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.
There are signs of spring everywhere. Flowers are popping out of the ground, and stores are filled with colorful merchandise.
I don't know about anyone else, but a naughty bunny named Peter Rabbit comes to mind when I see these signs of spring – though chamomile tea and the name MacGregor do the same thing, frankly.
It's not because I'm obsessed with this disobedient bunny but simply because Beatrix Potter's "Tale of Peter Rabbit" (Warne) has become part of a child's heritage.
In fact, for Peter's 100th birthday in 2002 (actually the celebration of the book's 1902 publication), the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., hosted an exhibition of Peter Rabbit's garden. There was also a 2006 film about Beatrix Potter.
Even though the exhibition is long gone and the movie mostly forgotten, the book continues. What fun it would be to start a Peter Rabbit garden at home or at school!
Potter herself was quite the naturalist, as well as an artist. Just think about how a Peter Rabbit garden might inspire and "grow" various interests and skills -- art, science, research, and even an author study.
Don't let the Peter Rabbit spin-offs put you off, though (and there are lots of them!). The small size of Potter's original book is just right for a child's hands, and it is ideal to share with children -- but not the very youngest. It's worth waiting til an older age for children to hear the rich language and examine the delicately detailed illustrations. Children usually start to appreciate Peter's antics around kindergarten, or even slightly later.
There is an official Peter Rabbit website with a bit of information about Potter as well as some activities for children. (Do note that this site is sponsored by the publisher of the original Potter books, and like most commercially-sponsored sites, is intended for adults.)
Happy spring to everyone! Here's hoping that gardens grow and books are shared!
One of my all-time favorite opening lines is in a biography, entitled The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West. It begins,"Mark Twain was born fully grown, with a cheap cigar clamped between his teeth." Only one person was in attendance at this 1865 event, "…newspaperman and frontier jester named Samuel Langhorne Clemens."
Author Sid Fleischman, was a jester himself. He died earlier this week at age 90.
The children's book world is ever-changing, but some contributions never age or change. Books by Newbery medal winner Sid Fleischman are among those books that children today appreciate like the children who first read them.
His books all have a sense of adventure sprinkled with humor and a respect for the audience.
His Newbery winner, The Whipping Boy Greenwillow), is filled with fantastic escapades, likeable and some unlikeable characters such as a boy who takes the punishment for Prince Brat (he really is though he does come around!).
And who can forget the McBroom books? These over-the-top modern tall tales are just right for reading aloud to slightly older children (perhaps 6 years up).
Though some of Fleischman's books aren't humorous, they retain the sense of adventure.
I'm thinking of White Elephant (Greenwillow) about an orphan who cares for elephants in old Siam. How the boy named Run-Run deals with a so-called gift of a white elephant is a story of growing up, taking charge of one's destiny and done only as this author could.
There are many more books by Sid Fleischman, a magician and former newspaper man, who wrote not only award winning books for children but books that spoke to them and will be read long into the future.
His voice will be missed.
My son's frantic search for the reported scores so that he could fill in his brackets reminded me that it's March and there's basketball madness in the air.
I'm on spring break this week; good thing there was no class yesterday or today. With the gorgeous weather we've been having, there was bound to be major case of spring fever going around.
What do basketball and spring fever have in common? Maybe it's that they both come around at the same time of year.
And just in time for spring fever (and something to do on days that aren't as spring-like as we might want), teachers and parents may want to think about a Battle of the Books (BoB).
There's a national BoB sponsored by School Library Journal). In this battle, there's a face-off between two books — decided by children's book authors until only 2 of the original Sweet 16 remain. It's up to the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Katherine Paterson, to make the final decision.
There's another BoB going on at my sister's school in Southwest Florida. Her school has a diverse community with many children and families who are considered at risk. But the staff and certainly the children and their families value books and reading.
Their iteration of the BoB should be a fine fit.
The county's official site for the BoB defines elementary participants as grades 3 and up, but there's no reason that younger children — even as young as pre-kindergarten and kindergarten cannot be involved.
I've learned that young children can provide amazing insight into books when they are exposed to them regularly — and if adults listen to them. Children's observations about what they've read with teachers or parents are often discerning, Some have even made me look at books differently.
So, just as my son's b-ball brackets fill up, let's fill up the Battle of the Books brackets.
And welcome Spring!
Last week I had the chance to meet with a special visitor from Indiana. Laura, her grandparents, and I met at the Central Arlington (VA) Library (an attractive and hospitable place with welcoming staff).
