I've got a sore throat and sniffles, but I refuse to get sick because I am not missing the National Book Festival this year. If I have to wear the swine flu mask - so hip this season - or if my family has to bring me in on a stretcher, I am going this Saturday.
Due to circumstances beyond my scheduling control, I have had to miss the last two years and it was torture each time to know that celebrated authors were hanging out in my backyard while I was not. This time the weekend is clear, the weather looks good, the author list is golden, and I have to be there.
So what's got me so excited, other than the fact that its free, fantastic, and festivalicious?
1. The Children's Tent
During the day I can attend readings of children's authors Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, Kate DiCamillo, Shannon Hale, Craig Hatkoff, Lois Lowry, Megan McDonald, Sharon Robinson and Kadir Nelson, Charles Santore, Jon Scieszka and David Shannon, and Mo Willems. Let me repeat that last one. MO WILLEMS! I'm sure many of these other folks are wonderful speakers, and I am in awe of many of them as writers and/or illustrators. But if you haven't seen Mo Willems speak, then you have missed something pretty special. I'm a huge fan of his books and kinda him personally - though I've been trying to stay on the right side of the stalker line for a few years now. I can't help it if I keep running into him - accidentally, I swear! - at Book Expo America or the previous National Book Festival. (Probably my favorite author story ever.)
2. The Teens and Children's Tent
Here's where I'll find Teens & Children authors Judy Blume, Pat Carman, Paula Deen, Carmen Agra Deedy, Liz Kessler, Jeff Kinney, Rick Riordan, James L. Swanson and Jacqueline Woodson. These readings run at the same time as the ones in the children's tent so I'm going to have to make some tough choices. At this point I'm pretty sure that I'm going right from the Mo Willems' reading (could I ask for a photo op first? Not sure.) and going for the Rick Riordan, Jeff Kinney, and Judy Blume line-up. Yeah, you read it right - JEFF KINNEY! Kidding, all three of them are superstars in children's literature and I'm stunned that I'll be in their presence. I do have a fondness for Jeff because I've actually met him before and have my own Jeff Kinney Story. (Okay, I have two favorite author stories.)
3. The PBS Raising Readers Pavilion
Hello? Cause that's who I'm blogging for! Apparently PBS is featuring Elmo, so it looks like I'll be meeting him before my Booklights colleague Susan. They'll also have celebrity readings all day long, to which I was not invited. Okay, I'm not a celebrity but they should only hear my rendition of How Chipmunk Got His Stripes. They will also feature Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Between the Lions, plus book-based PBS KIDS favorites Clifford the Big Red Dog, WordGirl, Curious George, and Maya & Miguel
Oh, The National Book Festival also has amazing authors of adult books too. You know, ones like John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, Julia Alvarez, John Irving, Nicholas Sparks, Azar Nafisi, Michael Connelly, Gwen Ifill, Sue Monk Kidd, David Baldacci, Mary Jane Clark, and James Patterson. And I mentioned that this was all free, right? If you are in the area - and by that I mean a two hour radius - you should not miss it. Actually, forget that two hour radius guideline. If you live farther, stay with a friend. Bring some homemade chicken noodle soup and you can stay with me.
Thinking about Susan's post on reading to a wiggly preschooler, reminded me that there's an easier time ahead in reading to a snuggly elementary schooler. After a long day at school being a big kid, there's nothing better that getting book time with mom or dad. Picture books remain wonderful choices, but now chapter books become a healthy part of the reading menu. Certainly any book is fine. But there are some that practically beg to be read aloud, especially those where the reading level is a bit high for the intended audience. Here are a few of those classics:
by A. A. Milne
I still hold onto a memory from fifth grade where a teacher saw me reading House at Pooh Corner and complimented me on choosing such a challenging book. These days we think of Winnie-the-Pooh as a preschooler thing, an idea pushed forward by the whole Disneyfication of the characters. It's a crying shame. The watered-down versions of the classic books ruin our appetites for the real thing. Fight back by reading aloud the true version with it's melodious language, gentle illustrations, and sophisticated story-telling.
Jenny and the Cat Club
by Ester Averill
When New York Review Children's Collection republished this book among other classics, I felt like I had found an old friend. I can't say that I had been searching dusty old bookshops for a copy. To be honest, I had forgotten all about this book until I saw the cover. And there was Jenny, the shy black cat with the red scarf. Oh, how I had missed her! The story follows a shy, little cat who wants to be part of the Cat Club and finds friends, adventure, and courage in their world. This book and the other Jenny books are perfect read-alouds for the younger set because the language and plot are simply - yet wonderfully - done.
by Michael Bond
Paddington Bear has also received the Winnie-the-Pooh treatment in recent years (what is it about bears?) with a ton of simplified boardbooks and adaptations. Again, you need to go back to the original to capture the heart of these stories of a bear found at a train station who goes on to make every day into exciting adventures as he bumbles along. The tales are wonderful for elementary school children, but the old-fashioned language and references can make reading the books a struggle. As a read-aloud, however, it's magical.
What are your favorite read-aloud books?
