Thursday, May 14, 2009

Children's Literature, Part 1

We have been extremely fortunate beyond belief that Kate has shown an aptitude for, and interest in, letters and books at such a young age. Current testing has yielded that Kate knows at least 16 letters of the alphabet, when asked such questions as, "Where is the A?" and "Where is the T?" etc. Today, I tested her in the reverse: I wrote several letters, pointed to them, and asked her to tell me what they were.

The astounding thing was that, at 18 months old, she could.

Fortunately, as I have found with babies, they are pretty flexible and progress just fine even when their parents are inept. For example, I had a heck of a time dressing Kate when she was very little because I was so afraid to bend her. Babies are pretty good at adapting even to incompetence. They are born with a love for learning and a will for survival. Dressing aside, Bill and I probably fall more into the "protective helicopter parents" category. We are hypervigilant about everything. I am proud to say, for example, that Kate has never had a diaper rash.

And we are proud that we surround her, saturate her, with books.

Our house is filled with books---both ours, and Kate's. We had a bit of a head start a few years ago before Kate was conceived when my mom gave me some of our children's books for a future child. She kept many of our sentimental favorites to have at her house, of which I am glad, because I think Kate should read those with her Amie. But my parents always provided books and books and books for us---both our own and from the library. David and I grew up knowing that books were as fundamental to our existence as air, and as pleasurable as my mom's homemade cookies and homemade oatmeal bread with hot chocolate.

Since conceiving Kate, I, too, have been collecting books for her---she had a small personal library before she was even born. We have been blessed with relatives and friends who give us books---one of the best gifts, I think. We now have hundreds of books---all sources combined---for Katherine.

She has a bookcase in her room and we have several shelves of books mixed with our adult books. We also keep a school-type canvas and wood bookcase in our family room/kitchen area filled with books. It may not be the most decorative item in our Country French motif house, but it is the most important. Bill had the idea for its placement, and I love it. Books are ever at Kate's fingertips. I love to buy clothes for Kate, but books are my favorite. We loved used books, new books, all books.

We have a policy that, if she asks to read, we stop what we're doing---if at all possible---and read to her. That means we interrupt the occasional television show at night (the TV is off most of the day, actually). We want to teach her that reading comes before every other activity, excepting the need to finish making dinner, conduct quick phone business, etc).

And Kate LOVES to read. We have between two and three big reading sessions a day: in the morning, before nap, before bed. Sometimes when we're out and about, we miss the nap session. Sometimes Bill reads to her while I do my nightly routine. We have read to her since birth, and if she picks out one of our "older" books, we open it and read excerpts to her. Books are joy.

We definitely have our favorites. I have gone from knowing very little indeed about the canon of children's literature (apart from my memories of when I was young) and its authors and illustrators, to becoming quite familiar with it. Coincidentally, my favorite Stanford professor just this year published a book on the history of children's literature, which I have been reading.

Yet in my questing to fill Kate's library with the best of the best, I have been hard pressed to find a source I can trust for reviews of books either too new to be formally in the canon or too on the "edge of the canon" to be in the canon. Everyone knows "Good Night, Moon" and "Pat the Bunny" (two of our favorites), but what about the merits of "How Do I Love You?" (Marion Dane Bauer) and "Princess Baby" (Karen Katz)?

So my intention is to use this blog partly to begin systematically reviewing children's literature and making formal recommendations for books that I think should be in the libraries of as many children as possible. I am beginning to compile a list of "must-haves" and hope to publish it here soon, with accompanying reviews.

Until then, happy reading to your youngsters. It is absolutely the BEST thing you can do to potentiate their minds----along with plenty of fresh air, digging in the dirt for creatures, and laughing.