Assessment: Critique and Assessments on Children's Literature

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American children walk into a library, and they immediately run to the children's department where they can normally find thousands of nonfiction, fiction and story books depending on their age. They can walk into a bookstore, such as Barnes and Noble, and find hundreds of books with not only words, but with activities, experiments, pop ups, music, toys. Any type of book imaginable is available for these children. They can find ones that have piano keys, or buttons to push, or soft bunnies to pet or animals to feed. There are books that come apart and need to be reassembled and even ones that can be eaten.

How spoiled these children are. Imagine what it was like for those children who saw the first printed books in the 1400s. Here in 1448 was an actual book about Aesop's Fables with 200 woodcuts. This was the first picture book, an illustrated delight with words and pictures intermixed. Since then, the illustrations in these books have included pen and ink, charcoal, oil painting and fabric, but usually are simple pen and ink or pencil illustrations. Picture books, which have been written for the very young, with bright large pictures, toddlers, and even adults, are designed to provide information, entertainment and education. They either have simple words for the children to read or more difficult ones for the parents to read while their children look at the pictures. Children often hear the stories so many times that they can actually "read" it word for word without even being able to read. This is how the children learn their sounds, letters, colors, shapes and about the world around them.

Imagine, also, when books became affordable for everyone to buy with the Golden Books in the early 1900s. These were no longer expensive books that only could be taken out of the library or received as a special gift, but also purchased and brought home to read and read again.

How many of these Golden Books have the children's name written in the first page, either with scribbles or with early formed letters?

Books entertain, inform and educate, but they also help children imagine the real, possible and fantasy worlds that they have never experienced. Imagination is critically needed for younger children. It helps in brain development, with creativity, innovation and problem solving. It gives children the ability to consider different outcomes to certain situations and be able to cope when new experiences that may come their way. Imagination gives children the opportunity to practice life skills from role playing games with puppet friends to making up dialogues of finger dolls pretending to be mommy and daddy in the kitchen making dinner. This imagination builds a rich vocabulary through hearing, reading and telling about true or made-up stories.

This is why the book How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz is so special. It recognizes that humans need to use their minds, creativity and imagination or be brain starved. Imagination has the power of transforming humans into new worlds, away from their present situations and to exotic, unique and one-of-a-kind places where no harm can come. Imagination offers a way of escapism, as in this book, from poverty and hunger, to Russian Bazaars with people from all over the world and seller booths bright with all the colors of the rainbow.

Will there ever be the end of different types of story books? Many of the ones coming out now are repeats of earlier themes and stories and gimmicks. The original classics written by Dr. Seuss or about Curious George are still the best. Yet, every once and a while a children's author writes a book from his or her heart and imagination instead of based on what the agent or publishing company says will sell the best and it truly shines in its uniqueness. Shulevitz' story is unique, but it will take a special parent or teacher to read and explain it. Many of today's children, who are fortunate enough to be affluent, will have difficulty understanding that this family was so poor that it needed to live on its imagination. The trick may be comparing a story book a hundred years ago with going to a fantasy world on their computers or video games today.

Comic books are not graphic novels. Graphic novels are not comic books. Although there are some mixed breeds, in most cases these two forms of literature are quite different and should not be compared in terms of what types of books should go into a library. This is like comparing the earlier Classics Illustrated with Archie comic books. Several distinctions occur between graphic novels and comic books. The typical comic book is lightweight paper with one or two short stories that are continuation of characters or themes. Normally, the theme is lightweight as well, and the purpose is ultimately entertainment or escapism. Both of these genres tell stories with both illustrations and words, but graphic novels usually cover one story in total with perhaps sequels in other books, which also have a beginning, middle and end. Comic books cat start at the beginning, or the middle or after the end of the last book.

Graphic novels often have much more developed illustrations and are longer, or about 50 to 120 pages long. Their audiences are usually intended to be older readers, usually teens and up. Many of the graphic novels are especially intended for adult reading and mature themes. Just because they may look like comic books does not mean that their themes or language are intended for elementary school children. Many of these graphic novels are very "graphic" with sex and violence.

Is there are place for graphic novels, or even comic books? Yes. There are many children, as educators as Gardner know, who learn differently. Many children, especially those who see the world around them in visuals, colors and illustration, instead of words or sounds, may have difficulty reading when they are young. The graphic novel or even the comic book is usually rich with new vocabulary and themes. They encourage children and youth who normally shun books to enjoy reading.

The best graphic novels for a library run the gambit from truly entertainment to educational. They are, not particularly in this order:

1) Watchmen. Called by Time Magazine one of the "100 Best English Novels of All Time" in 2005. Set in the 1980s, the novel follows a group of disheveled superheroes in an alternate universe where the United States is nearing nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Also made into a popular feature movie.

2) V for Vendetta. A terrorist with culture and interest in fine art and music fights the oppression that grips his country. Also a popular film.

3) Will Eisner. A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories

4) Neil Gaiman. The Sandman Volumes The series focuses on a somewhat unusual protagonist in Dream of the Endless.

5) Art Spiegelman. Maus: A Survivor's Tale. The struggle of Spiegelman's father to survive the Holocaust and his experiences and memories.

6) Kafka: A Metamorphosis Graphic artist Peter Kuper represents this Kafka classic tale of family, alienation, and a giant bug with imagination.

7) Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth. Jimmy is an geeky and cheerless guy with a controlling mother and a very limited social life who hopes to escape his unhappiness via an active imagination that gets him into awkward situations.

8) Bill Willingham. Fables Mixing fantasy and folklore in a darker setting.

9) Bryon Talbot. Alice In Sunderland. An amazing mix of words, images, real, fantasy and how one story leads into another and another like the worlds in Alice's adventure.

10) Frank Miller. Sin City. Film noir in a graphic novel setting.

What about DVDs instead of books? Once again, some children and youths will learn and envision more through this medium vs. The written word. Educators need to include a variety of different forms of learning styles to motivate people of all ages and background to want to learn. It is important, however, for youth to recognize the difference between reality and fantasy. This is especially the case with their video games. Many new soldiers, for example, expect the war to be similar to a mature game they played on x-box. They learn very quickly the differences. Now that the iPad has made its debut, and the Google pad will be coming out very soon, the graphic novel will be history within a few years. Everything will soon be in digital form and animation and easy to download and carry along with other electronic instruments.

With the advent of the Internet and now the e-reader, periodicals are being less and less read. The newest Science Illustrated with graphics that zoom and revolve in and out and pages that automatically turn is the way for future magazines for children and youth. However, other magazines, such as Time for Children, and the true blue magazines, such as Highlights, Ranger Rick… [END OF PREVIEW]

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