February is “I Love To Read” month. At our school, there are times throughout the month in which teachers and children take time out of the day and read for a little while. The lower grades try to encourage 100 minutes into their day as often as they can. We also had a book exchange, where kids can bring in a book from home and swap it for one they find at school. This is a neat opportunity for them to find and read something new. In First Grade, they choose a special “reader-for-the-day” and that child gets to come up to the front, sit in the teacher’s chair, and read their book to their classmates. They get so excited when it’s their day. I love seeing what books they choose and listening to them read. So cute and a great experience for them.
On the last day of “I Love To Read” month, we had a special day called…”Dress like your favorite storybook character”. We didn’t have a lot of kids dressing up, but some of the teachers were very creative. I loved what our three Kindergarten teacher’s came up with…
The modern children’s book emerged in mid-18th century England. “A Little Pretty Pocket-Book”, written and published by John Newbery, is widely considered as the first modern children’s book, published in 1744. It was a landmark as the first children’s publication aimed at giving enjoyment to children, containing a mixture of rhymes, picture stories and games for pleasure. The book was child–sized with a brightly colored cover that appealed to children—something new in the publishing industry. Known as gift books, these early books became the precursors to the toy books popular in the 19th century. Newbery was also adept at marketing this new genre. The improvement in the quality of books for children, as well as the diversity of topics he published, helped make Newbery the leading producer of children’s books in his time.
In the early 19th century, Danish author and poet Hans Christian Andersen traveled through Europe and gathered many well-known fairy tales. He was followed by the Brothers Grimm, who preserved the traditional tales told in Germany. One of American children’s literature most famous books was L. Frank Baum’s fantasy novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz“, published in 1900. The American Library Association began awarding the Newbery Medal, the first children’s book award, in 1922 and the Caldecott Medal for illustration followed in 1938.
The first book by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her life on the American Frontier, “Little House in the Big Woods” appeared in 1932.
In 1937 Dr. Seuss published his first book, entitled, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street“. The already vigorous growth in children’s books became a boom in the 1950s, and children’s publishing became big business.
Picture books are most often aimed at young children, and while some may have very basic language especially designed to help children develop their reading skills, most are written with vocabulary a child can understand but not necessarily read. For this reason, picture books tend to have two functions in the lives of children: they are first read to young children by adults, and then children read them themselves once they begin learning to read.
Books specifically for children existed by the 17th century. Before that, books were written mainly for adults – although some later became popular with children. Most printed works were hard to come by due to their cost and were mostly available for purchase only by upper class society.
The most memorable storybook characters are ones who are fully developed – in some cases, they seem to have taken on a life of their own. They may be good and brave, or they may be nasty and villainous. Some characters are only in one book or short story, while others are present throughout an entire series. Characters come from picture books, fables, myths, fairy tales and epics. Parents may be delighted to find their children reading about the same characters they read about as kids, but with the wide variety of children’s books available, your child is sure to find some new characters they love just as much. Some kids identify with characters who share the same traits as they do, but others will love storybook characters that seem to exemplify traits they wish they had, such as bravery.
With so many storybook characters throughout literary history, children may have a difficult time choosing just one favorite. From good guys to villains to brave princesses, kids tend to emulate their favorite characters. You probably remember a few characters from your favorite books with great fondness. Some characters seem to have been around forever while others are part of a new “classics” wave. Some famous ones are The Cat in the Hat, Grinch, Winnie the Pooh, Corduroy, Curious George and maybe even Mother Goose. The newer ones could be Harry Potter, Waldo, Clifford or even The Hulk.
Since the 1400s, a large quantity of literature, often with a moral or religious message, has been aimed specifically at children. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries became known as the “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” as this period included the publication of many books acknowledged today as classics.
Childhood wouldn’t be the same without reading about Little Red Riding Hood or the Gingerbread Man. Most storybooks have a moral. For example, the Gingerbread Man is disobedient to the little old woman and his fate is not a good one. I think of Little Red Riding Hood as well. These are good tools used for teaching to young kids.
Now that February is over, we hope the kids keep on reading and will enjoy reading for the rest of their lives. It’s a relaxing past-time that has been around for centuries and will continue to be around, even if we are reading on our Nooks, iPads or Kindles.
I felt the need to post this today as it is Dr. Suess’s birthday. He was born in 1904, which would’ve made him 111 today. His full name…Theodor Seuss Geisel was an American writer and cartoonist. He was most widely known for his children’s books, which he wrote and illustrated under the pseudonym Dr. Seuss.