Thursday, April 17, 2008

More Books to Read Aloud - May 2008

From the BBC website, April 10, 2008:
Less than half of fathers regularly read bedtime stories to their children, research has suggested.
Some 42% of fathers said they were bedtime story readers, compared with 76% of mothers, a poll of 2,207 adults for the National Year of Reading found. Boys are consistently outperformed by girls when it comes to reading.
Television was children's most common pre-sleep activity.
Children's Secretary Ed Balls said reading opened doors to everything. "Reading to your children for 10 minutes at bedtime is the best way of improving our kids' chances when they get to school."
... Ten minutes? Well, that's a good start! ;)

Spring is here, or at least it should be soon. Here are some picture books with spring themes:

Make Way for Ducklings, by McCloskey - an old classic Caldecott book, this story follows Mr. and Mrs. Mallard in their search for the right spot to build their nest and raise ducklings. When writing and sketching for this book, Robert McCloskey bought ducklings and put them in his bathtub to keep them handy for drawing, and if you look at the pictures you will see that each duckling has its own personality. Good for preschool through first grade.

The Carrot Seed, by Krauss, illustrated by Johnson - this classic recently celebrated its 60th anniversary! This may be the quintessential children's story - a little boy plants a carrot seed and faithfully takes care of it even though everyone keeps telling him it probably won't come up. Of course, the adults (and older brother) are wrong, and the little boy is right. This is a very short, simple story, with simple, minimalist, almost cartoon-style illustrations. If you happen to be a gardener, you will recognize how appropriate a choice carrots are for the story - nearly every year I despair of my carrot seeds ever sprouting, and then one day, there they are. Pre-school through early elementary.

The Legend of the Bluebonnet, by de Paolo - lovely pictures illustrate this traditional Native American story about selfless sacrifice by a young orphan girl who gives up her most treasured possession to help her people. The story also explains the origin of the bluebonnet, state flower of Texas. Preschool through middle elementary.

The Marsh Crone's Brew, by Olsen, translated by Jensen - if you can find it, this is a charming little Scandinavian story about the seasons as experienced by the "marsh people" - including such details as the ice melting off the puddles because the marsh people breath on them, and how butterflies fly out of the marsh girls' ears after the mischievous marsh boys blow into them. Pre-school through early elementary. (Out of print, hard to find.)

One Watermelon Seed, by Lottridge illustrated by Patkau - a counting book that centers around gardening - it includes counting by tens, and has lots of little details in the pictures for kids to notice. PreK through early elementary.

One Child, One Seed: A South African Counting Book, by Cave, photographs by Wulfson - a counting that follows photographs of a family from planting through harvesting and making a meal. This is another book that has a simple enough story line for pre-schoolers, but also has additional text for older children, and gives a glimpse of another culture. (PreK through middle elementary)

The Spring Equinox: Celebrating the Greening of the Earth, by Jackson, illustrated by Ellis - (nonfiction) introduces spring holiday celebrations from different cultures and time periods - bright-colored, cheerful pictures. Elementary.

A Seed is Sleepy, by Aston, illustrated by Long - (nonfiction) colorful, accurate illustrations make this an attractive introduction to some basic botany. The text is on two levels - a very simple level for preschoolers, and a more detailed level for lower elementary kids.

Planting A Rainbow, by Ehlert - (nonfiction) Ehlert's bright, stylized illustrations are perfect for the story that follows the yearly cycle of gardening. PreK to early elementary - this could also be used to help teach colors.

The Lotus Seed, by Garland, illustrated by Kiuchi - elegant, soft-colored oil paintings illustrate this story about a grandmother remembering having to leave Vietnam when she was young. It could be used with other books (like My Grandfather's Journey, or Grandmother's Journey) about emigration and family heritage. Elementary.

For older children:

Spring Comes to the Ocean, by Jean George - nonfiction, marine biology for the middle elementary set.

My Side of the Mountain, by George - realistic fiction, but plays to everyone's fantasy to just leave everything behind and live alone in the woods (without parents, of course!). This old classic will appeal to boys, or any child who is interested in nature. Jean George weaves accurate information about wildlife into the story. Third grade & up listeners.

Charlotte's Web, by White - The people part of this book would be realistic fiction, but more of it features Wilbur, the runt piglet, Charlotte, the spider, and various of the other animals. Try to avoid letting your children see a video version of this, and read it to them instead. E.B. White's prose is delightful, and the story is just plain, old-fashioned fun right up to the bittersweet ending. Second grade and up.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by Lewis - I first heard this read aloud on the radio when I was maybe in fourth grade, and I found it quite dark and frightening, but probably today's children are exposed to lots more scary stuff than I was. Four British children on vacation from school climb into a big wardrobe in an old house, and find themselves in another world, where animals can talk, mythical creatures like satyrs really exist, and the evil White Witch has taken over, making it "always winter and never Christmas". The children's adventures are almost incidental to the main conflict, which is a parable for the crucifixion and resurrection story, as anyone well-versed in Christianity will recognize by the end of the book.

As an adult, I find the writing in some parts of this book to be only passable, and I nearly gagged on the line "war is ugly when women fight". However, as a child I found it interesting, and liked the whole series. Actually, my favorites in the series were The Magician's Nephew, which you really could read first, since it is about the creation of Narnia, and The Last Battle, which probably wouldn't make much sense unless you had read at least two of the earlier books, since it is a sort of parable about the end of the world, though, as I remember it, it is a much more comforting version than the book of Revelations. (third or fourth grade up)

For Teens:

The Bean Trees, by Kingsolver - the writing in this book begs to be read aloud. The narrator has a wry sense of humor and an engaging voice that immediately captures your interest. Although there are body parts mentioned, there is nothing you could call a sex scene. The main character leaves rural Kentucky as soon after she gets out of high school as she can earn enough money to buy an ancient Volkswagen, and starts driving west, very pleased to be one of the few girls in her class who didn't get pregnant and/or married. But soon she finds herself taking care of an abandoned, abused toddler, and living in the desert Southwest, working for a woman who runs the Jesus is Lord used tire shop and helps illegal political refugees from South America. Inevitably, child services finds out about the unofficial "adoption", and Taylor, who had thought she didn't want to be a mom, is frantic to find a way to keep custody of her little girl. All these disparate threads get woven into a terrific story, probably for ninth grade and up listeners, although I think my younger son was only eleven or twelve when we read it, and he liked it.