This week Terry talked about reading aloud as a family, and I'd like to build on that concept with ideas for reading aloud to groups. With school starting, parents may find themselves presented with the opportunity to share books in the classroom as guest readers. It is something I've done in my kids' classrooms from preschool through fifth grade, and have always enjoyed. While parents are usually aware of reading with expression and showing the book to the students, there are other tips that can help you shine as a guest reader:
1. Try it out
Before reading a book aloud to a class, try it on your own child. As you read notice factors of the book that are relevant reading it aloud to a group. Is it appropriate in length and topic for the age group? Is it is keeping your child's interest? Are there any words or concepts that need explanation? Are there key parts where you might pause the story for impact or to ask questions? Are the illustrations big enough that they could be shown to a group? Are you comfortable reading it? Some of these questions seem obvious, and yet I've seen a teacher grab a book from a shelf to read it to the class with apparently no knowledge that it was about the death of a family pet. Oops! I've also had parents come into the library looking for a book to read to the class that same day, so I know that these are mistakes that people make. But you don't need to make them. Go in prepared and you'll feel better.
2. Plan the order
If you are reading multiple books, keep in mind the order in which you'll present them. Read longer books first while the kids are at their maximum attention. If you have a funny book, save it for last. If you are reading on a theme - like seasons or apples or ocean life - start with the more informational book, and progress to a more storylike title. Also, if the book is not working well, allow some abridgment. You can also allow for a break where the kids can talk about their favorite part, share a connection, or ask a question. Remember that kindergartners and first graders tend to be unclear about what constitutes a question, but will take any chance to raise their hands to share something.
3. Bring a back-up
You may arrive with your carefully chosen selection to find that the librarian has read that book the previous day - which the kids will be delighted to tell you. Always have an extra book that you can use instead or can toss in the mix if you have more time than you think. If you don't have enough books on the particular topic of the day, have a seasonal or a school story. I'm particular to A Fine, Fine School because it's a lightly funny book that translates to a variety of ages, but there are many other books that would work.
Most of all, have fun!
All right, I acknowledge the fact the summer is ending and school is beginning. Yes, in many areas, school has already begun, but here in Virginia, we are putting our heads in the sand - preferably at the actual beach - and trying to ignore the whole thing. Admittedly, it's easier to believe summer is endless when it's ninety degrees outside, but for today I'll try to get into the mindset of a back-to-school mom with three titles:
by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Alice Busby
The kindergarteners come to school to find that there room has it's own cat - and what a smart kitty she is! She may not know her colors or numbers, but she listens to the teacher's lessons and responds. And boy, is she cute. While many books approach kindergarten with a list of all the things kids do, this slight story allows the reader to see what happens in a more natural way. The illustrations are engaging with a childlike feel, rich colors, and a diverse class. The rhyming couplets seem a bit strained, but it's unlikely to bother the target audience who will be thrilled with the idea of a cat in a classroom as even a remote possibility.
The Exceptionally, Extraordinarily, Ordinary, First Day of School
by Albert Lorenz
As the new student, John, describes his old school to his new librarian, everyone gets the idea that it may not have been the least bit ordinary. Particularly the readers who are treated to the pictures that accompany John's often ordinary descriptions. For instance, while he simply talks about his school being really old, we can see that it is a bizarre castle with talking ravens and hungry stone lions. There is also a sidebar with definitions and facts and related notes about items in the pictures.. The oddities, facts, and little jokes in the illustrations make this a fun book for older kids heading to school.
Junie B's Essential Survival Guide to School
by Barbara Park
While the Junie B. Jones books begin with her as a kindergartener, everyone knows that books titled just Junie B. indicate that she is in first grade - and so we find in this book of school tips. Fans of the series will enjoy the usual banter and antics of Junie B. (though superfans may miss the artwork of Denise Brunkus). The advice isn't all that vital, tending more toward, "Do NOT NOT NOT pour chocolate milk from your thermos on the head of the person in front of you!" But actually, that chapter summary of riding the bus is right on target, " Sit Still, Behave Yourself, And Be Glad You're Not Walking!" At the end of each chapter is a section for the reader to add his or her own thoughts or drawings on the topic - like favorite clothes to wear or funny ways to get to school. Overall, the book isn't - despite the title - an essential Junie B. purchase, but is a fun way to approach back-to-school with a light touch and a bit of learning. (Because the little parent secret of Junie B. is to see what NOT to do so as to learn and discuss what one SHOULD do.)
For more back-to-school books, look at this earlier Booklights post.
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Because I want to leave the reading experience to the potential reader - whether child or adult - I don't tend to reveal spoilers in my reviews, even in picture books. But today I'm bending that rule to talk about three surprise endings that gave me pause.
