Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Third World Green Daddy Part 16: More on reading

In the past I've written on the importance of books in our lives, and especially for the upbringing of our son Sam. I'm on a new picture book kick now, fueled by Jim Trelease and our local library.

I recently read Jim Trelease's seminal "The Read-Aloud Handbook". It was a gift from my aunt and uncle to my father when I was born. It has a lot of great insights on the value of reading aloud with kids, a few concrete tips about how to manage television in a healthy home, and a wonderful list of good books for reading aloud, arranged by book type and age level. My mother worries that I'll now do only what Trelease tells me to, instead of trusting my own instincts for childrearing. She may be right; my wife and I recently ordered Jim Trelease's new book, "The Bondage and Anal Beads Handbook", and are holding off any romantic relations until it arrives.

So Mr. Trelease has instilled me with a new enthusiasm about reading to my son Sam. Of course I was already reading to him, but mainly high-level stuff like poetry and short stories (last night I read Gordimer's "Some are born to sweet delight", a rather grim little piece about a terrorist who impregnates a girl and sends her on a plane with a hidden bomb, thus killing her, the baby, and everyone on the plane). But now Trelease has me convinced of the importance of exposing Sam also to good picture books. This, along with my family's membership to Colombia's excellent network of public libraries, has me taking out kid books like a madman. Most are in Spanish, so I have my wife read them to our son. But I just discovered that our library has maybe fifty picture books in English, too.

I wanted to share some of the books we've read lately. Anthony Brown's "Willy the Wimp" books have been a recurring favorite, with their simian fixation and subtle cultural references snuck into in the rich illustrations (posters on walls of a gorilla Che Guevara, a painting of a gorilla Mona Lisa, etc.). Eric Carle was a favorite of my childhood, with "The very hungry caterpillar" and "The mixed-up chameleon". But I've discovered now that he's got a whole huge collection of books on natural phenomena, each with a little gimmick in the book design. So the very hungry caterpillar teaches us about numbers, days of the week, and insect metamorphosis, using a book with holes in the pages. The busy spider teaches us about hard work and spider habits, using textured paints to show the spider's web. Mr. seahorse teaches us about fish life, especially species in which the male cares for the brood, through a book with some clear plastic pages that show how fish camouflage themselves. I'm liking Carle more and more, especially for his frank, mature explanations of the natural world.

I've also recently discovered a series by a Swede, Lars Klinting, that follows a beaver named Harvey as he does do-it-yourself projects. There's "Harvey the Decorator", in which Harvey carefully paints a cupboard with his friend. At the end of the book there's a how-to section on general painting guidelines, and even a color mixing chart. Likewise "Harvey the Carpenter" shows him making a toolbox, and has plans and instructions at the end of the book. There's also Harvey the Baker and Harvey the Gardener. As with Carle's work, I'm impressed that these Harvey books don't take kids as little leisurely idiots, but rather show in a mature way how kids and their parents can make real, useful items. It's very empowering for children, I think.

As we explore our library more, I'll try to post summaries of reviews of any little kid books I think are particularly special.

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