Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Choosing & Reading Children's Books

Today's confession: I'm completely overwhelmed when I walk into the children's section of the library. My Dad was a children's librarian when I was young so I was spoiled by the contents of his black briefcase, which each Friday night contained 10 of the best children's books that could be found in the library! So now that I'm the parent, I admit, its a bit daunting. I'm learning that I need help. Sometimes a book looks good on the shelf, but it either doesn't have a great message, or the words don't fall off the tongue like I think they should. So, like I approach anything in life, I look to the experts! Before heading to the library I check lists such as the "Teachers' Pick" listed on the Scholastic website. And then once I get there, I talk to the children's librarians to find out what books are popular with kids these days. Because I work at a university, I have access the children's books there. My habit has been to check out 10 books every two weeks. These are the books I checked out most recently.

Of the books shown in the carousel above, my son's favorites by far are the Pigeon books, by Mo Willems. My favorite is the "The Cheese." Its about a rat who thinks that perfectly good cheese should not stand alone in the Dell. (A spoof off of the song "The Farmer and the Dell.") Its cute, the words fall of the tongue as I believe they should, and it follows the criteria for good children's literature. If you go to the publisher's website, you can listen to the author, Margie Palatini read the book. Its wonderful because she uses a New York accent for each of the characters.

I have been referring to the book by Trish Kuffner titled, "Picture Book Activities: Fun and Games for Preschoolers Based on 50 Favorite Children's Books." She has several suggestions for evaluating picture books (pg. 4).

A good picture book:
  • has brief text written in a simple and direct style
  • retains a child's interest after many readings
  • has solid characters
  • combines action, wordplay, humor, and poetry
  • includes few concepts and only those a child will comprehend
  • contains high quality art that perfectly complements the text in mood and subject matter. Its illustrations are very important, because young children usually pay more attention to its pictures than its words
  • stands the test of time. It continues to be loved long after its publication
The other major take-away for me from Kuffner's book, is the importance of repetition. Reading books over and over again might wear on our nerves as parents but are critically important for our kids development. Each time a book is read to a child, they will "remember more and more about the story, but more importantly, will begin to think more critically as they begin wondering how certain portions of the story came to be, or how these characters solved a certain problem. These results could never be achieved in just one reading" (Kuffner, pg. 6). This is good to know, but also makes the book selection all the more important, because there are some books I do NOT want to read every day for 2 weeks!

And what's my reward for doing my homework? I believe the video above says it all! We are reading two Mo Willems books, "The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!" and "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!" with my 4, soon to be 5 year old son. What has made Mo Willems; books so popular is how involved the readers become! I particularly like that text of the characters are in speech bubbles. I notice my son pointing to the words, when he "reads" them, which, I assume, is an important step in the reading process.

If you've not familiar with the pigeon books, this video will not be that intriguing. I will tell you that my son is not reading yet. I made this recording this at the end of our 2-week cycle, so his "reading" is memorized, but I love how much enthusiasm he gives the characters! You'll also see that he's talking about the facial expressions of Pigeon and what those mean about how he feels. I'm a little embarrassed at my expressions in this video, but I want a record of these moments, of him learning to read.

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