Kids and Books.

“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?

8 Comments to “Kids and Books.”

  1. By elswhere, January 7, 2010 @ 10:55 am

    Why not, indeed?

    Thank you for letting them know that those books are out there.

  2. By Beth, January 7, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

    I wonder, do kids ever recommend books to each other? I’ve certainly heard kids telling each other about their favourite bands or songs, but discussions of books doesn’t really happen, does it? Most of my adult friends talk books and recommend books all the time.
    How do we change that, huh?

  3. By Liz, January 7, 2010 @ 10:42 pm

    Els, thank you. It’s what I do. (Gunslinger mode as I sling a portable library over my back and ride off into the wilderness…)

    Beth, I hear kids talking about books all the time. Lots of times I’m the one who gets the discussion rolling and it continues even after they’ve left the room. They recommend their favourites to me, because I recommend my favourites to them. I’ve been known to ‘let’ them read for a few minutes at the end of class. Tonight I had to get a girl to stop telling me what was happening, as she’s in the middle of the last book of a series I have been reading, and I didn’t want any spoilers.

  4. By Arwen, January 8, 2010 @ 1:45 am

    I don’t think you acktchewally NEED to be a millionaire to start an ESL school/business. Although there is a hot shitload of competition.

    Captcha – not appropriate, really, but awesome: Shagged By

  5. By Liz, January 8, 2010 @ 11:29 pm

    See, Arwen, that’s where the millionaire-ness comes in. I would not make any money. I would have a hard time selling to parents, ESL or Canadian-born. I’d be catering to people who want their kids to like reading, but the books kids like reading aren’t (adult-chosen) award winners, or classic, or anything even remotely what parents might WANT their kids to read. Why read Percy Jackson when they could slog through Bullfinch? Why would they read L’Engle when a science textbook would be more thorough?

    I’d get kids to love reading, but there would be little ‘value’ in that from a parental point of view, I think.

  6. By clara, January 10, 2010 @ 8:23 am

    You (or your salespartner) would have to create that value. Push the idea of success through independent thought. Push the idea of developing a real interest leading to a more motivated kid. Write your own “studies” and publish them yourself on official letterhead. And then we’ll write a screenplay about you! I don’t think there have been any movies about an ESL teacher with moxie who changes the lives of her students by bucking the establishment. Bon Jovi could do the soundtrack! Wheeee!

  7. By Arwen, January 11, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

    I agree with Cheesefairy.
    Although your kids are different than the usual trope of crushed by culture disadvantaged kids. This will be crushed-by-expectation immigrant kids who learn to be themselves by scarfing down the books of the Western and Educated. It would sell well to an America afraid their in the twilight of their Empire. Sure, we’re having trouble. But we have moxie, and L’Engle, and fun!
    I’m good with that.

  8. By Nicole, January 23, 2010 @ 2:16 am

    Getting kids to love reading is fun and sometimes hard. Good for you!! You should set up a hush-hush underground book borrowing society.

    Also Neil Gaiman is popular right now (and doesn’t do U.S. President bios) so they might enjoy him.

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