My two sons are read to every night right before bed. We all snuggle together on the couch and we try to get through as many pages as we can before the avalanche of questions from the older one or the inevitable slithering off the couch in search for a snack from the younger one. I value this time, and not just because it means that the very special time of day when we have the house to ourselves (for an hour) is getting closer.
I recently picked up the book Journey, by Aaron Becker as a present for my soon-to-be two year old. Anyone who knows me well, understands that I can't hold on to a gift for long. I gave it to him early, and will most likely have to find something else to give him on the day he actually turns two. It was the perfect gift right before bed-time and a great addition to our collection of children's books.
I didn't actually read the description of the book before I purchased it. I saw the beautiful illustrations and was sold. When I opened it up to read to the boys I quickly realized that my participation in reading time was about to become more than I bargained for. Being a wordless book, I would have to provide the story and encourage my very tired son to read into the illustrations. I am not a very lazy person, but I like to be prepared with the amount of effort I have to put into something right upfront. Since there was no going back, we started the journey of Journey. I have to say, In my 4 years of being a parent, and after reading hundreds of stories, I have never witnessed two children so engaged with a story as they were with Journey. I also have never had as much fun "reading" a story. I highly recommend this book.
This experience brought me to a project my students are currently working on. We recieved a grant to create a children's book in collaboration with 4-5 year olds in our district. My 10th grade students went through weeks of planning and brainstorming to decide what makes for a great children's book and how to include really young children in the process of creating one. One of the things that came to the group early on was parental involvement. My students agreed that the tone of the reader's voice was equally as important as the words they were reading. I had a wonderful 5th grade Reading teacher who used her dramatic voices in each story she read. Mrs. Walker had a better Roald Dahl Matilda voice than Miss Mara Wilson, herself.
So, my class brainstormed ways to encourage parents to read to their children in voices. They thought about including a blurb on the inside cover letting parents know how important hearing the unique voices are to children, and providing backgrounds of the characters to help the parents come up with voice options. They considered voice notes on the sides of the pages to remind parents to insert their character voices. None of their ideas stuck in the final version of the book.
The class is well into the illustration process at this point. They chose not to include any reminders in writing and will rely on their pictures of the characters to draw the voices. Whether this is the best solution or not is irrelevant. I was grateful that they came up with the idea of parental involvement with voices on their own as a topic for brainstorming and discussion. To me, the more important thing was that they were including it in their design process and knew well enough to think about it to begin with.
Just as Journey relies on the nuances of the illustrations to carry the story and provide voices for its characters, the students creating their picture book rely on subtle skills to get their voices heard. It isn't always easy to articulate this subtlety, but when a great example comes along, it is refreshing.
Go out and get this book. You don't have to read it to children to fall in love with it. If you need an excuse, get it for the sole purpose of illustrating the skill of saying something with subtlety to your students. Let them know there are ways to have your voice heard loud and clear in very quiet ways.
I have been teaching art and design at the middle and high school level since 2006 and learning about both for a lot longer.