November is the month to officially celebrate the awesomeness of picture books. When you go to the website for Picture BookMonth you will find postings from authors and illustrators from the world of children’s literature, writing about why they think picture books are important. This continues until the end of the month.
To illustrate how important picture books can be, I’d like to tell you about a couple of students (student-teachers) I've had at the reference desk this past week.
Both students are involved with Calgary Reads, a program that matches university students with struggling readers in elementary schools. Each student-teacher asked me for recommendations for picture books for kids in grades 2 and 5. They had been asked to bring in a picture book to read aloud to their assigned student as a way to get to know them. At this point, this is all they know – nothing else. Not why the kids struggle with reading, not their gender or interests. Nada. So, its wide open as to what they bring in.
And this is where the challenge is – this first book may be what sets the tone for this experience for both the elementary student and the student-teacher. Finding a good read aloud isn't the problem. Finding one that will appeal to either a boy or girl with unknown interests and diverse life experiences is a bit more challenging.
My bias is to suggest something humorous. I figure if you can make a kid laugh, the door has at least been cracked opened. Once rapport has been established between the student-teacher and the reader, there’s an opportunity for future sessions to be more directed to the kids’ interests.
So what were some of my recommendations?
No, That’s Wrong by Zhaohua Ji
When has being wrong been so funny? Meet a befuddled rabbit who doesn't know a pair of underpants from a hat. But then neither do a variety of other animals until donkey tries to set the record straight. Illustrations are great at conveying the humour and confusion. Hilarious.
ChewyLouis by Howie Schneider
A lovable but highly destructive pup is the centre of one family’s consternation and extreme displeasure as he chews up the whole house – yes! Everything! Again the illustrations heighten the hilarity.
BabyBrains by Simon James
This one is totally over-the-top for its’ take on overly ambitious parents and their overachieving children. Right from birth Baby Brains is able to read newspapers, fix cars, go to school and becomes a world renowned surgeon. But, deep down, he’s really just a baby who wants the love and comfort of his parents.
While cruising the shelves looking for funny books, I usually pull a few other books that I think might have strong enough stories that transcend the many unknowns about the young reader.
Here were a few titles that were checked out:
Blackout by John Rocco
A city wide blackout reduces one family’s various activities that typically keep them apart, to just being with each other. Finding emergency candles and a flashlight, enjoying the star-studded night sky and joining a low-key street party create a strong sense family and community.
My Best Friend is as Sharp as a Pencil by Hanoch Piven
This book uses similes and using mixed-media illustrations to tell us what the narrator’s friends and teachers are like. His best friend Jack is smart. He knows lots about geography, is as sharp as a pencil, curious as a magnifying glass and precise as a microscope. The objects shown in his ‘portrait’ (a globe, a pencil, a magnifying glass and microscope) become the pieces that construct Jack’s face in a simple collage. This book is playful and clever.
Little Lost Dog: the True Story of aBrave Dog Named Baltic by Monica Carnesi
I have to confess I didn't actually recommend this one but only because it wasn't ready to be checked out. Otherwise, I’d have been all over it.
This story is based on a true and harrowing experience of a dog trapped on an ice flow in the
Baltic Sea during a brutally cold winter. He survived adrift for two days until he was
rescued by a research vessel and eventually adopted as a crew member. Great story with a strong sense of drama made
all that much better because it’s based on a true incident.
So, these are just some of my recommendations that I think would make a good first impression. Opening up the world to young children is important and one, easy accessible way is through picture books. I’m hoping to get some feedback about how these choices went over with the elementary students.
First impressions are important. Recommendations for putting your best foot forward?