In The Garden
by Peggy Collins
Published by Applesauce Press
This is a joyous concept book that takes us through three seasons and the life cycle of the backyard garden. It stars a preschool-aged boy who is discovering the wondrous changes that happen between putting seeds in the ground and enjoying the fruits of his labours.
This book is full of big, bright illustrations. Each mixed media drawing teems with life, every page crawling with the little and large creatures that we share our small corners of paradise with. The art is cartoony and exaggerated, fun and energetic.
The writing is full of gentle humour, in a voice that is easily grasped by young children, but still holds appeal for the adults doing the read aloud. And it has some lovely observations that reflect a real understanding of the way a little person sees the world.
Teachers, use it in units that explore life cycles, plants, the interaction between man and the environment, and our food sources. It is also great for studying descriptive language, and text features like the creative use of font colour and size.
Collins has another book in this series called In The Snow, and several others that she has authored and/or illustrated. Her blog is listed in the side menu.
Reading Chapter Books
Reading chapter books is different from reading picture books. At the heart of it, there are two reasons to read fiction: comprehension and entertainment. To help your child/student understand and enjoy chapter books, there are a few things to think about.
First, chapter books are more complicated than picture books. Many picture books are simply concept books. This means there is no story. There are just some ideas about a topic, like counting or feelings. Chapter books are almost always stories, and the reader has to know how a story is put together. So, the reader has to know about the setting, the characters, and the time. The reader also has to know about story beginnings, middles, and ends. As well, in chapter books, the problem and solution part of a story is very important, and it takes much longer for the problem to be fixed. Many chapter book series are quite formulaic, even beyond the typical progression of the story arc in a novel. Beginning and reluctant readers will often latch onto a series because this familiarity makes reading each successive book easier.
Second, there can be two stories that happen at the same time. This means that there are two problems to think about, and sometimes two main characters. Keeping these problems straight can be hard for people just starting to read chapter books.
Third, the length of a chapter book needs good memory skills, so that the story events and details can be remembered for the whole time it takes to read the book.
Fourth, depending on the book, there can be a lot of extraneous, superfluous, and diverting information that the reader has to filter through. The more descriptive the writing, the more outside of the reader’s experience, and the more purposely obtuse details (in the case of mystery and suspense), the more difficult (and one might argue more enjoyable) the read.
The increased complexity and depth of chapter books makes them a challenge, but the plot complications, older subject matter, and rich language make them an experience for all young readers to aspire to. And each experience makes the next one better.
Here are some tips for kids reading chapter books.
Talk about what you are reading as you read. When you talk about your reading, you give your brain extra practice remembering what happens. This will help to keep the whole story in the memory for the whole time it takes to read the book.
Visualize (picture) the characters and setting as you read about them. The pictures will help you remember these important parts of the book.
As you start each chapter, think about what you read in the chapter before. This is really good if you have just picked the book up again after a break. If you can’t remember what happened before, reread the last few paragraphs you read, to remind you.
Make sure you understand what is happening. Books are supposed to make sense. If things don’t make sense, you probably read something wrong, or remembered something wrong (or you’re reading a badly written self-published book – or a badly written professionally published book authored by a “celebrity”). Go back and reread the part that is confusing you. If that doesn’t help, reread the part that makes you think the new part is confusing. For example, if you read a part that says your character is angry at his friend, but then you read a part where he and his friend are happily playing together, maybe you missed something, or misunderstood something you read. Read both sections again, to figure it out.
Always remember that the character has a problem to solve. If you think about that problem and how everything that is happening helps to solve the problem or makes the problem worse, the story will be easier to remember and more enjoyable to read.
I am in awe of Mem Fox. I find that she has an almost solitary voice in a market glutted with books that star TV characters and snotty brats, and almost devoid of any kind of positive adult/child relationships. Fox does not write books for the sole purpose of entertaining children. Her books handle weighty topics and convey deep messages.
WGMcP is about a young boy, barely in school, and his relationship with the folks who live in the old age home next door. He and his neighbours have a mutual appreciation, despite, or maybe because of living at the far ends of time’s ever swinging pendulum. But he has the greatest connection with Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper (who also has four names).
Poor Miss Nancy has lost her memory, an idea that makes no sense to WGMcP. What kind of a friend would he be if he didn’t help her find her memories again? If only he knew what a memory was, so he knew what he was looking for.
With the counsel of his wise neighbours, Wilfred learns the nature of memories, and he sets about collecting objects that he thinks fit the bill. A warm chicken egg, some sea shells, a puppet, a football, and a medal are all presented to Miss Nancy, one by one.
And this is where you start to cry.
Conditions like Alzheimer’s and Dementia touch us all more and more. Beautifully written, Fox uses the special and necessary relationships that can form between children and adults to present the topic gently, giving parents and teachers a resource that will provide opportunities to discuss and learn about the effects of what is happening to their loved ones.
The Spider and the Fly by Tony DiTerlizzi Based on the poem by Mary Howitt Published by Simon & Shuster Caldecott Honor Book Mary Howitt’s cautionary tale about falling for the flattery of strangers was first published in 1829. I’m not sure how many iterations it has seen since it was first released, but this version is really something to behold. DiTerlizzi made an interesting choice in doing the illustrations in radiant black and white, making it stand out against the super-saturated colour usually found in the children’s book department. The mixed media artwork is exceptionally detailed, right down to the lashes on the damsel fly’s innocent eyes. Yes, an anthropomorphized damsel fly, attired in a long flapper dress and cloche, is the protagonist and inevitable victim of a mustachioed, slick-haired, sweet talking spider with, shall we say, an appetite for the ladies. Set in a creepy victorian dollhouse full of furniture that looks suspiciously like it once lived under a tree stump, the poem is brought to life with melodrama and gravitas. And the entire thing is framed beautifully in the style of a 1920s silent movie, with title cards and all. The only thing missing is the guy playing piano off to the side as you read. Of course, Howitt’s words are wonderful. They are full of great visuals and some chilling metaphors. And she really managed to create a fantastic allegory for stranger danger. Teachers looking to teach about poetry, descriptive language, and metaphor will find this book invaluable. It is also excellent for those who want to encourage their students to fill their artwork with detail. It goes without saying that lessons about personal safety and street proofing can’t be avoided when reading this book with a class. P.S. Last year was the 10th anniversary. Here is a link for the artist’s blog post about. Go to his parlor.