States I've Been In
Kids in Need - Book In Deed

The Experience of Falling in Love with a Book (Or Not)

There are several posts out from the last day or so concerned with required summer reading, and how the Newbery awards are selected and applied. I find these discussions irresistible, because I'm so concerned that kids are able to find books that they enjoy.

  • Rick Riordan has a follow-up to his earlier post about his son's summer reading blues (which I mentioned in my Sunday visits post). In the previous post, he lamented the fact that his son's school assigned the Newbery-award-winning, but 50-year-old, Ginger Pye as a required summer reading book. Rick wrote yesterday that he's had more responses to the earlier post than to any other blog post. He also set down his personal requirements for what makes up the "best" children's books, saying "When it comes to children’s literature, I tend to be a populist. My primary concern is youth literacy. What will appeal to the most children? What will get them reading? What will inspire them to pick up more books? A book that can do this is, to me, a “best book” for children." I couldn't agree with him more, and I think that he absolutely holds to these ideals in the kids books that he writes (Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters). See Rick's blog post here.
  • Camille at Book Moot also shares some insightful comments about required reading and Newbery titles (here and more recently here). In today's entry she ponders the difficulty that parents face when they have to choose books for their kids from among the Newbery titles (because of school requirements). She says: "I know curriculum committees fall back on these lists because they are supposed to be "good literature" and consider them safe picks. I wonder though if they actually read these books before they assign them?" An excellent question, that.
  • Camille linked to another Newbery-related post at Oz and Ends. J. L. Bell looks at some earlier Newbery winners, both of which proved to have far less staying power than their Honor Book runners up (Secret of the Andes vs. Charlotte's Web and Shadow Of A Bull vs, Harriet the Spy). He speculates that the librarians on these earlier Newbery committees may have been striving to select multi-cultural books, but notes that "young Americans ended up preferring instead ... Mostly stories about other young Americans."

Personally, I think that I have a pretty kid-like taste when it comes to choosing books to read. And if I look at a title, whether it's a Newbery-winner or not, and the mere description causes me to snore, then I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to expect kids to like it. I find myself more and more drawn to books that are magical (though not necessarily about magic) and compelling and keep the reader turning the pages.

I've also found that while some older books seem to me to hold up well (I've recently re-read The Railway Children and The Four Story Mistake, and enjoyed both), that doesn't necessarily mean that my 11-year-old nieces will like them. So, to come full-circle in the discussion, it seems a bit implausible that a book chosen more than 50 years ago by the Newbery committee (Ginger Pye) would necessarily appeal to all of the kids in a modern elementary school classroom.

What I'd personally like is for every boy out there to be able to find the book that makes him read under the covers with a flashlight, because he has to know how it ends. And for every girl out there to find the book that makes her not come when you call her to dinner, because she's so deep into the book that she can't even hear you. I'm still that girl (my vague "What?" is well-known in my house, when I barely know what's going on around me). While I know that not every kid has it in them to become a bookworm, for one reason or another, I'd still like them all, at least once, to have that experience of completely falling into and in love with a book.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.