Friday, August 31, 2012

Steal Time to Read-Aloud

Encouraging words for mamas from Dorothy Butler, mother of eight, grandmother and great-grandmother of untold dozens, noted authority on children's literature and literacy, on why the housework can be abandoned in favor of taking "leisure-time" for reading with your kids:
"Don't worry about leaving the dishes, or any other chore undone at this point; nothing is more certain than that the dishes will be washed and the next meal prepared, whereas no certainty at all attaches to the inclusion of story-sessions unless they are placed firmly at the top of the list. I've never been able to understand people who doggedly do the so-called 'essential' things first. If you have undertaken to assume a housekeeping role, you must, before all else, capitalize on the advantages; you are, after all, saddled with the drawbacks. And the one advantage that you have over most of the working world is that you can plan your work to suit yourself. Train yourself to smile confidently at neighbours' and relations' surprise or disapproval; tell them, if you need to explain yourself at all, that you would be ashamed to neglect your children whereas you don't feel emotionally involved with the breakfast dishes. You will get through as much as work as they, in the end, and the profits of your good sense will be as obvious to your critics as to yourself. With any luck, some of them, at least, will join you."
Dorothy Butler, Babies Need Books, page 67, "When I was Two, I was nearly new"

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rojankovsky's Just So Stories Series: "How the Leopard Got His Spots"

I had never heard of Feodor Rojankovsky in my life before I started collecting children's books. Suffice it to say, getting to know his work has been a great pleasure. A copy of Rudyard Kipling's How the Leopard Got His Spots that was illustrated by Rojankovsky just fell into my lap recently and I wanted to share the full-color illustrations with the Interwebs.

Should you care to look for them, the other volumes in the Just So Stories Series from Garden City Publishing Company are The Elephant's Child, The Butterfly That StampedHow the Camel Got His HumpThe Cat That Walked by Himself and How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin. These illustrations are copyright 1942, all rights reserved to the creator, etc.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Czech-Illustrated Children's Folklore and Mythology Books, English-Language Editions

From the annals of obscure scholarship...

I mentioned in a previous post that I am fascinated by Czech illustration (of children's books) and since I just recently found another lovely example of this genre, I thought it was finally time to share the Google Docs spreadsheet I've been compiling for a while now that lists titles, authors, illustrators and subject matter in this area. (And don't think I didn't slave over those Czech diacritical marks!) Behold and rejoice, Internets:

GOOGLE DOCS SPREADSHEET: Czech-Illustrated Children's Folklore and Mythology Books, English-Language Editions

Just for background, during the Cold War, British and American publishers discovered that they could produce and print high-quality translations of fairy-tale books (et al) in what was then Czechoslovakia for much less than they would pay if they used homegrown authors and illustrators.

Paul Hamlyn was apparently the pioneer in this field, and I think many of the imprints of these books are either his or his corporate descendants. His big discovery was Jiří Trnka, who is often described as the "Walt Disney of the East," although I think that gives his importance--not to mention his completely unique style--short shrift.

Beginning with a multi-volume run starring Trnka, the business of cheap Czech imports seemed to take off in the late 1950s. As far as I can tell, it carried on briskly throughout the 1960s and 1970s, until it apparently petered out in the early 1980s. (Although it's possible I just haven't found the relevant post-1982 works.) (FWIW, I suspect that economic conditions on both ends of the bargain changed sufficiently to just kill the business model.)

Anyway, as a treat for reading this far into a blog post on Czech-illustrated children's books what the hell, here are some scans for you art junkies to enjoy:

"The Owl King" by Karel Franta, from The Book of Goodnight Stories

"Kŕesomysl and Horymír" by Jiří Trnka, from Legends of Old Bohemia by Alois Jirásek

"Seigfried and Beautiful Kriemhild" by Vojtěch Kubašta, from Folk Tales and Legends
Have any further knowledge or insight on these artists? Please share it in the comments!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Rereading and Reviewing The Read-Aloud Handbook - Chapter 8: Lessons from Oprah, Harry, and the Internet | Chapter 9: TV, Audio, and Technology: Hurting or Helping Literacy?

