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Literacy in America

Jimmy Fallon Gives the Gifts of Laughter and Literacy This Christmas

Photo: Courtesy of FAO Schwartz

When Jimmy Fallon, host of “The Tonight Show” on NBC, started writing children’s books, he didn’t imagine it would be taken seriously. “It all started as a joke,” Fallon said. “I was trying to get my daughter Winnie to say ‘dada’ as her first word. Everything I showed her I would call ‘dada.’”

Fallon tried everything, even referring to bottles of milk as “dada.” “Anything she enjoyed, I would just say, ‘hey, that’s dada,’” Fallon said. “But it didn’t work. ‘Mama’ was her first word.”

A surprise success

Not willing to concede the fight, he decided to write a book with the insistent title, Your Baby’s First Word Will Be DADA. “Not only does the book work, but I was surprised by the reaction I got to it.” Fathers all over the country who were similarly struggling to get their kids to say “dada” loved Fallon’s book. “People started writing articles about how I was getting dads to read more to their children. Then, people started saying the book was great because it encourages kids to read, because they’re laughing and they’re actually saying ‘dada.’” 

With a surprise hit on his hands, Fallon set out to write more books for kids. “I added Everything is MAMA to the mix and then This is BABY,” Fallon said. What had begun as a personal mission to have his daughter acknowledge him has turned into a boost for children’s early literacy. “People have started sending me videos of their kids reading the books back to them, and it’s a great feeling,” Fallon said. “I imagine it’s sort of how teachers feel when they see a kid engaged and learning from what they’ve taught.” 

Fallon’s newest book and No. 1 New York Times bestseller, 5 More Sleeps ‘til Christmas, was again inspired by his daughter. “I was talking to my daughter and she was excited about the holiday,” Fallon said. “She asked, ‘How many more sleeps until Christmas?’ I had never heard that phrase before, ‘how many more sleeps’ until something, and I thought it would be a great idea for a book.”

Fallon’s own childhood memories influenced the book, too. “When I was a kid, I could not wait for Christmas and it couldn’t come soon enough,” he said. “Five More Sleeps ‘til Christmas breaks down those five days leading up to the holiday and everything this boy and his sister are doing to try to get to sleep each night, because they’re so excited that Santa is coming.”

Jimmy Fallon is partnering with Macmillan, the publisher of 5 More Sleeps ‘til Christmas, and First Book, a nonprofit that has distributed more than 185 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income communities in more than 30 countries. First Book has launched the Give a Million campaign, with the goal of giving 1 million books to kids in need, a cause that Fallon is celebrating this holiday season.

Encouragement is everything

Reading with your kids is critical in encouraging children’s literacy from an early age, Fallon said. “You have to read with your kids. You have to laugh when they make a joke or read something funny or answer a question when they ask. You have to be engaged.” 

A great way to get kids engaged when reading is with laughter. “Laughing when they read something funny out loud is so important,” Fallon said. “It builds their confidence and makes them want to read more, whether it be ‘dada’ and animal sounds, or describing the pictures in a book. Make them feel proud of what they’re doing and that they’re reading. It’s one of the most important skills that they’ll learn as a kid and that they’ll use and love for the rest of their lives.”

As a parent, Fallon said that reading with his child has given him some of his most cherished memories. “You couldn’t find better quality time while they’re growing up than reading together, and you’ll have those memories forever,” he said. “I still remember my parents reading to me when I was a kid, and those one-on-one moments are a gift in themselves.”

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