Tuesday, February 26, 2013

2013 Newbery & Caldecott Winners Announced

The Newbery & Caldecott awards for children's literature were announced on January 28th of this year. The Newbery Medal was named after the eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery.  It is presented to the author of the book judged to have made the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. A committee of librarians and literary experts is chosen each year to select the winner and the runners up on behalf of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). The books can be works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The author must be a citizen or resident of the United States and the work written for children up to 14 years of age.

The Caldecott Medal was named in honour of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. The awards commenced in 1938.

There are also a number of other specialist awards for fiction and non-fiction that were announced on the same day and are outlined at the end of the post.
1. Newbery Medal 2013

The 2013 Newbery Medal winner is 'The One and Only Ivan' by Katherine Applegate, published by HarperCollins Children's Books.
Ivan is a very laid back gorilla. He lives at Exit 8 of the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He doesn't really miss his life in the jungle and has become used to people staring at him. He spends his life thinking about his favourite TV shows and his friends Stella (who is an elderly elephant), and Bob (a stray dog). But he also thinks about art and how to get the right colours or create the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with line and colour.

One day he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family. Ivan is changed and sees his home and his art in a new way. Ruby changes everything, including Ivan. This is wonderful tale about friendship, art and hope. Through the narrative voice of Ivan Katherine Applegate creates a memorable story.

The Newbery Committee chair commented:
“Katherine Applegate gives readers a unique and unforgettable gorilla’s-eye-view of the world that challenges the way we look at animals and at ourselves.”

Three honour books were also announced.

'Splendors and Glooms' by Laura Amy Schlitz, published by Candlewick Press.

Lizzie Rose, Parsefall and Clara are caught in the clutches of a wicked puppeteer and a powerful witch in this deliciously dark and complex tale set in Dickensian England, where adventure and suspense are interwoven into nuanced explorations of good versus evil.

'Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon' by Steve Sheinkin, published by Flash Point, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press.

Balancing intersecting threads of scientific discovery, political intrigue and military strategy, “Bomb” is a riveting historical nonfiction drama. Sheinkin’s engaging narrative explores the complex series of events that led to the creation of the ultimate weapon and introduces many memorable personalities involved in the pursuit.
'Three Times Lucky' by Sheila Turnage, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.

In the rich tradition of Southern storytelling, rising sixth-grader Mo LoBeau leads the eccentric residents of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, on a rollicking journey of mystery, adventure and small-town intrigue as she investigates a murder and searches for her long-lost mother.

2. Caldecott Medal 2013

The 2013 Caldecott Medal winner is 'This Is Not My Hat', written and illustrated by Jon Klassen, published by Candlewick Press.

When a tiny fish shoots into view wearing a round blue topper (which happens to fit him perfectly), trouble could be following close behind. So it's a good thing that enormous fish won't wake up. And even if he does, it's not like he'll ever know what happened. . . . Visual humour swims to the fore as the best-selling Jon Klassen follows his breakout debut with another deadpan-funny tale.

This darkly humorous tale is brilliant. The simplicity of language and image is its secret.  Klassen was also the illustrator of another book named as an honour book in the Caldecott, 'Extra Yarn' (see below). This is a rare double. What's his secret? When asked about his work recently Klassen commented:

"What I like best is boiling a story down to something really simple."

Using the subtle changes in image and supporting words, Klassen creates humour and tension. The Big fish wants his hat back and it seems that he knows just what has happened. We follow the fish and imagine what the outcome will be.

The chair of the Caldecott judging panel commented:
“With minute changes in eyes and the slightest displacement of seagrass, Klassen’s masterful illustrations tell the story the narrator doesn’t know."

The judges also announced four honour books.

'Creepy Carrots!', illustrated by Peter Brown, written by Aaron Reynolds and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.

Jasper the rabbit loves carrots until he notices they are everywhere. He is convinced they’re coming for him! Pronounced shadows, black borders and shaded edges enhance this ever so slightly sinister tale with a distinctly cinematic feel. This is one serving of carrots children will eagerly devour.

'Extra Yarn', illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett and published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

A selfish archduke threatens to halt a little girl's transformation of a colourless town and steal her box of magical yarn.  Klassen's innovative digital technique results in shifts of colour that signal character change and critical turns of plot -all done with just the right stitches of humour.

