Heavy reading

On NPR’s All Things Considered, Barbara Feinberg talks about her book, Welcome to Lizard Motel, which argues for children’s stories that rely on imagination and fantasy. Feinberg’s son, an avid reader, hated school-assigned “problem” books that feature adolescents coping with abuse, dying parents, kidnapping, alcoholism, etc.

Pre-adolescents, these novels seem to suggest, ought to be confronted in fiction with “real life problems” straight on, with no magical dimension and limited imaginative scope. In fact, the child characters in these books often must face their stark circumstances nearly alone, without adult shelter. You have only yourself, these novels seem to say. Adults cannot help you; they are often the source of your troubles.

My daughter read dozens of these novels, and enjoyed them. I’ve always preferred dragons and enchanted wardrobes.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Yeah, wardrobes are fine and all, but what you you do when one of them has a malfunction?!

    Think of the children!

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    G. K. Chesterton on whether fairy tales are bad for children.

    “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”

    from Tremendous Trifles

  3. Mike in Texas says:

    One of the biggest things NCLB seeks to do is standardized teaching instruction. Of course its not for the betterment of the kids, its for the enrichment of companies like Open Court. These reading programs feature the most boring, unimaginative stories all in the name of phonics you have ever seen or heard. They are also filled with lots of PC nonsense.

    Careful Joanne. You might start to see some sense in what us teachers have been railing about.

  4. mike from oregon says:

    Just a personal comment observation from myself and my freshman daughter. We both enjoy reading, we DON’T enjoy books that show the child in trouble, forlorn, trying (half the time not succeeding) to getting out of the mess.

    We don’t need to read books that shove this ‘stuff’ in our face. We MUCH prefer to read for enjoyment, and while some may enjoy this, it certainly isn’t our idea of enjoyment.

    I hated having to read this stuff (fortunately it was a lot less when I was in school) and my daughter hates it presently. I really don’t understand the point of it, unless it’s to make sure we read crap we don’t want to – tends to ruin the reading experience.

  5. Steve LaBonne says:

    MiT, you are becoming a self-parody machine. You have only 2 comments on absolutely anything, “NCLB sucks” and “give us more money (but don’t ask what we’re dong to earn it)”. No doubt those are also the keys to winning the war on terror and stopping global warming. In the present instance, teachers were assigning those dreary books long before NCLB (or didn’t you bother to read the last sentence of Joanne’s comment?)

  6. Another vote here for dragons and enchanted wardrobes.

    Hell, as an ADULT I’m finding certain categories of literature (what used to be classified as “Oprah books” back during the time of her first book club, lots of the modern novels aimed at women, even some detective novels – a genre I used to love) seem to be too focused on death, destruction, horrible gruesome things happening to people, with no hope in the end. No dragons being slain, no evil being defeated. It’s just a very bleak view of the world.

    Hated the problem novels as a teen, hate their adult counterparts today. (It’s getting increasingly difficult to find a “mainstream” novel published in the last 50 years that doesn’t include either child abuse, a gruesome death, horrible infidelities, people treating each other like dirt, etc.)

    I keep a set of the Narnia books on a shelf close at hand, and often pull one off and read a bit of it when I’m feeling particularly sad.

  7. Mike in Texas says:

    teachers were assigning those dreary books long before NCLB (or didn’t you bother to read the last sentence of Joanne’s comment?)

    In 15 years of teaching experience these dreary books did not appear (in the state of Texas) until NCLB, and its precursor in Texas, were introduced. High stakes testing drives out the imaginative well written literature in place of drivel designed soley for the purpose of increasing test scores. Never mind that it destroys the urge to read among children, as long as good old McGraw-Hill makes its money.

    Here’s a news flash for you Steve LaBonne. What’s good for McGraw-Hill (and other politically connected companies like it) are not necesarily good for children and very often are harmful at best, destructive at worst.

  8. Michelle Dulak Thomson says:

    I remember “problem books,” and I graduated HS in 1984. Lemme see . . . there was “Rumble Fish” (gang warfare, partly); there was “Death Be Not Proud” (teenager dying of cancer, I think); there was another book that sort of touched on homosexuality without being centered on it, whose title I forget. Those were all assigned; I also remember reading several of Judy Blume’s books, but can’t recall whether those were assigned or not.

    I’m on the side of the dragons, too. The wardrobe wouldn’t make it into public school, of course. (Though, raised as agnostically as I was, I only twigged that it was a Christian allegory at an embarrassingly advanced age.)

  9. I don’t know what this has to do with NCLB. MY daughter, and avid reader, is reading the same books in High School I was supposed to read. And yes I wrote supposed toread as “Cliff Notes” were a major portion of my academic life. Of course she goes to a private religious school and therfore the dreary drug and broken home stories are not used there. We do enjoy reading many of the same books that include wizards, dragons and the like for relaxation.

    What I also wonder about is why is it that schools don’t let kids choose their own books to read and report on as long as they are at a certain academic level. When I was in elementary school up to and including eigth grade that is what we did. I actually read those books.

  10. Mike McKeown says:

    Two words: Robert Jordan

  11. greeneyeshade says:

    it’s not just here. rachel johnson made the same complaint in the london spectator back in july. sorry i can’t give more details _ this week’s issue overwrote the one i thought i was saving. but someone should be able to find it.

