Monthly Archives: August 2013

Does Teaching Adults Help When Reading to Little Ones Years Later?

The cover of The Sound of the Bell by Penny Anderson didn’t attract the children right off, but once chosen, the story enthralled most of the five and overs. I told it, reading some of the dialogue. As I think back to the fascinated and concerned looks on the children’s faces as Mai and her little brother search for their mother in the crowd of refugees, I wonder–has my experience teaching English as a Second Language come into play here? For as I told the story, I remembered my beautiful Cambodian student who had walked to the Vietnamese border with her sister. The girls hid from the soldiers at night, and my student walked barefoot because somebody had stolen her shoes. Could this be part of the fascination of the children? Is it just the story, gripping as it is, or am I also telling it with the force of some powerful memories?

Both the three/four group and the five and overs finally chose Rosie and Tortoise by Margaret Wise. There’s a story within a story here. A little rabbit is too afraid to hold her baby brother until her dad tells her an unusual rendition of the tortoise and the hare. I can almost guarantee you’ve never heard–or imagined–this version unless you’ve read Rosie and Tortoise. Brilliant and beautiful.

Fiddler by Stephen Cosgrove is unique, in my experience. I don’t think I’ve ever seen selfishness addressed quite the way it is in this allegory. A rhyming, fiddle-playing bear saunters into the land of Barely There. He politely requests food from the three bears who live in this scenic locale–suspicious, selfish, and each barricaded in their own cabin. Fiddler finds a problem with each of their foods which can only be solved by sharing with the others. I was glad both the older groups chose it.

I had to tell this story rather than read it, but I did read Fiddler’s rhyming words.

Miss Mopp’s Lucky Day by Lesie McGuire went over really well, too. The text is simple enough that I could read it to both groups, and the illustrations by Jody Silver are so clear and so funny. (Do you suppose the writer and the artist collaborated??)

Ah, the toddlers! I’d been given fair warning–they were wild. Perhaps it was because the weather was cool and windy, and they couldn’t play outside. Even so, BRIGHT, clear pictures engaged them for sufficient nanoseconds for me to feel I’d read to them.

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Cover Stories–and What’s Inside

What a lot the three- and four-year-olds at the day care have to teach me!

I offered them a choice of five stories yesterday, but we only had time to read four before they became restless. The one that didn’t get picked was written by a renowned husband and wife author team. I talked about the stories each time I let a child choose–why did this one get left out?

I think I might have the answer. The authors’ names are at the top, over the title, and the names and book title are in a fairly large box, over 1/3 of the cover. Threes and fours don’t read much. The cover picture is full of activity in an interesting setting, but it’s done in lovely pastels.

I’ll have to try a different way to get this interesting story chosen, maybe by putting it with stories the children have already heard.

So, what did they pick? I believe Woof and the Haunted House by Danae Dobson was first. The house on the cover looks haunted too, especially against the garish orange sunset.

When I introduced this book I explained that I didn’t like spooky stories, but I liked this one because it had a happy ending.

I remember the doubt on one little boy’s face. Could he trust me or not?

Turned out he could. This is another “telling” story, too complicated to read to such little ones, and the children got right into it.

Self-Control by Henrietta Gambill and Caring by Jane Belk Moncure were also chosen. I was a little surprised at this, but I shouldn’t have been. They’re older books (1982 and 1980), but young children wouldn’t notice that. The cover pictures are simple, clear and bright.

I was impressed with how engaged the children were with the text, as it doesn’t tell a story. Rather, the books give examples:
“Letting someone else take the biggest piece of candy takes self-control.”
“Caring is wrapping your coat around a friend on a chilly day.”

I think they talk about these behaviours at the day care, and perhaps some of the children go to Sunday School as well.

The fourth book chosen, The Unplanned Voyage by Barbara Davoll, has writing on half the front cover, but the picture is brighter than that of the book that wasn’t chosen. The plot is relatively complex, but it was easy to tell the story using the lovely bright pictures of Christopher Churchmouse and his little family.

I’m scheduled for another reading tomorrow morning–what else will I learn?

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To Collaborate or Not to Collaborate–When Should a Writer and Artist Work as a Team?

I read Penguins Can’t Fly twice at the day care yesterday. Both the 3s and 4s and the 5 and over set took to the story of the friendship between the gull and the penguin. Besides the story itself, which is utterly charming, Richard Byrne marries his text and pictures SO effectively.

For example, ” . . . they remained the best of friends” is illustrated by three pictures of a gift exchange near the beginning, and the gifted hat and scarf figure prominently throughout the rest of the story. A little crab provides background, mostly wordless, commentary as the kind little penguin morphs from loser to hero.

And the Berenstain Bears books must be among the best in writer-artist collaboration.

But the writer and illustrator often don’t know each other if they’re not the same person.

In Writing Picture Books, Ann Whitford Paul tells us to “trust the creativity of the artist.” None of her books came out the way she imagined they would; they all came out better (for not collaborating with the artist)!

Traditional publishers not only don’t usually consult with the writer about the artwork, they often don’t even allow the writer to see it until the book is done. So–are Coralie and I doing the right thing by working together?

Somehow I think we are, maybe because this is the first children’s book for both of us. And if we weren’t working together, how would she know that the Slicers and Dicers who wreak havoc in Neat and Tidyland are clueless rather than malicious? And how could she have suggested replacing sawdust with downed kites and helped me sort out the ill-fated spaghettis?

Yes, Coralie and I need to work together no matter what others do.

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Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover? Seriously?

Let’s start with The Blizzard by Betty Ren Wright, a tale with a 4.1-star rating on Goodreads. Oh oh! The children at our local day care don’t consult Goodreads . . . and they didn’t choose The Blizzard until I placed it between two books we’d already read.

Why not? I think because the cover depicts people in a blizzard. There’s plenty of action here, but not much color. Once we got into the story (which I told rather than read as most of the children were a bit young for it), they were very interested in the pictures–so much so that I had to keep telling one little girl not to block the others’ view. Indeed, it’s a sweet tale about the best birthday party ever for a boy we thought wasn’t going to have a party at all.

The librarian had recommended Kitten’s Spring for the toddlers, but I rejected it because it had no lift-the-flap pictures and, to my mind, not much of a story. Tina retrieved it from my reject pile, drawn by the pretty yellow cover with a spotted kitten, ruby-throated hummingbird, monarch butterfly, ladybug, buttercups . . . Tina told me the children would find the book exciting. And she was right.

I read the pretty spring poem to the toddlers and they croaked with the frog, clucked with the hen, scratched with the little chick, and one little girl took up the challenge of trying to wink like the little calf.

Even Bad Dog, Marley! worked with the toddlers when I told the story rather than read it. It seems that a dog drinking from the toilet has universal appeal. A little girl joined me in growling “Bad dog, Marley!” until we got to the end where (spoiler coming!) Marley saved the baby and took his rightful place with the family.

I also recommend Hug by Jez Alborough for toddlers. In just three different words (“hug” is repeated 25 times), the children accompanied a little chimp in his quest to find love.

Back to my book cover (please see the July 5 post), what do you think of the red Coralie chose for Tina’s dress and the book title? My granddaughter Tina chose orange for Katie Kat.

Come to think of it, if you’re a little kid, how else are you going to judge a book but by its cover?

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