The Read Balloon: Madlenka

great kids' books A while ago the other preschool co-op parents and I had a meeting with this wonderful woman Peggy Reiman, who specializes in helping parents to deepen/supplement/create their children’s education. The thing she said that struck me the most was that in constantly asking our kids questions — you know, that frenetic and faintly ridiculous “Where’s the piggy in this picture? What does a piggy say? COME ON WHAT DOES A PIGGY SAY YOU KNOW THIS!” — we prepare them mostly for test-taking. She suggested that to encourage the kind of creative thinking, attention to detail, and page-scanning kids need to become good readers, we instead run our fingers across pictures with the kids and say things like, “Oh look, here’s a pig.” (I know, I know — reading! It’s so last century. Don’t tell my kids.)

It sounds so simple, and it is. Simply AWESOME. I started doing this with Harper and she really loves it. She will take my finger and push it across the page and order me, “Talk.” Or we’ll be reading a book and she’ll shake her head and say, “Show me the pictures.” I mean, “Show me the pictures, my beloved and respected mother.”

Now I notice she does this too. There is nothing better than finding her in some cozy nook or the reading fort, telling a dolly about a book. She does it to her brother, too:  “See, Alton, this color is called purple, but you don’t know that because you’re just a little baby.”

ANYway, I mention all of this because Madlenka, by Peter Sis, is the perfect book for looking at in this attentive way. The book tells the story of a little girl who is psyched that she has a loose tooth, so she races around her Manhattan block telling her exotic friends from all across the world. I love a book that reminds you how cool it must be to grow up in NYC. But also, I love a book with insanely textured, complex, layered illustrations. (Click the images below to make them screen-bustingly big!)

Madlenka, by Peter Sis. This bakery makes Ladybird Bakery, on our street, seem charmless and ultra-American..

"And so this is Latin America," I confusingly tell Harper. "It's a bird?" "Um, sort of."

We go through all the pictures, squinting to find the hidden Madeline on the french baker’s page, or turning the book around to see all the little cartoons about each country Madlenka “visits.” Now this is a good time!

madlenka's dog

Madlenka's Dog, which this image is from, is pretty excellent too.

Harper also loves Madlenka’s Dog, in which the poor deprived dogless child has to imagine a pooch, and all her international friends remember their own departed dogs. I’d definitely recommend both Madlenka and Madlenka’s Dog (less so Madlenka Soccer Star though Harper loved it so what do I know) to anyone looking for rich images to explore, reasons to love New York, or just another spunky picture book heroine to love. Also: fashion inspiration. Pink rain boots and yellow umbrellas are very in this season. At least, in this household.

4 responses to “The Read Balloon: Madlenka

  1. thanks for all the great book suggestions Amy! one of my favorite activities with the boys is “talking” through books. they love The Snowman, that book with only illustrations so we can make up our own story.

  2. We have that book too! It’s so sad at the end. Poor Snowman.

  3. Another way to encourage their creativity/interpretation abilities is to ask open-ended questions– a riff on what you suggest would be, “what do you see here/in this picture?” and let ’em at it! Even if it’s not what we might expect them to say, it can open up fabulous opportunities for conversations about images represented on the page and we can also eek in some of those “factoids” (because it can’t hurt to now, for instance, that a cow says “moo”)– sort of a way to catch two butterflies with one net, so to speak. What I like about this approach is that we communicate that their interpretations are of foremost importance- the formalities come second, though can be simultaneous, really.

  4. I LOVE Madlenka, by the way. You are making me miss New York City greatly.

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