105 Ways to Give a Book

I Never Do This, But...

Many blogs in the kidlitosphere handle the book news better than I do, so I generally don’t write about it. And I’m okay with that. But, now I’m pissed off. I’ve written comments on three of the blogs covering this issue, and I don’t feel done yet. In fact I don’t even feel close.

So, what is the news that’s got me all worked up? Well, the illustrious Wall Street Journal reported — and I use that term loosely — that libraries were promoting fluff teen fiction for summer reading instead of the classics. Read it here, paying particular attention to the fourth paragraph.

How unbiased of the article to pick up the title If We Kiss to report on, and not mention Mal Peet’s Keeper or Ann Rinaldi’s Sarah’s Ground from the same summer reading list, because that makes it sound like ALL the suggestions are light teen fiction, rather than noting that SOME of the suggestions are light, while other books are not. You may also notice the representation of different types of books and a diversity of cultures represented in that list.

Let’s see your classics handle multiculturalism, shall we?

From the Wall Street Journal article about the lighter selections: “That such books might keep kids reading is a meager defense. If that’s the point, asks Mary Burgess, a professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, ‘Why not have them read cereal boxes?’”

Now, on the back of some cereal boxes, the kids can find a great way to make a layered art piece using just a glass jar and Froot Loops. Quality stuff out there. And keeping kids reading is kind of the... umm... point. And summer reading maybe could be... umm... fun. And maybe libraries might have kind of... umm... thought of this and made the best decision based on years of experience working as children’s and teens’ librarians, as opposed to as the professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. When the Wall Street Journal wants a quote on, say, college-level English courses, I hope the paper will consider tapping a children’s librarian for an appropriate response. Darn, except many children’s librarians will have probably taken college-level English courses, while the professor has probably not had courses in library science, so that wouldn’t be fair.

Oh, and I’ll bet that many library systems are like mine and pick NEW books for their summer reading lists, thereby excluding classics pretty much by definition. Our library system’s goal in summer reading is to present a variety of books that the kids may not know about yet. While there are many sources to list the classics and parents and teachers will know many classics, there are many newer books that the parents and teachers might not know. And, yes, some are lighter reading. But some are not. The point being that the kids can choose what appeals to them. To. Make. Reading. Fun.

Thanks to Shannon Hale’s site for finding the article, and to Bookshelves of Doom and Jen Robinson’s Book Page for bringing it to my attention. Unfortunately, it’s too late to add responses to the Wall Street Journal itself, but you can make your comments known here or at the above blogs. Or you can do as I ended up doing, and comment on all the blogs and then still find the need to write about it anyway. Which probably breaks some blogger etiquette rules, and if so, I’m sorry. Stupid Wall Street Journal.

(Edited to add: Chasing Ray and A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy also have great posts on the topic. Check them out.)

6 comments:

Emy said...

Isn't it a universal idea that summer reading is often a bit fluffy? Yes, I read Anna Karenina one summer after college, but it took me the *entire* summer, and I probably read several fluffy books at the same time...because it's *summer*. It's time to play, to have fun, to relax.

Jen Robinson said...

I love the defense of cereal boxes! And I agree with your other points, too. Summer reading is for fun - what a concept! I can see that this has sparked a real chord with you. Hope that the venting helps. I completely think that you're right.

Daniel said...

Cereal boxes rock. If I hadn't given up Froot Loops (which I adore) in the interest of losing about twenty pounds, I'd probably have already embarked on the layered Loops in the jar.

Now, my issues with "fluff" and "the classics."

I just left the Baltimore City school system. To a great extent, the curriculum caused my flight. The latest version insisted that we "give the kids books they can get into" (as I've mentioned before, the faulty grammar there is NOT mine).

YES. Reading should be fun, and frankly, yes, summer reading is generally associated with fluff. All the same, there are plenty of kidlit classics that ARE fun. A good librarian or a good teacher (naturally, I'm including myself and our hostess among those) will be able to balance "fun," "classic," and "not necessarily an acknowledged literary classic but still a work of literary merit."
Sadly, the Ivory Towers of Academe tend to cast a blind eye towards recent works, while revering some whose time has come and gone.
Having been inspired on this track, I'll post something tomorrow on the subject.
(Note to Emy: "Anna Karenina" is a fine novel, I suppose, but having slogged through it, I much prefer the screen version...it boils the whole saga down to 1.5 hours and Vivien Leigh looks really pretty in the period dresses.)

Little Willow said...

It sounds as if they judged these books by their covers and summaries rather than actually reading the books. That upsets me.

BTW, All's Fair in Love, War and High School is a cute AND clean book. More than meets the eye here - It's about social status in high school, not in a Gossip Girl way, but in a more realistic way, as it deals with a high school election and we ALL know that is a popularity contest - How many books, episodes, movies have been about the smart person running against the popular person? It's a cute, light book. I wish that more kids would be willing to run for student body (and club) offices, be unafraid to speak up, and try to be the change rather than go with the majority.

I recommend it to girls in middle school and high school.

Janette said...

Okay, I'm putting on my "Fluff Power" Jacket right over my "Kiss me, I'm Fluffy" T-shirt.

Thanks to all of you who are supporting fun books, because kids need those right along with their books about the holocaust. Since when did the choice become fun books or classics?

And Little Willow is exactly right (along with being brilliant for liking my book). Even light books touch on deeper issues. If kids (and WSJ reporters) look for them, they'll see them.

Thanks for your comments. You guys rock!

Janette Rallison

Little Willow said...

Hi Janette! *waves*