Three Readers and the Question of What to Read
This post comes to us courtesy of Sarah Bynane, Sprinkbok parent and Elementary School Librarian. She calls it “rambling” but we call it a meditation on the power of reading and the beauty of participating in your child’s learning-to-read process.
I have an almost four year old, Grace, and she is an ornery little cuss much of the time. (This is sort of my pet name for her—she thinks of it as a term of endearment. And it is—from one former ornery little cuss to another.) I also have a seven year old, Ella, who can do almost no wrong in the eyes of Grace. Grace wants to wear Ella’s clothes (no problem there, large portions of her wardrobe did belong to her sister at one time), she wants to do what Ella does (sometimes this works; sometimes not so much), and she wants to read what Ella reads (as Ella has moved solidly into chapter books—not so much). Grace will hold the chapter book and look at the pages and pages of just words for long periods of time before snapping it shut and declaring that she is done—read the entire book. She will also give a very creative and entire made-up synopsis of the book based on the picture on the cover. Now I will say, she does hold books so that the words are going the right way for reading (check for early literacy—do they recognize the way letters are facing and get the concept of reading from left to right?), but she has no idea what treasure lies hidden in those books, she only knows that she really wants to read them like Ella does.
Ella will read some picture books, but they either have to be really funny or teach her some new information. This means that the books that I used to read with them both, for the most part, don’t work anymore. I am the third reader of children’s books in our house in that I am a librarian at an elementary school. It is part of my job to read a wide variety of books so that I can know what to recommend and match kids with great books. It is the part of my job that I like the most. I do not teach kids how to read, as much as I try to match where they are as readers with books that they will love.
All people with the last name Bynane love Mo Willems. We really do. We all giggle and most importantly we can all read them—including and especially Grace. His books (we are particularly fond of the Piggie and Elephant books currently) are perfect for emerging readers. It sounds strange because it seems like that should be true for all picture books, but this series is particularly good at matching simple, clear pictures with very brief text that match succinctly. Children can learn to read the pictures and then the text. Ella and I have for a long time divided these books into roles; she is Piggie and I am Gerald, the elephant. Grace is now able to take on a role; the pride and joy that she feels when she can “read” these books is an important step because she now identifies herself successfully as a reader—evident in the ginormous grin that she gets when she reads with us.
The best guides of what to read to your children, are your children. The public library (we use the North Branch mostly, but not exclusively) is where we go when I am too tired to say no anymore. Last week we left with three books on how to upholster furniture, a memoir of a first year parent called Feeding Gracie (no magical cure for the complete avoidance of vegetables and fruit is included I am sorry to say), and twenty-three picture and chapter books. Grace chose books about Batman, bereavement after the death of a parent, a baby who floats away in a bubble and a little girl who makes all her own rules. Ella chose several chapter books involving the adventures of fairies and two biographies of Amelia Earhart. The girls discovered on the brief drive between the library and our house that a few of the books once opened held absolutely no interest for them. For me that is the beauty of the library, I dropped those books off in the dropbox on my way to the grocery store, which did not involve me leaving my car. The girls and I get to dabble with no commitment or judgment. There is such a level of freedom and independence that we all feel there. Grace knows where the board books are, and sometimes she chooses them. She knows where to find the picture books, the DVD’s and the CD’s. This is Grace’s domain, and she loves it. She knows where the extensive toy kitchen set is, and that—if she chooses to dash there as quickly as her feet can carry her—I get to pick all our books. She frequently chooses books from the display because that’s why they are displayed—to attract young readers. I love that I don’t have any reason to tell either of them no. Instead, we can all try new things out. Grace is a super hero, Ella is a fairy who will save the world, and I will reupholster the really ugly chair in our front room. No one stops us from these pursuits, and it costs us nothing to have the entire world opened before us. (The capes needed to be super heroes and world-conquering fairies and the cost of reupholstering materials are a different blog.) As a parent, I don’t teach my kids to read, I teach them that reading really is power and to recognize that through the pages of a book (written or read) they can go anywhere.