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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.
The title grabbed me immediately "Children's Books You (Might) Hate." Aren't there books we've come across that we just love to hate? I have a few.… well, maybe more than a few.
One thing that I've learned about loving or loathing books is that when I reexamine them again with other readers, particularly children, I often rethink my take. I've grown to appreciate some books, come to adore others, and had to let some of my favorites die a natural death.
The best books for children are the ones that are enjoyed by adults, too. But adults often over-think; over-analyze books for children forgetting that even the youngest should be able to enjoy experiencing a book.
Think about it. How would an adult respond if told to read only books that teach a specific lesson (whose lesson?), or that have a particular moral (by what standard?); books that are considered "good" for them.
Want to turn a reader off? Give them no choice and a steady diet of only "good stuff."
I'm reminded of a piece written by British author Peter Dickinson in which he contends that "children ought to be allowed to read a certain amount of rubbish. Sometimes quite a high proportion of their reading matter can healthfully consist of things that no sane adult would actually encourage them to read."
Will one book — even if read over and over again — forever ruin a child or his/her parents (as someone suggests in the New York Times piece)? I think not. Even when a child demands a book to be read multiple times.
After having read an illustrated version of the Grimm folktale about aging, outcast animals ("The Bremen Town Musicians") about a million times to my son when he was a toddler, he holds no ill-will toward older animals (or people). He can still laugh; however, when he thinks about the robbers' misunderstanding of the rooster's crow (guilty, they hear "Put the crooks in jail!").
Love them or hate them, some books are here to stay.
There's a special sound to late summer. The air almost seems to vibrate with the songs of insects.
I was walking down the sidewalk earlier today and came across a shell of a really ugly (at least in my opinion) critter. But I recognized it as that of a totally harmless cicada, one of the likely music makers.
I knew this because my son and I collected cicadas when one variety made their once-every-17-years appearance in the late 1990s and because I'd just read a new book by the prolific science writer, Laurence Pringle.
Over the years, Pringle has introduced me to everything from dinosaurs to cockroaches. And now his clear style provided a fascinating introduction to Cicadas!: Strange and Wonderful (Boyds Mill).
I like the idea of a nature walk followed up by a book to fill in the blanks, to answer questions, or spark additional research. And nonfiction — informational text — for children is often a fine experience for readers of all ages. There's a lot to choose from, much of it authoritative yet accessible.
(I was sent a link to a molting cicada shown through time lapse photography. It's almost like being there!)
I'm waiting for the cool air of autumn as I enjoy the sounds of summer — and look for books (as well as the occasional website) to explore the change of seasons.
A recent piece from BBC news asserts that the Internet has changed language. True enough.
The verb "google" didn't exist when I was growing up. We may have kept diaries or journals but never blogged. And only birds tweeted.
It's fun to see how necessity changes language and wonder about what's next. Just think about words were invented in 20th century — cheeseburger, compact disc, A-bomb, X-rated — all of which we can find out more about on the Internet.
But often the older formats remain the better choice.
Maybe it's time to introduce digital natives to books again. That's what Lane Smith does with good-natured and laugh out loud humor in It's A Book (Roaring Brook). Interestingly, Smith uses the same stuff of the Internet — words and pictures.
The main characters — a mouse, a monkey, and a jackass — begin their interaction on the title page which continues till the very satisfying end. Even though THIS thing doesn't tweet, blog, or text, it does give us hours and hours of entertainment. After all, it's a book!
Do you remember a book from your early childhood? Which one? Why do you remember it?
I remember The Poky Little Puppy (Golden Books) and others fondly; I also remember my mother's soft skin and gentle fragrance as I snuggled next to her while she read. Was it the book (older than I am but still available)? Could it have been how it was shared?
A documentary due out this fall entitled "Library of the Early Mind," will explore children's literature and what it means to young children. A number of well known writers and illustrators (Mo Willems, David Small, and Lois Lowry to name just a few) give insight into their work in a trailer, certainly piquing my interest and getting the thought processes going — doing, I suppose, just what it's meant to do.
What is the lure of books? Why are they critical to a child's development? Why do some books stand out for young readers — even into adulthood? In other words, what is it that makes a book memorable?
