Just a School Librarian

Thoughts of a Middle School Librarian

The Beach Boys and the Berlin Wall: What I Learned from a Picture Book

Posted by CGibson on November 6, 2010


Did you know that the Beach Boys performed a concert in Prague, Csechoslovakia in the summer of 1969? It was during the Cold War.

Did you know that it was Winston Churchill who coined the term, the “Iron Curtain”, in reference to the Berlin Wall?

Did you know that the tense 40-year standoff when the United States and the Soviet Union had nuclear weapons is called the Cold War?

Did you know that the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall November 9, 1989?

Did you know that I have a small souvenir chunk of the Berlin Wall in a shoe box somewhere?

I rediscovered all this history NOT by reading a social studies textbook.  Instead I picked up these nuggets of history by reading a picture book. A PICTURE BOOK.

A few weeks ago I read this memoir by Peter Sis: The wall: growing up behind the iron wall. It’s a picture book. For kids.  A fabulously-illustrated picture book of growing up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War.  I’m not going to provide you with a book review. Believe me, it’s good. Go ahead and read it.

As I was reading it, I was aware of the teeth-gnashing over the recent NYTimes article about the decline of picture books.  The article cites two factors:  a sluggish economy, and parents who are encouraging their very young children to read chapter books.

Well okay, the economy is horrible. My copy of The wall costs $18.00. And I didn’t buy it. I borrowed it from my library. The library is a wonderful source of FREE books. The only time I shell out my hard-earned money at the library is when I return stuff late.

What really concerns me is how some parents/caretakers are so misinformed. They actually think they need to thrust a chapter book into the hands of very young children just because it has more words.  These parents/caretakers obviously haven’t read The wall by Peter Sis. This book can be read aloud to children, and still be enjoyed by the adult. Peter Sis’ memoir is presented on two levels: On one level, young children can enjoy the illustrations and simple text. The adult reader (I think I fall into this category) can enjoy the detailed informative text that appears on the periphery.

What also concerns me was this comment from the article, “By first grade, when the kids go to pick out their books, they ask where the chapter books are. They’re just drawn to them.”

Well OF COURSE first graders are “drawn” to chapter books! Chapter books have that alluring grown-up appeal that little children just can’t resist.

But that doesn’t make it right.

If anything, many too-young children will get frustrated and bored by wordy chapter books.

My 5-year-old grandson really wants to watch iCarly on TV, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready for it (he better stick to Dinosaur Train and Curious George).

I hope that if anyone reads this blog post, you will consider steering your young (and not-so-young) readers toward picture books. If you are unsure which picture books to read, ask your librarian, or refer to the Caldecott list of award-winning picture books.

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