Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Required Reading

J.L Bell at Oz and Ends is also pondering the irony of the Newbery Awards (Charlotte's Web vs Secret of the Andes) and makes an interesting point:

Now I get rather bored with any complaints that contemporary prejudices about what's worthy influence which books (or movies, or cheeses, or anything) win awards, rather than (a) what people most enjoy, or (b) what people turn out to most enjoy twenty years later. That's like complaining about the second law of thermodynamics. It's just how the world works.

So true, times and tastes do change and awards are often indicative of their times.

The question that I ponder is how curriculum planners and teachers arrive at their required reading picks today. Rick Riordan's son had to read Ginger Pye this summer. Why is a book that won an award over 50 years ago a good choice for kids today? Why Ginger Pye and not The Tale of Despereaux (if it HAD to be a Newbery?) If the Newbery sticker was not the criteria, what was the reasoning behind this reading choice?

The last time we were driving across the USA we stopped (as we always try to) at Lemuria Books in Jackson MS. As I scoped out the children's section, I ended up talking to a mother who was there with her daughter to pick up their required summer reading. The girl was entering 3rd grade. The list they had to choose from was the Newbery Award list. None of the honor books were allowed. It had to be a book with the golden sticker.

What Newbery title would you have recommended to a child who had just finished second grade?

Tale of Despereaux? Shiloh? Sarah Plain and Tall? The Whipping Boy? (These were my suggestions.) Most of the books on that list are really pitched at older readers, in my opinion.

How are kids and parents to compare Sarah Plain and Tall with Kira-Kira just by looking at a piece of paper? At least they were being offered a selection of titles to choose from.

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?

Happily, most of my kids' reading assignments have all been worthy (not that they enjoyed all of them but we could understand why the book was selected.)

As the new school year begins, smart schools and educators will be prepared to explain (maybe at back to school night?) why certain titles were selected and have alternative choices at the ready.

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