What was the last book you read? Why did you choose it? Was it for pleasure? Professional growth? To finesse a skill? Explore a new concept? Who were you before you read this book and who were you after? Now, consider. How do you decide which books will be part of your work with children as you teach and facilitate the skills of literacy? Choosing books for literacy-based learning is a bit like the dilemma of Goldilocks...we stand and ponder. Which book today? Certainly, the book should meet criteria: not too hot, not too cold, not too small, not too big, not too soft, not too hard...something just right that is familiar, cushy and comfortable to get the job done and meet our targeted goals. After all, just like Goldilocks we are looking for a "just right" fit in the unknown land of what each child brings to the table in regard to cultural, economic, social, religious, political, emotional, health and educational background. The kicker is: our job in choosing books wisely is critically important. It requires more than a cursory look at the shelf as we have limited time to reach each child and help be part of the greater goal in growing a literate and whole person in the middle of a very busy educational agenda. We have an important opportunity in choosing books that not only facilitate our target goals but help empower children to find themselves.
Choosing books wisely is a commitment. We have an opportunity every day to reach the hearts of children with our decisions. We can and should lighten their load with books that entertain and weave a web of connection between generations through shared recognition and anticipation of a great story. One of my favorite sessions ever centered around the book The Story of Little Babaji, by Helen Bannerman, which ended up being the catalyst for three generations of shining eyes listening and exploring the adventures of a crafty boy and greedy tigers followed by a colossal family pancake party! But, we also must choose books that explore concepts to help children explore problems and issues in a safe context to brainstorm and build schemas for coping. Comparing and contrasting Little Red Riding Hood and Little Red Riding Hood: A New Fangled Prairie Tale by Lisa Campbell Ernst allowed my students to reach forward into the traditional story of Little Red as a victim and recast her into a smart, savvy, safety-conscious and empowered co-heroine (ha! spoiler alert!) by making different choices. Books can introduce broader issues that build cultural competency and allow understanding of social, cultural, generational and historical issues to help build respect for all viewpoints and engage critical thinking. Exploring Dia de Los Muertos through Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston and Jeanette Winter, Zen philosophy through Zen Shorts by Jon Muth and aspects of the Great Depression through The Gardener by Sarah Stewart allowed a broader conversation in session and at home for my students from varied backgrounds.
The decision to harness books to help children find themselves can be facilitated by understanding the concepts of bibliotherapy and critical literacy. A spot-on beautiful and practical article, Children's literature promotes understanding by Melissa Thibault, explores these concepts in detail and helps create a framework for each area of implementation. In short, bibliotherapy is the concept that books can help children deal with personal situations and begin to heal through better understanding. Through the catalyst of the book Roger: The Jolly Pirate by Brett Helquist, the concepts of being yourself, coping with bullying and celebrating each person's contributions to a group empowered my students to identify and put into action their unique roles in becoming part of various groups in the new school year. Critical literacy addresses broad issues to allow children to think about and respect others, consider multiple viewpoints and become more reflective on their own lives. A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams was not only relatable for many of my students but a call to action for them to help their parents save for something special and empathize with tired bodies at the end of back to back jobs.
Choosing books for our own practices as well as the boxes that we create to promote and support the magic of literacy-based therapy through 3D SLP is a process that is heartfelt and purposeful. There are so many classic books that are beloved that we use in our own therapy sessions because they are so delightful and engaging. But, to become a part of our boxes, a book has to have something more. The books we choose are evaluated to tender the true calling of the book to help each child find themselves and understand how important they are. We choose books to help children find their power, to heal, to discover what makes them special and to open conversational doors to parts of themselves that possibly no one has ever opened. That in essence for us is where bibliotherapy and critical literacy start in our mission to empower and help children find themselves through carefully chosen books. To find great books, we use many resources, read (and appreciate but reject) many books and finally make our final choices of the heart. For great resources consider the following: Caldecott Winners, Notable Social Studies Books, www.booksintheclassroom.com