asked me to talk about what books kids should read at what ages. ELementary school must-reads, Middle school must reads. How/what to teach kids about literature.
This is a very timely topic as Josh and I have been pondering recently how to handle this very issue with Emma.
I suppose I should begin with a brief discussion of my own childhood as a reader. Even though I grew up in the pre-Internet era and my choices for reading material were confined to actual, physical books, I had access to a wide variety of books, and my reading was rarely curtailed. My house was full of hundreds of books, and I had access to them all. I had free rein of the school library, and I was allowed to buy whatever I wanted at the bookstore (Oh, Walden Books, you died such a sad death decades ago) without Mom even checking to see what I'd bought. Only once did my parents try to curtail what I read. My mother had a collection of more than 100 romance novels, and we're not talking Harlequins here. These were sexually explicit, epic tomes of historical romantic fiction. Once she realized I was reading these books, she tried to keep me from them (but I'd already pretty much read them all at that point) with limited success.
I would like for Emma to have that same lack of restriction, and I truly don't think there is anything that she *shouldn't* read. There are no books that we have hidden anywhere. They're all out in the open, and she could technically take any of them without telling us and I probably wouldn't know she was reading it unless she told me. I think Josh did put the only copy of Playboy we own (mmmmmmm, Charisma Carpenter) in our bedroom at one point, but it was on the shelf for years before he did that, and I put it back when I realized what he'd done.
I only have two concerns with what Emma reads. The first is that I don't want her to scare herself and inconvenience me by having nightmares/being scared of the dark, to be a blunt and selfish parent. LOL In the past few months, she's expressed a lot of interest in reading Stephen King, and I'm hesitant to let her read something that turns me into a whimpering ninny. I told her she could read The Langoliers
and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
, but she hasn't taken me up on it yet. She wants to read Skeleton Crew
instead, of course. LOL
The second is that I don't want her to read something she's not ready for. We like angst and violence and dystopias, Josh and I, and I don't want her get fixated on something that she's not ready to think about yet. As smart and precocious as she is, Emma is still very much a child by her own choice. Even while many of those around her are hurtling headlong as fast as they can into what passes for adulthood to 11 year olds, Emma fiercely clings to childhood. She's not boycrazy; she doesn't want to read about sex or really even see kissing on TV. So far, other than the King, she hasn't asked to read anything I'd feel uncomfortable letting her read, so that hasn't become an issue yet.
As far as teaching kids about literature goes, I think the three most important things that parents can do at home is to read themselves in front of their children, read aloud to their children, and talk to their children about what the children read on their own. The number one predictor of how students will perform in any of my classes is whether they read for pleasure. I almost never have students who don't read on their own time earn A's in my classes. It's a little scary how accurate that one predictor is. I always tell my students that if the only time they read is when they are forced to for school they should think of themselves as athletes who only practice their sport during games. It's astonishing the degree to which reading influences the quality of student writing as well. I see it with Emma. Because she reads so much, she has internalized the fundamentals of narrative structure and grammar.
In terms of must-reads, I probably would mention all the tried and true Caldecott and Newbery winners you guys already know about. Instead I will tell you about a couple of books for teensy kiddos that I really like.First Book of Sushi
by Amy Sanger Wilson is fantastic. The art is great (lots of red, black and white), and I love the text. This author has done a whole line of board books about cuisine from different cultures. I also really like Kitten's First Full Moon
by Kevin Henkes. It's a kitty! In lovely black and white.