If we expose children to the many different genres of literature, would that spark their interest in a specific genre and ignite a desire to read?
I was very familiar with the Chicago Public Library and the New York Library because it was there I did most of my research for writing and illustrating children’s books. Adults, from my viewpoint, seem to settle into a certain genre. Some like fiction, some non fiction, some biographies, some historical fiction, some mysteries, some romance, some philosophy, some poetry, some informational text, etc…
One day I went to the top floor of the Chicago Public Library and went to all the departments on the 8th floor. I asked the librarian in every department “If you were getting on a rocket to Mars what book would you recommend from your department that children should read someday?” Then I went down the beautiful stairway to the next floor and by the end of the day I had my list and I was inspired to keep working on this idea/question for children. How can we make them want to read?
The following school year after kindergarten those 44 students got sprinkled into four 1st grade classrooms. There were 100 children I now had the opportunity to teach. I started in September going to the school once a week on Mondays in the cafeteria with 30 carpet pads in front of a big screen and with the custodian’s help, set up tables so that all the children could see. I had to make a decision. Do I dumb down the drawing lessons for the students who didn’t have drawing lessons with me last year or just continue full speed ahead? I decided full speed ahead. Much to my surprise most all of them could follow along. Some did remarkably well. We talked about the genres and drew images from books. For example I drew a pirate, a parrot, a sailing ship and a treasure map from the adventure genre and book Treasure Island. It was as if they were listening to a book on tape while they drew. Mysteries were really fun because I would end the lesson with “You’ll just have to read the book someday.” We started each lesson with me asking the students “Did anybody read a great book this weekend?” The culture grew and the drawings and handwriting continued to improve.
Judy Sarosic also helped me choose books for this project. Judy was the coordinator for Michigan Reading Association Conference Authors and Illustrators for 6 years and a first grade teacher. She tied the books to writing prompts and all the support for teachers in the manual we created.
From this year I learned:
- Students can jump into this project without the previous “Foundation”. I still believe in our Foundation but I am often asked: “What about the new student that is new to the district?” If he or she cannot keep up we have suggestions for many different kinds of circumstances.
- Children love to talk about books.
- Students really do learn the names of most of the 64 colors.
- I could increase the difficulty of the drawings and deepen the content as the weeks rolled on.
- Pencil grip corrections can take a few weeks or a few years but I never stopped trying to help children transition to the correct pencil grip because I knew it mattered.
- Coloring skills take longer than drawing skills. Pressure skills take years also.