Author Archives: Lisa Ripperton
Author Archives: Lisa Ripperton
It is not enough that books are available, they must be accessible too!
Aidan Chambers, a noted British lecturer on children's literature, shares his own experience in one classroom setting:
When I was nine my school classroom contained about fifty storybooks. They were kept in a locked cupboard which was opened for a few minutes every Friday afternoon, when we were told to choose a book to take home for the weekend. On Monday morning we returned the books and the cupboard was locked again until the next Friday. All weeks the books were available, but they weren't accessible till the teacher opened the cupboard and allowed us to take one. (The Reading Environment, p. 4.)
In other settings Chambers found children discouraged from taking books out of the library because their hands were dirty or their school work was not completed. Books should be accessible, and accessible to all!
I experienced a similar issue of accessibility when I was a child. Every summer I spent a week with my Granny, and her brother, Uncle Ralph. They lived in spacious quarters, occupying the second and third floors of a large old Victorian home in downtown Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Their home was filled with books! Built-in bookshelves along the long living room wall, broken only by a cozy window-seat, housed Uncle Ralph's generous collection of plays. On the right as you entered Granny's bedroom stood a bookcase full of hardback editions of the latest fiction for adults.
In between was the library with open bookshelves along one wall containing reference material and a long handsome bookcase on the wall opposite. This bookcase appeared to contain a number of series of various sorts. I say "appeared" because not only did the bookcase sport glass doors in front, the view of all but the tip-tops of the books on the highest shelf were obscured by a massive couch that could not be budged.
More glass-fronted bookcases lined the long hall on the third floor. I could at least read the titles on the covers of these. A set of the complete works of Mark Twain was there, along with a nice collection of Ernest Thompson Seton books, to match the framed illustration of Seton's Lobo the Wolf on the opposite wall that frightened me each time I scurried down the hall to the bathroom. But, we were given explicit instructions NOT to open the glass doors or remove books.
My last hope was the attic where I soon discovered that there was a bookcase full of children's books that belonged to my father's brother, Uncle Ralphie, who becoming deaf at 18 months as a result of measles became an avid lifelong reader.
Yet these too were inaccessible! A big sheet of red oilcloth was thumbtacked to all sides of the bookcase, and again we were given explicit instructions to leave them alone. I could peek in enough to see that there was a copy of Lois Lenski's Strawberry Girl on the shelf as well as a good number of titles in L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz series. What other treasures there may have been I have no way of knowing!
How frustrated I was in that household that the only books I had unrestricted access to were plays and works of fiction meant for adults!
And so, I plead with you to minimize the number of restrictions you place on the books you have in your home that are in plain sight of your children. It may be less frustrating for children to have the books they are not allowed to touch stored in a location inaccessible to them.
If you have limited space in your home for display of books, by all means rotate your collection, keeping boxes of books in closets, under stairs, under beds and so on, as necessary. Holiday books and seasonal books you may want to rotate as well. I am not suggesting that you make all your books visible all the time, just that the ones that are visible are accessible!
And think carefully about whatever restrictions you do put in place. One type of restriction that does make sense to me is to allow children only to choose books that they can see directly in front of them and can reach without putting their hands above their heads. That way you can put books for the littles on a shelf near the floor, and arrange books for older children on shelves a greater distance from the floor.
I remember reading about Oliver de Mille's process of stocking a bookcase of Must-Reads for his children. He put each level of books on a successively higher shelf, so that he created a sense of anticipation in his children about when they would get to read each of the titles. An aspirational bookcase for sure!
Do you have any ways of restricting books without causing frustration that we haven't thought of? Do you have an aspirational bookcase in your home?
With summer almost upon us and those long lazy days stretching out before us, now is a fine time to introduce your child to books that suggest investigations in the out of doors. Seed Babies and Little Wanderers, both by Margaret Warner Morley, do just that. Seed Babies focusing on the sprouting of seeds is just right to use at the beginning of summer when there is still time to plant seeds in the ground, while Little Wanderers is better suited for late summer when seeds are maturing and about to disperse.
"Well, I never!"
Jack said that because all the beans he had planted were on top of the ground.
Jack was only six years old, and not very well acquainted with beans.
No wonder he was surprised to find them on top of the ground when he had tucked them so snugly out of sight in the brown earth only a few days before.
Jack looked at his beans and began to get red in the face.
He looked a little as if he were going to cry.
"When Ko comes I'll just punch him!" he said at last.
For who could have uncovered his beans but his brother Ko?
For Ko would rather tease than eat his dinner,—except when there was chocolate pudding for dessert.
