Art Works Blog

Big Read Books for Little Readers

It’s a well-known fact that children love to mimic. While this can at times be a headache (I’m thinking specifically of the copycat game here), it can also be an incredibly powerful tool for learning. Case in point: reading. While reading to or with children is perhaps the best way to encourage literacy, it’s also important that children see parents reading on their own. In Scholastic's 2013 Kids and Family Reading Report, it was found that “Having reading role-model parents or a large book collection at home has a greater impact on kids’ reading frequency than does household income.” 'Nuff said.

You can take this one step further by reading books with similar themes as your children, which can promote a whole new level of dinner-table discussion. Think of it as a book club between you and your child. Below, we paired five Big Read books with children’s or young adult works that deal with similar themes. Read them together, discuss them together, and learn together.

Brown Girl Dreaming By Jaqueline Woodson
Companion Book: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Told in gorgeous, evocative verse, Brown Girl Dreaming is the poetic account of what it was like to grow up African-American during the 1960s and 1970s. Although the timeframe is a few decades after Their Eyes Were Watching God, the two books contain similarly lyrical language to convey the depressingly persistent struggle and pain of being an African-American woman.

Tía Isa Wants A Car By Meg Medina
Companion Book: Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

Tía Isa is working with her niece to save money to buy a new car, green like the ocean back home, and big enough to drive all their family members to the beach when they too arrive in America. Written by young adult author Meg Medina, this picture book succinctly captures the big dreams harbored by new immigrants, coupled with the loneliness for places and faces left behind.

The Wuggly Ump By Edward Gorey
Companion Collection: The Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is well-known as literature’s matchless master of macabre. Edward Gorey holds a similar ranking in the world of children’s books. The Wuggly Ump is a fine example. Written in verse, this book tells the story of a deceptively smiley creature who has a taste for young tykes. Although the silliness of the rhymes and illustrations are unlikely to cause actual nightmares (a drawing of three children floating in the wuggly ump’s belly is a special favorite), it is just disturbing enough to completely enthrall children.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow By Amy Lee-Tai
Companion Book: When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II remains one of the most contemptible chapters in this country’s history. For children especially, whose sense of right and wrong contains no gray, learning about the episode can be particularly baffling, just as it was for children who were actually interned. In A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, we experience the internment through a young girl named Mari, who struggles to make sense of her new world in the Utah desert. Lonesome for the friends, home, and comforts her family was forced to leave in California, Mari slowly begins to rediscover beauty and hope: in the sunflowers she tends to, the art she creates, and the friendships she begins to form.

Behind the Mountains By Edwidge Danticat
Companion Book: Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat

Like her Big Read selection Brother, I’m Dying, Edwidge Danticat’s young adult book Behind the Mountains is an account of the physical, emotional, and economic struggles of the immigration journey. Through the eyes of 13-year-old Celiane, we experience the terror of living amid the violence of Haiti, as well as the equally terrifying introduction to New York, a cold, concrete world where everything and everyone feels foreign. 


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