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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.
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.
It's almost here! The annual gathering of the American Library Association begins at the end of the week in Washington, D.C.
It's a time to share and gather information, meet old and new friends, and to celebrate award-winning books. Among them are the Newbery and Caldecott Medalists.
One of my newer friends, 4th grader Laura from Indiana, is coming to town to meet some her heroes — the authors who have written this year's Newbery Medal winning and honor books. Laura is probably going to gather up contenders for consideration for the Mock Newbery she's started in her hometown.
(You may remember that Laura made it her goal to read each and every Newbery winner ever written — and she's done just that, ranking them.)
Maybe Laura will have a chance to spend time in exhibits and talk to some of the publishers. And if she snags a picture with Greenwillow editors, Virginia Duncan and Steve Geck, then she'll win a collection of their 2010 books. (Even if no one gets the picture, the Greenwillow blog is a wealth of information about both Newbery and Caldecott honorees, not to mention tons of other creators.)
In any case, I'm sure looking forward to seeing Laura again — and to meeting the people who created the range of wonderful award winning books. The Newbery Committee, of which I was part, worked diligently. Now we get to celebrate with friends old and new!
What do you do when a child wants to read a book that's too sophisticated or you feel is plain inappropriate for them?
That's the dilemma a friend of mine confronted when her six-year-old son wanted to read a book that he could easily decode but that is probably most appropriate for upper elementary to middle school children. So she called me. (She knew her son — like most kids — would probably listen to a neutral but trusted third party more than he'd listen to his own mom.)
It was my pleasure to have a chance to talk to 6-year-old Rafe and his mom. Rafe asked about the book he wanted to read; apparently he'd heard some of his older friends talking about it. I told Rafe that I think there are some books that kids should wait to read; that the book would still be available when he was a bit older.
We talked about other books that he might like; Rafe had some suggestions for me, too. From this conversation, we're going to start a book swap. I'll give him some books that I think he'd like and I'd like his opinion on and he said he'd share some book that he's liked with me.
I love getting feedback from young readers about books. It keeps me honest — often children see things in books that I don't. Sharing books and ideas with children helps adults find out what appeals and builds a bond of shared experiences. Plus it's fun.
I do think that it's incumbent on parents of young children to know what's between the covers of the books their children read and what they see on screens (either in movies or on television) — not to censor it but to guide them, maybe to build on the ideas presented.
It gets tougher to keep up with longer books that children grow into; but there are people in every community whose business it is to know children's books. They're only as far away as the public library — a key resource all year but especially during the summer.
In any case, I've got a small pile of my books for Rafe and can't wait to give them to his mom to share with him. I hope he likes Melonhead (Yearling), and Mr. Popper's Penguins (Little Brown) and a few others. I don't know for sure — but look forward to finding out soon.
It is official: summer has started, at least unofficially.
And with it comes the talk of the summer learning loss. But a video message from author Mary Amato makes a case that summer is a great time for kids to exercise their imaginations. They'll have fun and likely avoid losing reading skills.
How? Reading and writing!
What? Books, songs, plays — wherever and whatever the imagination fancies.
Where? Almost any where, any time. Books are still portable. So are paper and writing instruments.
So, begin exercising the imagination with some lighthearted books such as the Riot Brothers series by Mary Amato. This series is just that, too — a riot. In Take the Mummy and Run: The Riot Brothers Are on a Roll (Holiday), Orville and Wilbur Riot must entertain a girl relative but find that the summer isn't all bad with this adventurous cousin.
The characters in Mary's book, Please Write in this Book (Holiday), not only write in a class journal, they learn a lot about themselves and each other. Even though this book is set in a classroom, it is fun and funny and readers may just see themselves in it or even become inspired to create a journal of their own.
Pictures from Our Summer Vacation by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow) may inspire another kind of journaling — with photographs of a trip or other summer goings-on.
Young artists may want to describe their friends, schools, and more in unique collage portraits just like the young narrator does in My Best Friend Is as Sharp as a Pencil (and other titles) by Hanoch Piven (Schwartz & Wade).
There are lots of ways to exercise one's imagination — and it often starts with opening a book.
When I first heard the term "summer slide" I thought of equipment on a playground. But as I'm sure you're aware, there's another meaning entirely. This slide refers to summer learning loss.
There's lots of research about it. Children tend to lose reading (and math) skills over the summer when they're not used.
There are many activities that enhance reading and will slow or stop that slide — talking, singing, reading aloud, keeping a journal or photo album of summer activities, and lots more.
One thing that our family still does is cook together. And lots of cooking can start with a story book that involves food and more.
Cook-a-doodle-doo (Sandpiper) by Janet Stevens and her sister is a very funny take-off on the traditional story of the industrious Little Red Hen. Just like his grandmother, the rooster asks for but actually gets help. Together the friends find a recipe for and make delicious strawberry shortcake. (I've tried the recipe and it is quite good!) Along the way, they also learn a few things about following the special language of cooking and recipes.
Another enjoyable story book that includes a tasty cooking activity is Honey Cookies (Francis Lincoln) by Meredith Hooper. A grandmother almost poetically describes the ingredients she and her grandchild need to make this sweet treat. (She's actually telling Ben where each originates.) A recipe for the cookies is included in this book, too (though if you try this one, add a little more butter than called for; makes them moister.)