'Green', illustrated and written by Laura Vaccaro Seeger and published by Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press.

In this original concept book, Seeger engages all the senses with her fresh approach to the multiple meanings of “green.” Using thickly layered acrylics, word pairings and cleverly placed die cuts, she invites readers to pause, pay attention and wonder.

I just love this book. As with all beginning books that deal with concepts, its strength is its simplicity and meticulous use of the right words, images and of course, colours.

'One Cool Friend', illustrated by David Small, written by Toni Buzzeo and published by Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.

Energetic line and dizzying perspective combine for a rollicking tale of Father, Elliot and a highly improbable pet (or two). Buzzeo’s text, brimming with sly wordplay, earns its perfect counterpoint in Small’s ink, watercolour and pencil illustrations with chilly details and visual jokes that invite many repeated readings.

'Sleep Like a Tiger', illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Mary Logue and published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Surrounded with dreamlike images of crowns, ornate patterns and repeated visual motifs, her parents coax her into bed. Using mixed media artwork on wood enhanced with computer illustrations, this is a whimsical story with universal appeal.

Other major awards

3. The 'Pura Belpre Award

This is an award to a Latino or Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays the Latino cultural experience in a work of literature for children or youth. The judges made an award to an author and illustrator.

Award to an author

'Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe', by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.

'Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe' brings readers the tale of 15-year-old loner Aristotle Mendoza and his friendship with Dante Quintana. Sáenz exquisitely captures the story of two boys on the edge of manhood. By addressing issues of identity, friendship, family and love, Sáenz pushes beyond geography, sexuality and cultural identity to create a truly universal novel.

The judging panel chair said of this book:
“Sáenz demonstrates superb use of language and character development, while gently exploring important aspects of identity without straying into gender or cultural stereotypes.”
Award to an illustrator

Martín de Porres: The Rose in the Desert
', illustrated by David Diaz, written by Gary D. Schmidt, and published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Capturing both historical fact and legend, 'Martín de Porres: The Rose in the Desert' is the illustrated biography of the first African-heritage saint of the Américas. Diaz’s luminous mixed-media illustrations complement and expand the story.  Diaz expertly uses colour, perspective and contrast to portray Martín’s gentle spirit and miraculous abilities.

The committee chair said that the panel was "...impressed with Diaz’s ability to capture and expand Schmidt’s text, while including references to traditional South American artisan crafts, word carvings and textiles."

4. The 'Theodor Seuss Geisel Award'

The winner of this award was 'Up, Tall and High!', written and illustrated by Ethan Long. The book is published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.

A bevy of birds perform a play in three acts, while teaching the concepts of up, tall and high. The large font, word repetition, occasional rhyming and simple, but clever illustrations support the very beginning reader’s effort to read independently.  Children will delight in reading additional words hidden beneath thick flaps.

The Geisel Award Committee chair said of the book: “Using few words, Ethan Long has created a book that children will enjoy on multiple levels. The humorous drawings and interactive story will have children raising flaps and reading their first words with confidence and delight."

Honour books

'Let’s Go for a Drive!', written and illustrated by Mo Willems, and published by Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group.

In 'Let’s Go for a Drive!' good friends Elephant and Piggie, sharing their high spirits through song and dance, prepare for a drive. Best plans go awry when they realize they have no car. Text clues in color-coded speech bubbles, white backgrounds and bold mixed-media illustrations add to the book’s appeal for beginning readers.

'Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons', written by Eric Litwin, created and illustrated by James Dean and published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers.

In a picture book format accessible to beginning readers, a blue mellow-eyed feline keeps losing his groovy buttons in 'Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons.'  But does he cry? Goodness no! Bold backgrounds and rhyming refrains encourage beginning readers to look for the bright side of every situation. For after all, it’s all good!

5. Notable Lists

Each year a committee of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) identifies the best of the best in children's books. According to the Notables Criteria, "notable" is defined as: Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As applied to children's books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children's interests in exemplary ways. The lists are organised in four categories

Younger Readers – Preschool-grade 2 (age 7)
Middle Readers – Grades 3-5, ages 8-10
Older Readers – Grades 6-8, ages 11-14
All Ages – These have appeal and interest for children in all of the above age ranges

You can find the lists for each category HERE

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Chapter Books for Girls & Boys to Get Them Reading

* This is a revised version of a post I wrote in 2011

I'm asked by many parents just when they should start reading chapter books to their children. All that I will say in this post should be balanced against what I said in my recent post on picture books (HERE). If he or she won’t sit still long enough to hear a chapter through, then it’s too early. But, then again, you might just be choosing books that are dull or those that are just too hard and complex as narratives. You might also need to sharpen up your story reading.

