Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Harry Potter 3-D

School days are looming so we are engaged in a general room toss and scouring of Entling no. 3's room this week. As we began to wade through the morass, I noticed her stack of Harry Potter books. As I looked at the battered and beloved condition of the books, I was overwhelmed by a rush of affection for Jo Rowling. I think these books and their condition speak for themselves, they are a testament to love and a tribute to an amazing reader, Entling no. 3

They made me ponder the recent NYTimes article, "Is Junie B. Jones Talking Trash?" which discussed the familiar story of some parents dislike of Junie B. and Junie-speak.

I have fielded my share of sniffy "well-I-don't-care-for-her-language" comments from parents in my role as school librarian.

As a parent and an educator, I am always flummoxed when folks think their child cannot discern between fiction and reality and will absorb an attitude and a dialect from an early reader. Please folks! Do parents who read murder mysteries or watch CSI: insert-city-name-here on television become inspired to go on crime sprees?

If books had THAT much power then there would never be another diet book published in this country. We would all be skinny pictures of health.

Do parents themselves ALWAYS use perfect grammar? When they do not, do they instigate a discussion with their child to make sure that they understand the scope of the grammatical tragedy and that they are not scarred for life?

Parent: Darling, I'm afraid I just committed a grammatical faux-pas and left a modifier dangling in the run-on sentence I just uttered. I think I may have also employed a double negative while trying to correct to my misuse of a possessive before a gerund.

Now we need to talk about this so you don't think this is proper and begin to split your infinitives too.

When confronted by a parent about Miss Junie, I always voice my support for this wonderful series (if children love them and flock to them, I think they are wonderful) but usually end up with a prosaic comment about other choices and if this one does not fit, try another.

Just looking at my daughter's books though (and there are many many other books in similar re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-read condition on her shelves) made me rethink my answer.

Dear Parents,
As this school year begins anew, you and your children are about to embark on an adventure of a life time. There are math problems to be computed, scientific principles to be acquired and history to be absorbed. A school year passes quickly. There is no time to waste.

The ability to read is essential to your child's success in acquiring all this knowledge. Learning to read means your child can successfully decode printed symbols on a page and comprehend the story or read for information with fluency. Your child needs background knowledge of syntax, semantics, phoneme awareness and other abilities to proceed.

Like any skill, reading is improved with practice. Michael Jordan did not get to be a basketball all-star by practicing just once a week. The more words that pass below your child's eyes, the stronger and more comfortable he or she will become as a reader. We want your child to read books the way you eat popcorn at the movies, continuously and by the handful. Surely, you do not just eat one kernel every fifteen minutes or so?

I know you want your son or daughter to succeed. I have never heard a parent despair, "I wish my child was not such a excellent reader. I wish they did not read above grade level. I wish they did not enjoy reading books."

With so many non-print media sources vying for your child's attention, you should drop to your knees and make offerings of thanksgiving if he or she finds a series of books they are passionate about.

Remember, popcorn!

If they love a certain book, you will not have to "schedule" reading time. They will seek it out on their own. If they love a book, they will beg to read the next one in the series or another one like it. If they love a book, you are not going to have to bribe them to finish it.

Please be tolerant of your child's reading choices. Certainly as a parent it is fun to guide, suggest, offer--but in the end, it is THEIR reading life. Do you really want to get in the way and ruin the experience for them?

When children love what they read, they love reading.

May the school year ahead go smoothly for school librarians who are working so earnestly and fervently to answer that perennial question, "Where are the good books?"


Anonymous said...

I love that picture of your entling's pile of books. And I am impressed by your letter to parents -- "When children love what they read, they love reading." So simple. So true.


Ashley said...

I agree with you that it's silly some parents will go to such lengths (banning books!?) when kids don't always pick up bad grammar from the books they read.

That said, though, the books are filled with calling people "stupid" and other names, which I don't personally think it's a great source of educational value for children.

It's absolutely up to the parents (and sometimes the kids themselves) to choose what they read. If anything, at least they're reading a book!

Children's Media Consultant

Camille said...

I love it when parents care enough (some do not) to participate in their child's reading life.

When my kids were little we had rules about name calling. 'Stupid' and 'shut-up' were words on the verboten list. That being said, when we encountered a character in a book telling another person to "shut up" or name calling, no one in our family suddenly started using those terms.

My kids obviously read and recognized the word(s) in the story and but instead of parroting them, they perceived that the character had crossed a line -- sort of a reverse lesson.

These parents assume all language and situations in literature are emulatory and that kids will adopt any POV or language simply by reading. The educational value of literature works both ways. Sometimes it models how NOT to behave.

But then as their librarian, I just wanted them to read for the pure fun of it all.

Kelsey said...


I am a long-time reader but I don't think I've ever commented on your blog. I love the photo of the Harry Potter books, mine are in similar condition.

As a former first grade teacher and current library media education graduate student (say that five times fast!) I know the power of Junie B. first hand. To me she is almost a contemporary Ramona Quimby. Ramona, as I recall, was far from perfect, though I don't ever remember parents lining up to protest her. I fully support the reading of Junie B. and think her language mishaps can be wonderful teaching opportunities for someone terribly concerned about the way she speaks.

I used Junie B. books as reading group selections more than once and it was always a rewarding experience. I also love Junie B. as a read aloud; talk about books that get children laughing! And as Junie B. readers grow, they might land on some of Barbara Park's wonderful books for older readers.

I loved your letter (just let the children read already!) and will be bookmarking this post for future reference.

Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts.

Camille said...

First grade is prime time for Junie B. Thank you for giving your students a chance to experience them.

The comparison to Ramona is a good one. Have you read Clementine by Sara Pennypacker yet? Brilliant and in the same vein.

Megan Germano said...

I love this letter, I think I may be paraphrasing it in the future... :)
Also, I second the opinion of Camille about Clementine!