Thursday, January 24, 2008

Read-aloud Books: Suggestions for February '08

Give your children the gifts of literacy and time - read to them every day!
Picture books:
  • Chicken Soup With Rice: A Book of Months, by Sendak - a fun, silly set of rhymes that go through each month of the year with refrains like "Sipping once, sipping twice, sipping chicken soup with rice".
  • Flamingos on the Roof, by Calef Brown - a new favorite - nonsense rhymes full of word play, with colorful, interesting illustrations, for preschool through middle elementary.
  • Tikkatoo's Journey, by Amanda Loverseed - an Eskimo folktale about a little boy who makes a hero's journey to bring his sick grandfather a piece of the sun. Wonderful, stylized illustrations.
  • Owl Moon, by Yolen, illustrated by Schoenherr - a quiet story about a little girl who goes with her pa for a walk in the winter woods hoping to see an owl. (Caldecott winner)
  • Louhi, Witch of North Farm, by Barbara Cooney - a folktale from Finland about how Louhi steals the sun, and is then persuaded to bring it back. I love nearly all Barbara Cooney's illustrations, but the pictures in this book may be my favorites!
  • Eleanor, by Barbara Cooney - about how Eleanor Roosevelt grew up; too long for pre-schoolers, but good for elementary, maybe first grade and up.
  • Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books, by Winters, illustrated by Carpenter - a picture book biography of Abraham Lincoln for elementary-age listeners.
  • Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers, by Karen B. Winnick - the true story of how a little girl wrote a letter to Lincoln suggesting that he grow a beard, and how she later got to meet him - elementary.
  • Abraham Lincoln, by Ingri & Edgar D'Aulaire - a somewhat longer illustrated biography of Lincoln - read aloud to first or second graders and up (1940 Caldecott medal winner).
  • George Washington, by Ingri & Edgar D'Aulaire - folk-style illustrations with a straight-forward biography of the first president. The fact that he had slaves is mentioned, but without comment on the problematical ethics.
  • George Washington's Breakfast, by Jean Fritz - a little boy who was named after George Washington, and shares his birthday, goes looking for information about Washington; early to middle elementary.
  • ...If You Grew Up With George Washington, by Gross, illustrated by McCully - information and pictures about life in colonial Virginia; elementary
  • So You Want to Be President? by St. George, illustrated by Small - a light-hearted approach to the message that our presidents were/are very human, with their individual quirks and different backgrounds, and that anyone can aspire to our highest office. Appropriate for fairly young children, although some of the humor will go right over their heads. (Caldecott medal book)
Longer books for elementary to middle school listeners
Historical fiction set in the US:
  • Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder - first book of the classic series, this one is set in Wisconsin in the 1800's, and written from the author's memories of life in a log cabin with her older sister, Mary, and their parents. Short chapters and the simple story make this suitable for quite young listeners, maybe as young as first grade.
  • By the Great Horned Spoon, by Sid Fleischman - full of humor and adventure, this is a story set in the California gold rush days, as young Jack and his aunt's butler Praiseworthy set out to strike gold and save Jack's aunt from poverty. It is a bit of a tall tale, but lots of fun. (middle elementary and up)
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan - another pioneer story, this one is about two children whose mother has died, and whose father has a "mail order bride" coming to join them on the prairie. Short and sweet, for second grade or above listeners.
  • All-of-a-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor - a classic family story, set in the early 1900's in New York City, about five sisters growing up in a poor Jewish immigrant family. (middle elementary)
  • Across Five Aprils, by Irene Hunt - Set in rural southern Illinois in the 1860's, this is a classic coming-of-age story. The main character, Jethro, is a young boy when Lincoln is elected president. Two of the older boys in the family(along with his school teacher) fight in the Union army, and one fights for the Confederate army, while Jethro must take on more and more of the work of running the family farm. It would be good to have a map of Civil War battles handy as you read, so you can see where the different battles (described in letters and newspaper articles) were fought. (Fourth or fifth grade and up listeners)
  • The River Between Us, by Richard Peck - another Civil War era story, with a mystery blended in, the main story is framed by a 15-year-old boy's 1916 trip to visit his grandparents' home, but most of the narrative is in the voice of his grandmother as a teenage girl during the Civil War, and revolves around two "young ladies", one light-complected and the other dark, who arrive on a boat from New Orleans and board with the family, and may not be exactly what they seem. (Third or fourth grade and up)
  • Sarah's Ground, by Ann Rinaldi - based on actual people and events, this is the story of a "Yankee" young woman, and a "Southern" gentleman who are working together to manage Mt. Vernon during the Civil War - a quieter story that will probably appeal more to girls (upper elementary to middle school)
  • Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes - set in the decisive time leading up to the Revolutionary War, Johnny is a talented apprentice silversmith in Boston. Paints a picture of colonial life, and weaves Johnny's personal story in with historical events and appearances by several of the founding fathers. (fifth or sixth grade and up) (Newbery medal)
  • Bull Run, by Paul Fleischman - looks at events in the Civil War from various viewpoints; does contain some realistic violence, so use your judgement about what your children are ready to hear, but probably fifth grade and up. (Newbery medal)
  • The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come by John Fox - an old-fashioned classic, set in Civil War Kentucky, not something your kids would be likely to pick up and read on their own, but a good, long read-aloud for middle elementary and above.
For teen listeners:
  • 1776, by David McCullough - historical (nonfiction) account of the difficult war for independence - a fresh look at George Washington
  • A Free Man of Color, by Barbara Hambly - historical fiction and a mystery, set in New Orleans in the early 1800's, this book sheds light on the little-known culture of the free blacks at a time when "Americans" were regarded as outsiders and the "civilized" population of New Orleans still spoke French. It is the first book in a series of mysteries featuring the same main character.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Books to Read Aloud to Your Children - January 2008

