17 July 2009

Read To Me Daddy

I rarely read the stories during our bedtime ritual. Almost every night, Isaac can choose five stories, and almost every night Matt reads them. I am not sure how this came to be the routine, but I am comfortable with it. Isaac and I read together and I take him to the library regularly. He sees me reading almost daily, whether it' s the newspaper, a book or a magazine. I know that he is getting the message from me that reading is a good habit. But he is a boy and he needs to get that message from his daddy.

So bedtime reading, for the most part, has become Matt's domain. He also takes Isaac to the library and to book stores and he also reads every day. As Isaac grows up, having Matt read to him, I hope, will have a positive impact on his own reading habits. Matt will have an advantage over me when it comes to helping Isaac find books that excite him simply because he is a guy.

It is a fact that most teachers and librarians are women. And, while fathers play a much more active role in parenting that in the past, mothers are still the central figure in most boys' lives. Historically, the people who have encouraged and pushed boys to read have been women. Boys need to have male role models who read. They need to have their father-figures share favorite books and introduce them to new characters. They need to be able to share their favorite books with other boys.

Mentoring boy readers has been a hot topic lately. A popular children's author, who himself is a favorite of many boys, started a website called Guys Read to offer help in addressing the concern that boys are not reading. The website offers suggestions for adults who want to encourage boys' reading habits and the author's perspective on why boys don't read. But what is really helpful are the lists of books and authors. It is a great starting place when looking for the next book to entice your boy.

Now, the moms reading this should not stop sharing books with their sons. And if there are dads reading who are already modeling for their boys this important habit, great! But look at your routines -- Do you read with your son each day? Who reads, mom or dad or both? Does your son see you reading almost every day? How can you make the message that your son is getting about reading more positive?

Isaac and I will be visiting family in Florida for two weeks and Matt will not be there to read the bedtime stories. I think I can manage without him, but I am sure Isaac will be glad when we return and he gets Daddy back at bedtime. And I think Matt will be glad, too.

14 July 2009

Dewey Have Animal Books?

I hate shelving books. I know that it should be an aspect of my job from which I derive a lot of satisfaction because if books need to be shelved that means they are being read, but, like laundry (which I also hate doing), it is never done. There are always books to be shelved. I know this is a good thing, but it makes me long for a house elf.

The section of books that I loath to shelve is of course the one that is circulated the most. The 590's. For those of you not as familiar with Dewey categories, the 590's are the animals. Everything from creepy-crawlies to the big and furry. My collection usually looks like it is lacking in this section because most of the books can be found on the never-empty "to be shelved" cart. And, yes, most of them are checked out by boys, though many girls frequent this section, too.

One of the authors/illustrators that can be found in the 590's is Steve Jenkins. He has illustrated numerous books about animals, many of which he has written himself. He uses collages to create his animals and, next to Eric Carle, he is my favorite collage artist. His pictures are full of texture and amazingly life-like. They make you want to touch the pages to find out what a gorilla hand or a butterfly feels like.

Jenkins' animal books are very accessible for young children. They are information books, but they are not over run with text or hard-to-digest facts. The youngest children can simply appreciate the pictures and learn the names of the animals, and older children can read the additional information provided. Typically, the books also have an informational page at the end that lists extended facts about the animals pictured.

I recently bought Isaac 3 of Jenkins' books at Kohl's. For those of you who do not have a Kohl's department store near you, each season they feature 3 or 4 books by an author and sell hardback copies for $5 each as part of the Kohl's Cares for Kids program. I have bought many books for Isaac through this program and I have mostly been impressed by the past offerings. I was quite excited to see Steve Jenkins' books in the display last week.

Isaac has enjoyed reading his new books and looking at the animals pictured in them. My favorite of the 3 is Actual Size. Jenkins created collages of animals and then featured them, or part of them, in life-like size on the pages. Isaac likes putting his hand on top of the gorilla's to compare the size. It's rather daunting, whether you are 3 or 35. The two page spread for the anteater's tongue is also rather impressive. The last page of the book shows a complete, smaller picture of each animal with additional facts.

If your son is an animal lover, check out Steve Jenkins at your local library, but good luck finding them on the shelves.

09 July 2009

Yes, David!

