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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.
There has been lots of interest in what's next for J.K. Rowling, famous author of the Harry Potter series, though it seems likely that Harry Potter will live on in audio, print, and DVD for the next generation to enjoy.
That's the thing about good stories — they continue to be fresh regardless of when they were created.
Rowling has recently signed a contract for an adult book. There's lots of speculation as to whether or not it will continue in the world of wizards or if it will be something entirely different. Who knows? But since almost an entire generation has grown up with Harry — plus lots of adults — there will be no lack of readers.
Harry Potter has been read by young and old (or at least experienced!) alike.
So what is the difference between a book for children and one for adults? It can't just be the age of the main characters. There are lots of novels for adults that have young characters. Scout's narration in To Kill a Mockingbird begins when she is about 6 years old, while in the easy reader series, Mr. Putter and Tabby, the title character is depicted as an elderly man.
Maybe we spend too much time trying to decide who can decode words and not enough thinking about how a story relates to the reader's experiences — actual or vicarious, social or emotional — and the entire "got to" versus "get to" read/hear/view the story. Let's not forget the ability of a good writer to create characters that readers can relate to. The craft involves taking readers places — and enjoying the journey.
- Authors & illustrators
I remember many years ago sharing a book with photographs by Bruce MacMillan with a group of inner-city preschool children. They were bright and vivacious and eager to share what they knew.
While I no longer remember the title of the book, I'll never forget a little boy's response when I asked what the full-color image of a black and white cow was. He exclaimed with authority, "A dog!"
It made sense: both dog and cow have four legs, a tail, and other physical qualities in common, both could be found outdoors, both could be black and white; and without a scale to measure it by, they both might appear in a picture to be similar in size.
The child knew what he had experienced personally: he had come across dogs but never a cow. And he had never gone far beyond his own neighborhood.
A recent article in The New York Times reminded me of this preschool and the power of learning through experience. Teachers at a Brooklyn school are taking their young students to lots of places in the community such as an auto repair shop.
Before and after the outing, they read books. One child read Honda, the Boy Who Dreamed of Cars by Mark Weston (Lee & Low) but younger children interested in basic car parts might enjoy Byron Barton's My Car (Greenwillow). A ride on the subway may allow children to compare their NYC subway to another shown in Mary Quattlebaum's Underground Train (Yearling, o.p.). The possibility to read related books to enhance and extend these experiences is virtually unlimited.
Books can also be companions and guides for outings. What will we see along the way? How long will it take us to get there? If we have to take the subway, how many tokens (or farecards or whatever) will we need for a roundtrip? Why was this bridge given this name?
And who knows what other activities may arise out of reading? Map-making? Art? Math? Social studies? Maybe even another trip to the school or local public library.
Is the growing gap in children's achievement primarily fueled by economics? What other factors may have a role in it — and how can the apparent trend be reversed?
A recent piece in The New York Times reports studies that indicate a widening fissure in educational achievement between rich and poor. But it also suggests other factors may be at play.
Access to books, computers, knowledgeable staff, and other resources can be found in well-funded (but often not) school and public libraries — key "equalizers" in helping students achieve.
Where else might a child (and adults) meet authors like Charles Dickens — especially during his bicentennial birthday month?
My favorite introduction to this literary hero — sure to engage and inspire young readers is Charles Dickens: Scenes from an Extraordinary Life by Mick Manning (Frances Lincoln), illustrated by Brita Granstrom. This and other work by this author/illustrator team is not well known; its publisher is U.K.-based — enhancing the importance of library collections.
So let's introduce writers — contemporary and classic — to all children equitably and make sure that libraries are open and staffed to do so. That's a key ingredient to narrowing the achievement gap.
We're all hyphenated Americans really. It's the way we identify our backgrounds and that's fine. If, however, identification by self or others becomes a way to maintain separation, well, that's not fine.
I was reminded recently that books are important as both "mirrors" and "windows" as I introduced books to a group of teenaged parents. They were learning about their children's development and the role of literature and language in it.
How sharing books with babies and toddlers develops empathy came up when we read Ten Little Fingers & Ten Little Toes (Harcourt) by Mem Fox.
