Since 2008, Mass Humanities has sponsored a children’s literature program for families called Family Adventures in Reading. It’s been held in branch libraries in Springfield and New Bedford. The Springfield program for this year will be hosted by the Indian Orchard Branch; here’s the contact information and schedules for the Springfield and New Bedford programs:
Indian Orchard Branch
44 Oak Street, Indian Orchard
Saturdays, Oct. 16, Oct. 23, Oct. 30, Nov. 6, Nov. 13, Nov. 20, 1:00 pm -2:30 pm
Howland-Green Branch Library
3 Rodney French Blvd, New Bedford
Saturdays 1-2:30, October 16, 23, 30, November 6, 13, 20
The program requires registration, so interested adults should call the branch librarian to sign up.
Participating families receive copies of thematically paired books in advance to read at home, and the following session features a professional storyteller who reads the same stories and engages the group with questions that get to the heart of the ideas expressed in words and pictures. Each session concludes with light refreshments.
Now that the logistics are out of the way, let me share the program’s core ideas: (1) excellent picture books can provide opportunities for meaningful conversations between children and adults; (2) children’s literature often presents ideas and meaty humanities questions, not just fun stories; (3) libraries are community treasures and all families should visit them regularly.
What wasn’t quite this straightforward was the process for selecting books for a new FAIR series to be used this October in Indian Orchard. My colleague, Kristin O’Connell, hired a children’s literature expert to develop a list of possibilities over the summer. Books needed to be in print, available in paperback, be likely to capture the interest of a fairly large range of ages while not being too text-heavy, have excellent illustrations, and relate to what we called “social themes” (or moral attributes) such as “courage” and “fairness,” to name a couple that were used in the first series. Toward the end of the summer we received a long list of possibilities from our expert and had a wonderful conversation with her about her favorites and possible combinations.
That done, Kristin and I needed to choose between five and seven pairs of books to use. We read and evaluated them independently and then had another long but fruitful conversation about books we knew wouldn’t work, books that we considered slam dunks for the program, and the themes that we thought were the most directly illuminated in our choices. The following is an annotated list of what we came up with—I hope that Springfield readers with children may be moved to register and enjoy the treatment these titles get in the hands of professional storytellers.
Families Meeting Challenges
Mailing May by Michael O. Tunnell, illustrated by Ted Rand
A true story about how a family in 1914 conjures a way to have their daughter travel “through the rough old Idaho mountains” to visit her grandmother. The deft illustrations also introduce young readers to the concept of “primary sources.”
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
A family, with help from its community, rallies, having lost everything in a fire.
Different ways of seeing
Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young
Individual mice try to glean the truth about a gigantic object in their path. Together, they figure out what they’re dealing with, each observer filling in a necessary piece of the puzzle.
Emma’s Rug by Allen Say
The secret of Emma’s artistic prowess is that she sees pictures in her rug. What happens after her mother washes it and it no longer does its magic?
Living through change and loss/ Making a new home
Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say
A beautifully told and exquisitely illustrated tale of immigration: to America from Japan, and back to Japan. Where is home?
Letting Swift River Go by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
The tale of the flooding of the Swift River to create the Quabbin Reservoir, and what this meant to the communities that were lost.
Bonds between generations
Bintou’s Braids by Sylvianne Diouf, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
A West African girl longs for braids like those of her older sisters and the women of the village. An act of heroism and maturity earns her her heart’s desire.
Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
A young girl visits her grandmother in Palestine and familial affection creates a bridge over the language divide.
Friendship and community
Mr. George Baker by Amy Hest, illustrated by Jon J. Muth
About a young boy’s friendship with an elderly jazz drummer who is attending his elementary school to learn how to read.
Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Paul Yalowitz
Mr. Hatch’s life couldn’t be more predictable, dull, and loveless. And then one day he receives an enormous, heart-shaped box of chocolates with an anonymous love note.
The Empty Pot by Demi
In this Chinese folktale, village children are issued a challenge to grow seeds given by the Emperor. But Ping’s seed won’t grow.
A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ronald Himler
The topic of immigrants and day labor is gently introduced in this skillfully rendered story of family connection, honesty, and work.
The Day of Ahmed’s Secret by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, illustrated by Ted Lewin
Ahmed delivers canisters of fuel in Cairo, and in this richly illustrated tale of his daily routine, the joy of his secret (spoiler: he has learned to write his name) pervades all. This is a stirring depiction of well deserved pride.
Frederick by Leo Lionni
The artists among us have responsibilities too. Can Frederick’s gifts to his community of fellow mice make up for their resentment at his lack of involvement in the collecting of food for the long winter?