May 2015 vol. 1

 

Children's Book Week

May 4-10, 2015

 

 

Tasha & Lola's Book Corner

 

At 2 years old, one of Lola's favorite things to do is to tell me stories... over and over and over again. She doesn't speak in full sentences, but she can put three or more key words together to explain something that has happened, and she will often repeat her story many times in the following hours and days.

 

When reading together, I always look for ways to engage Lola in the storytelling to further develop her skills. Sometimes I ask her questions that encourage her to point to, identify, or count something specific on a page. Other times I ask her more general questions that allow her to choose what she wants to talk about.

 

I know I have said this before and will say it again, but this is such a fun stage in Lola's reading development. Books are a conversation now, whether it's choosing an old favorite like Eric Hill's Where's Spot? where she can anticipate what's coming next, or finding something unfamiliar like Margaret Wise Brown's Big Red Barn that requires her to observe and tell me what she sees.

 

 

Ask the Eight Cousins staff . . .

 

In honor of Children's Book Week:

 

Why do children's books matter?

 

Children's books matter because from the moment of birth, kids are becoming our future citizens and leaders. Books have the potential to unlock curiosity, to generate discussion, to amuse, to entertain, to instruct,  to delight, to relax. Reading  is an essential part of development. ~ Cathy S


 This type of question disturbs me. Why does anything matter? Why do we persist in making these kinds of distinctions? Are we talking about whether children's books matter to me personally, or more as a global question? Why should someone else care about why something matters to me? And why should I care about someone else's opinion on whether children's books matter? This question stresses me out, as though some pundit's opinion might lend validity to my own feelings. Or, more likely, might negate my feelings, as though my opinions, and therefore myself, are somehow not worthy.

 

This kind of question often leads to list-making. So I made a short list, in order to define exactly who the target audience might be. Yes, children's books do matter, but it depends on who you ask:

  • A teacher

  • A publisher

  • A librarian

  • An author

  • A bookseller

  • An illustrator

  • A child

  • A parent

  • A human

 

I fit into a few of these categories, so that's how I will answer this question. Obviously, as a bookseller, children's books matter, because I love them and I love my job and I want to keep working. And obviously, as a human, because I am one of those also: I think stories are one of the things that makes us human (Philip Pullman thinks so too. Whether or not this makes my own feelings valid, I leave to the reader to decide). Stories are what we pass down to the next generation. Without stories, we lose our connection to one another.

 

The reasons that children's books matter to me come from my experiences as a child and as a parent. Children's books matter because I associate them with feelings of closeness and what I call loving-kindnes. Being read to, and reading to others, is a way of feeling connected to both my own parents and my boys. It is time spent together. Interestingly, this is also time spent reading aloud. Once we start reading to ourselves, we lose some of that connectivity. While I love reading, and do a lot of it, it is pretty much a solitary activity. I get really excited about reading a great book, but it's even better when my excitement is shared with others. And it can be totally deflating to be the only one who gets excited about a particular book.

 

The books that I remember from my childhood are many of the ones that I shared with our kids. I can vividly remember my father bursting into tears at the end of The House at Pooh Corner when Christopher Robin must go away to school and leave childish things behind. It's a foreshadowing of what we must all do eventually: say good-bye (Winnie-the-Pooh is filled with existential stuff). I remember a small Golden Book called Hello Rock that my mother must have read a million times to me and my brothers. I still have that dog-eared book! I read it to my own boys. My parents read lots of Edward Lear to us, and in turn, my husband and I have read Lear's poems to our children. Edward Lear has been such a part of my family, that at my father's funeral service, the entire church stood to read "The Quangle-Wangle Quee" printed in the bulletin.

