Some thoughts on Children’s Literature and Reading

I am a collector of quotes. I love words, and I love when someone uses them to express themselves in a manner that might move me, satisfy me, or inspire me to think. I’ve been throwing lots of clippings into a Reading & Literature folder, but have not shared any of them for a long time. So, for authors of children’s and young adult books, and parents, teachers and librarians responsible for book selection, here’s some food for thought.

Today’s quote comes from an essay by Betty Carter, a professor of young adult’s and children’s literature, published in the July/August 2010 issue of The Horn Book Magazine . Reflecting on what happens when young people read and find books or genres they love, Carter writes:

What they’re doing is engaging in a pleasant leisure activity, one that requires them to move their eyes across print and thus strengthen their basic skills. They’re also beginning to discover features in and genres of books that they want to read—or not read—in the future.

Reading, however, cannot compete in a child’s contemporary world only as a diversion; it must provide a bonus that other media don’t. The complexity and depth of fine books help children discover what they’re always looking for: a way to make sense of themselves and their world.

What a tremendous responsibility lies on the shoulders of people who write and publish for children and young adults! It makes me think twice about the stories I intend to write, how I want to tell them, and what kind of worldview I will present in my telling, because when published, whether written only to entertain or not, whatever I, or you, write will have an impact on growing and maturing minds. The same goes for every book we choose to place in a young person’s hands.

What books do you think would make great companions along the journey to adulthood? What guides you as a writer in crafting what you want to say? What guides you as a parent, teacher, or librarian in selecting the books you do for your collections?


Reading Response #31: The Elements of Fiction Web Summary

Summarizing is an important skill, and when studying a work of fiction, a useful skill as well. I used the following technique for chapter by chapter summaries when conducting novel studies with my students. When it came time to go back and discuss the novel and write essays, the webs made it easy for them to locate passages to support their ideas. So…

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

Set up your Elements of Fiction web.

Now fill in rays with information for each bubble. Remember:

Characters are the people, sometimes animals, aliens, etc.–the players who are living out the story.

Plot refers to the events that take place in the story.

Conflicts are the problems the main character/s face in the story. Common conflicts involve the character being challenged by another character, him or herself, nature, or circumstance.

Setting includes the places, times, and moods of the scenes played out by the characters.

The theme or themes are ideas that the author, character, or story seems to be exploring.

Once you have filled out your web, use it to write a one to two paragraph summary of what you have read.

For Pre-readers: Enjoy a story together. When done, talk about the characters, setting, or story problem. Ask your child which character he liked best and why, how she might have handled the story problem, or what places he knows that the setting of the story remind him of.  Take your time and enjoy the discussion.

Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt #10: What Is…? Poems

What is happiness? What is beauty? What is love?

Or, forget feelings. What is red? What is  gold? What is  blue?

Still not inspired? What is a grandpa? What is Oregon? What is milk?

Or, let’s consider some adjectives. What is faithful? What is freezing? What is wobbly?

A What is…? poem can address any topic, and how you describe and define that topic is something that can only be written by you. So, what to do?

Step 1: Web or brainstorm four lists of words, one for each of the following categories: feelings, colors, nouns (that’s people, places or things), and adjectives (words used to describe things). If you wish, create a category of your own that interests you, for example—food. Try to come up with three to five items for each category you are working with. Now, pick a topic, or maybe several, to write a poem about.

Step 2: Focus on the word you have selected for your What is…? poem. Again, list, web, or brainstorm images, activities, similes (comparisons using “like” or “as”), and metaphors (comparison implied by saying one thing is something else). Consider also hyperbole (exaggeration) and sounds (use onomatopoeia—words that sound like what they describe).

Step 3: Select the items from your list that best express your feelings about what your selected topic is and use them to build a poem. There are many types of poems you can build, for example, an acrostic, formal poetry with a set rhythm and rhyme scheme, or free verse.

My What is…? Poem–

What is Yosemite?

Walls and rocks and sheets and slides of it,
Speckled white, arched over by fleecy clouds, blue sky.
The rhythmic swaying of tall trees.
The sound of the river
Rushing, roaring, trickling, laughing.
My heart’s home.

Other topics I’d like to get to? What is blue? What is a perfect day?

Share your topics or completed poems as comments here on the blog, or at the very least with your writing companions. Enjoy.

Working with a preschooler? List for your child topics she would like to write about. List statements he makes about a topic. Put each statement on a separate piece of paper and work with the child to arrange them in the order she would like them to appear. Make a clean copy of the poem and read it to him pointing to each word as you read. Cut out or draw pictures to go with the poem.

P.S. Writing my own poem was fun. I should allow myself some time to play with my prompt more often :-)