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  • Jul 30, 2014
  • Updated: 4:32am
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BETWEEN THE LINES

Between the lines: children's books that celebrate the power of language

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 10:40am

My daughter loves to play with older children, and I enjoy spending an afternoon with families with older offspring, as it gives me a glimpse of what may be in store.

When my daughter was three years old, I witnessed my friend's five-year-old son doing something he wasn't supposed to. Rather than berate the boy, my friend calmly suggested that he think about the consequences of his action. And he stopped misbehaving.

I was greatly impressed with this feat of superior parenting. My friend advised that children can be conditioned to take, or refrain from, certain actions once they have suffered consequences.

Of course, the key is to carry through with the threatened consequences, or to allow the natural consequence to flow.

For example, if a child is jumping around while eating his ice cream cone, don't warn him that the melting dessert may fall onto the ground and then take it away to hold it for him.

If you warn him about the consequence, you must allow him to experience it (unsafe consequences excepted) for the lesson to be learned.

For weeks after that play date, I started to teach my daughter about actions and consequences. One day, she asked for a cookie without saying "please". I said, "What's the magic word?" to which she hesitantly replied, "Consequences?"

I realised that, while she had learned this new word, she was too young to grasp its meaning.

Since then, I have patiently waited for my daughter to be old enough to understand "consequences", as her daily life continued to be filled with instances of good and bad consequences. Now that she is five years old, we enjoybooks about vocabulary, which explore concepts like "consequences".

Jamie Lee Curtis, the Hollywood actress, celebrates the power of language in her eighth children's picture book, Big Words for Little People. This picture book uses rhyming verses and humorous illustrations to introduce words such as consequence, privacy and inconsiderate.

Of the word persevere, Curtis writes: "To persevere is to try and to try, even though you might want to give up and cry. When doing a puzzle that puzzles your mind, you persevere until the right piece you find."

This word is accompanied by an illustration of children trying to put together a giant 60,000-piece puzzle.

Another of our favourite books is Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons. Children learn about what it means to have respect, be modest, feel compassionate, and a range of other feelings and concepts, all in the context of baking, eating and sharing cookies.

With beautiful drawings by acclaimed illustrator Jane Dyer, this book helps define grown-up concepts in language that children can understand.

For trustworthy, Rosenthal writes: "Trustworthy means, if you ask me to hold your cookie until you come back, when you come back, I will still be holding your cookie."

This book was so well-received that Rosenthal followed up with new words in the same cookie context in a whole series of books about going to school, love and Christmas.

For primary school children, Lee Bennett Hopkins' Wonderful Words: Poems about Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening is a poetry collection sure to inspire young wordsmiths.

Hopkins is a distinguished poet and anthologist, and this book includes poems by Emily Dickinson and Carl Sandburg. With poems titled Metaphor, Words Free as Confetti and How to Learn to Say a Long, Hard Word, language is celebrated as something that greatly influences our lives, externally and internally. Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me a Book Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them bringmeabook.org.hk

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