professornana (professornana) wrote,

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why books matter

There was a lovely piece today highlighting the exhibit at NYPL on the history of children's books. I know that I plan to find a long weekend to head up to NYC and see this exhibit. There is a 3-D Goodnight, Moon set, tributes to Sendak and other illustrators and loads of books that detail the rich history of literature for children. Two quotes spoke to me. Here is the first:

"A good children's book is a young person's earliest exposure to art and design, a conduit for parental bonding, a means to teach individual and social lessons..."

One of the reasons that I love this quote is that it directly confronts those that would eliminate these books as lacking in rigor and not contributing to career and college readiness in the face of all things CCSS. Even before CCSS, in the era of NCLB, there was a concerted effort to push picture books earlier and earlier and to deny access to kids as they progressed from K-1 as too easy. Lest you think that is the case, you should make it a goal to attend discussions about Caldecott winning titles. At the recent ALA conference, the chair of the Caldecott Committee, Sandra Imdieke, spoke about the complexity of the illustrations in THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen. His acceptance speech for the medal (and HORN BOOK will publish a print copy; audio recordings are also available) was more than simply humorous and self-effacing; it talked about the decisions made in a book that has few words and relies on illustration to tell the story. Exposure to art and design, to something BEAUTIFUL is important, IMHO. The bonds formed as parents share with kids and teachers read aloud to classes is also irreplaceable. Notice also the mention of the "lessons" that can be learned from these books. In the best books for children (and for YA readers), this lesson is not hammered home; it is subtle. Look back at the early children's books, and this is NOT the case. Think about WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE or THE LEGEND OF THE BLUEBONNET or MISS RUMPHIUS to see the esteem with which authors treat even the youngest of readers: they know the kids will "get it." There is no need for the moral brickbat.

Now, here is the second money quote: "So to the list of reasons why children's books matter, add the way that they reflect the times they were created in. 'They are the message-in-a-bottle that each generation tosses out to the next generation," Marcus says, "the record of one generation's hopes and dreams for the next.'"
This is Leonard Marcus, one of the finest scholars in the field and the person behind this exhibit as well. Think, now, about how we might use picture books with older readers to talk about the milieu of the books from various decades (the Newbery originated in the 20s and the Caldecott in the 30s). Think about comparing and contrasting books from different decades, say DRUMMER HOFF to PATROL or SMOKY NIGHT to THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS.

There are riches yet to be mined in these deceptively simple books. But make no mistake: they do not need dozens of comprehension questions, discussion guides, and lesson plans covering days of repeated readings. If you wish to ruin a book with close reading, do it to the exemplar texts and not t these living and breathing glimpses into childhood seen through the eyes of a child.
Tags: picture books
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