By Mike Thompson
“Uncle Buddy” is a children’s book, newly released by local educator Georgia Ann Moss, with the bottom-line goal of improving young readers’ classroom performance.
If it’s a good story that the child enjoys, then all for the better.
The storyline features little Georgia joining her siblings, Marie and Albert, in their annual summer visit to Memphis. Their favorite uncle’s real name is Abraham Williams, retired from his years as a Pullman train porter, a position of prestige for an African American man back in the day. Uncle Buddy spoils the three children with loving attention, endless exciting stories, and, of course, snacks. Cakes, cookies, and candy. It’s tough to keep track of all the snacks.
That’s all warm and cozy, but will this pleasant and positive tale help a child to learn and to retain? Yes, insists the author.
“Uncle Buddy” is geared specifically to youngsters in preschool through third grade, with precisely 29 “high-frequency” words that she intentionally includes over and over again in the text. If this makes the writing style seem choppy at times, the repetition has a purpose. The intent not only is for the child to enjoy the story, but also to begin to memorize the first basic sight words, starting with “and, him, at, said, would.”
Reading may be “FUNdamental,” but the ultimate goal is for children to reach grade-level standards and beyond. Ms. Moss is fully aware of dismal national statistics in this regard, in particular among pupils from ethnic minority groups, and she aims for results.
She has worked in local schools as a reading interventionist. Since 2006, she has volunteered to organize a summer reading program at the Phillip Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Muskegon Heights, and she is hopeful that a possible pandemic slowdown will permit personal tutor-to-child interactions to resume this coming June.
Observers may witness Georgia Moss in her teaching mode and perceive that she has served as an educator for all of her life, after achieving her first Western Michigan University masters degree, However, her major field of study was in human resources administration, and led to 23 years as a human resources director for the Michigan Department of Corrections.
She was fulfilled in her career, but she felt a second calling.
“I had always wanted to be a teacher,” she recalls of the budding years that led to her 1969 graduation from Benton Harbor High School after an upbringing mostly in Cairo, Illinois.
Therefore, during her final years with the Muskegon prison, she re-enrolled during her free time at Western Michigan University for a second master’s degree, this time in reading education.
She has learned expert techniques for teachers and adapted them into tips for tutors, be they parents or other family elders, such as Uncle Buddy, These include:
— Prepare by reading the story to oneself, in advance. Pick a few of the most challenging words and review them prior to tackling the text, and then see how many the child will recall during the general reading.
— Take turns reading, page by page.
— When needed, break larger words into smaller parts. If a reader struggles with “chicken,” for example, made the “ch” sound and refer to more familiar words, like maybe “chip” or “Cheetos.”
— Read for comprehension, not just for word-to-word mastery. Pause at interludes and ask for predictions about what may occur next in the story, especially with the main characters.
— Take advantage of the illustrations, which are far more vivid in today’s books (and also far more racially integrated) than in the old-time “Dick and Jane” readers. (Her artistic partner for “Uncle Buddy” is Muskegon’s own Jeffrey VanDyke.)
— Allow the child to choose from an array of volumes that are easy, medium grade level, and difficult. Keep them on display on a family room table, similar to a fruit basket. Parents may keep matters affordable by making use of a nearby library. Also, good books may be discovered at dollar stores, thrift shops, and even at an occasional rummage sale.
— Remain consistent every day but limit the sessions to 20 to 30 minutes. Do not exceed the child’s attention span.
Books and phones
Ms. Moss always has focused on “at-risk” students in the federal Title I category, and she aims to combine reading and writing.
“To write things out can help a child cope with different sources of stress they may be facing,” she explains. “It may be homelessness, or being bullied at school, whatever the situation.”
A frequent obstacle nowadays is the hand-held devices that are ever-present. She recommends regular no-phone interludes, similar to no-TV, but she also cautions against casting the phones as enemies, which only may make them more attractive to young minds. The key is to make a good book become equally as enticing.
“A book can take you to an entirely new world,” she says, in summary. ‘A book can take you anywhere.”
Georgia Moss owns past experience as an author with 2013’s “Messages of Spiritual Sustenance: 46 Biblical Lessons.” For information to obtain either of her books, visit her website, www.georgiaannmossbooks.com, or send an inquiry, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. She also has a Facebook page.