Ko's real name was Nicholas, but it took too long to say that, so Jack called him Ko for short.
Jack picked up a bean to replant it, and what do you think had happened? Something had, for it did not look as it did when he first put it in the ground.
It had turned green to begin with. Jack had planted white beans.
He knew they were white all through, for he had bitten a good many in two to see how they looked inside. And now the coat on the outside, that stuck so tightly at first, had peeled half off, and the bean was green!
Something more had happened,—a little white stem had come out of the bean and gone into the ground.
Jack was so surprised at all this that he forgot he was angry at Ko, and when his brother came up only told him to look.
Ko tried to pick up a bean too, but it was fastened quite firmly in the ground.
"They're growing," said Ko.
"Did you pull them up?" asked Jack.
"No, indeed!" said Ko.
"They must have pulled themselves up," said Jack.
At this point in the narrative, the bean plant begins to talk! It shares some of its secrets, engaging Jack in discussion, and guiding him to further discoveries.
As their interest shifts to peas and other seeds, sometimes Jack and Ko talk among themselves, and other times the seedlings pipe up to explain some aspect of their growth. And at some points the plants refuse to answer any more questions, and suggest the boys figure out the answers on their own. Which, incidentally, they do.
If you are reading Seed Babies aloud with your children, we suggest that you don't rush through it. Rather, let them leisurely explore ideas in one chapter before offering another.
Time for them to wonder is important. If they ask you a question, you may want to provide an answer if you have one. But if you don't, or sometimes even if you do, we suggest you occasionally respond, "I wonder" in answer to their questions. That may prompt them to share their thoughts immediately or go away and take time to think about it on their own or even conduct further observations.
You may want to obtain in advance some packets of seeds of green beans, peas (such as sugar snaps), and pumpkins that are featured in Seed Babies, as well as a few that are not, but that germinate and mature quickly: sunflowers, radishes, and lettuce. Choose a prime space for your child's garden, not a weedy patch of clay in a far away corner of the yard, as I was given as a child. Pots on a windowsill work too. Any place nearby where they can check on seeds regularly and report back what they see.
Plan to plant enough seeds so that some can be pulled up to examine what is happening underground without decimating the whole harvest. Since children are not great at waiting, it is a good idea to presoak the seeds to hasten germination. Once you have decided on the day to plant, put the seeds of beans, peas, pumpkins, and sunflowers in separate containers to soak just before bedtime to plant the following morning. Lettuce and radish seeds, however, do not need to be presoaked.
Once you have established a place for planting of seeds, encourage children to plant seeds of fruit they eat: apples, pears, plums, peaches, and so on. The time to harvest for these is in terms of years, rather than weeks, but still an interesting experiment.
Seed Babies includes two interesting chapters on nuts. Successful propagation of nuts is trickier to do with children, because so many critters, including squirrels and blue jays, find the nuts tasty. Readers can consult Trees of Power (a book for adults) by my friend Akiva Silver of Twisted Tree Farm in Spencer, NY for reasons to grow chestnuts, hickories, and hazelnuts, along with detailed instructions on how to do so.
A final section in Seed Babies introduces eggs of a variety of animals, including bees, frogs, toads, and birds. These are more things for your child to watch for in late spring and early summer!
Children enthusiastic about planting of seeds at the beginning of summer may also be excited later in the season to see new seeds set. Little Wanderers, written in a narrative style, rather than in the conversational mode of Seed Babies, serves as a guide for how different plants disperse their seeds. Children may like to keep a list of what plants they observe dispersing their seeds: when it happens and how they do it. Like Seed Babies, Little Wanderers is a book that can be read slowly over time, even over years if need be.
Do your own observations along with your children. What do you notice? If you have questions, see what you can figure out on your own over time. Don't rush straight to Google for answers to your questions. Build your capacity for observation too!
For further information about both seeds and eggs, consult the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock, especially the sections on Wildflowers, Cultivated Plants, Trees, and Frogs and Toads. Since the Handbook of Nature Study is a tome weighing several pounds, you may not want to take it out in the field with you. You may prefer our ebook edition of Handbook of Nature Study, broken up into 13 parts for ease of access from your digital device.
Take advantage of the long summer days and a freer schedule to spend more time in the out of doors exploring and observing, making new discoveries and building on old ones. In the process you may be instilling a habit that brings lifelong satisfaction.
What are you planning to do this summer to extend and enrich your time out of doors? Will you be visiting a locale new to you or returning to one long familiar? Will you be taking up a new study or pursuing an old one? We would love to hear!