I don't accept review requests very often; but when Barbara Esham asked me to review 4 picture books in The Adventures of Everyday Geniuses series, I didn't have to think twice. They're right up my alley, and a much needed addition to the world of children's literature.
Normally, I'm not interested in books that clearly set out to teach something, but somehow these are different. Children will be able to see themselves in, and learn along with, each of the main characters. Katie, David, Stacey, and Max all start with a black and white view of intelligence, and end up with a much more colorful one.
How many of us, as adults, still see light in our strengths and darkness in our weaknesses? How many have them all in such a gray area that they can't see them at all?
Dr. Howard Gardner added more color and clarity to the definition of intelligence when he proposed that we consider its multiple facets. In doing so, he challenged educators to see past the obvious. And that's what Barbara Esham is attempting to do with her picture books. Along the way, she could change the lives of not only children, but teachers and caregivers as well.
Change a life with a picture book? You bet.
Here are brief reviews of each of the 4 picture books, which are ideal for children between the ages of 6 and 10:
If You're So Smart, How Come You Can't Spell Mississippi? (Adventures of Everyday Geniuses)? is the question Katie asks her dad, who has a very successful career, and yet has trouble spelling. How can that be, she wonders? How can you be smart and not know how to spell?
In this case, her father also has dyslexia, and struggled with learning to read as a child. Curious as Katie is, she heads to the public library with her mom to learn more about the learning disability. She finds out that many successful people have dyslexia - not just her dad.
It is a common myth that any and all subjects come easily to "smart people," when we all know deep down inside that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. I am thankful to Barbara Esham for helping children to see that, because that simple insight can change how they view themselves and relate to others.
While learning to read causes a lot of anxiety for many students and parents, math does too! That's why I was glad to read the next book: Last to Finish: A Story About the Smartest Boy in Math Class.
Do you remember memorizing those dreaded multiplication tables? So many children seem to have trouble with it, but many of them have the mistaken impression that they're the only ones having difficulty (as goes with many things). For Max, it's the first time he ever felt that he was "terrible at something." And it all started because of a...
Some teachers use them as a motivation tool for children to learn their math facts as quickly as possible, and it works for some. For others like Max, though, a time limit is like an intellectual blockade. He says it so well himself:
"As soon as Mrs. Topel starts the timer, my heart begins to pound, my hands begin to sweat, and then the worst thing happens...my mind freezes."
Even though Max acknowledges that he has no problem completing the problems without the timer, he leads himself to believe that he's terrible at math. His self-doubt grows even more when some fellow students make fun of him for being the last one to finish.
So, what happens when the teacher asks for a meeting with Max and his parents? I wouldn't want to solve that equation for you! Find out the flip side of it all by reading the book. Hint, hint...there are more variables here than you might expect.
A similar, "technical" problem starts off Stacey Coolidge's Fancy-Smancy Cursive Handwriting (The Adventures of Everyday Geniuses), when Stacey just can't perfect her cursive handwriting. When another girl in the class does, and the teacher makes a big deal about it, it makes her feel awful. Worse, the writing samples are posted for all to see, and she compares her work even more!
Well , once again, the teacher asks for a meeting, this time without parents. And like Max, Stacey realizes that her struggle with handwriting isn't the worst problem in the world to have. As a matter of fact, it points to a strength that she hadn't been able to see in herself before.
Plus, she gets to take home the class pet. What could be better than that?
And finally, Mrs. Gorski, I Think I Have the Wiggle Fidgets (Adventures of Everyday Geniuses) will appeal to anyone who has trouble sitting still. Even if you've never been restless, I'm sure you know someone who is!
I love this particular book because it's not only about a subject most children can relate to (whether they have trouble sitting still, or someone in their class does), but the child solves the problem for himself!
David senses that his teacher doesn't like him very much, because when he puts his many creative ideas into action, he distracts his classmates. When she tells him she's going to send a note home to his parents, the wheels start turning in his head:
"I don't know why I do what I do! I can always see the mistakes I make - after I make them. But before they're mistakes, they just seem like good ideas. I wish I could stop myself. I wish I would think a little more before I test my great ideas."
And so, David gets to work (at home) trying to cure his "wiggle fidgets." He knows he must think of a way to stop distracting his classmates, and he tells himself to start thinking about the consequences of his actions.
On Monday, he comes into school with a "box of cures." And what comes out of it amazes not only his teacher, but his parents (and me) too.
As a side note, I always wonder why teachers are surprised when a student is restless. It's just not natural to sit at a desk for so many hours straight! It's so unhealthy as well. It is my hope that more movement and hands-on learning (which is a learning style that some students prefer) is built into the standard curriculum. A reduction in testing, as well as a focus on quality over quantity when it comes to individual subjects, could create more time for such activities.
I'd like to thank Barbara Esham for starting this series, and for providing me with review copies. The whole idea behind these children's books is something that will make a tremendous difference in the lives of families. An added plus is that teachers can learn so much about their students from them too.
I must add that as wonderful as the writing is in each of these stories, Mike and Carl Gordon really bring it to life with illustrations so vivid that you can see the emotions on the characters' faces!
All in all, when a circle of communication is created among children, caregivers, and teachers, learning becomes a whole new ball game. Any tool that helps knock a worry out of the park should be cherished, especially when it adds so much life and color to the learning process.
Please note that I am certainly not the first person to review these picture books. You can find quite an impressive list of endorsements and more information and resources at the web site, MainstreamConnections.org.
Here's to much joy and color in 2012!
For further reading, here are some related posts you may have missed: