I've been thinking a lot lately about the comments of several of my students in regards to "busy" books. Each week when we study a particular strand of science or social studies, such as earth science, my students are required to peruse the PZ section of the library, my collection, the public library, or a local book store in search of a children's book that they feel will be useful in teaching, introducing, reinforcing, etc. the specific content under study. Students fill out a literature review form, come to class with the book, and then share their finds with classmates in their literature circle. The students enjoy doing this, they learn about many more books than I could possibly carry to class and/or present, and in many cases, their peers come up with really novel connections to the content.
However, in the last few weeks, I have noticed the students articulating a particular disdain for books they have dubbed "Books with ADD." Included in this category are the Magic Schoolbus books (the classic series by Joanna Cole, not the ones written for the television series) and books in the Eyewitness series. Students describe them as "way too busy" and "difficult to focus on." While many of them talked of Mrs. Frizzle with affection, when they viewed the books from the perspective a classroom teacher, the big question was "Where is the story? What part would I or could I read aloud?" Good questions. There is a lot of good information in the Magic Schoolbus books, but for teachers who really want to read a story that they can then pull ideas out of, how do they do that?
I've puzzled over this notion of "busy" books for a while. It feels as if the pandemonium on the pages is trying so hard to imitate the constant stream of images and ideas that bombard us in real life. Why must books mirror what kids see on TV or in video games? Perhaps I'm just getting old, but I relish the thought of sitting down with a good book that I can pour over with my son in a leisurely way. I want to take time with the words, look carefully at the pictures, and predict what will happen next. I want him to want to do this too. When we read "busy" books, his finger points at a rapid pace all over the page while he says, "What's this say? What's this? Did you read that?" UGH! Maybe I'm just too compulsive to read in a nonlinear fashion. I always hated the choose-your-own story format as a child. I felt like the author was making me do all the work. I just wanted to be taken somewhere where I could close my eyes and gloriously imagine, but I had to think about what to do next in these books and was never afforded the opportunity.
So, what's the point, you say? I'm not sure. Why are these books so popular? I'd sure like to know. Any why when I admit to detesting "busy" books on the one hand, do I find myself recommending The Tree of Life by Peter Sis to everyone I know?! Go figure. It must just be the scientist in me.