For Librarians

Ruff Ruff READ!

We love to watch middle-graders emerge as fluent readers. No longer focused on decoding and sounding out every syllable, a strong reader basks in the glory of a great story.


But reading doesn’t come easy for everyone– it was a huge struggle for me and look at me now! (Okay you can’t REALLY look at me but I’m a true blue book lover and an author.)

Many non-readers must break through two barriers to become book lovers- Confidence and Practice. But practice… that old try and try again… can lead to frustration instead of success. And confidence? How can emergent readers build that? These days an amazing reading scheme is spreading across the country, one I wish had been around when I was consigned to the Sparrow reading group. Known by various names including RUFF, BARK, Puppy Dog Tales, Reading With Rover and R.E.A.D. it all comes down to reading to a dog!


Cute, right? Reading aloud to a dog takes reading anxiety away… and replaces it with cuddles. Gentle reading dogs can boost a fearful child’s social skills, too, as he or she interacts with a friendly, engaged animal often for the first time.


But these programs are MUCH more than cute. They really work and their effectiveness has been clinically proven. Corrine Serra Smith wrote her doctoral dissertation analyzing a Sit Stay Read program in urban Chicago and found “students in the program group… gaining 8 words per minute more on average, but up to 14 words per minute more in some cases, than students in a comparison group. This represents a 20 percent improvement in the program group over the comparison group in oral reading fluency gain.”  A twenty percent fluency improvement- from reading to a dog! This can be life changing, transforming a child who avoids books and stumbles over words to a confident reading expert, ready to take on other classroom challenges and excel in language arts, history and even math lessons. Research has also been conducted at the University of California at Davis where in only ten weeks they found a thirty percent reading fluency improvement among home schooled students. Kids there said “I feel relaxed when I am reading to a dog because I am having fun” and “I felt like I was reading out loud faster and better.”

800(photo courtesy of UC Davis)

What sort of dogs can participate? In some communities certified therapy animals who’ve undergone extensive obedience and other training are preferred but other places welcome any calm, well behaved (and clean!) pet. The point is a safe non-judgmental audience.

What sort of kids can participate? Obviously not every person is a dog lover but any child who’s not allergic or exceptionally fearful can benefit from reading to a dog. You need not be a struggling reader to enjoy sharing a story with a man’s best friend. This is definitely an “all join in” activity. School and libraries across the country are inviting dogs to join their reading lessons. The question isn’t whether reading to a dog is a good idea. It’s where’s the program nearest you– or how can you form a new program for your middle-grade readers.

Ready to start? The Reading With Rover site has some great tips for founding your own dog reading program. In the Washington, DC area, where I live, you can contact People Animals Love. They operate a successful pet therapy programs, including reading to dogs, all over the metro DC area. The New York Public Library supports the R.E.A.D. program. Reading to a dog has even gone international with a fantastic program in Staffordshire, England! In fact there are too many independent programs to list. To find an existing program near you I’d recommend you do a Google search with “read to a dog” and the name of your own community.

From the Mixed-Up Files can even help, with a list of our favorite “no dogs die” dog books. What canine companion can resist Because Of Winn-Dixie?

Arf! Arf! What are you waiting for? Hook up that leash, crack open your favorite book, and get reading!


What book would you read to a dog?

Tami Lewis Brown is a big book and dog lover. Her three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels love hearing her read from her works in progress and aspire to be profession reading therapy dogs themselves.

For Teachers/Librarians Page Update

It’s time once again for our semi-annual update on what’s new on MUF’s For Teachers/Librarians page!

We’ve added some great new resources and links to our regular categories. More on those in a moment, but first we want to tell you about two whole new sections just for you:  MUF Posts for Teachers and Librarians!  We’ve captured posts tagged for teachers and/or librarians in one convenient place.  The posts are organized by date, so “drop on by” any time to see what we’ve written with you in mind.

Here’s an overview of the other great new resources and links we’ve added: (you’ll find them marked with New! on the For Teachers/Librarians page):

BLOGS for middle-grade reading and writing
The Pirate Tree: Authors who explore books in the context of social justice themes, from violence to gender to race to poverty.

IRA Children’s Literature Special Interest Group Book Reviews:  Weekly reviews of books for grades K-12 organized by topic.

Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2012: Children’s Fiction

Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2012: Children’s Nonfiction

GENERAL RESOURCES for teaching and literature
Teaching Tolerance: From the Southern Poverty Law Center, in-depth and free resources and book lists on a wide range of social justice issues for educators. You’ll find an extensive list of classroom resources, as well as “What We’re Reading,” culturally aware book lists for educators in Teaching Tolerance Magazine.  Subscriptions to the magazine (print or digital editions) are free for educators.

As always, please help us build this page by suggesting other resources in the comments section.