Here are some quick questions that you might think about in assessing whether your child is ready:
  • Can your son or daughter listen for 20 minutes plus of reading aloud from picture books?
  • Do they seem to enjoy the text as much as the pictures?
  • Do they seem to relate to the characters and can they follow more complex picture books?
  • Do they ask you to read favourite books over and over?
  • Are they showing growing understanding of written language and asking questions about it (e.g. “What does calamity mean?” “Why does it say….?).
If you answer yes to most of these questions then they are probably ready. Children who have been read to constantly during the preschool years are typically ready to listen to chapter books from age 5 years and up (some even earlier). I also add that some children will be ready before 5 years. My two daughters and my two oldest grandchildren all started to love chapter books before 5 years of age. The starting time will reflect their maturity, language proficiency and the depth of the literary and narrative experiences that they have had in the early years.

Why read chapter books to younger readers?

In a post I wrote in 2008 on ‘Guiding children’s learning’ (here) I talked a little about Jerome Bruner’s concept of “scaffolding”. He identified scaffolding as a process where an adult helps children to learn in advance of their developmental level. The adult does this by doing what the child cannot do by themselves; allowing students to slowly take over parts of the process as they are able to do so. In many ways, this is the most fundamental reason to read chapter books to your children once they have become avid listeners to stories and beginning readers themselves. They can listen to more complex stories than they can read themselves as emerging readers.

In practical terms, chapter books offer children:
  • More complex narrative forms and plot development
  • Richer and more complex language
  • New areas of knowledge about their world and the human condition
  • Different literary devices
  • They train your children to be able to sustain longer periods of reading
As well as the above, chapter books will enable you to build an even richer shared literary history with your children. Shared books will become part of your literary common ground within the family, and more broadly, they will help to connect your children to a literary culture that others will share with them.

A couple of warnings

Having said all of the above, there are a couple of warnings that I’d give:
  • Don’t push your children too quickly; all learning requires periods of consolidation before moving on to more difficult terrain.
  • Be aware that while your children might be able to follow the story line, relate to the characters and so on, they may not be emotionally ready for some of the content.
  • Be prepared to offer support - with chapter books you may need to explain new words, discuss new concepts, offer new knowledge etc.
  • Don’t forget, that reading a chapter book still needs to be interesting and enjoyable and that it will be harder to achieve this without pictures so you’ll need to work harder on varying your character voices (see my earlier post on reading to and with your children HERE).
One final warning. Don't assume that once you commence chapter books that picture books no longer have a place (again, see my recent post). Young children still need to read picture books and hear them read to them. They continue to have an important role in children's literacy development throughout the primary years of schooling.

Some Chapter Books to try

The list below is not meant to be extensive, just illustrative. It has a particular Australian flavour (but not entirely). I preface the following suggestions by saying that individual children will handle these books at different ages. For the very youngest readers it is best to start with books that have some illustrations to maintain interest until they develop more 'stamina' for harder books. The age guide that I have given is meant to be a ‘group age’ guide for teachers sharing such books with larger groups. Parents reading to a single child will perhaps find that their child can deal with books I’ve listed at an earlier stage. Conversely, your child might not be ready for some of these books as suggested. You may also find that they can handle even more difficult books not on the list (but don’t forget the warnings above).

I'd love to have your suggestions for other books to add to the list.

a) Suitable for 5 year-olds

‘Aurora and the little blue car’, by Anne-Cath Vestly, 1969
‘Arlo the dandy lion’, by Morris Lurie, 1971
‘Charlotte’s Web’, by E. B. White, 1952
‘Fantastic Mr Fox’, by Roald Dahl, 1970
‘Morris in the apple tree’, by Vivian French, 1995
‘Pippi Longstocking’, by Astrid Lindgren, 1945
‘Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’, by May Gibbs, 1940
‘The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill’, by Dorothy Wall, 1939
‘The Littlest Dragon Goes for Goal’, by Margaret Ryan, 1999
‘Winnie-the-Pooh’, by A.A. Milne, 1926

