(published in the Chapel Hill Herald, October 28, 2014)
Recently I taught a professional development class for teachers that yielded fascinating discussions about books that best serve learning disabled students. We spoke first about providing support for children overwhelmed with print by using books that encourage a shared reading with parents, teachers or peers.
Emerging readers, for example, can join into the story’s telling with rebuses. The teachers especially liked Dana Meachen Rau’s nonfiction series that has titles like The Frog in the Pond (Marshall Cavendish). They found the photographed rebuses more engaging and felt that the drawn illustrations looked more babyish.
Sindy McKay’s leveled books like My Car Trip and Hansel and Gretel (Treasure Bay) also invite shared reading. The set up is that the first page is longer and has some highlighted words that are more difficult. This page is read by a stronger reader. A struggling reader benefits from a shorter page and those bold words that have been pre-pronounced in the first reading. The teachers worried a bit about students who read with peers feeling stigmatized.
They were all fans of Mary Ann Hoberman’s newest You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You book, Very Short Tall Tales to Read Together (Little Brown, ages 5-8). Hoberman color codes sections of each of her rhyming stories so that different readers can contribute to a woven reading experience. In her newest collection, Hoberman has again chosen a focus that adds to children’s background knowledge. She introduces well-known figures like Annie Oakley, John Henry and Johnny Appleseed and includes lesser-known heroes like Febold Feboldson and Alfred Bulltop Stormalong.
One teacher remembered her daughter discovering reading with Sara Miller’s first chapter books. Three Stories You Can Read to Your Cat, ” Three Stories You Can Read to Your Dog and Three Stories You Can Read to Your Teddy Bear (Houghton Mifflin, ages 4-8). These books make children less self-conscious because of their willing, non-judgmental audience.
One of the most appreciated books was Jen Bryant’s The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus (Eerdmans, ages 7-10). This biography of Peter Mark Roget begins lyrically, “Peter snuggled deeper into Uncle’s lap as the carriage clattered … Baby Annette slept in Mother’s arms, a small pink blossom against a wall of black.” On this first page, almost every word finds a line of its own. Together they create the sense of a young lost boy in the wake of his father’s death. These words gain strength when you realize that this list represents how Roget always sought the right word for feelings and experiences and organized these into poignant lists. Melissa Sweet’s illustrations portray potency of collected, stacked words. The teachers saw this listing approach as typical to some learning disabled students and also thought the book provided an opportunity for children to view a role model who saw the world differently and organized information according to his own beliefs.
Audio-book combinations are a wonderful support for struggling readers. There were two clear favorites of those we shared. H.O.R.S.E: A Game of Basketball and Imagination (book from Egemont, audio by Live Oak Media, ages 7 and up) is read by Dion Graham and the author-illustrator, Christopher Myer. The story captures the contest of two friends who love basketball. Their two voices taunt and daunt, their challenges becoming more and more ridiculous as the poetic imagery increases in imagination. The pictures and words are strong, but both are in this excellent audio adaptation.
Marilyn Singer’s Follow, Follow (book from Dial; audio from Live Oaks Media; ages 6 and up) is the companion to the author’s first book, “Mirror Mirror.” Both use Singer’s invented form, “reverse.” It works like this: on each page are two poems, the second is written in reversed word order of the first. Miraculously, these make perfect sense in print, but are even more spectacular in audio, especially because of the talents of author Singer and actor Joe Morton. Their intonations make clear the poems’ different moods and point of view shifts in familiar tales like the “Little Mermaid” and “The King’s New Clothes.”
Singer reads the first poem describing the difficulty of writing stories and credits fairies with the help. In the reverso, she expresses the indignant point of view that fairies did not help her. In the second set of poems, Joe Morton portrays a complaining, whiney genie of the lamp. Its reverso stars a genie whose voice and attitude are powerful and threatening.