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Friday, February 26, 2010

"The Book Was Much Better..."

I should start a series called "Amy's Pet Peeves." Seriously, I just might.

When I was in college, I got to take a really fun course called something like "Children's Literature in Film." We basically got to read a bunch of children's lit, watch the corresponding movie versions, and then discuss.

It was interesting to dig in and dissect what elements from the book would be included in a film adaptation of a story, and what would be left out... What elements of the story would be minimized, and which would be grossly exaggerated... What elements would be added to the film that were entirely absent from the book...

I think the conclusion I came to by the end of that course was that movies based on books are fun. Really fun. They can be enjoyed completely independent of the book itself. But they should not be used as a substitute for the book, as they often are.

As parents, educators, and literacy advocates, we need to be careful that we don't fall into this trap. Watching the movie version of a story is NOT the same as reading the book (I think most of us reading this post can agree on that). For one thing, watching a movie doesn't require any reading, obviously (unless there are subtitles). And secondly, the movie is often a completely different story than what you will find in the book.

There seems to be a huge trend in Hollywood lately to forgo coming up with original scripts and instead, turn existing books into screenplays. And while I enjoy this to a degree, I also have some major beefs with this trend.

1. It is altering the legacy of many of the classic stories for future generations. Where the Wild Things Are and The Polar Express are two big ones that spring to mind. Today's generation of children may end up being familiar with totally different stories than the ones we grew up with... even though they have the same title.

2. It deprives some children from even ever experiencing some stories in their original book format (although, I guess the opposite argument could also be made). When I asked a group of students how many of them had heard the story The Polar Express before, they all shot their hands up and told me all about the movie they had at home. I don't think any of them had ever seen the book.

3. The film telling of a story can steal much of the magic and imagination that is created when you simply read a story. This is probably my biggest issue with children's books being made into movies. I feel that more often than not, they do not add anything of real value to an already existing story (especially one that has been around for years and years). Instead, they fill in those beautiful gaps where a child's imagination should be at play. That is a tragedy!

4. The movie version of a book provides an easy substitute for lazy adults. This week I saw a teacher pledge to participate in Read Across America by kicking off the celebration in her classroom with a viewing of some Dr. Seuss movies! What?? This week I also saw a bookstore advertise an Alice In Wonderland tea party that they're hosting next weekend. Guess what the entertainment at the tea party is scheduled to be? You guessed it, a viewing of the Disney movie Alice In Wonderland. At a bookstore!

I'm not completely anti books being turned into movies. I swear, I'm not. I do enjoy (some of) them. (Especially the Harry Potter series.) And there are some benefits that can come with exposing children to both a book and a film telling of a tale.

But we must be very careful to not substitute watching for reading. We must be diligent in our efforts to encourage a reading of story before the watching of a story. Let's not rob our children of the opportunity for their imaginations to grab a hold of a story and play! They can bring a book to life in their mind much better than any Hollywood producer ever could on the silver screen.

So what's your opinion? Are books as movies a good or bad thing?

P.S. The quote in the title is from a Jim Gaffigan stand-up bit.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fostering A Love For Reading: Part 4

Read, Read, Read Aloud To Your Child!

Obviously, I'm not going in order of importance with the posts in this particular series. If it was, this tip would probably be listed in the top spot!

Reading to your child is the single most important thing you can do to raise a reader (Jim Trelease)! And it's important no matter how old your child is, or whether or not they are able to read themselves. As Jim Trelease says, if reading aloud is a commercial for the pleasures of reading, why do we ever stop doing it? Especially when our children get older and are less likely to read for pleasure?

There is research galore (pick up the Read Aloud Handbook) supporting the mega impact that reading aloud to your child carries! Basically, children who have been read to a lot, will likely grow to be readers!

