The Gypsy Librarian posts about summer reading lists. This is one of those things I might have trouble with in my youth services future. I think it’s a great idea to recommend books for kids to read over the summer, but I have a problem with the relentless “reading as work.” I want to be a youth services librarian because I want to introduce kids to the joy and fun in books. I understand that reading is good for the brain and good for test scores and good for study skills, but reading is more than that, and I’m afraid a whole generation of kids is missing out.
My 16-year-old is an avid reader. However, there were a couple of middle school years when it was touch and go for him. The first shaky incident was when his teacher had the students read a favorite book. The catch was, they had to stop every page and write a post-it note about what they read. By the time he was on chapter five, he told me, “Mom, I don’t even know if I like Harry Potter any more!” The other incident happened two years later, with The Pigman. I love Paul Zindel and read The Pigman for fun, so I had no idea it was required reading in some classes. My son had to read it, but in that stilting 5-page-at-a-time don’t-dare-read-ahead way that will kill the joy in reading any book. (He did read ahead and was punished by missing trivial details on a pop quiz.)
So much about school kills the joy in reading. My favorite English teachers were the ones who said, “Pick a book from this pile, read it, and tell me about it.” (Two books I read that way are still favorites.) I was a rebel in the other type of class. If I liked a book, I would keep reading it. That’s what the author intended, after all. I doubt Paul Zindel meant for The Pigman to be read five pages a week for a semester.
Another problem with the summer reading is that kids are told NOT to read certain books. Angel has the same reaction I do to that: “God forbid a kid actually reads a book before the teacher has covered it in class.” I suspect I would have liked Lord of the Flies if I had read it before we covered it in class. (I never did read it.)
There’s also talk about writings connected to the summer readings. What I would like to see is a blog-type Web site format as an option. I’d like to see a school library provide the blog for students to note their reflections on the books– either in a way that makes them post theirs before they can read the others, or in a more open way. I suspect kids would take to that.
(An aside about actually getting a hold of these books: Angel notes a problem with collection development in school libraries, which he attributes to jumpy librarians and litigous parents, which could be true– but I think the new Information Power! type of school library philosophy contributes to the lame collections. For a class, I had to review four issues of a school library research journal. There were no articles about collection development or collection management… but plenty about curriculum and learning methods. The very foundations of librarianship are being ignored in the rush to turn school librarians into teachers with a lot of books in their classrooms.)