Reading Beyond The Lists

There might be one lurking in the pile of papers on your counter. Maybe one is hiding in the depths of your child’s backpack. Perhaps one is stuck to your refrigerator with a cutesy magnet from your last vacation. Aliens? Zombies? Unicorns? No, book lists.

Whether they are assigned, suggested, or chosen, book lists are popular ways of navigating bookstore and library shelves. Yet, part of the joy of reading is in discovery. I think we may be doing a disservice to our kids if we rely too heavily on lists, especially if we allow the lists to prevent our kids from developing their own book hunting instincts.

When I began educating my children at home, I became aware of the Charlotte Mason Method, an educational philosophy popular among home-schoolers of all creeds and faiths. Those familiar with this method will recognize the terms twaddle and living books. Mason advocates the use of narratives and biographies, what she would call living books, over dull, dry, piecemeal textbooks. The latter she calls twaddle, and that definition has grown to include what those of us in the industry refer to as mass market books. Twaddle encompasses books that are deemed to be fluff, without educational merit, or watered down.

I have seen this anti-twaddle position outside of the home-school community as well, even if the same terms are not used. I fully understand that parents desire quality reading material for their children, and that viewpoints on moral and cultural content may vary. However, I am bothered when parents solely rely on lists, many of which are stagnant and seldom include children’s literature published within the last few decades. The word twaddle carries a derisive connotation, and I cringe when it is sweepingly used to describe contemporary children’s literature.

Jeff Carney, an Associate Professor of English at Snow College in Utah, states, “If you want kids to write well (and thus to do well in school and in life) they must be able to read well. My best students are avid readers. My worst can’t stand reading. It’s really that simple. Obviously, different kids grow to love reading in different ways. The important thing is that it happens in the first place. If twaddle plays a role in there somewhere (perhaps part of a mixed diet?) I don’t see how it can matter.”

I believe that sticking too closely to recommended reading lists can be like the new recess rules popping up at elementary schools. No tag. No running. No pumping your legs on the swings. Perhaps these rules keep a child safer, but they also dampen excitement, joy, and discovery. It isn’t healthy to box in our bodies or our minds. 

Naturally, parents want to guide their children’s selections. Book lists are a great tool for that. They are also a good starting place if you are totally lost about where to begin, but there is adventure to be found beyond the lists.

This summer, encourage your children to read a variety of books in the same way you encourage them to eat a variety of foods. Realize that choosing a light read is probably no more harmful than sampling the pickle flavored snow cone from the ice cream truck. Skip into your library. Search the shelves the way you’d hunt for seashells on the beach. Pump your legs, swing high, and soar into summer reading.

 

 

Graphics courtesy of  Open Clip Art Library.

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