Most of the time you will find me reading a children's book, but this past week I took time out to read Ten Tips for Raising a Reader by Fran Hawk, a school librarian in the Charleston County (SC) school system. Fran talked about lots of genres and ways to use books, but her discussion about the power of fairy tales and folktales really stuck with me. By way of background, Fran was talking about her first job as a librarian. She worked in a rural school library where the students came from farmers and migrant workers.
I was unprepared for the realization that ingratitude and a sense of entitlement were major characteristics of these children ... A friend in a similar situation tackled this frustrating attitude with a direct hit. She read the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale,The Little Match Girl, to her first grade class. They were stunned, as well they might have been! ... For the first graders, it turned out to be a powerful magic bullet. That story unleashed a cascade of empathy and sympathy never seen before. Weeks later, the students were still mulling over the implications. Imagining themselves as 'little match girls' was helping them understand the importance of gratitude and kindness. This reaction could probably be expected regardless of the children's social and/or economic status.
Wow, never underestimate the power of a story! Especially one that has a lesson in it.
Folktales are both a category of literature and a type of story that includes fairy tales, legends, fables, and tall tales, to name a few. In general, the story has just a few characters, a plot build around specific events, an element of good v. evil, and a "moral to the story." Not all folktales have royalty and magic, but many do.
All cultures have their own folklore, but not all stories are suitable for all audiences. Some fairy tales, like The Elves and the Shoemaker, are universal and can be enjoyed by even the youngest audience. William Austin's Peter Rugg legends (described as tall tales and ghost stories) are for more mature audiences. Reading is Fundamental (RIF) has a terrific list of folktales and fairy tales that gives you a story summary and an audience recommendation.
Folktales, fairy tales, legends, fables - whatever you call them - are stories that allow us to explore history and cultures, social dynamics, and feelings. They stretch our imaginations and some even make us laugh! Because there are so many ways we can engage with these types of stories, today's Bookworm Basics explores folktales of all types.
Emergent Literacy - Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
It is easy to bring folktales to life with this group! Whether it's through puppets or on the playground, kids love to act out these stories. Who doesn't like to huff and puff and blow the house down? On the First-School Wisconsin site you'll find lots of coloring pages for fairy tales and fables.
When it comes to picture books, Jan Brett is probably the most prolific author/illustrator in the genre. Her stories include classics like Beauty and the Beast as well as tales from around the globe. On her website you'll find coloring pages, videos, and printable games that can bring the story into "real life."
Burro's Tortillas by Terri Fields, illustrated by Sherry Rogers (Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2007). If you've read The Little Red Hen, you know the sequence of events. Still, this retelling - with different animals and some Spanish mixed in - offers a nice change.
Rabbit Cooks Up a Cunning Plan by Andrew Fusek Peters, illustrated by Bruno Robert (Child's Play, 2008). The story has the feel of a classic fable. It has a clever twist on the outwit-the-bully theme. I also loved how it captured the idea that sometimes we are our "own worst enemy."
Early and Transitional Literacy - Kindergarten to Second Grade
Fairy tales and fables can be excellent "easy reader" books. Because they are simply told and have lots of repetition (think Chicken Little), they offer new readers a chance to practice sight words. With these readers you can also take folklore to the next level with fairy tales that tell a classic story but add a new twist, sometimes called fractured fairy tales. The Hennepin County Library has a nice list of recommendations to get you started.
The Bee Man of Orn by Frank B. Stockton, illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Candlewick Press, 2003). This is a gorgeous book, with a not-well-known story. There is an audio reading of the story included, too. This is great for letting children follow along with text to build their sight vocabulary.
Little Ruth Reddingford and the Wolf by Hank Wesselman, illustrated by Raquel Abreau (Illumination Arts, 2004). This is another fractured fairy tale. Instead of wolves there are bullies; and Ruth isn't without fault, either.
Paco and the Giant Chile Plant / Paco y Planta de Chile Gigante by Keith Polette, illustrated by Elizabeth Dulemba (Raven Tree Press, ©2008). Think Jack and the Beanstalk with a great new storyline and a totally unexpected twist.
