We're so excited to feature Terry Doherty this week here on THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS blog. Terry is the mastermind behind The Reading Tub and a true sweetheart in our eyes!
Here is her bio:
In 2001, Terry traded in her nearly 20-year career in government service for the all-important job of being Mom. The flexibility of being a Stay-at-Home-Mom allowed Terry to pursue her lifelong vocation for reading and literacy. Inspired by the time she spent reading with her daughter, she founded The Reading Tub, Inc. in 2003. Her purpose is clear: make it easy for families to create a positive reading environment at home, find great books (that don't involve TV or movie characters) and make it accessible to EVERYONE! Terry, has Bachelors of Art degree in English, and also holds a Masters of Science in Strategic Intelligence. She was a librarian's assistant in college, and DESPERATELY wanted to be a librarian ... but fate intervened. Instead, she is celebrating her 20th wedding anniversary this year and has a wonderful 8-year-old daughter. They live in Charlottesville, VA, in the shadow of Monticello, home of the man who said "I cannot live without books." (President Thomas Jefferson)
In addition to running The Reading Tub, Terry organizes the super-star cast for Share a Story-Shape a Future, a blog tour for literacy; writes a monthly column called "Prompt Ideas" for the PBS Parents Booklights blog; and is the Director of Social Media for the Mom's Choice Award.
TXS: The Reading Tub is so impressive, organized, giving...okay, I could go on and on. Can you please tell us a little bit about what The Reading Tub is and what your goal for it is?
TD: The Reading Tub(r) and our companion blog sites are the online venues that help us promote family literacy. Our tag line is "We bring reading home to families." The website offers in-depth profiles of children's books for audiences from infant to teen, as well as articles and links to literacy tips and tools. Over the last six years, the Reading Tub(r) has evolved to be more than just an online review catalog, as we now have several community-based projects, including a school partnership program and Share a Story-Shape a Future, a blog tour for literacy.
I look at The Reading Tub as a facilitator for reading. We give families the tools that help them connect kids with books that engage them as people AND readers; and we donate hundreds of books each year to nonprofits and schools that get the books to at-risk readers and readers-in-need (i.e., students failing reading benchmarks for their grade level and/or children ith no reading material at home).
As it has continued to grow - particularly in the last two years - my goal is to become the literacy outreach for a company or organization. I love what we do, but we can't grow much more without a bigger infrastructure.
TXS: What inspired you to start The Reading Tub, and how has your vision changed since its inception?
TD: I have the honor of being a stay-at-home mom, so my days were filled enjoying my daughter. Catherine has always been an early riser, so while my husband and I were getting ready for the day in those early days, she would watch Between the Lions. [I know, bad mom putting her infant/toddler daughter in front of the TV!] Well, she LOVED that show (so did I, to be honest). It was the ONLY show she would actually watch and not talk through or walk away from.
The other thing about being home was that we could read together. We always read at least one book before every nap and at bedtime. When Catherine was about a year old, we started making weekly trips to the library. At first, I picked all the books, but after a couple of clunkers, I let her start picking books from the board-book bin. Well, even with THOSE books there were clunkers. These are the books that we would sit to read and, invariably, Catherine would close the book and say "No more, Mama." Sometimes we'd get through it on a second or third attempt, but the girl knew what she liked and what she didn't.
I was floored. These were books she spent TONS of time exploring at the library, best-selling childrens books, award-winning books, books she had seen on TV. "No more, Mama." So one day when I was expressing my frustration about the whole process, my sister-in-law suggested I start a website. "Parents and teachers would love it. They would love to have a place to go to find out what the audience thinks." And the rest, as they say, is history.
The Reading Tub started out 6 years ago as a hobby. It was a way to help a new mom (I had an 18-month old at the time) stretch herself by doing what she loved (reading) and learning something new (how to build a website). It was going to be a book review website, but when authors found us and started sending us books, I shifted gears a little bit and turned it into a full-blown nonprofit and created a way to get the books we were receiving to readers in need. Now, I see our primary function as one of facilitating access to books. Those with access to computers can find in-depth profiles of nearly 1,750 books. For those who don't have a computer - or books - we work with organizations and schools to get reading material where it's needed.
TXS: What is the biggest surprise you've had since you started The Reading Tub?
TD: The first surprise was that three months after we made the website public - basically "flipped the switch," authors found us and wanted to send us books. I was floored, given that I knew nothing about SEO or indexes or keywords .... none of that.
