Tag Archives: reading to children

How children learn that there are people called authors

Image stolen from pearlblossomhighway.blogspot.com

Reading to my daughter tonight, as usual, she chose the books.  First, she chose one called Reading Makes You Feel Good by Todd Parr.  “I really like books by Todd Parr,” she said.  She’d already been reading it to one of her babies when I came in.  [My daughter has a lot of babies.  Often, when I tell her the name of an author or illustrator, she says, “I have a baby named” (fill in the blank).]

In the rush of the day, it would be easy to just get to the meat and read the book, rather than taking a few seconds to name the author and illustrator.  Some books we have (and some she picks from the library) are so ugly, cheesy, and poorly written that I don’t feel like elevating the schmucks who created them by giving them name.  Meow.  (Though those schmucks are probably making a living at what they do, so I should refrain from sneering, at least from that whole “making a living by writing books” angle.)  But even with these stinky books, each time, when I read the title, then “written by…” and “illustrated by…” the child comes to know that there are people behind each book.

My daughter lives with two parents who are writers.  As she grows up, she’ll know a lot–maybe too much–about what it means to be a writer.  So many writers bemoan the current state of publishing…it’s a sad time for books, some say.  But we could do a lot to improve the morale of writers if we do this simple act: when reading a book to a child, include the name of the writer and illustrator.  Every time.  Every book.

If we do, maybe that lucky child who doesn’t know any writers personally will come to know that someone sat and thought about the book, someone chose words and painted images to tell the story that lulls her to sleep.

The beginning of empathy?

My daughter, who is two-and-a-half, is developing a habit of hugging books.  When we’re reading a story and someone gets hurt, or might be scared, or sad, she embraces the book for a long moment.  When Madeline gets her appendix taken out, or when Sal loses her tooth (One Morning in Maine) and makes a bitter face “almost like crying,” my daughter leans in to hug.  She does this with her parents, too, when we stub toes or drop things, or are not feeling well.  In trying to raise a child who cares about other people, we’ve talked a lot about considering others’ feelings, reminding her that it hurts the cat when she yanks his tail.

Tonight, I was reading Harold and The Purple Crayon at bedtime.

“He was tired and he felt he ought to be getting to bed.  He hoped he could see his bedroom window from the top of the mountain.  But as he looked down over the other side he slipped–And there wasn’t any other side of the mountain.  He was falling, into thin air.”

Harold is shown upside down, with his purple crayon, simply falling.  My daughter leaned in to hug Harold, and then held and comforted him (the book) for a long time.  She said, “I’m going to hold Hamold” (as she calls Harold).

The wise people who write about child development tend to discount these early displays of empathy, and certainly my child does her share of throwing her dolls to the floor so that they cry, so that she can comfort them.  (I encourage her not to throw them to the floor–“It’s better if they don’t cry in the first place, right?” but that’s not the point.  She needs them to cry so that she can comfort them.)  It is heart-warming to see her hugging a book, especially when the child protagonist is in peril, or pain, but I don’t think my daughter is unusual in this way.

I read an article recently (I wish I could remember where!) about a book that was claiming there is too much fiction in K-12 curriculum, and that children need to learn how to read nonfiction, that it helps them learn about the real world more than fiction does.  Admittedly taken out of context, this notion really bothers me.  Yes, children need to learn to read all kinds of things, and it’s crucial that they learn the nuances and distinctions between fiction and nonfiction.  But how can I say that fiction doesn’t teach children about life in the “real” world?  Even putting “issue” books aside (in my generation, there was Judy Blume) it’s not fair to partition fiction out of what is real in the world.

We learn the world from stories, and through stories.

p.s. There is truth and fiction everywhere.

The Lorax, revisited

What do we think of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax these days?

I recall the book from my past, though I don’t exactly remember it from my childhood.  I’m not sure if I read it back then.  Being someone who cares about the environment and loves Dr. Seuss on what feels like a cellular level, I bought a copy (printed on recycled paper) for my two-year-old daughter.

She discovered it last week.

Discovering a book, for her, usually means that she wants her parents or any other literate person who happens to be around to read the book several times per day.  But the Lorax is long, and we didn’t make it to the end of the story for the first few days of its discovery.

But my husband and I both want to hide the book, and dread it being handed to us by the little waif who lives in our house.  I think there are two reasons for this.

1) It’s really, really too long.  I think it could be cut down by half, and would be a much stronger book.  The number of clunky sentences in this book is astonishing, considering who wrote it.  And I think this is because:

2) The genius of Dr. Seuss seems to be squelched, choked, or otherwise obscured by HAVING AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE.  Sure, there are messages in plenty of his books, and even though I agree with most of the message in this one (rampant, irresponsible industry=bad, trees=pretty) his message seems to have bent the tree of his narrative over too far, so that in a way it resembles a dying version of one of the book’s skewed, leaning, tufted trees.

As a writer, this is a really good lesson to learn (over and over again, each time my little cherub brings me the dreaded book).  If you have AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE (which is fine, and has its place) please make sure that the message doesn’t wilt the narrative.

And cut everything down by half.  But not the trees.