Friday, September 5, 2008

Decent and challenging

I was in the children's section of the library today.

There was a mother in there with three children, about 8, 10, and 12.

One of the children (the middle one) was trying to pick out a book.

As he walked through the aisles and studied the shelves, his mother followed him and "judged" every book he expressed an interest in. I couldn't see which books he was choosing, but she kept saying, "No. Pick something decent."

She must have said that five times!

I was so curious about what she meant by "decent."

Finally, she changed her wording and said, "Pick something challenging."

What does that mean? Challenging reading level? Challenging storyline? Challenging theme?

I was so irritated, I wanted to scream: "Just let the dang kid pick out a book he wants to read, for crying out loud!"

(By the way, she deemed books by Bruce Coville to be "decent and challenging." I did overhear that much....although, interestingly, she added, "I've heard he's good." So I guess she hasn't actually read anything by Bruce Coville.)


Anonymous said...

I sure see both sides of that one! :) As a mom, I get frustrated when my daughter constantly reads far below her reading level. On the other hand, I have to remind myself that when I read for pleasure I generally don't "challenge" myself. I generally pick a romance or a mystery to read for pleasure. I guess I need to walk my talk a bit more -- let the girl read what she wants to read.

Sarah Miller said...

Ooh, that whole scenario makes me itchy. The "challenging" thing happened in the bookstore all the time. I generally staged an intervention if the parent wasn't too scary. Still do, as a matter of fact. It's actually easier at the library -- proposing a compromise doesn't strain the family pocketbook the way it does at a store.

Another sneaky way around the issue is to encourage family read-alouds. It doesn't occur to most folks to read aloud to older kids, but it broadens their vocabulary and sentence structure every bit as much as younger kids' and shows them what sort of complex stories are out there for great readers to enjoy solo. Audiobooks can also work the same magic. It's bait, pure and simple.

Always insisting that kids challenge themselves runs the risk of turning reading into work. If they're not allowed to regularly kick back and have fun with what I call "bubble gum books" (books that are neither nutritious nor dangerous) reading won't stand a chance against TV, video games and the internet. Once you've firmly instilled a love of reading, kids tend to stretch their abilities naturally.

*steps down from uppity bookseller soapbox*

Franki said...

This is so interesting that you blogged about this. I noticed this kind of thing ALL summer--parents in bookstores telling their kids that the books they picked were "TOO Easy". I saw WALK TWO MOONS being handed to 8 year old who wanted to read Junie B Jones. It is craziness-I totally agree!! Too funny (or sad) that we are both noticing this (and I noticed it in several different states this summer. UGH!

Anonymous said...

What really drives me three steps beyond the edge of sanity, is that I teach in a school district where the students are only allowed to read books from a certain list in order to receive credit for book reports.

If a book is not on "The List", no credit is given. So, forget about reading for enjoyment! (And we wonder why kids hate to read!!)

Karen said...

And we, as teachers, wonder why we have so much difficulty teaching the concept of good book choices to our students. I always thought it was the kids' decision to have the thickest book possible; I never considered that the issue might lie with some parents.