You can make reading a part of your family's daily routine without forcing it upon your children in an unpleasant manner. Ideally, reading with your child begins right at birth (or prior to), but sometimes a parent discovers the power of reading to their child a little later. When that's the case, making reading aloud a daily part of your lives may feel awkward or difficult at first.

If that's the spot you're in: How about getting a newspaper subscription? Or a subscription to a magazine your child might be interested in? Read interesting articles you find to your child (articles you think would also interest them). How 'bout simply starting a bedtime story routine? That's a natural read-aloud opportunity, and I can't imagine any child not liking a bedtime story... no matter how crazy they might pretend they think you are at first. Maybe read a book at the same time as your child and chat with them about it when you both finish, or every chapter or so? Kind of like a little book club...

For younger children, who reading aloud to is usually a little more natural feeling, read to them whenever you can. Literally, whenever you can. You'll probably be surprised how much you both enjoy it. And you'll see their attention span grow and grow. My son is 19 months, and my husband and I are stunned at the length of stories he'll sit and listen to. (Tonight he requested a long bedtime story and my husband did the skipping-a-page-or-two at a time trick as he read it, because he didn't want my son to be up till midnight while he read the whole thing.) Lengthening a child's attention span is actually one of the many benefits to reading aloud to them.

I know I have touched on this topic a lot on this blog (I even sell a tee with this reading-aloud message on it), so I won't belabor the point here.

Read to your child.


You can never read to your child too much.

Don't ever stop reading aloud to your child.

And P.S., some people have been commenting about the "Read to Your Child" tee. You can click the photo in the sidebar on the right to order your own!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

These Kids Really Love Their Letters!

Confession: The alphabet unit is not one of my favorites of the year.

Hey, they can't all be my favorites, and it's not that I hate the alphabet unit, I just prefer other units over it.

Any lack of enthusiasm I may have had was not at all contagious though. My students were all about the alphabet this month.

The Z Was Zapped (Chris Van Allsburg) was a BIG hit. Then last week we read The Turn Around, Upside Down Alphabet Book (Lisa Campbell Ernst). I of course forgot my camera that day. Sure wish I had it with me, 'cause those kids were a hoot! The book takes each letter and makes suggestions of what it could look like if turned another direction. The kids ate that up! They were even throwing out their own suggestions.

Then I threw some large paper letters out for them to play with, and they were pretending they were all were all the things mentioned in the book... and beyond. I really liked them taking the letter "J" and pretending it was a snorkel breathing tube. They were having so much fun with it, they wanted to take the letters home.

This week they got their wish. We read The Hidden Alphabet (Laura Vaccaro Seeger), which they were at least equally amazed with. Then we hunted down the hidden letters in our room. And the best part was that they got to dress their letters up and take them home with them! They were thrilled!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I'm Still Here, but Barely!

I'm buried under fundraising and dossier craziness this week! As evidenced by this current photo of my living room. Eeek! My house is a disaster, my to-do list is a mile long, and all I want to do is go to bed! Sorry for no post. I'll do my best for Thursday!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My Little Reader Update

My son is suddenly into numbers! I'm trying to figure out where that started... I think it was a combination of some counting books he's been enjoying lately, and some counting puzzles he's been playing with a lot. I think it began with these:

(They're supposed to be hands and feet. I know, I know, they are very weird looking feet, and backwards hands. What are ya gonna do?)

I've been helping him put these together and as I help him I say, "Number three goes here... Number seven goes here..."

So now he's intrigued by these things called "numbers!" He'll ask for numbers now: "mumbers, mumbers!" I'm never exactly sure what he wants when he asks for numbers, but one of his counting books, or number puzzles usually appeases him.

The only problem with all this fascination with numbers now is that he thinks letters are numbers too. We're working on that. It's made for good teachable moments.

Tonight we did a counting book/number puzzle play combo. I could see his wheels turning as I held the puzzle pieces up to the corresponding numbers in his counting book.

