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.


About throwingmarshmallows

I am a homeschooling mom to two sweet, energetic boys although I am probably not exactly what you would expect (definitely NOT your stereotypical homeschooler, if there is really such a thing). I support progressive political causes (yes, liberals can and do homeschool!) and I have found a spiritual home in the Unitarian Universalist Church. I have no real idea of how I want to use this blog, but will probably focus on homeschooling, things that I am learning from my boys, personal thoughts and opinions and maybe some liberal politics thrown in, who knows!
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9 Responses to Required Reading?

  1. I remembering loving Ginger Pye as a child. I went through an Eleanor Estes period. I read Ginger Pye aloud to my kids several years ago; we would probably give it a B.

    You are completely right about the problem of required reading at least at that age. It seems to me it would be better to use a long list of books and let the kids choose from that. But why one book for 30+ kids in a class?

    May I steal your idea of rating books? My 11 yo just started a blog and he loves to read. I am going to suggest he rate the books he’s reading. I think he’ll enjoy that!


  2. JoVE says:

    I think you are spot on about the problem though it is more evident at the end of your post. It isn’t just required reading but the requirement to read x books or for x minutes a day that is the problem, as well. The father of one of my daughter’s friends was saying that he thought this approach (and the goal setting and comparison between the kids in the class) that had turned his son off of reading. There is hope because his son has recently started reading for pleasure on his own. They have read some of the Swallows and Amazons series as a family and he is now reading all of them on his own for pleasure (on canoe trips).

  3. I bet he’d like The Golden Compass and the rest of the His Dark Materials books.

    I liked silent readign tiem in school, because I *love* to read, but I absolutely hated boosk we *had* to read, especially if we read them aloud in class – even in 12th grade English. I was 6 chapters ahead of the class in Wuthering Heights.

  4. laraszoo says:

    All so true. I often recommend “literature” to Aubrey and ask her to try it. Most she enjoys and finishes, some she really gets in to and a few she says she doesn’t want to finish and I know it either isn’t the right book for her, or not the right time for her to read it. We also do audiobooks in the car and I can always tell I’ve hit the jackpot when I’m being told to put the tape in before I get the ignition started. If I have to ask if they want me to put the tape in and I get a “no” or an “I guess” generally it ends up being one we don’t finish.

    FTR, my kids did enjoy Ginger Pye, but it wouldn’t be on their favorite list.

  5. Stephanie says:

    Faith – feel free to steal! It was Jason’s idea to rank the books…all I did was ask him if he liked Ginger Pye. He has been coming to me most of the day to add new books to his list. It’s a lot of fun!

    JoVE – I agree with you and don’t get me started on accelarated reading (AR) programs which are another problem.

    I actually always enjoyed library reading programs because I got rewarded for doing something that I was already doing. I want to make sure that Jason is a solid on his own reader before having him participate in one of those.

    Andrea – I actually just finished the HDM trilogy a little while ago (had to pre-read it you know…twist my arm!) and yes, he will LOVE it. We are currently slogging through (my opinion…he is loving it) Eldest. I enjoyed Eragon, but am having a tough time with Eldest.

  6. Kim c says:

    I like the ratings idea too, and I agree a kid should be able to drop a book they don’t like. Just like we would. But some of the slower paced books do have valuable things in them as well. I would not make my kids read onward for that but I have discovered one thing…I could read them an operation manual for the oven and they’d be transfixed because I am reading it outloud for them. So, I save the classics for trad-aloud time and let them pick their own for their reading.

  7. willa says:

    I like Jeff’s rating system! I read Ginger Pye to one of my sons several years ago. He liked it enough that we went on to read several other books by the same author. It was a chaotic time in our lives and I think the predictability and low-key storyline was very soothing to him. He probably would have given it a B back then (at age 6) but might feel differently now at age 13.

    It does seem like a shame that so many “teaching reading” methods in the schools are exactly what I would design if I wanted kids to hate reading and books.

  8. Ria says:

    At the library this year, in their summer reading program, they made so many arbitrary rules my girls didn’t even want to participate. They have enjoyed it so much every other year, it was very disappointing. They are talking about not even participating next year if it is the same…however, on the other hand, we went to another library’s summer reading program which didn’t have silly rules and they had a blast! WHY, WHY, WHY, if READING is the goal do they feel they must make RULES to go with it? WHY won’t they just leave the kids alone to READ?

  9. lifeacademy says:

    Wonderful! I totally agree. My DD (10 yrs old) is one that doesn’t enjoy fiction reading too much. It took some time after pulling her from public school for her to actually pick up a book on her own and read.

    She doesn’t have any required reading now that we unschool (we had a brief period of about 3 months when we started homeschooling that she did… and I quickly saw the error of trying to recreate school at home). The books she enjoys most are Field Guides and other books about animals, plants, and nature.

    She will occasionally pick up one of the fiction books left on her shelf and read. But it’s certainly nothing that I push on her. I don’t find reading a story more valid than hearing in on tape or seeing a play or movie about it.