Picture Books - Let Kids Be Free to Read!

Ever since the New York Times ran an article last October about the fading in importance of picture books in young children's lives, the blogosphere has been talking about the craziness of the premise.  The latest thoughtful post comes from my sister blogger in Australia, Susan, who blogs at the always fabulous Book Chook. She argues for the importance of picture books for preschoolers as well as kids well beyond the preschool years. Letting kids choose their reading is anathema to some parents and even some library staffers (WHAT?!?!)

That concept of "free reading" that many of us champion is one most notably advocated by Stephen Krasheen. He wrote a short article in SLJ in 2006 that explores the concept and importance based on his longer book, The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research published by Libraries Unlimited in 2004. Boiling it down to beyond basic and in Marge-speak, the concept is that all reading for pleasure is good reading and helps builds kids vocabulary, comprehension and reading skills .  When kids have a choice in selecting what they want to read, their interest and excitement in the act of reading becomes more sustained.

Picture books aren't just for little kids.  They are great reads for older kids as well.  I like to think of them as the first graphic novels that children are exposed to.  They have a visual as well as literacy component that blends together into a coherent whole. More complex books like ones by Patricia Polacco, Chris Van Allsburg, Emily McCully, Bill Peet, Lane Smith, David Wiesner and Jon Scieszka and many others beg to be shared with second, third and even fourth graders.

How can we help kids - and parents - make that transition to free them to use these great books?  Creating spaces in older fiction collections and cataloging more complex picture books into those collections is one way - whether by labeling or creating a special section of "Illustrated Fiction" - this brings these picture books to the attention and into the hands of older readers. And by locating them in  the collections for older kids, we give an implied boost to their worthiness to be considered and selected by older browsers .

Featuring these books in handselling and reader's advisory on a daily basis is also a great way to promote them to older readers.  Include one of these picture books among the fiction and non-fiction in booktalks at schools or a few in packs of books that you pull for schools and classrooms of older students. And when you have programs with older kids, include these in your book discussions and mini-promotions.

All these options and paths to worthy books will help you free the kids, the parents, teachers, staffers ...and you!

Image: 'Free Daddy and His Little Shadow Girls+at+The+Skate+Park+Creative+Commons'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/40645538@N00/179279964


Surefire Storytelling Hits for One World, Many Stories

A comment on my last post asked about ideas for good multicultural stories to use with this year's CLSP (Cooperative Summer Library Program) theme, One World, Many Stories. Here are a few that I love with sources if I could track them back (being a storyteller for twenty-five years has it's drawbacks!). Give them a try.

Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock (Africa)- Eric Kimmel
Buy a spider glove puppet. Gather your jungle animals and a blanket or rug that is green and mossy looking. You play Anansi/Narrator and tell the story while the kids play the jungle animals part. The rest of the kids chant the magic words, “Isn’t that a strange-looking, moss-covered rock?”.  There are plenty of Anansi stories to share from many folklore collections..I have five or six in my storybag but this remains a favorite.

Wise Monkey Tale (Phillipines) - Guilio Maestro
Using a monkey puppet and other jungle animals, tell the story as Monkey/Narrator with kids as animals. Use a piece of rope in a circle to represent the hole and a construction paper banana leaf. Have the audience chant the banana leaf inscription: “If very wise you wish to be, come on down, wait and see!”

Fat Cat (Norway) - Jack Kent (there is also a version in print from Margaret Read McDonald)
Tie a flat sheet around yourself (or a helpful adult volunteer) like a huge bib. Have the kids play the eatees. As you chomp each one, the kids hide under the sheet. The audience chants “And now I’m going to eat you!”. You can use the same technique for the story of “The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly”

The Turnip  - (Russian) Traditional
Tie a rope to a door (important note: make it tight!). Have kids play part (use scarves, ears, headbands, masks) and tug rope as you narrate. Audience chants “And they pushed and they pulled and they pulled and they pushed”. When the time comes for the turnips appearance, bring out a turnip from behind a screen.

Bear and the Seven Kids - (Poland)  Traditional 
I've lost the original source beyond hearing it from another storyteller 20 years ago!  However, you can find it as the "Wolf and Seven Kids" and other variants in folktale collections. I use nesting dolls and pretend to forget how many kids are in the story and then reveal them one by one in the intro.  Great audience particiaption tale!

Tiger's Minister (Burma) - Various; teller Janice Harrington has this on CD/tape
A tiger tests a boar, a monkey and a rabbit to determine who should be his new minister by breathing on each one in turn and asking, "Is my breath fair or foul?". Of course it is disguting and the first two animals try truth, than flattery and are eaten. The rabbit claims, with a twitchy nose, that he "can't smell anything one way or the other" and becomes the minister (and ever after rabbits have twitched their noses and now you know why!)

Roly Poly Rice Ball - (Japan) - Margaret Read McDonald's Twenty Tellable Tales
Crab Eyes - (Caribbean) - Margaret Read McDonald's Twenty Tellable Tales
Just a pleasure to tell straight without props. McDonald does a masterful job at breaking down the telling and adding emphasis to help even novice tellers deliver the story like a pro!

The Mosquito (unsure of country of origin) - Anne Pellowski's The Story Vine
Anne Pellowski's books are chockfull of great stories from many cultures perfect for storytelling. This string story has excellent instructions/illustrations and is worth the time it takes to learn. This is perfect for school visits and produces "big-eyed" results each time for all ages!

I also have used Once Upon a Hodja (long out of print, that has some good Middle Eastern Nasrudin stories (in turns wise, foolish, a trickster and a storyteller) and Caroline Peterson books for additional ideas.

What other good stories do you have?

Illustration from 2011 CLSP Manual. Images are copyrighted. Contact the CSLP for more information