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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.
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.
It was exciting to be in the audience at the press conference at the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association where this year's "Youth Media Awards" were announced.
Not only does the American Library Association award the well known Newbery and Caldecott Medals, but many other significant awards such as the Coretta Scott King Award, the Carnegie Medal for outstanding video, and many others of interest to those who live and work with children and young adults.
This year's Caldecott Medal went to a quiet book. Because it was quiet, I didn't give it as much attention as it deserved — at least until it received the Caldecott. Beth Krommes' illustrations for The House in the Night (Houghton Mifflin) are done in scratchboard. They effectively evoke a nighttime setting ideal for this bedtime book. It's a fine book, well worth close examination.
I'm sure that there are those who will not agree with the choice. It's simply impossible to please everyone. But the Caldecott Committee is a new one each year and so each year we have the opportunity to read, reread, examine, and consider books that provide readers with primarily a visual experience. And I know these are people who spend a great deal of time doing so.
Even when a Caldecott Medal book isn't a personal favorite, I know that it's been vetted completely and is a darn good book. I just have to learn to see it more clearly or with different, perhaps better-educated, eyes.
Just like we try to teach children to eat different foods, we need to introduce children to different styles of illustration, helping them to see things in a different way — and nurture an appreciation for the unique point of view.
Change is in the air. It was almost palpable yesterday as throngs of people — including lots of young children — witnessed the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.
Hope and change have become buzzwords, but you can almost feel both. They're certainly apparent in recent books for children (though not for children only), both inspired by the words of Barack Obama.
Kadir Nelson is probably best known for his luminous, full color illustrations for books such as his Caldecott Honor book Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Hyperion, 2006).
But in his new book, Change Has Come (Simon & Schuster) Nelson uses a much freer, informal style. The loose sketches combine with Obama's own words (with sources noted, by the way) in an elegant, forward looking typeface to convey the excitement generated by this election.
Another recent book by poet Nikki Grimes entitled Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope (Simon & Schuster) was also inspired by Obama's own writing. Its wraparound story of a boy and his divorced mother provides an immediate connection for younger readers. Illustrations by award-winning Bryan Collier are the perfect complement to the graceful text.
Hope. Change. They're in the air and in books for young readers. Let's savor them and the moment.
A recent newspaper article about books going digital led me to a blog by Alana Semuels. That books are being digitized is not new, of course, but that publishers are looking keenly at digitized books for young readers is.
In addition to large publishing houses exploring eBooks in a serious way, there are businesses like Tumblebooks that provide books from print publishers online (and a host of activities — for a fee).
There is also the International Children's Digital Library, a research (though much more) and very user friendly project from the University of Maryland College Park.
Digitization of books for children makes sense. Even the youngest child is exposed to new technologies everywhere, everyday it seems. It is simply ubiquitous — though digital books are not necessarily so.
But publishers — who are having a tough go of it — may be overly excited about eBooks taking over from traditional books. Book sales have fallen (probably not dissimilar to just about every other business in today's economy) — and like other businesses, publishers seem to be looking for the next big thing.
The possibilities for digital books are indeed huge but there's also danger in letting go of the old before the new is really replaceable.
While reading is learned individually and reader response is intensely personal, it seems to me that books build communities: communities of learners, communities around shared experiences, communities built on common interests.
What happens to the personal bond between the author/illustrator and reader when a device is put between them? And by device I mean sound, movement — a different interpretation of word and image so that it's no longer up to the reader (including the reader of images) to pull meaning, cull story, feel emotion. Are communities of readers and thinkers built using these devices?
Maybe these are moot questions but it seems to me that they — and a host of other questions — are worth thinking about.
I received a letter at the end of last month from a 2nd grade boy who attends the school where my sister works. The child's letter was obviously part of a class project — but it was carefully written with one of my favorite and well traveled book characters neatly folded up in the letter.
You may know this book character; he's got a website devoted to school projects and more. His name is Flat Stanley. (The website, by the way, was created by a teacher from Ontario some 10 or more years ago.)
Anyway, even though Jeff Smith's first book about the boy, who became flat from an unusual accident, came out long ago, his adventures continue. In fact, a new series about Stanley Lambchop and his family as they continue their travels is coming out this Spring.
