Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Wall (copy)

This week I read an excellent juvenile picture-book. Most teachers and parents of middle grade students can tell you this is not possible. A picture book is for toddlers through eight-year-olds because the format is oversized with illustrations and usually minimum words. They are meant to be read-aloud to an audience or one-on-one such as father and son, and the vocabulary is easy.

Children who grow up with this format remember these books with fond memories. When asked to move to the next level in reading your child may balk. Chapter books can look boring in comparison to a picture book. This is why the “Frog and Toad” series is so popular. Author Arnold Lobel fills his chapter books with illustrations that help the new reader gather clues from the pictures.

What if your child returns over-and-over to picture books even though he can read chapter books? This might be an indication that he is bored with his chapter books, or a little uncomfortable in his reading. It is time to head to the library or bookstore for some more chapter books and juvenile level picture-books.

There is such a thing as a harder picture book. Peter Sis, author and illustrator, has a collection of biographies that demand the reader expand her vocabulary. The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin and Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei are two I wrote about in 2005.

Sis now challenges young readers with his autobiography The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. This picture book contains words like Soviets, Czechoslovakia, militia, indoctrination, defecting, nuclear, Vietnam, realism, revolution, etc. all appearing in the margins.

If a teacher or parent wants to read it as a picture book alone, each page contains one sentence about the author. For instance, the story begins, “As long as he could remember, he had loved to draw.” Next page continues, “At first he drew shapes.” Within the margins of the first page are definitions that frame a self—cartoon—portrait of Sis. The words are Iron Curtain, Cold War, and Communism. Not baby definitions either, “Cold War – The geopolitical, ideological, and economic struggle that emerged between capitalism and communism from 1945-1991.”

This inside look into the Cold War is a Caldecott (2008) Honor book and a Robert F. Sibert (2008) Information Medal winner. It is perfect for that reluctant—to move up to the next level—reader. Many will delight as they learn The Beatles became a huge crack in Sis’s The Wall.