CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 1 . . . . September 3, 1999
Better Books! Better Readers! How to Choose, Use and Level Books for Children in the Primary Grades.
Linda Hart-Hewins and Jan Wells.
Markham, ON: Pembroke Publishers Ltd., 1999.
128 pp., paper, $18.95.
Children-Books and reading.
Review by Reesa Cohen.
Within the covers of this well-crafted book, teachers of kindergarten to grade two will find many practical and useful strategies for developing independent readers by using trade books.
The authors make a powerful argument for the use of "real books," used in "real classroom experiences" that lead to "real writing" experiences. Although the constant repetition of "real" throughout this book becomes tedious, the authors successfully demonstrate that the daily use of quality children's literature will foster a love of reading as well as teach the skills of reading. Ten ingredients for developing this "literature-based reading" program are provided.
Better Books! Better Readers! includes specific criteria used to evaluate books for the purpose of categorizing and leveling them for the classroom along a continuum of reading development. Three broad "evolving" stages of reading, and several within each, are explained. The authors do acknowledge the problems that sometimes accompany the coding, grouping and leveling of books, and they address concerns and issues that teachers may experience, such as the categorizing being too defined, occasional competitiveness, and grade level expectations, but they also stress the need for flexibility. Specific, clear and superb advice is given in finding the right books for the classroom library, and the use of a variety of genres is promoted. Their collection recommendations also embrace many different print, non-print and electronic materials as part of the collection of resources. Hart-Hewins and Wells include helpful hints for organizing the physical space of the classroom, address time allocation, provide tips to track children's activities and suggest manageable routines that are critical components of a successful literacy program. A detailed bibliography of suggested books that indicate types and levels is included. The chapter on "Exploring Books with Children" details strategies for sharing reading and guided reading, plus conferencing. This book also incorporates lesson plans that can be replicated as well as samples of student responses.
Although this reviewer has never been a big supporter of coding or leveling books, the rationale of Hart-Hewins and Wells is clear and compelling and reflects their belief in "the power of good books to teach children to read."
Reesa Cohen is a sessional lecturer in children's literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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