b) Suitable for 6 year-olds

‘The BFG’, by Roald Dahl, 1982
‘Billy Fishbone King of the kid’, by Dianne Bates, 1997 (Bushranger series)
‘Bud Buster’, by Sofie Laguna, 2003 (Aussie Nibbles series)
‘Dragon ride’, by Helen Cresswell, 1987 (Colour Young Puffin series)
‘Elephant in the kitchen’, Winsome Smith, 1980
‘Grandma Cadbury’s Trucking Tales’, Di Bates, 1987
‘James and the Giant Peach’, by Roald Dahl, 1961
‘Hazel the Guinea Pig’, by A. N. Wilson, 1989
‘Mr. Popper's Penguins’, by Richard & Florence Atwater, 1939
'My Naughty Little Sister', by Dorothy Edwards, 1950
‘Rabbit Hill’, by Robert Lawson, 1944.
‘Superfudge’, by Judy Blume, 1984
‘Tashi and the Genie’, by Anna Fienberg, 1997, (series)
‘The Shrinking of Treehorn’, by Florence Parry Heide, 1971
‘The 27th Annual African Hippopotamus Race’, by Morris Lurie, 1969
‘The Wind in the Willows’, by Kenneth Grahame, 1908

c) Suitable for 7 year-olds

‘Boss of the Pool’, by Robin Klein, 1986
‘Bottersnikes and Gumbles’, by S. A. Wakefield, 1969
‘Boxer’, by Ian Charlton, 1999
‘Boy’, by Roald Dahl, 1984
‘Callie’s castle’, by Ruth Park, 1974
‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, Roald Dahl, 1964
‘Charlie up a gum tree’, by E. A. Schurmann, 1985
'Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool', by Odo Hirsch, 2009
‘Dear writer’, by Libby Gleeson, 2001
‘Dog tales’, by Emily Rodda, 2001
‘Foggy’, by Allan Baillie, 2001
‘Frog thunder’, by Jill Morris, 2001
‘Hating Alison Ashley’, by Robin Klein, 1984
‘James and the giant peach’, by Roald Dahl, 1961
‘Jodie’s Journey’, by Colin Thiele, 1997
‘Just So Stories’, by Rudyard Kipling, 1902
‘Let the Balloon Go’, by Ivan Southall, 1968
‘Little House on the Prairie’, Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1935
‘Little Old Mrs Pepperpot’, by Alf Prøysen, 1959
‘Matilda’, by Roald Dahl, 1989
'Matty Forever', by Elizabeth Fensham, 2009 
‘Mike’, by Brian Caswell, 1993
‘Misery Guts’, by Morris Gleitzman, 1991
‘Onion Tears’, by Diana Kidd, 1989
‘Over the top’, by Ivan Southall, 1972
‘Penny Pollard’s Diary’, by Robin Klein, 1983
‘Selby’s Secret’, by Duncan Ball, 1985
‘Storm Boy’, by Colin Thiele, 1976
‘The adventures of Stuart Little’, by Daphne Skinner, 2000
‘The amazing adventures of Chilly Billy’, by Peter Mayle, 1980
‘The borrowers’, by Mary Norton, 1958
‘The Eighteenth Emergency’, by Betsy Byars, 1973
‘The Iron Man’, by Ted Hughes, 1968
‘The enemies’, by Robin Klein, 1985
‘The lion, the witch and the wardrobe’, by C.S. Lewis, 1950
'The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg', by Rodman Philbrick
‘The penguin friend’, by Lucy Sussex, 1997 (Collins Yellow Storybook series)
‘The Twits’, by Roald Dahl, 1980
‘The turbulent term of Tyke Tiler’, by Gene Kemp, 1977
'The Wish Pony', by Catherine Bateson, 2008
‘Wiggy and Boa’, by Anna Fienberg, 1988
‘Wendy’s whale’, by Colin Thiele, 1999

Book series

I’ve written about book series in another post (here) and offer a detailed lost for many ages. There are a number of book series that children aged 5-7 years will enjoy, here are just some:

