Friday, September 27, 2013

How The New Curriculum + The Common Core = Less Reading

As I've mentioned before, I volunteer at my daughters' public school, entirely parent-run library.  This year, as we sat down with the administration to arrange the class schedule, we were informed that teachers had been approaching the administration and requesting that they only bring their classes to the library every other week, rather than every week.  The reason?  The new curriculum.  Whether it's due to the curriculum itself requiring more time, or the fact that the teachers are - rightly - overwhelmed by being handed a new curriculum with no time to review it before using it (in fact, our school did not even have the ELA curriculum on the first day of school and as of now is only in possession of Unit 1; rumor has it that other units are not even written yet!), it is just sad that the alleged raising of standards results in teachers feeling that they don't have time to allow their students - many of whom do not or cannot go to the public library - to choose their own books.

One last word about the Common Core.  I got a peek at the kindergarten ELA curriculum the other day.  The curriculum our school is using is Ready-Gen by - who else? - Pearson, it of the completely mismanaged G&T testing.  It includes such gems as having 5-year-olds draw pictures of past-tense verbs like "quacked" and "flapped"  (the first unit is on ducks), words like "distance" (not a short or long distance, just distance), leaves little space for the children to write, and what space there is are lines that are too small for typically-oversized kindergarten handwriting.  I almost cried.

How is the Common Core working out in your school?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Blame It On The Tooth Fairy

I have a few rules when it comes to book-picking.  I never, never, never buy (and preferably can dissuade my girls from borrowing) books that are "based on" anything (e.g. television shows, characters created by other authors) or ones that are "created by" someone whose name is surely an alias for one or several writers, or those that seem not to have an author at all.  I also avoid like the plague sequels written by someone other than the original author.  And I don't read - and don't let my children read - abridged books or "classics for children."  Blech.

But apparently I neglected to tell the tooth fairy these rules.  So when my 5-year-old lost her first tooth yesterday, she woke up to find one dollar and My Wobbly Tooth Must Not Ever Never Fall Out, misleadingly listed at as being written by Lauren Child but, in actuality, "based on" the Charlie and Lola characters created by Lauren Child.  Even worse, the book is based on a script for the Charlie and Lola television show (written by someone other than Lauren Child).  And the illustrations are from the television animations!  So the progression was original book series to television series back to books based on the television show/characters.  Horrifying, isn't it?

While the writing leaves something to be desired, and a subplot about what Lola will buy with the money the tooth fairy brings her is, in my opinion, not only unnecessary but annoying, it is a sweet book.  When Lola can't find her tooth that has fallen out, rather than the typical route of writing a note to the tooth fairy, her brother Charlie has a more charming idea:

And so Lola does as her brother suggests:

I NEVER make exceptions to these rules.  I can't help it if the tooth fairy violates them.

Do you have "rules" about types of books (not authors or genres, but other classifications) that you won't buy or read, or that you won't let your children buy or read?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Library (and Bookstore) Round-up #11, Part 1: Picture Books and Early Readers

Reviews of the latest picture books we have out from the library... or couldn't resist buying!

The Twins' Blanket by Hyewon Yum.  A sweet story about twin sisters who have shared everything since - and including - the womb - as well as a bed and a blanket.  When their mother decides it is time for them to each have her own bed and blanket, she settles sibling rivalry over who should keep the original blanket with a satisfying Solomonic decision that provides each girl with a memento of their shared nights together.  The first time the girls retire to their new beds and blankets, they discover that they can't fall asleep without each other.  They hold hands across the divide between their beds and fall asleep, alone yet together, for the first time.  The illustrations here, with the endpapers done in the pattern each girl chooses for her own blanket, are beautiful, with bright bold colors.  It is amazing how many themes Yum addresses in this short, seemingly simple picture book: about siblings, twins, sharing, rivalry, parenting, bedtime, loveys and more.  The author description states that Yum is herself a twin, and her understanding of the special relationship twins have is very much in evidence here.  A perfect baby gift for new twin girls.

