Below is an edited transcript from our interview with Maria Salvadore, divided into the following sections:
Poetry and language discovery
We start sharing poetry with children as very, very young babies really when we start with Mother Goose Rhymes and ditties that we say out loud to them. We sing to them in poetry, and that continues on. I think poetry is just a fabulous way of seeing the world in a slightly different way.
When you share poetry with people, I think it was a famous poet that once said hearing poetry reminds me of something that I didn't know I knew. I think that's what poetry does. It synthesizes, it distills feelings, emotions, experiences, all of that in usually a very brief format, in a different format and ways that we don't normally think or read. And I think it's expansive. I think it's expanding. I think it expands us.
Effective Read alouds
I think an effective read-aloud for any age group whether you're reading to a very young child or an older teen-I think they're very similar. I think the reader, the person who is sharing the book, needs to make sure that they like the book first of all.
But I think for any age I think that the language has to be rich. Of course if you're dealing with a younger child you want rich illustration, illustrations that are worth looking at but that are also within the experience of a child, a young child. For older an older child I think that it's the story that matters and the way the story is told, but I also think non-fiction can make a really fabulous read-aloud for older children as well including teens.
Years ago my husband wanted to read a book by Robin McKinley entitled Beauty, a Beauty and the Beast novelization essentially. He said oh no, it's so dreary. I said well just start reading it aloud to me and you can tell me if it's too terrible to continue.
Well, he wound up reading aloud the entire novel over the course of days, and it was a fabulous experience both for him and for me. Now here we are two adults reading a young adult novel out loud, but it reminded me of the pleasure of hearing language shared, and it created a shared experience that we wouldn't have otherwise had, and we've since continued. You know, I can't tell you how many times we've shared books aloud.
When I work with college students, I have them read aloud to each other, to not only practice for reading with children, but for the discovery piece. That is, hearing books read aloud is really a pleasure, regardless of your age.
I have my teenage son read aloud to me now and he's very good at it. It gives him a little bit of an opportunity to share his thrill in a novel, and I, as an adult, love to hear him read out loud. I love to be read aloud to, and I think reading with older kids, reading aloud with older kids and teens is an opportunity to share books in a different way that you wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity.
Teachers and librarians working together
I think that teachers and librarians can be a powerful combination. I think that they share an interest in children and young people, and I think that together they can truly encourage kids and introduce children to things that they wouldn't otherwise come across.
I also think it's possible for librarians and teachers to share in-service experiences. I think that, for example, if a school or a library has a specialist or an author visit to talk to staff, then I think it's well worth considering inviting the school or the library to attend. I think that also creates a bang for the buck too.
Creating a classroom library
Setting up a classroom library I think for a first year teacher is a way to make the teaching more fun and certainly enhance their goals for their students. It's a way of complimenting the curricular goals with perhaps more engaging material, more readily engaging material.
And that's true for older classrooms as well as for younger classrooms. I would urge teachers of older children to-and teenagers frankly-to consider graphic novels and picture books for older readers that are appropriate in terms of theme and information and approach so that they can indeed use that as a mechanism to encourage their students to think more broadly.
I think that classroom collections can be as varied as the students in the room. I think it's possible to have books in a classroom collection that meet the needs of fluent readers as well as struggling readers. I think that's only possible with a classroom collection.
Books are then on site. It depends entirely on what the teacher is interested in and what the students are interested in. But it seems to me that with the resources of the public library and the school library that collection can constantly be refreshed to meet the needs of and interests of the readers.
I don't think it's too much to suggest that it could be everything from dense novels and informational books, non-fiction, to graphic novels and picture books in the same classroom. There's no reason that kids can't read on all those different levels and frequently do in a classroom.
I say just keep it fresh, and I also think that classroom collections need to be refreshed constantly. That's why I say use the resources of the library, a public and school library.
I think summer is an ideal time to develop or in preparation for summer is an ideal time for school and public librarians to put their heads together. I think it's possible for public librarians to provide schools with booklists of materials that they have or will get in order to encourage summer reading.
And there's huge research that supports the importance of summer reading. In fact, Barbara Haynes did a study some years ago that indicated the public library was the most influential institution in a child's summer learning.
And reading as few as half a dozen books for pleasure during the summer really could increase the- children who did read as few as half a dozen books would actually maintain and in some cases gain reading skills achieved during the previous year.
If schools and public libraries get together and figure out what they want the kids to read and encourage them to read them then I think that they could absolutely make a huge difference in the summer learning loss.
I also think that other resources of the public library can indeed be particularly useful in the summer. In Arlington County, Virginia for example they use audio books as summer reading, and I think that could be a fine, fine opportunity for English language learners to hear language and gain access to material that they wouldn't be able to decode with their eyes.
A librarian in Arlington calls that reading with their ears which I think is a brilliant way of looking at it. So marshalling the resources of the public library in collaboration with the needs of the schools and in collaboration with the school librarian, I think is a fabulous way of approaching summer reading.
Starting a book club for kids
Increasingly, parents and children are creating book clubs. I think the key element is interest and that interest can be generated if it doesn't exist. For example a librarian friend of mine started a book club when she served on the Newbery committee, and she had her parents and their children from her school-she was a school librarian-actually read and discuss the books. She helped generate the interest because she honestly wanted their feedback as she was going through this process of evaluating hundreds of books during a given year.
