Wednesday, January 25, 2006

the difference between girls & boys, first grade edition

All year, we've been struggling to get DD to read on her own. She's a brilliant reader, but very few books held her interest. She kept going back to her favorite "read to me" books, like David Shannon's A Bad Case of Stripes, which is simply brilliant, but not a book she could read on her own.

This week, we've made a breakthrough. Over the weekend, she picked up My Secret Unicorn by Linda Chapman, and is she ever hooked! She is barely content with two chapters a day. She reads several pages, and then I take over and read the rest. (Apparently, we're ahead of the curve, here; a quick googling shows that this book is not generally available in the US. I believe we ordered it from Scholastic through the kids' school, but it's not even available on their website.)

DS1 always liked to read, but back in first grade, his choice of books was The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. We own all 34 books chronicling the adventures of brother and sister Jack and Annie, and their adventures through history. The point of these stories is quite clearly to learn something about the past, and while they do have an element of fantasy, there isn't any character development to speak of. DS1 enjoyed the fact-based adventures, and enjoyed the appendices as much as the stories themselves.

DD, too, likes non-fiction material, but her current choices are outside of her reading ability: The Magic School Bus series, in which Ms. Frizzle takes her class on very unorthodox, and educational, field trips. These books are excellent, but the vocabulary is generally third or fourth grade level, making them better "read to me" books.

The unicorn book has pretty hefty vocabulary and complex sentence structure, too, but DD remains undaunted. What has her hooked is the characters. Readers never learn much about what Jack and Annie are thinking or feeling, aside from their fears and frustrations relating to each story's theme. The "Unicorn" books are different in that Chapman opens up her characters' thoughts and emotions.

I can see that having more fully developed characters is very appealing to my daughter, who is more interested in the people than their surroundings. I'm not saying my son wouldn't enjoy these stories, but I do think they are not something he would choose for himself. Obviously, he hasn't chosen them, or anything like them, yet. He sticks to action/adventure (Bionicle adventures and chronicles), ghost stories (Goosebumps and others), and non-fiction (The Way Things Work, Walking with Dinosaurs.)

My philosophy here is to encourage pretty much any and all reading. We have books in every room in the house, with non-fiction and fiction in many genres for the kids to choose from. My bookcase is stuffed with roughly half science fiction and fantasy and half non-fiction books on history, economics, politics, and religion. (The cookbooks have their own bookcase.) So far, DS1 leans towards action-oriented fantasy and non-fiction, whereas DD has now shown a preference for character-driven fantasy, although she did really like Little House in the Big Woods, which is also character-driven.

I make suggestions all the time, of course, but I don't force them to read anything they don't like. DS1 has tried any number of books of mine and then put them down again. I'm curious to see what kind of reader DD turns out to be.

As for DS2, his favorite author by far is Robert Sabuda. The kid has a stunning collection of Sabuda's work, aka "paper sculpture/art in book delivery form," and we're doing the best we can to preserve it so it survives his childhood.

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