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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Listening to kids talk about books

June 8, 2009

I'm on a national children's book award committee so submissions have been arriving at my home/office in increasing quantities. Even though I read a lot of books for young people anyway, I've been reading them to the exclusion of just about anything. (I can't give up the newspaper though; it's a must-have either online or in print.)

I'm reading so many books so quickly that I've been wondering how I can keep them clear in my mind -- beyond taking notes (which is not always possible given all the places that I find myself reading these days).

But I have started asking colleagues, family members, and young friends to read the books that I think are worth their time and energy. And I've actually rediscovered a valuable and downright fun way to gain deeper insight into what works and why: simply talking to young readers provides a look into a book's appeal that I may not have considered.

For example, a young friend named Julia, a 3rd grader, read a book by Claudia Mills, How Oliver Olson Changed the World (Farrar). I was interested in her response even though the main character is a boy (also a 3rd grader, by the way). It was a girl in Oliver's class, Crystal, who intrigued Julia.

Apparently Julia was also interested in the demotion of Pluto. You see, Crystal becomes Oliver's friend over their shared interest in Pluto's astrological standing.

Julia told me she liked Oliver but kind of felt "sorry for him." When I reminded her that he found a way of dealing with his overprotective parents, she noted that he was "kinda smart."

It seems to me that the more we talk to children about substantive things, the better we get to know them and their tastes. In fact, sometimes the power of the story just takes over itself.

I'll always remember the mother who told me that if she put her mind to it, she could do anything -- including raising her daughter as a single mom. That was a line right out of Mary Hoffman's Amazing Grace (Dial).

So, as we pack up for our family vacation, I'll take a batch of books and rely on my family -- a captive audience -- for feedback!

I'll let you know how it goes at the end of next week!


What a timely posting as blogs reverberate currently in response to an article about children and what level material they should be reading/can read/etc. Thank you for reminding all of us we need to regularly "Listen to kids talk about books"! I have sent several people to this posting over the last couple of days.Hope the beach time was great for all!

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"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." — Groucho Marx