Friends, forgive me for lying down on the job … literally. I’ve had some sort of crazy infection, but I’m back on my feet and ready to talk more about books that appeal to kids who think they have better things to do than read.
Let’s start with some eye candy. My friends at Pooh’s Corner discovered Gallop (Workman, $12.95) and it’s perfect for emerging readers. Called a ‘Scanimation Picture Book,’ it uses a technique of motion photography that makes the pictures seem to move on their own. It’s a novelty book but put together in such a way that little ones can’t pull it apart like a pop-up. Here’s the text: “Can you gallop like a horse? Giddyup-a-loo! Can you strut like a rooster? Cock-a-doodle-do!” There’s one question for each cardboard page spread and on the opposite page, you see a horse seemingly in motion, or a rooster strutting along. There’s a lovely rhyming lilt to the text, key words repeated at the end, and lots of visual interest in this little package … sort of a one-man-band literacy package.
And in the same toe-tappin’, rhymin’, rappin’ vein, you’ll want to try Lisa Wheeler’s Jazz Baby (Harcourt, $16). “Brother’s hands tap. Sister’s hands snap. Itty-bitty Baby’s hands clap-clap-clap.” From the very first spread, kids will be caught up in the rockin’ and rollin’ rhythm and rhyme of Wheeler’s bouncy beat about babies who just gotta groove. R. Gregory Christie has created a family of songsters who whirl and twirl that baby and raise him up in the wonderful ways of jazz. Goodness, the whole neighborhood gets in on the act. Wheeler has created a text that can be learned kinetically, so that kids who have trouble staying in their seats can be the stars for once.
I have been reading educational theory lately, and it’s clear that those of us who love poor and/or disengaged children have a lot of work to do! The scholarship is solidly behind finding material that kids can both relate to and that they find entertaining. Part of this is having access to and becoming aware of the good books and figuring out ways to get them into kids’ classrooms and their hands! Please share the books you’ve used that get kids excited with me.
One of the few assignments I remember in high school was to write a nonsense poem in the style of Lewis Carroll’s classic poem “Jabberwocky.” It was so much fun to make up words and test their rightness by sound alone! Christopher Myers seeks to engage kids in a flight of fancy as he re-imagines Jabberwocky (Jump at the Sun, $15.99) . Through extensive research, Myers created a theory that Carroll was aware of an ancient game curiously like basketball. The object of this game, played by the Olmecs and the Aztecs, was to send a rubber ball through a stone hoop attached high up on a wall. Myers read Jabberwocky again and again and began to see curious connections to the modern day game of hoops. So the Jabberwock becomes a fierce opponent on the court, challenging the main player to face off in true David and Goliath style. “And, as in uffish thought he stood, the Jabberwock with eyes of flame, came whiffling through the tulgey wood, and burbled as it came!” There is so much fun to be had with this book. Given Myers’ delightful illustrations, kids can write the definitions of the nonsense words; they can take the favorite pastime: football, double dutch, and make up their own nonsense poem about a big showdown. Jabberwocky is about the playful love of language. Let your students dig in and play.
Mil Niepold takes a similar playful turn with the abstract cut-outs of Matisse in “Oooh! Matisse” (Tricycle, $14.95). While recovering from a serious operation, the painter Matisse was bedridden for some time. He began making abstract cut outs. Niepold plays a delightful game as he gives kids a very close-up of one of Matisse’s abstract shapes in blue and yellow and asks: “What is this?” Now to me, it looks like the comb of a turkey, the rays of the sun or blue paint spilling over a can. Niebold says: “yellow, I am the sun and blue I am the fingers that shield my eyes.” As we see more of the image it suggests different shapes and objects, until finally, Niepold gives us “oooh!” Matisse’s intention. As with the best books, getting there is half the fun, and it would be very easy to find some Matisse cut outs on the web and present them to kids for art class or critical thinking exercises.