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Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books inside — and outside — of the classroom.
Have you ever thought of how the digital world influences us — and by extension, our children?
A number of recent articles made me rethink access, about the use and popularity of digital books by young readers (and their parents), and about what and how is presented in them in both mediums.
We've all heard about the digital divide; a Pew study reports that 70 percent of American households have Internet connectivity. That's the good news. The bad news is that broadband access still breaks down along socioeconomic lines.
Most of those who have Internet access solely by smart phone are more likely to be in a lower socioeconomic group and to be a minority. In a recent Salon article, Larry Ortega seems to suggest that the divide may be even deeper. He contends that another digital divide is emerging: "one between 'digital consumers' on one hand and 'digital contributors' on the other" — with a potentially significant impact on perspectives presented.
On the other hand, there's interesting research citing young people's preference for physical books. Books are three-dimensional, often handsome works of art, and need nothing other than a source of light to enter into them. Plus, they can be shared easily with groups or in families.
Books (like high-speed broadband access) can also be limited by social and economic factors. Reading Is Fundamental says that in "underserved communities, only one in 300 children own books."
How can we help level the playing field? Why is a level field crucial? Is it even possible to achieve? These and many other questions are likely to continue long into the New Year.
Books always make terrific gifts, but it's possible that kids don't always like the books adults think are charming.
A recent book brings that point home with laugh out loud humor. Plus a book that makes even experienced readers check twice to make sure that it has been untouched by an aspiring child-artist.
I have read, reread, guffawed, and shared with lots of friends — experienced and inexperienced readers — one such book.
Battle Bunny (Simon & Schuster) is the result of collaboration between two creative, talented, thoughtful, and offbeat, sometimes irreverent book creators whose work continues to push the envelope and always engaging young readers.
A sweet, handwritten inscription from "Gran Gran" to Alexander appears on the title page. Clearly, the story of the doe-eyed bunny is too sugary for Alexander who, with a pencil, adapts the book art to create a battle worthy of the toughest forest critters.
Think 'Golden Book illustration' meets 'third grade boy combat art.'
Young readers, parents, and educators are invited to follow up with a visit to a website where there are links to allow artists (or other sweet birthday bunny detractors) to adapt their own art as well as ways to incorporate the book into a curriculum.
It's funny and fresh — and makes an interesting commentary on the disparity between adult and kids' penchants.
- Children's books
Taking a group of children for an outing can be rough — perhaps more so for adults than for the young people. After all, it's up to parents and teachers to keep track of their charges, worry about transportation, safety, snacks, and more. So why bother?
Because field trips make a difference. There's research that supports field trips to art museums, aka "culturally enriching" activities, has a significant and positive impact on students. In my experience, almost all family or class outings can make a positive impact.
I was reminded of this when I attended, the 13th annual National Book Festival in Washington DC recently. On a cloudy Saturday and a bright Sunday there were lots of families with young children and huge groups of young people from schools in the region (some from its farthest reaches), easily identified and highly visible in bright tee shirts emblazoned with school names.
Many attendees were starstruck by their favorite authors — Phyllis Naylor, author of the Alice series, Matthew Quick who wrote Silver Linings Playbook, the novel turned into movie, National Ambassadors Jon Scieszka and Katherine Paterson and many, many more authors and illustrators for readers of all ages — informed, inspired, challenged and engaged.
Lines to have books signed were often long. But the kids and their adults waited patiently for the chance to have their treasures signed by the people who wrote them, to meet them face-to-face, to share a bit of admiration or ask a question.
Hear the author (or illustrator) in person and suddenly books come alive, making this and other field trips well worth the effort.
Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer after which schools are in full swing again. Various September celebrations are ideal complements to school, community and home activities.
In 1965, September 8 was declared International Literacy Day (ILD) by UNESCO. This year, ILD was marked by presentations and discussions (on the Monday after the official ILD) featuring among others, Alma Powell representing America's Promise Alliance and Maureen McLaughlin, President of the International Reading Association.
September is also National Library Card Sign-Up Month, to remind everyone in the community — at the start of a new school year — of the power of access to library resources.
Libraries are the ideal place for all kinds of literacy; information on various topics for myriad readers is available in multiple formats. Plus, reading is central to each type from financial to science to workplace literacy.