I've recently read an advance copy of Flat Stanley's first Worldwide Adventure, The Mount Rushmore Calamity (HarperCollins) in which Stanley and the family travel to see the Black Hills of South Dakota, save a face, and soak up some of the local culture.
I'm not always a proponent of continuing a character after its creator is gone, but author Sara Pennypacker who has taken over Jeff Brown's creation, maintains the tone and pace of his original work.
And so, teachers and Stanley aficionados will have another series that will likely inspire more letters and more pictures of Stanley around the country and around the world.
It's a nice way to start the New Year, isn't it? A bit of travel, a bit of fun, and a good letter or so to share.
I'm writing this on Christmas Eve. It's almost time for the gifts to be unwrapped. Along with the toys and clothes, just about everyone on my list is getting a book; the kids are getting a couple.
I gave my son (an eternal Potter fan even in high school!) J.K. Rowling’s The Tales of the Beedle the Bard.
For my two-year-old niece I chose several new Lucy Cousins (Candlewick) books while her four-year-old sister is getting Cynthia Rylant's Puppies and Piggies (Harcourt) and The Great Gracie Chase (Blue Sky).
My six-year-old niece will read a few Seuss books, including the now 40-year old Yertle the Turtle (Random).
Even the adults on my list are getting books — everything from cookbooks to biography to fast-paced thrillers.
I hope that I get a few new books, too. They are truly the gift that lasts!
Until after the New Year, here's hoping that the season is bright and filled with good stories!
The stories behind stories are fascinating — whether they're contemporary or historical, real or imagined.
I was reminded of that today when I listened to NPR. Diane Rehm talked with the author of The Man Who Invented Christmas (Crown) which examines the background of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and the time in which it was written.
A recent children's book introduces Clement Moore's inspiration when it 'Twas the Day Before Chirstmas (Dutton). Author Brenda Seabrooke imagines how Moore came up with the poem (included here in its entirety) as a gift for his children. The text is complemented by Denala Bettoli's illustrations which call to mind folk artists.
Reading this poem has been a tradition in our family, well, ever since I was a kid — a tradition that continues.
And there are enough illustrated versions of Moore's poem for any taste or any mood.
Mary Engelbreit's (HarperCollins) highly detailed illustrations have a contemporary feel but remain true to the original poem. Illustrations by Gennady Spirin (Cavendish)are almost nostalgic, transporting readers back to a long ago time. And of course there is Robert Sabuda's (Little Simon) stunning pop-up version. And these are just a sampling.
Holidays and holiday traditions often start with stories. Regardless of where the story starts, the back story is always fun to share!
There are all kinds of tugs at heartstrings particularly during the holiday season. Many of these have to do with animals.
Some families will consider getting a pet, some will support animal charities, and some children may even lose a pet.
Our dog, a longtime family member, has become ill recently. And even though our son is a teenager, how will he handle her eventual death? They've grown a lot together.
Books and stories often linger long after the conclusion. Children draw on those vicarious experiences — the positive and the not-so-positive perhaps when they need those stories the most.
Because of the power of story, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) "recognizes an exceptional children's book with a humane focus on animals or the environment with the KIND Children's Book Award."
In fact, the HSUS website is a good place for parents thinking of getting a pet during the holiday season.
So here's to health and happiness during the season — for people — and their pets!
I've heard that more people travel this coming weekend than any other during the year. It's because this week Thanksgiving will be celebrated in homes across the country.
In spite of the economic downturn, there is much for which we all can be thankful. This is a good time to help children recognize that there can be more than tangibles for which to be grateful; that the ideological foundations of this country continue to resound.
It's about a girl and her parents who leave their native Russia to find religious freedom in the United States. Third grade Molly, however, is teased not only because of her accent but also because the Pilgrim she makes doesn't look like the more traditional depictions; instead it looks like Molly and her mother.
Religious freedom is something for which we can be grateful — as is the freedom to express these views openly. The First Amendment goes even farther by not limiting our ability to speak our minds in terms of religion, but also about just about anything else.
And though not unlimited, these basic freedoms are something about which to be exceedingly appreciative.
Perhaps likening Americans' freedom to the freedom children experience within a family — both with unique constraints — can help make us a bit more like Molly. Thankful.