The idea of this blog post came from couple of requests from a friend and my niece.
Reading is important at any age. It is a proven fact that children who are read to perform better in school and are more successful and more importantly continue reading later in life. I know for a fact that with so many options for children’s books, it is difficult to find books that suits children’s interests and age groups, so I decided to reflect on my own experience as a reader and offer advice.
I was an avid reader as a child. So much so that my mom would have to peel me away from books so I could eat dinner. I know some kids are not like that so it is important to focus on finding imaginative and creative books. I feel that non-fiction books are difficult for young kids to connect with and it doesn’t ignite what they really need at this age-imagination.
So if you have young kids under 6 or 7, focus on finding books that do just that. It’s no news to read that children have a vivid imagination. When I was young and read wildly imaginative books, I would apply some of the creativity in my own imagination and mind stories. I would also write my own stories that mimicked an authors’ style.
Some of the authors I remember reading, which I would recommend for any age (start with picture books and then gradually move on to these authors) was Roald Dahl, and Enid Blyton. I was absolutely mesmerized by their stories and they would become part of my friends and my lunch time conversation.
When I began teaching, I got to learn about Dr. Seuss (not famous in Pakistan where I spent my childhood), Shel Silverstein, and Chris Van Allsburg. All three are known for their quirky illustrations and writing, but they teach creativity in language and imagination, which as I pointed out is essential in a child’s growth. These books are filled with lovely rhymes and funny stories that children can laugh about. If you have a slightly older kid like 7-8 who is struggling with writing, Chris Van Allsburg illustrations are a great way to trigger some creative writing ideas. Just speaking from experience J
I know a lot of great authors from when I taught elementary school here in California. One of the common trends I noticed in school-going ages are that children first develop great imaginations, but have difficulty putting them down on paper. Or they are so nervous about writing their ideas down, they get confused and don’t know where to begin. That’s where picture books come into play.
To teach about adding sensory details in their writing, read them Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon. It’s a book to read in a cold, winter night when you are wrapped in a blanket by the fireplace. Focus on the describing words or adjectives as you read along. It’s not long and you can finish it in one reading, but it is a cute story about a father and a child going owl-sightseeing at night. The illustrations are quite lovely too.
A book that teaches perspective, but also fun for the youngest kids is The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. For older kids, it’s a great exercise to see how the author’s perspective affects the outcome in a plotline. For younger kids it’s just fun to read about the funny things the author focuses on. It would be helpful to read the original tale first so they can understand the humor. Another series that teaches perspective writing is A Diary of a Worm. With vivid illustrations and simple writing, the book details events in a worm’s life. They also have spider edition as well. I had a really neat project with this book. After reading this book and showing them illustrations, I would ask my kids to create their own picture books on an animal of their choice. The end products were quite divine and the process was fun and educational for them.
A book that teaches about feelings is Alexander and the terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. It teaches young kids not only to recognize their feelings and what causes them, but it also teaches older kids to write down their feelings or turn their feelings into a story. As Adele would say, “Turn my sorrow into treasured gold, you just reap what you sow” so who knows you can get it published someday ;).
A book that teaches plot writing is Because a Little Bug Went Achoo by Rosetta Stone (wondering if that is a real name). The story delineates events and how each event causes another disaster. A cute story that teaches school going students about plot writing.
Some of my students were brilliant writers and readers and some who were on the other end of the spectrum and wanted to express themselves. The book Tuesday by David Wiesner is a book full of illustrations and no words. So students and your children can use their imaginations and illustrations to form their own stories in sequence. You can do this exercise orally or with writing depending on your school kid’s age.
An activity that every teacher and parents of young children can relate to is Read Aloud. Read Aloud in school is a period of about 20-30 minutes when a teacher carefully selects a book and leads a discussion after reading a chapter (or so) at a time. Besides Writer’s Workshop, that was my favorite part of the day. I read many books to my students-some winners, some not. One of the most popular books I recommend is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. I know it’s a series, but I personally feel the later books are too advances and dark for young readers. This book exposes them to wonderful imagery and characterization. For young kids, it’s nice to read about magic and kids with powers, and with older kids, you can discuss older themes such as friendship, school politics, and such.
My students were absolutely enthralled with The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I would recommend this for older kids. It teaches mathematical concepts through personifications and a treasure hunt. Every time I would finish the chapter, my students would say a collective, “read more!” Your older child would love it!
Two of my favorite Roald Dahl books were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. The main characters are boys so I know a boy would really connect with it. I just loved the writing and the messages Dahl incorporated in his stories. I always felt like I learned something from his books about growing up.
Well, I hope this helps. Just FYI, I did some research on the titles, but all the authors and titles have been used by me in classrooms. I dedicate this post to all my previous students and kids in the world who are going to school or not going to school. Happy Reading!!