May 22, 2014 by libroshombre
Brazilian author Paul Coelho wrote that “You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to the detail.” Life in the Information Age is crammed with a continuous sensurround blast of objects, colors, sounds and sensations. Fortunately our brains quickly sort through and forget almost all of it, but that process often engenders not noticing so many of the amazing things and events around us.
You might recall Ram Dass, the spiritual teacher from the 60s, whose best selling book on awareness was “Be Here Now.” Wise people have been harping about it at least since Chinese sage LaoTzu wrote the classic “Tao Te Ching” in the sixth century C.E., but throughout history the vast majority of grown-up humans haven’t paid much attention. Children, however, are skilled observers since active awareness is critical to growing up with the fewest bumps along the way.
Kids pay attention far more than they’ll recall as adults. Their determined scrutiny is why the two principal methods for fostering reading in children are to read to them a lot, at least once a day, and to allow them to often see you reading for pleasure. Do that and you’ll probably raise kids who enjoy reading, are good at it, and consequently better at comprehending instructions, manuals, and other real-life information.
Dogs pay attention, too. Their propensity for closely watching peoples’ faces is well-known, though their interest comes more from a “what’s in it for me” approach than simple kindly regard. The attention of dogs has been taken further in a study cited in Felicity Murth’s “Not Bad Science” blog on ScientificAmerican.com. Murth reported on Romanian university research that found that “dogs are very good at following human gaze, to the extent that if they think food might be hidden behind or in something they will actually stare through the object in question, leaving absolutely no ambiguity as to what they want.”
Human children are even more curious and observant, but they’re works in progress and can’t create their own books commercially. For most of history, children’s books were heavily slanted towards serious instruction in proper deportment rather than fostering the sort of whimsy youngsters enjoy. Some American authors began writing from the child’s perspective in the late 1930s and 40s, and their books spoke to kids like no predecessors. Dr. Seuss was a pioneer in this, beginning in 1937 with “And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” and he quickly became a living legend for generations of children readers.
Margaret Wise Brown was equally popular. Her best books, like “Goodnight, Moon,” resonated with children in a way that’s hard for adults to fathom. Her strangely-worded stories sprang from the “here and now” philosophy of New York City’s Bank Street Experimental School where Brown taught. Bank Street let children express their interests and concerns in their own terms and encouraged authors to utilize those same themes and vocabularies.
Brown’s 100-plus children’s books are about everyday things like dinnertime, playing, and safe, warm houses. She was fun and known for her playfulness, but she was also something of a risk-taker and unconcerned about conventions or safety. Though growing up in the horsey upper crust of East Coast society, Brown was an iconoclast who possessed “Ingrid Bergman good looks,” dated the prince of Spain and had a long-term relationship with actor John Barrymore’s ex-wife, Michael Strange. However, true love eluded her until she met a 26-year-old Rockefeller in 1952. They planned to marry after her European book tour that year, butshortly after having her appendix removed in France, Brown did a high-can-can kick to demonstrate to her doctor how she’d recovered, and dislodged a blood clot, killing her at age 42.
The public library has her books, along with other unsurpassed resources for getting kids reading, especially its free summer programs. Registration begins this week for the “Fizz Boom Read!” summer reading program, with age-appropriate activities, incentives, and prizes for children ages 2 to 18. The library has wonderful programs for all ages, but you need to be paying attention.