Selecting the right book is one of the most important steps in generating excitement and developing young children’s interests in reading. The language should be on a level that is easily understood and the pictures should be vivid and engaging. It is a lesson I learned over and again during my teaching tenure and one that I apply as I peruse bookshelves when searching for a book for my grandchildren. So when our daughter Nancy asked us to read a story to May’s preschool classmates, Richard and I jumped at the chance. We had the perfect book!
I first read Hey Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose to my grandniece Amanda’s first grade class and was delighted by how well it was received. The story is about a “kid” who is about to step on an ant, but his foot remains raised in midair as the ant pleads its case as to why it should live. The exchange of dialogue is entertaining, informative, written in verse, and illustrated from the perspectives of both the ant and the kid, all very appealing aspects for grabbing a child’s attention. What I particularly enjoy about the book is the way it ends by asking whether or not the kid should squash the ant.
On the day of our visit, May, upon seeing us enter her classroom, rushed to us with arms outstretched yelling, “Grammy, Grampy!” Music to our ears! As I held her close and felt her little arms wrap themselves around my neck, I became aware of how quickly this little love of our lives was growing and how fortunate we are to be a part of her ever-evolving world.
As visitors to the Land of the Lilliputians, Rich and I had to crouch down in order to enter the playhouse that served as the reading room. Once inside we sat, knees to nose, upon the tyke-sized chairs reserved for us, the honored guests. Eleven bright-eyed, eager little bodies surrounded us waiting with high expectations to be entertained.
Ask children a question and an endless stream of answers is guaranteed to follow. It is a great icebreaker! So, we began our visit by asking May’s classmates how many of them had seen ants crawling on the ground and been tempted to step on them. Our simple question opened a flood of responses, each more fantastic than the previous one, as would be expected coming from the creative minds of uninhibited five-year-olds. Fact and fiction became intertwined as these budding biologists excitedly shared their limited knowledge of ants, bringing broad smiles to Richard’s and my faces. There is nothing as refreshing as the spontaneity of children when they are asked to offer their opinion on any subject.
Once everyone had the chance to speak, we began the story. Rich and I came equipped with two copies of the book with the intention of showing the illustrations while taking turns reading the text aloud, a very effective way to maintain young children’s interests in the story being read.
The book’s text increasingly leads its readers to feel compassion for this tiny speck of nature that lay at the mercy of the “kid’s” moral dilemma. By story’s end, when the question of squashing or not squashing the ant was raised to our enwrapped listeners, ten of the eleven children sympathized with the ant and yelled out a resounding “NO!” the exception being a free-spirited little boy who had no qualms about squashing ants. It is always refreshing to witness how preschoolers openly state what is on their minds without the weight of worrying about appearances, a benefit to being so very young.
As a memento of our visit, May gave miniature rubber ants and jumping beans to her friends. While May’s classmates excitedly watched their jumping beans move about in their little hands, Rich and I feasted our eyes upon the happiness that radiated from our granddaughter’s small face. She was the star of the day and we felt profound joy that we were there to watch her shine.
May and her sister Eloise are our motivation to be all that they would want in grandparents. And so we continue…