Saturday, August 25, 2012

Two and Twenty Dark Tales

Two and Twenty Dark Tales.  Edited by Georgia McBride and Michelle Zink. Month9 Books.  October 2012.  ISBN 9780985029418.

This rather uneven collection of stories are each based loosely on a Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme which is quoted at the start of each story.  Some stories left me wanting more, wanting to spend time in the eerie world the author created with the echo of the nursery rhyme.  Other stories were more like pat horror stories uneasily attached to a rhyme, and several dragged on making me remember advice that shorter is sometimes better.  Despite my quibbles, I can imagine an imaginative tween reader being inspired by this collection. The right reader could start to imagine what other worlds could be created by unfolding these rhymes and perhaps use them as magic portals to create their own stories. 

Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week

Anderson, Caroline. Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week.  Illustrated by Ben Clanton. 2012.  ISBN 9781554539895.

Jasper John Dooley, the quirky star of the week in this easy chapter book, collects lint and makes music by sloshing water in his belly.   After his teacher pins a star to his shirt each morning he gets to be the center of attention in a different way each day; show and tell  on Monday, family tree on Tuesday, etc.  Throughout the week he spends time with his best friend Ori, whose mom just had a baby.  As Ori and his family struggle to adjust to the new baby, Jasper wishes that he had a sibling.  Ultimately Jasper creates an imaginary brother out of wood, and this "brother" gets him into a few scrapes.  In the end Jasper realizes his family is just the right size.  This is a great book for young children who are proficient readers and it is rare to see a chapter book that is solidly in the kindergarten/first grade world.  Don't worry if these precocious young readers miss some of the jokes and even overlook the message - the message may trickle in later when it is needed.  As with the Junie B. Jones series, some of the humor is really aimed at the adult or older sibling, and that's okay.

Pondering some books from Netgalley

I picked up a couple of interesting books this week from .  Both books sent me back to the old question of reading level vs interest level vs what are kids (or adults) going to actually do with the books? The first book I picked up from Netgalley was Jasper John Dooley, Star of the Week. This is a comfortable chapter book level with a funny and sophisticated protagonist, a boy  that seems to be in kindergarten or first grade, max.  The other was Twenty-two Dark Tales edited by Georgia McBride and Michelle Zink.  This dark and sometimes confusing set of short stories are loosely based on Mother Goose nursery rhymes and are probably intended for teens.  Both of these books could be read and even enjoyed by children who are too young to get the point - or what you or I would see as the meaning of the story.  So should children read them before they are ready?

The classic Junie B. Jones series provides a similar challenge.  Junie is in kindergarten when we first meet her, and then becomes a First Grader at Last.  The humor, however, is often well beyond a child of Junie B.'s age.  After all, part of her charm is that she doesn't know she is funny!  I sometimes try to dissuade parents and teachers from reading  Junie B. Jones to kindergarten and first, or even some second grade students.  I warn them that they will find themselves explaining almost all the jokes, spoiling the sudden discovery at the heart of humor.  With teachers, in particular, I ask that if they must read a Junie B. Jones book to their class that they not read more than one.  Let the students read these very funny and rewarding books for themselves, discover the humor, and reassure themselves that they would never act that way!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ice-cream and Literacy

I was just reading an article emerging language and library story time. But my mind kept wandering, playing back a scene that I witnessed this afternoon.   A charming little girl was being treated to ice-cream by her grandmother.  The girl was talkative yet obedient, and was probably about six - just the right size for thinking about reading. And one of those magic moments when reading could start to make sense just drifted right passed her.

Grandma and daughter sat on stools at a table, a bit too far away to really read what was posted above the counter.  Grandma asked the little girl what she wanted, and the girl pointed to a sign above the counter and said "that one, with the stripes!"  Grandma asked a few questions trying to figure out what flavor she might mean, but finally threw in the towel.  "Do you want an ice-cream cone?" she asked.  When the girl nodded enthusiastically Grandma got up from her stool and asked the girl, "So, do you want vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry?" Having heard her grand-daughter request vanilla and chocolate together, Grandma walked got on line at the counter, remonstrating as she walked away, "now don't you move! Don't move from that spot!"

On one hand, this little girl had a wonderful outing with her grandmother.  But on the other hand, it was so sad that I almost committed a monstrous faux pas.  I really wanted to tell the girl and her grandma that they were aloud to walk up to the ice-cream counter and read the names of the flavors!  For so many children, the ice-cream store (or the side of the ice-cream truck) is the most meaningful print they have ever seen.  And to see the names of the flavors (and gaze longingly at the tubs of ice-cream) you have to know it is okay to walk up to the glass and look.

I will go back to the article, but will still be pondering in the back of my mind:  Should I have invited the grandma to let her little girl go up to the case and look at the ice-cream and read the labels?