  12. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Getting a child to read by suggesting books the child might want to read was too subtle a point in my childhood. People seem to be saying at great length that it still is.

    Sigh.

  13. Mike in Texas says:

    Steve Labonne wrote:

    ou have only 2 comments on absolutely anything, “NCLB sucks” and “give us more money (but don’t ask what we’re dong to earn it)”.

    I have never used the word “sucks”, I can express myself much more eloquently than that.

    Give us more money to achieve the reforms that are proven to work; lowering class size to less than 15 to 1 and decreasing the overall sizes of schools.

  14. Steve LaBonne says:

    They can teach ’em in classes of 4 and if they use whole language and fuzzy math, they’ll still turn out illiterate innumerates. No money without accountability. Deal with it.

  15. Mike in Texas says:

    Steve, there actually is a kind of accoutability I would love to see in the schools. FISCAL ACCOUNTABILITY, especially for adminstrations and school boards. You wouldn’t believe how many schools in Texas have palatial football stadiums while they have school buildings falling apart.

  16. Steve LaBonne says:

    None of that will solve this problem (cribbed from Education Watch):

    Virginia has “High” standards for its teachers yet even their “good” teachers are failing a test (Praxis I) that requires 9th grade Math. Solution? Make the test easier!

    “Virginia has the highest minimum required scores of the 28 states that use Praxis I. While most teachers pass the state requirements, others struggle.. On Oct. 28, the state Board of Education will consider lowering the standards in one or more of the three assessment areas…. The standardized test is similar to the SAT. Each section takes about an hour to complete. The reading section tests comprehension of included passages. Math problems are at about a ninth-grade level. The writing section tests grammar and requires a writing sample…..

    Hoskins added that Virginia’s standards make it hard to recruit. She said the state loses teachers to North Carolina, whose minimum section scores are three points lower on average. Of the 260 teachers Spotsylvania hired last year, Hoskins said four didn’t meet the standards. She said 48 of this year’s 270 hires still have to pass Praxis I–most of them newer teachers from states not requiring it. Caroline County has lost excellent teachers who struggle with Praxis I, according to Superintendent Stanley Jones”.

    “Excellent” teachers who cannot do 9th Grade Math? Lord preserve us from even thinking about what the average teachers must be like. And I don’t think I need to spell out what it implies about teaching diplomas and degrees. And I don’t suppose that I should be so awful as to point out that what is called 9th Grade Math these days would have been 5th Grade Math 50 years ago.

  17. Mike in Texas wrote:

    You wouldn’t believe how many schools in Texas have palatial football stadiums while they have school buildings falling apart.

    Couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that coachs that don’t produce winning teams get booted and teachers that produce illiterates don’t, could it?

    Another possibility is that it’s easy to determine which school did best in football last year – you can probably name the school despite your atitude toward high school football – but how many teachers know, or care, which Texas school did best scholastically last year. Oh, and who was the Texas teacher of the year, last year?

  18. Mike in Texas says:

    how many teachers know, or care, which Texas school did best scholastically last year. Oh, and who was the Texas teacher of the year, last year?

    The top Texas elementary schools in alphabetical order.

    http://www.psk12.com/rating/USthreeRsphp/STATE_TX_level_Elementary_CountyID_0.html

    Texas teachers of the year

    http://www.tea.state.tx.us/awards/toy/

    I don’t know who was the football champion and could care less. If I were intersted I imagine it would take me abou 20 seconds to google and find out.

  19. MiT,
    In 15 years of teaching experience these dreary books did not appear (in the state of Texas) until NCLB, and its precursor in Texas, were introduced.

    Can I suggest you read up on logical fallacies? ‘Causal Fallacies:Post Hoc’ would be a good place to start.

  20. I’m not sure what the objection is to stories in which “you have only yourself… Adults cannot help you; they are often the source of your troubles”. Seems to me a lot of the good imaginative fantasy books are the same way… the child wizard has to fight evil adults, or is alone and surrounded by strange evil creatures, or some other situation in which Mommy and Daddy aren’t around to make it all better.

    My main objection is to a steady dose of dreary hopelessness. The idea that adolescents can actually solve problems on their own rather than waiting helplessly for the adults to step in and make it all better doesn’t bother me the least bit. The idea that adolescents are doomed to endure their problem while being completely helpless to improve it and left at the mercy of adults uninterested in improving it doesn’t strike me, on the other hand, doesn’t strike me as the premise for what should be the bulk of their reading material.

  21. Mike in Texas wrote:

    I don’t know who was the football champion and could care less.

    As opposed to most Texas parents, students, teachers and administrators? I suppose someone has to display the proper disdain for this testosterone-drenched celebration of hypermasculine vulgarity. How courageous of you to sneer condescendingly at your inferiors and their petty diversions.

    If I were intersted I imagine it would take me abou 20 seconds to google and find out.

    Which of course is what you did to find the Teacher of the Year and the top performing school. After all, other then being “the spokesperson for public education” what’s the value of being Teacher of the Year? It’s not like anyone’s going to try to hire you away from your current assignment. Even the thought of that happening is enough to make you burst out laughing.

    “Best performing school” is a horse of a different color though.

    People will decide where to live based on a bit of information like that. But you can’t have that. Ruthless egalistarianism requires that all children get a mediocre education rather then risk only some getting a good education.