Children's Book Columns
A recent New York Times article on school reading has been making the rounds among librarians, teachers and parents. In “A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like,” Motoko Rich reports on the “reading workshop” model of engaging middle school students in reading. Unlike the traditional assignments, where the whole class reads and analyzes a classic book together, this approach encourages kids to choose their own titles. “If your goal is simply to get them to read more, choice is the way to go,” says one literacy professor.
At local middle schools, even kids with assigned reading can participate in a voluntary reading program. Café Book, a collaboration between the public library and eight middle schools in Fredericksburg, Stafford and Spotsylvania, encourages seventh and eighth graders to read from a list of twenty new books, discuss them during lunch periods, and vote on their favorites.
“I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” This saying, attributed to Pascal, applies perfectly to books for beginning readers. Writing a seven-hundred-page novel is quite an accomplishment, but some writers might argue that writing a thirty-two page reader with limited vocabulary is even more challenging. Here are a few recent examples of the best.
One of the most popular displays in our children’s rooms showcases children’s books that have been made into movies. For every reader who complains, “the book was better!”, there’s another who delightedly discovers that a favorite movie was based on a good book.
Currently in theaters is “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” an animated movie based on the picture book of the same name by Judi Barrett. Translating a 32-page picture book into a 90-minute film means adding more characters and plot twists, but the critics seem to be positive about the results.
Lauren Thompson’s story begins, “This is the pie, warm and sweet, that Papa baked.” But how did Papa make the pie? Start with apples, “juicy and red,” then the tree, “crooked and strong,” and so on until we come to “the world, blooming with life, that spins with the sun, fiery and bright…”
Perfect for this time of year, “The Apple Pie That Papa Baked” is a rollicking picture book illustrated by Jonathan Bean in tones of cream, sepia, black and red, evoking classic illustrations by Virginia Lee Burton and Wanda Gag.
She’s only four feet tall and 110 pounds, but little “Ardi” is causing a sensation among paleoanthropologists. Earlier this month, after fifteen years of research, scientists reported that they had identified Ardi’s skeleton as the oldest hominid known to modern humans. Ardipithecus ramidus, as she is formally known, lived 4.4 million years ago in what is now Ethiopia. She’s remarkable not just for her age, but for what she tells us about human evolution. Scientists are re-arranging the human family tree in light of this new research.
The next time you’re in the library, take a look at some of the newest books to grace library shelves. Readers of all ages will be entranced with Jerry Pinkney’s wordless edition of Aesop’s “The Lion and the Mouse.” The story of kindness rewarded has a simple plot filled with action, just right for a wordless treatment.
After more than twenty years of introducing children to great books, PBS’s Reading Rainbow television series has come to an end. Over the course of 155 programs, host Levar Burton visited museums and pueblos, interviewed entrepreneurs and biologists, showed us how crayons are made and how oil spills are cleaned up, all the while linking the real world to the best in children’s literature. Here’s a look at a few favorite books Levar introduced over the years.
Adults may recognize this as the story of Greg Mortensen, well-known for the bestselling book, “Three Cups of Tea,” about his work building schools in Pakistan. Now young children can learn the story in his new picture book, “Listen to the Wind, The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea.”
A week spent in Oxford recently was reason enough to reread one of the best-known children’s books associated with the city, Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
At a recent library storytime, the children, parents, caregivers and I had lots of fun reading new picture books, but I was reminded yet again about the power of old favorites.
“Yum, Yum, What Fun” by Mara Bergman starts out with two friends and their little dog Harry baking bread, when who should come clomping in through the window but a crocodile!