Tonight, I am reading the children's books we checked out from the library. Kiddo only wanted to look for dinosaur books, but I sent him first to the open bins of picture books while I perused as well. "Go look at the books. Look at the pictures and if you are interested in the picture, let's get it." We've been focused primarily on prehistoric reptiles for a while now, and I know he likes poetry and good stories, so I try to encourage him to broaden his horizons. He chose Jan Ormerod's "Moonlight" because the cover shows a sleeping child with a dinosaur poster on the wall. After looking through the book, he came back and handed the book to me. "This is NOT a dinosaur book." he stated firmly, as though it were unacceptable purely for that reason.
I choose children's stories based on a few questions: can he relate to the story in some way, even if it is a stretch? Is the content going to be something he can slip into? How is the language? Does the writing respect the child's intellect and person? What is the illustration quality like?
My husband and I were poets first, lovers second, and much later, spouses. We met in the realm of poetry. A certain quality of writing is important, respectful. It's not just some some weird standard-- by nature, we value good writing. This might sound a bit fanatical, but I don't want to serve my child literary junk foods. He can choose that himself, when he's learned to read.
To me, it's like building a wall of solid, good materials and then letting the child put their inane fan poster on it. The inane fan poster is temporary, the wall is permanent.
I read the books because there are some which look great, but are too deep in content. One story ," On Sand Island" by Jacqueline Briggs Martin is a collection of story-poems, wonderful in it's rich, descriptive language and warm illustrations. But the death of the main character's mother informs so many of the poems, I want to save this for when he's older. The rest, I find suitable in the best ways...
I read the books to know that the messages my child is getting or the situations in the stories do not inflame insecurities. Sometimes the content of a story can raise insecurities regarding new situations or exacerbate existing fears. For example, if a child is entering kindergarten or a new school, books about potential conflict in these settings might only serve to raise anxieties, depending on the actions of the players and how the resolution is reached. Instead of trying to prepare children for new experiences through sometimes-daunting theoretic examples, I'd prefer to let Kiddo live his life without a lot of preconceived notions and to work with him to help make sense and give context to new situations as they come. Little kids are on the job learners; and as I've said before, they do better being allowed to experience new situations with an open mind and parental support. Why expect them to cognitively understand an experience they haven't quite had yet? How can we truly know Paris until we've been there? How can a child have ease and peace about the unknown until they've come to know it in person?
I read the
books to see my own values reflected in the stories. Any parent who
doesn't choose books for their children this way is really missing out
on an opportunity to shape and inform the children we love.
I read Kiddo's library books because the well-chosen stories are one way of leaving my mark on him. Every parent hopes to do this in the good, little ways, be it a shared interest or an ideology or belief. I hope my son grows up to be a tolerant, literate, intelligent person. I believe that he will figure out his way through life by working hard, by being willing to grow as a person, even in the hard ways or those which require personal discipline, and by being the nice person he usually is,. He helps us to feel good about ourselves by asking for our company and smiling at us and trying to help. He is a relatively kind person. He thinks a lot. I know, because he asks a lot of questions.
So I read the books because I love him. I'm still wanting to make the magic elixir of happiness for him. I can't mindlessly be his cheerleader, I need to let him have a good idea of what the world really is like, but right now I still have the time to show him examples of the wonder of nature, how marvelous it is when people (or characters) treat each other well, with love and respect. There's plenty of time for real conflict-- heck, he experiences this at preschool and sometimes during playtimes with friends. He knows that the world can be a confusing place; that a friend's parents and his own might have different rules; that teachers can be strict and that there is a time and a place for most everything and some things need to wait. He is exploring the ideas around gun play, violent play, and knows there are rules in regard to those things. He knows that some people are loud, some seem not-s0-friendly, some parents are mean to their children... we see all of these things as we are out and about.
I want to use books to help my son make sense of his world, and to show him examples of hope, love, honesty, virtue and compassion. Books which spark our curiosity are of such value, because they teach children to love seeking and learning, if we are willing to help them.
We signed up for the Summer Reading program (contest?! hmphh!) at the library. I'm not sure how I feel about keeping track of reading or spending time reading with a motivational prize being dangled out there like a carrot. This is one of those decisions where I am following the advice of a few mentor moms, and I will see where it goes. I want reading to be a pleasure in and of itself, not a way to earn a plastic prize toy (or book, thank goodness...). But I think he'd also be pretty proud to earn the tee-shirt...
Books Which Passed Muster for a Tender-Hearted Five Year Old:
The River by Brigitte Sidjanski, illlustrated by Bernadette Watts.
The Friendship Wish by Elisa Kleven
Octopus Oyster Hermit Crab Snail: A Poem of the Sea by Sara Anderson
This is the Reef by Miriam Moss; illustrated by Adrienne Kennaway
Snippy and Snappy by Wanda Ga'g
Be Nice to Spiders by Margaret Bloy Graham
My Rows and Piles of Coins (excellent!) by Tololwa M Mollel; illustrated by EB Lewis
Plants that Never Bloom by Ruth Heller
and for the Dino Boy, his picks were both books by Aliki: Fossils Tell of Long Ago and Digging Up Dinosaurs