Ling and Ting Share a Birthday.  Another book about twin girls, this time an early reader! The sequel to Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same!, this book contains six stories about the girls' birthday and how they, too, like to share everything.  My five-year-old loves the first one so I actually purchased this one.  A great addition.

A Funny Little Bird by Jennifer Yerkes.  This book's stunning artwork, with its amazing use of negative space, is the real draw (tee-hee) here.  The plot, with its lesson about being humble and using your talents to help others, and the seemingly sudden ability of the invisible bird to make other animals invisible, is much weaker.  But the illustrations more than make up for it. 

ABC is for Circus
by Patrick Hruby.  What a shame that this alphabet book, with its vibrant, unique illustrations, wasn't published when my daughters were toddlers!  Unfortunately, my daughter have long outgrown alphabet books, but I highly recommend it to anyone with children in their life who are the right age for it.

Rifka Takes a Bow by Betty Rosenberg Perlov.  The debut book by a 96-year-old author.  Isn't that reason enough to check this book out?  This book is set in the heyday of the Yiddish theatre in the 1920s, for which the author's parents actually performed, wrote, and produced.  However, I found the exaggerated, cartoony illustrations, combined with the varying fonts which wander across the page, to be too busy for my taste.

What picture books do you have out from the library now?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Lessons for the Grown-Ups

As I was looking through the pile of picture books we currently have checked out from the library, I had another realization.  I noticed that a number of them fall into the category of picture books that are really for adults - and into the even smaller subcategory of books that use children and childhood to teach grown-ups a thing or two about how to dream big and "smell the roses."  Cliches one and all and yet, these books are so beautiful, and they way they handle these themes so delicate and witty, they are worth checking out.

How To by Julie Morstad.  This is one of my favorites but my daughters, unsurprisingly, didn't love it - but they liked it more than I though they would.  With whimsical lessons about how to do all sorts of things - be a mermaid, watch where you're going - it has simple lessons about how to enjoy life in the moment, more of use to adults, who have forgotten to live in the moment, rather than children, who still know how to.  Humorous touches, like showing "how to make friends" by drawing your own, and how to watch where you're going by checking out your shadow, amused my girls.  The illustrations have a quiet, spare beauty.  This is one of my favorites.

Line 135 by Germano Zullo.  This book follows a child's travels on a bright green and orange train from the city to the country against a background of simple black-and-white line drawings and reminds us that children, unlike adults, know that anything is possible.
Wait! Wait! by Hatsue Nakawaki.  With illustrations by the talented Komako Sakai, this picture book is perfect for the very youngest readers and reminds the adults who read to them to let children take their time and observe the world around them, as well as to do so themselves.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

From Generation to Generation

It wasn't until I sat down to write about our favorite new library books that I realized that several had something in common: inter-generational relationships.  Not all of them focused on relatives, either, which is somewhat rare.

Henry and the Kite Dragon by Bruce Edward Hall. Illustrated by William Low with lush colors and beautiful depictions of light and shadow, this is two stories in one - the story of the relationship between a group of children and a neighborhood elder, and of the tensions between Chinese and Italian immigrant children on the border of Chinatown and Little Italy.
This Is Our House. by Hyewon Yum.   A young girl narrates the story of three generations of her family (including herself) who have lived - and still live - in the same house.  A beautiful book about the cycle of life (but without any death) and inter-generational living.  I thought my always-in-need-of-excitement 5-year-old would be bored by this one, but she proved me wrong.  In fact, she listened so closely to the book, including to the part where the mother brings home the college boyfriend who she would marry and who would become the narrator's father, that when my 8-year-old and I were discussing all-women's colleges, my younger one interjected, "But then you won't come home with a boyfriend!"  Not exactly the takeaway I - or, probably, the author - had in mind!

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox.  A lovely but bittersweet story about the inter-generational friendship between a young boy and the residents of the old people's home he lives next door to. 

Mrs. Katz and Tush by the prolific and sensitive Patricia Polacco is another bittersweet book about not just an inter-generational but an inter-racial and inter-religious relationship.  The endurance of the friendship depicted and the way the now-grown boy honors the memory of his old friend at the end of the book is truly special.

What is your favorite picture book about an inter-generational relationship?