You may remember an earlier blog about Laura and her goal to read all of the Newbery Medalists since its inception. Laura has achieved her goal and is starting to read contenders for the 2011 Medal! In fact, she may be organizing a "mock" Newbery with a librarian in her part of the county.
Laura shares her recommendations about Newbery book reading on a recent blog post. (Believe me; they're worth taking a look at!)
She reminds her readers that some books should be read again — or perhaps read by older readers (after all, Newbery books are intended for readers up to and including age 14). One book she notes is by National Ambassador Katherine Paterson's Jacob Have I Loved (HarperCollins).
Laura is wise beyond her years and guided by a caring mother. Laura quotes her mom, Rylin, who told Laura that she'll enjoy Jacob… even more when she's older. Rylin knows that books — rich books like those by Katherine Paterson — grow with readers.
When asked what she did to create such a reader, Rylin responds, "Nothing." But that's not entirely true.
She and her husband have made books available as they visit and value libraries. Rylin says "Laura's love of books has been supported and nurtured by many loving librarians" (and in a town that does not have tax-supported libraries).
But why do Rylin and her husband make sure their children have access to books and people who nurture reading?
Because they prize reading, of course.
Laura's family has a treasure in that belief. Many thanks to Laura, Rylin and their family for taking the time to share it with us!
This morning I read a review in the Washington Post of Tim Burton's new movie, Alice in Wonderland. And I continue to think about the film — and the book that inspired it.
In Lewis Carroll's book, Alice is bored as she sits by her sister (who is reading a book "without pictures or conversations"). The monotony is relieved when Alice follows a Rabbit in a waistcoat and falls down a rabbit hole for an unforgettable adventure — an adventure that includes meeting a Mad Hatter.
Lots of child — and adult — appeal here. Boredom on a regular-enough-day turned into fantasy and high adventure. The story of Alice and her extraordinary escapades have once again inspired another interpretation.
There have been innumerable versions in book form.
There's a show-stopping pop-up of Alice done by Robert Sabuda (Simon & Schuster), a capable adaptation for newly independent readers by Mallory Loehr (Random), and a dramatically illustrated version by British picture book artist, Alison Jay (Dial). There's even a comic-book version that will be coming out this month by Jamison Odone entitled Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Stickfiguratively Speaking).
Disney's already done an animated film version. The newly released film, however, seems to update Alice in plot and the way it was created (e.g., the use of computer generated animation and unlikely stars in key rolls such as Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter).
So what's wrong with this picture? Nothing, of course.
But there is a danger that children will miss Lewis Carroll's original (would you believe it was originally written in 1865?) — distinguished by its rich language, ingenious imagination, and intriguing twists. It's an especially satisfying read aloud when coupled with John Tenniel's detailed, expressive, black and white illustrations.
To miss all that...now that would be a shame.
Celebrate the 105th birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel (much better known as Dr. Seuss) on March 2nd, with a favorite book or two, some children, and a welcoming place to read aloud.
The Read Across America celebration would have pleased Dr. Seuss a great deal I think. After all, he is credited with making books for beginning readers funny, fast-paced, and pleasing to children
Why? Seems simple to me. They're writing so that they have a future audience for their adult books.
But it begins so much earlier. The love of reading starts when children are very young. They do what the significant adults in their lives do not what they say.
That's why Read Across America can be a powerful tool. It focuses on adults reading to children on one special day but it's an activity that can be easily repeated everyday.
It also reminds adults that reading to children is fun — and with their short attention spans, adults need constant reminders. (If you think young children have short attention spans, watch a child playing a game of "peek-a-boo" with an adult and notice who tires of it first.)
There are lots of book recommendations. Try the lists on Reading Rockets or from Read Aloud America. (There's plenty of overlap — a good book with rich language screams to be shared aloud.) If you don't like reading aloud, try an audio book.
But let's join Grisham and Patterson in making certain we have lifelong learners by encouraging reading today and everyday.
Once there were word webs to explore synonyms with children.
Now there is a neat website called Visuwords, an online thesaurus and dictionary. It's fun to see words bounce and connect. There's even color coding to identify the parts of speech. (Thanks to a Reading Rockets colleague for the link!)
But like the ongoing discussion about the use of physical books (or hardcopy or low-tech books — whatever best describes them), do these materials stand alone or are they best used with physical materials — especially for younger children?
