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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.
I read a recent article in the New York Times that surprised me a bit. A team of researchers, anthropologists no less, went searching for what 6 to 14 year old boys might find most appealing to watch.
Interesting to note that boys and their interests are the focus of a study sponsored by Disney, a leader in the production of programs that spawned a princess frenzy that reaches girls of all ages — literally into adulthood.
Why now? Why boys? To tap another market? Or because a market is being lost? Or just too much pink?
There's been a lot of attention paid to what boys read, promoted by many including Jon Scieszka with his Guys Read website. The mission is of course to get boys reading and to expand the notion of what reading is.
The graphic format — someone suggested the term "visual literature" — seems likely to expand the notion. And there is a new imprint to do just that.
TOON Books was started by comic book giant, Art Spiegelman and his wife, Francoise Mouly (the noted art editor for The New Yorker) to combine the pacing and format (plus the appeal) of comic books with the controlled vocabulary of Dr. Seuss.
There are superheroes like Mo and Jo: Fighting Together Forever, siblings whose rivalry stops long enough for them to unite to overcome villains. There's Jack and the Box, a rabbit who finds an unusual surprise in the toy. And while there's a princess in Benny and Penny: Just Pretend, she's Benny's pesky little sister who interferes with his make-believe pirating (all TOON).
Maybe we don't need Disney researchers, just adults who are willing to stretch their ideas of what boys respond to and why they may not respond like girls. Emmbedded in that should be how adults regard what reading is and what books should look like, along with a close-up understanding of what boys might read, and by extension watch on screens — it just may be more diverse than what we adults realize.
Not all that long ago, a college student was very excited to find a picture book biography of an amazing singer completely new to the student. The book was When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick (Scholastic); the singer was Marian Anderson.
This is a moving book, one that introduces Marian first as a child who sang in a church choir who grows up to become a woman with an extraordinary voice — and someone who was largely unknown in her home country for no other reason than she was an African American.
This Sunday, Easter Sunday, will mark 70 years since Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.; 70 years since she was denied a performance at the DAR Constitution Hall. And this Sunday there will be a concert at the Lincoln Memorial to remember Marian Anderson's amazing, operatic voice as well as what she helped the country achieve.
Several things struck me about the student who discovered Anderson through a children's book. Obviously books are significant in bringing history alive again and again for each reader. And, a good children's book is simply a good book that can be accessed by children. But it made me also remember that trade books — books that aren't textbooks — play a key role in education.
Trade books introduce subjects and ideas that may be excluded from textbooks because there isn't enough space to tell that story or because textbook buyers may find the subject potentially controversial.
Whatever the reason, it seems that the college student who hadn't met Marian Anderson until she read What Marian Sang was very fortunate indeed; and so are the children with whom she works now.
It's April suddenly. And even though it's still wintry, the days are noticeably longer, the sun is getting warmer (that is, when it shines), and buds and shoots are popping out all over.
I'm looking forward to spending time outdoors: playing and walking and gardening and just appreciating the start of a new season.
And when I recently came across a blog from a woman who calls herself the Grass Stain Guru, I started to recall my own long ago childhood when we spent hours unsupervised outside, even in an urban or quasi-suburban neighborhood.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not at all waxing nostalgic, but it does seem that these days adults need to actively encourage children to appreciate the outdoors — and take the time to share it with them.
Of course, books help gain an appreciation and understanding of the natural world. I recently came across a new book by a first time author that provides a memorable imaginary journey into a redwood forest — by way of the subway.
Jason Chin's Redwoods (Flashpoints/Roaring Brook) begins with a boy traveling on a city subway.
The world around him begins to change; while he reads, he leaves the city and enters a majestic forest. Information about the majestic trees is conveyed through text and almost magical yet informative illustrations and continues until his return to the city.
What a neat concept. Not only does this book but books in general can take you on adventures, allow you to go back in time, and inform you before or during an outdoor experience.
So, here's hoping that the rain will stop for the weekend so we can all better enjoy the great outdoors, with book in hand of course.
When I started to write a response to an inquiry from Louise, I began listing a few specific books that I might suggest. (Louise works with 4 and 5 year old boys who have some strong notions about what girls do, like, and are capable of.)
Boys — and even girls — sometimes develop strange ideas about what can or cannot be done because of gender. And you're so wise, Louise, to use books to address this issue. Books offer a way to look at and talk about behavior without getting too specific.
Here are a few of my favorite picture books. Also,you may want to consider taking a looks at picture book biographies. I've noted a few toward the end.
