As I’ve stated before, one of the most magical things about teaching young children is the new perspective one gets from the authentic point of view of a child when that child allows you in for a peek. As both a kidlit author and a teacher, I wondered what my 4- and 5-year-old students would say if I asked them, “What is your favorite book?” I was curious about how their insights were different than my own adult point of view. So, in a true Reggio-Inspired teaching approach I documented verbatim what they said (as I do every day).
I wanted to hear from the age group I often write for. I wanted to understand how they truly connect with the literature that is read to them since most are not yet independent readers. I wanted to know what engaged them and stayed in their memories and why.
It started very simply. I asked them, “What is your favorite book?” I wasn’t even sure if they would be able to name any. I wasn’t sure if they had the context to name titles like adults do, having had a much broader experience reading.
I started by modeling what I meant. I picked a book that has been my favorite for years. It’s not a current title so I wondered if any of my students had ever had it read to them. It’s a much longer book than the current 500 -700 word stories. It was written during a different time.
“My favorite book is The Velveteen Rabbit,” I stated, reminding them not to pick mine and to pick their own.
Here are the delightful recommendations from the Transitional Kindergarten/Kindergarten students.
Lydia – I like the silver one with the golden. It’s about…don’t touch the golden one. The name of the story…You Have To Do The Page. God is inside. Heaven and God is inside the book.
Hazel – I like the book that’s not for reading. (What’s the name of it?) I don’t know. (What’s it about?) Animals finding things.
Emma – I brought a chameleon book that I really like.
Archer – I like a book at my house that’s called, My Heart Is My Love Feelings.
Lilly – My favorite book at my house is called, Bible. And I read it at night with my bear and my mom. And then, it’s called Two Bibles In Love.
Arianna – My favorite book is Water Protectors. I like it so much that I want to look at it right now.
Abe – My favorite book is your book, Hello, Little One. But first, my baby brother got that book. But today, I’m going to get that book after school.
Vivian – I have four favorites. One of them is Zeena’s book. I like your book. The second one is Olive the Other Reindeer. When I went to Wendy’s for Thanksgiving, she had it. She’s not a kid. She’s a grown up. My third one is We Are Water Protectors. And the fourth one is No Voice Too Small.
Jacob – My favorite book is Find Spot cause one of them are a lion.
Rowan – I have a favorite book at my house called, Octopus Alone. So, it’s two seahorses trying to think that the octopus is having fun and wants to play. And the seahorses play along with the octopus, but the octopus wants alone time. And then, it went into the dark, dark sea. And then it changed, camouflage. And the seahorses tried to find it. And that’s it.
Isaac – The Red Book because it’s my dad’s favorite book and he wants me to read it to our class.
Patrick – It’s my Number Blocks book. Lift the flaps book and the book that…it’s called Number Blocks Big Numbers. And that’s not all. The last thing I need to tell you is that I have two new ones coming out. And also, I still have work on the second one. The first one is done. But the first one wasn’t done today. I think that it was done a year or two ago. And that’s all.
Mari – The Room On The Broom because it has witches and I like witches.
Alexa – The Bunny. It always hop around.
Olivia – I have two. I like all dinosaur books. I love all dinosaur books. And, I also like Wing Of Fire. I have two books of them. One is about a Black Fire Dragon and the other one is about an Orange Fire Dragon.
Willie – My favorite is No Voice Too Small because the author that we met named Keila, wrote that book. I like Water Protectors because they protect the water and they don’t want the water to get higher because the Black Snake will suck up the water and poison the land.
As I read over the documentation, I was struck by a theme that emerged. The books that held meaning for many of my students were those with relational connections. Books that were read with parents. Books that were owned by friends. Books that came from home. Books that were read with their first teacher. Books that were written by authors that the students had personal connections with. The books had meaning because the context in which they were introduced had specific meaning for these young children.
After exploring this theme and engaging in discourse with my friend and longtime critique partner, Andrea J. Loney, I discovered that I too had a relationship with my favorite children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit. Not only was I touched by the story. I had directed the play years ago for the Burbank Civic Light Opera. Of all the picture books that I have read in my lifetime (hundreds I’m sure), it is the one that has lodged in my memory and stands out as my favorite. My relationship to the story goes well beyond the random reading of a book I read long ago. It is a story that is grounded for me in warm personal memories and relationships with members of the Burbank Civic Light Opera.
From our conversation, Andrea thoughtfully posed this question: “How is the story you’re writing, reinforcing and fostering those social emotional bonds between the adult reader and the child audience?”
As an author I will carry this question with me as I continue to write picture books as the evidence is strong that this is the secret sauce that makes picture books memorable for young children. Maybe you will too!
By Zeena M. Pliska
Author of Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story Illustrated by Fiona Halliday
and Coming April 18, 2023 Egyptian Lullaby Illustrated by Hatem Aly
@Zeena M. Pliska on Facebook
Andrea J. Loney is an award-winning author of picture books including CURVE & FLOW: THE ELEGANT VISION OF LA ARCHITECT PAUL R WILLIAMS, DOUBLE BASS BLUES, and BUNNYBEAR, as well as the new futuristic chapter book series ABBY IN ORBIT.
@andreajloney on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest
@author.andreajloney on Facebook
CURVE AND FLOW: THE ELEGANT VISION OF LA ARCHITECT PAUL R WILLIAMS (illus. Keith Mallett, Penguin Random House Knopf )
ABBY IN ORBIT: BLAST OFF! (illus. Fuuji Takashi, Albert Whitman & Company)
ABBY IN ORBIT: SPACE RACE (illus. Fuuji Takashi, Albert Whitman & Company)
VIP: STACEY ABRAMS VOTING VISIONARY (illus. Shellene Rodney, HarperCollins)
DOUBLE BASS BLUES (illus. Rudy Gutierrez — Caldecott Honor Title, Penguin Random House Knopf)
BUNNYBEAR (illus. Carmen Saldana — ALA Rainbow List, Albert Whitman & Company)
TAKE A PICTURE OF ME, JAMES VAN DER ZEE! (illus. Keith Mallett -- 2014 New Voices Award Winner, NAACP Image Award Nominee, Lee & Low)
NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY Picture Book Anthology (illus. Jeanette Bradley, ed. Keila V. Dawson & Lindsay H. Metcalf, Charlesbridge)
coming soon— PRE ORDER
ABBY IN ORBIT: ALL SYSTEMS WHOA! (illus. Fuuji Takashi, Albert Whitman & Company April 1, 2023)