Feb 15, 2015

New takes on Nursery Rhymes

I've been posting here, (honestly, I have), but less often in recent months. Having a debut release in 2014 proved to be as time-consuming as it was exciting. During these hectic months I rely on the many outstanding (and frequently posted) blogs about picture books and other books for young readers and occasionally share them through links here. And here, and here. The reason for this approach, naturally, is the ever-ticking clock.

In my classrooms I would ask all students what they would choose as a super power, if they could, and why. (Try it! It's  one writing or discussion prompt eagerly pursued and it often reveals insights you'd otherwise miss or require much more time to discover.) 

My own response to that prompt is that I'd like to have the power to control time. If someone felt ill, I'd make the time pass quickly until they recovered. The clock-crunch of class demands limit spontaneity and little bonus rewards like extra recess. My super power would permit me to make a ten minute break feel like twenty minutes, or allow an engaging discussion to continue as the clock hands held their positions long enough to explore ideas further before the bell rang. 

Alas, I never acquired that power. 

That domineering clock has an even more powerful effect in classes (and, I fear, in families) since high-stakes testing and Common Core demands restrict flexibility and choices. As a result, many cultural and literary experiences are relegated to a short, measurable checklist of exposures and competencies rather than occurring naturally and often. 

This is true for nursery rhymes, traditional tales, and mythology. Verses and stories that are common cultural touchpoints in older generations are often unrecognized by kids emerging from our current educational system. I'll save the debate about the cost/benefits of this approach for another forum, but it leads me to the topic of this post. 

The ability to  recite traditional nursery rhymes has value in and of itself, especially at an early age. Rhythm and rhyme, patterns and repetition, word play and predictability are all essential components in early language and reading development. References in brief excerpts, parodies, and as models for early writing rely on familiar verses to be embedded in young minds. 

One way to develop this in later years (with enthusiasm rather than groans about "baby" work) and still address the demands of controlled curricula is to share these books. The first is NURSERY RHYME COMICS: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists (First Second Publishing, 2011) I agree with this review  by Marika McCoola, posted at Indiebound:
“Take 50 incredible artists, give them each a classic nursery rhyme, and let them run! Lucy Knisley turns the 'Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe' into a rock-and-roll baby sitter whose charges form the band 'The Whips.' Raina Telgemeier sets 'Georgie Porgie' at a birthday party that ends with a cupcake fight. Dave Roman depicts a surreal, sci-fi 'One, Two, Buckle My Shoe' that is completely different from Patrick McDonnell's sweet 'Donkey.' A fabulous introduction to the comics format for young and old alike.”

The second is this 2015 release. It provides older readers an opportunity to use nursery rhymes as writing inspiration and opens a discussion of character traits, parody, and literary allusions. Take a look at MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES, co-written by Henry, Josh, and Harrison Herz, illustrated by Abigail Larson.

This debut traditionally-published work (Pelican Press) is written by and for elementary readers. Henry's sons seem to be as deeply entrenched in reading and writing fantasy and science fiction as their father. His blog (here) offers a menu of interviews with some of the most outstanding authors and illustrators working today. Click on the "BLURBS" tab to read what they think of these clever twists on traditional verses. 
After reading both books young readers are likely to find themselves hooked on reading and creating spin-offs and twists of other nursery rhymes. Those who haven't yet discovered the wonders of fantasy and science fiction might well be tempted to give it a try after reading this new book and examining its colorful illustrations. Those who are already fan-fans (fantasy fans) will enjoy finding their fantastic friends and fiends in these verses.

I'm someone who enjoys reading these genres but I'm currently focused on historic and contemporary themes. Even so, I'll make a prediction: Whatever your taste in reading, when you get your hands on both of these books you'll enjoy them as much as the young readers in your lives. 

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