Blogs about Reading
Page by Page
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.
Wow! Hard to believe that it will be 2011 in just over a week! 2010 seemed to fly by particularly quickly.
I'm looking forward to children's book awards announcements that will take place early in January. The American Library Association will announce the 2011 Caldecott & Newbery Awards as well as the Coretta Scott King Awards — and more — at its midwinter conference in San Diego. The USBBY 2011 list of Outstanding International Books will be unveiled there, too.
Looking back, looking forward, I can't help but thinking about changes in the children's book world. It seems that everyone is trying to figure out where print and electronic media intersect for children.
Electronic media can be seductive but so, too, can print. Isn't it the story — the story in fact, fiction, and image — that appeals? Must there be one instead of another? Does one replace or make less good the other?
But for now, come January, we'll celebrate the print award winners that will be announced. I know the committees have been reading, reading, reading and will diligently deliberate when they meet.
When I return after the first of the year but before the big announcements, I'll suggest some of my favorites for the Caldecott Medal. Meantime, feel free to propose any picture books that you think are in worthy of this honor.
Until then, hope the season is filled with happy memories and good books!
Over 50 years ago, the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) was established by Jella Lepman. Her vision for the organization was to "to promote international understanding through children's books." There are now over 70 chapters of IBBY throughout the world, including the US chapter, known as USBBY.
Each year, a committee of USBBY members selects books to appear on the Outstanding International Books for Children (and young adults). The 2010 list features books published in the previous year for children in kindergarten through grade 12.
I'm working with the committee to select titles for the 2011 list — and in fact, the committee will meet and deliberate this weekend.
Each committee member has read lots (and lots) of books published in other countries before being published in the United States. Of course, the books are evaluated on literary and artistic merit but also on how well they introduce American readers to book creators with other than American perspectives.
It's interesting when reading these books many present a distinct culture but with themes that American children can readily relate to — like the need to belong, to understand, for friendship. It's also interesting to see very different styles of illustration.
Jella Lepman was on target, I think. Even though most children won't have the chance to travel the world, they can meet people from across the globe through and in books — and isn't that what creates understanding?
Books can help eliminate the notion of "them, not me" — perhaps building empathy and maybe even one day, peace.
One day every year is set aside to give thanks and to remember our history. History and family often come together. Sometimes it's through family stories shared around a dinner table or even books shared aloud. These are often times worth remembering as well as worthy of thanksgiving.
My sister works in a Title I school in Florida. The staff works hard to involve parents while empowering them to help themselves and their children. While making it fun and always free (often with food — the three primary factors in family programming!), the school staff contributes to family histories.
They hold the conviction books and stories are a fine way to engage parents with the school and their children in a lasting way. It seems to work.
Family Book Bingo events where books are prizes and parents and their children have fun with the game while building family stories are a school tradition now. Book Bingo nights are extremely well attended as are the other activities for families.
Starting around this time each year, the school staff works to provide the children in this pre-K through grade 5 school of over 500 students with something that all kids need. In the past they've given children items of clothing and small toys.
But this year, they're trying to collect new books for distribution to all of the children. Again, it's a group effort; the entire staff knows that books are gifts that last and can be shared multiple times and are often worthy of being passed down from one generation to the next.
If you know of a reliable source of new books for children from Head Start age to grade 5, let me know. You'll be building your own stories while helping other families.
We've come a long way but there's still more to do to change attitudes about books for children — especially books by or about those with other than European heritages.
A recent op-ed piece by noted writer, Nikki Grimes, reminded me of that. At a library conference, Nikki was appalled to hear that some people who liked her books said they wouldn't get them as they didn't serve enough African American students. Her response was to emphasize that a good book is simply a good book for anyone.
What can and does literature do for readers? It provides a glimpse into other experiences vicariously; it can provide a fresh way of looking and seeing the world around us — and more, much more.
It's been said that literature — especially for children — provides a mirror for them to see themselves reflected and perhaps validated as well as a window through which they can see other perspectives.
We certainly live in a hypersensitive era where it appears that a seemingly minor misstep can cause a huge brouhaha. It becomes especially apparent as Thanksgiving approaches — how do you handle native people in books for young children? What about Columbus? (Take a look at information on Colorín Colorado for insight and ideas.)
Becoming aware of and sensitive to others must begin in childhood. It takes time and education and awareness. And even if children live in homogeneous communities, they can meet different kinds of people through books.
Today concludes the official celebration of National Young Readers Week. But if the goals of the founders — Pizza Hut and the Library of Congress Center for the Book — are realized, then children will become lifelong readers, making every week one for readers of all ages. (Learn more about National Young Readers Week.)
Often teachers and parents intrigue and inspire young readers by offering rich, diverse, and engaging books for children to read independently or with an adult. Add to that a mix of interesting tidbits that give insight and information about the books and those who create them. Then who knows what may be read next?
Longtime critic, publisher, and children's book enthusiast, Anita Silvey, is offering just such a stimulating combination with her Children's Book-a-Day Almanac. It's fun and fresh — and even those of us who read a lot of children's books will find something new.
These just may be the first step in making each day and every week contribute to creating lifelong readers.
As in all families, ours occasionally has a disagreement. Though we may not be able to touch on hot-button topics, we can still talk about books and other things we are reading.
When I recently saw some young children I know, whose family is going through a tough time, we talked about Halloween — and books. In a school where I'm working with teenaged parents of young children, we connect over books we share.
Books. They open doors to experiences that can be shared between people of different backgrounds, of diverse ages, and even between readers and nonreaders.
I've been reading lots of books for children, lately — more than usual. Here are a few that I've read and liked that just may start a conversation or two.
In Mad at Mommy by Komako Sakai (Scholastic), a young rabbit expresses his anger with — and quick forgiveness of — his mother.