I think it's possible to generate interest around any number of topics, and you could talk to the children or young people, you know, "hey, what are you interested in? Hey, there's a book about that subject."
I think it's really a fine way of creating dialog. But more importantly it's a way of creating a shared experience between adults and children.
Finding good books
There are huge numbers of books published annually, new books published annually. Out of the five or seven thousand annually published books there are books that appeal to every taste. Unfortunately finding those books can be a problem.
There are lists of books out there. The American Library Association has its notable list for children and young adults. Quick Picks are a list of highly popular vetted books, vetted with teens, books to encourage reading that have been tested and tried.
There are children's choice list. Virtually every state in the country has a list of books that have been selected by kids for kids, and I think there are plenty of books out there. It's just a matter of getting to them.
So, I'd suggest taking a look at Quick Picks, at the other American Library Association notable lists and Children's Choices. Then the Children's Book Council in New York has Children's Choices published annually. Those books have been vetted by children as well.
Do kids really like award-winning books?
Quality versus popularity has been a perennial issue in books for children and young adults. The Newbery Award was established in 1922 and first given then. I read an article recently that was done in 1924 by the then work-Director of Work With Children at the DC Public Library, Louise Latimer, and she suggested in 1924 that if we pander to children's tastes alone, they'll never move from that.
I can't help but kind of agree with Ms. Latimer. I think that we need to present children with a rich, rich variety of books. You know there's not one book that I can think of that appeals to everybody. Even Harry Potter has his naysayers.
That said, I think that it's really important to remember that the Newbery and the Caldecott and the other awards are one award for one book in one year, and I think that it's possible to combine- I think that the hope of each committee is to find a book that combines quality and the potential for popularity recognizing that popularity is an evasive concept and that it changes from person to person.
And so I say keep reading. If this year's medalist didn't do it for you then try last year's or look forward to next year.
Engaging reluctant readers
I think reluctant readers are readers who just haven't figured out the joy of books--that they connect with books. I think that parents of reluctant readers-I think the first thing they should do is not to traumatize their kids but to make sure that their child is in a language-rich environment.
I think audio books are a great way of encouraging a reluctant reader. There are so many fine productions out of audio books these days that anything can be shared with a young reader. There's drama in non-fiction, and several non-fiction have been made into audio books.
But the point is, is that I've felt the cold of Jim Murphy's Blizzard! when I heard the audio book although I loved reading the book as well. I am still in love with Jim Dale and I would listen to him to the ends of the earth.
When he read Harry Potter, all of the Harry Potter's, and I guarantee you that reluctant readers can get caught up in stories as rich as those.
Series books: friend of foe?
Series books have been around for a long time and I think they play a hugely important role in children's lives. Think about an emerging reader or a reader who is reading for story.
When they read books in series they already know the characters. They have an idea of how the plot is structured, and they're reading for the pure pleasure of it. I think that when the time is right children tend to outgrow books.
I remember reading Nancy Drew books as a child. I remember one particular mystery was very difficult and so Nancy called in Ned. They were in Hawaii and they met each other running from opposite ends of the beach and they greeted each other firmly with a handshake.
Well, I don't know how old I was, certainly no older than eleven but I knew at that moment Nancy was no longer keeping up with me and my expectations of a relationship.
In other words it's a long way of saying children outgrow series, and when they're ready to move on they do. But series can be really a terrific preparation for them.
Books need to represent the world we live in. They've been described as mirrors or window--a mirror because you see yourself reflected back and a window because you look through and see a dominant culture. In my experience books that are both mirrors and windows have been extremely successful with readers of all ages.
Linda Sue Park's A Single Shard won a Newbery medal some years ago. A Single Shard was ready by a ninth grader that I knew who suddenly had insight into her own culture and heritage.
The same young woman read Linda Sue Park's Mulberry Project, and suddenly you could see the light bulb going off over her head. She understood her own parents and their reaction. She was a Korean, a Korean-American now, who had figured out that not only did Korea have a rich history as she read in A Single Shard, she discovered what the transition for her mother must have been like when she first came to this country and she understood some of her mother's attitudes.
What was intriguing to me though was that this kid was not a fluent reader. She was in a remedial course and came across these books. But it was the motivation that really spurred her on to read books that were probably too difficult for her to read otherwise.
I think that's the power of literature that kids can be readers. It doesn't matter whether they're adult or child readers. That's the power of multicultural literature, authentic multicultural literature, and the power as far as I'm concerned is that you see yourself but others can also see you too in a different light.
Finding books for boys
Everybody is concerned these days about boys reading. I think it's very interesting that our national ambassador for young people's literature, John Sczieska, has a website, guysread.com to encourage boys to read.
Well we know that boys can have different interests than girls. In my experience, boys like books with action and bodily functions. Hence the popularity of Captain Underpants. And that continues on, my own teenager still likes these kind of gritty, contemporary, realistic novels, but he also likes fantasy with lots of fighting in it, you know, good action. I think a lot of boys particularly, but I'm not sure it's as true of girls.
But in my experience boys tend to read for action, for plot. They're not as interested in ponderous reflection. They want something to happen. So if you're going to encourage boys to read I think you need to be aware of that, and I think that if a mother or a female is filtering that material you know they may have to be more conscious of the fact that action is really key.