In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Independent reading

Dear Aunt Debbie,

What a prodigious feat of linking!  I love Bob's poem, and loved perusing your 1994 reading history, recognizing so many of the names listed and discovering a few I didn't know.

I wrote last week about the ways in which our family reading has come together in our love affair with the Bone graphic novels. On the flip side, my three children are each individually highly engaged with books of their own choosing.

At 11 months, Will understands that books are important. He has gotten terribly good at pulling books off the coffee table onto the floor, where he can sit and get them open. He takes dust jackets off hardcovers and mauls paperbacks, yelling when we take them away. We keep our board books on the lowest shelves in the living room, and about two weeks ago, Will started pulling out bunches of them and then bringing them to us to read to him. He can crawl with a board book in one hand, sit up, and proffer it with a raised arm and a hopeful glance. His most-requested list at the moment: I Love Colors,  My Face Book, Doggies, and Global Babies. Sometimes, he bats them open himself and pats at them on the floor -- this total independence is especially true with the Matthew Van Fleet books Cat and Dog. Pictures of babies still bring the biggest smiles and most vocalization.

Between her classroom library, your gifts, and our local library, Eleanor is speeding through a variety of series. She loves the Who Was... books, and tonight in the bath entertained us with facts about George Washington (he had a harsh, cold mother), Harry Houdini (he was the first man to fly an airplane in Australia), and Sally Ride (she had to strap herself in with Velcro in order to go to the bathroom in space).

Eleanor is also picking up historical facts from the Magic Tree House series, by Mary Pope Osborne. I'm so glad I followed your advice on not introducing these books until she was reading independently -- there are five million of them, all versions of the same plot and all written in the same flat language. The plus side is that Osborne does her research. Eleanor now knows about groundlings in Shakespeare's Globe Theater, and has learned how gorillas frighten away predators, among other things. After reading 10 or so of the series, Eleanor is becoming dissatisfied with it, however. Her complaint? The close third-person narration always focuses on Jack rather than his sister Annie -- you don't get as much of a sense of what she's thinking or feeling. (That's literary criticism I can get behind.)

The Jigsaw Jones mysteries, by James Preller, are another recent favorite. Jigsaw (his real name is Theodore, but he solves puzzles, so...) is a second-grader, who works to solve not-too-scary mysteries with his partner, Mila. There are more than 30 books in the series, and I think Eleanor is close to having brought all of them home. Apparently the gender balance in these doesn't bother her as much, though it's another boy-with-girl-sidekick situation.

And Isabel? Yesterday she spent close to an hour sitting on the couch with three Bone books and two Zita books, totally focused in her reading. We just took Bone #8 (of 9!) out of the library today. The series is getting darker and more complicated, and Isabel prefers her own reading of the later books to my offer to read the words. I have a feeling these will be some of the first longer books she learns to read on her own, in a couple of years.

Love, Annie

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