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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

What books are best for children?

Which books should kids be reading, asks Robert Pondiscio. He talked to Casey Churchill, who runs Liberty Common School, a Colorado Core Knowledge school that emphasizes character education.

Liberty lists recommended books for parents to read aloud or older students to read independently. In addition to “age appropriateness” and themes, a committee reviews each book for "text complexity, vocabulary, and syntax (too many incomplete sentences, casual language, or overuse of slang are strikes against a book), and for 'domain knowledge,' such as whether a book’s historical and scientific references are accurate," writes Pondiscio.

Books also are screened for “moral literacy” and meaning. The school asks: "Would we want our students to live the life of the characters in this story? What is the compelling reason we want students to read this book?"

Not long ago, a parent wanted to add books from the popular Junie B. Jones series to the list for K–2. The suggestion was denied. “The main character is brash and obnoxious,” Churchill explains. “We don’t want to teach kids that it’s OK to be a brat.”

Rick Riordan's The Red Pyramid is based on Egyptian mythology, which reinforces Liberty’s Core Knowledge curriculum, he writes. But the book didn't make the recommended list. "Not only was the book’s language and sentence structure found wanting, but the main character was deemed to have too little respect for his father and siblings."

Liberty students can read the book on their own, of course. It's not "banned," just not recommended.

Students don't need to read about "kids like me," especially if that steps on parental toes, Churchill argues. "We need to be respectful of values they want to impart to their kids.”

“Schools should do education and academics," he says. "We don’t do sexual preferences or mental health. That’s the job of the family and parents.”

School libraries contain a tiny fraction of the books that children might read, Pondiscio points out. Most books -- even most children's and young adult books -- don't get shelf space.


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