Summer Melt, Summer Reading, Summer Fun: A Book with Meanings
A new book about giraffes helps curb summer melt, inspires curiosity and teaches kids about language and diversity.
Sadly, the idea of summer reading turns many kids off. And, students who are provided lists of required books often wait until the last week before school restarts to get, let alone read, the assigned books, whether at the library or through a hard copy purchase or online.
That said, I have been committed for some time to curbing summer melt and to making reading fun and engaging and pleasurable for young people of all ages and at all stages.
Now to the problem at hand: We will never close the education gap if we don’t more aggressively start realizing and acting on the fact that summers are a time when low-income students often slip back while higher income children move forward. It has everything to do with, among other variables, opportunities — to travel, to see new sites, to visit museums, attend concerts, read books, participate in camping experiences or other summer enrichment programs. For children with two working parents and barely enough monies in the family (if there is one) to make ends meet, reading hardly seems like the way to spend one’s precious spare time or revenue.
There’s more to a book than words
I am releasing a new book intended primarily for ages 3–7 (readable by youngsters) on May 23, 2019 at More than Words in Boston. This is an amazing non-profit that enables young people to “find their way” to high school graduation and college by working in an online and now brick and mortar bookstore, engaging in all types of activities to run the business (which generates income). Ponder that: these young people are surrounded by books all day. They touch books, they catalogue books, they send off books, they shelve books. Books have to rub off on them as they literally touch them repeatedly.
This new book is titled Are You a Giraffe?, and like the place it is being launched, it involves vastly more than words. Yes, of course there are words. It is about Lucy, a young multiracial girl, who sets out to find a giraffe — a creature she has never seen before. She asks every animal she sees if he/she is a giraffe. They all answer the same way: “No, No, No.” Repetition in children’s stories — especially the word “no” encourages laughter, animal identification (a rabbit is not a giraffe) and easy memorization of types of animals as well as the actual text of the story.
After answering “No, No, No,” all the creatures encountered say: “Look up.” There in the top corner of the page (sometimes on the left and sometimes on the right) is a giraffe hidden behind a tree. (The giraffe and trees differ — more on that in a moment.) Now, this ties into the importance of object constancy and the game Hide and Seek (created to address object constancy and separation and attachment). Youngsters need to know that just because something goes away, it is not gone permanently. And, something being hidden does not mean it is gone.
Lucy then comes upon a giraffe, who introduces her to another giraffe who introduces her to another giraffe who introduces her to still another giraffe — four giraffe in total. And, each is different from the other but they are all giraffe. The messaging is clear: you can be a giraffe (or a person) and look different from the animal or person next to you. Diversity, difference, discrimination are all topics that can be addressed right in this spot in the book (or later).
And, these four giraffe that Lucy encounters are the same giraffe that are hidden behind the trees, an opportunity to go back and match the bigger giraffe with the tree hidden giraffe. Engagement, compare and contrast, activity.
But there are even more layers to this book, Are You a Giraffe?. There are four giraffe because there are four species of giraffe. And, because giraffe face extinction, there is an opportunity to discuss animal preservation and how important it is that these (and other creatures) survive.
But that is not all.
The word “giraffe” is worthy of discussion in terms of its singular and plural word forms. Now, to be fair, some people refer to many of these creatures as giraffes — with an “S” at the end. Others just use the same word for one or many giraffe — with no “S” at the end. Children and adults can ponder other words that have the same form whether they are in the singular or the plural and then compare that to words where the singular is totally different from the plural. Think “deer;” think “lion” and “lions;” and think “mouse” and “mice.”
And for the record, a group of giraffe(s) is called a tower! How apt is that term? And that is an opportunity to reflect on words that are themselves descriptors — words that self define in a sense. This is different from onomatopoeia (words that actually sound like what they mean like the word “hush” or “dank”). There are words, like “tower,” that actually describe visually what they mean. Sunset is an example.
To learn more about language’s for self-reference, read “When Words Describe Themselves, Or Sound Like They Do.”
Giraffe has friends from other books, and children love them
Then, undetectable to most readers, the animals and creatures in Are You a Giraffe? are drawn from the Lady Lucy book series, making this book a prequel (designed for younger children) to the later books in the series. Dillon the Dragon and Tapestry the Unicorn make appearances. So do the animals of the forest who help Lucy become a Knight. The point is to provide a segue to the other books designed somewhat older children in the series: Lady Lucy’s Quest, Lady Lucy’s Dragon Quest, Lady Lucy’s Laugh Giraffe Journey, and Lady Lucy’s Unicorn Quest (forthcoming in Winter 2019).
Add to this, there is an opportunity for the reader to draw a giraffe at the front of the book and there are questions at the end of the book (like those in adult books to guide book clubs events and insure reader understanding). Learning to ask questions is a critically important skill, some might say more important than even providing answers. The point here: this book asks for, begs for, engagement.
Learning can and should be fun, especially in summer
Finally (well, not finally as I could go on about learning theory and reading levels and how the book encourages reading development), the book Are You a Giraffe? is fun. Learning can and should be fun much of the time. Yes, learning is not always easy but learning and school and reading are not things to be avoided if well-done. So, “laugh2learn” can describe the book, Are You a Giraffe?. And laugh2learn can be a strategy to curb summer melt.
If you have a child, this book is, I think, something to have and read over the summer. And if you don’t have a child or if you have funds to support other children, buy several copies of the book and send them or deliver them to low-income communities, healthcare centers in low income neighborhoods, churches, food pantries, homeless shelters. You can find it at Northshire Bookstore, Amazon and other retailers. And if you want to buy in bulk, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and she can provide lower prices for educational use.
Spread the word … so to speak. And if we do, we can start making inroads into summer melt … one child at a time.