Alf Prøysen’s ‘Mrs Pepperpot’ series
Anna Branford's 'Violet Mackerel' series
Arnold Lobel’s ‘Frog and Toad’ books
Astrid Lindgren’s ‘Pippi Longstocking’ books
Dick King-Smith's 'Sophie' series
Donald Sobol's 'Encyclopedia Brown' series
Dorthy Edwards' 'My Naughty Little Sister' series 
Emily Rodda's 'Rowan of Rin' and 'Deltora Quest' series 
Enid Blyton's 'Faraway Tree' series
Hugh Lofting's 'Dr Dolittle' series
Jeff Brown's 'Flat Stanley' series
Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Ingalls family' series
Mairi Hedderwick's 'Katie Morag' series 
Michael Bond’s ‘Paddington Bear’ series
R.A. Spratt's 'Nanny Piggins' series
Sarah Pennypacker's 'Clementine/ series 
'The Chronicles of Narnia' by C.S. Lewis

Some related links

The importance of literature (here)
How to listen to your child reading (here)
Helping children to choose books (here)
The benefits of repeated reading of literature (here)
Why Older Readers Should Read Picture Books (here)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Developing Comprehension in the Preschool Years


I've written a number of times about comprehension on this blog (see previous posts here), written a two books about it (here & here) and published a monograph in recent times for the Primary English Teaching Association in Australia (PETAA). In these publications I describe comprehension as the ability "to understand, interpret, appreciate and critique what they read, view, hear and experience." This might not sound like the things you see a 2-3 year old doing when they pick up a book, and in one sense it isn't.  Young children begin to make sense of their world and all that is in it from birth, but comprehension as we know it in school emerges over time in these early years.

As distinguished literacy researchers Ken and Yetta Goodman said many years ago (in 'Learning to read is natural', 1979):
"The beginnings of reading often go unnoticed in the young child".
For the young child meaning making occurs from birth, but reading comprehension as we recognise it emerges over the first 5 years of life, and in fact, for most children begins before they can decode print.

Emergent Patterns

Caitlin McMunn Dooley wrote an excellent article in The Reading Teacher (Oct 2010) in which she described her observations of a group of children aged 2-5+ years in an early childhood classroom over a three year period.  Her observations suggested four broad phases in their emerging comprehension. These are not neat stages (hence the use of the word phase):

Book as prop (<2 to 3) - When choosing books children pay minimal attention to the topic and content of the book and instead use books a prop and treating them like other play things. The book symbolises story time or is used to simulate reading.

Book as invitation (2+ to 3+) - Eventually, children begin to consider the book holistically as a complete unit of meaning. They begin to recognise the topic of the book mainly through images, colour, shape etc. They start to bring books to adults and expect them to read them. They might also volunteer to 'read' the book to others.

Book as script (3+) - Eventually, children begin to show an understanding that text carries meaning, as do the many features of the book.  Dooley found that many 3 year olds begin to treat the books more like "..scripts, memorising and calling out the texts in books..".  They point to the print and attend to text content, images and sound including voice intonation and inflection.

Book as text (4+) - Most four year olds begin to attend more to the print, pointing to the words and recalling (generally from memory) word by word what is on the page. They are still just as interested in content, images and sound, but there is an emerging sense of integrated comprehension where the reader can see consistencies and inconsistencies between print and other elements such as image and sound.

Comprehension emerges with other people

What needs to be understood about emergent comprehension is that the ability to make meaning as children encounter books, films, objects and experiences, develops as they try to make sense of their world. It also happens as an extension of their relationships within families and in other learning situations both informal (play with others) and structured (a preschool classroom or playgroup).

The following description of a preschool class gives some sense of what I mean:
Even when the teacher was not initiating reading or writing, the classroom was filled with literate behaviour. In the dress-up corner several children were including story reading in creative play. Children took turns as mother reading to her baby. Genevieve was asking her pretend mum to explain why the dog in I'll Always Love You (Wilhelm, 1985) had such a sad face (this is a book about death). Mum was doing a wonderful job explaining the relationships within the story. Another group playing shops was using a receipt book to record purchases. Receipt books were often referred to in the home corner. 'Mum' and 'Dad' were reading the newspaper and later flicking through the pages of the telephone book (Cairney & Langbien, 1989).
In is in varied social settings that children make meaning and begin to acquire a more sophisticated understanding of how written language works. Over time, the foundations of comprehension are laid.

What parents can do to help comprehension emerge?