One thread that links them all, however, is the ability to think critically (key in the Common Core State Standards) which begins with the ability to ask questions. Perhaps adults could model the open-ended questions asked by curious young children; remember the dreaded "whys" and "hows"? (Marcus Pfister's Questions Questions provides a handsomely illustrated model for open-ended questions — sure to inspire further explorations.)
To adapt a quote from Voltaire, one can learn a great deal about a person — adult or child — by her questions rather than by her answers.
There's always a lot going in the Nation's Capital but this week was particularly special. The 50th anniversary of the landmark 1963 March on Washington was celebrated, commemorated, discussed, reviewed and dissected in all media all week long.
It's difficult for younger children to relate to the huge crowds of people gathered much less their very adult talking — particularly when this historical event is from a time that is even precedes their parents. Who was Martin Luther King, Jr., really?
Martin Luther King III introduces what it was like to grow up with a famous father in My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Amistad). It wasn't always easy, but young Marty grew to better understand his father's actions — and what was said about him (and it wasn't always positive) — and went on to share that with his siblings. Realistic illustrations by award-winning AG Ford and a straightforward telling bring MLK Jr. the icon into focus as a family man as well as a leader.
Andrea Pinkney's words and Brian Pinkney's illustrations swoop and swirl to bring Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song (Little Brown) off the pages of a book for a more sophisticated view of how and where their talents intersected. Though they started out similarly, Martin's words and Mahalia's songs were completely entwined on August 29, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The addition of further resources (including a select discography) and a timeline allows this book to grow with readers.
These books and others capture moments in time from more personal perspectives helping younger children understand that famous people — like Martin Luther King, Jr. — were real people with real families and real feelings; that history begins with one person — and surely, a child reading a book today will become a leader of tomorrow.
It's a fact. Good nutrition leads to healthy bodies and to healthy minds — minds and bodies that are ready to learn (and grow and play and do everything else that children do).
All schools seem to be moving toward more healthful lunch and snack choices. Some schools use the notion of healthy food in ways to support the curriculum while building community. Last year, about 80 schools in Washington, D.C. had school gardens.
There's a new (at least to me) small press that is devoted to children and youth as consumers of healthy food. Not surprisingly, Readers to Eaters (yes, that's name of the publisher based in Bellevue, WA) declares: "Good Reads & Good Eats. That's what we're about." Two of their books about school gardens make good on their motto.
Sylvia won't touch spinach. She howls, "No spinach! Ever!" That changes, however, when her once unwanted spinach seeds grown for class garden grow into tasty fresh spinach. Adults and children are sure to see familiar expressions and recognize Sylvia's objections in the easy language and playful illustrations of Sylvia's Spinach by Katherine Pryor.
Slightly older children can join a child on his first day at a new school. The orientation included a visit to Our School Garden which was soon to become a favorite part of his new digs. Short verse, interesting information, a recipe and more combine with textured illustrations spans the school year and its activities. There are lots of ideas for easy implementation in a school setting, too; not surprising as author Rick Swann is a school librarian.
As children go back to school, there may be time to plant a fall garden. If not, there's certainly time to plan for a spring one. It's something worth chewing on.
The weather says it is definitely summertime — often travel or vacation time.
Lots of families will take road trips; many will visit some of the wonderful national parks across the country. And a great time it is, too; after all, July is Park and Recreation Month.
In addition to summer pleasure reading, two recent books are must-haves on these excursions.
National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A.: The Most Amazing Sights, Scenes, and Cool Activities from Coast to Coast! captures the best of what Geographic is known for: crisp, well placed photographs, and clear, well defined maps with child-centric things noted. It's all well organized and clearly presented — just right for planning a trip or even armchair travel.
Crispin Boyer's National Geographic Kids Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas: Maps, Games, Activities, and More for Hours of Backseat Fun uses a similar approach but with trivia (there's a law in Louisiana that says "alligators must stay at least 200 yards away from the Mardi Gras route.") and suggested activities sure to break backseat boredom (to take pictures of all of the upside down books one sees in Nebraska, kids have to look for them, right?). Of course the sites suggested are appealing to children and families.
