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There are many elements that make for great children's literature. Story, pictures, language, and all the combinations of these elements. I sum up these elements at the beginning of one of my first blog posts.
And, because children's books are often meant to be read out loud, the sound and the rhythm of the words all effect the read a loud experience. And, it is why reading Going on a Bear Hunt, is always a blast. It is like reading a song.
And then the pictures. Oh, how they add layers to the story. Children can listen to this story over and over and over again, and still find new details in the illustrations .
Every September, at the beginning of the school year, it always one of the first books on our shelf. Because, for many children that I teach, this is the first time in their lives they are being asked to sit in a specific spot (the edge of the rug), and to listen to the same story as 12 other children. It takes practice. But the rhythm of the words, and the joy of the story, quickly draws all the children together into a shared experience.
So we begin the year with, "We're going on a bear hunt, we're going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day. We're not scared!" Children quickly catch on to these words, that repeat themselves throughout the story, so that soon they are singing (reading) along.
Along the way, there are a variety of obstacles on this bear hunt; grass, a river, a forest, mud, a snowstorm. Each one is followed by another word pattern. "We can’t go over it. We can't go under it. Oh no! We've got to go through it!"
And here there is just enough variation; each obstacle they go through is a new little song. "Swishy swashy," "Stumble, Trip," Splash, Splosh," Squelch, squerch."
Did I mention how fun those words are to say? Try it. You might like it.
But it is not all about the sounds. Because soon, our little family out on an adventure, actually finds…a bear! As they race back through the forest, river, snowstorm, and mud, the pace picks up dramatically, until they are all safe and home in bed.
And while that would be a perfectly adequate and fun ending to the story, there is another little gift on the endpaper.
Sure, I can read this book many times, without anyone talking about this picture. It is so tempting to ask the question, "What do you think the bear is feeling?" But, I have learned to wait patiently. Let the magic last a little longer by waiting for the children to ask the question. Because, one day, one child will say, "Why does bear looks sad"
To which I always respond, "The words in the book don't tell us why he is sad. Why do you think the bear is sad?"
And then, my friends, you suddenly have a group of very young people analyzing a character in a story! And sharing their ideas together! In the same place (on the rug), at the same time.
One book at a time, these children are learning to predict outcomes, to infer information from text and pictures, and to empathize with a character in a story. And slowly, but surely, they will learn to listen to their peers do the same.