 

Of the books that I read to my children, the ones that I remember, are not necessarily the ones that they remember. One of my sons insisted that bears be in all stories; he loved a tattered book of stories called The Teddy Robinson Storybook, by Joan G. Robinson, and inscribed both my name and his name inside the front cover of our copy of Winnie-the-Pooh. Another son was so in love with The Lorax that my husband can still recite the entire book. And the youngest was so taken with The Trumpet of the Swan that he learned to play the trumpet when he was 7 years old and has continued into high school. However, they will often fondly recall books that I really don't remember that well. Books like Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor, by Mervyn Peake, a truly weird picture book. Or Country Crossing, by Jim Aylesworth, a picture book about a train traveling at night. Or a tiny copy of Edward Lear's poem "The Jumblies," that I picked up in one of those book barrel bins that you find in the supermarket sometimes. And they all remember when I got to the end of The Last Battle in The Chronicles of Narnia, because I cried as much as I had while reading it in junior high. In this case, my fifth grader ended up reading the last few chapters to our family. Nobody really recalls any details in the text, though.

 

The exact books don't really matter, though, do they? Nor do I believe that it is important that the books are "educational" or that some sort of learning is involved. Why must there always be a lesson? The only things that matter are the memories associated with the books. It's the feelings of love that we communicate to our children, that we hope they in turn will pass on to their own children. THAT'S why children's books matter. ~ Lysbeth

 

Do children's books matter? "Of course they do!" is my visceral response. But why? I have to admit, my first reaction is emotional---and not only because I sell children's books. Upon further reflection, there are solid reasons in support of children's books.

 

I see children's books as the stepping stones to a child becoming a life-long reader. Children's books are our first exposures to new ideas, different cultures, far-away places, realms of the imagination. When I visited London as an adult, so many places were familiar to me because of a children's book my siblings and I loved to examine, This is London. I haven't made it to Paris yet, but I've explored the city with Madeleine, when I was a child, then with my daughter, now with my granddaughters. And how could I squash a spider, knowing it could be related to Charlotte?

 

Children's books are fun! The pleasure we take in reading to a child is absorbed by that child-it is a wonderful, shared experience for both. Positive memories of being read to last well into adulthood, and have an impact on an adult's reading habits.

 

Children's books plant the seeds for that "reading habit," a habit that has a profound effect throughout our lives. This importance is supported in a 2007 report from the National Endowment for the Arts, "To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence," which gathered extensive data from numerous federal agencies. Some of the report's conclusions:

 

With lower levels of reading and writing ability, people do less well in the job market. Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement. Significantly worse reading skills are found among prisoners than in the general adult population. And deficient readers are less likely to become active in civic and cultural life, most notably in volunteerism and voting.

 

All of the data suggest how powerfully reading transforms the lives of individuals-whatever their social circumstances. Reading correlates with almost every measurement of positive personal and social behavior surveyed.

 

So, do children's books matter? You bet they do! ~ Mary Fran 

 

I've dedicated most of my adult life to children's books. I've sold them. I've studied them. I've reviewed them. I've read them. I've talked about them. Sometimes I like stepping back and asking: why? Is it habit? Inertia? Are children's books so much a part of my identity that I don't know who I am without them? 

 

I don't really think it's habit, or inertia, or an identity crisis. I immerse myself in children's books because I love them. But that statement doesn't really answer the question about why they matter. Instead it complicates the question, because what I really want to say is, 'THEY JUST DO!" And while I know plenty of people who will nod in agreement, that answer gets us nowhere. Why do children's books matter? Why do children's books matter? 

 

I do genuinely believe that stories help us process the world around us. We tell stories so that people can know us, even when we aren't talking about ourselves. We tell stories to communicate an experience or an idea that is important to us. We tell stories to connect. Children's books matter because they teach children not only how to connect, but that it is possible to connect.

 

Why books more so than other forms of narrative? TV shows, movies, video games, art, music are also stories. This question is harder to answer, but I think it has to do with the gaps in the text. Books don't tell everything. They don't describe every detail of the scenery or trait of the characters. Even picture books often have gaps between the text and the illustration, creating delightful ambiguity and multiplicities within the story. 

 

While reading, we have to fill in the gaps, and by doing so we put ourselves into the story. Now it's about more than connecting, it's about becoming. As we fill in the gaps, we expand ourselves a little. Children's books matter because they challenge us to stretch, to reach, to grow. And to connect. ~ Sara