William Bee’s Stanley’s Fire Engine is one of Peachtree’s most highly anticipated fall picture books. After all, everyone loves Stanley! This is the 9th Stanley picture book, and seeing the hard-working hamster on a fire engine has long been requested by dedicated Stanley fans.
One of the most endearing qualities of the Stanley series is the comfortable rhythm and repetition that make for perfect read-alouds and books that children return to again and again. To explore the importance of that rhythm and repetition, we asked early education expert Marsha Hawley to share why books like the Stanley picture books are so important for the youngest readers.
Marsha Shigeyo Hawley is the former Director of Implementation and Practice Improvement for the Lead Learn Excel program, a professional learning program that provides training, targeted coaching, and a suite of resources to instructional leaders. Marsha has more than forty years of teaching experience, initially working with infants, toddlers, and children in pre-K through 3rd grade, then moving on to more than 20 years of higher education focusing on early childhood education. She is also the author of several publications, including curriculum for infant and toddler caregivers.
What Makes a Picture Book Compelling?
Do you ever wonder what makes a book so compelling that a child pulls it off the shelf to have you read it? And why, when you’re finished reading it for the fourth time in an hour, that same child asks you to read it again?
That’s how I felt when I first read William Bee’s Stanley the Farmer. I immediately fell in love with Stanley the hamster, of course, but the words are simple, and the illustrations are perfect for even the youngest of children. They are bright, but do not rely only on primary colors to grab your attention. The content is interesting, filled with real-life connections and experiences, but it also builds curiosity for readers who have never been to a farm, for example. However, what I mostly fell in love with was the rhythm of Stanley the Farmer – and of all the books in the Stanley series.
What Does It Mean for a Book to Have Rhythm?
When we talk about a book’s “rhythm,” we could be talking about sentence structure, the pacing of events, or the tempo of the language. We could also be talking about the regularity of events in a book, the “routine,” if you will.
In each book, Stanley and his neighbors – including a very young shrew-like character named Little Woo – help each other throughout their day. And at the end of that day, Stanley goes home for his comforting nightly routine of supper, bath, and bed. At the end of Stanley the Builder, Stanley’s friend Myrtle expresses her gratitude to Stanley and Charlie for a job well done building her house, then Stanley returns home – “time for supper, time for a bath, and time for bed.”
How Do Books Build More Than Academic and Literacy Skills?
Early literacy studies show that books help build more than just academic skills for very young children. They also help model predictability, healthy practices, and social relationships that create a feeling of belonging. Books like those in the Stanley series demonstrate friendship, community, good nourishment, hard work and cooperation along with the joy and rhythm of a normal day.
“Read it to me again” books spark interest in young children by portraying things and experiences that connect to a child’s life and yet are a bit new for them. They help develop curiosity, even with very young children who are not yet able to point or talk. It’s the balance of realities: what a child knows and what a child has not yet experienced.
How Does a Book Become a Good “Read It to Me Again” Book?
Along with sparking a child’s curiosity and interest, a book becomes a “read it to me again” staple depending on who should like the book. Should the child choose the book? Should the adult be the one who selects the book? If you want a book that’s going to be read again and again, the answer is both.
When an adult enjoys the book, and the concepts resonate with them, the act of jointly enjoying the story makes that shared time a more meaningful experience. I feel that way about Stanley. I love these books myself and have recommended them to others to read with children.
In more than 45 years of study and work in the field of early childhood education, I know it takes more than good books to create a good environment for young children and their families. Yet, good “read it to me again” books are powerful to create a joy and rhythm that help make learning happen organically.
More about Marsha Shigeyo Hawley
Marsha Shigeyo Hawley is an advisor to advancing racial equity at the Ounce of Prevention and was the former Director of Implementation and Practice Improvement for the Lead Learn Excel program. Lead Learn Excel is a professional learning program that provides training, targeted coaching, and a suite of resources to instructional leaders to fuel early childhood educators’ learning and continuous improvement.
Marsha has been invested in infant mental health and in infant toddler child care and teen parenting. Her portfolio of professional work includes more than forty years of teaching experience with infants, toddlers, pre-K, K-3, including more than twenty-two years in higher education in early childhood. She is the author of several publications in early childhood education and a curriculum for infant toddler caregivers. She has also won awards for her early education websites that were launched in 1995.
Marsha continues to serve on the leadership team of the Chicago Commission on Urban Opportunities, and the Gateways to Opportunity Professional Development Advisory Council, supporting the creation of the Infant Toddler Credential in Illinois. Marsha also supports the community of learners in infancy by bringing together professionals and practitioners to the Infant Toddler Conference held at Oakton College that started in 1998.