Growing Readers: Children's books open up windows to another world

Children’s books are powerful. On the surface they entertain with laugh-out-loud humor, magical adventures, and puzzling mysteries. They feed curiosity with fascinating information about an unending array of topics like animals, machines, places and more.

On a more subtle level, thoughtfully crafted words and stylistic images amuse and inform while also teaching children how a story works, what letters are named, and what words sound like; some of the basic literacy skills children will use as developing readers and writers.

The strength of a high-quality picture book ­­— and that of its cousins the board book, audiobook, graphic novel, comic, magazine, story app, and even movie — lies deeper still. The best books, and media of all kinds, act as windows inviting children to see and learn about worlds, both imagined and real, beyond their own. Even the ‘world’ down the street, inhabited by a neighbor or school friend, is accessible in a great story. For many children books open up opportunities to see the world from a different perspective. Including a variety of media rich with accurate information and thoughtful depictions of diverse experiences helps children build understanding, empathy, and compassion.

Equally as important, books and other media can provide opportunities for young people to see themselves reflected in the media they read, watch, and explore. Reading and seeing positive portrayals of children ‘just like me’, especially if all kids see themselves, can build self-confidence and reinforce the fundamental idea that each child has value. Media that provides valuable play and learning experiences that reflect diverse families are more inclusive, engaging a broader variety of kids and their families. When children are interested and curious they want to keep reading, writing, creating, and exploring.

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Finding high quality books that reflect the experiences of Alaskan kids can be tricky. Arctic Aesop’s Fables by Susie Gregg Fowler and Jim Fowler is a collection of twelve entertaining twists on the classic stories told around the world that will resonate with families from Southeast to the North Slope. Each of the short stories, perfect for reading aloud, includes the traditional morals and animal antics, but the retellings feature characters like the polar bear, porcupine, and Sandhill Crane from the subarctic and arctic regions of the globe, familiar landscapes to Alaskan kids. Serving as both window and mirror, this book will amuse kids familiar with Alaska and those curious about the Last Frontier.

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Me by Tinybop is a playful, digital storytelling tool in which kids and their families design personalized avatars and then create self-portraits, of sorts, using the app’s prompts and the digital device’s microphone, keyboard, touchscreen, and camera. Multiple kids, or kids and adults, can each craft their own story with drawings, photos, and words. The prompts pop up on the screen like thought bubbles and a quick tap reveals a question or direction which encourages kids to share their likes, dislikes, and feelings. Kids document their world and answer the ultimate question, ‘who are you?’ Imagination is strongly encouraged so kids can easily create a story for a pet or imaginary friend. Unanswered prompts can be saved for later and more options will appear. All of the pieces of each creation are kept in one place – perfect for sharing with friends and family – but nothing is shared outside of the app. The prompts are silly, interesting, and even peculiar, but all are well-suited for the whole family. Me successfully uses fun activities and thoughtful technical design to help kids find their voice and share it with others.

Claudia Haines is the Youth Services Librarian at the Homer Public Library. Have a question about early literacy, reading, or digital media use with kids? She can be reached at 235-3180 or chaines@ci.homer.ak.us.

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