Dumb, fun questions and family reading


by Joe Nathan, 4/18/08 • How do you make oil boil? (Add a b) What is the best thing to wear to a tea party? (A tea shirt) How many worms can you put in an empty can? (One. After that it is not empty). How do you make seven even? (Take away the “s”. What has four eyes but cannot see? (Mississippi) If you are now groaning, I apologize.

This week I’m departing from the usual discussion of educational issues to describe several wonderful, brightly illustrated inexpensive books that families, schools and kids (ages 4 to 6 or 7) will have lots of fun with.

Or, as one elementary teacher told me – “These are very entertaining, enjoyable, as well as educational.”
I’m referring to six books with titles like Gags and Giggles from A-Z, Slithery, Squirmy Jokes, Jumpin’ Jungle Jokes, Laugh out Loud Jokes, Funny Bunny Jokes and School Time Riddles ‘n’ Giggles. They are written by Diane Namm, published by Sterling, and cost $3.95 each. Cheap!

Normally I do not use this column to promote commercial products. But these delightful books (starting with Gags and Giggles from A-Z, and Slithery Squirmy Jokes, which supplied the questions above) seem so useful and entertaining that I am departing from the usual column. I can see a family having fun for weeks with these books, each of which cost less than a single movie ticket or rental. And the books will be around, long after you’ve forgotten all or most of a movie.

If you’ve read this far, you don’t have to be convinced of the importance of families reading together. This, incidentally, can continue into teenage years.

Our family read classic mystery or adventure books, like Tom Sawyer, Kidnapped, or one of the Harry Potter books a few times a week, until our youngsters were 13 or 14. Sometimes the adults picked the books, sometimes the kids did it. We spent 10-15 minutes and passed the book around: each of us reading a page or two. If we want youngsters to value reading, we won’t just talk about it…we’ll do it

This of course is NOT instead of working and playing on a computer, which many kids and adults love. Reading together can, and I think SHOULD be a part of what families do. Adults will need to take the lead on this, Youngsters almost never will initiate a family reading time.

Sometimes there will be resistance. But it the time is relatively brief (10-15 minutes), the books are entertaining, and the youngsters are allowed to help select the books, it can and will work.

So I leave you with a few questions: Why don’t bananas get lonely? (They go around in bunches). What appears once in a second, twice in a week, and once in a year? (the letter E). What’s a bunny’s favorite music? (hip-hop). These, and other dumb but entertaining questions from Diane Namm can be part of your family’s reading time.

Joe Nathan, jnathan@umn.edu, directs the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute. He has been an urban public school teacher and administrator.