Thursday, June 10, 2010

Picture books that aren't meant to be read aloud

In the past, my friends and I have bemoaned summer reading lists, because they bring out the rigid, insistent side of so many parents. But this year, for the first time, I was in the position of helping create a summer reading list. And it was intoxicating. You start with a jumble of books you love, and then you start asking yourself: Do I have a few nonfiction titles for this age group? Are all these authors white (Ooops)? What about something in verse? How many copies of that book are in the system? And before you know it your list is twice as long as it should be. So then you start crossing things off, and then you start hating all the books on the list, and then you start adding things again. And it's fantastic.

The list is going home with the report cards of all the students at the 3 elementary schools closest to me. So the titles on the list will be popstars of my collection this summer. They will be coveted, anticipated, and considered "above" the rest of the collection. And while that means some other really wonderful books will be overlooked, it also means that some of my favorites will see super high circulation.

But you know which age group was the toughest one to pick books for? Second and third grade. They're all over the map! Some 2nd and even 3rd graders are still working on books with big font and giant leading, while others are tearing through tomes like Harry Potter. Often lists for this age include a lot of picture books and transitional chapter books.

At first, I was against giving this age group picture books, because picture books are meant to be read aloud. They aren't tools for teaching reading skills. However, I'm starting to come around, because I see how many kids enjoy the illustrations and the greater sophistication of picture book plots. Plus, have you noticed the rise of picture books that are hard to read aloud?

I'm thinking of the ones that are strongly influenced by graphic novels, like Captain Raptor, Bandit, and Traction Man. These books are hard to read to a group, because you have to point to all the different word bubbles or be an excellent voice actor to convey who is saying what. Then there are books like Follow the Line and Who's Hiding, whose pages demand to be touched and are therefore best enjoyed one-on-one ... or maybe just solo? And what about the picture books with tables of contents? Old ones like Anita Lobel's One Lighthouse One Moon, and newer ones like the Dog and Bear series.

I've been to a number of workshops on picture books for older readers, but I've been overlooking picture books for in-between readers, kids who are in between early readers and chapter books. I still argue that most picture books are meant to be read to a child, and you shouldn't stop reading to kids just because they start reading to themselves. But I'm starting to realize that there are kids out there who are going to want more interesting stories before they have the attention span for chapter books--like those 10-year-olds who can read teen books. These in-between kids are the kind that drive parents to ask librarians for help.

So now that I'm in list-making mode, I'm working on a list of picture books for children to read to themselves. And I'm already wondering what would happen if I shelved some of them with the beginning readers ...

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