Boys Books Rant

BBC News has an article: Call for boys’ own bookshelves that quotes British Education Secretary Alan Johnson has saying that “We need a boys’ bookshelf in every secondary school library in the country, containing positive, modern, relevant role models for working class boys.” Um, or you could just hire a librarian who would happily build a collection that would not have to be labeled and distinct because he/she could also be there to fit the best book to that particular child. Sounds like collection development is needed not a special boy shelf. And what happens when the boys read through those boy books? As we would all want them to. Are they then shunted to the pink and glittery shelf of girls’ books? How about we just build great school libraries that will speak to both boys and girls of all social classes. There are so many books out there that will capture children heart, line and sinker. I know that boys are falling behind, that reading is looked on as being somehow not masculine enough, and that there are books that boys will appreciate, but segregating them on a separate shelf is not the answer. I have no problem with recommended lists or websites full of great boy reads. But we have to keep our libraries equal and accessible to all.

Do Re Mi

Do Re Mi: If you can read music, thank Guido d’Arezzo by Susan L. Roth in association with Angelo Mafucci.

The fascinating story of d’Arezzo’s quest to create a way to write music is captured effectively in this picture book.  The book follows his life as he tries to persuade people to even consider that music can be written down.  Though he meets with disdain and failure again and again, d’Arezzo does not give up and finally finds a way to write music that is still used today.

Text in picture book biographies can often be too lengthy.  That is not the case here.  Roth has provided accessible text about a complicated story that tells children just enough without overpowering them with excessive details.  Combine that with the collage illustrations that capture the landscape, the struggle and the epiphany, and you have a very child-friendly biography.

I encourage music teachers to use this with elementary age children.  Any child taking piano lessons or other music lessons where they learn to read music will be fascinated to learn that writing music has not always existed. 

Lucia and the Light

Lucia and the Light
by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Mary Grandpre.

Lucia and her mother and baby brother live in the Far North in a cozy cabin where they are used to the cold winters.  But then days go by when the sun does not shine.  Lucia bravely sets off up the mountain to see what has happened to the sun.  She takes only a crust of bread, her tinderbox, and the white cat.  When she reaches the top of the mountain she discovers that the trolls have stolen the sun, allowing them to be out and about even during the day.  Lucia must find a way to trick the trolls and allow her to free the sun.

This book has such a feel of a traditional folktale, from the three helpful items to the rhythm of the story.  But in some ways it is even better.  I love the part where Lucia is skiing up the mountain in the darkness with just the sound of her skis repeating again and again:  Shoosh, shoosh.  Lovely, quiet, and a very effective way to build tension.  A large part of the success of this picture book are the illustrations.  As you can see from the cover art, deep colors are used with abandon.  When the sun is finally returned to the sky, the oranges and yellows are almost blinding after the morose colors from before.  Children will respond immediately to the illustrations and the story.

Recommended for reading aloud to first and second graders, this is a story that can also be shared with younger listeners in smaller groups.  The book has more words than most picture books, but the story is gripping and even younger children should stay involved.