Libros for los ninos

In the San Jose neighborhood where Cesar Chavez got his start, immigrants’ children struggle with reading, reports National Journal.

A group called Somos Mayfair has organized parents — poorly educated, Spanish-speaking gardeners, cleaners and restaurant workers — to share children’s books. This month the En Nuestras Manos (In Our Hands) campaign organized reading circles at a local park and in someone’s driveway.

“Cesar Chavez Elementary School is among the lowest-performing schools in California,” according to National Journal. This is untrue. On the state’s most recent Academic Performance Index, the school’s scores are slightly above average — way above average compared to schools with similar demographics.

Mayfair is in the Alum Rock elementary district, which has a number of high-performing charter and district schools. It’s the most-improved district in Silicon Valley.

Alexander and the No Good, Very Bad book.


Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a very bad book, “one of the worst children’s books I have ever read,” writes Troy Patterson on Slate.

The movie version of Judith Viorst’s 1972 classic has hit the multiplex, writes Patterson.

Alexander is SUCH A PILL. He’s graceless and ungracious and self-pitying to an entitled extreme. You know, when Mr. Raccoon has a very bad day—in “The Unlucky Day” of Richard Scarry’s Bedtime Stories—when Mr. Raccoon’s bathroom faucet breaks and his car motor explodes and Warty Warthog sticks him with the check at lunch and he goes back home to find that his house has flooded, despite Mr. Fixit’s having been there all day, alone with Mrs. Raccoon—when these misfortunes befall Mr. Raccoon, he remains stoic and takes it all in stride. Meanwhile, Alexander, being a terrible, horrible brat, narrates a tedious catalog of petty gripes.

Alexander complains that his teacher prefers a classmate’s drawing of a sailboat to his own drawing of nothing—an “invisible castle.” Look, kid, either pick up a crayon or develop some conceptualist jargon. Alexander bristles when his teacher observes that, at “counting time,” he omits the number 16. Why should the book dignify his annoyance at being taught a worthy integer?

What’s the very worst children’s book? Patterson considers Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree (arboreous Jewish mother sacrifices for her bratty kid), which is kind of creepy. He settles on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Princess and the Pea, another tale of over-entitled youth.

I think kids get the don’t-be-a-brat subtext of these books. What do you think?

Young-adult books? Or kids’ books?

What Are Your Favorite Young Adult Novels? asks NPR in its summer books poll. Votes are coming in from adults as well as teens, reports Atlantic Wire.

Readers can choose 10 books from a list that includes “Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat series; Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson; Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making; Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie; the Betsy-Tacy books; the Anne of Green Gables series, Hold Still by Nina LaCour, Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War and I am the Cheese, Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy; and Judy Blume’s Forever.”

In a post, NPR’s Petra Mayer explains she cut A Wrinkle in Time, Little House on the Prairie, many Judy Blume books and Where the Red Fern Grows, as  “too young” for the category, which includes readers 12 through 18 years old. But A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I read in sixth grade, was excluded for being too mature.

The panelists aimed to include books like Catcher in the Rye, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which have been essentially “claimed by teens” but weren’t initially intended for them.

I‘m not sure Catcher and Lord of the Flies have been claimed by teens. They’ve been assigned to teens. (Count me among those who thought Holden Caulfield was a whiny brat, even when I was 16.)

The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter series and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (teens with terminal cancer fall in love) are front-runners in the poll, so far. The top 100 teen books as selected by readers will be posted on Aug. 8.

Is Encyclopedia Brown Young-Adult Literature? asks Ed Week Teacher, responding to a Flavorwire list of the 10 greatest young-adult series of all time.

The cultural news site included The Time Quintet, the Redwall SeriesThe Earthsea Cycle, and the Artemis Fowl books among their top picks, but excluded The Chronicles of NarniaThe Lord of the RingsHarry Potter and The Hunger Games because, according to the editors, they’re already “so well established” and don’t need to be on a “list like this…”

Commenters are debating the line between children’s books and young-adult books.

Life’s a carnival

The Education Buzz Carnival has returned with “Wish Life Were A Beach,” hosted by Bellringers.

Miss Eyre writes on NYC Educator about the pros and cons of looping, teaching the same class for the second year.

Mamacita loves children’s books about kids who have adventures — not play dates organized and monitored by their mothers, TV and computer games.

Yes, bad things do happen to our children.

Some of those bad things are their lack of freedom, initiative, adventure, creativity, and self-made friends of all ages. Another bad thing is the inability of so many of them to even READ about these kids.

. . . No wonder so many of our kids are fat and stupid. Sheesh. Some of them have never breathed fresh air in their lives – they go from hermetically sealed homes to hermetically sealed schools, with the occasional jaunt to air-conditioned WalMarts and malls. I bet a lot of “allergies” are really just the body’s reaction to fresh air. It’s the lungs gasping and saying, “What IS this stuff?”

There are even DVDs playing the van “lest they have a moment to sit still, look around, notice things, and think,” Mamacita writes. She recommends Elizabeth Enright’s books.


