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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Books as play

August 5, 2009

Recently I was looking for a birthday gift for a soon-to-be five year old girl. As I wandered into the toy department of a well known chain store, I was struck by the number of toys that included some kind of electronic noise or light — a gimmick to grab attention.

I heard guitars without strings, came across talking dolls (fuzzy and not), and even digital cameras for the very young. There were animals that talked, clocks that asked questions, and more.

While I understand that entertainment and education are not mutually exclusive, I do wonder these toys leave enough space for a child's creativity and imagination.

The dog days of summer seem to be a particularly relaxed time to share stories or even create them before children and parents gear up for Fall and the start of another school year.

Books can spark child-centered and child-initiated play — and, of course, are very portable playthings.

Have you ever asked a child what they might take on a trip to the pool or beach or how they might travel there? Even if you don't actually go, you may want to share How Will We Get the Beach? (North South Books). This clever and attractive book in both English and Spanish is a guessing game that introduces different modes of transportation, colors, and believe it or not, reasoning. It's great fun to figure out how the mom and baby with all of their prize possessions will get to the beach.

Closer to home, children may want to help with outdoor chores such as mowing and hoeing. Join the adult wolf and his child and try to figure out what the mishap will be in another bilingual (Spanish English) book called Can I Help? (North South Books).

Or imagine what your container of valuable would hold as the boy does in The Treasure Bath (Holt). In this wordless picture book, a boy bathes as he and his mom wait for a cake to bake. The bathtub becomes a fish-filled ocean with a treasure chest complete with soaps and shampoos just right to clean up for bed — and a piece of cake.

And so, for the gift I was looking for I wound up at my local bookstore and got the birthday girl an imaginative gift that didn't even need batteries.

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"Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift." — Kate DiCamillo