Early Childhood Today: DeAnna, what books have you found to be particularly effective in helping children explore different character traits?

DeAnna Laverick: Some of my favorites include The Ugly Duckling (treating others with kindness); The Quiltmaker's Gift (generosity); The Story of Ruby Bridges (courage and bravery); Strega Nona (following rules); Verdi (respecting others); Swimmy (cooperation and teamwork); Zella, Zack, and Zodiac (helping others); My Many Colored Days (feelings); Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters (kindness); A Bad case of Stripes (being yourself and avoiding peer pressure); and The Land of Many Colors and What If the Zebras Lost Their Stripes? (getting along with others and appreciating diversity).

ECT: Do you have some special strategies for sharing them with children?

Laverick: We discuss the character traits of the characters in the stories from different perspectives (positive and negative); brainstorm ideas for changing the story to apply it to their own experiences-making a connection to what they are familiar with; and practice the positive character traits through role play.

I really like to use puppetry to dramatize situations in stories that promote character development. For example, after reading a book on manners, such as Big Black Bear, I use puppets to act out situations in which manners are and are not being used. The children then create their own puppets and work together in pairs to practice using manners.

A pillar of my philosophy of education is that I teach by example. When children see me treating others with kindness, respect, and encouragement they have a role model to follow. My goal is to take an intangible concept for a young child, such as "respect," make it concrete through both my actions and the use of literature, and provide a context for them to apply the skills or traits that are embraced by character education.

ECT: What role do books play in areas of your classroom other than the library area? How do you incorporate them into different learning centers?

Laverick: Books can be found in baskets in several areas throughout my classroom. They are even in a basket on top of the refrigerator in the dramatic-play center! The children have access to all kinds of books, including big books, and they love to "read" them together, alone, and to me.

Because I consider using literature so important, I use books in almost every lesson that I teach. Before children work in their centers, I often share a story to form a foundation for the learning activities that will happen there. For example, a story about appreciating diversity, such as What if the Zebras Lost Their Stripes?, is illustrated in the art center. In the listening center, children don't just listen to books on tape but also record their own voices as they tell and read stories. In the writing center, they have the opportunity to write their own stories, based upon a book that I've read to them, and use it as a resource for writing words. In the math center, children create scenes from stories using manipulatives such as building blocks and magnets. Then they act out the stories using bear-shaped counters. The center in which books play a large role is in the dramatic-play center, where children role-play many situations in which they explore their feelings.

ECT: The children in your program are really engaged with books! How do you involve them in creating their own stories?

Laverick: As we create a story together, children love to hear their ideas and suggestions put into the story. I have them supply the character(s), action, and setting, and then we fill in the blanks to make the story exciting and descriptive. We also use words from our word wall that many of the children are able to read and write independently.

I send home a classroom newsletter at the end of every week. This includes stories that the children create. The number of these stories grows rapidly. I display them from the clotheslines that we have hanging from the ceiling. This process enables us to use the stories as familiar text for reading, as children "read the room" with pointers to track print. As these stories accumulate, I replace the older ones, giving them to the children to take them home.

We also have children work in small groups to create stories that they read to the class when center time is over. To make the writing fun during center time, we provide lots of different kinds of writing materials. Children use alphabet or picture stamps and inkpads, as well as markers, crayons, and pencils. By combining sight words, words they know from the word wall, and the picture stamps, they create wonderful stories in rebus form.

The children also have opportunities to write individually in their journals or in conjunction with a project. One idea that we love is to give the students pictures of the character and setting. They think of an action word and combine the three elements into a silly story. For example, "A whale ate broccoli in the bathtub." Hearing their laughter as they create these silly sentences is priceless!

DeAnna Laverick is a kindergarten teacher at Penns Manor Elementary School in Clymer, Pennsylvania, and a doctoral candidate in curriculum and instruction at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.