Fluent Readers - Third Grade and Beyond
With older kids, some of the fun of reading folklore can be exploring the cultures that "created" them. The Wikipedia List of Fairy Tales has a nice chart that lists fairy tales and the culture that popularized it. Another idea is to contrast/compare a story across cultures. In the May 2000 edition of Book Links (an American Library Association journal), Mary Northrop has an annotated list of Cinderella stories from around the world. She offers some activity tips at the end that would work with any book.
Another way to engage kids is to let them rewrite the story. At KidWebsites.com, children ages 8 and older can write a fractured fairy tale. If you're looking for a place to start, Marilyn Kinsella has a ready-made bibliography of fractured fairy tales, as well as some suggested activities to engage kids in modifying existing stories or creating new ones.
Grandmothers' Stories: Wise Woman Tales from Many Cultures edited by Burleigh Muten, illustrated by Sian Bailey (Barefoot Books, 1999). Some of the stories in this collection will sound similar to stories kids already know. What I love is that it captures some timeless tales of magic, wisdom, and perseverance that children will remember their whole life. There is a CD that comes with the book, which makes it a nice selection for dormant readers, too.
Monsters and Water Beasts: Creatures of Fact or Fiction? by Karen Hokanson Miller; illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier (Henry Holt and Company, 2007). This nonfiction (!) book provides a brief description of nine mythical creatures and shares facts and fables about their existence.
Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains or the Search for a Suitable Princess by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Greg Call (Random House Children's Books, 2008). If I have to have one princess book, this is it. This is not a straight-forward once-upon-a-time fairy tale, and it does take about a chapter or two to get into the author's style. Once you do, though, you're rewarded with a great story.
Fairy tales and folkore are timeless stories we can all enjoy together. It is a chance to pull out a favorite from your own childhood and pay forward that love with the kids in your lives. Whether you grab a book or start telling the story from memory, you're kids will always remember that once upon a time, ...
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Here's a common situation that happens several times a week in the children's section of the library and the bookstore.
A parent or grandparent comes in and says that their child loved the Magic Tree House series (or another series at a similarly easy reading level), but now can't seem to get them interested in something else. When asked what they tried next, the answer is almost always Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys or Dick and Jane, because the parent loved to read them when they were growing up.
I've got nothing against these books. Lots of people (me included) learned to read with Dick and Jane or tried to read every single Nancy Drew book when they were a kid. There are still kids that like them and enjoy them, but these books are far less requested these days.
An adult's memory of reading a book or series may be wonderful and magical. But when recommending a book the important thing is to make sure that it's the right book at the right time for the right kid. For more about the right time, see my post about reading Charlotte's Web to my five year old son.
I'd recommend the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew to third graders and above who enjoy mysteries and long series. If you hand it to a kid that has just finished Magic Tree House (grades K-2) they are going to be completely overwhelmed. Take one of those yellow or blue books off the shelf at a library and read it again. The books are triple the length and the vocabulary is much tougher. For a kid interested in early chapter books, I'd try something from this list instead. Or, if they're really interested in the subject matter, there are now multiple Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series in early chapter format and with contemporary characters.
Children's literature is an always developing and ever changing field. A lot has happened since I was a kid and there are thousands more choices available now than there ever were before. Let your children revel in all the great new books.
Of course, there are classic books that are always recommended, but read them again or ask a librarian before handing them to a child. They were all products of the time in which they were written, reflect those attitudes and prejudices, and they might be harder, easier, longer, or shorter than you remember them. There are those wonderful magical books too, that do hold up when you reread them. Books like Winnie the Pooh and Charlotte's Web have been in print for decades because they're timeless and a joy to share with a child.
So, sure, Dick and Jane gets the job done if you're teaching a child to read. But why not use Dr. Seuss or Elephant and Piggie? Both Dr. Seuss and Mo Willems revolutionized the beginning reader field with books that not only contain good, easy to read vocabulary, but that are also bright, silly and funny. If your child is very interested in something, there are now books for beginning readers available on nearly every subject. They can learn to read with a controlled vocabulary book about Star Wars, princesses, riddles, trucks and lots more. Picking something that they want to read will make all the difference.
