I love holidays, I confess. I love all the big ones, but I also enjoy celebrating half birthdays, first date anniversaries, and even just Fridays! And I don't think I'm alone here. And I'm also a big fan of linking literature to celebrations, too. I like to give books for special occasions (and to Halloween trick-or-treaters), read about holiday traditions around the world, and best of all, share a special poem for celebrations and family gatherings. There are heaps of resource books that provide guidance in selecting, sharing, and celebrating holiday books including these:
- Celebrate with Books: Booktalks for Holidays and Other Occasions by Rosanne J. Blass, 2005.
- Big Book of Seasons, Holidays, and Weather: Rhymes, Fingerplays, and Songs for Children by Elizabeth Cothen Low, 2011.
- Holiday Stories All Year Round: Audience Participation Stories and More by Violet Teresa DeBarba Miller, 2008.
- Around the World through Holidays: Cross Curricular Readers Theater by Carol Peterson, 2005.
- Multicultural Projects Index: Things to Make and Do to Celebrate Festivals, Cultures, and Holidays Around the World (4th Edition) by Mary Anne Pilger, 2005.
- The Picture Book Almanac: Picture Books and Activities to Celebrate 365 Familiar and Unusual Holidays by Nancy J. Polette, 2015.
But when it comes to finding a meaningful holiday poem to share at a family meal, a school program, a special concert, or a just for fun, it can be a bit more challenging. Fortunately, there are poetry anthologies that are organized by celebration themes, often called "occasional" poetry for special occasions (rather than to share occasionally!). These collections make it easier to find an appropriate poem for nearly any celebratory occasion. Here are a few of my favorite poetry anthologies that feature holidays and celebrations:
- Julie Andrews' Treasury for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year. Edited by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, Illus. by Marjorie Priceman, 2012
- Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More. Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2005.
- Ring Out, Wild Bells: Poems about Holidays and Seasons. Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 1992.
- Here Is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays. By Lesléa Newman, illus. by Susan Gal, 2014.
- Fiesta!: A Celebration of Latino Festivals. Sherry Shahan, illus. by Paula Barragan, 2009.
- The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations. Edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, 2015.
- Holiday Stew; A Kid's Portion of Holiday and Seasonal Poems. By Jenny Whitehead, 2007.
Each of these collections offers you choices of poems for multiple holidays around the year—some familiar, some new. Most are organized by the calendar year, so you can look for poems month-by-month, season-by-season. And there are many more poetry collections focused on specific holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentine's Day, and Halloween, in particular. In The Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists (Vardell, 2012), you can find lists of poetry books gathered around each of those holidays, as well as Earth Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and more. If you have a favorite picture book that you like to share for Christmas or Kwanzaa or another holiday, consider pairing it with a poem. For example, the classic picture book The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg might be paired with the poem, "Dream Train" by B.J. Lee (found at PoetryMinute.org). And don't forget to share poems that expand children's notions of December "holidays" to include Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and some of the many ways that the new year is observed in cultures all around the world. There are poems about each of these celebrations written by many different poets. With poetry, we can circle the whole world in just a few words. Just be mindful that different families have different traditions and there are some who don't celebrate Christmas or any holidays at all. That's when it's important to remember that we celebrate children, learning, and literature—every day of the year!
CHILDREN'S LITERATURE IN ACTION
Poetry is meant to be read aloud, so think about reading a holiday poem out loud for your friends or family over a special meal. Or make a video recording of children reading a poem aloud to send a loved one who is distant. Then, make the leap to building your audiobook collection to offer family-friendly audiobooks for on-the-go listening during the next holiday break. Here are some guidelines for developing a strong audiobook collection.
Literature in Action: Expanding Reading with Audiobooks
As we strive to connect children and books, we also need to keep in mind alternative formats that may help make that connection even more comfortable and likely for some young people. Personally, I am a huge fan of this format—particularly since I am a commuter. I can add at least a book a week to my routine by listening to a book. Plus, I enjoy the pleasure of listening to a professional narrator, hearing dialects pronounced properly, and so on. Young people enjoy these same features, as well as how relaxing audiobooks are—no struggling with decoding, just focusing on comprehension. However, like anything, audiobooks have to be promoted. You have to let children know what they offer—listen to them yourself and talk about them, play tidbits to hook them, and so forth. Once children try them, word of mouth will sell them to other friends, especially 'tweens.
How Audiobooks Promote Literacy
Let's consider briefly why audiobooks are such an important medium. First, they tap into children's listening abilities, usually their most-developed language skill. Researchers have consistently found that "Children who are better listeners are also better learners. . . . In particular, children who comprehend well through listening do the same when reading" (Lundsteen, 1979; Pinnell and Jagger, 1991). In fact, Kylene Beers (1998, p. 30) found that "Listening comprehension in the fifth grade was the best predictor of performance on a range of aptitude and achievement tests in high school." Clearly, listening promotes literacy. We know from reading aloud to children that they can follow along in a more advanced and difficult book than they might be capable of reading on their own, like fantasy novels, for example. That's because their listening vocabulary is always ahead of their knowledge of words in print. That is to say, there are words we know when we hear them, but we may not know how to spell or read them. Audiobooks can help bridge the gap. They can:
- Foster an appreciation for literary language and expand vocabulary
- Provide an example of fluent (even professional) models of oral reading
- Model correct pronunciation of English, of various dialects, and of non-English words
- Offer exposure to a variety of genres (including "harder" classics)
- Help expand attention spans
- Create a level playing field for a wide range of learners and abilities, including the need for material in multiple sensory modalities and for children with visual impairments
- Inject a human factor, a personal connection, a sense of intimacy, a voice
- Provide variety and a fun technological alternative
Recent data gathered by the Audiobook Publishers Association revealed that "26% of the US population has listened to an audiobook in the last 12 months (Kozlowski, 2017). The growth in circulation of audiobooks may be outpacing overall library circulation. Book clubs are increasingly made up of hybrid listener readers, and the market for children's audiobooks is booming. Some librarians even lead "listening clubs" for which audio is the preferred medium. Clearly, we need to consider the audiobook format in our library collections.
As we try to keep those children in the middle grades reading, at just the point when so many able readers stop, let's consider the value of audiobooks as an approach that may hook them on books for life, whether it's via compact disc (CD), Playaways, or as downloadable audio files. Whether they are overscheduled overachievers or older children still struggling with reading mastery, audiobooks have great value in keeping books in their lives. Remember, "The idea is to put joy from listening into the lives of students who starve for beauty just as they starve for food" (Lundsteen, 1990, p. 224).
From Sylvia Vardell's Children's Literature in Action: A Librarian's Guide, third edition. For more information visit Libraries Unlimited. You can also find professional learning activities, handouts, and related Web resources on the book's companion website at https://books.librariesunlimited.com/childrens-literature-in-action/.