CHAPTER 8: Lessons from Oprah, Harry, and the Internet

Chapter eight isn't my favorite Read-Aloud Handbook chapter (because it's not really about books, per se) but Trelease does make some compelling statements about how, for a variety of reasons, schools often do a miserable job of "marketing" reading to children.

The love of reading is more caught than taught and best caught in groups.

Sigh. Another vote against institutional school. Truly, did you ever do a literature study in school that didn't make you want to die? I have two memories from high school where English was thrilling for me, both were with the same wonderful crazy-overeducated teacher. I also have a memory of reading the "Followup Questions" for the story "The Monkey's Paw" in a literature textbook, and just thinking, this is the most insulting thing that's ever happened in a year of wasted time.

Series books are avidly read by the best readers, without impeding their skills.

This sounds true, but wait, what about the weaker readers? I don't even know what series books kids crack out on these days (in my day we ladies enjoyed the Sweet Valley High), but do those series have a positive or negative impact on the skills and comprehension of weaker readers? I'm all for lots of reading of whatever flavor, but I'd be curious to know what the science says about the impact of series titles on less fluent readers.

For what it's worth, I remember being distressed in the extreme when I ran out of Nancy Drew titles to borrow from the school library in 2nd or 3rd grade. I had a ravenous hunger for books, and Nancy Drew was one of the things that kept me from feeling starved, and for that I shall always appreciate her. (Plus I learned a fact or two from her, I remember something about gypsum solving one mystery and another book was full of intriguing information about Kachina dolls and Hopi Indian culture.)

CHAPTER 9: TV, Audio and Technology: Hurting or Helping Literacy?

The Trouble With TV: For some of the benefits of TV for promoting early reading, visit the wonderful Teaching My Baby to Read blog for her list of valuable DVDs!

As for the risks, here are some eye-opening stats from Trelease:
  • "The doctors concluded that for each hour of daily TV viewed by the child before age three, the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by age seven increased 10 percent."
  • "The presence of a television set in the child's bedroom was significantly associated with lower math, reading and language arts scores."
CC Serves a Purpose: Aha! On page 169, we arrive at one of my very favorite pieces of advice from this entire book: Turn on the closed captioning on your television set! Reading benefits to be enumerated below, but just as a grownup adult person, you will find yourself understanding so much more of every episode of TV that you watch. Plot-essential background noises is described, garbled jokes become comprehensible, and you will generally discover things about your programming that you never knew before!

Anyway, as for the kiddos: "The number of words flowing across the screen [via closed-captioning] in the course of three hours is more than the average adult would read in a daily newspaper or a weekly news magazine. Enabling the TV's closed-captioning is the equivalent of newspaper subscription, but, unlike the subscription, it costs nothing." Trelease also discusses evidence from Finland and the deaf community that supports the use of CC, and he references some science involving visual versus auditory receptors. Check out pp 169-171 for more.

Audio Books Are Awesome: Trelease gives audiobooks a big thumbs-up. He says that the average American commute (round-trip) is 50 minutes. I've also just read that the average American is in his or her car 15 hours a week. Over the course of a year or years, if those hours are given over to educational audio, driving delivers a large quantity of newfound "time on-task" that would otherwise be lost to Carly Rae Jepsen, et al.

According to Trelease, "the heaviest users [of audiobooks] are among the most literate people in America [and] 75 percent were college graduates and 41 percent had advanced degrees."

In addition to traditional audiobooks, Trelease gives a shoutout to NPR and the BBC. I've been meaning to do more "carschooling" and in researching have found recommendations for Librivox (free recordings of public domain stuff) and this very charming archive of children's records from the 1950s and 1960s, not to mention usual suspects and the library.

And that's all folks! The rest of the Treasury is Trelease's very valuable compilation of read-alouds by age, interest and reading level, so this concludes our read-along of The Read-Aloud Handbook. Enjoy exploring his many wonderful recommendations, and good luck!