My sons go to an awesome school. And at their awesome school happens to be a particularly awesome teacher named Gary.
I recently asked Gary: What do the kids read in your classroom? As in, given entirely their own druthers, completely sans grown-up agenda, what books do they seek for their own pleasure? Here’s his response, which I received yesterday. In short, they seek familiarity, new information, and butts.
AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL’S TEACHER POV ON KIDS & READING:
In Kid Lit there are three topics that never fail to get a child’s attention: bodily functions, underwear, and bare butts.
Even the most reluctant readers in my kindergarten class will seek out Alona Frankel’s Once Upon a Potty, Robert Munsch’s I Have To Go! or The Underwear Book by Todd Parr.
And Maurice Sendak’s illustrations for In the Night Kitchen remain a popular choice because “the main character loses his pajamas and is fully naked in some parts of the story”.
But once the giggle-inducing pictures hook them, it isn’t long before they want someone to read the words. Once that happens the door to literacy swings wide open.
Throughout the day children constantly approach me with a book in hand asking, “Can you read this to me?” Sometimes they even want to read a favorite book to me.
Over the years I have taken notice of the books the children so tenderly shoved in my direction, and aside from the subjects listed above I have noticed some similarities in their selections.
The books children self-select can be categorized into funny, familiar, and/or informative.
The most popular books in this arena are without a doubt the Elephant & Piggie books by Mo Willems. We have many of these titles in our author book bin, and they are continually in heavy circulation. And for good reason. The books are a riot, so much DRAMA! The text is also repetitive and simple enough to support young children in becoming more independent and confident readers.
Author/Illustrator Todd Parr strikes a funny bone with his OTTO books, particularly Otto Has a Birthday Party! What child can resist an exploding cake made with a cootie bug and covered in mud frosting?
Combining funny with a bit of superhero adventure is always a recipe for success. Author and illustrator George O'Connor has riveted the five-year-old set over the years with the saga of an imaginative boy with a towel cape known (in his mind) as American Eagle. The books Kapow! and Ker-Splash! are well loved.
Sometimes the books we want the kids to read are not always the books they choose to read, but sometimes they are.
Or at least they become the books they choose to read after repeated exposure. I have a deep affection for Curious George and my affinity for this little monkey has certainly rubbed off on my students. George is a popular choice during free reading and at the listening center.
It’s the same with fairy tales. Boys and girls alike gravitate towards these books, which for many have been part of their bedtime ritual for years. Authors Paul O. Zelinsky and Steven Kellogg do an amazing job of presenting the more traditional versions. Fun twists on the classics can be found in the work of James Marshall and Jon Scieszka.
I suppose there is some comfort to be found in the pages of a familiar book or character. We have a superhero book bin filled with the adventures of Spider-Man, Batman, etc. and the frayed edges and torn covers speak to the love poured out in their direction.
Oh, and of course princess books and pirate stories have mass appeal—if they are well illustrated. Illustrations are key! To read more on the connection between pictures and words click here.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) stress an equal balance of fiction and nonfiction texts in elementary classrooms.
There is a prevailing feeling that narratives in the early grades have overshadowed nonfiction books. Although there is some truth to that, I can attest to the fact that nonfiction books have always been an important part of the literate lives of my students.
Nonfiction books are topic driven according to student interest but sure fire bets can be placed on animals and insects. Photographs range from the gruesome (close-up of a snake eating a rat) to the sublime (baby polar bears!). Nonfiction books are a great way to promote discussion and increase interaction with books.
On the flip side let me highlight some gimmicks to approach with caution. I certainly love me my children’s books, but unfortunately sometimes I come across one that’ll make me furrow my brow.
Rhyming books can be hit or miss. Dr. Seuss does it well because his books carry powerful messages and play with language in a free spirited manner. However, most rhyming books I have come across lack spark because the author seems to be constrained by the convention rather than relishing the creativity it can bring.
Kids also lose interest quickly with books that rework The Night Before Christmas into The Night Before…fill in the holiday blank.
Remember, all children love listening to a story. But not all children love to read. We can help children find the motivation for reading by providing them with books that are interesting to them. If you kidwatch you’ll discover those books soon enough.
FOR MORE AWESOME STUFF FROM GARY, CHECK OUT HIS BLOG HERE!