Despite best laid plans to put this blog on hiatus for a few months, I find myself having something to say about picture books every week. News, other blog posts, and books themselves shake me by the shoulders and insist that I get my thoughts out into the world.
Qualities that make matches magical, ones that allow both the book and reader to benefit to the max, are as indefinable as the chemistry underlying soul mates.
In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I want to share a few "book Cupid" thoughts.
Knowing both books and readers well is the best place to start. Age, interests, background, and style contribute to compatibility. Use caution, though, in considering them as "veto" factors.
I recently attended a reading conference which brought that point home. In one session preschool teachers were improving their skills and understanding of the uses of wordless story books to develop early literacy with four-year-olds. Later that day I watched a demonstration using the same wordless books with middle grade readers to develop high-level comprehension and writing skills. Identical books were motivating, effective, and entertaining with widely different readers.
What made both matches work so well was knowing the books, the readers, and the intention behind their pairing. In much the same way as meeting a first date, expectations make or break the experience.
Which brings me to my "virtual" friend and fellow picture-book-lover, Richa Jha. We met through social media and our friendship developed despite differences in age, culture, and experience. Richa has worked in children's publishing in India and is a young mother, in contrast with my longer life here in midwestern US as a teacher. Nevertheless, we are kindred spirits when it comes to our belief in the importance of quality picture books in the lives of children.
Richa currently lives in Lagos but wrote and released two picture books in English intended her home market. This post about one of Richa's recent picture book releases, THE SUSU PALS, shares two very different online opinions from US readers. The linked post thoroughly explores the concept of openness and expectations, of approaching books with a receptive rather than a disparaging eye. It's worth taking the time to read it.
Readers of any age can dig beyond the surface (even in wordless books), examine details, consider characters, and explore connections to themselves and the world through books. It's a red letter day when any reader recognizes a soul mate in a given book. Thankfully, the reader-book relationship isn't monogamous, and shouldn't be. Opening the cover of every book with an expectation that the pages have something to offer of value is a virtual guarantee that something of value will be found there. Including among those openings books that reflect other cultures expands the reader's world in the best possible ways. Expectations are key.
The best thing we "book cupids" can do is foster that attitude and offer unlimited introductions to books reflecting our wide and wonderful world.