Maybe those books that work on many levels, that touch authentic emotions, are the ones that are most memorable. Maybe it's simply in the sharing. Anita Silvey explores the impact of children's books in Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book (Roaring Brook). The title suggests what the book posits.
I don't know if there is a definitive answer but part of the fun is in thinking about it. It is also in reading, and above all, creating opportunities for books to make memories with and for children.
A huge storm came through yesterday morning, knocking out power for tens of thousands of homes and businesses in the area. Happily, no one was seriously injured in the intense storm but it served as a reminder of how much we all depend on electricity.
From making coffee to daily 'beauty rituals' to getting a news update online, we all use it almost all of the time.
But you can't use what you don't have. So I opened the blinds, pulled up a chair, and sat down with books. Physical books, not digital.
Lots of review books have been arriving so I had lots to choose from, but one book was a real surprise, and the other a pure pleasure.
The surprise came from a book not due out until next year (February to be precise) by none other than singer/songwriter Al Yankovic. When I Grow Up (Harper).
Al is better known as Weird Al (and he is weird; just listen to the recent Tiny Desk Concert on NPR.
(My son discovered Weird Al's music in middle school and still enjoys his offbeat humor and parody; actually I do, too.)
But I'm skeptical of "celebrity publishing" and that's where I was surprised. Al's picture book was actually fun. In it, Billy energetically volunteers to be the first in the class to share what he wants to do when he grows up — does so endlessly, imaginatively, and in rhyme. It's going to be interesting to share with kids (of all ages) and will certainly resonate with teachers.
The other book that I found totally engaging it took me to another world but is not for young children rather for their parents and teachers. (It's important for young children to see reading modeled by the significant adults in their lives!)
Terry Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight (HarperCollins), the fourth title about Tiffany Aching (the Discworld series) is full of action, magic, humor, and rich language.
Anyway, our power is back. But I'm glad I have books. The only power they require is imagination.
I heard a young man liken a friend of his to specific popular songs. He said that sometimes this young man was like Jason Derulo's music, lively, catchy; sure to get everyone moving. He named a song for his buddy's multiple moods which seemed to differ according to the day of the week, maybe even the time of day.
Like music, books for children have to match moods — and stages of development and maybe the person introducing them.
Maisy books (Candlewick) by Lucy Cousins are happy books. Maisy always seems to me to be a rather naive mouse that goes about doing whatever she's doing happily.
Books by David Wiesner like Flotsam and Tuesday (both Clarion) are more mysterious (though nothing beats The Mysteries of Harris Burdick [Houghton] by Chris Van Allsburg for mysterious; it's "The Twilight Zone" in picture book format).
Steven Kellogg's illustrations always cause a laugh.
For angry children, When Sophie Gets Angry… (Scholastic) by Molly Bang immediately comes to mind. So does David Elliott's Finn Throws a Fit — with high-energy and entertaining artwork by Timothy Basil Ering that perfectlly illustrates Finn's moody day (Candlewick).
A friend of mine adored Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Beech Lane). It got her moving — quite literally — and she just knew it would do the same thing for her 3 year old son. Not so, she found. Only when a child care provider introduced the same book did the boy respond positively to it. Maybe it was the way the provider read the book? The mood the child was in that day? Who knows?
But I suppose we're all like that at times; thing capture our attention when the time and mood are right. Adults just need to remember to allow children the same consideration.
When I was growing up, we had lots of book. Looking back, I know that they were mostly mass market books (remember the Little Golden Books?) and lots of the books my mother read as a child and subsequently gave to us.
My sister and I both grew up to be readers — and so did our children who also have lots of books at home.
I was reminded of this when I read a Washington Post article by their education columnist, Jay Matthews, who also noted that not all children have books in their homes.
Not only do libraries generally have lots of book choices for children, the books can be borrowed for several weeks at a time. When my son was little, we often had to buy the library books that he loved — sometimes to death. Owl Babies (Candlewick) by Martin Waddell was one that was read so often that I had to replace the library's copy. At some point, I met the author and got an autographed copy. It's all wrapped up now for my son who just might share it with his child one day.
Books make memories; connect people over distance and time and space and experiences.
