Why are we so blessed concerned with the "right" books instead of the process of immersing kids in books that they will love? Shouldn't the goal be developing readers?Libby responded with the thoughtfully defended response that it should be both (canon and enjoyment), and that not all reading is good.
I continue to think about these issues as I read with my own son. The books I read aloud are generally classics (Charlotte's Web, The Mouse and His Child, etc.) or newer works we have come to love (Clementine, Judy Moody, and lots of nonfiction). Some of the books he selects wouldn't be my choices, but he likes them, so he reads to his heart's delight. Right now he is plowing through--in order--the books in the Geronimo Stilton series.
What happens when this split happens in the classroom--when teachers and kids have vastly different tastes? You can find out in the piece We're Teaching Books That Don't Stack Up. Written by a high school English teacher, this essay goes back to the heart of the debate about canon vs. enjoyment. Here is an excerpt.
Far too often, teachers' canonical choices split from teenagers' tastes, intellectual needs and maturity levels. "Why do we assume that every 15-year-old who passes through sophomore English is an English major in the making?" asks a teacher friend. "It's simply not the case. And the kids go elsewhere, just as fast as they can -- anywhere but another book."
I watched this play out last year when the junior reading list at my school, consisting mainly of major American authors, was fortified with readings in Shakespeare, Ibsen and the British Romantic poets. When I handed my students two weeks of readings by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge after a month-long study of American transcendentalists, it became clear that they had overdosed on verse packed with nature description and emotional reflection. "When will we read something with a plot?" asked one agitated boy, obviously yearning for afternoon lacrosse to begin.
Schnog's essay is excellent. Do take some time to read it. If you feel like dropping by afterward, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
The lesson couldn't be clearer. Until we do a better job of introducing contemporary culture into our reading lists, matching books to readers and getting our students to buy in to the whole process, literature teachers will continue to fuel the reading crisis.