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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.

Slowing down to remember

June 7, 2011

The world is fast-paced and speeding up every day. Young children are growing up with technology in every aspect of their daily lives, quite literally.

But there were times before television, cell phones and computers became ubiquitous.

Caldecott honor winning, Lane Smith reminds readers of the simple pleasures of a book in his very funny (and very sophisticated) It's a Book (Roaring Brook). In it, a tech-savvy donkey (aka jackass) is introduced to the wonders of a book by a monkey with his mouse sidekick. The understated humor of the seemingly simple text and illustration makes the book all the funnier.

Smith again shows his prowess as a visual storyteller in a book that's due out in August. Grandpa Green (Roaring Brook) begins in a long ago time. Delicate line and lush green of the character's creations — topiaries in an opulent garden — express not only emotion but chronicle the milestones in his life.

From growing up on a farm to growing old enough to have children, grandchildren and even a great grandkid — the narrator — Grandpa's life is remembered in the garden. A final foldout not only provides a glimpse of wondrous garden, it subtly reveals how generations are connected.

Visual storytelling takes many forms but my favorite is in a picture book.

Smith's books are ideal for lingering over, for going back and forth to see what was missed, or even how something did what it did. Equally important, they're meant to be shared between readers of all ages.


Thanks so much for writing! You raise an interesting concern. While I can’t speak for Lane Smith, it seems that the dual meaning of the word “jackass” (a synonym for a male donkey as well as a word for a fool) is appropriately applied to the animal and his behavior in this book. Of course, adults could choose not to use the book with children, but for me, the book’s strengths – including its humor and the different interpretations of the word – are both useful and engaging. And as I’ve said, the storytelling is sophisticated. It’s a Book, like many others, is likely to be appreciated by slightly older children and adults. Sensibilities, taste, and even comfort levels vary which highlights the importance in examining books before adults share them with children.

I checked on Amazon about It's A Book and discovered that the author includes the word jackass as the last word. While I understand the reason, why include it in a child's book? The message of the book which is that a book doesn't need all kinds of electronic doodads but can bring joy and please because it's just a book. That lesson will be lost and forgotten and the only thing the children will remember is the word jackass, believe me I have 33 yrs. of classroom reading experience to know what they talk about.

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"The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can't." — Mark Twain