Sunday, April 6, 2008

How To Be

The librarians and educators on an online discussion list I participate in were recently discussing the resurgence of character books. You know those books boys and girls are supposed to read to teach them how they should act, like manners and etiquette books.

How to Be, by Lisa Brown, is a lighter sort of character book. The author encourages children to learn from the animal kingdom. Each four-page sequence describes and illustrates traits found in a different animal, some humorous and one inspirational. For example, "How to be a dog."

Beg for food.
Lick someone.
Be friendly.

The last section says that to be a person, you must show those animals' traits. You must be charming like the snake, creative like the spider, and patient like the turtle. But most of all, be yourself.

The illustrations are ink drawings with sparse color in which a brother and sister demonstrate the traits. Each animal has its own color. Purple represents the spider, yellow represents the turtle, etc. Some of the pictures are pretty humorous, like the sister looking disgusted as her brother licks her arm.

It's a good discussion starter for you and your youngster, and it presents a great deal of vocabulary that doesn't necessarily come up in everyday conversation.

Early Literacy Tip of the Day

Patty is reading Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook. In it he talks about rare words. These are the words that are not already in a child's lexicon. While talking to your kids is important for many reasons, most of our everyday conversation is plain and simple. For every thousand words we speak, we tend to use only 9-12 rare words with children.

What about television? Children will likely be exposed to about 22 rare words per thousand. A simple children's book gives them about 31 rare words per thousand. Nine extra words doesn't seem like much, but over the course of the five or six years leading up to kindergarten, a child who is read to will experience a lot more vocabulary than a child who only watches TV.

As the writing gets more sophisticated, the number of rare words goes up. Though I don't know if you want to read a newspaper to your toddler, let alone a scientific paper, which has the most. Kati, maybe you could have Addy proofread yours before you submit them.

I mentioned before that we don't have a television. That doesn't mean that we are purists, and that Maya will never watch it. I'm sure she'll see plenty of TV (Packer games, if nothing else) before long. There is a lot of great programming your kids can see, but if someone tells you that a Baby Einstein DVD (have you heard they found out they're really no better than any other kids videos) is as good as a book, remember what you read above.

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