Required Reading?

While surfing around some of my children's literature blogs, I came across a link to this post: Patrick's Summer Reading Blues. The post caught my eye because Ginger Pye happens to be the book that we are listening to in the car (where we always have an audio book going).

Rick talks about how Ginger Pye (the "required summer reading" for his 8 year old son) turned out to be "problematic" in that his son (and Rick himself) found it very slow-moving and hard to relate to:

Patrick is eight years old, and he has already started forming opinions about school and reading: School is boring. They make you do things that don't matter. Reading is boring. The books aren't fun and they don't mean anything to him.

Rick continues:

And I think Patrick put his finger on a problem that still troubles the world of children's literature. What kids read is dictated by adults – from the writers and editors to the booksellers and librarians. We are all well-intentioned. We do our best to decide what will be good reading for children, but sometimes we pick what we think kids should like, not what they do like. And when we don't promote books children actually want to read, what happens? We produce generation after generation of nonreaders.

He seems to be saying that if Newberry Award committees would pick better (more interesting) books to receive their award and if teachers would pick better books as required reading, then kids would learn that reading is fun.

I think that he misses the point.

The problem is not that the books are not interesting enough. Or that "good quality" children's literature is more based on what adults want rather then what kids find interesting. The problem lies in the concept of "required reading". There is no way that a teacher can assign a reading list with books that every child in the class will enjoy. Reading is much too personal of a thing. One kid's favorite book is another kid's drudgery. My guess is that there were some kids in Patrick's class that did enjoy Ginger Pye. It sounds like there were many that did not.

Kids learn that "reading is boring" when you take the choice to finish a book away from them. And make passing a test (or some other way of "getting credit") the only reason to finish a book. It is human nature…who likes being forced to do something that they do not enjoy?

I asked Jason (9 years old) what he thought of Ginger Pye. This led to a really fun discussion and he came up with a ranking system for the books he has read:

  • X - Best (must be written in red flaming letters (at least I got the red part))
  • A - Great
  • B - Very Good
  • C - Good
  • D - OK
  • E - Bad

He gave Ginger Pye a C - Good. I personally agree with Rick that Ginger Pye is not the most exciting book…the brother and sister seem almost "too good" and while they sometimes debate with themselves about "the right thing" they always choose the right thing. And they always get along with each other. I am starting to find them annoying. I asked Jason if he wanted to finish listening to it and he does. I think he is curious to find out who kidnapped Ginger Pye. I know that he has a theory because we have discussed it. He also knows that we do not need to finish the book. We have started listening to/reading books and decided not to finish them (Poppy by Avi is one that comes to mind…we all decided that it was a little too dark and depressing for now).

I find it interesting (and not surprising) that his rated X - Best books are all fantasy books (Harry Potter, Inkheart/Inkspell, Children of the Lamp, Eragon/Eldest, Edge Chronicles and A Wrinkle in Time)…can't say that I blame him! But I do try to pick a variety of books to read to him. One of the biggest surprises that I have had is when I brought home The Secret Garden. I did not really expect him to enjoy but I had never read it, so I figured that I would give it a try and see if he liked it. As we got into it, I asked him several times whether he wanted to continue and he consistently said that he did (I actually think that he liked flow of the language). I asked him tonight what he would rate it and he smiled and gave it an A - Great. I also found it interesting that he did not rate any of the books E - Bad. I asked him if he had ever read a bad book and he said "nope".

I have created a new page on my side bar with Jason's Book Ratings that I hope to continue to update. He and I really enjoyed remembering and talking about the books that he has read and I really enjoyed getting his perspective.

Another point…these are not necessarily books that Jason has read himself. Right now the majority of the books on the list are books that Jeff or I have read to him or audio books (he goes through these like crazy). Mainly because his comprehension/enjoyment level is still above his reading level (although the two are getting closer and we have found books that he enjoys to read on his own). Here again, I encourage him to read books on his own by constantly looking for books that I think he will enjoy (we have had the most success so far with the Captain Underpants books). But he is not required to read a certain number of books or read for a particular amount of time each day/week. This is another practice that I feel can kill a child's enjoyment of reading. It has been fun watching as he has gradually started reading more and more on his own.

How Jason learned to read may not have been overly typical but it has been on his time schedule and had been wonderful to watch unfold. And it has happened without any kind of required reading. Jason has a true love for books which is a joy to see.

I have to say that this is my favorite part of homeschooling - finding and sharing great books with the boys.