Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why Johnny Can't Read - You Won't Believe Why

In the early 1950's an Austrian educational specialist published a study in America called "Why Johnny Can't Read."  His study argued that the Dick and Jane primers used at that time throughout American schools to teach children to read weren't working.

He believed they were horrible educational tools; according to him they were stupid, pointless, tasteless little readers.  He doubted whether any middle-class, middle-income, middle-IQ student could learn anything by reading  "Look, look" or "Yes, yes" or "Come see Spot" or "See the funny, funny animal."

He believed the stories in these primers were boring and the books ineffective at best in helping American children learn how to read. 

William Spaulding, a publisher from Houghton Mifflin's Publishing Company who worked in the educational division and read this Austrian study, thought it might be right. He met a man a few years earlier who he'd published a few not-very-well-known but very imaginative children's books that his children really loved to read over and over.

Mr. Spaulding thought this unknown writer of children's books might be able to write a book that would really be good for teaching American children how to read, want to read, and read over and over again. So he invited the author over for dinner one night and explained the dilemma to him.  Then Mr. Spaulding asked, "Can you write a book with a simple story that first-graders won't be able to put down and will just want to read over and over again?"

Stunned by the question and not sure how to respond, the writer asked if he could have some time to think about it and work on it.  He left that dinner and spent the next nine months composing a book he thought would meet the goals of Mr. Spaulding. 

 A meticulous editor and reviser, he believed that a children's book must be kept simple.  Every chapter had to be boiled down to just one simple paragraph so a child would be able to understand it.  He worked especially hard on the word count as he wanted to use as few words as possible.

The small children's reader this writer finally produced at Mr. Spaulding's request is now considered to be the most popular children's book ever written in American history. Within less then a year of its initial publication, it was selling 12,000 copies a month and within five years from its release it had sold over a million copies.  This was an incredible feat for a children's book.  

His book contained a grand total of 1,702 words but the kick is he only used 220 different words in the entire book. His simple yet effective book revolutionized the way children in America learn to read.  The book he wrote and presented to Mr. Spaulding nine months later was The Cat in the Hat.

Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor Seuss Geisel) is without a doubt the best-selling children's book author of all time.  He has since written 63 other children's books in all, including Horton Hears a Who! (1954), One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (1960), Green Eggs and Ham (1960), Hop on Pop (1963), Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! (1975), The Butter Battle Book (1984), and of course, The Cat in the Hat (1957).

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Large Wooden Bowl - If you have children please don't read

After Grandmother passed away it was obvious Grandfather  was not able to live on his own. His eyesight was failing and he often faltered when he walked. His memory was fading and worst of all he had developed a noticeable and  uncontrollable trembling in his hands. 

Rather then have him placed in a nursing home, his only son and daughter-in-law invited Dad to move in with them and their seven-year-old son. Grandfather was grateful and gladly accepted their generous offer.

Since the son's wife insisted on always having the evening meal at the big table in the dining room, Grandfather was assigned his place at the table.  Unfortunately Grandfather's failing vision and trembling hands made eating his meals difficult.  Every night peas, corn, carrots, soup and small pieces meat would often roll off his fork or spoon and land on the floor and the elegant carpet. In addition, his uncontrollable shaking hands would often loose their grip which resulted with him dropping his glass which would always make a mess on the fine linen tablecloth.

Both the son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the nightly mess and realized something had to be done.  They did not want to subject their son to Grandpa's behavior. They eventually decided the only thing to do was to have Grandfather eat alone in the kitchen where it would be easier to clean up his mess from the linoleum floor.

As soon as Grandfather was moved into the kitchen, a new problem developed.  Every time Grandfather accidentally dropped a glass or dish on the kitchen floor it broke. Luckily while visiting a local garage sale the son and his wife found a simple, large wooden bowl which they thought would be perfect for Grandfather.

Now each night the daughter-in-law would fill Grandfather's wooden bowl with the evening meal then set it on the kitchen table. Every one now seemed happy; the family ate a nice meal in the dining room while Grandfather ate his meal in the kitchen.  No one had to worrying about cleaning up any mess and the little son was not subjected to watching Grandpa's antics.
A few days later Dad arrived home early from work and greeted his wife in the kitchen.  "Where's Dad?" he asked.

"He's taking a nap," the wife replied. Since it was such a gorgeous day, the husband suggested the two of them share a cocktail on the deck. While standing on their deck, they noticed their son feverishly working on something over by the corner of the garage. Curious as to what he was doing, they walked over to their son.

"What are you working on, Son?" the father asked. 

The son looked up and innocently and replied, "Oh, I am making you and Mom a special present". 

"A special present?" they asked.

"Yes Sir," replied the boy. 

"Well what is it?" Mom asked. 

"It's a set of large wooden bowls just for you and Dad so, when you grow old, you will be able to eat your food in the kitchen and not make a mess in the dining room for my wife and I to clean up every night after dinner," the son replied. He then went back to his woodworking project.

Their son's words cut through them like a knife; neither the husband or his wife knew what to say. They turned and slowly walked back to the deck.  When they arrived back at the deck, they set their drinks down and just sat quietly.

That evening Mom, after spreading out her fine linen tablecloth, laid down two large pieces of plastic - one she placed on the table by Grandfather's place and the other on the floor under Grandfather's chair.  When dinner was ready, Dad walked to his father's room and took his father by the hand and led him into the dining room.  He pulled out a chair and said, "Father, please sit here." 

From that night forward, Grandfather never again had to sit alone in the kitchen eating from a large wooden bowl. For the remainder of his days he ate with his family in the formal dining room. Neither his son or his daughter-in-law ever seemed to mind cleaning up the mess Grandpa made each night while eating his supper.