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman (Dial) — Grace breaks several stereotypes to star in her class play.
Annabelle Swift by Amy Hest (Scholastic) — Annabelle overcomes a crisis of confidence with great competence!
Brave Irene by William Steig (Farrar) — Irene braves a blizzard to deliver her mother's work to a royal.
Dandelions by Eve Bunting (Sandpiper) — A girl and her sister work to help their mother become accustomed to their new prairie home (set in the 19th century US).
Mirette on the High Wire by Emily McCully (Putnam) — This Caldecott Medal winning book shows how Mirette helps the great Bellini regain his courage.
Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett by Steven Kellogg (HarperCollins) — a funny tall tale about the amazing feats of Davy Crockett's wife.
Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs (Putnam)— another humorous tall tale about an amazing woodswoman of early America.
What to do About Alice? (Scholastic) by Barbara Kerley (a look at Theodore Roosevelt's unconventional and really independent daughter) or Fly High!: the Story of Bessie Coleman (Atheneum) by Louise Borden (the first African American woman to earn a pilot's license) or Wilma Unlimited (Sandpiper) by Kathryn Krull (the story of the Olympic star who overcame many obstacles to compete)?
And of course, there are lots of easy biographies of Amelia Earhart.
As you can tell, what was to be a brief answer turned into a list grew and could grow even more, so I thought I'd put it out there in hopes that Louise might be able to find some of these books in Australia and that others may want to add to the list.
Forty is a milestone for anyone, but it's especially impressive for a something that started out small, grew with each morsel consumed, went away for a while, and emerged to fly.
As you've probably guessed, it's the small green, very hungry, and ever-popular caterpillar, of course.
There really is a lot to love about this character and the book which made him famous.
Cleverly crafted, luminous images on pages of different sizes that help build suspense combine with a very straightforward text. The pages even include a tactile experience for young hands (where the caterpillar has eaten through fruits and more).
Children are introduced to the variety of foods that the caterpillar eats, they hear the progression of days of the week, and see the life cycle of a caterpillar from egg to chrysalis to butterfly.
The special 40th annivesary pop-up book is absolutely astonishing. (Be sure to take a look at the video on Amazon; it gives insight into the book, the author, and his process.) It's a work of art in its own right.
What a way to celebrate a birthday!
And you know, my guess is that this adorable worm-like character is going to eat his way into the hearts and minds of many more generations to come.
Years ago I was in a first grade classroom introducing new words to a small group. The word we were examining was "ditch."
I remember a little boy, Paul, recognized the word and was eager to share. I also remember the ooohs of the other kids when Paul replaced the "d" sound for a "b." (We wound up sounding out the word and coming up with a synonym for a trench, by the way.)
I was reminded of Paul when I recently came across a book entitled Duck! Rabbit! (Chronicle) by Amy Rosenthal and Tom Licktenheld.
It could be a book that helps develop visual discrimination or respect for different ways of seeing things or it could even suggest an optical illusion. Regardless, the book is fun and perhaps shows the potential delight in developing whatever.
In this seemingly simple book, two distinct voices see the same image quite differently for a rollicking experience. Take a look at the Duck! Rabbit! book trailer and you'll get the picture, literally.
Then get a copy of the book from your library or bookstore and tell me what YOU and the kids in your life see.
A book like this makes recognizing the difference between letters and sights all around more fun than, well, a herd of rabbits or a raft of ducks!
Well, it's official. The First Family is getting a pet. According to a New York Times blog, the new resident will join the Obama family after spring break.
A new dog means there's a lot to think about.
One must make friends with a dog first, of course. Recommendations in rhyme for getting to know a new canine are presented in a book (due out next month) called, Don't Lick the Dog: Making Friends with Dogs by Wendy Wahman (Holt).
And of course, there may be training involved as the family in "The Trouble with Dogs…" Said Dad finds out. (The same family brought home not one, but 2 dogs in Let's Get a Pup, also by Bob Graham; both Candlewick.)
There's always the danger of Dogs on the Bed (Candlewick) as another family with two children find out when their six dogs want to jump into bed with the rest of the family.
And workers just might accidentally let the dog out unsupervised and create a scene like the Great Gracie Chase (Scholastic).
One can hope that the new First Dog will be just a regular kind of pooch like Henry Huggins' dog, Ribsy (without the flea problem, of course; HarperCollins) who has the wherewithal to get back home if lost.
