Friday, March 11, 2011

Best Children's Books- Book Walks and Early Readers

As a school librarian/ literacy teacher, I have been lucky enough to work with students of all ages. During that time, I have seen which books children really like, and I have developed my own favorites.

First Books

Children love to be read to, and for parents, reading to their pre-school children can be both an enjoyable experience, a chance to be young again and remember the times their own childhood memories when their own parents read to them.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown is a book most parents and children love. It is a comforting book,where as the colors on the pages gradually fade, and the bunny child says good night to the familiar objects in his room and all the activity of his day, the reader is reminded of what remains unchanging and "right" in the world..."two little kittens and a pair of mittens" ..." "a comb and a brush and a bowl of mush"... Anyone who has ever studied the life of Margaret Wise Brown will experience the book on an even deeper level. She was one of the first authors to test her books on young children, and she did so at the Bank Street School. Childless herself, she studied what children were concerned with, what sounds they liked to hear. She was also lucky enough to collaborate with an editor who hired the latest modern art illustrators to create flat high contrast color paintings. Brown was a genius in her field; she was also one of the first to experiment with textures as in her book The Fur Family. Her early death was a loss for all.

Early readers have to be charmed at an early age. Librarians are taught that the way to hook in an early reader is to find a "just right" book, one that the child can experience success reading. For those too young to read, a picture book walk is just the thing, and Kindergarten teachers usually make their first reading of a book (most of the time they read a book to students three times) just that. Perfect for "book walking" are the Good Dog Carl books by Alexandra Day.

Text only appears on the first page of Carl's Christmas, as mother and father leave their black lab in charge of the baby as they go off to church. The fantasy adventures the dog and baby experience as the parents are away are enough to charm the most rambunctious reader. The book is a page turner, and children who can narrate the story from the pictures alone, can't wait to predict and then see what happens. Of course, there is a visit from Santa Claus.

First Chapter Books

Anyone who knows me, knows that my favorite early reading author is Cynthia Rylant.

Drawing from her own experience with her son and his dog, this Oregonian author shares her gentle world view in a number of series, most notably Henry and Mudge . I imagine that the author has spent a lot of time on her porch sipping lemonade with her neighbors, because that simpler lifestyle appears in both her Poppleton and her Mr. Putter and Tabby series. My personal favorite characters of hers are Mr. Putter and Tabby and their eccentric neighbors Mrs. Teabury and her "good dog" Zeke.

Mr. Putter is an old bachelor or widower, lucky enough to have retired before the Stock Market crashed. He has time on his hands, and is a bit lonely, so he goes to a shelter to find a pet as old and comfort-seeking as himself. Tabby, the gold cat who sleeps on his stomach, the refrigerator, and other strange spots, and who is just the listener he needs to listen to stories of his boyhood, shares his daily adventures. In Mr. Putter and Tabby Write the Book, like all of us, Mr. Putter has a hard time putting words on paper, and spends most of his time making snacks in the kitchen. Mr. Putter and Tabby Cook the Tea, Get the Cold, Stir the Soup and Walk the Dog, are so hilarious I am in stitches every time I read them. Arthur Howard's watercolors are perfect.

More autobiographical appears to be her Henry and Mudge series. Mudge, an enormous Mastiff, almost gets lost in the first book, and which young first grader hasn't worried about that. But, In the Sparkle Days , is a favorite. Set around the fall and winter holidays, it is the story of waiting for the first snow, making snow angels, firelight and the family all together for their feasts, including the
dog. As one of my students once said, "It's magic!"

I didn't think I could get into a story about a pig, but if Poppleton, like Harry Potter doesn't represent everything's that's good about being an Anglophile, then nothing does. Poppleton, like the hobbits in Lord of the Rings and Mr. Putter and Tabby likes his creature comforts, good food, the arts and most importantly, as in all of Cynthia Rylant's books, good friends. When winter gives him too many icicles he makes an icicle fence, and just when he thought his friends have forgotten him, they give him just the winter experience he always wanted in Poppleton in Winter.

So, before spring finally arrives, and while the weather is still raw, to kill the end of winter blahs and cabin fever, curl up with your children and a good book. It's just what the doctor ordered.
In my next blog, I will write about books for older grammar school students.

1 comment:

  1. We love Good NIght moon here too, Mary LOu :) I haven't read the others, though... but will try to remember them :)