One-Minute Book Reviews

March 26, 2012

Are School Reading Assignments Making Your Child Dumber?

Filed under: News,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:50 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

High school students are reading books appropriate for fifth graders, often assigned by teachers

By Janice Harayda

Schools are supposed to make you make you smarter. Are American teachers routinely assigning books that make kids dumber? You might think so after reading a major new report by Renaissance Learning, which develops hardware and software that helps schools measure students’ educational progress.

The top 40 books read by teenagers in grades 9–12 have an average of reading level of grade 5.3, appropriate for the third month of fifth grade, the report said. And the picture wasn’t much prettier for younger students. The book most read by seventh graders is Diary of a Wimpy Kid (reading level: grade 5.5). For eighth grade, it’s The Outsiders (grade 4.7). And students often read these books because their teachers assign them.

Students sometimes can benefit from reading books that are below their level. Easy books can build confidence, keep reading fun, and reinforce educational gains. But a steady diet of too-simple books won’t prepare students for the demands of life after high school. David Coleman, a contributor to the Renaissance Learning report, notes that the most important predictor of success in college is the ability to read and understand challenging material. And many books on the top 40 lists aren’t “complex enough to prepare them for the rigors of college and career.” Students may also lose interest in reading for pleasure if they find easy books boring.

That’s why parents need to fight back when schools frequently require children to read books that are below their reading level. Here are three ways to do that:

Check the reading levels of books that seem too easy. You can find the levels of many books used in schools by entering their titles in the search box on the AR BookFinder site. You can find the levels of others by pasting text from them into the box at ReadabilityFormulas.com. The Renaissance Learning report “What Kids Are Reading, 2012″ has the reading levels of the top 40 books read by grades K-12.

Talk to teachers who assign too-easy books. Find out why they thought your child would benefit from the books. If the reasons aren’t convincing, ask teachers to substitute others suited to your child’s level.

Let the principal know. Don’t quit if teachers won’t assign books at your child’s level or if your concerns go beyond one assignment – for example, if an entire summer reading list is too easy. In some schools or districts, most lists are dumbed-down, and the problem requires action at a higher level.

Some children will find their way to harder books if you do nothing. But most won’t, Coleman says. Children, he says, “need to be challenged  and supported to build  their strength as readers by stretching to the next level.”

For more information: Read the Huffington Post summary of the Renaissance Learning report. You may also want to read this One-Minute Book Reviews post on how Mitch Albom is writing at a third-grade reading level, which compares his level to that of other bestselling authors.

You can follow Jan on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 30, 2011

Why Do Children Like Animal Stories?

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:58 pm
Tags: , , ,

Animal stories have appealed to young children for thousands of years. What accounts for their popularity? Peter D. Sieruta, a children’s literature critic and the author of Heartbeats: And Other Stories, writes in The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey:

“Infants, like puppies, kittens, and other young animals, not only share a diminutive size and appealing ‘cuteness’ but are also alike in their innocence and dependency on larger creatures.”

June 28, 2011

Does Reading to Your Child Every Day Lead to Success in School? Quote of the Day / ‘Freakonomics’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:42 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Parents tend to take it on faith that reading to children every day has benefits. Why shouldn’t they? The “Read to your child every day” mantra has advocates that include the American Library Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other professional organizations.

But such authorities may have oversold the benefits of sitting down with a preschooler and a copy of Where the Wild Things Are, especially if parents hope that the habit will lead to success in school. Some of the evidence appears in Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s bestselling Freakonomics, an exploration of many assumptions that Americans take for granted.

Levitt and Dubner note that in the late 1990s, the U.S. Department of Education launched the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which aimed to measure the academic progress of 20,000 American children from kindergarten through fifth grade. That project found that, at least insofar as test scores are concerned, reading to your child every day has no benefit. Children with many books in their home do perform well on school tests, the survey found. “But,” the authors write, “regularly reading to a child doesn’t affect test scores.”

May 14, 2011

The Katie Woo Series: Early Readers About 6-Year-Old Chinese-American Girl

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:59 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Best Season Ever (Katie Woo Series). Red, White, and Blue and Katie Woo! (Katie Woo Series). Boo, Katie Woo! (Katie Woo Series). By Fran Manushkin. Illustrated by Tammie Lyon. Picture Window/Capstone, 32 pp., $19.99 each. Ages 5-8.

