Friday, February 25, 2011

Library Confession: Of Dora and Dead Squirrels

I have a confession: 95% (or more) of the books we borrow from the library come to us because I put them on hold.  We do very little browsing.  I feel horribly guilty about this.  But it seems that nearly every time we're at the library we have ten other errands to run and places to be and can't linger.  Not to mention that my daughters like to pick books based on important criteria like spine color.  I keep justifying the practice by telling myself that when the 5-year-old is "really" reading I'll let her browse and choose her own books more.  For now, while I am still reading to them, I figure I should get a say.

Nonetheless, this week the guilt got the better of me and I promised my girls they could pick out their own books.  When I saw what they had chosen, it only confirmed my preference for the reserve system.  The 5-year-old (who chooses her own books twice a week from her classroom and school libraries, respectively) selected a book about death (involving a squirrel who goes to "Squirrel Paradise") and a book about becoming an older sibling (irrelevant, and an especially boring version of the genre at that).  The 3-year-old picked a Dora book (kill me now!) and one about a family whom a goblin comforts after an unexplained tragedy (which appears to be the death of a child and luckily went over my kids' heads). 

I think it is important for children to choose their own books.  It gives them  a sense of control, an opportunity to explore their interests, a feeling that reading is for their own enjoyment, not an assignment, and, when they get older and read to themselves, a sense of privacy, a way to create their own worlds.  I don't want to deprive my girls of the special pleasure of coming across a truly wonderful book serendipitously on a library or bookstore shelf.  I don't believe in limiting what they read.  Then again, when I see that dead squirrel book sitting on my shelf, I think such principles may be overrated.

What is your library M.O.?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Spreading the Library Love

Library.  A place in which literary, musical artistic, or reference materials (as books, manuscripts, recordings or films) are kept for use but not for sale. (Webster's Ninth Collegiate Dictionary)

Those of us who love libraries know that they are much more than the sterile definition above.  Roxie Munro and Julie Cummins, the author and illustrator of The Inside-Outside Book of Libraries, know it too.  This marvelous book (one in a series of Inside-Outside books which focus mainly on cities) takes the reader, as the title suggests, on a tour of libraries, showing the buildings they are housed in both from inside and out.  
The libraries depicted range from a branch of the NYPL located in Chinatown, which won my heart immediately as it is one of the branches I frequented as a child, to one on an aircraft carrier, to one in a prison, to one for the blind and physically handicapped, to a bookmobile. 

This book also takes us to libraries which don't focus on books at all, such as a tool library and the library at the Explorers Club, a repository of maps and other artifacts.  That one made me wonder what the difference is between a library and a museum, anyway.  (Museum. An institution devoted to the procurement, care, study, and display of objects of lasting interest or value.)   The only type of library missing which I would have liked to have seen included is a toy library, which I first learned about from a friend who lives in Asia; I think they are more common outside the United States.  (Although the Inside-Outside series ventures beyond our shores in the works on cities, this volume stays here.)

One of the many things I love about this book is that it shows how libraries are particular to the communities they serve.  The Chatham Square branch of the NYPL in Chinatown has books and all sorts of other materials in Chinese while the library for the blind has books in Braille.  Through these well-chosen examples, the reader sees that a library is much more than a collection of books or other items: it is a community center, an educational facility, a link to the outside world.  In a stroke of near-genius, the last spread shows "home libraries."  These are not fancy wood-panelled rooms but rather any place in any type of home that holds the books that are precious to its inhabitants.  What a wonderful note to end on!

