When working with my reading groups, there was always a huge sign visible near our table that read, “SO WHAT?” Whether we were reading about historic events, a notable figure in a biography, a nonfiction factual piece on science, or a fictional story, none of the words, charts, dialogue, or chapters mattered if we couldn’t figure out why it was important – the “SO WHAT?” factor.
This can alsobe described as the theme, author’s purpose, main idea, or critical literacy but the two words on the wall were easier for kids of all ages to relate to and figure out. When kids have to talk about what they read in terms of why it is important to them, their school, their community, and the world it forces them to search deep inside the text and inside themselves to determine why actions and words matter. If children and teens can think about what makes a real or fictional character or historic event good or bad, it helps them become better people themselves – the kind of kids we see making a difference. It can help give courage to a child being bullied to stand up and say no! It can help a shy child see why being a friend can help make a friend. It can show kids that instead of being the problem, they can become part of a solution.
The “So What?” factor, therefore, helps to instill values in kids and helps them to form in themselves a good character. They will know what they stand for and why it matters. They are responsible for the future and they will know why they can matter.I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite picture book stories – you know, the ones I go on and on gushing over. I will talk about the “So What” factor in some of them below. Don’t forget to check the Lexile levels of these books before allowing your children to read them alone because many picture books are promoted and marketed to kids who are too young to read the words and understand the ideas on their own.
For example, Mighty, Mighty Construction Site shown here is marketed on amazon.com for kids preschool to grade 1. But if you notice the Lexile level (reading level) is a 710 which, according to my chart on the right, is for average kids in grade 5 to read. ALWAYS KNOW YOUR CHILDREN’S READING LEVEL! As I always do, I suggest that you read them interactively with your kids first and talk about them while you do. In this way, you will guide your children in becoming “smart” and thoughtful readers who know how to navigate through difficult words and parts when they read on their own. You will also show them by searching together for hidden meaning. Here is a Read-aloud Guide for Mighty, Mighty Construction Site which is part of my upcoming book, The Read-Aloud Workout.Mightly consruction site guide
Below I will list some other favorites and a short description about their “So What? Factor”
This story is based on real events. It is about American children who organized food and clothing drives for Dutch children during WWII. It matters because it shows how small acts of kindness can make big differences to others.
In this story, Irene braves a raging blizzard to bring a dress her mother had sewn to a woman going to a big party. It matters because it shows again how one small girl can have the courage to fulfill her mother’s promise when the mother falls ill.
The kids at school always laugh when I preview a story I’m about to read by saying it is my favorite. They remind me that I say that about all my picture books. I value them like the little pearls of wisdom they each are to me. This is one of them. Sang-Hee falters when his father is injured and he must light the important fire to signal to the king that all is well. This is a wonderful story matters because it shows how we struggle to do the right thing. It is a story of trustworthiness that will resonate with us all.
Poor little Chrysanthemum must find a way to get through her kindergarten day when she is teased about her name – the one her parents chose for her because it was perfect just like her. This story matters because it shows how easy it is to hurt another person’s feelings with words.
Kate’s story matters because it shows how one small girl extends an act of kindness to a
neighbor that also shows how important it is for us to be mindful of our planet. Kate lugs her wheelbarrow filled with little trees up the huge hill in the hope they will stop erosion and, when grown, will ease the wind that plummets his house.
Flight School matters because it shows how we can help others achieve their goal by never giving up on ourselves or others. This is a silly story of finding inventive ways to be part of the solution instead of the problem.
We all know the plight of the baby bat, Stellaluna, who becomes lost from her mother and finds refuge with a nest of birds. It matters because it shows how the welcoming arms of a family of birds means all the world to a frightened and lost bat who just happens to be “different.”
I discovered Little Beaver and the Echo when I was writing an article that connected picture books to poems based on theme. It matters because it shows how Little Beaver, a lonely young beaver, with no friends decides he will go out and find one – and then another, and another, and another, etc.
As you can see, stories matter to kids of all ages. When you read to them and take time to talk and think about what is going on both stated and hidden levels (like in my sample Read-aloud Guide above),you can help your children discover the traits and values that you want for them – now and in the future. You can help them find the “So What?” factor in their lives. Please sign up for automatic notification of new posts. “Happy Reading!”