Here are 10 simple tips.
  • Read regularly (at least daily) to your children and talk about the things that you read.
  • Try to read the book with emotion, with invented sound effects, with different voices for characters and the narrator, changes in voice volume and tone - much meaning is communicated this way.
  • Support their emerging understanding of what they read or hear by encouraging them to look at pictures and images and relate these to the words that you read. Emphasise key words or repetitive patterns in the book “But don’t forget the bacon”, “But where is the Green Sheep?”
  • Encourage them to relate ideas, language and knowledge that a book introduces to other areas of learning or life – “You’ve got a teddy too”, “His puppy is like Darren’s puppy”, “We saw an elephant like this one at the zoo”.
  • Encourage them to draw, sing, talk about, act out, make things, dress up and so on, in response to the things that you read to them or they read themselves (creating meaning in response to books).
  • Encourage them to use other tools to make meaning (playdough, toy animals, dress-ups, Thomas trains, drawing, craft etc) and relate these as appropriate to books (creating meaning leads to books).
  • Encourage them to memorise and learn things from the books they read or listen to. You can’t read “Wombat Stew” without reciting over and over again “Wombat stew, Wombat stew, Gooey, brewy, Yummy, chewy, Wombat stew!”
  • Encourage them to make connections between the things they read, view and experience – “This story is like in the television show Shaun the Sheep when he…..”.
  • Read varied books – different story types, factual books as well as fiction, poetry and prose, different forms of illustrations and so on.
  • Watch TV shows, videos and movies with your children and talk about them, explain things, try to make connections with stories they have read, encourage response with art, drawing, play dough, puppets, dressing up, acting out and so on.

Summing Up

Comprehension is ultimately the highest goal of reading, we read to understand things, to work things out, to make meaning.  Its foundations are laid in the first 5 years of life, not through structured activities, but through the use and experience of language and in particular, story.

Comprehension emerges over time as children are encouraged to encounter and use written language and to integrate this with other avenues they have for making meaning.

Other blog posts related to this topic

'Teaching and Supporting Children's Reading Comprehension' (HERE)
'Reading to Learn Using Text Sets' (HERE)
'Improving Comprehension: Sketch to Stretch' (HERE)
'Improving Comprehension: Map Making' (HERE)
'Improving Comprehension: Advance Organisers' (HERE)
'Why Kids Re-read Books' (HERE)
'Making Books Come Alive' (HERE)
'The Power of Literature' series (HERE)
All posts on 'Children's Literature' (HERE)
All posts on 'Comprehension' (HERE)

References cited in this Post

Cairney, T.H. (2010). 'Developing Comprehension: Learning to make meaning'. Sydney: e:lit (formerly Primary English Teaching Association).

Cairney, T.H. (1995). 'Pathways to Literacy', Cassell: London.

Cairney, T.H. (1990). 'Teaching Reading Comprehension: Meaning Makers at Work', Open University Press: London.

Cairney, T.H. & Langbien, S. (1989). Building Communities of Readers and Writers, The Reading Teacher, Vol. 42, No. 8, pp 560-567.

McMunn Dooley, C. (2010). Young children's approaches to books: The emergence of comprehension, The Reading Teacher, 64, 2, pp 120-130

Goodman, K.S and Goodman Y.M. (1979) Learning to read is natural. In L.B. Resnick and P.A. Weaver (Eds), Theory and Practice of Early Reading (Vol 1),  Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, p 137-154.

* This is a revised version of a post I wrote in November 2010

Monday, February 4, 2013

Why Older Readers Should Read Picture Books

I have often observed how keen some parents and teachers can be to move their children's reading on from picture books to chapter books. Many parents move their children on from picture books very quickly, encouraging their children to read chapter books almost as soon as they become proficient and fluent in reading. In an age when many parents are sold on the idea that 'Your Baby Can Read' from 6-12 months, there is an urge to move them quickly on to novels.

Some parents seem to move their children on too quickly in their often well-motivated quest to help their children succeed as readers. Julie Bosman note in an excellent article on this topic in 2010 that sometimes the motives are confused. She quoted the manager of a major children's department in Washington who said:
“They’re 4 years old, and their parents are getting them ‘Stuart Little,’....I see children pick up picture books, and then the parents say, ‘You can do better than this, you can do more than this.’ It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling — that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.”

These are tendencies that I have also observed and motivated me to write about this in 2010. This post is a revised version of the earlier post and highlights what I see as four myths about picture books.