One young mother exclaimed that the babies were multicultural — and that one looked like her 8-month old daughter. She figured out that the range of faces in Helen Oxenbury's simple but appealing line and watercolor illustrations reflected the diversity of the world in which this child was growing up; that the child would eventually grow beyond her family.
What this suggests is that books introduce readers to myriad people of all backgrounds — even in homogeneous communities. Children need to see themselves and meet others. These books must have a universal appeal, an emotional authenticity, and enough story to keep readers engaged.
Ezra Jack Keats' Snowy Day (Viking) celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year. Peter, a young African American boy, enjoys a snowy day in the city — just like children everywhere. That the book is older than the teachers and parents sharing it is a testament to the book's widespread appeal.
I'm no longer in 3rd grade, my parents didn't divorce, but I do remember trying to make new friends like Dyamonde Daniels. Dyamonde is a bright child whose everyday ups and downs in her new neighborhood ring true not only for newly independent readers but for readers of all ages. And Dyamonde is an African American girl.
For middle school readers, the difficulty and joys of growing up in Planet Middle School (Bloomsbury). An African American girl gradually comes to accept the inevitable changes of growing up in this sometimes funny, sometimes touching, novel in verse. All girls (and guys) old and young will see themselves in Joylin as she starts to come of age.
It's Black History Month. Let's try to continue it beyond February. African Americans and other hyphenated Americans should be recognized and celebrated throughout the year. It's sure to help children develop empathy to last a lifetime.
It's always heartening to be with other booklovers — especially those who recognize that the younger we start sharing the power and pleasure of language and story with children the more likely they'll grow into lifelong learners.
It was exciting to attend what has become known as the Youth Media Awards announcements at the midwinter conference of the American Library Association.
I sometimes wonder about the effect of too many awards (it sure made for a lengthy program). Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? Are there too many honors given? But I've concluded that awards can help identify books (in one form or another) that are in some way outstanding in this overcrowded field.
Sometimes authors and illustrators are recognized more than once, as was the case with this year's Caldecott Medal winner.
While Raschka has a unique style, he uses it very differently in ...Daisy. The story, which is told almost entirely without words, unfolds rather like a comic book. The visual storytelling, however, needs no words to convey the small dog's joy in a toy, the devastating loss, and ultimate friendship. Young children are the most likely to take the time to carefully examine the illustrations, but readers of all ages will recognize the emotions in this seemingly simple presentation.
So congratulations to all the award winners and especially to Chris Raschka who has joined a select group of artists who can claim more than one Caldecott Medal!
What do a red cape, a magic wand and a light sword represent? Each seems to be a sign of magic, heroics, something more than mere human, right?
What happens when the writers who hold these objects come together in one room? They become the superheroes and spokespeople to let the world know about the importance of reading.
These are the Super National Ambassadors for Young People's Literature! Together, their power can change the world! And that's just what current and former Ambassadors have set out to do.
Newly inaugurated Ambassador Walter Dean Myers flanked by outgoing Ambassador Katherine Paterson, and Jon Scieszka, the first Ambassador, talked to a standing-room-only crowd at the Washington, D.C. independent bookstore Politics and Prose Bookstore on Tuesday.
They talked about the power of reading. Each shared personal stories about their passion and power of story and reading. They have each seen the power of story, how books change lives — even save lives.
It's a big job to catch and keep the country's attention to remind them of something as seemingly simple yet powerful as the power of reading, books, and libraries. Learning to read requires time, patience and resources. Libraries have to be open, materials accessible. It's a never-ending job — but one with endless rewards.
I am confident that the current Ambassador — with the support of his predecessors and of teachers, parents, and others — is more than up for the position.
So as your work continues, congratulations again, Mr. Ambassador! We're behind you 100%!
A new year has started and with it a new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Our new Ambassador continues a short but highly distinguished group of spokespeople for the importance of literature in the lives of children and young adults.
Walter Dean Myers will assume his newest role next week at a ceremony at the Library of Congress.
Walter Dean Myers writes books for every age. Each unique book reflects a particular interest of the author, his passion for history, and a depth of understanding about young people's emotional response to difficult situations including war.
Mr. Myers has been a longtime presence in our home.
One of my son's favorite books as a young child was Brown Angels (HarperCollins). He enjoyed the lively, rhythmic poetry and meeting children who lived long ago. It didn't matter that the children in the old photographs dressed differently and didn't really look like my son. He instinctively understood that they all shared something more meaningful; perhaps it was simply childhood.
