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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.

Smart school librarian shortstops summer slide

June 21, 2012

When I gave some advanced reading copies of books to a particularly astute school librarian friend, she used them in a way that just might help these children avoid the dreaded "summer slide" which happens when children don't read during non-school months.

She asked 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to examine the books and decide as a group which was their top choice. l had visited earlier in the school year, talking with the students about the awards process — specifically about the Caldecott.

My friend used the books and the awards process to put children in a position of authority. They became reviewers of books that hadn't been formally released. She reports that: "This was a very good experience for the students. I had them making their selection by choosing the book they thought was best [using the Caldecott criteria]. A lot of interesting discussion was generated and the students were very engaged. They enjoyed [it] and it gave them the opportunity to feel that they had something at stake in the evaluations they made of the books, so they took it more to heart."

Which books won?

A book about math concepts and friendship, Zero the Hero by Joan Holub, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Holt) was a clear favorite. Zero proves his value to the other digits in this funny, sophisticated tale. It was the humor and visual elements of comic books that appealed.

It was probably humor that most attracted those who selected Piggy Bunny (Feiwel & Friends) by Rachel Vail, illustrated by Jeremy Tankard, a book about a pig who aspires to be the Easter Bunny.

The Obstinate Pen (Holt) by Frank W. Dormer is humorous, too. It's about a pen that tells the truth and does so quite stubbornly. Its offbeat illustrations engage because they were according to one young reviewer "funny." Her group also "thought the author really put [his] feelings into [them]" and that the pictures "express how each person in the story feels about the pen" (and the truth!).

The last book the students selected was Bird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and Why (Flash Point) by Lita Judge. They didn't specifically say why, but my guess is that the handsome presentation of information about birds — how they behave, what they do, and what it means — appeals both visually and in the informal text.

My friend has certainly gotten these young readers off to a good start for summer! I echo her hope that children find lots of fun as they continue to read this summer — and beyond.

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"To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark." — Victor Hugo, Les Miserables