Thursday, September 17, 2009

Philosophical Discussion

What should middle school readers read? Children's books? Young adult novels? Adult literature?

Depends on the reader.

My own collection (And really, isn't it? I pick out all the books and decide what stays and goes.) is varied but apparently skews young. Not that my students are reading nothing but Beverly Cleary (her books for younger readers don't circulate much), but I don't have many "young adult" and fewer "adult" titles (most are "classics" like Vanity Fair and Last of the Mohicans that I am slowly weeding). At high school curriculum night last night, another middle school librarian and parent mentioned that she thought high schoolers should read adult fiction, and middle school students young adult. I disagreed.

Is it because I had a child capable of reading Harry Potter at age 6, but didn't want him to miss Magic Treehouse and Morris the Moose? Is it because I wasn't allowed to check out adult books from the library until I was 17? Is it because "young adult" has become so edgy, i.e. filled with sex and profanity?

Perhaps what forms my opinion most is my feeling that we push children to read far above their interest levels. Certainly, if a 6th grader really wants to read The Hobbit, she should. But I weary of students who tell me that their reading level is "so high" and they only like to read "big books" and parents who want to "challenge their students". These students don't seem to be as excited about books as the students who read I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You or Stormbreaker.

Any opinions? I will spend the day doubting my methods and efficacy, which is a good big dose of humble.


  1. Middle school readers should read whatever hey like. I remember reading Susan Cooper, Stephen King, George Orwell, Carl Sagan, some science fiction, and superhero comics when I was in middle school--all for fun and not assigned. I guess Susan Cooper was "for" my age group but I doubt the rest were. I think when we get too caught up in what we "should" be reading we lose the excitement of reading--like you said.

  2. I remember reading Stephen King & Peter Straub's co-novel The Talisman at age 11. I looked for big books because I read fast. I also remember the librarian calling my mom to make sure it was okay. (it was)

    That same year, I read all of Nancy Drew (in order) and Baum's Oz books (also in order.) That's the year I read M. L'Engle's Wrinkle of Time & sequels. And 3 Musketeers.

    I read Hunchback of Notre Dame my 8th grade year for kicks. I don't pretend I was normal tho :-)

    As a homeschooling mother to a 9yo boy who chooses DK nonfiction over fiction--I assigned Beverly Cleary's Ralph books. He is very much a boy reader (boys rule boys read! is my other book blog) and I have had to adapt MY ideas of what he should read.

  3. I agree with you. And I have lots of other things to say in regard to this, but I gotta go to work. I will say them later.

  4. Anonymous10:10 AM EDT

    In "The Trouble with Boys" the author talks about how some of us (parents, educators) might be pushing kids too hard, to go too far too fast. I think categories like YA and MG, etc. should be used as guides to know what kind of thing you're about to read, not limitations on what you're ALLOWED to read or SHOULD read (like "horror" or "mystery").

    I know plenty of adults who read "down" the scale, so to speak, and read Harry Potter and Hugo Cabret, etc. The classification of Middle grade, or whatever it may be, just lets you know that you're about to read a story that's told from a kid's POV, and probably won't have gore and sex, etc. It doesn't mean adults shouldn't read it because it's "beneath" them.

    And vice versa; if I'm a kid, I should know that if I pick up a YA title, it just might have that kind of stuff. If I'm ready, okay. If not, I pick up something else.

    It's hard enough these days to get kids to read, why push stuff on them that they're not ready for? And every kid's different.

  5. Don't doubt yorself--you've proven to be very capable. (Humility is actually, as Chaucer's priest said, "true self knowledge") I think you've hit it right on the head. Let kids read at their interest level and, as their reading ability grows, they will challenge themselves.

  6. I agree with you. I think that there's plenty of opportunity for kids to challenge themselves. I think that they should also have the opportunity to read books at, or even below, grade level. This gives them a chance to read about characters who have similar experiences to their own, for one thing. And it helps keep reading fun.

    MotherReader wrote recently at Booklights that kids should be reading a mix of books below, at, and above reading level (for relaxation and challenge). I agree.

    So, I think that you're doing the right thing. You're actually providing the kids with a gift - the chance to read excellent books written for their experience.

    OK, stepping off of soapbox now.

  7. I don't much mind the reading "level" of the books our sons read, so much as the content and general quality of the literature. I'm not OK with racy, over-sexualized teen fiction -- and there is a vast quantity of that in our public library.

    I'd rather they read what interests them, so long as they don't become stuck in a very deep single-genre rut.

  8. Grumble. I waited too long and everybody said the cool stuff first. What they said twice. That being said, you know your kids best - the people telling you what YOUR students, YOUR kids, or YOUR patrons should read - do they know those kids? Not kids of similar ages, but those particular kids? Maybe you do have some students that want to read something older, something adult, something classic, something really weird; that's what a public library is for. We have a wider patron range, so a wider range of materials. Send 'em over!

  9. I agree. I hate to see kids missing out on books that are just perfect for them where they are right now, developmentally, emotionally - things that will never resonate as well for them, even though they may appreciate the books later, as adults - because they are being made to read books that are at a particular reading level.

  10. Yeah. What everyone else said. There's enough time to grow up. And books at a high reading level may or may not have appropriate themes. For example, Night is at a low reading level, but would you give it to a 5th grader? I think not. And Lemony Snicket is at a high level, so would you not give it to a 4th grader? Again, no. then there are all the books in the middle/average reading level that have so much content that makes kids think and engages them. OK, you've already heard it all from everyone else.

  11. While I agree that students should read what they feel compelled to read, most need guidance because they really don't know themselves and rarely reflect on their success (or lack of).

    The first area they need to focus on is breadth. Too many think "they've read everything in THIS library" when, in fact, they've dismissed huge amounts of titles for reasons that have little to do with the book itself. Students try YA books before they are emotionally ready, and then think they are beyond them when they are ready. But reading books about the problems they face daily is really engaging in a way that it is not prior or after. It is a hard sell, but once they are open it is great.

    The other factor is slowing down. Too many readers think they are "good readers" because they swallow books. Often, these folks don't remember what they read or don't reflect. That's empty calories. While a Stephen King here or Tolkien there is remembered, I read a slew of Clive Cusslers that I COULD read, and did, but they did nothing for me. On the second reading of Watership Down and Harry Potter I got so much out of it.

    I get too many students who read dull adult literature, and they don't have the background to understand it and read it because they feel they are supposed to. YA literature is so rich compared to just a few years ago.

    Let's be a bit more reflective.