Eric Litwin is passionate about getting children to “read with joy” at a young age.
As a teacher and a kid who struggled with learning to read, the bestselling author of the original four “Pete the Cat” books, “The Nuts” and “Groovy Joe,” knows that the single most important predictor of school success is reading.
“We can beat iPads. In fact, we have to beat iPads,” Litwin said in a recent phone interview. “Engagement is the key to making reading more fun than iPads. The more fun and interactivity you have with books, the more kids will learn to read.”
So far, kids and families all over the world are embracing Litwin’s literacy message.
Litwin’s books have sold more than 13 million copies, been translated into 17 languages, and won 26 literacy awards including a Theodor Geisel Seuss Honor Award.
What moved you to focus on early childhood literacy?
Litwin: When I was a teacher, one day I was walking down the hall and walked by the kindergarten classroom. The teacher said “Who wants to read?” and the whole classroom erupted in excitement. One little girl ran to the bookshelf and picked up a book and just held it like a baby. When I got to my third-grade class, I asked them if they’d like to read and they weren’t as excited. That got me to thinking “What happened between kindergarten and third grade that so many kids stopped loving reading?”
What do you think happens that makes kids not as excited to read as they get older?
Litwin: Interactivity is a big part. There are three things a child needs: 1. Reading and language foundation. Unfortunately, electronic devices and overall family “busy-ness” get in the way. Additionally, poverty is associated with lack of access to books.
2. Fun, meaningful and self-selected reading. Incredible things happen when reading joyfully. 3. Direct instruction that is child-focused. Every child learns differently and many schools buy reading programs with a formula that isn’t tailored to each child.
What is your next project?
Litwin: I’m working on a book that’s for parents, teachers and reading volunteers that takes complicated theories and ideas and makes them simple. Learning to read is complicated, but not confusing — it’s like making pancakes. There are reading ingredient — like words, understanding of punctuation and pronunciation. I’m basically taking theoretical ideas like emergent reading theory and boiling it down to pancakes.
You were at the Dispatch Home & Garden Show last year. Tell us what you have planned for this year.
Litwin: The shows are going to be fun — we will sing, dance and read together. The performances inspire children to read and love books. Last year, I loved looking at the gardens and enjoyed watching the children and families enjoy the gardens, as well. I’m delighted to come back.