You can't go wrong with a David Shannon book. Whether it's his David series or another gem, he writes great books for boys.

We checked a couple of his books (No, David! and Too Many Toys) out of the library on our last visit. This morning, I found Isaac on his bed looking at Too Many Toys, quietly providing his own narration for the pictures. Now, he was supposed to be getting dressed when I peeked in, but how could I fuss when he was "wasting" time by looking at a book?

A David Shannon favorite in our house is Duck on a Bike. It never fails to get a laugh. What duck wouldn't want to ride a bike? And how could the other farm animals resist when they see how much fun it is? His books are infused with a great sense of humor, and occasionally a touch of sweetness. The illustrations are child-like and the situations his characters find themselves in are ones that many children will understand.

One of my favorites, that I have not yet shared with Isaac, is A Bad Case of Stripes. The main character suffers from an affliction that is common among children -- she wants to please everyone and finds it hard to remember what will please her. It has a great message for boys and girls.

Even Shannon's girl characters will appeal to boys. Boys, more so than girls, want to read about other boys. But the characters in Shannon's books, whether male or female, are universally appealing. Alice, the main character in Alice the Fairy, has a rich imaginary life to which all children will relate. The boys might imagine themselves as Luke Skywalker rather than a fairy, but her exuberance and joy in her imaginary occupation will be familiar to them.

And the best thing about Shannon's books is that they can be enjoyed by parents as well as kids. He understands children, but he also knows that his books will be even more well-received, and read more often, if the parents enjoy them, too. Every parent has had a No, David! day. But, when it is over, we all give our sons a hug and tell them how much they are loved. If you have trouble remembering to do that after a particularly David-like day-- keep this book on hand and you will never forget.

07 July 2009

Spiderman, Wolverine and Mr. Darcy?

Isaac loves comic books. He gets this from his dad. I never read comic books growing up, so I am playing catch-up in order to understand my son's fascination with Spiderman, Bat Man and Wolverine.

Matt has been buying Isaac comics aimed at younger kids, though they are still supposedly meant for children older than 3-soon-to-be-4. But Isaac loves them. There are some nights that the bedtime stories are comic books and nothing else. Do you realize how long a comic book takes to read out loud, even one geared toward younger children? Now multiply that by 5. Those are the nights that the bedtime routine needs to start at 6:00 in order to be done by 8:30.

There have been a lot of polls published about the reading habits of Americans recently. Many of them report that Americans are reading less. But what they really mean is that Americans are reading less fiction. Americans are reading newspapers, magazines, graphic novels, online articles and a host of other forms of writing. Maybe not as much as we should be, and maybe what we are reading is not the most thought provoking fare out there, but at least we are reading.

Boys read comic books. They are fascinated by the superheroes and the fantasy worlds in which they live. As boys get older they typically read less traditional fiction and more comic books and graphic novels. Some educators do not consider this legitimate "reading" and try to push boys back to "books." My approach, with my students and with my son, is to let boys read what they want to read. Reading comic books is not going to deter them from reading when they are older. Pushing them to read something they are not interested in will. Comics might actually encourage boys to find stories in other formats that interest them as adults.

When I titled my blog "Book for My Boy and Yours, " I knew that I would be writing about what we read to Isaac, but I had not thought further than that. When I began thinking more about what he enjoys reading, I realized he reads a lot of non-traditional formats. There are comic books on his shelves, as well as Star Wars picture encyclopedias. He also enjoys looking at nature and car magazines. So, in this blog I will occasionally write about things other than "books." The point isn't to find books that boys will read, it is to find anything that they will read and to keep them reading.

I now wish I had read comics as a child, not only to be able to relate to Isaac's interests. The worlds that the writers and artists create are complex and connect multiple generations. I am enjoying discovering them with Isaac.

When we were told we were having a boy, I was thrilled. But I immediately thought of things that I wouldn't experience with him and was almost nostalgic for the little girl I wouldn't have. One of the experiences that I won't be able to share, at least not in the same way, is my favorite book, Pride and Prejudice. However, this summer my favorite novel of all time is being adapted into a 5 part graphic format. Of course, I am buying them as they come out and I am looking forward to the day when I can introduce Isaac to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in a format that will appeal to him. And who knows, maybe he will be inspired to read the book. I can dream.