Note: for the introductory information about why, how and where to read to your kids, see my first post. Remember the most important thing:
Read what you like! If you and your child don't like the book, set it aside and read something else!
Seasonal picture books:
  • Anno's Counting Book, by Mitsumasa Anno - probably best for kids 3-5, this is a wordless picture book that starts out with a scene of a snowy, empty field and the number "0". The next pages show the field with one house, one person, one tree, and as you turn the pages the things in the pictures illustrate the numbers from zero through twelve, and the months/seasons of the year.
  • The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats - a simple, sweet story showing a little boy who lives in an apartment building going out to play on a snowy day, and trying to keep a snowball. Probably for younger pre-schoolers.
  • The Mitten, and The Hat, by Jan Brett - two whimsical, wintery stories with a folktale feeling and delightful, detailed illustrations
  • Katie and the Big Snow, by Virginia Lee Burton - an old favorite of little boys who are interested in big machines, one of the main "characters" in this book is the snow plow who helps clear the streets of the city after a big snow.
  • Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin & illustrated by Azarian - the true story of the man who studied snowflakes, with beautiful woodcut illustrations
  • Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Frost & illustrated by Jeffers - This is just the text of the famous Robert Frost poem, with gorgeous wintery illustrations. Short enough for very young listeners, beautiful enough for up to adults!
  • The Tomten, or The Tomten and the Fox, by Lindgren, illustrated by Wiberg - These are two simple, comforting stories based on Norwegian folklore, about the little "tomten" who watches over the farm at night; the pictures are beautiful, and very wintery.
  • Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here, by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Krupinski - lots of information about what animals do in the winter, and the idea of the winter solstice
  • Wild Horse Winter, by Tetsuya Honda - true account of a herd of wild horses surviving a terrible winter in Japan, with watercolor illustrations
  • A Ride on the Red Mare's Back, by LeGuin, illustrated by Downing - Although this is a picture book, the story is longer than most picture books, so it is more for the kindergarten through second grade listener. The little girl who is the main character in this fairy-tale type story rescues her little brother from trolls.
  • ...and one chapter book: The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder - From the "Little House" series, but you don't have to have read the other ones to enjoy this one about pioneer difficulties surviving prairie blizzards. Good for elementary listeners, at least up to sixth grade.
About civil rights:
  • The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles, illustrated by Ford - about the first black child to attend a previously all-white school, first-grader Ruby Bridges, this picture book is suitable for early elementary children.
  • Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , by Doreen Rappaport - an illustrated biography of Martin Luther King, Jr, for ages five and up.
  • Words by Heart, by Ouida Sebestyen - historical fiction, set in the early 1900's, about a black girl growing up in an all-white town in the Southwest; for upper elementary or above, this book does portray an incident of racial violence, but is ultimately about humanity and forgiveness.
  • Elijah of Buxton, by Christopher Paul Curtis - historical fiction set in pre-Civil War America - Elijah has grown up free, as the first black child born in a community of escaped slaves just across the border into Canada, but he makes a dangerous journey into "the States" to try to help a friend. This book has humor, suspense, and real-life horror - for upper elementary to middle school.
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis - historical fiction in the 1960's, this book starts out funny as the family leaves their home in Michigan for a visit to Alabama, where we get a child's-eye view of the way blacks were treated in the South - for upper elementary to middle school.