The counting books we've been reading lately are:
  • Richard Scarry's Best Counting Book (Richard Scarry)
  • Ten, Nine, Eight (Molly Bang)
  • Charlie and Lola's Numbers (Lauren Child)
  • Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes (Mem Fox)
He also likes Zoe's Sheep (Rose Bursik), but he hasn't been reading it much lately.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Alphabet Awesomeness

That's right, February is alphabet month! We're going to fall in the love with letters for Valentine's Day!

We kicked off the alphabet awesomeness with The Z Was Zapped (Chris Van Allsburg). This book is magic. Read it to a group of preschoolers and you'll see. On the way to reading class some of them were anxious to get our stories over with so they could head out for some much overdue playground time (snow and cold have been trapping us all indoors). But once I read the last page of The Z Was Zapped, they had forgotten about going outside and were asking me to "read it again!" Magic!

One group of students decided the book was "scary" upon simply seeing the cover. As I turned each page, they were more and more convinced that this was indeed a spooky story. But they loved it! You should have heard all the "oohs" and "aahs."

And when we were done reading the book, we became the letters! We donned headbands with our letters on them, and did the same actions that the letters were doing in the book! Look!

Letter "A" in an avalanche.

Letter "M" melting.

Letter "Z" being Zapped.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fostering A Love For Reading: Part 3

Turn Off The TV!!

Did you know?
  1. Television is the direct opposite of reading.
  2. For young children television is an antisocial experience, while reading is a social experience.
  3. Television deprives the child of his most important learning tools: questions.
  4. Television interrupts the child's most important language lesson: family conversation.
  5. Television encourages deceptive thinking.
  6. The vocabulary of television is lower than nearly all forms of print.
~ Jim Trealease, The Read Aloud Handbook

Today's tip goes hand in hand with part 2 of this series: Have Books Everywhere. What I mean is, it doesn't do a lot of good to have books everywhere in your house if you always have the TV on. If your child is anything like mine, TV watching causes them to go into a zombie like trance that makes them completely oblivious to their surroundings - good books and all!

That's not to say my son never watches TV; I wish that were the case (Note: the photo above is of our TV and our videos). But we do let him watch a little bit of a video every morning while we shower and get ready for the day (I don't get up early enough to do this while my son is still asleep). And we have recently instituted family movie nights once a week (though my son doesn't usually sit long enough to watch the entire movie).

That's pretty much it for TV in our house (while our son is awake). We do not have a working TV in our main living area, so there is no temptation for me to turn on the news or daytime television while we playing or hanging out. This is not as torturous as most parents imagine it might be!

Jim Trealease's The Read Aloud Handbook has some great info on the effects of TV watching, as well as suggestions for combating the TV addiction. Here are some of his suggestions, along with some of mine:

  • Set some limits for TV watching. For example: No TV on school nights, or no TV during dinner.
  • Listen to the radio (we usually have NPR on most of the day in our house), or books on tape. I usually find this more entertaining than mindless TV anyway. You might be surprised as well! Works in the car too; substitute audio books for DVDs on long car trips.
  • Absolutely no TV in kids bedrooms. No matter how old they are.
  • When the TV is on, turn down the volume and turn on the closed captioning. Voila! Now you're reading while you're watching TV!
  • If all else fails, remove the TV... or make it non-functional. You won't miss it as much as you imagine. Essentially that's what we did in our home. We got rid of our dish package and switched to basic cable via an antennae. After the change we no longer got any channels on our downstairs TV and our DVD player is not compatible with it. You can't watch TV if there is no TV to watch!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Miracles Happen

We got the most snow I have ever seen here in TN since I moved here 6.5 yrs. ago - a whopping 4 (maybe) inches! We don't have the infrastructure here to clear the roads and such. So everybody's been cooped up at home, schools have been closed... it's been kind of fun.

I'm originally from Chicago, so I know snow. I don't miss living in it one bit. But it is fun every now and then. Especially when it shuts everything down! Yay!