach themselves.”

When asked which foundational twenty-first century skill is most important for children to learn, Ms. Vosburg says, “I want my students to know how to teach themselves.”

So Ms. Vosburg prioritizes showing her students how to “use their computers for research, especially finding reliable sources and incorporating information from multiple sources,” she says. It’s no easy task. “For children, researching a topic online can be overwhelming,” she explains. “There’s so much information readily available in our digital age that narrowing down where to look and then deciphering a digital source can frustrate students, especially younger children. Not only do they need to comprehend the material, but they also need to judge whether or not a website can be trusted as a reliable source. But I’ve found that the wider the variety of nonfiction children have read, the easier it is for them to grasp these skills. Early exposure to nonfiction empowers children to find answers to their own questions for themselves.”

How Does Children's Nonfiction Build Twenty-First Century Literacy? | Barefoot Books

One way reading nonfiction empowers children is by teaching them how information is structured. A novel’s structure is emotional and story-driven; a website or app’s information architecture is intuitive and user experience-centric; but one can argue that a print nonfiction book’s structure is rational, designed to present content in a logical way. Often, a book begins with an introduction that provides context for the argument and ends with an epilogue that recaps the argument and its importance. In between, chapters discuss related, but distinct topics, which logically progress from beginning to end.

For example, our World Atlas begins with three introductory spreads that provide context: “The Story of Our Planet” offers geological context; “Mapping the World,” historical context; and “The Oceans and Continents of the World,” geographic context. The Atlas ends with a glossary that reinforces key terms used throughout the text. Between, distinct spreads feature each region of the globe, moving from oceans to land mass, with Oceania as a transitionary region. Each spread includes the same categories of information—“Physical Features,” “Climate and Weather,” “Natural Resources,” and so on. The spreads move in a logical order from region to region from beginning to end. And the structure itself has meaning: the ocean-to-land organization emphasizes the fact that Earth’s five oceans, despite their lack of permanent human civilization, are just as diverse and important as the seven continents.

How Does Children's Nonfiction Build Twenty-First Century Literacy? | Barefoot Books

Reading a nonfiction book like the World Atlas or Wonderful Words, Ms. Vosburg says, “gives children an overarching view of how information and themes are structured. Instead of seeing facts in isolation—which is easy—they can see how each fact ties into the next, how larger topics flow together and how all the parts combine into the whole.” Children who understand how facts relate to each other and to larger concepts will have greater success doing Internet research, where one keyword search leads down a rabbit hole into a network of diverging, overlapping and intersecting tunnels. When children understand how one small fact can contribute to a larger argument or narrative, they can more readily identify which of the dozen scattered scraps of information they’ve found is most important, and can more effectively combine those scraps into one holistic whole.

As it provides this “big-picture view” of information, Ms. Vosburg explains, reading nonfiction helps children learn to think for themselves. Children who read nonfiction find a larger realm of understanding open before them: they can use their “critical thinking skills to form their own opinions about the information presented and see how it relates to themselves,” Ms. Vosburg says.

Moreover, reading nonfiction helps children use critical thinking skills to identify reliable sources online. “Being exposed early to print nonfiction material increases a child’s understanding of the structure, language and style of digital nonfiction,” Ms. Vosburg says. Since a logical argument or unbiased historical account has the same basic characteristics in any medium, a child who is familiar with print nonfiction will be more likely to gravitate toward logical, unbiased information online. Thus, reading nonfiction in elementary school helps children “overcome many of the common struggles they have with independent research in middle and high school,” Ms. Vosburg says—and throughout the rest of their lives.

Ready to wield the power of children’s nonfiction to empower the kids in your life to build twenty-first century skills? Keep your eyes open for our next post on nonfiction—Ms. Vosburg will share her top tips. You won’t want to miss it!



Types of Literacy and Why You Should Care | Emotional and Cultural Literacy | Barefoot BooksWhen you hear the word “literacy” what comes to mind?

Most likely, books and the ability to read and write. This type of “book” literacy is hugely important, as we know, but as much as we want our children to be book literate and academically successful, we are also concerned about our children’s character development. What kind of people will they grow up to be? We want them to be caring and socially conscious citizens of the world: self-confident, curious and compassionate.

This is where two additional types of literacy come in: emotional literacy and cultural literacy. We’ve pulled together a list of books that will help you cultivate cultural literacy and a list of books that foster emotional literacy. Many of the books on these lists support both.

And, of course, reading these books with your kids will support “book” literacy as well!

Cultural Literacy and Books to Help

Research shows that children often draw incorrect conclusions about other cultures, and that it’s important for adults to gently correct such misconceptions and challenge stereotypes through open conversation. Sharing diverse stories like these from around the world is a great way to start a conversation about diversity.

My Granny Went to Market (ages 3-7)
This rhyming story will take young readers on an adventure to different countries while teaching them to count along the way.

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (ages 3-7)
Follow four children from different countries, each going through their early morning routine and getting ready for school. See the different ways of life in Europe, Africa, India and China.

Off We Go To Mexico | Barefoot BooksOff We Go to Mexico (ages 4-10)
Trek to native villages and sing and dance to the music of Mariachi bands. Along the way, you can learn Spanish words and phrases and discover Mexican culture. (Also available in Spanish!)

We’re Sailing Down the Nile (ages 4-10)
Set sail along the mighty Nile River. The rhyming story is followed by eleven pages full of educational information about ancient Egypt, gods and goddesses, a helpful map, and much more.

We All Went on Safari (ages 4-10)
Set out on a counting journey through the grasslands of Tanzania. The lively, rhyming text is accompanied by an illustrated guide to counting in Swahili, a map, notes about animals, and interesting facts about Tanzania and the Maasai people. (Spanish and French formats available!)

The Barefoot Book of Jewish Tales (ages 7+)
This engaging collection includes eight delightful tales from the Jewish tradition. Each story has been chosen for its appeal to families and each has a simple — yet powerful — message.

The Barefoot Book of Buddhist Tales (ages 6+)
Explore numerous tales from the folk traditions of countries including India, China, Japan and Tibet. This is a collection of enthralling stories illustrates various important aspects of Buddhist thought.

The Great Race (ages 4-9)
Race with the animals of the Zodiac as they compete to have the years of the Chinese calendar named after them. The excitement-filled story is followed by notes on the Chinese calendar, important Chinese holidays, and a chart outlining the animal signs based on birth years.

Lin Yi's Lantern | Barefoot BooksLin Yi’s Lantern (ages 5-9)
This heartwarming story shows the rewards of putting others first, and includes educational notes at the end about the Chinese moon festival, life in rural China, and the legend of the moon fairy.

Mama Panya’s Pancakes (ages 4-10)
On market day, Mama Panya’s son Adika invites everyone he sees to a pancake dinner. How will Mama Panya ever feed them all? This clever and heartwarming story about Kenyan village life teaches the importance of sharing, even when you have little to give.

Barefoot Books World Atlas (all ages)
This is the atlas for twenty-first-century readers. It’s packed with information about the way in which communities and cultures around the world have been shaped by their local environments, and it looks at the ideas and initiatives that are shaping the future.

The Barefoot World Atlas app for iPad is also available.

Learn more about our World Cultures books and take the kids in your life on an imaginary journey around the world!

Emotional Literacy and Books to Help

Through books and thoughtful discussions, we can help children feel confident in their unique identities, identify and express their feelings, and develop empathy towards others. Like reading, math or science, emotional literacy can be taught, but it’s not a quick and easy process. This area needs to be addressed regularly, like any other academic area we care about.

Ruby’s Baby Brother (ages 3-7)
Ruby’s mom is having a baby, but Ruby is not very happy about it. When baby
Leon comes along, will she change her mind about having a baby brother? (Available in Spanish!)

Ruby's Sleepover | Barefoot BooksRuby’s Sleepover (ages 3-7)
Ruby and Mai are camping out in the backyard. As the night draws in, all sorts of scary characters head towards their tent. Luckily, Ruby has some magical objects in her backpack, but will they be enough to keep the girls safe and fight their fears?

Emily’s Tiger (ages 3-7)
This little girl has a problem with her temper, and every time she gets angry she turns into quite the little tiger. This quirky picture book addresses behavioral issues with humor and an emphasis on intergenerational relationships.

Herb the Vegetarian Dragon (ages 4-10)
Herb is captured by the castle’s knights in armor. Treacherous Meathook and his dragon cronies will only help if Herb, a vegetarian, agrees to eat meat. Will he give in to their blackmail and bullying?

The Boy Who Grew Flowers (ages 4-10)
Climb to the top of Lonesome Mountain to meet a very special boy named Rink — every full moon, he grows flowers all over his body. This heartwarming story celebrates difference and friendship, as Rink meets a girl with her own secret, and they discover ways to help each other.

Chandra’s Magic Light (ages 6-10)
A heartwarming story set in Nepal of two resourceful sisters who bring the safety of solar-powered light to their family. This story provides an introduction to Nepali village culture, environmental science and feminism.

The Girl with the Brave Heart | Barefoot BooksThe Girl with a Brave Heart (ages 4-10)
Shiraz, a kindhearted young girl growing up in Tehran, has a miserable life at home with her stepmother and stepsister, who treat her like a servant. When the wind blows Shiraz’s ball of wool into the garden next door, she spends the day helping and caring for the old lady who lives there, with miraculous results.

Lola’s Fandango (ages 4-10)
Lola is a young Spanish girl in awe of her glamorous older sister. However, she discovers her own talent and duende, or spirit, through secret fandango lessons from her father. The text is infused with the rhythms, movements and sounds of the dance.

Learn more about our books that boost Social Emotional Learning.

 

Ready to read around the world? Join our Summer Reading Club!


One of my favorite things about working on Chandra’s Magic Light has been learning so much about Nepal. We tried to capture the essence of this incredible country while also telling a compelling story about two resourceful big sisters working together to help their sick baby brother. We did a lot of research to integrate the culture, beauty, and some of the challenges facing Nepali people today into this book. Here are some Nepali details in Chandra’s Magic Light:


2013 was an action-packed year for us at Barefoot Books. Here are some media highlights:


Boston Children’s Hospital provides health care for children who come from all over the world to be treated by its world class medical professionals. In addition to top-rate medical care, the young patients at the hospital have access to a team of professional artists or Artists-in-Residence to help them express their feelings.


Next month, our Barefoot World Atlas app turns one year old. What a year it has been! The app has received phenomenal acclaim from children, adults, and mainstream media alike. It’s now available in English, Spanish, Catalan and French with more languages available soon. We have won a whole passel of awards and recognition, including Time Magazine’s Top 25 Apps for Kids, Apple® Editor’s Choice, and even Apple® App of the Week. Wired calls it “tactile, responsive, immersive, and educational.” And we couldn’t agree more!


Today as I was reflecting on the success of the Barefoot World Atlas app, I realized that the book that started it all, the Barefoot Books World Atlas has been out for over a year. Happy birthday, BBWA! I always love noticing little mistakes in movies and catching typos in everyday life, so I’d like to celebrate the atlas’s birthday by sharing some of my favorite editorial mishaps that almost made it into the published book.


The Summer Olympics, with the athletes’ dramatic personal stories, unbelievable athletic prowess and excitement about thousands of people from hundreds of countries unified through sport, inspire children’s imaginations like no other global event. But the Olympics aren’t just about watching amazing athletes and rooting for your favorites. It’s also a great opportunity to turn children onto world culture and geography.


Every year, nearly two billion people observe Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, and tonight just so happens to mark the beginning of this holy time for Muslims. Ramadan is a time of reflection and prayer, intended to remind devotees about the virtues of patience, spirituality, humility and submission  to Allah. To mark this important month, here are some facts from The Barefoot Books World Atlas and Barefoot World Atlas app about famous Islamic holy sites: