Northern Michigan University alumna and Escanaba teacher Gina Pepin ('01 BS) has coauthored a book with Eric Litwin, New York Times best-selling author of Pete the Cat. Their research- and theory-based publication is titled The Power of Joyful Reading: Help Your Young Readers Soar to Success.
The book provides concrete examples and ready-to-implement strategies that teachers and parents can use to create engaging and joyful shared reading experiences in grades pre-kindergarten through third grade contexts that support children's language, cognitive and social-emotional development.
The Power of Joyful Reading offers suggestions for transforming a classroom into a “'reading playground,” a space in which children read along to, sing to, dance to and celebrate words and texts, such as classroom rules and lunch menus. It is broken up into two parts: one that discusses why young children need to enjoy reading and be immersed in print; and a second on how to optimize shared reading experiences and teach like a “reading superhero.”
In each chapter, Litwin shares his perspective through heartfelt narratives and analogies, drawing on his experience as children's book author, traveling presenter and former teacher. Following each chapter, in a teacher-to-teacher section, Pepin shares research connections and classroom practices.
Pepin said that she and Litwin have conversed through email and telephone for nearly a decade about the power of joyful and shared reading experiences. They first interacted when she reached out to him years ago through his website, seeking permission to read one of his books aloud online.
“Eric always wanted to know more about particular strategies and practices pertaining to reading,” Pepin said. “I would share my personal experiences about that topic and then gather more research articles, books and examples to share with him. He would dive completely into each, and he seemed to always want to learn more. As time passed, he mentioned how he had been driven to write a book for early childhood teachers, parents and early elementary teachers that would share, through personal narratives and fun analogies, how everyone and anyone can teach reading. The rest is history.
“We spent many hours reviewing research, clarifying theories and sharing heartfelt experiences. Eric would, at times, sing a favorite phrase or line from his music or one of his famous children's books. My husband and kids knew when Eric and I were deep in conversation, as they could hear us laughing and singing for hours at a time.”
Pepin holds a doctorate in teacher leadership and master's in reading, literacy and assessment. She is currently a K–3 reading teacher in Escanaba, Mich., and an online adjunct instructor of graduate literacy courses at NMU and Grand Canyon University. She is a university supervisor for student teachers and serves as a commissioner and board member for the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation.
“I have worn many, many hats during my career of more than 20 years,” said Pepin. “In all of these roles, I emulate the importance of joy: joyful experiences, shared reading opportunities, the power of joy in building community and collaboration and—most of all—teacher leadership. I earned my doctorate because my heart and passion resonate a desire to promote the power of the field of education: all that it is and all that it can still be.”
Pepin was honored as the 2018-19 Upper Michigan Teacher of the Year and attributes her success to her experiences at NMU as both an employee and former elementary education student.
“Being immersed in powerful, joyful and engaging shared experiences in a teacher preparation program at NMU provided me the foundation and motivation I needed to begin as an educator. These experiences encompassed a springboard for opportunities of a lifetime. I found myself deeply connected with inspirational educators in the field that guided me through methods courses and later mentored me in courses I would help teach for NMU.”
Purchase The Power of Joyful Reading here. Readers will be able to access digital resources including charts, posters, expert advice videos, research reviews, songs, poems, rhymes, stories and more. Read an article written by Pepin and Litwin about how to use growth mindset praise to support students' reading here.
“I have thrived in opportunities throughout my life where I can share the joy education really has to offer. I can only hope that my work as an educator and author will inspire others to fall in love with teaching, reading and leading—just the same.”