The Grasshopper Hopped!
by Elizabeth Alexander, illustrated by Joung Un Kim
The grasshopper does indeed hop from different settings with the help of pull tabs and a cute, quick storyline. The art is sweet, the text is slight, and the tabs are workable. The grasshopper does seem make some questionable hopping choices, including into a refrigerator and the ocean, but that's part of the fun. At the end of the book though, he hops into a frog's mouth. GULP! Wow - I thought to myself on the first read - that's seems kind of dark. But the page turn reveals a safe grasshopper and a smiling frog and the assurance of "Just kidding." I think the surprise ending works here because the age of the intended reader who isn't likely to be thrown by the idea that yeah, the frog would eat the grasshopper. And the surprise stayed with me, though I don't think that it's a real issue.
Barry, the Fish with Fingers
by Sue Hendra
It's a boring life under the sea, until Barry the fish shows up with fingers stuck on his fins. He explains to all the other fish how many things he can do with these new fingers, and soon everyone wants them. The question of supply and demand is answered with a timely drop of a box that falls to the bottom of the ocean and allows all the fish to enjoy this new discovery. The box also reveals to the reader that the fish fingers are fish sticks - which is funny and clever, but at the same time a little disturbing. Which of course, is what makes the reveal funny and clever. I liked the book and the art, but the ending kept coming back to me. Should I explain to my four year old niece that the ending is funny because the fish are wearing fingers made of other fish - dead, cut-up fish made into sticks for kids' dinner? See when I write it out like that, it feels kind of wrong. But yet, I don't know that it's so wrong.
It's a Book
by Lane Smith
At the very beginning of this book, we are introduced to the characters - a monkey, a mouse, and a jackass. That's the tip-off. The rest of the slight story involves a lack of understanding of what a book is, does, and requires as the monkey keeps up the refrain that "It's a book." The book trailer that portrays this part of the story got a lot of rave reviews for the cleverness of the concept, especially in the irony of it being on a video or presented on a Kindle. The official press and media reviews of the book itself were very positive. But here's the thing, the books ends with the line "It's a book, jackass." Okay, I get the joke in that the donkey clearly is being a fool in not understanding what a book is and the monkey is clearly tired of explaining it and yes, we all know that jackass is both another word for a donkey and a expression for a dummy, so it's allowed to be in a picture book. Right? I don't know. I'm having a lot of trouble with this, and it's not just me. I did note that the Amazon reviews are very divided, with many parents uncomfortable with the ending. And I wonder if all the positive reviews are looking at this in that higher level of literature as Art as opposed to actually reading this book to a preschooler. Or a classroom of kids. Or having to explain it to a parent at the front desk of the library.
What do you think?
Despite the ads that might tell us otherwise, summer isn't over for most of us. In fact for the Washington, DC area, August is generally the big month for travel. It's likely the trickle effect of Congress being out of session which leads the lobbyists to leave, the consultants to the lobbyists to take a break, and so on. Also after a month home with the kids, travel looks like a saner option than trying to find one more thing to do at home.
It would surprise no one to learn that I approach travel with reading up on the area. I'm addicted to travel guides - both the regular and the "with kids" variety. But I also like to involve my kids in the reading too, as I find it adds to the anticipation of the trip and can make it an educational experience. For those of you who remember the dry nonfiction books of our youth, know that it's a whole new era in informational text with many of them sporting amazing artwork or photography and a fresh approach to writing. So here are some ideas if you are headed to...
1. The Beach
Almost too easy, as the picture book section of your library will have tons of books about the beach and the ocean. Some will have some educational elements blended in, like Over in the Ocean. Check out the nonfiction section for books that talk more about what can be found on the shore - giving you a little scavenger hunt. There are tons of great books about life under the sea, including titles about specific iconic animals like dolphins (try Face to Face with Dolphins). Though I'd steer away from shark books, unless you want to spend your entire vacation explaining again and again how sharks are truly unlikely to swim in ankle-deep water.
2. The Mountains
Or maybe the woods, or wherever you might go to encounter Nature in all its glory. If you're camping, bring along books for identifying trees, rocks, or wildlife tracks. You can also identify the many things that making camping exciting with S is for S'mores: A Camping Alphabet. If you prefer your outdoors in smaller doses and will not be tenting it, make the hikes or even walks more interesting with Fun with Nature by Mel Boring which provides a guide to lots of different bugs, reptiles, animals, and trees.
3. The City
Many big cities will have at least one book about them, but they aren't always the most engaging of titles. Some are certainly better than others, and I'd give the prize to New York City for having the best and most books that will enhance your trip. ABC NYC: A Book About Seeing New York City and 123 NYC: A Counting Book of New York City, by Joanne Dugan pair photographs of letters/numbers in their city environment with pictures of urban representations of those letters/numbers. For city kids, it makes more sense to see H for "hot dog" instead of "horse," and for visitors, it provides a checklist of things to notice about life in the city. Another great and more detailed book is New York, New York! The Big Apple from A to Z which focuses on the attractions of NYC with added facts and point of interest. It's like a kids version of those travel guides I love so much.