It's impossible to keep up on all the changes in the children's book field. Here's where a librarian or a children's bookseller can be very helpful and do something that Google and Amazon can't. We know the new titles, we know what's hot, we know what sits on the shelf, we know the latest award winners, we know which books parents and kids come back for again and again. We're also extremely experienced in listening to readers about the things they like and the books they've previously enjoyed and helping them find something new. And we're happy to help you.
Got a book you remember loving as a kid that didn't hold up when you re-read it as an adult? How about one that was just as good or better than you remember it? If you shared it with you kids, what did they think about it?
Need a recommendation for your budding reader? I'm all ears... please leave a comment below.
Sit back. I'm going to tell you one of my favorite children's book publishing stories.
No, wait. I already did. Go and read it or this post won't make much sense. I'll wait here.
What took you so long?
Isn't that an amazing story? (I mean the Curious George story, but I love all three of them.) It's been a favorite of mine for a long time, even before I read Louise Borden's wonderful book: The Journey That Saved Curious George.
I happened to be in Manhattan this past weekend and luckily stumbled across an extraordinary exhibit at The Jewish Museum that thoroughly documents the Rey's four month trip from France to the United States via Brazil. There are countless original sources including the journals that H.A. Rey meticulously recorded. There's the hand drawn wedding invitation and incredibly creative New Year's cards. There are the letters from various publishers. There are the videos of interviews with the Reys. But there's so much more than that.
You get to see the artwork.
Creating picture books is a very involved process and there are numerous steps that have to happen in order for you to hold the finished book in your hands. For some great children's picture books with details and illustrations of every step, see Eileen Christelow's What do Authors Do? and What do Illustrators Do? and Aliki's How a Book is Made.
Original picture book art is the actual illustration that's used to make the image you see in the book. It's magical stuff. No matter how well you know the book, the real artwork will always surprise you. It will be smaller or bigger than you expected. It will have many more or less colors than you expected. It will have colored pencils where you thought there was paint. It will have texture and fabric that you're not able to fully appreciate in the book. At the same time, the image is so familiar to you that it feels like an old friend.
The remarkable thing about this exhibition is that there are nearly eighty original works. That's right, almost eighty. Usually, if you're lucky, you'll get to see a few pieces at a time or maybe even ten. But with this exhibit we get to see so much more than that. We get to see our friend George in pictures you'll recognize immediately. And not just him. There's Katy Kangaroo, Pretzel, Spotty and Whiteblack the Penguin and many other delightful characters that the Reys created. What does it look like? Hop on over to the exhibition's main page to see a tantalizing sample.
Okay, hop back. What struck you the most? For me, it was the physical shape of the of the pictures... which is the most obvious in the picture of George swinging from the trees and eating bananas. I'm so used to seeing the white pristine background but in reality the pictures were cut out (much more than in that one image you saw) and glued on to the pages. It makes perfect sense but was so surprising to see nonetheless. George himself was fairly small suspended in the middle of a huge white space. Once I got over that, I wanted to spend all day looking at the artwork. It was so beautiful I really can't put it into words.
This exhibit showcases many treasures from the extensive archive of the Rey's papers at the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. Take a look at the H.A. and Margret Rey Digital Collection. It's fascinating.
Curious George Saves the Day:The Art of H.A. and Margret Rey is at the Jewish Museum in New York City through August 1, 2010. It's appropriate for all ages and completely accessible to kids. There's a comfy reading area filled with many of the Reys' books which are begging to be read aloud.
If you can't make it to New York, the best substitute is The Journey That Saved Curious George which contains lots of the archival material found in the exhibit.
And keep your eyes open for picture book art. Ask around. Maybe your local library (particularly if it's a large, central, urban library) has a few on the wall of their children's room. Maybe you'll find a picture or two in a children's bookstore. Watch for exhibits that come through your city. Visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts.
The artwork above that you're drooling over is for sale at the legendary Manhattan children's bookstore: Books of Wonder. It's all of the original cover art work for Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. The artist is John Rocco. There are also pictures you may not have seen before that were created for the deluxe edition of The Lightning Thief. You can see better pictures here and even order your own prints.
Whenever or wherever you find it, it will always be magic.
