Today's second edition of Tomes for Tots will again feature an adult book about reading and a children's book: Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox and Fancy Nancy: Bonjour, Butterfly by Jane O'Connor.
You may recognize the author of Reading Magic as the Australian author of many children's books. One of our favorites is Time for Bed, a book that I would recite from memory in a soft voice to lull my children to sleep. We would still have to (and still do) read it in the daytime for the beautiful animal pictures. What I didn't know about Mem Fox was that she has such a passion for reading aloud to children and that she was an Associate Professor of Literacy Studies for twenty-four years. This book is a parent-friendly volume of fifteen chapters, that focuses on the need for making time to read to our children, the three components of reading, and how to read aloud. Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book that sums up the magic of reading aloud to our children:
As we share the words and pictures, the ideas and viewpoints, the rhythms and rhymes, the pain and comfort, and the hopes and fears and big issues of life that we encounter together in the pages of a book, we connect through minds and hearts with our children and bond closely in a secret society associated with the books we have shared. The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading. It isn’t achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who’s reading aloud—it’s the relationship winding between all three, bringing them together in easy harmony (10).
This insistence on the emotional nature of reading aloud, the unabashed passion for reading aloud to make a tremendous difference in a child's academic achievement, the solid advice on the three components of reading, and the how-to glimpses of Mem's own read-aloud sessions made this an informative and enjoyable book. I must admit that as much as I enjoyed this book, there was one section that gave me pause.
We should not suddenly become teachers of our children. We must be ourselves. . . . We absolutely must not attempt to teach our children formally before they start school. For parents to teach their own preschool children is the last straw. Teaching is the flip side of what works. Teaching before school kills the fun. Preschool children like their parents to be parents, not teachers. The roles are quite different, and it’s precisely the laid-back, hang-loose, let’s-have-fun, relaxed-and-comfortable role of a parent that is so powerful in helping children first to love reading and then be able to read by themselves (53-55).
When I first read these words, I felt my chest tighten in apprehension as I feared that the author might be writing a diatribe against homeschooling. However, as I finished reading the section and the book, I realized that she was not attacking homeschooling but the attitude that we all sometimes take toward learning to read. Too often we look at learning to read as a process that must be mastered in a particular formula, and too often we transmit our own anxiety to our children so that reading does not happen naturally as the result of being saturated in print and read-alouds but by a hard, dry, scholarly approach.
Another of the parts of the book that I loved was the chapter entitled "And Do It Like This," which, without intimidation, showed parents how to master the art of reading aloud. Imagine my glee when I found that on Mem Fox's website, she reads aloud this chapter, giving a real-life example of exactly what this is. Now admittedly, we may not all have Mem's charming Australian accent, but we can learn to use our own voices to capture our children's attentention.
Turning toward the children's book today, Bonjour Butterfly is the latest in the Fancy Nancy series. Fancy Nancy is very popular at our house. Of course, Nancy's utter fanciness--boas, canopies, French phrases--appeals to Emily Anne (and, I must admit, to me). However, there is a sweet solid underpinning of lessons learned, larger than frills and frippery, that makes even my husband a fan of these books.
Bonjour Butterfly is, of course, about butterflies. Nancy and her friend Bree love butterflies and are over the moon about Bree's butterfly-themed birthday party that is coming up soon. Unfortunately, Nancy soon discovers that the party is the same day as her grandparents' fiftieth anniversary celebration. The pouting that ensues in the next few pages is so real to life! Just as the other Nancy books do, though, this book ends with a renewed appreciation for family. It also ends with a trip to a butterfly garden, making the book a great introduction to a butterfly unit study (Check out this site with lots of information on butterflies and a bibliography of fiction and nonfiction butterfly books suitable for kindergartners!).