Saturday, April 23, 2016

This is Why I Love Reading to First Graders

I'm very lucky to have a sister who teaches first grade nearby. Once a week, I visit to share one of my Hidden Picture puzzles with them and to read a story. It's wonderful. They're always happy to see me, which is a big ego boost, and I'm always happy to spend time with them and absorb their energy. It's also hugely interesting to see how they'll respond to the book I've chosen.

This week, I brought Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood, written by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell and illustrated by Rafael Lopez. I picked it because it combines two of my passions: art and activism. (You can read a review of the book here.) The illustrations are beautiful, but I wondered if the plot would hold a classroom of kids, because it's pretty simple. I needn't worry, because it went over very well. One girl even hugged herself and said quietly, "I love this," as I read.

I explained that this book was inspired by a true story, but the girl in the book was a made up character. One girl's eyes lit up and she raised her hand. "Is this historical fiction?" she asked. Wow. Yes, I suppose it kind of is, I said. The girl next to her asked, "What's husautica ficta?" THIS is what I love about first grade. You get kids with a wide range of experience and abilities, but they're all curious, and they're not afraid to ask when they don't get something (if you have a class that feels like a safe space, as this one does). So we talked about what historical means and what fiction means. I could almost hear the wheels turning behind their eyes. Then a girl said, "'Like 'Titanic'! I've seen it six times." "What's Titanic?" asked a boy. And so we discussed the sinking of that famous ship.

It wasn't the discussion I thought we'd have about the book (how art enriches our lives, how people coming together can change the world), but I didn't mind. It's just so much fun watching young minds grow, and watching how books help make it happen.