My kids went back to school this week - finally - and it made me think about how parents could help their child's reading during the school year. I've broken it down to the three people involved in your child's reading development - the teacher, the child, and yourself. Here are ways to help each.
1. Helping the Teacher
With class sizes growing and budgets shrinking, teachers need the help of parents more than ever. While you can't present the state-regulated curriculum, any parent can help with building reading skills. If you're good at reading aloud, offer to come in and read to the kids once in a while. Better yet, ask about that state-regulated curriculum and find books at your library that can support it. When my children were studying Native Americans, I brought in folktales to read. How Chipmunk Got His Stripes is one of my favorites. When they learned about insects, I brought in Farfallina and Marcel. You can also use the storytime to bring more depth to issues the teachers don't have time to cover in class. During the 2008 election, I was happy to share Grace for President.
There may be other ways you can help if you're not comfortable being a storytime presenter. Our school had a pull-out program for children who needed a little extra help with reading. Volunteer parents would bring the kids out in the hall for fifteen minutes, select beginning reader books, read along with them, and send the books home for them to practice in the week. This take-home reading program worked very well in giving kids a little extra attention and needed very little training. Volunteer parents also came in on occasion to help the children write stories, to run small book groups, and to prepare materials.
2. Helping Your Child
Other than potty training, I've found nothing that has tested my patience on a continual basis more than the beginning reading stage. There are wonderful successes, often followed by the third laborious rendering of the word then. It can be very frustrating for both of you. So you can help your child by remembering that she will benefit most in her reading growth by mixing up the type of reading she does. Books that are easy for her will reinforce the feeling that reading can be just pure fun. Books that are in her comfort zone will give her confidence of her skills. Books that are a challenge will push her learning to the next level. In fact, while this approach seems somewhat natural for the early reading stage, it applies throughout a person's reading life even to adulthood. It is one of many reasons that kids (and grown-ups) are never too old for picture books. Please don't be one of those parents I see in the library telling their first graders that they can't bring home a "baby book." A better approach is to let that first grader bring home some books that he chooses, and some more challenging books that you choose.
3. Helping Yourself
My last sentence leads nicely to one of the main ways that you can help yourself, and that is to avoid The Reading Game. You know it. It starts with something like, "We can't tear Jacob away from Harry Potter. What is your child reading?" This parental competition starts early ("Lizzie was smiling at us at two weeks) and goes on ("Jamal made All-Stars again!") and on ("Well, Reggie is going to Harvard, but I'm sure that's a good school too."). You'll find the competition in many factors of a child's growth, but verbal skills and reading level seem to dominate. In my thirteen years as a parent, no one has ever asked me if my kids can do long division or sing in tune or climb a tree. But from the first year, I've been asked to compare what words they were saying and then what words they recognized and then what words they were reading until it was all about reading and levels and books.
There is only one way to win this game, and that is not to play. Don't let yourself get sucked into the competition, don't let yourself feel bad, and don't let yourself push your kid based on these conversations. Also, don't let yourself get too proud either, because kids have a way of surprising you. My oldest daughter had a slow start to reading, made methodical progress in first grade, and suddenly made a huge leap in reading level. Now at thirteen, she's an excellent and voracious reader. My younger daughter started reading at four years old, and plodded along thereafter. Now in fifth grade, she's still a slow reader which has made her much less interested and less strong a reader than her sister.
My point is that The Reading Game is pretty meaningless anyway, so it doesn't pay to take it seriously. To be fair, there are a lot of honest exchange between parents about what their kids are doing that is helpful in knowing when to give a little push and when to wait it out. But I trust that you know the difference. One makes you feel connected to another mom or dad, and the other makes you feel like a failure as a mom or dad. Looking for those connections and avoiding those competitions will be one of the best ways that you can help yourself.
by Kevin Schafer
If you're ready for a break from the ABC books with apples, balls and cats then have I got a treat for you. Real photos of penguins and their habitat fill this educational boardbook with A for Antarctica, B for Baby, and C for Chinstrap Penguin. Beautiful photos of the world's most amusing birds make this title more fun for adults than your standard boardbook.
The Emperor's Egg
by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Jane Chapman
A story of the world's best father, the Emperor penguin, who incubates the egg of his mate for two months in the harsh winter of Antarctica. Oh, and can't leave his duty to eat since he's holding the egg on his feet. And you thought you had it rough at the mall with only a stroller and a pack of fruit snacks. Amateur-time. Anyway, the book is educational but in such a fun way that no one will ever notice. Kid-friendly text and beautiful illustrations make this book a delight.
Playful Little Penguins
by Tony Mitton, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees
Cute story about penguins playing on the ice, complete with their sleds, scarfs, and hats. The refrain has a songlike quality: "Playful little penguins in the wintry weather; that's how penguins like to move, waddling 'round together." The last part changes as the penguins do different things along the way. The drama comes when they find a baby seal and keep her safe until her mama arrives. An interesting narrative choice given that seals, ahem, eat penguins. But not this time. In case the scarves didn't clue you in, there's nothing nonfiction about this penguin title, but it's a fun book.