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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.
Lots of fine authors and illustrators of books for children have birthdays in August. If you're reading this, then chances are you've come across their books on Reading Rockets.
Among the August birthdays are notable children's book creators such as: Walter Dean Myers who has too many honors to list here; Joanna Cole, popular and prolific writer though perhaps best known for her Magic School Bus; the ever fresh, Caldecott Honor winning Lane Smith; and Patricia McKissack, author of numerous award-winning books.
They all come together on Reading Rockets — which also has an August birthday of note. This year, Reading Rockets celebrates its 10th year.
Even before I met the people who were responsible for Reading Rockets, I was impressed that the site not only introduced the "how" of reading but imbedded the "what" of reading. The site still provides research-based information for teachers and parents in various forms (programs, webcasts, etc.), and much more.
Reading Rockets acknowledges the power of content and helps adults build on children's interests through its recommended booklists and by providing insight into the authors and illustrators whose life work is to create books for young readers. It also offers tools to help bring it all together.
So happy birthday Walter Dean Myers, Pat McKissack, Joanna Cole, Lane Smith, Ian Falconer, Matt Christopher, Steven Kroll, Seymour Simon and all of those who celebrate in August.
And a special happy birthday to Reading Rockets! Here's hoping that the next decade brings even more information and inspiration and just plain fun — because we all know that with the right book, reading rocks!
I had the chance to spend time with a terrific children's book writer earlier this week. Mary Quattlebaum and I talked about lots of things though our conversations most often came back to children and books.
In Mary's recent book, Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond (Dawn), old farmer (with the E-I-E-I-O) MacDonald's granddaughter Jo observes life around a pond. The playful language and illustrations provide children with a joyful glimpse of an ecosystem while suggesting to adults how to make the book come alive through related activities.
As Mary and I talked about why she wrote this book (and is bringing Jo MacDonald back to continue to explore nature) she explained that this was a way to recapture the joy of her country childhood — and to remind adults and children that they're missing a lot if they don't explore the world beyond their walls.
It reminded me that children are naturally drawn to the world around them. I couldn't help but relive the time when my son was less than 3 years old when, as we were walking down a city street, he squatted down over a weed. On that weed — unseen to my jaded eye — was a small white moth (or maybe a butterfly; it had wings in any case).
And I'll never forget the shriek of surprise when we read Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar (Philomel). With the turn of a page, a bright butterfly was revealed. Or when we collected cicadas in various stages of development and then let them go.
Books like Mary's can help children and adults reconnect with the natural world — even in the city. Observing and talking about what we see on a nature walk can happen anywhere — even in urban areas. These "outside" experiences are easily complemented by books and a visit to a library or bookstore.
Visit Mary on her website!
I remember when I was a kid, summers were filled with free time, playing with friends, and reading lots of books. I read everything from horse stories and fantasy to Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries and tons more that were borrowed from friends or from the library.
The media didn't call to us — after all, there was only broadcast television and radio and computers still took up room after room after room — so I suppose there was more time for the simpler things. If anyone had ever heard of the "summer slide" (losing academic skills), they probably thought it was at the park.
A young friend, Kara, who is going into the third grade, seems to be having a summer much like my olden days. Funny, too, because her dad is a computer geek (she even has her own laptop), but Kara raves about the times she and her friend play dress up, go to the pool, ride bikes, visit the library, and share books.
The girls found a new friend in Junie B. Jones apparently liking Junie's unique (and sometimes unorthodox) approach to life and its challenges. The girls might also meet Clementine, Ruby Lu, and Gooney Bird Greene at the library this summer.
Summer, reading, and libraries go together and can go a long way to prevent children from losing skills achieved as documented by Dominican University. Who knows what lasting buddies — and abilities — children will find at the library?
It's all around us. We wear it, walk on it, and admire it. It comes in different colors, made with different materials and assorted textures. And it often reflects who we are, where we live, our climate, culture, traditions, even our beliefs.
I'd never really thought about any of this until I visited the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. Textiles are ubiquitous — everything from clothing to curtains to art — with lots in between. And to explore them at the museum is a really cool thing (literally and figuratively) to do on a hot summer day!
