Working in North Carolina classrooms for 20 years, I’ve learned children have difficulties with three skills crucial to success – thinking, wondering and risk-taking.
Sadly, teachers taken up with testing can’t always help, but parents can build these abilities and find pleasure for themselves at the same time – just by reading aloud. Sharing a book establishes an enjoyable ritual that provides for fast connection and slows down a world that spins faster every day.
- For young children, seek books that have rhythm, rhyme and repetition. Candace Fleming’s perfectly metered “Seven Hungry Babies” (Atheneum, ages 3-6) stars a tiny mother bird who flies off to feed her newly hatched young with a joyful “flappa-flap, swoop-swoop, zoom-zoom.” This refrain changes as she “puffs” “struggles,” “stumbles” and finally “wheezes” back to a nest of babies who “frown,” “fret,” “sulk” and “pout.” Parents will relate to her exhaustion as they romp through reading a story that effortlessly teaches the joy of word play.
- Have an issue? Handle it with story. Jennifer LaRue Huget diffuses the drama of a dreadful duty in “How to Clean Your Room in 10 Easy Steps” (Schwartz and Wade, ages 5-8). Laugh with the sassy heroine who has her tidying techniques down, starting with waiting “until your mother hollers ‘GET UP THERE AND CLEAN YOUR ROOM – NOW!’ using all three of your names.”
- Choose a book that will inspire wondering. Mo Willems’ “City Dog, Country Frog” (Hyperion, ages 5-adult) is illustrated by Jon Muth. In spring, City Dog meets the smiling Country Frog, who was “waiting for a friend” but thinks Dog “will do.” Through several seasons the friendship grows, spiraling to new levels of joy until it ends in a way that makes City Dog and readers wonder. Both Jon Muth’s lush illustrations and Willems’ simple text are laden with rich hidden meanings for all ages.
- Select a story that captivates with character. Award-winning Karen Cushman produces a magical read-aloud in “Alchemy and Meggy Swan” (Clarion, ages 9-12). “Crooked-legged” Meggy is used to the curses of villagers and negligence of her mother, but when sent to London, she does not expect the same from her father. Nor does Meggy anticipate the dangerous chaos of Elizabethan England. The story teaches much about period plays, ballads and customs, but best of all is Meggy’s wit and grit, these make her an unforgettable new heroine.
- Don’t forget fun! Let Jennifer Holm take your family on an armchair vacation to 1930’s “Key West with Turtle in Paradise” (Random House, ages 9-12). The author makes time and place seem immediate when viewed through the eyes of 11-year-old Turtle, who lives up to her nickname. She’s tough on the outside, but her soft heart yearns for a home. Children will appreciate her adventures in a world where the exotic and eccentric are commonplace and humor resounds.