I guess my other big surprise is the reaction we sometimes get for reviews. As a rule, we don't ask for books, We read the books we own, go to the library, and whatever publishers and authors send us. We read EVERYTHING sent to us, though we don't guarantee a review. We go to great lengths to try to match a book with the audience's interest because I think that helps with a book's reception. There are all kinds of books, and we want to include as broad a variety as we can, and sometimes that means a reviewer needs to read something outside their comfort zone. Still, we want a balanced profile, even for books that may not match a reviewer's taste. We require our reviewers to include at least one positive. Authors pour their hearts into their work, and they deserve some positive feedback. That said, I have been threatened personally, we have had people tell us they would sue us for slander ... Thankfully it hasn't happened a lot, but I am always floored at the naivete (?) that if you ask someone to read your book that they WILL like it as much as you do.
TXS: How do you think reading for kids has changed over the years. People talk so much about kids needing to share their attention with texting, TV, and video games. Is the challenge greater now for getting kids to read?
TD: Wow, great question! First, I think kids read more than they like to admit. If you're reading the instructions on how to play an online arcade game, you're reading. If you're sending an IM to your BFF U R reading (and writing). If you are trying to figure out how to hack a video game to get to the next level ... yep. You're reading. It doesn't look like that stereotypical sit-with-book-in-hand, but it is reading. Do I wish that more kids would spend time exploring books rather than racking up the screen time (television or computer)? Absolutely. Even my daughter (8YO) who loves to read sometimes whines about it.
While I understand the Academy of Pediatrics' position about "no TV before age 3," I don't think it is realistic or practical. For one thing, kids see parents using their "screens" all the time ... for games, email, Internet searches. It is how we collect, process, and use information. Even our pediatrician uses a tablet during our visits. As a society, I think we are all becoming visual learners. Is that good? I don't know, it's just different. Reading has changed because there are so many more options available. "Screen time" is part of everyday life. Still, as a parent I can't say "oh well, it's PBS Kids, so she can watch/play for a couple of hours." While we prefer our daughter has active (v. passive) screen time, we still set limits.
The good news is that because there are so many other ways that kids learn through print these days, I think they may actually "get" how important reading fairly quickly. That said, it is still up to the adult caregivers to make sure there is balance.We need to be just as vigilant about screen time as we are about a steady diet of fried foods and sweets.
TXS: What can others do to help with the success and vision of The Reading Tub (including readers, writers, parents)? How can we help you reach your goal to be a first-stop for people who want to help kids reach their full potential and become successful readers?
TD: Quite frankly, the first thing folks can do is donate. We are a 100% volunteer organization - including me. Any/all money we get goes to funding our work, so while we have HUNDREDS of books, without the money to pay for shipping, we can't get them to readers in need consistently. They just sit on shelves in my office. We don't charge a donation fee for book reviews, but we do have a donation requirement for our Author Showcase. Our volunteers do A LOT of work to put those together, so we do have a nominal donation for that service. [http://www.thereadingtub.com/featured_authors.asp]
I can't say enough thank-yous to our volunteers, especially the folks who read and review books for us. In addition to the books that are ready to go to at-risk readers, we have about 200 books that we need reviewed. Our review process is a little different in that we always include the target audience's opinion. Finding families to read picture books and easy readers is fairly easy because Mom and Dad are doing the reading. For chapter books, though, it is harder. Once kids can read independently, the process gets "split." Adults read the book and write a review and the pre-teens/teens add their thoughts in their own words. So we have chapter books that need both sets of reviewers ... and we have so much fantasy our existing pool of fantasy lovers have said "enough." So I said all that to say we can always use some fresh perspectives.
I would also love to build out the Resources section of our website. One day, I'd love to have an interactive tool that helps people understand reading levels and explains technical jargon in a family-friendly way. For now, I'd be happy with adding some more articles - including personal stories - about becoming a reader, ways to help young children become successful readers, and working with struggling readers, essentially some "what worked for me" type information.
TXS: If you could make a wish for kids and reading in the future, what would it be?
TD: Wow ~ ending with a toughie. My wish would be that every child receives six new books when they are born: a cloth book, two board books, two picture books, and an easy reader. Having reading material at home is the pivotal determinant for whether or not a child becomes a successful reader. Parents tend to treasure the gifts their newborn receives, and even if they aren't readers themselves, they would know they have something special; and that feeling would be passed down to their child from day one.
TXS: Thank you, Terry!
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