Thursday, October 12, 2006

Books for Babies

A friend asked for a list of books for babies and since I recently attended 2 workshops on Creating Readers, I want to share some of the things that were brought up there. I'm sure I'll be adding to the list. This is just what I came up with so far.

Board books and bath books are perfect for babies. Babies explore books with their whole bodies. They hear you say the words, they see the pictures, they touch the pages and they chew on them. Touch and feel books are wonderful, but you have to choose them carefully. Pat the Bunny is actually a pretty poor choice because the little blanket can come off and become a choking hazard. Look at the book carefully to make sure the corners are rounded because baby will inevitable smack herself in the face with it and you want to protect her eyes. A good board book for babies has one bright/high contrast picture on each page.
I prefer the large board book version of Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown because the colors just seem brighter and bolder. It will also hold up to a lot of readings. If you get a baby a pop-up book, let the mom know that it should be put away for at least 3 years and even then it should be a "let's look at this together," book. My favorite for this purpose is David Carter's If you're happy and you know it. I use it at every story time, along with The Wheels on the Bus by Paul Zelinsky. Some other personal favorites include: The Baby Goes Beep, by Rebecca O'Connell and We've all got bellybuttons, by David Martin.
I personally think it would be way cool to make a ritual of giving a Robert Sabuda pop up book for every birthday or holiday because they're gorgeous, but they're really not appropriate until about 5 or 6.

Here is the New York Public Library's list of 100 picture books everyone should know:

Hoban's board books with the simple black and white pictures are perfect. So are books with photos of babies.
Black on White (Board book) by Tana Hoban
Baby Einstein: Water, Water Everywhere: A Splash & Giggle Bath Book (Baby Einstein) (Bath Book) .
Sandra Boynton's board books are delightful and funny, as are the Pigeon books (Don't let the pigeon drive the bus and The Pigeon finds a hotdog are my favorites) by Mo Willems. Doreen Cronin's books are very funny (Click Clack Moo and Diary of a worm).

I would also get something along these lines:, and put in a picture of yourself.

Since this is my diatribe, I'm telling you all now, I don't like The Giving Tree (selfish boy takes everything the tree has to give until he uses it all up), Rainbow Fish (it's not okay to be different and you can buy friends), or Love You Forever (mother crawls in through adult son's window to rock him - smother love, anyone?).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

When Idealism meets Reality

I have always been a strong supporter of teachers taking risks in their book selections. I sincerely believe that hiding reality from students is a big mistake and that it's better for them to have the opportunity to discuss hard topics in a safe environment and in the abstract. While it is my wish for them that they never actually have to deal with things like incest, date rape, or suicide in their real lives, I think they are better prepared for those things if they have met up with them in a book and have had an opportunity to talk through different ways of handling traumatic experiences.

I also "know" that fiction allows students to explore the philosophies and views of different historical time periods in context and when the different departments work together, suddenly the books you're reading in English make sense when put together with what was happening at that same time in history and it all becomes more meaningful.

That's all great in the abstract.

It suddenly takes on a whole new slant when a 16 year old comes to you and says his life is meaningless and has no purpose and the only reason he's still alive is that he's pretty sure suicide would hurt. During the three hours spent in the emergency room waiting for a psych eval he then reveals to his father that they have been studying existentialism and suicide in The French Lieutenant's Woman and it "got him thinking about the futility of it all."

Do I think the book caused the boy's depression? No, I don't really think depression works that way. I do, however, believe that teachers need to consider the emotional state of adolescents when making their choices. I'm not even saying don't read a particular book because of the issues. I am saying it's crucial to anticipate the possible reactions of the students and discuss them during class, not just leave them wallowing in despair. Say it right out loud: "This book might leave you feeling sad and depressed because it hits a nerve. Here are some people you can talk to: the teacher, the school counselor, your pastor, your parents."

When a teen suicide becomes public knowledge, parents and teachers become more alert to the signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation in the school population, knowing that the "success" of one student can act as a trigger for others. It suddenly becomes real and possible and those who are vulnerable to the idea may start talking about it or even try it. Does this mean you should try to keep students from finding out or talking about what happened? Of course not. It means that you have to be very aware of the possible fall out so you can identify the students who need help and get it for them.

We need to remember that books can be an equally powerful catalyst for action. When students read about rape or incest or suicide in books, they can find the courage within themselves to speak out, to ask for help, to believe that they, too, can overcome their obstacles. Parents, teachers, and counselors need to work together so that they can be aware and ready for the possible fall out because sometimes the cry for help is expressed in a very scary and negative way - "If I weren't afraid it would hurt, I would have killed myself already." It's easy to say "They should never have read that horrible book," but if they hadn't, he might not have asked for help in time. The pivotal event might have been something so personal and immediate that he wouldn't have had the time or the rationality to walk down those stairs and say "I can't get these thoughts out of my head and I'm scared."