Philosophy in second grade

Second graders at a Massachusetts charter school regularly discuss philosophical questions that arise in classic children’s books with the help of Thomas E. Wartenberg, Mount Holyoke College philosophy professor, and his students.  From the New York Times:

One afternoon this winter, the students in Christina Runquist’s classroom read Shel Silverstein’s “Giving Tree,” about a tree that surrenders its shade, fruit, branches and finally its trunk to a boy it has befriended. The college students led the discussion that followed — on environmental ethics, or “how we should treat natural objects,” as Professor Wartenberg puts it — with a series of questions, starting with whether the boy was wrong to take so much from the tree.

Only a few children said they would treat an inanimate object differently from a human friend.

“Say me and a rock was a friend,” (Isaiah) said. “It would be different, because a rock can’t move. And it can’t look around.”

This gave his classmates pause.

Personally, I think the boy was a selfish brat, but the tree was an enabler.

Child-development theorist Jean Piaget believed children under 12 aren’t  capable of abstract reasoning. Wartenberg disagrees. He uses “eight picture books to introduce children to the major fields of philosophy, including aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, social and political philosophy and philosophy of the mind.”

With Arnold Lobel’s “Frog and Toad Together,” in which Frog and Toad try to determine whether they can be brave and scared at the same time, the pupils examine the nature of courage — one of Aristotle’s central virtues. With Bernard Wiseman’s “Morris the Moose,” about a moose who mistakenly assumes all his friends are also moose, they consider how someone can maintain a belief in the face of contrary evidence. And with Peter Catalanotto’s “Emily’s Art,” about a talented young artist who loses a contest, they debate whether there can be objective standards for evaluating works of art.

Wartenberg has written a book, Big Ideas for Little Kids: Teaching Philosophy Through Children’s Literature.  He argues that philosophy discussions improve reading comprehension and other skills.

That makes sense to me, though I’m not sure it takes a philosophy professor to get kids talking about stories.

Mickey Muldoon has more thoughts on teaching philosophy on Flypaper.

First Grandma reads to kids

“First Grandma” Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama’s mother, read children’s books at at an event outside the Department of Education building.

On Twitter, Greg Toppo points out that one of her choices was  The Rainbow Fish, which features a beautiful fish that has no friends till it gives away all its rainbow scales.

Imagine Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer cutting off his nose to suck up to the other reindeer, instead of waiting for a chance to shine.
An Amazon reader/reviewer writes:

Sharing is one thing, but when you have to give away the one thing that makes you unique in order to cultivate friends suggests that the only way friendship can be had is through purchase. The little fish asks a second time for a scale, even though he was refused the first time after which he alienated all the other fish from rainbow fish. What does the story say about small (minded, greedy) people who want what another has and when they don’t get it they go around poisoning everyones’ minds against the person?

Another reader says her preschooler is just learning to say “no” to other children who want what he’s got.  She doesn’t want him growing up to be a wimp.

Of course, the book is supposed to be about sharing and inner beauty.

Feds target kids’ books as unsafe

Libraries and bookstores could be forced to take kids’ books off the shelves unless the Consumer Product Safety Commission delays enforcement of a law designed to protect children from toys, clothing or other products tainted with dangerous chemicals.  The law takes effect Feb. 10, reports the San Jose Mercury News:

Without a reprieve, San Jose library officials say they could be forced to close their children’s sections and send off all 700,000 volumes in them for safety testing.

Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in August to protect kids from exposure to lead and plastic. The law followed the discovery of lead paint in imported toy trains and mounting health concerns about baby bottles and toys containing phthalates, used to make some plastics more flexible.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says the law covers all books aimed at children under 12, including books already in libraries. All must be tested for lead and phthalate or taken off the shelves.

Many children’s books, like the Dorothy Kunhardt touch-and-feel classic “Pat the Bunny,” have pages with plastic, cloth or other material to excite young minds.

And a toddler might chew on a book for a few minutes, picking up the germs of the toddlers who’ve chewed on it before.  What are the odds of a kid getting seriously sick from Pat the Bunny? A gazillion to one, I’d guess. What are the odds that libraries will use money set aside for buying new books to pay for  useless testing?

Children’s clothing will be more expensive to cover the costs of testing the same materials again and again; retailers and resellers say they’ll stop selling children’s clothing to avoid liability.

Just repeal the law, advises Walter Olson on Forbes.

(Thrift stores and other used-clothing sellers) while not obliged to test, face liability if they inadvertently sell a vintage item with any component (the axle on a skateboard, the zipper on a size 10 jacket, the rhinestone on a doll’s tiara) that flunks the tough new standards.

Since a broad-based testing regime will normally be incompatible with the economics of a thrift store, that will leave store managers with the unpleasant choice of : 1) ceasing to sell children’s goods; or 2) predictably being in noncompliance on a lot of old items (without knowing which ones) and hoping no one ever decides to enforce the law against them.

Legislators who sponsored the bill belatedly asked the CPSC to exempt children’s clothing with no metal or plastic fasteners and children’s books “that have no painted, plastic or metal components.”  Use a staple, go to jail. It’s not clear the commission has the power to comply.

Good intentions, bad law, writes Health News Digest.