By Janice Harayda

Early readers — short chapter books with a limited vocabulary — are hard to write, and Fran Manushkin just clears the bar in this series about Katie Woo, a 6-year-old Chinese-American first-grader and her friends Pedro and JoJo. Tammie Lyon’s upbeat watercolors lack subtlety, and they get little help from the mundane plots and serviceable prose of these three books, which find the trio debating which season is best, celebrating the Fourth of July, and trying to scare people on Halloween. Each book has a glossary and other material at the end, and in Boo, Katie Woo! the back matter includes a recipe for a Halloween punch made from grape and orange juice, which apparently turn black when mixed. “Witch’s Brew might look pretty gross,” Manushkin writes, “but it will taste terrific.”

Best line: A party idea in the supplemental material for Boo, Katie Woo!: Make an “Icy Hand” for a Halloween punch by filling a non-powdered latex glove with water, freezing it, and removing the glove before floating it in the bowl.

Worst line: No. 1: A picture of Pedro heading a soccer ball and the words, “He backed up to hit the ball with his head” in Red, White, and Blue and Katie Woo!. Katie is 6 years old, and her friends are about the same age. American Youth Soccer discourages children under the age of 10 from heading, and U.S. leagues generally don’t teach it before then. No. 2: A picture of Katie standing outdoors in a sleeveless dress in a snowstorm on the cover of Best Season Ever. This seems to be  a fantasy when the other  pictures are realistic, and it sends a confusing sign about what the book contains. No. 3: These books don’t explain why they phoneticize the Chinese surname “Wu” to “Woo.” Would a two-letter word have been harder for children to grasp than a 3-letter one?

Consider reading instead or or in addition these books: The “Henry and Mudge” early-reader series by Cynthia Ryant and Suçie Stevenson, which includes Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days.

Published: 2011

You can also follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2011 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 7, 2011

The Glass Doghouse – It’s a Man’s World in Animal Stories for Children

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

A study has found that male main characters dominate books about creatures with fur or feathers

By Janice Harayda

Not long ago I noted in a review that no female characters appear in the 2011 Caldecott medalist, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, a book about zoo animals who repay the kindness of their keeper. A new study makes clear that its representation of the sexes isn’t unusual. Alison Flood writes in the Guardian:

“Looking at almost 6,000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000, the study, led by Janice McCabe, a professor of sociology at Florida State University, found that males are central characters in 57% of children’s books published each year, with just 31% having female central characters. Male animals are central characters in 23% of books per year, the study found, while female animals star in only 7.5%.

“Published in the April issue of Gender & Society, the study … looked at Caldecott award-winning books, the well-known US book series Little Golden Books and [listings in] the Children’s Catalog. Just one Caldecott winner (1985’s Have You Seen My Duckling? following a mother duck on a search for her baby) has had a standalone female character since the award was established in 1938. Books with male animals were more than two-and-a-half times more common across the century than those with female animals, the authors said.

“Although the gender disparity came close to disappearing by the 1990s for human characters in children’s books, with a ratio of 0.9 to 1 for child characters and 1.2 to 1 for adult characters, it remained for animal characters, with a ‘significant disparity’ of nearly two to one. The study found that the 1930s to 1960s, the period between waves of feminist activism, ‘exhibits greater disparities than earlier and later periods.'”

I wish I could say the new study has flaws. But the equality gap in animal stories has existed since I’ve been reviewing children’s books. It’s true that such tales have more female characters than they did before the 1960s, including Maisy, Olivia and Angelina. But many more picture books are published today, so the ratio of male-to-female animals could have remained the same — or gone up — despite the larger number of heroines. And males remain the default setting in tales of characters with fur, fins, or feathers.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee fits the pattern: Every character in it, human or animal, is male, though the theme of the story — you get what you give – applies to both sexes. Do we need a new term,”the glass doghouse,” to describe the imbalance in such books?

March 26, 2011

Tomorrow – A Review of the 2011 Caldecott Medal Winner, Erin and Philip Stead’s ‘A Sick Day for Amos McGee’

Filed under: Caldecott Medals,Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:05 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Erin Stead won the American Library Association’s highest honor for illustration, the Caldecott Medal, for A Sick Day for Amos McGee, a picture book about animals who repay the kindness of their zookeeper. Her art accompanied a bedtime story by her husband, Philip. How does her work compare to that of other Caldecott winners? A review will appear on One-Minute Book Reviews tomorrow.

March 7, 2011

Why Was Dr. Spock’s ‘Baby and Child Care’ So Influential?

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:36 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Dr. Spock has yielded a lot of ground to a new generation to child-rearing experts like the American pediatrician Bill Sears and the British psychologist Penelope Leach. But it’s hard to overstate the influence of his Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care on parents of baby boomers. First published in 1946, Spock’s guide helped to introduce to America the theories of Sigmund Freud, including that “infantile experiences” and “repressed sexual desires” led to unhappiness in adulthood.