A classic summer activity is planting a garden — even better when you're Growing Vegetable Soup (Voyager). Vegetables, seeds, and garden tools are all presented in Lois Ehlert's colorful illustrations that present a handsome garden. A recipe for vegetable soup is also included. (I've never tried this one, but it looks pretty standard.)
Do you and the children in your life have a book and favorite activity that can stop the summer slide? If so, take a minute to share it with us!
Some picture book writers are like rappers; even though they're gone, their work continues to be reworked and reintroduced.
If Margaret Wise Brown was alive, she would celebrate her 100th birthday later this month. (She died in 1952 at age 42.)
Leonard Marcus — Brown's biographer — has reworked Brown's own words in an imagined interview in a recent Horn Book Magazine. What struck me was how little things have really changed since Brown first wrote her books; they were criticized for being about the familiar, about being simple — yet nonetheless, Brown's books have endured.
Children's books may look easy to write, but the good ones are anything but easy. Brown is quoted as saying that she writes a draft in about 20 minutes but then spends two years (yes, years) "polishing" it.
Mo Willems (author of the award winning Pigeon books and Knuffle Bunny) writes and creates illustrations relatively quickly, too — and then spends most of his time revising, polishing or as he's said, taking things out. Willems tries to make his art and text work seamlessly; it is after all, an experience in which the child-reader takes an active role. He/she must be able to empathize with both the pictures and the words.
Books for young children have roots in the familiar but in order to be successful, they should build on the familiar and allow children to see or feel or imagine something they didn't even know they knew. (Think of Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are (Harper) and the quieter Goodnight Moon.)
And they work best when something timeless is presented that "speaks" to generations of readers. And that usually means that both the illustrator and writer are invisible — and ageless.
Books and drama go hand in glove — they're both about story, after all. Just look at the films that have drawn their inspiration from children's books.
On a smaller scale, Reader's Theater brings stories to life as I was reminded when reading a recent article by Elizabeth Poe. The educational — and social — benefits of second grade children sharing Eric Rohmann's A Kitten Tale (Knopf) with preschool children are clearly presented.
I've seen adult writers of books for young readers perform in this way and there are lots of resources to get teachers started, but for second graders to choose, script, and perform their work reminds me that it's far too easy for adults to underestimate how capable young children are when given the chance.
Reader's Theater fits into classroom or library activities and may even become a family or community pursuit. All it takes is an appealing book with a strong story and some faith in children's (and adults') creativity.
Find out more about Reader's Theater in the Reading Rockets strategy library
The first pitch of the season has been thrown and the professional baseball season is in full swing. So it is for kids who play Tee ball, softball, and baseball at school, a recreation or community center, or in their own neighborhood.
Playing a team sport has huge benefits for children — I saw it when my son started playing Tee ball in first grade. He had lots of fun but also learned a great deal by playing with other kids, listening to his coach, and figuring out some of his limitations as well as his strengths.
A recent book by Fred Bowen (who also writes a sports column for the Kids Post) reminded me that beyond playing the sport, reading about a sport and some of its early heroes can be exciting — and an endless source of topics to engage children and get them thinking about lots of issues.
How would you respond if asked if you'd go for the sure thing or do something that was more difficult — but clearly a more honorable course? That very question is posed in Bowen's book, No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season (Dutton).
Ted Williams confronted the question to stay with his .400 batting average and sit out the final games of the 1941 season or risk it and play them. Tension builds as the events of the season unfold. Will Williams take the easy way? Can he maintain his batting average and finish out the season?
Beyond leading to fine discussion, this is an appealing book that seamlessly includes background information (e.g., what is a batting average and how is it determined? Why is a .400 so unusual? Why is this Williams' last season?). The accompanying illustrations include actual photographs of Williams adding yet another dimension.
I hope my son will continue play team sports — he tells me that he's thinking about going out for baseball next year. And I hope we will continue to read and talk and think about some of the sports figures — past and present.
I remember when Earth Day was first celebrated (but I won't date myself and tell you where I was in school!). The 40th celebration will take place on April 22, 2010. In other words, Earth Day is older than the children who will celebrate it this year — and probably older than many of their parents.
It really is a worthy celebration. This is the only planet we have to live on with truly unique and diverse, multi-species inhabitants, so it seems fitting to start teaching children at an early age how they can take care of the Earth on which they live.
I had the chance to meet Sy Montgomery, last week. She not only respects the planet and its residents, she celebrates them through her exciting books. (She was in town to receive the Children's Book Guild Nonfiction Award for her consistently fine body of work.)
What Ms. Montgomery does is find the story in real life, the drama in interacting with some of Earth's most intriguing and endangered creatures. She contends that every animal (including those with 2, 4 or even those with more legs or no legs at all) can teach us something. And when you read her books about flightless parrots, snow leopards, pink dolphins or some other intriguing subject, I bet you'll agree.
Good writing brings nonfiction to life. And there are many fine writers of books for children. In fact, I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) is a blog by some of those writers.
Three of those fine nonfiction authors are participating in a free webinar to enhance the K-8 curriculum using nonfiction books. Better hurry though; registration closes at the end of today.)
Earth Day is a great time to bring the natural world into focus and help children realize that not only are they part of it, there's a lot more to learn about it; that discovery is still possible. And empowering a young person through books and information is truly the best! It's learning that is fun with lasting effects.