A Chat With Librarian Rachel Shulman

Today we welcome Rachel Shulman to the Mixed-Up Files. Rachel is a youth services librarian at the Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire, Illinois. She oversees the library’s creative writing program for young authors, Write Away.

MUF: Welcome, Rachel!

RS: Thank you so much for having me!

MUF: So, what prompted the library to have a young writers’ group?

RS: We had a couple of patrons ask about a writing group, including one patron whose previous library offered a monthly writing group. I was involved in a couple of writing publications in college, so I was excited to foster a love of writing in others, and Write Away was born!

rachelshulmanMUF: Tell us about the kids who participate. How often does the group meet?

RS: Write Away meets once a month in the fall and spring. I hold one session for grades 3-4 and one for grades 5-8 each month. It’s not necessary to attend every month. I love it when the kids come back because that means they had fun writing (at least I hope they did!).

MUF: What goes on at a typical meeting?

RS: Each month in Write Away, we explore a different theme ranging from mysteries or fractured fairy tales to creating characters or overcoming writer’s block. We usually start with a warm-up such as MadLibs to get the creative juices flowing. Another popular warm-up is making up creative definitions for some of the weirdest, most obscure words I can find. One of my favorites is kerfuffle which means disorder or agitation. Then there is circumfloribus, meaning flowery or long-winded, which I like because that could describe my own writing at times!

After the warm-up, I introduce the theme with brainstorming or an activity. At this point we usually take a snack break to fuel up before the main writing event begins. The most important part of the session is the 20 minutes of dedicated (and quiet) writing time. This is when the kids can really push the limits of their imaginations. And I just love the sound of pencils on paper as they let their ideas flow onto the page.

Last but not least, anyone who wants to share what they have written so far with the group can do so. It’s not required, and I have to admit that when I was that age, I was way too shy to share my work in public. I’m always impressed by the writers who are brave enough to share and then even more impressed by what they write.

MUF: This program encourages imagination and fun. Do you think it has helped the kids develop their creative writing skills?

RS: Sometimes I have to explain that this is not a class and I won’t be grading anything. My goal is to offer a safe and encouraging environment for young writers to flex their creative muscles. I provide the spark or the prompt for the kids’ ideas and help them develop their creativity with praise and positive feedback. I think their writing improves because I give them the opportunity to practice writing whatever they want.

vapldMUF: Many of the young writers participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this past November. What was that experience like for them?

RS: NaNoWriMo is a daunting task to complete. It takes dedication and a lot of time to write a novel in 30 days, but we had quite a few winners in the Young Writers Program. The participants loved hearing from local authors who presented three programs at the library: how to get started (and keep going); individual feedback and encouragement halfway through the month; and finally our Thank Goodness It’s Over party focused on what it takes to be published. Many of the kids who participated exceeded their word count goals. They took on an intimidating challenge, and I think they surprised themselves most of all with how well they mastered that writing challenge.

MUF: The library printed a literary magazine containing the kids’ stories and poems. How did the kids react to getting “published?”

RS: The first annual Write Away! Literary Magazine was a hit! The library was able to publish a sophisticated book of 50 young authors’ creative writing that is now cataloged in the library’s collection and can be checked out.

litmagcover2012 Check out Write Away

My favorite feature, besides the amazing writing, is the ISBN. It makes it look so official. The literary magazine would not have been possible without the library’s Integrated Communications department which designed the book. All the published authors and their parents were impressed, as was I! The kids really loved seeing their writing in print, in a real book. They also enjoyed reading all the other stories and poems by their fellow authors.

MUF: Do any of the young writers aspire to be authors when they grow up?

RS: My Write Away kids are quite an ambitious bunch. There are several who want to become authors before they grow up! After all, when they write their first novel at age 12 during NaNoWriMo, the sky’s the limit. I will be able to say I knew them when!

MUF: What’s planned for this year? How do you see the program evolving in the future?

RS: We’ll be accepting submissions for the second annual Write Away! Literary Magazine starting March 11 until April 8. The Vernon Area Public Library is completing more exciting renovations this spring, so unfortunately that means the monthly Write Away sessions are on hiatus until the fall. Luckily, writers in grades 3-8 can send in their creative pieces to become published authors in just a few weeks time! I will be offering one-on-one editing sessions for any writers who want to polish their work before submitting it for publication. Aspiring authors can click here to find the dates and times on our event calendar.

We plan to offer NaNoWriMo programs again in November and publish an annual literary magazine every spring. Beyond that, I’ll just have to leave you with a quote from Daniel Pinkwater: “Read a lot. Write a lot. Have fun.”


Thank you, Rachel, for visiting the Mixed-Up Files and telling us about the Write Away program. If you have questions for Rachel, feel free to email her at The library’s website is:

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books 2011) and The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books, coming spring 2014).