Friday, January 29, 2010

What's So Great About Children's Literature?

Regular readers of the Book Chook have probably picked up that I am passionate about children's literature and literacy. My family tells me it's bordering on obsession, and there is often eye-rolling and rib-nudging when I climb onto my soap box at a coffee morning. In fact, a newcomer to our circle turned to me the other day and demanded, "What's so great about children's literature anyway?"

Ah, I'm so pleased she asked!

Children's literature is often shared in a family read-aloud. This becomes a special time for physical closeness, turning off ubiquitous screens, taking time to reflect on what is read and discuss it, shared enjoyment of reading. Our society is becoming more fragmented, and family closeness is something we need to defend and prioritize. Children's literature is a fantastic way to bring families closer together.

Children's literature can be an escape for some kids who need escape. There are increasing numbers of children who feel depressed about the world and their place in it. For them, positive messages in a children's book can inspire and give them them hope. Kids need dreams, and children's literature gives them wonderful dreams. Dreams, and hope, and stories about kids who aren't helpless make children feel less helpless themselves.

By reading the books our kids read, we have an area of mutual interest and a way into discussion with our kids. This becomes especially important as our kids get older. Taking an interest in their books shows kids the channels of communication are open. Open and honest discussion about literature also gives kids a framework for later literature studies at school.

Children's literature gives kids a way to explore parts of the world they cannot (or have not yet) directly experience(d). Young readers who love trucks or dinosaurs can find out so much more about them. Tweens who like martial arts can read a book from the
Samurai Kids series by Sandy Fussell, and learn indirectly about overcoming fear and solving problems.

By reading children's literature, or listening to it read aloud, we are putting ourselves in someone else's shoes. We experience their reality. This exposure to other lives increases our empathy and tolerance. One thing our world needs is more tolerance! By understanding another's perspective, we are less likely to be ego-centric, or bully others.

Human beings have loved stories since they yakked around the cave campfire. In modern society we are surrounded by stories - in movies, computer games etc. So what makes children's literature a better way to experience story? I have nothing against screen-based entertainment, so long as it is limited and part of a balanced life. But children's literature is especially important as a way of developing kids' imaginations. When reading or listening to books being read aloud, children are entering the fictive dream and building imagination muscle. We know our 21st Century learners will need to be creative thinkers, and for that, they need imagination.

Wow! No wonder so many people in the kidlitosphere love children's literature. Is there anything it can't do? I'm not sure it can reduce 25 inches of belly fat in one month, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it put a human on Mars. And I just bet that human is a reader!


{This post is part of the January 2010 Carnival of Children's Literature, which is hosted at Jenny's Wonderland of Books, a great blog to find out more about the history of children's literature and lovely old books.}

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