What can you do with a collection? Does it just take up space or can it lead to something more? Over the past week or so I’ve been reading with my children a number of books about children with collections or passions. Each of these books impressed me in some way, so I decided to write and share some of my thoughts on each of them.
Hannah’s Collections by Marthe Jocelyn tells of a girl with a collection of collections. She collects everything: keys, dolls, feathers, and much more. Of the books I’m featuring on this page, this was the one I related to the least, partly because the girl has so many different collections with no definite passion and partly because the book has pretty collage pictures but a fairly weak plot. However, the book does have some really good points, the primary one being the chance to talk about each page. For the first three pages the main question is “what does she collect?” Then there’s a picture of the button collection, roughly divided into three sections with each section sorted a different way, so the obvious question to ask is how each of the sections are sorted. Next comes popsicle sticks. Hannah arranges her popsicle sticks in triangles, X’s and lines. Are there other ways one could arrange popsicle sticks? The page also provides a good chance to talk about horizontal vs vertical lines, parallel and perpendicular. A few pages later there comes the jewelry collection with five rings that can be split between two hands in how many different ways? A few pages later there is a countdown of sorts with 10 coins, 9 erasers, and so on. An older child can be challenged to calculate quickly how many objects in all are used and the triangular numbers can be reviewed.
Max’s Words is a brilliant book about a younger brother who decides that instead of collecting coins or stamps (like his brothers) he’ll collect words. Coins and stamps remain coins and stamps no matter how they are arranged but words can be arranged into thoughts, sentences and stories. The pictures are imaginative with the children breaking into fun stories, and the story that the brothers collectively tell about a worm wishing it was a snake but then being glad its just a worm because it can hide functions as a metaphor of sorts for the younger brother and his relationship with his brothers.
There are many activities that could be based off of Max’s words, with the most obvious being creating little word collections. Cooperative stories, either taking turns adding one sentence to another’s verbally or using cut-out words like the characters do, would also be fun. A child could also be challenged to collect words pertaining to a specific topic or to make illustrations of words that incorporate the word and its meaning together.
I thought the book worked well as an opportunity for me to remind my kids some of the things they’ve learned through the grammar studies we’ve done the past year. We’ve been using Michael Clay Thompson’s Grammar Island set. It teaches many things but relevant to this book is the eight parts of speech (which Max could easily choose to sort his words into) as well the importance of word order. Max’s Words touch briefly about word order but not the parts of speech but after reading other books about people sorting and organizing their collections it makes sense to ask “how could these be sorted?”
Insects Are My Life by Megan McDonald is delightful for the protagonist’s creativity. Here is a girl who wants to have her feet up at the table so she can taste her food like a butterfly does. When teased about being four-eyed she responds that she has compound eyes like a wasp. Determined but undaunted the impossibility of her task she stands outside and clicks her tongue at bats to keep them from eating so many insects. This is a child who undoubtedly causes some mischief but at the same time a parent wouldn’t have to really worry about because its obvious her passion is going to pull her through anything. The book is littered with random details about different insects strewn into Amanda’s conversations and it ends with her meeting a kindred spirit: a friend who claims reptiles are her life. I had to ask my five year old what kind of games he thought that friend might play.
Carol Otis Hurst’s book Rocks in his Head provides a stepping stone for talking with children about the importance of hobbies, the Great Depression, Henry Ford, and mineralogy. What more could I ask for? The story is told from the author’s point of view, speaking of her father. It relies partly on repetition of the accusation “you’ve got rocks in your head” and the father’s response being “maybe I do” (and pulling out a rock to show them). The first time the phrase “rocks in your head” came up I had to pose to my children the questions of how rocks could be in a person’s head. Is it that the person is always thinking of rocks (they hold the idea of rocks in their head) or is it that the person has rocks instead of brains (and are therefore stupid)? Both meanings show up at different times.
The story starts with the father’s childhood, then his time running a gas station. It briefly mentions that cars had been something only the wealthy could afford but that Henry Ford made more affordable for people. The gas station closes up during the Great Depression and the father is left searching for work. I like books that are set in definite periods of time and we could talk about how it relates to other stories and events.
The book is illustrated by James Stevenson and contains many pictures of rocks. My children enjoyed looking at the labelled rocks and recalling which ones we have samples of, which ones they have heard of from elsewhere, and which ones are mentioned in Minecraft. After watching it we turned to YouTube to learn more about rocks. How are they sorted and cataloged?