For young children, the real world is a magical place. The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly is as awe-inspiring as a well-written, fantastical story about unicorns. In both cases, children have the opportunity to learn about the world around them and how they fit in it. Both fiction (imaginary) and non-fiction (informational) books and media have an important place in the life of a child.
Many of the picture books shared with children feature imagined stories rich with talking animals, unusual events and wacky places. While the books’ creators, along with those who make high quality television, movies and apps, push the limits of what is possible, these tales also are important for the real-life elements they inject. The authors and illustrators of these stories inspire creativity, as well as explore the emotional and social side of children and how they relate to the world around them.
For example, “Children Make Terrible Pets” by Peter Brown is the hilarious yet poignant tale of a bear named Lucy who tries to keep a child as a pet. With the help of a grown-up, she realizes that some things are just not wise no matter how much we want them. The silly illustrations, the implausible dialogue and even the absurd story itself all reinforce the fictional nature of the book, but the lesson is still real and relevant to kids.
Non-fiction books, magazines and digital media are also essential additions to a child’s learning. Young children love to know more about the animals they find on the beach, the places they discover in fictional tales or the historical figures they hear grown-ups mention.
For example, reading the biography of astronaut John Herrington, learning about the International Space Station on the NASA Kids’ Club website and exploring the solar system in the app Space by Tinybop all enrich children’s understanding of their world. The well-documented, thoroughly researched, kid-friendly content of each feeds the curiosity of future scientists, explorers, teachers, inventors and world leaders.
Creators of kids’ media deeply impact children’s lives. Whether they are telling the imagined tale of talking penguins or documenting the real life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., authors, illustrators and designers help shape children’s understanding of the natural world, our collective history and community.
But a critical eye is important to foster in even young children. For example, knowing that penguins do not live in Alaska or that walrus do not coexist with penguins in Antarctica is important. Finding the two cohabitating in a fictional picture book is a great opportunity to talk about what is fact and what is fiction — the foundation of media literacy. Asking young readers simple questions such as “who is telling the story?” or “is it a joke?” will foster critical thinking skills. Having children retell a story also helps them analyze and process the information they are absorbing.
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“The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk” by award-winning authors Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal combines the familiar children’s song “Wheels on the Bus” with preschoolers’ love of things that go to create an entertaining story that supports early literacy and shares Indian culture. The tuk tuk, a type of public transportation (auto rickshaw) commonly used in India, is the star of the story, but the cast of characters is vast. The wala (tuk tuk driver), yogi, elephant and cow offer opportunities to talk about Indian culture as do chai tea, the rupee and the Diwali holiday. Readers new to Indian culture will appreciate the book’s glossary which explains each of the new words. The repeated text, including words like squish, bobble, om and pop, help young children play with new sounds. Jess Golden’s lighthearted illustrations use watercolor, colored pencil and pastel to offer a window into Indian city life and help readers visualize how much fun a ride on a tuk tuk must be.
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“Little Red Riding Hood” by Nosy Crow is both a humorous retelling of a traditional tale and an opportunity for children to see a story from more than one perspective, a skill that cultivates empathy. The story app is a “choose your own adventure” for the digital age and allows readers to explore the classic story as Little Red Riding Hood or the Big Bad Wolf. The gore is gone, but the fundamental plot, characters and foreshadowing are all there. The app is easy to navigate and offers just the right interactive elements to help kids explore the story in a new way without distracting from its comprehension.
Claudia Haines is the youth services librarian at the Homer Public Library. Have a question about early literacy, reading, or digital media use with kids? She can be reached at 235-3180 or firstname.lastname@example.org.