"I-I-I-I! What begins with I?" the student exclaimed, reciting a passage in the popular alphabet book by the Cat in the Hat author. "Ichabod is itchy, and so am I!"
The exchange made an impression on children's-literacy expert Savage.
"That Dr. Seuss phrase had stuck in that kid's head for that long," he mused. "The fact she could recite it verbatim shows how much that book meant to her.
"Long after kids forget which state grows the most winter wheat, they'll remember the trouble Curious George got in," Savage said. "It becomes part of their being. That's the power of children's literature."
An enthusiastic regard for children's stories and their pull across generations infuses Savage's latest work, For the Love of Literature: Children & Books in the Elementary Years. The book is designed to help student teachers discover the joys of literature for children, acquire a general knowledge of the field, and develop an awareness of ways to share children's literature both inside and outside the classroom.
"Literature is not just something you read or study, it's something that becomes a part of you," he said. "Kids say they love Make Way for Ducklings, Madeline and Dr. Seuss. Cripes, if we can give kids something they love, what a leg up we have in education!"
Prof. John Savage (LSOE): "Long after kids forget which state grows the most winter wheat, they'll remember the trouble Curious George got in."
For the Love of Literature surveys the genres of children's literature, from picture books to folk literature, while discussing issues in the field of children's literature today, such as the value of multicultural literature to the curriculum and the use of modern computer technology to encourage reading.
Each chapter features brief autobiographical profiles of influential children's-book authors and illustrators, "special perspective" essays by scholars and classroom practitioners, and lists of 10 outstanding books in various categories. A lengthy appendix lists winners of the Caldecott Medal, the Newbery Medal and other prizes given annually to the most outstanding works of children's literature.
"One of the things I try to do is look at children's books as pieces of literature, not just as teaching tools," Savage said.
Savage cites a survey taken by Publishers Weekly in 1996 of the top-selling hardcover children's books of all time. The list was topped by Golden Book favorite The Poky Little Puppy, which had sold 14 million copies since its release in 1942. Second on the list was Beatrix Potter's 1902 classic Peter Rabbit, with more than 9 million copies sold.
Fourteen of the 100 best-selling titles were by Dr. Seuss. Authors with several books on the list included Richard Scarry, A.A. Milne and Shel Silverstein. Other old favorites on the list included Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon, Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar and E.B. White's Charlotte's Web.
Various factors affect sales rankings, Savage acknowledged. Wide-scale marketing and inexpensive prices helped place five Golden Books among the top 10 sellers, he noted, while television and movies have helped popularize Dr. Seuss, Disney and Sesame Street books.
But he said the great number of books that continue to sell well share several basic literary traits that resonate with children, namely "good plots, good language and good artwork."
When Savage's book went to press, the Harry Potter stories by British author J. K. Rowling were only beginning to chart on this side of the Atlantic. The current wild popularity of the boy-wizard fantasy stories, Savage said, is evidence that imaginative writing holds universal appeal for the young - and the young at heart.
"Harry Potter is a good story!" he said. "You look at the best seller list every Sunday and you realize not only kids are reading it."
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