I learned yesterday that my niece Michaela got her first library card — from an especially nice librarian. After she checked out Blueberries for Sal (one of the books I read to her last week!), Michaela checked out a book and CD for her 3-year old sister. I'll have to find out what it was!
Regardless, books connect people — including children — at many levels.
My 6-year old niece Michaela knows her way around the library. She should! After all, she's been visiting libraries with her family for most of her life. It shows, too. She's filled with ideas, stories, and words.
My 10-year old friend, Laura — the Newbery book reader I've blogged about — also knows libraries. You may remember that Laura and her mom attended the annual conference of the American Library Association where Laura got to meet the authors of the books she has read so avidly.
Like my niece, Laura has been using libraries all of her life — though books and stories mean something special to Laura. Books have introduced Laura to other places, opened other worlds for her as she coped with the one she lives in. Laura's parents have written an article on how libraries have helped Laura — ironic given that their Indiana town is no longer funded.
A colleague sent a link to an NPR article suggesting why libraries could become the next new trend since cupcakes (I like it — cupcakes and libraries ‐ just think of the similarities!)
My guess is that when they grow up, Laura and Michaela will continue to use libraries. I hope, too, that the adults in their lives continue to advocate for libraries.
Too often libraries must absorb deep budget cuts; they're often not viewed as essential services — but they are.
Just ask Laura, Michaela, and their moms.
We've been on a road trip for a while, combining visits with family and friends with college tours. I'm amazed that my son's time in high school is going by at such breakneck speed. It seems to speed up exponentially once kids begin numbered grades.
And my niece is starting first grade this fall.
What a joy it's been to share books with this just-turned-6-year old child! She's just starting to read independently — and wow! Has she ever taken off — reading well beyond most kids her age.
We went to the library yesterday and I got to help Michaela pick out a few books. She's excited by reading chapter books — long ones. She still examines illustrations closely (as she did when I read Robert McCloskey's classic, Blueberries for Sal, Viking) but is thrilled with finding meaning in language.
Since her mom limits the number of books she can check out (after all, they visit the library weekly), she asked me to write down the names of the other books that I suggested. These included the first Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry (Yearling) and Sara Pennypacker's Clementine (Hyperion) among others.
I think it's important to help children find books that they can not only have success decoding, but that also complement their interests and experiences. Michaela is likely to enjoy the stories that Gooney Bird tells (all true, by the way, no matter how outrageous they sound), chuckle at the silly adventures of Rose and May-May Golly, and empathize with the situations that Arthur and his pals find themselves in.
And it's only the beginning for Michaela's reading adventures. She'll continue to gulp down books and for a while, I get to be a part of it.
The meetings have concluded, the speeches are now on the record, and the out-of-towners have left town. And after attending many functions during the annual conference of the American Library Association, I've still got lots to think about.
A preconference called "Drawn to Delight" brought together a veritable "who's who" of picture book creators. It was intended to illuminate how picture books work — from the nitty gritty creation to their use — and lots more.
One panel stands out to me. On it, teams of illustrators and their editors spoke about their specific collaborations, how they work together with one goal in mind: to present the best possible picture books for readers regardless of age.
David Small and his longtime editor, Patricia Lee Gauch, talked about how Small's portrayal of the motley cast presented in Judith St. George's text for So You Want to Be President? (Philomel) evolved. It was a real give and take — and acts of faith between creator and editor. And the result was a lively, engaging, surprising glimpse of American presidents for young and old alike (plus a Caldecott Medal!).
There just wasn't enough time for Gauch and Small to talk about Elsie's Bird (Philomel; due out in September) but they shared a copy with me.
A lyrical text by Jane Yolen combined with Small's expressive illustrations evokes a child's conflicting feelings as she and her widowed father move from Boston to Nebraska. Small's illustrations spread across double pages to evoke the bustle of 19th century Boston and the expanse of Nebraska's grass plains — all the while enhancing what the words say — the tension, the emotions, and the resolution.
Interestingly, the illustrator dedicates this book to his editor, "who has always brought me back into the light."
And that for me says what a true collaboration can do for book writers and illustrators — and for readers as well.
In talking about words and images, we — and the children we work with — gain insight. We figure out something new, a different way of seeing things around us that brings us "into the light" — just like Elsie and her creators.