Sunday, December 30, 2012

When to Read What

Annie of Annie and Aunt directed my attention to a discussion on the New York Times website about What Books Are 'Just Right' For the Young Reader.  I haven't read either Annie's post about it or the Times discussion because I wanted to write this without any preconceptions.

On the one hand, I don't have a problem with kids reading books that are "above" them, either emotionally or in terms of vocabulary or other difficulty.  In my experience, young readers often just pass over the subjects that are emotionally or contextually beyond them.  So I'm not worried about a young reader being traumatized or exposed to something too early.  And often readers come back to these books and glean more from them each time.  Just as adult readers do, in light of their own life experience.

My daughter still often asks me if I think a book would be right for her, or if it would be too hard or too scary, and then I give my honest opinion.  She recently picked out The Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman, the story of a young girl during the California gold rush.  I knew that it would be beyond her but she insisted she wanted me to read it to her.  As I noticed her attention waning each evening, I asked her if she was sure we should continue and she replied in the affirmative.  Finally, about halfway through the book she confessed to me, "It's kind of boring but I didn't know how to tell you.  I think it would be a good book when I 'm older, though."  Out of the mouths of babes.  (And I assured her that I did not take personal offense at her dislike of - or, more properly, lack of readiness for - the book!)

However, she may not pick it up again, and that's what I'm worried about.  I'm concerned that a young reader might miss out on a fantastic book because she picked it up too early, found it "boring" or confusing, and then never tried reading it again.  Although I don't censor my child's reading, I also don't go out of my way to introduce her to books that I think she's not ready for.  That's why I'm waiting to give her The Phantom TollboothAnne of Green GablesFrom the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and many, many others.  What a shame it would be if she missed out on any of those because she picked them up too early and was turned off of them forever!

And now I'm off to read all those other posts on the topic.  What do you think?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Library Loot #18, Part 3

For me:

Not pictured: Oddly Normal by John Schwartz, which I just picked up today.

What are you reading?

Picturing Pippi

I just finished reading Pippi Longstocking to my 7-year-old.  I had only vague recollections of the book but I do vividly recall making a book report cover using real yarn for Pippi's hair which I actually braided - a great accomplishment for this non-crafty girl and her equally non-crafty mother.

This time around, we just happened upon the edition illustrated by Lauren Child (at right).  While the book didn't thrill the adult me - its absurdist sense of humor and child's eye view of the world just aren't my style - my daughter was enthralled.  And I was captivated by the... well, the word "illustrations" doesn't do Child's work justice.  She doesn't just illustrate the book but, as in her Charlie and Lola books, plays with fonts and text placement.  This whimsical style works perfectly here, as when the sentence describing the ringmaster cracking his whip curves just like a whip and a birthday invitation is printed on what looks like a postcard:

Out of curiosity, I also checked out the edition illustrated by Louis S. Glanzman:  

My daughter pronounced both sets of illustrations (Child's in full color and Glanzman's in black-and-white) equally good, which surprised me, as I assumed that children would prefer the color illustrations.  I liked both, but I'd have to give Child the edge.  Of course, it's ultimately a matter of personal taste.  (The translations are different too, but I didn't have the time or patience to compare those!)

Finally, my younger daughter, who occasionally would listen to our reading, spied the illustrations and exclaimed, "This is the sister book to Charlie and Lola!"  What a lovely way to put it, don't you think?

Do you or your kids like Pippi?  Do you have a favorite edition?  And have you read the sequels, which I vaguely remember as disappointing?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Library Loot #18, Part 2

Chapter books we have out from the library right now.  Most of these were chosen by my 7-year-old, but I admit to holding on to a few to fill in some of my kidlit gaps.

Due to technical difficulties, the photography leaves a lot to be desired.  But you can still see what we're reading!



As you can see, she is still heavily into series: Katie Kazoo Switcheroo, the Weird School books, the Humphrey books, the , those fairy books, the Amazing Days of Abby Hayes series, the Piper Reed series and the American Girl books.

What is your chapter-book-reader reading?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

She Can Read!

I've been pointing to words as I read to my almost-five-year-old, asking her to sound them out.  At first she was very resistant, so I didn't push it.  If she wanted to try, great, if not, not.  But lately she has become more receptive, even volunteering to read and I've noticed that she was able to sound out more and more words with more ease as well as read some words by sight.

However, I have found it hard to find books for the very earliest of readers.  Either they are too hard or have so little content that they are deathly boring.

So last night I wrote two very short "stories" on our whiteboard.  They weren't too thrilling either but this way I could come up with a mix of words I knew she knew by sight, words I knew she could sound out, and words that would be a little challenging.  My funny husband added his own unique touch at the bottom. 

And she did it!  She can read!

Do you have any book recommendations for the just-barely-starting-to-read reader?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Wishing She Could Go To School

Most kids wish they didn't have to go to school.  But Ruby, of Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges, wishes that she could.  This stunning, lyrical book about how the author's grandmother became one of the first women to attend university in China is a must-read.  Ruby is torn between her ambition and sense of justice  (she writes a poem about how boys are treated better than girls, which my almost-five-year-old cannot stop reciting: "Alas, bad luck to be born a girl;worse luck to be born into this house where only boys are cared for.") and her adherence to tradition and the traditional Chinese value of respect (she tries to avoid explaining to her grandfather what she meant by the poem and she stays up late to finish her feminine duties like embroidery).  Luckily, her grandfather is ahead of his time and rewards her hard work.  The writing is lovely and the illustrations by Sophie Blackall are beautiful, realistic, and complement the text perfectly.  At the end, a photograph of the author's grandmother brings home the fact that Ruby was and is a real person.

The book is a perfect jumping-off point to a discussion of women's rights and women's education, in China, here, or elsewhere.  My girls were stunned to learn that neither my high school nor college accepted women until the early 1970s!  As girls around the world are still deprived of an education, this book is especially important and yet introduces the subject with a light touch perfect for younger readers.

Bridges has also written a series of picture book biographies of real-life princesses, The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Real Princesses, as well as The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Dastardly Dames (what a great name!!) - of the sort who used their power, not of the sort who wore pretty dresses while they awaited their princes. I was only able to obtain one from the library (Nur Jahan of India) and found it written for a much older audience and a bit confusing.  But Ruby's Wish is perfect  - for children of all ages.  

Do you have a favorite picture book about women's rights?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Library Loot #18, Part 1

With the kids on break, we had to make sure they - and I-  had enough reading material.  We have so many books our from the library right now that I decided to split this post up into three parts - picture books, chapter books, and books for me. 

Picture books:

Up close: