13 January 2008

My Wednesday Book Club

Edited to add a book I forgot--and check out the great suggestions in the comments!

Edited again to add: Mo Willems (now the Geisel winning, Caldecott Honor winning author) has a blog.

S. asked in a recent commet how my reading went last week. Every Wednesday, I have lunch with Curious Girl and her 15 classmates, and after lunch, I read them a story. This didn't start as a regular pattern, although I do try to go and have lunch once a week at her Posh Progressive School (tons of tuition, and she gets free lunch everyday, and so do I anytime I want to join them. Plus free school pictures. Such a deal!). Sometime in September, we'd been reading Borya and the Burps, and CG asked me to come to school and read it to her friends. Sure thing, I said. Then we were reading another book at home, and she asked me to read again. The teachers love it, and I love it, and now the girls think that any parent who comes to the classroom after lunch is going to read to them--they automatically sit on the mat for storytime. I love that part.

So I've been having a ball thinking about what books to read with them. So far, we've read
  • Borya and the Burps, by Joan McNamara (and we also looked at a few pages of CG's baby pictures from her orphanage--this book is a wonderful story about a burpy boy who gets adopted in an Eastern European story; it really captures some of the emotions an infant can feel during all that transition)
  • Library Lion, by Michelle Knudsen, who has a blog (a great book for people who love books: what's not to like about a lion who loves to go to the library, and has to learn that sometimes, it's OK to break the rules)
  • Jessica, by Kevin Henkes (who is rapidly becoming one of my very favorite authors)
  • The Adventures of Polo, by Regis Faller (a graphic novel for kids!)
  • The Trouble with Chickens, by Bruce McMillan (on his author site, select Books at left and the Trouble with Chickens will come up in the right frame--scroll down and you'll get interesting links to the amazing illustrator's work--Gunnella. He does a lot of work in Iceland)
  • Knut: How One Little Polar Bear Captured the World, by Craig Hartikoff. A true story! And CG got to share the Knut stuffed bear we got near the Knut exhibit last summer
  • The Apple Doll, by Elsa Kleven (it has directions for making an apple doll at the back, and it's a great story about a girl and the rough start to a school year and how imagination saves the day)
  • The Quiltmaker's Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau
  • Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Martin
  • Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel, by Leslie Connor
and perhaps a few other titles as well--like Chester's Way, another Henkes title. The girls are a wonderful audience--they are wiggly squiggly, of course, but they clearly love our reading time. When I arrive at the lunch table, several of them ask "What book did you bring today?" I usually try to have some kind of interactive portion of the reading (during Jessica, for example, they got to be an antiphonal chorus, half of them being the parents saying "There is no Jessica" and the other half responding, "But there was.") Or I'll ask them to look for things on the page, or to predict what a character might do next, or how someone might be feeling. Curious Girl handles the questions and comments at the end (3 or 4 participants), and it's so cool how they all raise their hands to tell everyone what they liked or to respond to whatever question I've posed. Last week, as I closed The Quiltmaker's Gift, one girl exclaimed, 'That is the BEST book! I love all the pages!!" I just don't see that kind of enthusiasm spilling out in college classes.

I'm a teacher, so I"m always looking for activity tie-ins. For Snowflake Bentley--the true story, gorgeously illustrated with Mary Azarian's woodcuts, of the man whose photographs of snowflakes are the basis of the first scientific study of snow crystals--I brought them all a piece of black construction paper. If you keep it in the freezer, and take it out when it's snowing, you'll be able to see the snow crystals on the paper. The different shapes are truly amazing. We also looked at online images from his collection (click on any image to embiggen). As the girls said, "Hey, that one looks like a snowflake!" (when it had that what-you-think-a-snowflake-looks-like-shape) but for others, "a flower!" and other shapes. Even if you think you know that snow crystals are unique, you'll be amazed at what you see.

Last week, after the Quiltmaker's Gift, I cut up some scrapbooking paper into squares, rectangles, and triangles, and the girls all made paper quilts the next morning at choice time. I have been working on more ways to get scissors, crayons, and coloring opportunities into my writing courses in college, too, but the crafty possibilities are endless with the preschool set. I also decided to try having them help me read--when we did Polo, I had each girl read through one two page spread. They didn't hold each others' attention as well as my reading does, but I liked encouraging everyone to come up and read.

As I've been thinking about this post, I realized my list of books has mostly white protagonists, so I'm going to make some extra efforts to diversify my selections for the spring readings. Next week, we'll be reading The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County, by Janice N. Harrington. Tonight at home, we read Norton Juster's The Hello, Goodbye Window (illustrations by Chris Raschka, another one of our favorites; yes, that is the same Juster from The Phantom Tollbooth) and I may take that one in. Because it's an all-girl class, I've been emphasizing books with girls, although not exclusively--Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney is on my mind for sometime, too.

I guess I don't need to sell the value of reading to kids to anyone taking the time to read blogs by mothers who like to write and academics who read and write and think and teach. I've been reading to Curious Girl since our first night together, and I've been enjoying introducing her to old favorites of mine and learning my way around new-to-me authors like Mo Willems and Kevin Henkes. But I am just loving the informal structure of my Wednesday Book Club--my little moment to think about themes, rhymes, illustrations, colors, activities that will engage my very loving, wiggly audience. I love getting to know the girls, know who gets scared, who likes to participate, who needs some encouragement. And I love seeing their appreciation for longer stories emerge.

And to tell the truth, I like the books, too, with their merging of visual and textual features. They're fun.

So what are you all reading, aloud or silently, with the kids in your lives? And any suggestions for our spring selections?


chichimama said...

I so love Kevin Henkes...and the high point of C's week is when he gets to read to A's class. On Wednesdays. Clearly a trend...

Rev Dr Mom said...

My kids are all too grown up to read to :( At that age, though, I used to read the Kid "Riki Tiki Tembo" and "Abiyoyo" and "The Oxcart Man" when I dropped him off at daycare. And lots of others I've forgotten.

I used to live one town over from where "Snowflake Bently" lived and I have that book, as well as a print of one of his photos. They are so cool.

elswhere said...

Oh you just knew I would love this post ;-)

That said, this is the 3rd time I've tried to leave a comment and my computer is making me crazy! So, quick before it crashes again, some recommendations-- mostly nonwhite protagonists, and/or tricksters (because kids do love those trickster tales...)

Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman
A Chair for My Mother (& sequels) by Vera Williams
Jamaica Tag-Along & Jamaica And Brianna, by Juanita Havill
Jamela's Dress, by Niki Daly
Mrs. Katz and Tush, by Patricia Polacco
Lissy's Friends, by Grace Lin
I Hate English! by Ellen Levine
Apple Pie Fourth of July, by Janet Wong
The Gruffalo by Jula Donaldson
Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leititch Smith
Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock, retold by Eric Kimmel
The Tale of Tricky Fox, retold by Jim Aylesworth

Okay off to post this quick!

Magpie said...

That's a wonderful post, especially because I know nearly none of the books you've mentioned. Time to hit the bookstore!

You might want to check out this link for book projects: http://sfcb.org/teacher-features/

Politica said...

Don't forget *I Ain't Gonna Paint No More.* That's one of my favorites to read with Curious Girl!

S. said...

Chicken and Cat, by Sarah Varon--wordless, urban, the protagonists are non-humans, but many of the human "extras" are non-white. It's about planting a garden, so good for April or May.

Arwen said...

Okay, when I read this I had a total brain seizure: do we ever read books? (Of course we do, I just couldn't bring anything to mind that hadn't been said.)

But tonight, I was reading the kids a selection from Garbage Delight, by Dennis Lee, which a book of poems of the sing-song skipping game sort, and I thought I had to come and mention them. Those poems are hugely dear to me from my childhood. They're like AA Milne or Dr. Seuss. This set off a wee avalanche of ideas.

But I'll just pick three.

So the second, for princesses who haven't found it yet, I suggest "The Paper Bag Princess" by Robert Munsch - a great story that may be useful in this age of Disney princesses, because the Paper Bag Princess rescues the knight from the Dragon and then decides he's a buffoon. Many of the Munsch books are great, but he's prolific, so there are some that aren't as strong. I think his best known is the (mainly to make adults cry) "Love You Forever", which like "The Velveteen Rabbit", or "The Giving Tree" hits the sentimental spot like a gong strike and is either therefore hard to read aloud without sniffling or too saccharine, depending on your temperament or the time of day.

We also love Hairy McClary from Donaldson's Dairy, by Lynley Todd, but mainly because I can pull out all my badly done UK or European accents.

Michaela said...

What a great post, Susan! I am really loving Kevin Henkes and Mo Willems, too. My girl (now almost two!) is really getting into picture books, which is SO much fun. Yesterday she finally, finally got engaged in Olivia by Ian Falconer and even asked me to read it again. She's also really been loving this silly book called Where's My Teddy by Jez Alborough. It has one line I really don't like - about the woods being dark and horrible - but she loves the mixed-up teddy bears.