My son was introduced to the Viet Nam war (in which his favorite uncle was involved) in Fallen Angels and later what soldiers experienced in Iraq through Sunrise Over Fallujah (both Scholastic). He was able to glimpse prison and the justice system, pondering guilt and innocence — from the outside and from the inside — with Monster (Amistad).
Readers of all ages can go on a Blues Journey (Holiday), listening to its music in the poetry while envisioning the period from which it grew through the evocative illustrations by Myers' son, Christopher Myers. They can meet a real African princess taken to England At Her Majesty's Request (Scholastic, o.p.) and feel the pressure of guns and gangs with Jamal in the Newbery honor Scorpions (Amistad).
So, congratulations Walter Dean Myers, Mr. National Ambassador of Young People's Literature! We look forward to an exciting term — and always, always to your next books.
Even though the weather is mild, it's still December. We've just passed the winter solstice; with it, the shortest day of the year (or the longest night, depending on your perspective) and a timeworn source of various observations.
December is filled with celebrations and traditions.
A recent PW posting reminded me that a relatively new American tradition of the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature (perhaps inspired by the UK Children's Laureate) may be catching on. It has been started across another body of water.
Boorie Pryor and Alison Lester have been named the first Australian Children's Laureates. Many books by these children's book creators are available in the U.S. to the delight of readers of many ages from the youngest to young adult.
As the Australian tradition begins, the American Children's Ambassadorship continues. In January a new Ambassador will be announced as Katherine Paterson "retires" from her two years. I am confident that her ambassadorial theme, "Read for your life," will continue.
Here's hoping that your December traditions — traditional or not — are fun, festive and memorable.
All good wishes for the New Year!
- Authors & illustrators
Have you been around a school or even a group of children in the past few days? They seem to be having a tough time sitting still, concentrating. Lots of adults are, too. December is a busy month: presents to buy or make, wrap, give or receive; parties to prepare for; friends and family to see. And more, lots more.
Maybe it's time to slow down and celebrate the season with a good book.
You may want to start with a couple of holiday classics, like Chris Van Allsburg's Polar Express (Houghton) or How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Random) by Dr. Seuss. Though they couldn't be more different in style and presentation, both books deal with believing and faith.
Readers can visit familiar friends like in Karma Wilson's Bear Stays up for Christmas (McElderry) or share Clement Moore's The Night Before Christmas (Little Simon) again with Robert Sabuda's amazing pop-ups.
If you tired of all of the holiday brouhaha, then how about taking a look at the season? There are lots of snow-filled classics that share well again (and again and again).
Share Peter's fun on The Snowy Day (Viking) or join a girl and her father as they search for a nocturnal bird when there's an Owl Moon (Philomel). Take a close look at snowflakes with Snowflake Bentley (Sandpiper) or see how a dull town is transformed by Snow (Farrar).
And if you do slow down with a book, then maybe — just maybe — the busy season won't feel quite as frenzied.
I enjoy reading, sharing, and sometimes just thinking about picture books. There's been a lot written about them lately; some people are even calling for their demise. But I know better. They help children understand their world.
I was reminded of the power of pictures when I read a recent blog by Joanne Meier, fellow Reading Rockets blogger. She wrote about "infographics" which are visual representations of information or data.
Adults use them all the time. I look at the weather online and in the newspaper — especially when bad weather is expected.
We quickly absorb information conveyed by images, almost in one fell swoop. It's just the opposite when reading words. Then we take in information little by little, having to put it together to gain meaning. (I think of the words that compose a sentence, the sentences that make a paragraph, etc.)
Words and image come together in "infographics" to create meaning quickly but in some depth.
A young child gains meaning from illustrations much as we all do (that is, of course, if adults bother to really look any more). What is conveyed? Meaning, certainly. (It's a cat, house, tree.) Mood, most likely. (It looks happy, sad, scary.) Attitude, perhaps. (What will children come away with, for example, if all scientists are depicted as male?)
Words and image come together in the picture books in many ways and in ways that are both traditional and unexpected. The range of styles and media used are as broad as any museum collection.
But together they create meaning for readers young and experienced. And that meaning is all the more significant (and fun) when shared between an adult and a child.