Everyone is sure to see themselves in a picture book anthology of poems collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Chris Soentpiet illustrates truly Amazing Faces (Lee & Low) to accompany the diverse collection of poetry.
Though it's not much more than a variation on a well-worn theme, David Shannon's It's Christmas, David! (Blue Sky) is sure to make adults cringe but will also get giggles from almost every reader.
Children (and adults) will stretch their imaginations and wonder about travelling far from their own homes when they read the inventive, circular book, In Front of My House[ (Kids Can), by Marianne Dubuc.
Books can be safely savored, shared, and talked about — even on a rough day.
I love the change of season. And fall's a favorite. There's a lot to celebrate in autumn.
Grace Lin introduced me to a celebration that I'd not come across before. The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is presented in a new book, Thanking the Moon (Knopf) that follows a Chinese American family as they enjoy a moonlit picnic sharing mooncakes and moon legends while giving thanks.
Lin recognizes (as she often does) that little is known about the celebration and so includes a note with additional information to give adults or interested children a bit more about it.
It's also the time of year when children delight in at least pretending to be scared as they don costumes, attend Halloween parties, or go trick or treating.
There are a bunch of books that are Halloweeny but not so scary that they can't be shared with younger children.
Boo Cow (Charlesbridge) by Patricia Baehr takes place on a farm where the newcomers have to figure out why their chickens won't lay eggs. Could it have something to do with a cow ghost, a thief or both?
The funny, engaging cat Splat is back for a silly Halloween adventure in school. Scaredy-Cat, Splat (HarperCollins) by Rob Scotton continues the comic cat's escapades.
Lorna Balian's Humbug Witch (Star Bright) still delights and surprises young children as the broom bearing, caldron-stirring witch's true identity is gradually revealed.
Adults will probably appreciate Jon Muth's glowingly illustrated Zen Ghosts (Scholastic) more than children. But anyone who likes Muth's other thought provoking books featuring Stillwater the panda are likely to enjoy this one.
Just for fun, newly independent readers will laugh along with Mercy Watson's Halloween fiasco. The treat-loving pig dons a costume with hilarious results in Kate DiCamillo's Mercy Watson Princess in Disguise (Candlewick).
Slightly creepier is Donna Diamond's wordless picture book, The Shadow (Candlewick). A silhouette comes into a girl's bedroom causing consternation — until she asserts herself. Readers will be left wondering though if it's really gone.
Each of these books is a real treat and are cause for celebration — just right for the season.
A recent New York Times article reveals that picture books are no longer as popular as they once were; that sales are down, that parents are often looking to chapter books to propel their children forward educationally, perhaps for what is considered more sophisticated literary or educational experiences.
Stuff and nonsense.
Picture books are wonderful ways to share rich language, complex images, and sophisticated ideas with young children, older children, young adults, and old codgers.
It's not the length or the number of illustration in books; it's the depth of both. In fact, short forms are often the most satisfying. Poets can evoke an image in many fewer words than other forms.
So, too, can picture books.
Take a look at William Steig's CDC? (Squarefish). There aren't any words. Readers have to figure out word puzzles that combine with image for a sophisticated game that is sure to give even the most knowledgeable reader pause until "D N."
Or try reading the one-liners that accompany The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton) without coming up with original stories (or thinking of old "Twilight Zone" episodes).
In fact the rich language in many picture books by far exceeds what we use in daily speech. (How often do you hear "odiferous wretch?" Well, it can be exclaimed with each reading of the Amazing Bone).
There are many other picture books, both classic and modern — too many to be listed here — that can be read in shorter time but require no less of readers (or listeners or viewers).
Picture books allow children — and adults — to focus intensely on "non-moving" images, create meaning from those images, and build understanding from language that may be too difficult to decode.
And while many picture books are intended for the very young, they are often are a rich source of discovery for readers of all ages.
I found a recent article in the The New York Times entitled "The Plot Escapes Me" was particularly intriguing. Its author, James Collins, laments the fact that he can't remember the specifics of the books he reads; however, he continues to associate with the books "an atmosphere and a stray image or two, like memories of trips I took as a child."
My guess is that he's not alone in this. I know I remember the ride of reading but sometimes no more than the book's title.
Are young readers like this? I'm not sure. Maybe when they get older they forget specifics, but when they're young and in the moment, young children seem to remember every detail.
Books that my son could recite as a young child, he doesn't seem to remember now. But what did he gain from them? Maybe he took what was needed at the moment they were read. I certainly remember these books quite fondly.
There were the Max board books by Rosemary Wells, particularly Max's First Word (Viking, o.p.). This brightly colored book delighted a months old child as well as his mother.
He seemed comforted and perpetually surprised by Martin Wadell's Owl Babies (Candlewick) as three sibling owls await their mother's homecoming.
He liked to share the wild rumpus with Max during endless readings of Where the Wild Things Are (HarperCollins)
These and other books were shared in our home time and time again. And like Mr. Collins, we all can recall the atmosphere created by these childhood trips — each shared with a young child.
It's something that makes perfect sense. Those who work with children have seen it time and time again. But now there is actual data to support what common sense has told us all along: "Giving children access to print materials is associated with positive behavioral, educational, and psychological outcomes."
Not only does it support what RIF has been doing for over 40 years, it reinforces the importance of both public and school libraries, the work of local organizations like Turning the Page, and the charitable activities of booksellers and publishers (such as the Scholastic's ClassroomsCare program).
I've seen children changed by books. All they need is to have easy access to them and worlds open up, possibilities can be explored, connections made — to others and to the world.
Now that we have the data to support the importance of books in the well being and education to our children, let's make sure that their access to them continues.