ImPRESSive Books

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When taking into consideration all of the inventions since long before the modern era, our progress in communication, transportation, medicine and government all pale in comparison to the impact of the movable-type printing press that has given us mass-produced books. Allowing us to share ideas and sentiments across the globe, and to communicate our culture and stories across eons, “Time” magazine judged the printing press the single most important invention of the past 1,000 years.

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Illustration from 1744

Books are an obvious fuel to turbo-charge formal and informal learning. They can bring the world into a home and within easy reach of the developing minds of inquiring children. Sociological research indicates that a book’s power lies in the fact that its mere presence alters the conversations enjoyed in a home. Books elevate the discourse to include topics, events, people and places that, in the absence of books, likely would be unknown to a home’s residents. Most importantly, book-enriched conversation is the greatest source of intellectual stimulation for most little ones’ growth toward school readiness.

Books have been offering kids portable, on-demand information, entertainment and conversation topics for centuries prior to cable television and Internet streaming services. The very first book specifically for children’s pleasure reading, “A Little Pretty Pocket-Book” by Englishman John Newbery (Yes, THAT Newbery!*) was first published and mass-produced, in 1744. It is credited with proving that there was indeed a market for books designed just for children. Since then, the proliferation of documents in the compact, paper-based format we call “book” has invited children to start and stop their learning at any time, reconsider a page or section as needed, jump to the middle of a story or exposition to find something of current interest, and to ponder and share its contents at will.

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The Newbery Medal

While children’s books are written for an author-determined age group, once they are turned loose in the marketplace of ideas, books can take on a life of their own. Avid readers can always find something to spur wonder and reflection even in a book not remotely like those they prefer. Struggling readers, finding their interest piqued by a challenging book, often can make sense of it even though its writing is far above their identified level of comfortable reading. Advanced readers bring their in-depth understanding of text and story structure, along with their background knowledge and intellect, to find vivid life connections and metaphoric depth in even the simplest of texts. What’s wonderful is that the books serving each of these three kinds of readers could all be the very same book!

Those sharing a book side-by-side can even be reading different parts of the page at the same time, and at their own rates, and get understandings quite different from each other. If those two readers are teacher and child, youngster and parent, or cross-grade reading buddies, then the conversation that occurs between the pair can enrich them both, though quite possibly in very different ways.

For all of these reasons, let’s work hard to ensure that a consistent part of each child’s literacy education at home and school includes the veneration of books, not merely as another brick in the wall of building better test scores, but as an element for creating a unique lifetime of learning joy and self-determined fulfillment.

*Namesake of the Newbery Medal awarded by the American Library association to the very best children’s book each year.

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7 Responses to “ImPRESSive Books”

  1. Tracy March 30, 2017 at 8:02 pm #

    Great article!

    • Mark Condon March 31, 2017 at 8:50 am #

      Poetry is so special, Josie. Wonderful poems can capture in a few words what chapters in a book cannot. All that to say that your point is well-taken. In fact my dedication to books mirrors my admiration for poetry. Both can provide: Rich language, powerful vocabulary, vivid images. Poems touch, move and inspire. Books inform, vitalize and explain. Different purposes and audiences.

  2. Josie Whitehead March 31, 2017 at 12:37 am #

    Mark, books are very important – yes – but don’t forget also reading on the internet. I’ve had a lot of my poems published in books but they are no longer in print. The children at my local school, for whom I wrote the poems and who love them, asked me to put them onto an internet website. Now I have 1,500 of my own popular poems that reach children in 188 countries of the world – many places where they could not buy the books, and furthermore I’m able to add voice recordings so that children for whom English is a second language can listen to a clear English voice pronouncing words which may be difficult to read. As for poetry, I believe that above all it should be heard many times before reading, and if possible, by the author. However, I do support you very much on books too. We’re in a changing world.

  3. Margaret Pickett March 31, 2017 at 7:29 am #

    I grew up in a home that valued books. My parents had a small library and they were voracious readers. They read history, philosophy, poetry, and fiction. They discussed–and often argued–about what they were reading. I grew up wanting to be smart enough to join their conversations. Their influence turned me into a book worm–and an English teacher! I continue my parents’ tradition of reading and discussion with my students. I want them to be smart enough to join in the conversations, too. Books we read now will enable them to engage in future discussions.

    • Mark Condon April 5, 2017 at 9:37 am #

      What a wonderful gift this journey has been for you, Margaret! It’s those discussions that make the world go ’round!

  4. Josie Whitehead March 31, 2017 at 11:05 am #

    What you have said is so true Mark. Thanks for that. Although I had a great deal of my work published in books, it immediately cut off the accessibility for many children of the world. In a way I’m glad that now the books are no longer published and I have the copyright back because I’ve been able to do what the children asked me to do, ie put it onto my five huge internet websites where children of the world can access it freely and from where I can add voice recordings, talk to them, add music and illustrations, animations and other arts subjects. Listening to poetry is so important for children and it was local children who asked me to put voice recordings with my poems. They loved me to bring their poems into their class, sit on the floor cross-legged as children do, and just get away from reading and writing and classwork, and be taken by the human voice into the realms of fantasy or simply just enjoy a simple picture painted in words. I think children should just hear poetry well before they read it, as they do with nursery rhymes. I can add music to my words on the internet, add illustrations and animation too as well as little games for the children. Being able to make these poems freely available also means that they’re more likely to get them in their classrooms and they know they can follow them up again at home freely on their own computers. Long live poetry for children!! ha ha

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