We interrupt our revision programming for this important blog entry.
I hate to give this article any more exposure, but I suppose you have to read the buttal before you read the rebuttal.
Claire Needell Hollander, a self-described “middle school reading enrichment teacher” has written an article for the New York Times saying that kids in middle school and high school should not be reading frivolous fiction during the summer. Like The Hunger Games.
She urges children to be unfettered with the specter of essays and tests for their summer reading, that they be free to explore works which may be out of their comprehension comfort zone. On that point I agree whole-heartedly. When a grade is attached, students tend to play it safe.
But Ms. Hollander maintains “Reading literature should be intentional.” Her suggestions for summer reading include a first hand account of the aftermath of Hiroshima and books about kids who have been real child soldiers and a child sex worker. She feels these book choices “increase world and verbal knowledge”.
There is a reason we tell stories, and it is this: to make sense out of a senseless world.
Kids and teens especially must have the luxury to explore in a fictional setting the topics that frighten, anger and titillate them. They should be given the space to figure out how life works, how it should work.
Reading fiction with compelling characters gives kids and teens the chance to feel those characters’ dilemmas, to make moral choices along with them. They’re building their understanding of the world and their place in it, one book at a time.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
If you’ve never heard of this book, let me be the first to welcome you to earth:
As a child, I read this book. Once. I hated Max. I thought he was a naughty little boy. He scared me more than the Wild Things did. He was a kid running around terrorizing his own dog with a fork, for God’s sake.
I had nothing more to do with him until I had hellions of my own.
(Before you decide that I am the only child that reacted that way, read this exchange between Mr. Sendak and one mother:
- Mother: “Every time I read the book to my daughter, she screams.”
- Sendak: “Then why did you continue reading it to her when she does not like it?”
- Mother: “She ought to, it’s a Caldecott book.”
Sendak mentioned that he thought that was ridiculous and “if a child does not like a book, throw it in the trash.”)
When Boywonder was young we did LOTS AND LOTS of things that didn’t cost one red cent. Feeding bread too stale even for us, to the ducks at the park. Digging gigantic holes in the back yard. Going to see the covered wagon and steamboat exhibits for free at the Kansas City Museum. Highest on the list, of course, was a weekly visit to the library.
On one sojourn to the children’s floor, my darling three-year-old with the nearly-blond hair and the trust-me dimples came running with a fascinating-looking book…
You guessed it.
Oh no! Boywonder wanted this book! He was a bully! A jerk! Maybe even a psychopath!
With trembling fingers, I turned to the first page:
“The night Max wore his wolf suit, and made mischief of one kind…and another…”
Gee, that sounded like a certain little boy I knew rather well.
“…his mother called him ‘Wild Thing,’ and Max said ‘I’ll eat you up…'”
Wow. I know someone a lot like his mom, too.
We flipped the pages, Boywonder lingering over every Wild Thing portrait. We laughed as Max wielded his authority over all things wild, and sighed when he came back to his own home where his supper waited for him. “And it was still hot.”
We read it three more times before we checked it out.
So why the big difference in reaction?
Who knows. I’m sure it’s some big deep psychological secret that I would be loathe to reveal.
But I think it’s as simple as this:
Boywonder focused on taming the Wild Things.
I focused on the kid wielding a weapon on his beloved pet.
I think my son got the point a whole lot faster than I did.