Friday, March 25, 2011

Parents reading to children opens to the door for a conversation about the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Parents want their children to feel safe, but traumas and natural disasters are part of the world. The urge is not to talk with children about subjects that are difficult, but the reality is that your children will learn about these subjects, and if not from you, then from someone else. And that “someone else” is not going to have the conversation you want to have with your child. 

Stories put an event into a larger context, allowing a parent or teacher to have a more meaningful conversation. The Big Wave, written in 1947 by Pearl Buck is such a book. The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan put that country’s trauma on the map as it was beamed into our hearts and minds for days. The events were frightening and overwhelming for both children and adults. 

The story centers on Jiya, a Japanese boy who must face life after escaping the tidal wave destruction of his family and village. As with the best of literature, the story offers no easy solutions or trivial remedies but rather encourages the reader to experience, albeit vicariously, Jiya’s journey of acceptance of what has happened as he forges his response to how he must now live his life.  One of my souvenirs from the book is: “To live in the midst of danger is to know how good life is.”

Reading and talking with children about The Big Wave makes it possible to have a conversation about what recently happened in Japan and encourages a parent and child to talk about some very strong emotions, fear, grief, death, love and hope and others.  Children need adults who are willing to talk about hard subjects and strong emotions. A willingness to take a subject out of the dark, expose it to the light of day, and let go of the need to arrive at a solution makes for an important conversation everyone can begin.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Children who read for meaning are children who are good readers and enjoy reading.

The San Francisco Examiner recently ran an article: “ Children love to read, especially when they read actual books” which made the point that although reading devices abound with new gadgets readily available, children are actually reading books—the ones that come with real pages. A point that seemed to be missing in the article was the fact that many children say they don’t like to read and we know that California’s students’ ability to read is ranked 49th in the country by the U.S. Department of Education. So what is going wrong? We know that pleasure needs to drive reading and it makes sense that children who are good readers like to read. Children become good readers when they read for meaning —not to be confused with children who read the words of a book but who do not necessarily understand what they read. Children only read for story and if they are working too hard at reading the words, they cannot get to the story. Offer children books where they can easily get to the story and talk with them about the story.

Talking about a story is how children better understand what they read and become involved with the story. There is no magic formula for raising children who love to read but there is a winning equation. Read a book, ask a question, start a conversation.”  Let there be no doubt: Children who get more from the books they read are children who love to read.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Bill of Rights and Readers

We can thank James Madison (3/16/1751-1836), the fourth President of the United States for introducing the Bill of Rights to the First United States Congress in 1789. The bill came into effect in 1791.

The First amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression—freedom of speech, press, and assembly. I don’t think our founding fathers casually made this the first amendment to the Bill of Rights
—they knew the importance of these freedoms.

To mark Madison’s contribution of conceiving a list of personal freedoms, I share David Pennac’s Readers Bill of Rights. Next time you pick up a book you are not in love with, know you have permission to put it down. There is nothing wrong with you or the book—it just isn’t the right book for the right person at the right time. Let’s give our children permission not to like every book they meet and concentrate on helping them find books that create appetite for more.
1. The right to not read
2. The right to skip pages
3. The right to not finish
4. The right to reread
5. The right to read anything
6. The right to escapism
7. The right to read anywhere
8. The right to browse
9. The right to read out loud
10. The right to not defend your tastes

What additions might you make to this list?
~ The right to choose your own books?
~ The right to read a magazine or newspaper or blog?
~ The right to read non-fiction

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Congratulations Harper Lee —recipient of the 2010 National Arts Medal Winner, which honors both creativity and scholarship.

Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (1960), which won the Pulitzer Prize, has become a classic of modern American literature.  To date, it is Lee's only published novel, and although she continues to respond to the book's impact, she has refused any personal publicity for herself or the novel since 1964. When I heard the news of Lee receiving the Medal I immediately thought back to some of the memorable lines from To Kill a Mockingbird. I offer two “souvenirs” from the story, to honor Harper Lee’s award.

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."  Atticus Finch

"They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions... but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

Another book recommendation would be Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry.  Kentuckian and former University of Kentucky professor also received the National Arts Medal “for his achievement as an author, poet, farmer and conservationist.” Jayber Crow and To Kill a Mockingbird are books that touch both your heart and mind and live on in your memory, long after you turn the last page.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sholom Aleichem (3/2/1859) was the Mark Twain of the Jewish People.

The similarity between Sholom Aleichem and Mark Twain was noted during their lifetimes. When the two met, Sholom Aleichem said: “They call me the Jewish Mark Twain.” to which Twain responded: “They call me the Americans Sholom Aleichem.” Now that is an exchange I wish I had been privy to!
March 2 is a date with impressive pedigree—it is also the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Sholom Aleichem was 45 years old when Mark Twain was born. I wonder if they ever exchanged greetings?