Oct 10, 2010

The Best Engineers Play with Toys

Electric hugs to Patricia Wiles and the participants at the MidSouth SCBWI conference who contributed hundreds of books for schools in need. The responses were celebrations of reading.
     "I delivered 147 board and picture books, donated by the conference attendees, to the special ed classes at West Broadway Elementary on Friday Oct. 1," wrote Patricia to the MidSouth group. "The teachers were so excited! One wrote this to me in an e-mail: It's Christmas on Broadway!! "
     "It gets better ... after receiving two more boxes of books in the mail, on Wednesday, Oct. 6, I delivered 400 books from our conference attendees and other SCBWI friends to Alternate Day Treatment, AKA the school without a library. Well, it has one now -- thanks to you!!!!! The kids SWARMED the boxes! They picked up books and asked me about them. Some asked me if there were books by specific authors, which authors signed their books, or if there were books in particular genres. One saw books by a certain author in the stack and spoke of how he'd read several in the series, and did we have any more of his books? This was all so sweet ... especially as I thought of the people (none of you, of course) who had said to me, "Those kids probably don't know how to read anyway," and "Those kids have computers. They don't need books."
        Nashville readers will learn about the donations from MidSouth and friends in the newspaper this weekend. Could there be any more delightful celebration for us who love reading to hear?

But sometimes the connecting of child to book hits a snag. Also within the blogging of writers came this week a note concerning parents who push their children to read only at a challenging or "age appropriate" level and are anxious about children who want to go back to picture books. Teachers also fall in this category of reading coach, pushing reading to learn as the goal of class time reading. Many writers sent in tales of their own reading habits as well as those of the children who now occupy the households. Words are words, characters are warm-blooded role models, no matter how they are drawn, and situations that thrill or delight, that invoke giggles or trembles are just life in a teaspoon.

It's like jokes about space travel: objects may be farther away than they seem to be.

Don't we all remember "Don't judge a book by its cover."

As readers and writers, I suspect we all agree, "What you see isn't necessarily what the child is getting."

I fear those parents and teachers who restrict reading to "appropriate age" only have forgotten the delight in conquering. When a hummer has conquered the lyrics, she sings. When a reader has conquered a story, he makes up his own dialogue with the characters. When an older reader returns to picture books, or from "real age appropriate" books to chapter books, it's like re-tasting the icing on the cupcake; all comfortable, reassuring, familiar, and yes, a sweet memory of the other many times the book has shared its magic.

Knowing the outcome means rewriting it in the imagination, perhaps dreaming of different illustrations, even adding or deleting characters. Heaven knows, we see picture books, myths, and fairy tales retold over and over in movies. Of course that goes on in the colorful minds of children "reading down." Where would we be without artists like Disney and all his cartooning loonies who went back to picture books and made us the dreamers we are?

Perhaps parents and others who would restrict book choices don't realize that the best engineers play with toys. Simple things make clear to us the structure, the flow of energy, the dependency of parts, and the grace of design versus function. Reading is just another way to engineer our minds, to be creative, to be emotionally safe or challenged by choice, to control our universe for awhile--before all the rest comes crashing in. How curious I am to see if anyone has ever asked the child to rewrite the ending, to tell what the story means to him, or to pick up crayons or brushes and paint a scene in the story that the illustrator left out. Now wouldn't these activities 'tell a story.'

I hope children whose parents are worried about 'age appropriate' reading keep right on exploring the old and the new. The fact that they are making choices and building their own mental libraries tells me they're growing at a phenomenal rate. For teachers and parents, it's time to reassess the restrictions and remember reading is an adventure that takes us all far far away.

1 comment:

Lindsey Carmichael said...

I see it a lot at the bookstore - parents who say to their kids, "That book's too easy for you, you need one from this section." It kind of makes me want to scream, "Your kid wants to read! Just let them!" The parents of reluctant readers, whom I also spend a lot of time helping, would probably agree.