Friday, May 31, 2013

What qualifies as a kids book?

I didn't read for pleasure much during graduate school, but then I had a baby. For awhile, as a new parent and a postdoc who would like to continue working in academia, there were not even thoughts about reading for pleasure. Funny enough, it's having a child that is starting to change this for me.

Even if there weren't a ton of evidence about the benefits of reading to children, I'd still do it, because I love the time I get to spend with my Little Bear, and the ways that we interact while reading. We've been reading to her since before she was born. But, as an infant, we mostly read her board books:

Then I had a brilliant idea. Sure, she likes pictures, and we still read her all sorts of wonderful books aimed at children, like, "Our Family Tree" (which is a simple, but not cringe-inducing introduction to evolution for kids):

But, she also likes to just listen to stories. Yes, Little Bear is only two (almost two and a half), so her vocabulary is still growing. That doesn't mean that she doesn't appreciate hearing all of the new words, and letting her imagination run wild a little bit. So, I figured that I would try reading a more grown-up book to her. I wasn't sure which one to choose, and then I met Brian Switek, and learned of his new book, "My Beloved Brontosaurus".

Slowly, the Little Bear and I have been working through this book, reading a little bit each night before bed. I have trouble pronouncing some of the dinosaur names, but she still gets the gist of the story, and it is ah-dorable when she really connects to a part of it. For example, tonight when I was reading a section about finding fossilized dinosaur eggs, with footprints of the baby dinosaurs she interrupted me to say:

"Oh, dinosaur eggs? (then her voice when up an octave) With teeny, tiny dinosaurs in them!"

Yes, sweet one, there were teeny, tiny dinosaurs. We've been really loving reading through the book together (it's also a great excuse for her to convince me to let her stay up just a little bit longer):
So, I have to pick on Brian just a little bit for ruffling my feathers with these tweets the other day:

Yes, yes, I understand why the question and why the answers. My Beloved Brontosaurus is not a colorful, simply-worded children's book. As someone not very familiar with dinosaurs at all, I actually wouldn't have minded more pictures. My issue is that I don't think this book, or many similarly-styled books should be thought of as for adults only.

Parents let their young children watch all sorts of television shows, surf the internet, and play with all kinds of technology. Why, then, should we not expect that they might enjoy listening to a story that is above their reading level, but about something interesting?

Children are remarkably able to absorb and appreciate many things that we might not expect them to. I honestly didn't expect Little Bear to set through more than a page, and yet here we are, 31% of the way through the book. She scrutinizes the pictures that are included, but also listens intently to the text (and, maybe I'm a bit more liberal, but I actually didn't edit much out of the dinosex chapter). She may not remember it at all, or maybe she will. I think it is more important for her to hear all of the new words, to be challenged with unusual vocabulary, and to be entertained by her imagination.

As much as Little Bear loves to get the extra time staying up listening to "Brontosaurus", I am probably more excited to get to snuggle her, and to get to enjoy reading something for pure enjoyment.


Anne said...

I think reading to your daughter at a level above her current level is a great idea. The brain is like muscles. They need to be stressed for growth and improvement.

GeorgeRN said...

Kids begin with a clean slate but absorb like sponges. I think this is a great idea and it will only help her in the future. I always tried to present factual things to you and you learned very quickly. It's a shame that some kids' potential are restrained by our lack of trust in their abilities.

mathbionerd said...

I do too. I just never really appreciated how much she might enjoy it. I think the plethora of picture books had me thinking she would be bored by just listening to a story. Nope. Not at all!

mathbionerd said...

I definitely remember being in Texas and listening to stories at night. Just listening, not having all the pictures. And, we loved learning about everything.

With parents, I'm trying to think of how to describe it. I'd like to call it "the Kid's Menu Effect". By expecting kids to not like the things that we like (food or otherwise), we don't even give them the chance to like it. I'm trying hard not to fall into this pattern.