I was actually going to write an entirely different post today, but then I chanced upon today's installment of the Top 100 Children's Novels and I had to go back to that topic. Last time I wrote about three (or four) books that I had suggested that had made it on the list so far. Now two (or three) more of my choices have come in the same batch, and they are all classics - which fits in with today's Share a Story -Shape a Future theme of Old Favorites, New Classics.
To explain, Share a Story -Shape a Future is a weeklong online event contributing ideas about ways to engage kids as readers. It's not an author or book tour, but instead a promotion of books, reading, literacy, and ideas. And it's fabulous. Tomorrow our own Jen Robinson hosts the theme of Reading for the Next Generation, and I'll be sharing my thoughts with "Reading is Boring (Sometimes)." Don't miss this wonderful resource of reading tips, suggestions, thoughts, and essays.
Coming back to today's post, I thought it was fate that it would be a classics theme on the same day that three of my favorite classics hit the list. It also figures into Jen's request for books for her baby (Congrats, Jen!), because these are the perfect read-aloud books for down the line. In fact, I'd argue that at least Winnie-the-Pooh is intended for reading to your child then waiting for her to be old enough to read it on her own.
by A.A. Milne
The nostalgia factor is so high on this title, that I was surprised that it only came in at #30. Though perhaps the years of Disneyfication of Pooh have finally taken a toll on this impeccable, imaginative classic. After years of making the characters preschool fodder, the original stories have all been lost in the shuffle. Kids who are finally old enough to appreciate the sophisticated language and nuance, have tossed aside Pooh as baby books. It's a crying shame. The only advice I have for new parents (Jen), is to own the classic set and ban any and all Disneyfied versions with a fierceness usually reserved for smoking near the baby.
A Little Princess
by Francis Hodgson Burnett
Hitting the list at #28, is a book about triumphing in the face of adversity, and keeping a positive spirit and nature throughout tough times.When I was young, I read it, lost it, didn't remember what it was called, and for some reason didn't seem to ask anybody, but kept looking for the book for years. I remember the joy of finding it again, on the shelves of a bookstore, and going home to read it again and again. Sigh. This book was absolute magic to me in elementary school years, but when I read it again as an adult I couldn't capture that same feeling. That's okay though, because my childhood memories of the tale completely trump my adult sensibilities.
Alice in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll
I have to admit that I'm cheating by mentioning the book that is #27, because I didn't actually submit it as one of my choices. But it's so much a part of my own favorite books, that I had to go back to my original email to see that I didn't suggest it. I guess it slipped through the cracks - of my mind. Here's a book that is entirely about imagination, and by that I mean one that gives the reader's imagination a complete workout as she visualizes the worlds and events of the story. It's one of the reasons that I see the book as a perfect one to read aloud, because that frees the child from the work of reading the words, allowing her mind the space to imagine the scenes in this fantastic adventure.
You can read the extensive write-ups at Fuse#8 at School Library Journal, which include the variety of cover art and a few video clips as well, by clicking on the links above. You can add your own thoughts on these touchstone classics here in the comments below.
Links to books in this post are affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which the site MotherReader.com may receive a referral fee.
When should you read Charlotte's Web to your children?
It's a beautifully crafted book. The characters are vivid and easy for children to connect to. It's a wonderful combination of reality and fantasy. It does a "terrific" job of explaining friendship. It's a perfect chapter-a-night book, the chapters aren't too long and there are enough pictures to keep a child's interest. Also, a surprising number of the chapters end with a description of someone going to sleep, which makes it a great book to read at bedtime.
But, but but... Charlotte dies at the end. There's no way to get around that fact or sugarcoat it. You can explain to your children that death is part of the natural cycle of things and that Charlotte's children live on. No matter what you say, though, I guarantee your kids will be sad at the end of the book. I know I am every time I read it.
Many people read Charlotte's Web as a first read aloud. As a librarian, I frequently get asked what age the book is appropriate for. My answer is always that it depends on your child. Will they be able to handle it?
I recently asked myself this same question when I was deciding whether I should read it to my son. Stuart Little and My Father's Dragon had both been big hits for him. Was he ready for Charlotte's Web?
