Thursday, May 31, 2012

Guest blogger - View from a school library

Janet Hutchinson is a colleague and kindred spirit when it comes to children's literature.  She also works a day and half in the library in the school which her children have or are attending here in Calgary.  Her experiences there provide her (and me by extension) the opportunity to see what teachers and kids do with the books we promote.  Today's posting makes me wish that I was one of her lucky kindergarten students. I love being read to.
Please enjoy the view from a school library.

 One of my responsibilities at the school is to read aloud to the junior kindergarten students. (Yes, I know – really tough job!).  There are two classes of boys and girls. One class is a half day and the other is full day. I could read the same story – except some of the half day students occasionally stay the full day – and they are always quick to point out that “Hey – we read that story this morning”. So I usually pick two or three books that I think might work, and if there is time, I often read more than one.

I have found that although there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to selecting books, there are some general principles that have helped me in book selection for this age group. Of course, I had to get used to the idea that what I THINK is going to work sometimes falls flatter than a pancake. The good news is, I generally figure that out pretty early on and can change gears (and books) quite quickly if I need to.

Some of the principles that I follow when choosing a book are:
Good illustrations. And if there is something tactile in the book, so much the better.
Rhymes – kids seem to naturally love word play and if there is a rhythm developed, they find the story easier to follow.
Repetition and predictability.  If they can figure out what is going to happen on the next page, they feel quite clever. Especially if I ask “And what do you think happens next?” and they are proven right.
In complete contrast to the above – surprise. If the next page completely surprises them, t hat can prove a winner as well.
I also started out selecting really short stories. But I have experimented with stories that require them to sit and really listen, especially as the year progresses. 

So which books have worked really well?

The loud book by Deborah Underwood. The gentle illustrations provide an excellent foil for things that can be REALLY LOUD. And of course, every child loves to think of something really loud (and demonstrate it to you as well!) I forgot how loud 4 year olds can be – even the deceptively quiet ones.... If you have a headache, then her companion book “The quiet book” might be a better choice, although some of her concepts about quiet are a little more difficult to understand – and act out.

 Chalk by Bill Thomson. This wordless book has an element of magic in it. And the whole idea of “What if you found a bag of chalk and everything you drew became really real?” naturally leads kids to think about what they would draw. Boys will totally and always draw dinosaurs. Or scary monsters. Girls will draw princesses or flowers or “something pretty”. (Gender stereotypes are pretty ingrained at this age, I am afraid!)

Do not open this book by Michaela Muntean. The author is quite grumpy as he tries to summon the creative muse – amidst the chaos of the reader turning the pages. Kids like the thought of the creating process – and it is kind of funny, if you think about it.
All the world by Liz Garton Scanlon. I love this book. Scanlon’s gentle rhymes and Marla Frazee’s pictures are just the perfect thing for quieting down JK students and giving them something to really listen to. And the pictures depict simple quiet moments about the world out there.

Black? White. Day? Night : a book of opposites by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Not only is this a fold out book that is visually interesting, it starts off with simple opposites – and then moves to more complicated pairings as the book progresses. (The opposite of Ordinary is......extraordinary, in case you didn’t know. Try explaining THAT to a 4 year old.)
We’re going on a bear hunt by Michael Rosen. This book was always a favourite with my own kids and it clearly continues to be a favourite today, as most of the students have heard some version of it. And it is something that kids can repeat along with you. (We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we can’t go around it – we’ve got to go through it.....)

Kevin Henkes . Rather than selecting just one of his books, I find that anything of his that I have read to the students’ works on all sorts of levels. Last week it was “Chrysanthemum” – although it is a longer story and there was a little bit of fidgeting to start, by the time I got to Chrysanthemum’s first day at school, the students were completely engaged. Something about his writing so completely “gets” the young child – whether it’s thinking your name is funny (my youngest never liked his name) or the taunting of other children, they all seemed to be able to put themselves in Chrysanthemum’s place. 

Finally, I am not sure just what we would do without the Elephant and Piggy series by Mo Willems.  Somehow, the students are always ready to listen to another of their adventures. Particularly popular was “There is a bird on your head”. And there is one little boy who has taken a Piggy and Elephant book out every week – the teacher told me that Dad is a little concerned that his son seems only interested in this book. But if you think about it, the series provides familiarity in that it is the same central characters, but a new adventure every time – kind of like the Nancy Drew or Harry Potter series that appeal to older students.  

I love this aspect of my job. Reading to kids brings back that part of parenting that really appealed to me. The rapture apparent in their faces as a new book appears and all they have to do is listen as a new adventure unfolds is kind of like having little ones again (although they go away at the end of the period – which is nice as well!!)


Ali B said...

Kevin Henkes and Mo Willems are my favorites. I used to read all of Kevin Henkes books to my classes of first graders. My husband and I named our first *baby*, Julius. He was a dachshund, not a mouse.

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