Myth 1 - 'Picture books are easier than chapter books'. While some are simple, they can have very complex vocabulary and syntax.  For example, the text of 'Where the Wild Things Are' is a single sentence that is extremely complex, with a mix of embedded clauses, direct speech, unusual verbs and rich metaphor. Good picture books often use complex metaphors to develop themes, and the limitations of the number of words used requires the author to use language with an economy and power that many chapter books simply don't attain. The subtle use of image, word, page layout, colour, and text layout variations can create sophisticated texts. Graphic novels and electronic picture books like 'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore' which I've reviewed previously (here) are taking this to a completely new level.

Myth 2 - 'Illustrations make it easy for children to read and reduce the demands on the reader'. While illustrations do work in harmony with the words and can make 'stripped down' language make sense, the interplay of illustration and words is often extremely complex, allowing the reader to discover new meaning each time they re-read the book, often over a period of many years.  So a child can read John Burningham's classic book 'Granpa' as a simple story about a little girl and her grandfather, but can revisit it years later and discover that it tells of the death of the little girl's Grandfather. And many adults may never see the underlying themes in children's books, like that of death in 'John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat'.

Myth 3 - 'Getting children reading longer texts earlier will maximise their reading growth'. Not necessarily! While having the chance to consolidate reading skills by reading lots of similar chapter books is good, pictures still have a place. In fact, pushing a child too quickly into long chapter books isn't necessarily best for young readers. At the point where readers 'take off' and want to read everything, to give them a series of books is satisfying for them and reinforces their knowledge of the world and knowledge of language. But this can offer less stimulation than good picture books and less challenge in terms of developing comprehension ability (see my post on 'Emerging Comprehension'). Picture books present multiple sign systems in one text. The parallel use of language, image and many other devices (e.g. colour and print layout), stimulates creativity and the imagination in ways that chapter books cannot. A book like Graeme Base's 'The Sign of the Seahorse' uses language, brilliant illustrations, a play text structure and other devices (including a map and hidden clues), to offer a complex text to be explored, read, enjoyed, 'worked out' and revisited many times.

Myth 4 - 'Picture books are just for children'. Not so! While the majority of picture books are designed for readers under the age of 7 years, more and more are written for much wider readerships and the rapidly developing genre of the 'Graphic Novel' (see previous post here) because they allow the author to use word, image and other modes (including related audio, video and music) to create more complex tellings of the story the author has in mind.  For example, books like 'My Place' and 'Requiem for a Beast' and 'When the Wind Blows' were never meant just for little children. In fact, Matt Ottley's book was actually meant for high school readers. The great thing about picture books is that children and adults can both enjoy them, sometimes separately, and sometimes together. The latter is an important way to grow in shared knowledge and understanding as well as a key vehicle for helping children to learn as we explore books with them.

Summing up

It is good to encourage younger children to progress to chapter books as they become proficient in reading but we shouldn't simply discard picture books once they can do so.  The stimulation and challenge of the mixed media opportunities that picture books offer are very important for language stimulation and development as well as creativity and the enrichment of children's imaginations. Picture books are a vital way in which children can draw on 'multiple intelligences' at the same time (see my post on this topic here), including linguistic, spatial, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinaesthetic (e.g. 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar') and even musical intelligence' if it integrates early rhyme and music (Matt Ottley integrates a complete original musical in 'Requiem for a Beast'!). David Almond's book 'Slog's Dad' which I reviewed recently (here) offers two parallel story journeys in the one book, one in words, and the other in pictures. Arguably, every form of intelligence can be potentially integrated into the picture book. This is not to suggest that chapter books only emphasize 'linguistic Intelligence' - for example, 'spatial intelligence' includes abstract, analytical abilities that go beyond simply seeing images - but their potential to do this is more limited for the young child.

Picture books are important for children aged 0-12 years, so don't neglect them or discard them in a perhaps well-intentioned but misguided desire to improve your children as readers. Remember, books are foundational to language, writing, knowledge, thinking and creativity as well. They represent one of the best ways to offer children multimodal experiences with text.
Other reading

Julie Bosman's article in the New York Times (20th October, 2010) HERE

Previous post on 'Requiem for a Best' and graphic novels HERE

Previous post on 'Emerging Comprehension' HERE
All my posts on picture books HERE