Recently, I’ve read a couple books set in fantasy worlds that reverse the skin-tone power dynamic of our world: where dark-haired and dark-skinned people oppress and discriminate against paler, blonder folk. Both are fine books—The Shifter by Janice Hardy and Stealing Death by Janet Lee Carey—and neither oversimplify race relations or relies on our constructs of black and white in describing their characters and ethnic groups, but it does make me wonder about the message we’re sending to minority kids through books like these.
It is a proven fact that reading benefits children of all ages. Hand-eye coordination is improved, vital language and social skills are developed, and lives are enriched all through reading a book.
But, how do you get children interested in reading? Let us discuss this topic for specific age groups.
Babies and Toddlers
Introducing books at a young age is a great way to start the reading trend. Books will teach colors, letters of the alphabet, counting, shapes, and more. Children as young as 1 or 2 years old will begin to recognize letters or numbers and point out their favorite colorful illustrations.
A great way to get them involved is to read to them from the first day they are born. Babies and toddlers are reliant on their parents or caretakers to teach them. They are like a little sponge absorbing the words, the colors, and the process of reading a book. So, make it a routine that your kids will enjoy. Snuggle up and read a book before naptime or after dinner to wind them down each night. The consistency will make reading something that they look forward to.
I’ll just come right out and say it: I love reading children’s books. I do. And not just for work, or for industry research, or for educational purposes. I read them for fun, and I am not embarrassed about it.
That’s not such a revolutionary thing to say around here. Working in children’s publishing, you get spoiled – in this world, everybody knows how good a good children’s book can be. But out there in the “real world,” not everyone is so enlightened. Some people think that children’s books are only for (gasp!) children, and there’s a stigma attached to adults who read children’s books without some kind of excuse. It’s ok if you’re a teacher, or you work in publishing, or you’re studying to be a librarian. Then it’s work-related. But despite what the newspapers are saying, for those adults who have no excuse I think that being a regular reader of children’s literature is still very much looked down upon.
It drives me nuts. Once an aunt of mine asked me what great books I’d read recently. I had just finished Melina Marchetta’s wondrous Jellicoe Road and recommended it to her wholeheartedly, albeit with one caveat: it was a teen book. “You read teen books?” she said with a face. “Why?”
The 1989 film Parenthood has inspired a TV show of the same name. I haven’t seen the show yet, but I have noticed some snappy ads on the streets. One sidewalk ad features the line, “Realizing you’ve become your father”—funny and true.
I read some online reviews of the show and one person commented that it was both funny and heart-wrenching. As the father of two boys, ages 9 and 6, that makes sense to me. When you become a parent you often get together with other parents to commiserate as you face different issues concerning your kids. It is always interesting when I meet parents who have kids who are older than mine, because I am curious as to what developmental issues lurk just around the corner.
With Mother’s Day coming up next month, we’ve been thinking about mothers in books. There are plenty of mothers in picture books, but they are rarely involved in children’s novels; I remember reading an essay by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (sadly, I can’t find it online—it was in the March 2009 Horn Book Magazine) in which she argued that mothers are just too protective and too likely to take over, denying the kids their adventures. There’s a crossover novel, Boneshaker, in which a teenage boy goes into a zombie-infested city to discover the truth about his father and grandmother. His mother goes in after him. It’s really her book. To have their own books, children often are orphaned, or go to boarding school, or run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This week is officially National Teen Driver Safety Week!
Now, before you think to yourself, “How many more of these random ‘holidays’ can there possibly be in one calendar year,” consider this: 1 in 4 crash fatalities in the US involves someone between the ages of 16 and 24. Nothing —not drugs, not sex, not rock n’ roll—kills more teens than driving, and the risk of a fatal crash goes up with each additional peer passenger in the car. This time of year the number of accidents goes up even higher because of things like homecoming. Take a look at these Teen Driving Safety Tips for ideas on raising safe young drivers.