Okay, well, this is a post. Clearly. I suppose that should say: “Why I Don’t Have Art Today.”
I spent this past weekend, for one, wrapping up manuscript revisions with my co-author Betsy Bird, but another reason I don’t have a typical post up today is that last night I had the pleasure of hearing author Mem Fox speak at the Nashville Public Library. I figured blogging could wait. She was a wonderful speaker. I was lucky enough to hear her speak to a larger crowd about her life and her writing career, but first to a smaller crowd of educators about literacy. In that first presentation, she talked about children listening to picture books for pleasure and about stories vs. “texts.”
Picture books, she advised, aren’t “texts” from which to pull a long list of questions before even opening the book to read to children. She had pulled an example lesson plan from online and read it to us. It was pretty horrifying — a long set of (what she kept calling “asinine” — and they were!) questions to ask children before launching into a picture book. These “kill” the story, she said, adding that of course conversations will happen after a story, but that generally “great books will do their own teaching, if we trust children to learn,” she said.
Amen and hallelujah.
I can only imagine what she thinks of reading programs like Accelerated Reader. (I’m not a fan.)
She even noted that she doesn’t have discipline problems during story times, if she follows her own advice. If it’s a good book, “the power of the story is the angel on my shoulder” with regard to students listening and paying attention.
She also spoke of reading to children with “zest and vitality,” which she did several times (with her own picture books) throughout the evening.
And she spoke about the magic of books and sharing them with children—that they’re jewels, not just tools—in such a way that she damn near made me tear up, describing the joy that can come from sharing a really great story with a child or group of children.
In schools today, at least where I live, reading for pleasure simply doesn’t happen very often. It was wonderful to hear someone speak favorably about it — common sense, it seems to me, but needs to be pointed out, now more than ever. If you visit sites like Stacey Loscalzo’s, you’ll have the opportunity to read way more eloquent thoughts on this subject (on a regular basis) than what I can provide here in my passionate but stumbly way, but I do my part this morning to pass on a bit of the wisdom Mem shared last night.
Here’s an excerpt from Mem’s Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever, originally published in 2001. (This was an important read for me in grad school, and last night at her presentation I finally purchased my own copy of the book.) …
As we share the words and pictures, the ideas and viewpoints, the rhythms and rhymes, the pain and comfort, and the hopes and fears and big issues of life that we encounter together in the pages of a book, we connect through minds and hearts with our children and bond closely in a secret society associated with the books we have shared. The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading. It isn’t achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who’s reading aloud—it’s the relationship winding between all three, bringing them together in easy harmony.