I may sound old-fashioned, but it seems to me that when using a physical book, there's a lot more serendipitous discovery possible for a range of children. Take for example, the 2008 Merriam-Webster Children's Dictionary. Childrenas young as 7 years old can check out a word in this attractive volume; they may find an additional word or a picture that intrigues them. And frankly it doesn't need any other equipment except, of course, a light source by which to see.
There's a lot of talk these days about replacing physical books with the digital variety. I for one don't think that it's a good idea to replace books entirely, especially for young children.
Rather, digital books and neat sites like Visuwords and other terrific sites intended for young users such as those recommended by the American Library Association, complement other experiences like dipping or delving into a book.
The opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver (BC) will begin later today. It's an exciting time for the young athletes and a wonderful opportunity for all children to see what can result from not only talent but lots of hard work.
It's also a chance for parents and teachers to introduce children to sports that they may not otherwise be exposed to as well as history (where, why, and when did the Olympics begin?), math (who skis down the hill in the shortest time?), stories (how do you train for these games?), and more.
I came across a wonderful website that pulls a lot of information together for adults to use with children. That plus this new Reading Rockets list of books and the Olympics themselves just may become a shared experience between adults and children. Who knows, maybe the next Olympians just may get their inspiration from this year's Winter Olympics!
So let the games begin!
Should children be subjected to the horrendous images that surround us in newspapers, on television, on the Internet? How can we avoid having them see pictures of the death, devastation, and other horrors?
I'm thinking specifically of the images that continue to come out of Haiti and the ongoing discussion about the appropriateness of what newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times have published. There have been numerous comments shared, with people wanting to avoid having children confront the destruction in Haiti. I'm just not sure it's possible.
What may be possible, however, is to share a sense of hope with children. Life in Haiti — especially for the children — has never been easy. I was reminded of that when I came across a book intended for rather young children.
Selavi — That Is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope, (Kids Can) a picture book by Youme Landowne is based on actual homeless children in Port-au-Prince and how they lived and grew in spite of their country's difficult history. It is a story nonetheless of resilience and hope.
A piece by the Reading Rockets staff suggests additional approaches to developing empathy and understanding. (The books suggested are about Haiti and about natural disasters and seem likely to address various concerns by children.)
Children also need to feel empowered; that they can do something — even a small something — to make a difference, so here are a few suggestions that may start children thinking that simple actions can help:
They can read about a 13-year old who is encouraging other young people to raise money for Haiti.
How one boy in Ghana helped his entire village is shared (on several levels) in One Hen — How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference (Kids Can) by Katie Smith Milway.
The story of one woman's action that started an entire movement in her native Kenya is told in an accessible way in Jeannette Winter's Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa (Harcourt).
Listen to the Wind (Dial) by Susan Roth is the stunningly illustrated picture book telling how Greg Mortenson built a school one stone at a time in a remote Pakistan village, bringing positive change.
Small things mean a lot. We can help children feel less powerless in the face of great difficulty by talking with them, sharing concrete ideas, helping them act. And it just may start by sharing books.
As I've already written, I was a member of the 2010 Newbery Selection Committee. This award has been given annually since 1922 to the "most distinguished American children's book published the previous year."
Anyway, because I was one of the 15 Newbery Committee members, this Spring I will have the honor of meeting a very special reader.
Laura is 4th grader from Indiana who has set a goal for herself: to read all of the Newbery Medalists. By my math, there have been 88 winners since the start. Not only is that a lot of books, a lot of them are very long and quite different than books written more recently.
Times change, tastes change, and some say children change (I'm not so sure about that but that's another conversation). It is true, however, that while there is a lot more competing for young people's time and attention, adults remain influential.
Laura is reading all of the Newbery books because her mom read them all when she was in middle school. But, as Laura says, (pardon me Laura's mom!) that was a long time ago and the list is now longer — and back then, middle school started in 7th grade!
I didn't touch some of the Newbery winning books until I was an adult (way past 7th grade!) and still struggled with some, but loved others. Laura's insight (noted on her blog) has inspired me reread and rethink some of the earlier winners.
I hope that Laura will revisit some of these books in a few years to decide if she thinks they hold up, if they're still gripping adventures, and if she'd continue to recommend them — if she thinks that they are indeed "distinguished."
But as a member of the 2010 Newbery Committee, I'm pleased that she likes When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb/Random). That distinguishes the committee's work.