Saturday, October 09, 2010

Picture Books - Long May You Reign!

The New York Times had an article recently about the waning interest in picture books for children as parents push their children to read chapter books. I've written about my experience with reading with my daughter.

I was surprised by this article that it had impacted the publishing industry. However, I can certainly relate to this article because I've seen the subtle push for kids to read chapter books early. It's not demanded by the school or other teachers, but it's been a social pressure. Sure, Indian and Asian parents are notorious for pushing their children into advanced levels of all academic activities (spelling bee, anyone?). And, they have a certain way of saying these things. "My son is always reading. I keep telling him to go play video games, but no, he just wants to read "The Chronicles of Narnia". His kindergarten teacher doesn't know what to do with him."

It's to those parents that I want to say "Let it go!" I've always been concerned when children under 7 have read the entire Harry Potter series. I've enjoyed the series and there are actually a lot of themes and messages that I think would simply go over their head. They'll have to reread them 10 years from now anyway.

Yes, once kids learn to ready, kids can read anything. However, do they need to read those books now?

My daughter has always been an avid and excited reader. I started feeling a little pressure when she said her 1st grade friends were reading chapter books, but she still brought home picture books from the library. The books she selected had beautiful artwork and absolutely great stories. There was one, "Anook the Snow Princess" that we read together and it sounded very familiar to me - it was based on Shakespeare's King Lear. She picked up non traditional Princess stories like "Falling for Rapunzel" or one about Indian princess Narangi (she turns into an orange during the day and girl at night). We loved "Uncle Peter's Amazing Chinese Wedding" and other stories about other cultures and immigrant children in the US. She her whole life ahead to read Harry Potter and other series. It's just when she was young can she read these books that would inspire and root value in her.

For awhile, I got nervous because the chapter books she kept selecting were "Tiara Club" (an academy to be a real princess that looked a lot like Hogwarts, but no real plots) and Fairy chapter books. I pulled in "Little House on Prairie" chapter books that I had found online. I would emphasize the sections where Laura and Mary had just ONE old rag doll to play with and they didn't need a whole lot of others. She was super excited and got the regular book from the library. I think that overwhelmed her and now she's not interested in those at all. I know she was reading Junie B. Jones at least into 2nd grade, while other kids had finished those in KG.

She's in fourth grade now and I have to write about about her latest obsession - Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. We watched the movie, which is centered on Greek mythology. I've always had an interest in Greek myths since I was young so I've been enthusiastic about it. She said she learned about Greek myths through Poptropica website (created by Family Education Network/FunBrain). The players have to go to an island and perform series of tasks and challenges with a Greek mythology theme. So, the seemingly endless hours on Poptropica did have some benefit. After seeing the movie, she snatched up the books. She's reading the books now and we talk about Greek gods like old friends. I've also gotten an iPhone app for her on Greek figures so we could do quick queries.

As with everything with raising a child, it will all come in time. In their time. And, when they are children, they should dream and read as children do.

Questions and Answers

These days there's no reason not to have the answers. Google for it.. find it online. Parties take on a whole new direction - "Who was that guy in the movie?" "Well, I have an IMDB app on my phone, so I'll check it out."

Whenever anyone has a question, we can get an answer. Even at work, that's my job. If I don't have an answer, I'll find a way to get that answer.

Recently my daughter had a stomach problem. First we figured it was bad food at a catered event or maybe it was 2-day stomach virus. She was fine for a few days, but then woke up with strong stomach pains. It was a surprise! We ran out of explanations. I didn't know what the problem was and it was frustrating. My mind rushed through every situation and imagining the worst. We were able to see the doctor the same morning and learned that she simply needed to make some dietary changes.

However, this incident made me realize how frustrating it is not to have the answers. As a parent, we think we should have all the answers. Our children look to us for that information. Actually the highest expectation come from ourselves. However, I can't know everything or do everything. I never got a medical degree before I became a mother (nor the degrees for teaching music, math, Hindi, nutrition, classical dance and child psychiatry to name a few missing skills). For the few hours between the stomach pains and the doctor's appointment, I had to tell myself to be patient.

But, it's not so much as to being patient, but having the trust and faith that the answers will come. This idea can be applied to any situation where we feel frustrated and feel the pressure on us.  I see this at work all the time where the loudest and most frustrated people are the ones without the information. Once they know what's going to happen, they feel more in control and can manage what they need to do. Most of the pressure comes from what we do to ourselves, not the external entity. We really have to let go of the pressure and just float for a little while, untethered to our worries. Of course this is easier said than done. I suppose if we practice a little bit every day we would be better able to handle these situations.