1. What inspired you to review children’s books?
I was a child who loved books, and luckily I had three children who loved to read. But my main inspirations were the thousands of kids who passed through the elementary school where I was librarian. Their varied interests and unfailing enthusiasm for the stories I read aloud to them and selected for my collection kept me going through years of big classes, long days, and over-stuffed library shelves when all the books came back in at the end of the year.
When I retired, I just couldn’t bear to be away from children’s literature for long. Soon after I started booksforkidsblog.blogspot.com
and will soon celebrate my third anniversary in January 2010. After more than 1200 reviews, I remain so appreciative of the talent and hard work that authors and illustrators give to their work. Entering a library or bookstore is still like Christmas to me!
2. How can parents get their children to read more?
Read to them, from infancy to well beyond the picture book age. Ham it up! Use funny voices or accents to sell the book. Don’t be an overt book snob about their personal choices. Lead but don’t force! Stay up on what’s hot in their particular age group’s literature and occasionally buy the latest when it comes out.. Read it yourself and let yourself laugh or read an engaging passage out loud while they’re around.(Say, "Hey, listen to this!") Encourage them to read their favorite parts to you. Read some of your childhood favorites to them. Encourage family and friends to give books as gifts.
Let them see you reading for your own pleasure and talk about what you’re reading to them or to others so that they’ll know reading is enjoyable, not just something adults make kids do.
3. What are the advantages of reading books over watching TV?
First of all, most books are better than most television shows. Reading is personal. Secondly, no one really reads the same book; we all see the characters and events through our own imagination, our own internal movie screen. Television shows are limited by a time frame and a need to cater to a targeted demographic (in order to sell them stuff, to put it bluntly) that makes stereotyped, stock characters a kind of shorthand–-the dorky guy, the shopaholic, the comical best friend and the rest. Good fiction offers a way inside the mind of unique characters who see the world in different ways and through this vicarious experience opens up the world view of the child.
4. How can you ensure that the book is at the correct level of the child's reading?
The old five-finger reading teacher trick is to have the child read a paragraph or page. If they miss more than five words, the book may be too hard. But don’t be too stodgy about this rule. To prove to his big brother that he could, one of my sons declared that he would read The Hobbit early in third grade. It took six weeks, but he did it, and was a much better reader when he finished than when he started.. I saw the same thing happen to many children when the first Harry Potter books came out. If the kid wants to read a book but is overwhelmed, listen to him or her: is the problem that he can’t decode the words or simply doesn’t know the vocabulary? Step in and read some of it aloud for a chapter or two if see if that helps. If not, make it a family read-aloud with him or her. Chances are that he or she will then want to read it on his or her own–and will do it.
5. How do you choose goods books for kids?
Know your child. Watch your child’s face and body language as you read aloud. Does a certain kind of book energize him or her? Does it make him or her chuckle? Does the child snuggle in to listen? Does he or she remain thoughtful for a moment when the book is over? Does he or she say "Read it again!" If so, try the same author or best-reviewed books in the same genre next time. Ask "How’d you like this one? What did you like about it?" It can’t hurt to ask your school or public librarians for advice either. They see a lot of books come and go and have a feel for what works with different kids.
6. How important is it to choose the right books for kids?
I wouldn’t sweat this one too much. The right book at the right time can make a big difference, but if kids read a variety of books and have frequent opportunities to choose, they will find the right books for themselves much of the time.
Remember, too, that boys and girls do favor different types of books. I once did a study and wrote a journal article, titled "Gender Gap in the Library" which showed that boys, (like adult men) prefer nonfiction two to one, while girls (like adult women) choose fiction two to one.
Still, reading any decent book is better than not reading, and if you stay involved with books and with your child’s interests, making good books available at home and at the library, the "right" books will come along when the child is ready for them.
You can push, but don’t shove! (How would you feel if your local librarian bore down on you, saying "Ms. Smith, you haven’t been reading enough medieval philosophy lately!") There are good books for all tastes, and if you put kids where those books are, they will probably read them.
7. In your opinion, what are the 10 books every child should read?
With what I have just said, it is obvious that there probably is not a short list that is best for every child. Every list is subjective. How can you choose between Goodnight, Moon and Green Eggs and Ham? I am offering a varied list for children aged two to fourteen years, boys and girls, with titles that have appeal for a variety of children over time.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
A Visitor for Bear by Bonnie Becker
Charlotte’s Webb by E. B. White
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Sounder by William H. Armstrong
Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
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