Reading to kids – it’s also about values

So I’ve talked before about the importance of kids’ books for teaching language to children, but there’s also a lot to be said for using literature to transmit values. I believe we need to be intentional about what we read to our children. By this I am referring both to what we choose to read and what we choose not to read. I could rail against all the garbage being written for kids these days (and always, it’s not all new), but in the interest of keeping things positive I’m going to just mention one valuable story we read in my house recently.

Frog and Toad All Year (Frog and Toad, #3)

We love Frog and Toad (you know that already, though, because I mentioned them in my last post, too) and recently got Frog and Toad All Year from the library. My absolute favorite story in the book, and the inspiration for this post, is The Surprise, in which Frog and Toad each secretly rake each other’s leaves. They each independently come up with the idea and do the good deed in secret. Then the wind blows all the leaves out of the piles, undoing their hard work; when each returns home, he finds his own yard a mess and never knows what the other did for him. The best part of the story is that Frog and Toad each go to sleep that night happy to have helped a friend, never finding the need to take credit for it. Each of them is happy just to have done a good deed, without needing or seeking credit.

This is love in its truest sense  – seeking the good of another just for the other’s sake. I’m not sure if my kids understand the message of the story, but it has certainly served as a reminder for me to check myself every time I want to say to someone, “oh, hey – did you see this nice thing I just did for you?” I know that books teach us (there’s a reason I called this blog “The Edifying Word”), but reading The Surprise was, for me, a reminder of the power of stories teach values and not just facts.

I’ve generally been pretty good at screening out the “bad” from what my kids read (at home, anyway – I can’t control that my daughter’s teacher reads Junie B. Jones with all her sass aloud to the class). My goal going forward is to remember the power of teaching positive values rather than just avoiding the things I don’t approve of, and using that as a guide for choosing what we read. We learn by repetition, and if I repeatedly and intentionally expose my children to the values I want to instill in them, they will absorb the message; literature is one of many tools I have as a parent to do so.

What do you think? Any suggestions of other positive, edifying books for kids?

What’s with all the bad grammar in kids’ books?

So, here’s a little rant that has me wearing both my “editor” and “mom” hats at the same time.

I’ve been consistently impressed by my oldest daughter’s vocabulary and grasp of grammar as she gets older (almost 6! where does the time go?). I commented recently to my husband how impressive it is that she corrects her own grammar aloud and he said, “It’s because she reads.” And she does (The Boxcar Children at age 6? Seriously? Blows me away. But I digress.).

The conversation got me thinking.

Our kids learn the English language through what they hear spoken around them and from what they read, whether it is read aloud to them or they read on their own. I have three kids – only one is old enough to be reading on her own, the others need to be read aloud to. SO – being crazy about grammar (but I’m lightening up as the language evolves…grr), it DRIVES ME NUTS when picture books have poor grammar. If I want my kids to learn to speak properly, they need to hear the language used properly.

An example: One of my middle daughter’s favorite books, and mine, is Ping Pong Pig.

It’s a fun story about a pig who is too busy trying to fly to help with the chores on the farm. Then his friends intervene and build him a trampoline so he can “fly.” Touched by their generosity, Ping Pong uses his new trampoline to fix all the messes he made on the farm while trying to fly. The whole “when pigs fly” thing is lost on the kids, but it’s a fun story.

BUT. And this has bugged me for the entirety of the six years I’ve been reading the book. One of the last pages says: “Until something caught their eye.” Apparently it’s no longer up for debate whether “they” can be used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun (it can, though it still grates on me). At first glance, that might appear to be the case here, but it’s not. “Their” refers to Ping Pong’s friends — plural. Therefore, they cannot have an “eye;” proper agreement dictates that it read “eyes.” So, it should read, “until something caught their eyes.” Now, I recognize that this sounds silly but that’s just my point: we are conditioning ourselves and our children to poor grammar by filling our picture books with it. It starts to sound so normal that proper grammar all of a sudden sounds bad. Truth be told, I would just rephrase the whole thing to something that sounds better, such as, “until they noticed something,” to avoid the awkwardness. But I digress again.

So, my “editor” hat says, “PLEASE let’s do a better job editing our picture books,” because I’m offended by poor grammar. But my “mom” hat says, “PLEASE let’s do a better job editing our picture books,” because I want my kids to learn to speak correctly.

Clearly, Ping Pong Pig is not the worst offender — I’ve read much worse, and it hasn’t ruined my kids. BUT I’m debating going through all our picture books and eliminating every one with poor grammar.

That, or writing in edits like my dad always did to the newspaper.

 

Thanks for listening to my rant! Do you share my sentiments? Have you seen any offenders out there I should watch out for? Finally, if you are writing a picture book and need an editor, I’m happy to help!

Munchkin Monday Book Review, a day late: Oliver and Jumpy, Stories 43-45, by Werner Stejskal

Product Details

Is this your first encounter with Oliver and Jumpy? Yes? Then let me tell you about them. Oliver is an elegant tomcat, and Jumpy is his best friend. They are always on the lookout for new adventures together. Oliver lives in a treehouse on the mighty oak tree. He is the most famous cat in the country. Oliver and Jumpy have already been in many illustrated stories and new ones are being published all the time. (Author’s introduction to the series)

Author Werner Stejskal has written nearly 50 children’s stories about Oliver the tomcat and his best friend, Jumpy, all published as e-books. The book containing stories 43-45 was my first encounter with his work. As always with kids’ books, I read them aloud to my kids (2.5 and 5 next week!) because I feel like an adult-only review of a children’s book is just silly – of course, it matters what I think as a mother, but it’s essential to see a kid’s reaction to a book in order to really judge its worth. So, one day I sat down on my bed with my kids and my Kindle and we read the stories. Here’s a brief synopsis of each story:

Story #43, Flying Carpet: Oliver and Jumpy travel to Africa (probably Egypt, given the references to the pyramids and the sphinx) to rescue a princess in trouble. When they get there, they’re given a magic, flying carpet that takes them exactly where they need to go to help the princess meet her prince.

Story #44, Birthday Party: Oliver’s friends throw him a surprise birthday party, with paid singers, elephant rides, and a mud-ball fight. He thinks it’s the best birthday ever!

Story #45, Magic Berries: Jumpy eats magic berries that change his size. In order to change back to normal, he has to complete a quest without succumbing to any of the temptations along the way: free ice cream, hot dogs, and soft drinks.

All in all, I was underwhelmed by the books. They were fine – they’re short, and engaging enough, but I feel like (except for maybe #45) they generally lack a message. I like to learn from what I read, and I like the same for my kids. I also don’t particularly care for how often Oliver points out how well-known he is… sort of a “look how great I am!” attitude that I don’t particularly want my kids to adopt. On the plus side, the illustrations pair really well with the stories, which is really nice, and the stories are generally harmless entertainment.

What did the kids think? It’s hard to tell. Honestly, I think they were much more interested in getting to “turn the page” on my Kindle than they were in the stories. I’m not sure if that’s just because they’d never used a Kindle before (I never let them touch it!), but they also have never asked me about the stories again (not even to have a chance to touch the Kindle again). So, I’d say their verdict is pretty similar to mine.

So, three stars. Generally fine, nothing to rave about but not bad, either. That said, I don’t think I’m a fan of e-books for young kids. Maybe I’ll change my mind as my five-year-old gets older and reads more on her own, but for now…we’ll stick to paper.

*This book is currently available on Amazon for free. I obtained my free copy of the book for the purpose of reviewing, at the request of the author.