This book is rather wordy so I violated my own rules and paraphrased and omitted as I read it to my girls.  They were fascinated.  My three-year-old was particularly intrigued by the prison library (go figure).  When I asked my five-year-old the admittedly inane question, "Isn't this a nice book?," she quickly corrected me.  "No, it's an interesting book."  She was right.  Go pick it up at your local library today!  (I couldn't resist.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

100 Buttons for 100 Days

Today is my daughter's 100th day of kindergarten.  When your child's 100th day of school falls may be different, depending on the starting date of school, whether you get certain holidays off, and, especially this year, how many snow days you've had!  As seems to be the pedagogical fashion these days, her class is celebrating.  Each child was asked to bring in 100 of something (she brought buttons, below) and the teacher is going to create a "100 Museum."  They are also going to do math activities around the 100 theme (such as sorting, counting by tens, etc.) throughout the day. 

Although I hate my daughter's reading log with a passion, and know other people feel the same way about the 100th day assignments, I actually liked this project.  My daughter could mostly do it on her own and it was fun and educational at the same time. 

In anticipation of the 100th day, I looked around for some related books and there are plenty!  My daughter brought in Rosemary Wells's Emily's First 100 Days of School to share with her class, she loved it so.  I, on the other hand, found it a bit boring (although I love certain other Rosemary Wells books).  For each number up to 100, Emily tells something she did or saw or made - for example the number of the bus she takes to school, or how many vegetables her father put in his soup.  It subtly introduces some math concepts as well. 

Miss Bindergarten Celebrates the 100th Day of Kindergarten by Joseph Slate is the second in the series which starts with Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten.  It follows the format of the first (which, by the way, shows Miss Bindergarten shelving classic books including The Lion and the Little Red Bird by Elisa Kleven (one of my favorite picture books ever) and Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal), as we watch each animal-child in the class, in alphabetical order (Adam the alligator, Brenda the beaver, and so on) prepare for the 100th day.  The depictions of the children's preparations are interspersed with spreads showing the eponymous canine teacher doing the same.  It was fun for my daughter to see what things Miss Bindergarten's students brought in and compare them with what her classmates brought.  This book also has a note at the end, crediting a woman named Lynn Taylor with pioneering 100th Day celebrations in 1981 or 1982 (I just missed out!).  The note states that she was influenced by Mary Baratta-Lorton, who did work on teaching children math and number concepts.  A quick google search turned up the same information repeatedly, but nothing additional and no independent sources that I thought were reliable.

Trudy Harris's 100 Days of School is more explicitly math-oriented.  It shows all different ways to get to 100 - by adding 95 and 5, by multiplying 10 (children) times 10 (toes), and so on.  The book 's playful rhyming scheme makes it an enjoyable introduction to these concepts.

What is your favorite 100th day of school book?  Do you know anything else about the origins of the 100th Day celebration?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Library Loot #2

Below are the books we currently have out from the library.  Between the last Library Loot post and this one, we also checked out a few books not shown here because we rejected them and returned them so quickly.  They are now lost to history.  But you'll also see several that we still have out - either because we loved them so or because we have yet to read them! 

For the kids:

For me:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Reading Is Not a Sport

My older daughter, a kindergartener, has to keep a reading log.  Or, rather, I do.  She is not physically capable of writing down the title of the book, the author, whom she read with (or who read to her) and what we discussed in the tiny boxes provided.  So the fact that her homework is actually my homework is one reason I hate reading logs.

But the more important reason I hate them is that counting pages takes the joy out of reading just as counting calories takes the joy out of eating. 

And counting pages (which some schools, but luckily not ours, require) misses the point.  As my sister said at age 5, returning the book the teacher had given her in response to her request for more difficult books, "This book isn't harder; it's just longer."  The length of a book is utterly unrelated to the difficulty of its vocabulary or complexity of its plot or its emotional resonance.  It is unrelated to everything except the question of whether you should get the hardcover or the paperback (or, these days, the e-book) and whether it's too heavy to carry on the subway (for the Kindle- and Nook-less among us).

To mix my metaphors, reading is not a sport.  It's not about how many pages you read or how fast you read them. 

Reading is supposed to be fun.  Or informative.  Or both.  And reading IS fun, when you don't feel like it is being spooned to you like medicine rather than dessert that you eagerly gulp down yourself.

So, teachers, I beg of you: no more reading logs!