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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.

Knowing what you see

October 16, 2009

A film critic's review of the film version of Where the Wild Things Are in today's Washington Post started me thinking. In it, the writer says clearly that the film adaptation of a picture book classic is not typical family film fare but that the film version "created a fully realized variation on its most highly charged themes."

How? By using the filmmakers' tools: real-life actors, costumes, sound, music, dialogue, and more — the general wizardry of movie making.

The idea of understanding what one sees, however, is critical. So crucial in fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested guidelines for parents about the use of media with children.

It seems to me that imbedded in the use of media is the broad notion of "visual literacy" — the ability to see, understand and interpret ideas and/or information conveyed through images. There are a great many sources available both off- and online.

But I'm not at all sure that adults pay much attention to what they see — I know I'm often oblivious. So how can we help children see and understand what they see in movies, on television, and the other images we're bombarded with everywhere?

One essential element is watching movies and TV together, adult and child/ren. Co-viewing is not a new idea at all, but it's one that should be taken to heart. It means not only respecting but investing time in what may interest a child.

I'm convinced that just as young children can effectively compare different versions of stories in books (I've done it with them), they can be guided to see visuals for what they are.

The depth of that comparison, of course, will depend on the age and sophistication of the individual child. But parents and teachers know the children with whom they live and work best. And why not use film adaptations — on television and in the movies — to start it all.

The payoff is that the movies they see and the books they read leads the way to their own storytelling and the ability to see beyond the most obvious.

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"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." — Groucho Marx