Let's trust that the first family finds the perfect pet like the ever popular (and always eloquent) Nancy and her family did in Fancy Nancy and the Posh Pup (HarperCollins) — and are just as happy with their 'pound pup.'
I've just been introduced to a new (to me) blog. Rosalyn Schanzer, author of What Darwin Saw (National Geographic) told me about her recent post. And she's in the company of lots of other talented writers.
The blog is called I.N.K., short for Interesting Nonfiction for Kids.
Authors of nonfiction, like Roz, provide insight into the research that goes into writing a piece of nonfiction, including what goes into creating accurate illustrations. Roz describes how she followed — literally — in Darwin's footsteps and took thousands of photographs to assure the accuracy of her visuals.
Not only can this kind of insight encourage close examination of nonfiction books by young readers and adults alike, I think it encourages critical thinking. Readers also gain a deeper appreciation of books and what goes into them.
Writers should be willing to share where they got their information. I think it's worth looking for the inclusion of sources used — for both words and pictures. It indicates a respect for the material, the process, and the potential audience.
On the same site, author April Pulley Sayre has a post that suggests concrete ways of encouraging young authors. She provides adults with some concrete ideas to support the process of research and writing while upholding the need for a child's privacy.
I think we should have the highest expectations in nonfiction for children and young people. Not only should they be accurate, but engagingly presented.
After all, books of information can not only inform but inspire — and maybe even intrigue to the point that lays the foundation for future historians or scientists or even writers and illustrators.
February is a marvelous month. It's chockfull of all kinds of celebrations and holidays. And happily, there are lots of books for young readers to enhance and extend them.
There's African American History Month which can be celebrated by reading about distinguished leaders like Coretta Scott King. Stunning illustrations by award-winning Kadir Nelson add even more drama to the poetry of Ntozake Shange in Coretta Scott (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins).
Another recent biography celebrates a less well known African American trailblazer, Edna Lewis. Edna was the child of an emancipated slave who grew up in Freetown, Virginia, where the seasons provided the taste of the kitchen — experiences that she took with her to become an early female and celebrated chef.
Her story is told in Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a Pie by Robbin Gourley (Clarion), a lively book told in rhythmic language and jaunty illustrations. A photograph of the adult Edna Lewis and some of her tasty-sounding recipes takes this engaging book into the family kitchen as well as in a classroom (math activities come from cooking; other curriculum might include seasons and growing cycles, not to mention women's history and African American history).
And it's always time to celebrate families with Eloise Greenfield's Brothers and Sisters: Family Poems with realistic illustrations by Jan Spivey Gilchrist Amistad/HarperCollins).
And this February two famous men celebrated their 200th birthdays on February 12: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. There are lots of books about Lincoln and a few recent books for young readers about Darwin. What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World by Rosalyn Schanzer (National Geographic) is a rich look at Darwin's long journey and can be read on several levels because of its rich text an handsome illustrations.
Now all we need to finish out the February celebration is a snow day or two!
The Newbery Medal has been awarded once again. This year, it was given to Neil Gaiman for The Graveyard Book (HarperCollins, 2008), a deliciously creepy book about a boy brought up by ghosts after his parents' murder. (Clearly this is not a bedtime tale for the young or faint-hearted.)
The book meets the specified criteria used by the Newbery Committee in order to identify the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published in English in the United States during the preceding year."
It's a daunting task; one that requires hours (and hours) of reading, thinking, and discussion. And each year there are those who say the award is not doing what it should.
A recent article in the Washington Post suggested that recent award winners have been too "complicated and inaccessible to most children" (note that Gaiman hadn't yet won; I think The Graveyard Book has huge reader appeal, particularly for readers 5th grade and above).
Interesting. It made me wonder if the Newbery is still relevant, and so I asked various people at the conference at which the awards were announced what they thought: IS the Newbery still relevant in today's multimedia world?
I spoke to librarians from across the country; publishers and editors, too. Without question, everyone agreed that the Newbery still had a valuable and valued place in the field of children's literature.
Librarians Kathie Meizner, Edie Ching, and Julie Corsaro, library school dean Susan Roman, Arthur Levine, publisher of Harry Potter, and Simon Boughton of First Second Books all agreed that it was still an important recognition of literature for children. Listen to their thoughts here.
Really, how many book awards and their recipients get time on the "Today Show" like the Newbery & Caldecott Medalists (along with a fine representative from ALA)? In my opinion, not nearly enough — so let's keep the conversation about books going, whatever it takes.