Monday, December 08, 2008

Children's Literature

This morning on NPR there was a discussion about why reading is becoming something that not many people do on a regular basis. Last year 80% of american families did not read or purchase a book. I questioned that statistic and dug around a bit and found it is accurate - the major publishing houses all bear it out. However because of the way the statistics were compiled, it may be off - it doesn't account for reading books you already own. But even still a recent poll by the Harris group suggests 1 in 5 american's do not read a book all year. Only a slight percentage read more than 10 books in a year according to their poll (around 6% of the population). That's astounding to me.

We're busy and we're "plugged in". But it's truly tragic if we quit reading. Reading produces children with higher IQs, higher self-esteem, and broader knowledge. Children who read have greater emotion depth and intelligence than those who do not. Even when controlling for family and background/socioeconomic conditions, readers score higher across the board on virtually all knowledge tests, IQ test and EQ tests.

Who are these parents who are not encouraging their children to read?

When I was a child I absolutely adored reading. Reading and breathing were the two things I did everyday. My fondest memories are of laying on my bed with a book, laying in the grass under a tree with a book, or reading in the backseat of the car on a family trip. Reading was my ticket to more exciting locale's than Rexburg, Idaho. Reading gave me the ability to imagine what life was like for kids who didn't look like me, didn't live in the country or the time that I did, had more money than me or less money than me. Children who had no parents or only one parent. Children who had perfect families and children who had terribly messed up families. Reading gave me empathy. Reading made me curious. Reading expanded my mind in ways no television show ever could.

I'm very happy that my 2 oldest children have been great and engaged readers. Holden loved books from an early age and though his ipod has now often replaced curling up with a book, I know his love of books will continue to serve him for the rest of his life. Brennan can't put his books down, somedays it causes problems - he doesn't sleep sometimes when he's really engaged with his book, I have to confiscate it at church sometimes when he sneaks it in, often his teachers think that he must be lying about how many books he reads when they look at his log he's keeping for class. I have to back him up, because apparently, many children lie about reading books.

Jordan isn't as big of reader, much to my chagrin. However, when she does get involved in a book, she's probably my most engaged reader. A book that happens to capture her attention completely excites her and she has to share plot-lines with all in hearing distance. She loves to read about tragic stories - slavery, pioneers, anything with personal hard-ship. I'm not going to give up on getting her to read more often.

Here are a list of children's books that have had a special place in my life. If you're stumped on gifts for children on your list this year - consider buying them a really good book. It's honestly my favorite thing to get, and has been since I was a kid.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak - Holden and I read this over and over and over again. Always he wanted "more mommy". Brennan loved it too and personified the main character "MAX" in ways that hit a little to close to home when he was a toddler. A beautiful children's book.

I loved the Little House books when I was a kid. I read them by the tiny orange light of my nightlight nestled up next to the wall heater in my room. I was fascinated with Laura's tales of frontier courage. But I identified more with her steadier older sister Mary. I was a Mary.

A Wrinkle In Time was adored over and over again. The librarian recommended this book at one of the summer reading programs my mom dropped me off at on Saturdays on occasion. She read a little tid-bit of it and I was hooked. All my children have read it and loved it as well. The over-all theme of love concurs over hate is beautiful.

These were another Madison County Idaho librarian assisted find. I think it was my first real introduction to science fiction. I don't read sci-fi often, but for a 12 year old girl, these were wonderful.

This book was one of those that I could read over and over again. The Secret Garden is a book every little girl (and boy) should read.

The Bridge to Terabithia is the first book that made me cry. I was in 6th grade and my mother got if for me for Christmas. My mother didn't always know what to get but she knew who to ask to get good recommendations. I loved this book, but the tragic ending had tears flowing down my face. I went into the kitchen to get a drink of water and my mom saw my teary face and was so concerned about what was wrong. When I told her it was the book I had been reading she got a wry smile on her face. She said "sometimes those are the best kind". She was right.

This is another book that Holden insisted I read him over and over. I used silly accents and acted the whole thing out like it was a play. I always loved reading to my kids when they were little. It was great fun.

This series of Great Brain books had me wishing I could be as smart as Tom. It was also the first time I ever had a chance to see what it might be like to live in a mormon community and not be mormon. A perspective that was very good for a mormon girl living in a 99% mormon community.

Another Science Fiction foray, these books in the Chronicles of Prydain series totally captured my imagination in ways that no books I've read before (or almost sadly since) had been able to do.

My mother had some old Nancy Drew books that she passed along. I loved reading books that my mother had read as a girl. I never saw my mother reading, but these books were evidence that one day, when her responsibilities and priorities were different, she had.

I had (and still have!) every single one of the books in this mystery series. I would check by the bookstore everytime we went to see if there were any new books. Before the internet, we had to actually go to the bookstore to see what was new. There was no happier day than a day with a new Trixie Belden book.

I read this later than some girls - I didn't get to it until 6th grade. But I surely did love it. I read the two sequels and loved them almost as much too. This is probably on my list of books to give Jordan this Christmas. She loves to watch cops and prison and detective shows and honestly, she behaves like she's a clone of Harriet, so I think she'll love it.

I read this over a Christmas break one winter and it's such a great classic of children's literature. I identified most with Meg. Jo actually got on my nerves a little bit.

Another WONDERFUL book that get's overlooked often.

Another one that Holden made me read him over and over. All my kids love it. "Alexander who used to be rich last Sunday" is great too.

I never really read these to the boys much, but Jordan adored them.

Oh to be Eloise. Nevermind the fact that she's been completely disregarded by her parents, but to have the run of the Plaza hotel? Divine.

When someone first recommended this as a book to read to my baby I thought they were nuts. Weirdish illustrations and it seemed like a pointless little tale. But babies, toddlers and pre-school children LOVE this book to an irrational degree. Such a great book to put a child to bed with.

I'm sure I've missed some of your favorites. Care to share?


Cynthia said...

How can we raise kids that don't like to read??? It makes me crazy. I only have a 50% success rate.
Can't forget the Eric Carle books, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear".
I don't know that I was introduced to classics, just whatever was available in our little tiny elementary school library. I loved mysteries when I was in grade school.
Rachel loved Gary Paulsen's books and the "Dear America" books.
Melanie loved (and though she is way too old for them now, STILL loves) the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Parks.
And of course, we all read Harry Potter for a while.
I love the kid's book section in the library and bookstore.

Suzanne Barker said...

Great post Lezlee! I may have to do one of these too. I loved to read as a kid and although I have no children, I am glad that my neices love to read. I can't get them interested in all of my favorites, but we share some. It's a great bond. People who don't like to read really miss out on something, I think.


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