Every school day, my first grader daughter brings home a book to read aloud. And once a week, I visit her class and read books with her and some of her classmates. Most of the kids I read with have maxed out their reading level for the class, and are allowed to choose their books from the collective classroom shelf.
I'm really only supposed to read about ten pages of each book with them -- and the other moms who volunteer usually do a good job of burning through the roster -- but I have uppity ideas about how if the kids I'm reading with want to read the whole book and there's time to do that, let 'em. Sometimes the books are too long, though. There's one kid I end up negotiating with pretty much every week because he always picks the Holy Grail of First Grade Reading, chapter books.
But lately...with the end of the school year just about three weeks away, all of my regulars have been phoning it in with their choices from time to time -- stuff that takes five minutes from start to finish. What's funny is that they'll often pretty much admit it, so they take a minute or two to talk about the pictures.
My kid does this, too. But yesterday, she brought home The Park Book by Charlotte Zolotow. I'd never read it before, and it was really just sort of wonderful. The story is simple -- 24 hours in a city park -- but the telling is sophisticated in a way that kids can actually get something out of.
Let me back up for a second. In my brief career as a primary school reading helper, nothing has come to piss me off more than lame adult cleverness in kid's books that (1) leave the kid-reader totally flailing and (2) once they DO climb the reading hill, there's nothing there for them. I wish I had an example right at hand. Puns often do this, though. In first grade kids are starting to GET things like puns, but there's nothing like struggling through something that's just a little too erudite to really keep a kid interested in a book.
The Park Book, however, adds a layer by presenting characters according to details that reach a little outside of the immediate action. Example: A girl who goes to bed each night at seven-thirty plays on the see-saw with a boy who goes to bed each night at seven. The language is still simple, but the goings-on have more depth. There's a way-of-the-world feel to it that isn't at all alienating. We had a nice time reading it together.
Tomorrow I'm totally expecting something like Let's Talk About Plain White String for Four Pages to come home in my daughter's backpack, of course.