Stranger, and maybe even better, at least when author Catherine Thimmesh is recounting it.
What’s right about children’s literature?
Teachers bringing books into the classroom. Every year it seems publishers release a bumper crop of fabulous books for children: creative, engaging, challenging, distinguished. And with each passing year, more and more of these books—fiction and creative nonfiction—are finding their way directly into the classrooms. (Often, paid for from the teacher’s own pocket!) Having access to books is key to actually reading books. Whether reading in the classroom is more structured (teacher read-alouds, guided book groups, critical reading), or less formal (DEAR time, availability of books during “down time”), teachers have made enormous strides in encouraging and fostering reading by making a variety of books available and accessible in their classrooms. Most of us in children’s literature recognize that in order for kids to become life-long readers, they first need to find books that interest them—and hook them. It is encouraging that so many teachers are trying to make that easier.
What can be improved?
Stop testing on books! Seriously. And while we’re at it (and I begin my rant), stop with the book reports. Let kids read for reading’s sake and enough with the quizzes and the tests and the reports and the over-analysis of the character’s motivation or the author’s intent. It is killing an otherwise healthy appetite for books and reading in so many kids. (And as someone who failed an AR test on a book that I wrote (!) (sad and pathetic, but true), I can tell you first hand that test writers haven’t cornered the market on understanding “author’s intent.”) Reading tied to a test or a report becomes a chore. And sure, some kids thrive on racking up AR points or aceing a test, but most kids dread it. I’m not blaming teachers here. Much of this testing crap is handed down through the system. But it needs to change. And it’s so simple to do. Give a child a book. Leave them the hell alone.
Catherine Thimmesh is the Sibert medal-winning author of Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon. Her newest book—Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships—was a Summer IndieNext List book, a NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, and a recipient of the California Reading Association’s Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Book Award. Her other award-winning books include: Girls Think of Everything, The Sky’s the Limit, Madam President, and Lucy Long Ago. Learn more at http://www.catherinethimmesh.com.
I mistakenly asked for her views after being charmed by Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire. Polly pointed out that Mrs. Bunny is the author, and forwarded my questions. Not being bunny bilingual, I’m grateful to Ms. Horvath’s assistance.
Mrs. Bunny, from your perspective, what’s good right now about children’s literature?
Of course, the fact that you are putting this question to me, Mrs. Bunny (for so I am called,) means that the world of children’s literature is finally becoming more inclusive. It has always been a source of pride for those of us within the children’s lit rabbit community that there are so many wonderful books about rabbits: all the Beatrix Potter books, Mrs. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, The Runaway Bunny, etc. And Mr. Bunny and I were saying just the other day that we do appreciate the effort humans make to keep marmots out of the genre. I’m also happy that as yet no one has tried to romanticize foxes. We need to present our children with a true vision of the world as it is and not create a fantasy. We’re also happy to see that as yet there is no “rabbit vampire” genre. I think we can all be proud of that.
What can be done to make that “good” better?
Well, naturally, that brings us to Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—Detectives Extraordinaire! We need more books about rabbits from the rabbit point of view. Books written about rabbits by rabbits. But we’re working on that.
Mrs. Bunny lives in Rabbitville, in the Cowichan Valley, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She is married to Mr. Bunny and has twelve children. This is her first book. To learn more about her acquaintance, author (and bunny translator) Polly Horvath, go to www.pollyhorvath.com.
All of his picture books contain the hidden prize inside. Crocodile’s Tears or Monkey See, Monkey Draw might be sweet animal stories with gorgeous art. Keep digging to find bonus tales about ecology and creativity. His layered creations are tasty treats to be savored repeatedly.
Alex, what’s right right now about children’s literature?
Children still want physical books with real pages. They enjoy being read to, and like reading to themselves. This is unlikely to change, regardless of what new technology comes down the pike. So, children’s literature right now ties us to the past, maintains the continuum of the printed word (and illustration), and suggests that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
What can be done to make the good better?
Don’t compromise quality for cost. If the printed book is to survive, concentration on beautifully produced books is a must. E-readers have replaced the need for cheap throw-away printing. If you’re going to make something, do it well, because digital formats will win against a badly manufactured product every time.
Learn more at www.alexbeardstudio.com
In elementary school, I loved the jigsaw puzzles showing what each state produced. I loved seeing all the tiny symbols, such as a loaf of bread for wheat. Soon, I wanted to know all the “wheres” of the world. Where did everything come from?
Today, I’d think such a puzzle would have lots of tiny faces. For Canada, I’d add a tiny Barbara Reid. The author-illustrator is one of the country’s greatest exports.
Barbara, what’s right now about children’s literature?
I’ve been a picture book reader all my life, and a picture book illustrator and author for more than 25 years (not counting the unpublished books I created as a kid). To me, a picture book is a child’s first art gallery. The astounding variety of art and story that can be delivered in 32 pages boggles the mind. The form of the book is a work of art in itself. In the best books, word, image and design come together to communicate a valuable experience or emotion. From realistic water colour paintings to digitally created cartoons, from paper sculpture to collage, there is something to engage any young reader. Illustration can be a child’s introduction to art history, visual styles from other cultures and inspire their own artwork.
I feel that the artist’s unique voice is what connects to the reader and makes for the most memorable, read “again and again” book. Every year I see books that excite me, either from an established artist who is experimenting or a newcomer with a fresh way of telling a story. Some of the artists I’m watching are Jeremy Tankard (Grumpy Bird), Renata Liwska (The Quiet Book, written by Deborah Underwood) and Ruth Ohi (Chicken, Cow, Pig series). It is exciting to see how technology can extend that experience. The most successful adaptations and apps stay true to the spirit of the book and the artist’s individuality. I love the way Marie-Louise Gay’s Stella and Sam series have been treated, as well as Brenda Clark and Paulette Bourgeois Franklin the Turtle series.
What could make that “good” better?
All this amazing material doesn’t exist until it reaches a reader. The world needs more teacher-librarians! They are the curators and connectors that are on the front line getting the just the right book into just the right child’s hands. Librarians are also experts who can help readers navigate the sea of electronic information and read critically.
Barbara Reid’s signature plasticine relief illustrations have won numerous awards including the Ezra Jack Keats Award; her books have been published around the world. The Party won a Governor General’s Award for Illustration; Fox Walked Alone was a Sydney Taylor Notable Book and an IBBY International Honour List selection; Perfect Snow received the Amelia Francis Howard Gibbon Award and was a Toronto Public Library First and Best Choice. Her newest book is Picture a Tree, a visual exploration of the tree, from bare branches tracing the sky to an explosion of colour, a place for an adventure or a friend to shelter us from the sun. Picture a Tree is an Ontario Library Association Best Bets for Children selection and is shortlisted for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award. Barbara is currently working on a board book titled Welcome, Baby! Through workshops and presentations across Canada, Barbara has enjoyed meeting thousands of readers and young plasticine artists. She lives in Toronto with her family and her husband Ian Crysler. Ian is a professional photographer who shoots all Barbara’s work for reproduction.
To learn more, and view step by step plasticine demonstration videos, please visit Barbara’s website.