Each week I read books to a class of second-grade students. Last year's group liked text-rich picture books (like Library Lion) and nonfiction about animals, even the dry "this is the leopard" kind. The current crew enjoys short and funny read-alouds, so last week I went in with Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Several of the kids knew it already, but no matter. "That was the best book you've ever brought us," said one little guy. Someone else asked, "Where did the bus driver go?" and another, "Who is the pigeon talking to?" (F.Y.I., just in case you haven't seen this contemporary classic, Willems has the pigeon directly addressing the reader.) I try to get the other children to chime in with their answers to questions like these. It's fun to hear the ideas. Up next is The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! After that, maybe Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back. None of these books takes more than a few minutes to read out loud.
The children's book expert Anita Silvey has made the case for bringing back picture books with longer texts; she wrote in School Library Journal last fall, "So much of what we see, no matter how clever it is, can be described as a joke book. Some are very good jokes, but once you’ve read the text, you don’t really need to read it hundreds of times." I agree, but...
For example, Bill Peete's much wordier picture books are full of fanciful storylines, not to mention hilarious visual humor, but I worry that if I read one, I might lose half the class to thumb-twiddling and squirming. But, if I never read it, they'd miss Prewitt Peacock's ridiculous, guffaw-inducing tail. Do I share Judi and Ron Barrett's equally funny though much more succinct Animals Definitely Should Not Wear Clothing, instead?
I know that the connection I make with the children is the most important part of our weekly story times; connection is what literacy is all about. But I do wonder about these things. And I certainly don't have all the answers!