There are some skills without which children will find it very difficult to navigate school, friendships, and eventual careers—the ability to read and understand literature is one of them. While not every student is destined to be an English major (or even an avid reader), interpreting texts is an ability no one should be without. Whether it's an email from a friend or co-worker, a storybook, or a newspaper article, writing is meant to convey meaning, and the reader must be equipped to discover that meaning.
Lest you think we're advocating some kind of postmodern "what this passage means to me" nonsense, we'll define further: a writer (that is, someone who writes, be it a sticky note or War and Peace) wants to communicate something through what he or she writes, but the reader must have certain skills and abilities in order to understand the message in the text. The simpler the writing, the fewer skills involved (it takes less brainpower to figure out a grocery list than to comprehend a James Joyce novel).
Reading is also the foundation of every school subject, and it must be mastered if students expect to get good grades, to actually learn from their classes, and to make sense of the world around them. While none of Evan-Moor's literature and poetry books will teach kids how to study ancient Greek poetry or how to analyze anything Samuel Beckett ever wrote, they will start them on the path toward acquiring the skills necessary to excell at reading and understanding literature.
At the most basic level, kids must learn to discern order in any given piece of writing. Sequencing offers over 75 exercises intended to help students in kindergarten through second grade understand this fundamental element of literature study and education. Kids sequence pictures, words, and sentences, then sequence and write their own stories. An answer key is provided in the back of the book, and there is some teacher support throughout.
Next, students need to be able to read a book and retain basic information learned in its pages. How to Report on Books (with one book for grades 1-2, one for grades 3-4, and one for grades 5-6) takes this normally arduous task and makes it fun, with hands-on activities, book report forms, and even ideas for group reports. Because finding the right books to read can be challenging, there are also report-specific booklists of classic and contemporary fiction.
Each book includes material for 16 report projects. For each report, students read the book and then put together a folder of information and projects centered around the content and context of the book. Many of the projects will require teacher/parent help, and there is also information for instructors to help them increase kids' knowledge. Booklists and projects are all grade-specific, and designed to help kids progressyear-by-year ratherthan just maintaining.
For a more focused approach, the Literature Pockets series helps K-6 grade students sharpen their skills in more closely guided situations. Several books ranging from Nonfiction to Caldecott Winners to Folktales & Fairy Tales each present 7-12 projects centered around popular children's books (like Jumanji and Lon Po Po) or famous fiction and nonfiction stories. Like the How to Report on Books series, this one combines comprehension and writing projects with hands-on exercises.
While the previous series allfocus on prose, Read and Understand Poetry approaches a somewhat more difficult topic in a way neither students nor teachers will find threatening. Each level (there are four books covering grades 2-6) covers around 27 contemporary and classic poems, teaching students to go beneath the surface in order to understand the content. All aspects of poetry are covered: form, rhythm, metaphor, the author's background, and more.
Teacher information helps instructors know how to guide students' progress, when to supply important information, etc. Exercises include both multiple choice quizzes and written assignments, in which kids provide interpretations of poems. There are also vocabulary-building activities, and things to know and do before and after reading each poem. These are fun, challenging texts that are likely to get kids wanting to read more poetry rather than hiding every time the word "poem" is used.
Both Writing Poetry with Children and Poetry Patterns & Themes help kids assess basic poems in order to write their own. The idea of having kids pen their own verses is an excellent one, because then they can see how the craft works from an "insider's" perspective, and thus enjoy it more. A number of written exercises take kids through the poetry-writing process, and help them compile portfolios of their work.
Evan-Moor's literature and poetry books are easy and fun to use, and highly educational. Getting kids to enjoy and understand literature is a tough (sometimes even painful) job for many parents because they themselves were never taught the skills of interpretation; fortunately, these books provide excellent introductions that can easily lead to more in-depth work and deeper understandings.
Some may be put off by the fact that these aren't Christian texts. While this can be a big issue when it comes to literature courses, we don't think it's too important here; the stories are classy, exercises avoid political biases, and kids genuinely learn how to approach a text on more than the surface level. Reading literature from a Christian perspective is an essential skill, but as long as you're talking to your kids about their reading material, these workbooks are more than appropriate.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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