There's a Learning Center filled with things to touch and experiment with, ideal for sharing with children and sure to elicit a few "wow" moments.
The current exhibition, Green: The Color and the Cause provided inspiration for different art projects that might be done at home or in the classroom — all the while suggesting intriguing new ways to look at things.
Stories, like textiles, are found around the world. "Cinderella" is just one of many such tales. Though details vary, you know the basic saga of the under-appreciated girl who winds up on top. It is found in hundreds of cultures.
Paul Fleischman's Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella (Holt) fuses elements of the tale from many traditions, which are reflected in illustrations that echo the texture, color, and design of the many cultures from which a particular piece comes — much like a walk through the Textile Museum.
Field trips are educational and invigorating. Whether during the school year or camp groups or as a family outing, the up-close-and-personal exploration is a lot of fun — and can be enhanced by, followed up with, or even preceded by books. All cool stuff for hot days.
As the last Harry Potter movie opens today, the media is filled with examinations of the impact of Harry Potter on a generation of children and adults. I know my son has grown up with the boy wizard and his friends and he continues to revisit them in books and film. (Our family actually enjoyed long road trips thanks to the audio versions.)
Our son also grew up reading Beverly Cleary's books including Henry Huggins, The Mouse and the Motorcycle and others while a younger cousin in the family has discovered Ramona (who has become her constant companion these days),
It's the end of an era for JK Rowling and for Beverly Cleary, too. Rowling says she's never stopped writing — and we all look forward to what comes next — while Cleary has indicated that she'll publish no more.
Books by both of these authors have already withstood the test of time (although Cleary's books have been read by several generations quite literally).
On the surface these books have very little in common but they share something that remains at the core of what creates a classic (and I define a "classic" as material that continues to resonate over time). That is, simply, emotional authenticity.
Both authors present characters that confront authentic problems big and small and deal with them in ways with which readers can empathize. That's likely why Harry, Henry, and their friends will continue to be discovered by readers of all ages as they share and delight in meeting them.
Sometimes books come with separate pieces that can be manipulated, adding a special dimension. Books are turned into games, mysteries, or some other kind of activity. Some are successful, others not so, but each of these books tries to engage, entertain, educate, and stimulate readers' interest.
The book was conceived and created especially for children with learning differences but its use shouldn't be limited by its intent.
The sturdy, oversized board book format, sequential but clearly labeled (and very charming) illustrations, and dual-sided "game" pieces to add to the pages (there are outlines of boxes for just this purpose at the bottom of each page) make it broadly appealing.
The story reveals an increasingly independent boy who sometimes feels lonely until he imaginatively, perhaps magically, finds a friend. The straightforward text and clear illustration briefly and successfully introduces sequencing of the action as well as number sequencing. It could become or inspire a pictograph or perhaps a rebus as words and pictures create meaning.
It's a fine tool and an engaging book/game sure to be enjoyed by children with and without learning differences. While extension activities are suggested on the final pages, the bottom line is that books like this can generate even more ideas to share narrative, symbol, learning, and fun with all children.
By doing so, adults are helping children make sense of the world around them as they learn to decode it.
What do you see when you look through a prism? The scientific explanation is simply that a prism refracts light allowing a spectrum of colors to be seen. Really what you see are different colors, perhaps changing your perspective or the way you view an object.
The prism was the metaphor introduced at last week's forum on arts integration hosted by the Phillips Collection. The main question of "Teaching Through the Prism" was how and why the arts — both performing and visual — can be used to enhance K-12 education. There's ample evidence to support broad implementation. It works.
A recent report from the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, which cites both foundational studies and longitudinal research, makes a compelling argument that is hard to ignore.
The bottom line is that by using the arts in tandem with content areas, the achievement gap is lessened and test scores go up. And, it seems likely to make learning more fun for both children and adults.
Forum participants got to experience art integration activities with "experiment stations" that were facilitated by practitioners (both teacher mentors and museum educators). Everything from "Scientific Observation and Artistic Inspiration with Paul Klee" to "My Story in Pictures and Words, 'The Migration Series' [by Jacob Lawrence] as Autobiography" (plus a lot more) made arts integration real and doable.