Though they may be lost on children, adults will appreciate the terrific text features (index, map keys, etc.), making these vacation take-alongs an easy way to inform and entertain.
Add a camera and a journal and vacation memories can be revisited long after summer is over.
I love the long days of summer. I even enjoy the heat (not so much the humidity though). And what could be better on a hot summer day than a cool slice of watermelon?
Thunderstorms are a part of summer, too. But many brave children who (like a small dog named Rosie) aren't afraid of night shadows or tigers or anything else — except thunder. Rosie's boy couldn't comfort her — not even by telling her that "thunder was watermelons rolling off a watermelon truck." But the wait for the end was much easier when the boy held Rosie.
Young children will appreciate Rosie's fear and the assurance that quiet will return eventually, sure to empathize with her in Boom! Big, Big Thunder and One Small Dog (Hyperion) by Mary Lyn Ray.
Sometimes summer rain is just wet. No boomers. And like most things, it can be a good thing — or just the opposite. Two points of view about rain converge as a child revels in a rainy day while an older man is quite grumpy about it. The opposing perspectives are shown through limited text and cheery, child-like illustration. Kindness, playfulness and just plain fun win out in Linda Ashman's engaging look at Rain! (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
Like the crocodile narrator in The Watermelon Seed (Hyperion) by Greg Pizzoli, I agree that there's nothing better than a slice of watermelon. Though my mother warned us not to swallow the seeds, even as children we didn't have quite the vivid imagination this crocodile has! Children of all ages will laugh at his fear — and at the very satisfying belch that made him feel much better — until he swallows the next seed.
Here's hoping that your summer is filled with laughter, sunny days and good books. Oh! … and, of course, a slice or two of watermelon!
Many are best done outdoors while others are really intended for indoor use; some require special accoutrements, others none. They were once called "diversions" and although the names have changed, games are still around and in fact, have never gone away. (There is even evidence that ancient people in Greece, China, and even Sumeria played them.)
And summer is the time when there's more down time for children or even adults to learn or revisit games.
I was reminded of the pleasure of play when I read a recent book, Stone Skipping and Other Fun Old-Time Games (Imagine) by J.J. Ferrer.
Remember playing a game called Horse? It's when two or more players try to sink baskets and get one letter in the word for each success. (Christopher Myers recalls playing it in his Coretta Scott King honor book, H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination (Egmont)). Ever play stoopball? How about "twenty-one"?
These are just a few of the ball games that are introduced (or re-introduced). There are games that require thinking; games that can be played solo or with a partner and games that are meant for groups; plus car and card games. Some are the same activities that I grew up with; others were completely unfamiliar; all are easy to do.
Games benefit children (and adults) in lots of ways — developing or perhaps refining social skills, using academic skills in a different way, becoming active physically and mentally and more — all while making enjoyable summer memories. Plus, no screen is needed!
As summer gets underway, lots of children prepare for what is often the first time away from home — a sleep-away camp: lots of outdoor activities (swimming, archery, hiking — more?), camp fires, camaraderie and independence.
Sleep-away camps can be a fine way to allow children to connect with nature and start to figure thing out alone (though with guidance, of course). It can be downright transformative.
All children should have a camp experience. If it can't be gotten in person, then maybe the next best thing is to vicariously experience camp.
And that's just the focus of a new series called Boys Camp. The first installment, Zack's Story (Sky Pony) by Cameron Dokey introduces readers — boys and girls — to Camp Wolf Trail.
All new campers are welcomed to Camp Wolf Trail with a chatty, informative letter that includes what to expect and what to pack. City kid Zack Wilson is excited about his first camp adventure; he feels like an expert because of his favorite book, The Outdoor Adventure Guide which he takes to camp.
Zack soon learns that even the best book may not be the best substitute for experience. But Zack isn't a quitter and shows the other boys in Birch Cabin that he is more than up to the challenges that they face — especially when confronted with a truly dangerous situation.
Young readers will share Zack's camp experience through the engaging narrative, glimpsing his thoughts and worries (which are italicized) and are sure to empathize with him as well as with the other campers. The characters feel real — as do their interpersonal relationships, internal — and external — conflicts. Even the setting comes alive in what promises to be a fine new series for readers as young as 7 up to 11 year olds.