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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.

Unconventional, or just a good story?

December 14, 2009

I recently came across a piece online that suggested that there are more books about more things that we'd never have seen even just a few years ago.

I do suppose that's true. I can't think of many subjects that are off limits for children's books these days.

But one thing I don't think has changed is that readers — young and old alike — hate being beaten over the head with messages. Any book, regardless of whether it's fact or fiction, has to engage readers. Otherwise, it's read once then quickly (or purposely) forgotten.

I mean, think about the books that hold up really well but provide, as this blog suggests, values. Milne's Winnie the Pooh (Dutton) is a sweet series of vignettes that provides insight into human (even the four-legged type) nature and gentle wisdom. This is achieved with great humor and downright terrific stories — just right to read aloud to children as young as I'd say 5 years.

(I finally read the authorized, "new" Pooh (by David Benedictus). Feel free to disagree, but I thought that the characters had changed fundamentally albeit subtly. It felt like what someone thought Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood should be — even the illustrations feel like this to me.)

The list goes on and on. There is Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (HarperCollins) and Williams Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (Atheneum) — both comments on home and family and permanence (though admittedly for different ages). And there are contemporary books and characters that are destined to become modern classics like Mo Willems' Knuffle Bunny and the Clementine books by Sara Pennypacker (both Hyperion).

So, let's not let message and "values" and "unconventional" get top billing over story. Those told with humor, verve, and in rich language make memories and teach what we want most for children — that books and stories are enjoyable and can create lifelong learners.

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"When I say to a parent, "read to a child", I don't want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate. " — Mem Fox