Children's Book Columns
Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah was in New York studying to be a doctor when the September 11th attacks took place. When he returned to his native Kenya in 2002, he told the story of what happened to his unbelieving Maasai friends and family.
“Buildings so tall they can touch the sky? Fires so hot they can melt iron? Smoke and dust so thick they can block out the sun?” Appalled, the villagers wanted to do something for these poor Americans. For the Maasai herders, cows are life, so they decided to donate a herd of fourteen cows to America, in a ceremony that brought tears to the eyes of the American ambassador.
The youngest people on your holiday giving list would appreciate a copy of Chris Gall’s “Dinotrux,” a proven hit with little boys (and girls, too, I’m sure). According to Gall, many millions of years ago, dinotrux ruled the earth. Part dinosaur and part truck, creatures like Semisaur and Garbageadon terrorized the cave men for millennia, until finally rusting away. The trucks we see today are merely their tame descendants.
Two kinds of young readers are hard to buy books for: the reader who reads everything, and the reader who reads nothing. For the first kind of reader, finding out what the child has read lately can help avoid the disappointment of a second or third copy of a book that the recipient has already read. For the second type of reader, try informational books.
Nonfiction appeals to kids who don’t read much, because these books tend to have strong visual elements and often allow readers to jump around in the text depending on what interests them most. Believing firmly that you can’t make kids read but have to meet them where they are, I suggest the following stellar nonfiction for reluctant readers on your list.
This year, why not shop locally for your holiday presents? Jabberwocky Children’s Books, an independent children’s bookstore that has graced downtown Fredericksburg for over twenty years, has a wide selection and knowledgeable staff. Like most bookstores, they will special order any book they don’t have in stock.
While you’re shopping locally, look for books by local authors. We are lucky to have a talented group of writers and illustrators for children in this area, many of whom I have come to know over the years. Here are just a few suggestions.
Nine months before Rosa Parks made history, a fifteen-year-old girl was arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Claudette Colvin was well aware of the convoluted rules about where blacks could sit on the city buses, but on this day she decided not to obey the bus driver’s command to give up her seat. She was arrested and eventually convicted of assault and violating the segregation law.
Deemed too emotional to become the public face of the civil rights cause, Colvin has been a footnote to history for the last fifty years. But that has changed with the publication of Philip Hoose’s “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice,” winner of this year’s National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Thanksgiving disasters usually take the form of dried-out turkey or not enough mashed potatoes. But for the Peterkin family, proper Victorians all, Thanksgiving disaster strikes when their dinner simply disappears. In “The Peterkins’ Thanksgiving,” Elizabeth Spurr has adapted one of Lucretia Hale’s charming stories about this hapless family into a picture book edition illustrated with cheerful whimsy by Wendy Anderson Halperin.
Oliver Olson’s problem is over-protective parents. When his third grade teacher opens a space unit by asking, “How many of you would like to walk on the moon?”, Oliver doesn’t raise his hand. “Oliver’s parents would never let him walk on the moon. The moon was too far away. It was too cold. It didn’t have enough gravity. The rocket might explode.” And when his teacher announces that the whole class is invited to a space sleepover at school, he knows he won’t be allowed to go. Ever since Oliver was a sickly preschooler, his parents have worried about him too much.
If your children watched the “Baby Einstein” videos, but failed to turn into geniuses, you can get your money back. A recently settled suit against Disney, the owner of the popular series, asserts that the claim that the videos are educational is unfair and deceptive. Parents can get a refund of $15.99 for up to four of the videos.
Fortunately, at least one way to help your child to grow intellectually is free and widely available. You guessed it – reading to your child from books you can borrow from your local public library. Not only is it free, but numerous studies show the benefits of early read-aloud sessions. Just pick up one of our “Every Child Ready to Read” brochures, and plunge in!
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.