Steve Gillon writes in Boomer Nation: The Largest and Richest Generation Ever and How It Changed America (Free Press, 2004):

“Thanks to Benjamin Spock, Boomers – often called ‘Spock babies’ – had Freud mixed with their baby formula. ‘Benjamin Spock probably did more than any single individual to disseminate the theory of Sigmund Freud in America,’ observed the psychiatrist and Freudian critic E. Fuller Torrey. Spock, whose The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946) served as the bible for Boomer parents, had attended the New York Psychoanalytic Institute in the 1930s and was determined to bring Freud and his ideas to a mass audience. Spock rejected his own upbringing, which emphasized strict feeding schedules and unchanging routines, and insisted that parents respond to the needs and schedules of their children. ‘Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do,’ he reassured worried new parents. His ideas reflected the optimism of the age, reinforcing that personality was malleable only if parents developed the right skills. Along with practical advice about colic, toilet training, and temper tantrums, Spock offered parents sugar-coated doses of Freudian psychology. Since he believed that most adult problems began in childhood, Spock instructed parents about the concepts of ‘sibling rivalry’ and used Freud’s Oedipus complex to explain the behavior of 6-year-olds.”

October 17, 2010

Carin Berger’s ‘The Little Yellow Leaf’ Honored by Booksellers

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:55 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Carin Berger’s The Little Yellow Leaf has had a spot on my “best picture books about fall” list on its publication in 2008, when the New York Times named in one of the Best Illustrated Books of the year. So I’m happy to report that independent booksellers recently have chosen it as one of their 40 favorite children’s books of the past 40 years. Berger’s lovely story about an oak leaf that doesn’t want to leave its branch also works beautifully as a parable about the value of teamwork.

July 4, 2010

2011 Newbery and Caldecott Medal Predictions From School Library Journal

Filed under: Book Awards,Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:39 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Who has the best record of predicting the winners of the American Library Association’s Newbery and Caldecott Medals? For my money, it’s Elizabeth Bird, a children’s librarian for the New York Public Library who writes the popular Fuze #8 blog for School Library Journal. Bird has posted her annual midterm report on books she considers frontrunners for the awards here and should have another roundup of the 2011 candidates near the end of the year.

June 18, 2010

‘Red Ted and the Lost Things’ — A Former British Children’s Laureate Returns With a Tale of Finding Your Way Home

A teddy bear, a crocodile and a cat team up in a picture book from a popular author

Red Ted and the Lost Things. By Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Joel Stewart. Candlewick, 40 pp., $16.99. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Few picture-books authors write more honestly about loss than Michael Rosen, the former British children’s laureate. His Michael Rosen’s Sad Book was the rare book for its age group that dealt successfully with multi-layered adult grief — the pain its author felt when his 18-year-old son Eddie died from meningitis.

Now Rosen has returned with a lighter story about loss: a tale of a brave red teddy bear who must find his own way home when his young owner accidentally leaves him on a train seat and he ends up in a cavernous lost-and-found department. That premise alone would set this picture book apart from many others in which lost toys are reunited with their owners through children’s diligent search-and-rescue efforts.

But Red Ted and the Lost Things is also unusual for its willingness to acknowledge that some lost objects never return home. Red Ted at first feels confident that his owner, a girl named Stevie, will claim him at the train station. But he realizes he must find his own way home when a crocodile tells him, “I’ve been here a very long time, and no one has ever come to get me.”

So the new friends follow the “Way Out” signs in the train station and begin their journey – an optimistic teddy bear and a pessimistic crocodile, who fall in with a helpful cat who has some of the traits of each. It’s a much quieter trip than the rip-roaring family adventure in We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, a book that includes an unexpected snowstorm. And its pleasures are gentler: Joel Stewart affirms the bond between the animals, despite their differences, by using bright colors only for the three traveling companions and a sepia- wash for the background. And by the time the three find Stevie, this book has become more than a quest narrative: It is a story about the value of teamwork and how people of different of temperaments can work – and, in the end, live – together happily.

Best line/picture: Red Ted and the Lost Things has an inventive spread that consists of one-and-a-half blank pages (with art only at the bottom of the second page), which appears when the characters seem to have run out of ideas for finding their way home.

Worst line/picture: None. But you wonder why Steve calls her mother “Mom” instead of “Mum” when the signs follow the British model (“Way Out” instead of “Exit”).

Published: October 2009

About the author and illustrator: Rosen was the British Children’s Laureate from 2007–2009. He is best known in the U.S. for his acclaimed We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, which he performs in an excellent video. He collaborated on Michael Rosen’s Sad Book with the great illustrator British Quentin Blake. Joel Stewart lives in England and has illustrated Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.

You can also follow Jan Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter. She reviews children’s books on Saturdays on One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 372 other followers

%d bloggers like this: