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The Great Escape

My original intent with this blog was to focus on tools and ideas from experts in children’s literacy and to specifically avoid writing too much about my own efforts to instill a love of reading in my two year old – but I can’t help sharing the following story.

My husband and I have been wondering when my son would learn to get out of his crib and just what he would do with his new found freedom.  Its been an ongoing source of speculation because he has never shown too much initiative relative to physical pursuits (he pretty much requests to be carried the minute we get out of the car and squeals “stroller!” with delight when we pull it out of the trunk).  We figured it would take some serious incentive for him to bother attempting an “escape” from the crib.

Usually a very good napper, he was having nothing of it this  Sunday.  I was listening to him chat to himself in the crib while working on the computer.  Next thing I knew there was a huge thump on the ceiling.   I glanced over at the video monitor (yes, husband and I are THAT over the top!) and there he was with a book in each hand whining because he wanted to get back into the crib with his books!  As much as he loves his books, I really never believed they would be the incentive he needed to climb out of the crib.

I guess its time to go “big boy” bed shopping.

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Today I stumbled on an excellent post by Elizabeth Bluemle on the Publisher’s Weekly Shelf Talker blog reviewing a few ebooks on the Ipad.   She writes from the perspective of a bookseller curious about a product that could have a large effect on her business and as a  “bookie” who also loves technology.   Her descriptions of why she loves “real” books is far more eloquent than I could write as is her analysis of the elements that ebooks gets right and those that fall flat – hence, I am pointing you all to her post rather than try and create one on the same theme myself.

I have to agree with her underlying premise that while ebooks are here to stay, there will always be a place for paper books.  Though, I will confess in moments of extreme irrationality I fantasize about maxing out my credit card at Amazon and stockpiling my basement with paperback books.   Silly, I know, especially for someone who doesn’t even stock up on bottled water, bread and milk before a hurricane.   Ludicrous as it sounds, I can accept that my children’s children’s children will life in a markedly different world from us even possibly one similar to that of the post-apocalyptic best sellar The Road but certainly NOT one where libraries no longer have book on their shelves and all our text is on a computer screen.

That diatribe aside, my personal resistance to buying an eReader or Ipad is mostly a result of my natural frugality combined with my current unemployed status and a small bit of my minimalist/environmentalist angst at owning yet another piece of electronics that will just need to be upgraded in another year or two.    Admittedly, I would love to be able to travel with a device that could carry my entire “to read” pile and I would love to explore some of the animation and graphics of the Ipad.

But it is Elizabeth Bluemle’s description of how the much celebrated Alice and Wonderland on the Ipad falls flat that reinforced my view that these books should complement our children’s book reading habits rather than replace them.   She writes:  “When kids read, they create the world along with the writer. Pictures serve as touchstones, but the real world-building in books goes on inside the reader’s head. This app is more like TV, in that the reader is more of a passive receptacle for the media experience of the book than a co-creator.”

It actually causes me quite a bit of sadness my son (who is two) will  most likely watch all the Harry Potter movies before reading the books, ensuring the visions he will create in his head will come largely from the movies and not from the beautiful mix of an author’s words and a reader’s imagination.    The movies are incredibly fun and I’ve enjoyed watching them all with my husband, but reading them in solitude is pure magic.  I want to make sure my son understands, appreciates and experiences that magic as much as possible which is why I spend so much time reading to him and why I buy him more books than toys.

Yes, when he gets older I will cave when he lobbies for whatever the “must have” gadget of the year is, but you better believe he will also be unwrapping a paperback copy of one of my favorite books from my stash in the basement.

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I have always been an avid reader.  I grew up on a steady diet of Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume.  One of my favorite places in the world was my local library where I would spend hours in the children’s section reading with my best friend.   As I grew up, I was drawn to different sections of the library, but the thrill of getting lost in a fabulous book has remained one of my favorite things in the world.

A few years ago while going through a particularly difficult time, I found myself in the library looking for some “light reading”.  I got the idea to go into the children’s section and picked up “A Wrinkle in Time”.  As soon as I opened the book, I felt like I was being dropped right back into my childhood and it reminded me of what magic can lie in books.  To put it mildly, it was the best therapy I could have imagined.   I quickly devoured all my childhood favorites:  From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Harriet the Spy, Blubber.  I then moved on to what was currently being written for kids, tweens and teens.  I found the incredible world of Young Adult fiction and couldn’t believe the shelves of amazing stories and characters I had been walking by since “growing up”.  I was blown away by Looking For Alaska, Speak and Deadline.  A few years later my son was born and again I dove into my childhood reading him the picture books my parents read me: Green Eggs and Ham, Are You My Mother? and Where the Wild Things Are and I’ve discovered fabulous more current titles by like Mo Willem’s Knuffle Bunny, Jon Scieszka’s SmashCrash and Todd Parr’s The Family Book.

I always appreciated the role literature played in my life, but I never fully understood how I turned into a reader in the first place.   Anyone in the children’s literacy world will tell you there are two essential ingredients to encouraging kids to read:  first you need to have captivating books available and second you have to find a way to get those books into their hands.   In my case, I was lucky to be raised by parents who filled the house with books, read to me, and took me to the library regularly.  And luckily for all of us, there is no shortage of insightful, engrossing and entertaining books.

After rediscovering my love of children and teen literature, I started lurking in the kid lit blogosphere and have been overwhelmed by the amazing bloggers out there who are as passionate about children’s literature and fostering a love of reading in young kids as I am.  My intent with this blog is to highlight what other organizations, teachers, librarians, authors, parents, and others are doing to inspire a love of reading in kids.  I hope that those reading this blog will find good ideas and adopt them so that all the great work being done in the children’s literacy world will multiply.

So, welcome!  I hope you will find this blog valuable to the kid lit community and that each reader will find and idea or two to bring to your own corner of the world.  If you have any ideas for me to share, I’d love to hear them!

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