school

Today, I have a special treat for you – the very first GUEST POST we’ve ever had at Building a Library. It was written by a dear friend, Megan McKnight, a lawyer and mom to two wonderful boys, who has been one of this blog’s biggest cheerleaders from day one. Megan actually sent me the bulk of this article in an email, asking me to give parents tips about picking titles from school book order catalogs. Her email was so full of her own great advice regarding book orders that I wrote her back and said, “Um, can I just post your email as an article? I’m never going to write anything better than what you just wrote.” And, after bugging her enough, she finally let me publish it (with a few edits and additions from her end). I love this article and think it’s a fantastic resource for any parent struggling with their monthly book order selections. Take it away, Megan!

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The Book Fair from the Black Lagoon

Do you ever feel like this around book order season?

By Megan McKnight — I am a huge Building a Library fan. It is a great resource and stokes my enjoyment of reading children’s books. However, Building a Library does not help much with one of those familiar rites of the school year: BOOK ORDERS. We have been buying books from the Scholastic book order program for a few years and my track record is dubious at best. Distracted by the low prices and pretty pictures, I bought several awful books for my family. I recently recycled a stack of book order paperbacks — instead of donating them — because I do not want them to end up on another unsuspecting family’s bookshelf.

So, I developed my own set of Rules for use in ordering from the monthly book order that I follow to save my family from terrible books. Now, my family actually enjoys the books we order. My Book Order Rules are the following, in no particular order:

DO NOT BUY…

1. Books that do not list an author and illustrator. If no one has the pride to acknowledge writing or illustrating the book, it is not worth reading.

2. Books based on television, movie, or toy characters. Usually, these books are also eliminated by Rule #1. This rule is inapplicable if the book preceded the show. Olivia by Ian Falconer is a good example of this – my boys love this book!

3. Books with the exclusive purpose of teaching manners and improving behavior. Instead of making your child more patient and kind, these books will probably leave you and your child annoyed and bored. There are a few entertaining books intended to reinforce good behavior — seek these outside of the book order.  For example, we enjoy these books: Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners by Laurie Keller, Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Eric Kaplan, and Potty Animals: What to Know When You’ve Got to Go by Hope Vestergaard.

Monsters Eat Whiny Children

That’s tough but fair…

4. Book collections centered on the same character(s). For example, if you and your kids love Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney, you do not need three more Llama books. Chances are that you will get Llama-ed out, very quickly, and it may sap some of the magic from that first book, too. Instead, use the book order as a chance to expand your horizons. However, see Rule #12 below for a very important exception.

5. Books accompanied by a CD or DVD. The usual running time is 3 1/2 minutes per book, which is hardly worth the trouble of getting it set-up. Just sit down and read to your child for three minutes.

6. Books in hardcover. These are usually more than $10, and it is not worth paying more than $10 for any book from the book order, given the remote likelihood that the books will impress both you and your kid. If the book is good, it will be published in paperback soon..

7. Book collections that are exclusively seasonal. For example, “Books About Fall” or “Books About Easter.” For some reason, these are generally terrible and you will have squandered another opportunity to read an amazing story.

8. Non-books like games, shoe-tying activities, puzzles, toys and chore-charts. I have  bought them all and the quality is universally poor.

9. Books that are accompanied by an accessory such as a car, a rock, a necklace, or 3-D glasses. The accessory is always of poor quality and the book rarely stands on its own. [read the rest of the post…]

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Emily's First 100 Days of School

One, one animated adaptation of the book… a-ha-ha…

Scholastic’s Weston Woods has a long tradition of making animated adaptations of classic works of children’s literature. Most are excellent – I’m a fan of their version of William Steig’s Pete’s a Pizza and their Mo Willems Pigeon videos – though a few are little questionable. (See one of my very first posts – “Dad, We Watched a Movie at School Today about an Old Lady Who Kills Children”.)

Their adaptation of Rosemary WellsEmily’s First 100 Days of School, however, is one of the good ones and should give any interested parties a nice idea of what the book is all about. Take a look and enjoy.

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Emily's First 100 Days of School

Ideal back-to-school reading for young new students

My daughter starts second grade right after Labor Day and it got me thinking about all of the books we bought her in our nervous attempts to get her “ready” for school back before she started kindergarten. Far and away, my favorite school book that we ever bought her is Emily’s First 100 Days of School by Rosemary Wells, the wonderful children’s book author perhaps best known for creating the widely known (and allegedly parentless) Max and Ruby.

The “school book” is definitely a genre unto itself in children’s lit, and the very large majority of “school books” are focused on helping kids deal with the anxiety of heading to school for the very first time. You generally either have titles like The Berenstain Bears Go to School, in which a nervous child is gently introduced to the concept of school, or you have a book like Kevin Henkes’ beautiful Chrysanthemum, in which a kid is antagonized by their classmates, loses their confidence, and has to learn to love school again.

Emily's First 100 Days of School

Is this book supposed to make me feel better about school or convince me that school is a scary place?

I totally understand the value of those kinds of school books – a kid seeing that characters in a book are dealing with the same issues that they’re dealing with can be a profound experience – but, I’ll admit, to me, some of these titles feel like they’re working from the hypothesis that “All kids will find going to school to be a terrifying, anxiety-inducing experience” and I don’t think that’s always the case.

Yes, such a major new landmark is SURE to inspire some worry in most new-to-school kids, but I’m always wary of throwing books at a kid to help them “pre-cope” with anxieties they haven’t expressed yet. To this day, I still believe that my daughter never had a fear of the dark until I read her The Berenstain Bears in the Dark, a book that (I’m convinced) introduced her to the concept that some kids regard having the lights out as a scary experience. I’m not placing full blame on Stan and Jan, but I’m just saying – we never owned a nightlight until I read that book to my daughter.

As such, I really wanted to find her a smartly-written book about going to school for the first time that presented school itself as an exciting and engaging experience. And I think Emily’s First 100 Days of School does just that. I particularly fell in love with Rosemary Wells‘ author’s note at the beginning of the picture book, where she spells out her inspirations for writing it:

When I was little, in elementary school, math was no fun for me. It was taught by rote, and it was impossible for me to see how I would use these lessons in real life.

Yet numbers are wonderful things. They appear in all our games, in our poetry, and in songs. Numbers are a vital part of our culture. Some numbers are so much a part of our language that certain things some to mind the moment the number is mentioned; other numbers are shy and need to be brought out of their hiding places. In this book all numbers are equally important, and all are fun.

Isn’t that just completely charming? I love the idea of Wells writing this book to advocate for the inherent wonderfulness of numbers. That just seems like such a fantastic, positive spirit to pass onto new young students. [read the rest of the post…]

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