“You managed to finish “Franklin Delano Roosevelt” and not die?” I asked Minha tonight.
“I did die,” she corrected me in exasperation. “That is the most boring book in the world.”
One of the criticisms I have of my place of work is that some of the books on the reading list are really, really boring. I have tried to change this in the past, but bosses have been resistant, and as a result, the kids (especially the ones at higher levels) have to endure far too many Presidential biographies, African American biographies, and earnest tales about Asians who come to the USA and find a place in the melting pot of culture. (“You’re supposed to feel kinship with the protagonists,” I mock-chided Minha. “You know, because you’re Asian.” “But the plots are all the SAME!” she cried. “You know that they’re going to feel alone, then they get comfortable with being Chinese in America and then the book is over!”)
I had a class of two: Minha is a cynical fifteen-year-old who hates the Twilight books, and Billy’s twelve, and loves eighties bands, Bon Jovi in particular.
I explained how our books are chosen: Caldecott and Newberry authors, but Caldecott and Newberry awards are chosen by adults, some of whom feel that Litrachoor should edify and edjumacate. That there were awards given by kids, and, by and large, the stories were more fun. But some of the books that were really good would never win any awards.
“Take this one.” I held up the latest in the Robert Muchamore CHERUB series, about a group of teenage British spies. “This one won’t win awards because there’s too much swearing and violence. Heck, there’s even some sex stuff. THAT won’t win awards.” (Both kids were eagerly scribbling down title and author. My subversion of the teenagers continues, Mwahahaha!)
If I were a millionaire, I would set up an academy similar to the one I work at, but it would have no boring, edifying books. Kids would still work at their own pace, and they’d still be learning. But not about lighthouses or FDR. The thing is, when you like a book, you learn from it. If they’re learning to love reading, they’re learning what’s in the books, too.
Why not some Greek mythology from the Percy Jackson series?
Why not basic astrophysics or cellular biology from Madeleine L’Engle?
Why not laugh at the fairy tales in “The Stinky Cheese Man”?
Why not basic Arthurian legend from Meg Cabot’s ‘Avalon High’?
Why not books kids have fun reading?