Shape Divider - Style waves_brush
By Walter N. Cook
Warm up with the wide world of books. Families with motivated readers tend to take home big stacks of books from the library. Santa Fe Public Libraries youth services librarian, Walter N. Cook, offers suggestions to help you get started.
Winter with books! What should I read? Families with motivated readers tend to take home big stacks of books from the library. I’m not sure they are reading all those books; however, if they are like me, they sample them, then read the one that says, “Read me first!” Visit the library, read online reviews or visit bookstores, and choose the books that call out to you. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.
Wordless picture books, where the story is told entirely with illustrations and no text, are fun to share with children. Wordless books give readers the opportunity to verbalize what they see and, with practice, develop stories and plots with a full range of depth and emotion. This helps children develop narrative skills.
In Western cultures, “The Three Little Pigs” is a classic story for preschool and early school-aged readers. A good narration might say: “There are three pigs, and one pig builds a house of straw and a wolf blows it away. A second pig builds a stick house and the wolf blows it away. The third builds a brick house and the wolf can’t blow it away.”
An undeveloped narration might start with, “The wolf blew away the house and the pig wouldn’t let the wolf come in. Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin.” A child often identifies significant turning points but is not able to tell us the sequence of events. Wordless books can help children build these skills.
Tuesday by David Wiesner, which received the Caldecott Medal in 1991, is a wordless picture book that enlivens the imagination and helps children develop a narrative story. The book has big, clear, beautiful illustrations that depict frogs floating through the air on lily pads. There is definitely a story there. What story would your child give to it? How about yourself?
In Float, a wordless picture book by Daniel Miyares, a young person has an adventure with a paper boat. Be sure to have paper-folding activity books ready as a reinforcement activity with this book. Making Origami Science Experiments by Michael G. LaFosse has great step-by-step instructions for paper boats.
That Neighbor Kid, also by Daniel Miyares, is an exploration into developing friendships. Two new friends use wood to build a tree house. If you are brave and have the facilities, Maker Projects for Kids Who Love Woodworking by Sarah Levete would complement That Neighbor Kid very nicely.
In Fairy House by Mike and Debbie Schramer, the authors show how to build incredible miniature furniture and dwellings using items found in nature. There are many more paper-folding and fairy house books to choose from in the library’s online catalog.
Exploring cultures outside of Western ones can be an astounding enlightenment. Books in the Enchantment of the World series, published by Children’s Press, address individual countries with overviews and useful information for school reports. Reading contemporary stories from other countries provides a different type of touchstone for cultural exploration. Enchanted Lion Books, an independent publisher based in Brooklyn, specializes in finding children’s stories from other countries and translating them into English. Do an online search in a library catalog, search for “publisher: Enchanted Lion,” and uncover many of their books at a local library.
A charming story from Enchanted Lion is Chirri & Chirra by Japanese author and illustrator Kaya Doi. Oftentimes meanings inherent to a culture do not translate into other cultures, but good stories can help us can get close. In this story, appropriate for preschoolers and early-school-aged children, two girls travel through the forest, have lunch, stop at a hotel and attend a concert. Just the thing for children who are living in the moment!
Back in the Western world, books by Jill Barklem make a perfect segue from Chirri & Chirra. In the Brambly Hedge series, dating from the 1980s, Barklem tells gentle stories of anthropomorphic woodland creatures. These books work well as read-alouds for younger children who are seasoned listeners and enjoy long stories. They also appeal to readers who not quite ready for chapter books.
Barklem’s illustrations are full of rich details that offer incredible opportunities for visual delight. A fun game to play with preschoolers is “I spy.” For example, choose an object from an illustration, such as a striped shirt, and say, “I spy with my little eye something with stripes.” Your child then looks for stripes. Next, your child chooses something for you to look for. Besides being fun, this is an opportunity for your child to learn vocabulary rather than just point to objects. Chances are, your child will catch your blunders during this game. Have fun with it!
Moving up the difficulty scale for young readers, we get to beginner chapter books. What is a chapter in a book? It is a division in a long story but, for children to truly understand what a chapter is, they must experience it. An excellent example of a beginning chapter book is the King & Kayla series by Dori Hillestad Butler. King is a dog and his human is Kayla. King understands humans completely, but of course humans do not understand dogs as well. Together, they unravel life’s misadventures.
One book in the series is King & Kayla and the Case of the Secret Code. I do not want to give away the story and steal the surprise, but a great companion book is the nonfiction Spy, a DK Eyewitness series book by Richard Platt. Another follow-up nonfiction book is Spy Codes and Ciphers by Susan K. Mitchell. On a cold winter day, create your own personal secret code with your child. As you both get older it will be a mutual memory to cherish. There are dozens of secret-code books to choose from in library catalog collections. Use key words, “Secret and codes,” and you will find them.
Discovering the truths behind secrets is perhaps an inherent human curiosity. One great book to pair up with a curious mind is The Astonishing Maybe by Shaunta Grimes. Middle-schooler Gideon is the new boy in town, having moved from the East Coast to Nevada. It is only natural that his neighbor, around the same age, should become his friend. However, this friend wears roller skates and a superhero blanket cape and enlists his help to find her missing father. This is a book worth reading and discussing together. It involves keeping secrets from parents, taking cross-country bus trips without parental knowledge, and parental depression. Perhaps the best tool to help deal with heartbreak is to first understand it through the words of an author.
It is very interesting to see how youth today enjoy and visit figures from world mythology. Rick Riordan’s books, such as the Percy Jackson series, which are incredibly popular with both boys and girls, build stories around Greek mythology. J.K. Rowling, in the Harry Potter series, creates her stories primarily around Western European folklore. Ryan Calejo, in his new Charlie Hernandez series, constructs his stories around Iberian lore, Hispanic folk tales and Native Central/South American mythology. And yes (shudder!), there is even a La Llorona in his stories!
A common denominator to these mythological stories is the theme of the quest. In Calejo’s book Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows, Charlie’s quest is to find his missing parents but, in the meantime, he starts growing feathers and horns. La Mano Negra, the cabal of evil, seeks to hinder his progress. With the help of his best friend, Violet, his knowledge of the ancient tales of South and Central America, and La Liga, legendary mythological creatures sworn to protect the land of the living, Charlie is able to meet his destiny with empowerment.
On the lighter side is Marigold Star by Elise Primavera. Middle-school girls will be the biggest audience for this story. This story has a pet dragon. Dragons have become hugely popular in our culture. If you can find a pet dragon for your children, you will be the best parent ever. In the meantime, share Marigold’s story. Her pet dragon is supposed to be magical, but she is a bit of a bumbler. She accidentally entraps herself in the land of humans, and the only way out is to make friends. We could all use a little of that.
During this time of year, when youth are spending time reading and absorbing school-related materials, taking time to explore areas of special interest can be enrichment for the mind and something akin to a breath of fresh air. There are simply not enough hours in the day for youth to explore all the astounding works that authors are putting together for them. As an adult, you have the opportunity to put on display a sample of the wonderful books available to your child and let them choose what calls out to them to be read
Walter N. Cook is a youth services librarian for the Santa Fe Public Library, where all of the books he reviews in this article can be found.