The ideas presented are not specific to the Phillips or big cities; they are adaptable for literally any classroom. And of course, the potential to use books to expand, enhance, and enlarge myriad ideas and concepts with and for children is ever-present.
Summer is a natural time to visit with the arts and artists, visual and performing, live or remotely (through film or online, for example). It just may change the way we learn — adults and children alike — now and all year long.
A trusted friend recently sent me a link to a new "children's book" which was described as funny and subversive. She knew as well as I do that this book is really a parody — a parent's lament about sleepless children. (You may have heard about the book; it's on various bestseller lists.)
I spoke to another valued friend this morning who has a very different take on the same book. She indicated that she thinks it is self-indulgent; a one-line joke told over and over — for which the writer is laughing all the way to the bank. In other words, she thinks that this parody gone viral is just another money-maker.
Words have clout. Books have staying power. Together, they create potent experiences for children and adults together or individually. Not surprisingly, adults are often offended when profanity or words with dual meanings or shady connotations are used in books for young people.
Do books like the parody mentioned (and discussed here) suggest that this kind of language is okay for adults but not children? If something is acceptable for parents, why not for children? (As parents and teachers know, kids do as we do, not necessarily what we say to do.)
How far off is it to think that adults who may be immune to profane language encourage the children they live and work with to develop immunity to it as well? Do we become desensitized to limited, poor, downright rude language much as children become insensitive to violence in media when given a steady diet of it?
Is our ability to express ourselves becoming limited to sound bites, tweets, and yes, four-letter words? Why does it even matter?
I think that a great deal is lost, frankly — including or maybe especially our ability to communicate nuance not to mention the ability to find humor in more than a one-time joke.
To my thinking, it matters a lot.
The world is fast-paced and speeding up every day. Young children are growing up with technology in every aspect of their daily lives, quite literally.
But there were times before television, cell phones and computers became ubiquitous.
Caldecott honor winning, Lane Smith reminds readers of the simple pleasures of a book in his very funny (and very sophisticated) It's a Book (Roaring Brook). In it, a tech-savvy donkey (aka jackass) is introduced to the wonders of a book by a monkey with his mouse sidekick. The understated humor of the seemingly simple text and illustration makes the book all the funnier.
Smith again shows his prowess as a visual storyteller in a book that's due out in August. Grandpa Green (Roaring Brook) begins in a long ago time. Delicate line and lush green of the character's creations — topiaries in an opulent garden — express not only emotion but chronicle the milestones in his life.
From growing up on a farm to growing old enough to have children, grandchildren and even a great grandkid — the narrator — Grandpa's life is remembered in the garden. A final foldout not only provides a glimpse of wondrous garden, it subtly reveals how generations are connected.
Visual storytelling takes many forms but my favorite is in a picture book.
Smith's books are ideal for lingering over, for going back and forth to see what was missed, or even how something did what it did. Equally important, they're meant to be shared between readers of all ages.
We've gone from a lovely spring to brutal heat yet it's not even summer officially. The heat, however, reminds me that the dog days of summer are indeed close; that is, if they're not here already.
It's a great time to lay back with a good book to beat the heat and read about what else? Dogs.
Animal constellations may be a good place to start the story of summer's dog days. Jacqueline Mitton's Zoo in the Sky (National Geographic) sets the stage for the summer sky (and the background for the term "dog days"). Luminous illustrations and brief text introduce stories of the stars and help readers see the animals.
Closer to earth there are working dogs like the four that live in Upstate New York with writer and photographer, John Katz. His photoessay (a picture book, really) for children, based on his dogs, are introduced in Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm (Holt). The dogs' distinct stories and personalities are sure to remind children that everyone — even those with four legs — hold special places in families.
When Sam and Gram go to the shelter to Pick a Pup (McElderry), that one special pup picks Sam. The lively language in this rhyming picture book introduces a range of canine behavior while gently suggesting that choosing a dog takes a bit of work.
Of course some dog books are just plain fun. Dog in Boots by Greg Gormley (Holiday) presents a delightful brown and white mutt who, inspired by the tale of Puss in Boots, tries on different footwear from rain boots to heels — finally figuring out that he already has what he needs.
The dog days are just starting and so is the pleasure of sharing books on a summer day.