From the fairy-tale tradition:
Somehow winter nights seem like a good time for reading fairy tales. As well as the Disney versions, there are beautifully-illustrated picture-book versions of nearly all the old favorites, plus lots of lesser-known stories and some modern stories written in the style of fairy tales. For older children, ready for longer books that will take multiple sessions to finish, there are some wonderful "novelizations" of old fairy tales.
  • Beauty by Robin McKinley - this novelization of "Beauty and the Beast" is more for listeners eight or nine and up, although I have known younger children who enjoyed it, too.
  • The Goose Girl or Princess Academy by Shannon Hale - The first of these is based on the fairy tale, and the second is an original story. Both are good read-alouds for ages nine and up.
  • The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbit - this one has a boy for a main character. It is an original story, but with an old-fashioned fairy-tale feel to it. It is a lighter story, with touches of humor, for listeners about seven and up.
For reading aloud to teens:
  • The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander, illustrated with photos from the actual expedition - if you think winter is cold, this incredible, true story about survival against impossible odds in Antarctica will boggle your mind! The same basic story has been told by several authors - you could also try Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Lansing (for older readers), or Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance (for elementary age) by Armstrong.
  • The Time of the Dark, by Barbara Hambly - fantasy, about a punk motorcycle-riding airbrush artist and a nerdy female graduate student who get taken from California across "the Void" into another world, where magic is possible, winter seems to be taking over, and horrible flying monsters roam the night. It is the first in a series.
Look for books in your local library! Buy your favorites through your local bookstore, or search for in- or out-of-print books at .

Introduction: Why Read to Children?

It's fun for everyone involved.
It helps get them settled down.
It makes the children more likely to read to themselves, too.
It's a great excuse to sit down when you're tired in the evening.
Multiple research studies show that the time parents spend reading to children has the greatest influence on how well the children read, which in turn is one of the strongest predictors of success in school and in life.
It's family time.
It can help establish a routine.
It increases the child's attention span, vocabulary, and general background knowledge.
The time you spend reading to your children establishes the ideas that reading is important, and that the children are so important you take time from the dozens of other things you would otherwise be doing to read to them.

When should you start?
Today. Well, if you don't have kids yet, you can put it off.
There are people who say you should start while the baby is still in utero. I have my doubts about that, although it won't hurt.
There are people who say you should start as soon as the baby is born. That's getting a little more plausible. Recent studies show that children can tell the difference between the language(s) spoken in their home, and "foreign" languages by the time they are six months old. Again, it certainly can't hurt. The young baby won't understand the story line, and might or might not look at the pictures, but s/he will enjoy the sound of your voice and the time you spend paying attention to him.
I think a reasonable goal is to start a regular daily reading time when your child is about a year old - or immediately, if your child is already older than that.

When should you stop?
Not until the child (or the youngest child, if you have more than one) is at least fourteen. No, I'm not kidding. Of course the child will be able to read to herself before that, but that is no reason for you to stop reading aloud to her.

With very young children who have not yet gotten used to being read to, you may need to pick your times carefully at first - choose times when your baby/toddler is willing to sit still for a few minutes.
As soon as you can, establish a routine that fits your schedule. For many families, that means reading just before bedtime, and that can work well. The reading can help the children wind down, relax, and be ready to sleep. It makes a peaceful, cozy ending for the day, but it is not the only option. If there are two parents around, maybe one parent could read to the children while the other one puts the finishing touches on dinner, or washes dishes after dinner. If your family is in the unusual position of not needing to rush around in the morning, right after breakfast might be a good story time. Look at your schedule and see where it can fit.

How much?
A good rule of thumb is that you should read aloud at least 5 minutes a day for every year the child is old, and for older children, at least a half hour a day (the children over seven should also be reading to themselves at least a half hour a day, but that's another topic).

Find a quiet, comfortable spot where you can have a baby or toddler on your lap, and older children sitting right next to you - a roomy chair, a loveseat, or couch. On a bed will work if you have a good back-support pillow to lean against. You need good light on the book, though the rest of the room doesn't need to be light.
If possible, turn off all other noise in the house - television, radio, stereo, computer, video games, everything (well, you could experiment with a little soft music in the background if you want). Anyone in the house who isn't listening to the reading should be quiet. If you can't get rid of all the noise, at least have a closed door between the reading area and the other noises.

A few other miscellaneous issues...
When you first begin reading with your child, he may not want to sit still very long. This problem will usually gradually diminish as he gets older and gets used to the routine (and gets interested in the stories). For very wiggly children, you could try breaking the reading time into two or three sessions instead of one long one. You could try giving the child a "stress ball" or some silly putty to squeeze and play with while you read. It is preferable to have the child completely focused on the book and the reading, but some children do listen well while doodling or drawing - or riding a stationary bike, or walking on a treadmill.
Some people really get into dramatic storytelling, doing different "voices" for different characters. If you like doing that, go for it. Younger children, especially, will enjoy it. However, don't feel that you must be a great storyteller.