We talked about it for a while. He loved the cover and wanted to see more. I let him look through the book, taking in the pictures. I asked if he wanted to read the book, even if something very, very sad happens in it. He said yes... and we plunged ahead.
It was a wonderful experience. He savored each chapter and always begged for another one when we were done reading. He adored the goose, goose, goose and the gander, gander, gander. He fell wholeheartedly in love with Wilbur. He was studying spiders in his science class and he soaked in all the facts about spiders presented in the book. Since he was on the cusp of learning to read, he was delighted to learn how to spell "pig" and "Charlotte" and then find those words throughout the book.
Then came Chapter 21: The Last Day. You know the one. It ends like this:
"Next day, as the Ferris wheel was being taken apart and the race horses were being loaded into vans and the entertainers were packing up their belongings and driving away in their trailers, Charlotte died. The Fair Grounds were soon deserted. The sheds and buildings were empty and forlorn. The infield was littered with bottles and trash. Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all. No one was with her when she died." (Excerpt from Charlotte's Web by E.B. White)
Before we read the chapter, we talked about the fact that there was something really sad about Charlotte was coming up. I told him that she was going to die and asked him if he still wanted me to read it. He said yes, and he snuggled into my lap and I held him very tight while we read the paragraph above. And then we both cried and talked about it. But then we moved onto Chapter 22 where we met Charlotte's children... and there was hope in the story again. And we were both okay again.
I asked him recently about the book (we read it a few months ago). He said it was one of his favorite books and he loved it. I'm planning to read it together again in a year or two.
When did you read Charlotte's Web to your children? Would you do it again at that age level? Did you decide not to read the book to their kids? When did they read it to themselves? When did you read it to yourself? What was their reaction? What was yours?
I'd love to hear about your experiences with this timeless classic.
Mom Jodi picks the beloved tearjerker Bridge to Terabithia. Katherine Paterson's classic story of Jess and Leslie, who create their own kingdom in the woods, is popular reading in schools, was a Trophy Newbery, and has been made into a movie.
"This book is my favorite because when it was read to me as a child, it began my love affair with reading," Jodi says. "It brought me to another world of imagination."
What book has opened you or your child's minds to other worlds?
Mom Betsy's pick for Where the Wild Things Are comes at a good time, with the movie making its debut last weekend. She loves the book because "Max was a wild child like me!"
Betsy nails a big reason why Maurice Sendak's book is such a classic -- we all have a little (or a lot) of Max in us. Anyone else out there identify with Max? And what about the movie? Should true fans avoid it or give it a try?
Mom Jessie loves the classic Eloise, written by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight, and she's in good company. This memorable character, who first saw publication in 1955, has captured the hearts of millions, adults and kids alike.
"My favorite book is Eloise, because of the whimsy and she's naughty," Jessie says.
What naughty book character has stuck with you? And are there any books where you've preferred the crafty villain to the hero?
Jyl from Mom it Forward picks P.D. Eastman's classic picture book "Are You My Mother?" This 50-year-old tale follows a newly hatched baby bird as he tries to find his mother, asking several different animals.
Jyl says, "When my oldest was a baby, I read him Are You My Mother? every day. I focused on intonation. He loved how I'd raise and lower my voice and make interesting sounds. It's still one of his favorite books six years later."
What books have been your children's favorites year after year?
For a book that was originally published in 1964, Harriet the Spy, written by Louise Fitzhugh, remains remarkably relevant and readable. Nate Eagle, a designer for PBS KIDS Interactive and unabashed book (and movie and philosophy) aficionado, says this about his favorite children's book:
Harriet is one of the greatest characters in young fiction. She's a spy: insatiably curious and brutally honest. And she writes down everything she sees and thinks. When her notebook gets discovered by classmates, they banish her. Harriet has to wrestle with how and when to be honest, and how and when to compromise that honesty for the sake of friendship. Seeing Harriet pass through this gauntlet is heartbreaking in many ways -- the compromises of relationships are frequently painful -- but it's also movingly human. Above all, the story's a reminder of what tremendously complicated, fascinating inner lives all children lead, inner lives that adults sometimes forget or dismiss.
What is your favorite character from children's books? Or does Harriet take the cake?