I got really excited when, after writing my last post, I noticed that my *next* post would be my 100th! woot! “What to write about?” I asked myself. I wanted to make it a good one and got so caught up in the milestone of it all, that I just couldn’t decide. I finally concluded that today’s post (the 100th I’ve written) should specifically be about promoting literacy, since that’s what this whole blog is about. In this case, I am using literacy in its broadest sense. Sure literacy means reading words, typed out, (usually) black marks on a (usually) white page. But to me, literacy is far more than reading words. It also includes reading images, situations, and even people. Literacy is about finding the connections, the meaning, the story, and sometimes the story behind the story. When people come in looking for books to teach their children to read, I recommend Rosie’s Walk and Handa’s Surprise. If you know these two books you might be surprised, since both of these books are picture books. Nevertheless, I think they are perfect for emerging readers because they teach literacy.
Handa’s Surprise by Eileen Brown (Candlewick, $3.99) tells a very straight-forward story of Handa, who puts seven delicious fruits in a basket for her friend Akeyo. As Handa walks to Akeyo’s village, with the basket of fruit on her head, she debates to herself which of the fruits Akeyo will like best: “Will she like the soft yellow banana . . . “. Unbeknownst to Handa, as she thinks about each fruit, various animals help themselves to the fruit in question. Just as Handa is thinking about the banana, a monkey up in a tree, lifts it out of her basket. Handa, lost in her own thoughts, is not aware of these events, but the reader/viewer is. Herein is the crux of why I recommend this particular book. Readers can practice sounding out unfamiliar words such as Akeyo, guava, avocado, and will learn about letters and sounds. But they can also learn about how words don’t always tell the whole story. In addition to reading the words, readers will also have to read the pictures. What do the words say? What do the pictures say? And as they start to recognize the disjunct between the two, they will also learn a little something about perspective. What does Handa know? What does the reader know? This book is ripe (forgive me) for conversation. It encourages conversation, debates, and long discussions. It is nuanced and multi-layered. It promotes literacy in all its forms. Plus the story is funny and the illustrations are excellent.
Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins (Aladdin, $6.99) functions in a very similar way. The text is one single sentence, broken up into various phrases. The text appears on every other page. In between, are wordless full-page illustrations that tell so much more than the text. I underestimated this book. I read it. I thought it was boring and that the illustrations were weird. Then I read it with a group of 5 year olds and I realized how wrong wrong wrong I was. The kids loved the illustrations. They loved the two parallel stories. They laughed out loud. We had such interesting discussions about what was happening in this book. They made up fascinating and insightful text for the wordless pages. They asked me to read it again. Because of that experience, I now rave about this book.
While writing this post (did I mention it’s my 100th?), I decided to look up the definition of literacy. I was curious if it actually did correspond to my usage. Definition 1 focuses on reading and writing, which are indeed the basics of literacy. Definition 2 mentions the possession of education and definition 3 addresses the concept of subject mastery. Handa’s Surprise and Rosie’s Walk encourage all three. They teach reading and writing. There is text to read, but there is also space to write more of the textual story. The books also engage with education via critical thinking. Readers must critically examine both the textual story and the visual story. Finally, readers who find the other story, the story between the textual and the visual or the story that combines the textual with the visual, will have develop mastery of reading. They will be truly literate.