10 June 2008 01:13 PM

Your First Time?

by Dr. Rick
Remember the first time you read a whole book on your own, without help from a teacher or parent? The first time you immersed yourself in a chapter book, say, without pictures (or very few, anyway), and felt so proud of yourself you toted the book around with you as a sort of proclamation of your achievement.

One of the joys of my life is reading to elementary school children. They listen with mostly rapt attention, and their characteristic fidgeting is more a sign of excited engagement than boredom - the exact opposite of middle- or high schoolers.

I always bring some of my favorites, books that are guaranteed to grab children’s attention and provide a hammy reader (me) with plenty of opportunity to act out scary, funny, or suspenseful scenes.

I used to do the same in my high school classes. Yes, I read aloud to teens - they liked it. There’s no age limit on listening to someone read. Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado” was a great one. So was “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets” by Jack Finney. And, of course, the gorier parts of Shakespeare and Lord of the Flies, among others, proving that adolescents are not genetically averse to literature if it’s “acted out” shamelessly and without regard to other teachers looking in to see what the commotion is all about.

Today when I visit elementary schools, I come armed with Chris Van Alsburg’s books, my favorite of which is Two Bad Ants. Plenty of episodes to raise and lower the voice, to spin around (the garbage disposal scene), to shoot across the room (the electrical outlet scene), to say “Cool!” (the mountain of sugar) and “Ewww!” (the mouth drinking coffee picture).

I also love the books of my friend Jerdine Nolen. I love her Tall Tale series, illustrated by the wonderful Kadir Nelson. Jerdine’s Big Jabe, Thunder Rose, and Hewitt Anderson’s Great Big Life tell implausible and highly entertaining stories with just a hint of kid-appropriate morals to them. Kids love them and they’re fun to act out.

I’ve been told more than once that these readings have inspired kids to read on their own. “My first book!” they say.

I don’t know if my first book is in print any longer. It was called Half Magic, about a group of kids who find a magic talisman (I think) that answers their wishes half way. Wish to go back in time two hundred years, go back one hundred. Wish for a thousand dollars and you get five hundred. My memories are vague, but the ingenious concept is clear. I only half remember. Chuckle, chuckle.

What’s your earliest book memory? Did you start early, or were you like so many of my high school students who didn’t seem to be the least embarrassed to admit they’ve never read a “whole book” until they tried one of my many, sometimes desperate, recommendations.

What got you going? Was it the book itself? A resourceful teacher? A determined parent? A helpful librarian? A trusted friend?

What books would you recommend to young readers today? To older students? If you’re coming up blank, the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association, has a wide range of recommendations for students of all ages. Click here to check out their lists.

For younger kids? The Sylvan-created Book Adventure allows children (grades K-8) to create personalized book lists from more than 7,000 recommended titles, take quizzes on the books they’ve read at school or at home, and earn prizes for comprehension of the books they’ve read.




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