Sunday, January 12, 2014

Read-alouds, aka checking out “comps.”

How are you at scoping out the competition??? 

In her children’s writing courses, writer Ana Suen makes all her students do a ton of reading and check out what she calls “comps” – essentially, your competition.  I definitely agree with her that if you’re going to write in a genre, you have to read in it, at length. 

Happily, I do.  I love reading out loud, and my kids seem to tolerate being read to, so it’s the best of every possible world.

Around here, we always have a few read-alouds on the go, at least.  Here are a couple of the books we’re slowly stumbling through.  Some more off-and-on than others:

  • 0763644323Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo.  Going through a bit of a Kate DiCamillo phase, actually: we read The Tale of Despereaux not long ago, and I have a library copy of Flora and Ulysses on the tablet for them, too.  All highly recommended.  Guess I didn’t read enough reviews ahead of time, because I was surprised to find many references to alcoholism in Because of Winn-Dixie (the main character’s mother is a runaway alcoholic; another character is alcoholic as well), but it’s dealt with tastefully enough that it hasn’t shocked the kids so far.

Here’s a page from Flora and Ulysses:

It’s new to us but looks like a lot of fun, although, because of the semi-graphic-novel format, not suited to reading aloud… so, here we go, on with the read-alouds!

  • 014032609XThe Children of Noisy Village, by Astrid Lindgren.  This is the author of Pippi Longstocking, but if you’re hoping for another Pippi book, this isn’t it.  It’s a very – um, how shall I put it? – mild tale of a group of children growing up in Sweden of the 1940s or 1950s.  I think my kids like it because the children are exotic, but to me, everything exotic about them is kind of boring:  they run and play freely outdoors, and essentially choose their own fun.  Perhaps that’s exotic.  Oh, also, they celebrate Christmas, which is something my own Jewish kids can’t get enough of.  It’s wholesome and mildly eventful, in a Little House on the Prairie kind of way.
  • 100 First Stories (in Hebrew, 100 סיפורים ראשונים, חלק ב).  A collection of only-slightly-weird retellings of short classic fairy tales (like the Three Billy Goats Gruff), along with some Hebrew versions thrown in for fun.  Some friends of ours found this in a pile of donated clothing and books and gave it to us, but somehow, it has lost about 1/3 of the pages, making it perhaps 75 First Stories instead of all 100.
  • Purple Monster (in Hebrew, מפלצת סגולה), by Rinat Hoffer.  This is perfect for when I’m tired at the end of a long day, a not-too-challenging picture book from a new favourite author.  See?  Even in a language that’s hard to read, I have to keep an open mind!  For some mysterious reason, the word for “monster” in Hebrew (“mifletzet”) is feminine… so all monsters, regardless of their personal inclination, seem to be feminine.  This purple one is fabulously no exception.

There are a couple more that we pick up from time to time, but I’ll leave it here now.  Well, no, I’ll add in two more books… for our read-aloud Hall of Shame.  I don’t like to admit defeat, but I guess we’re all human, right?  So I’ll admit:  here are two books that have defeated my efforts to read them aloud in the last few months:

  • 1613823312The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling.  Not really a kids’ book at all, or perhaps it is and I’m just reading it wrong.  We have had some success in the past with his Just So Stories, and I was hoping to add something of the classics into their mainly junky reading lately, but no… it just didn’t work out, so I shelved it for now. 
  • B0083Z614SThe Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Our failure with this one really shocked me because I love this book.  Love it from my own childhood and I still love it as an adult.  We read A Little Princess all the way through last year and everybody enjoyed it tremendously.  I think some of the themes in Secret Garden were just too weird, like the crippled Colin who keeps being told he’s going to die.  In any event, our interest sort of petered out and I didn’t bother trying to revive it.

What are you reading aloud these days?  When you read to your kids, do you think of the books you’re holding as “the competition,” or just sit back and enjoy them while you’re at it?


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