The Greenvale Park Elementary PTO’s main fundraiser for the year, the Read-a-Thon, is under way, and the PTO is helping to create positive energy around reading by offering prize buckets for our students. Heidi McCormick, a GVP parent and PTO treasurer, and I, also a GVP parent, had the pleasure of selecting books for the prize buckets. We chose books from various reading levels and included kids’ favorites as well as classics. Students can try to win books featuring Piggie and Gerald, Pete-the-Cat, or Origami Yoda. Science books and biographies make up two groupings, and there is also a bucket of Spanish books!
Among the many books we have chosen, I want to highlight a few that mean a lot to our family. While we have always loved books by Mo Willems, the Elephant and Piggie books made a huge difference in my 6-year-old son’s reading development this summer. In his Kindergarten year, he didn’t really love reading. Getting him to do his book-in-a-bag was often a struggle, and it was clear that he saw reading as a task rather than a source of pleasure. But this summer things changed when he got hooked on Gerald and Piggie. My son has always been driven by humor—he lives to make his older brother laugh—so this wasn’t a surprise, given how funny these books are. But what was also great was how few words there were on each page, making it easy for a six-year-old to repeatedly read-flip page-read. And after a while he would half read/half memorize, and each reading increased his fluency because he was also acting out the books. When he had read every single Elephant and Piggie book, his attitude toward reading had changed dramatically. He was reading on his own, for fun, and now he excitedly races to get his book-in-a-bag!
Another bucket inspired by our recent family reading experience is Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz and the classic 1939 film adaptation starring Judy Garland. One of my greatest joys of parenting is reading with my children, and I have a rule that even though I’m reading with them, I will only read books that I like. After picking up The Wizard of Oz at Content (Northfield's excellent independent bookstore), I started reading it with my children and realized that I hadn’t actually read this book before. I thought I had because as most folks, I know the story and have seen the movie. Reading it for the first time, I was impressed with how compact the story is. Just having read the first three books of the Harry Potter series with my children, I found the fast pace and the intentional plotting of the novel so refreshing. After thoroughly enjoying the book, we rented the classic film adaptation from the library. We love reading a book and then watching a good film adaptation of it, because it gives us the opportunity to discuss similarities and differences, and what we liked vs. didn’t like about each version. In seeing the film, we definitely missed some crucial parts of the book (such as the porcelain people and creatures, and all of Oz’s weird antics), but we loved some added components like the prominence of the Wicked Witch of the West—absolutely loved her green skin! The joys of technicolor!
The prize bucket that is closest to my heart is one that holds the five beautiful books of The Birchbark House series written by Louise Erdrich. In my opinion, Erdrich is one of the best writers of our time, and I know many of her books very well. But I discovered The Birchbark House series when I randomly picked up the fourth book in the series, Chickadee (thank you again, Content Bookstore!) and was absolutely blown away after reading it with my children. We then read all the books in the series and cherished each one. The series initially centers on an Ojibwe girl named Omakayas and her life in the mid 1800’s. Subsequent books shift focus to Omakayas’s brother Quill and her sons Chickadee and Makoons. While the historical background of these books is important for all of us to read about, it’s the literary execution that makes them truly special. I believe children instinctively know good literature; they love to hear elegant language, and they pay more attention to well drawn-out stories. And true to form, my children listened intently to every breathless description, tensed up at every heartbreaking scene, and laughed out loud in the many, many funny moments of the book. As if all of this isn’t enough, the books also teach valuable lessons about Ojibwe culture and history.
If you are a parent, maybe your child will be the winner of one of these wonderful prize buckets! Regardless, I hope this blog post inspires you to check out these and other titles at the library or the local bookstore!
~Sun Hee Lee
If you want to show your appreciation of this post by donating to the Greenvale Park Elementary PTO, please visit givemn.org/organization/greenvalepark