• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Miscellaneous > Will there be a test on that…?
  • OhMG! News

    New-Oh-MG-critter

    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
    You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

    March 28, 2014:
    Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

    For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

    February 14, 2014:
    Cybils Awards announced
    Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
    Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

    Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

    November 9, 2013:
    Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

    Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

    October 14, 2013:
    Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

    Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
    Read more ...

    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

    Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
    National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

    For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
    Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

    August 21, 2013:
    Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
    S&S and BN reach a deal
    Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

    August 6, 2013:
    NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
    NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

     
    July 2, 2013:
    Penguin & Random House Merger

    The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...

     

    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...

     

    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories, read more...

     

    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...

     

    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...

     

    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…

     

    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...

     

    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...

     

    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...

     

    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...

     

  • Subscribe!

    Get email updates:

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

Will there be a test on that…?

Miscellaneous, Op-Ed

My almost-11-year-old son has always been an avid reader. When he was younger, the kid would read just about anything he could get his mitts on. Case in point: when I was pregnant with his little sister I took him to the doctor’s office and he sat there, five years old, reading the side of the sonogram machine. In the last couple of years, he’s blown through the Harry Potter series, Percy Jackson, every Wimpy Kid, the Fablehaven books, Goosebumps and a gazillion others.

Then, something happened.

He was assigned Treasure Island this year as summer reading.

At first, he was excited. An adventure book! About buccaneers! And buried gold! He couldn’t wait! Until…

He started reading. And not more than two chapters in, his eyes glazed over and he looked at me and moaned, “Mom, this is sooooooo boring!” (This, from a kid who read a sonogram machine. On purpose.)

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m bashing Treasure Island. Because I’m not. Clearly, it’s just not my son’s cup of tea.

But the fact that my son actually put down a book — on purpose — well, that makes me a little sad. Because I was just like my son as a kid. Always had a book in my hand. Read anything put in front of me. Could likely have told you how many grams of sugar, protein and polyunsaturated fat were in a box of Cheerios.

Then, something happened.

Right around the end of middle school, I discovered to my horror that reading could be… drudgery. All of a sudden, books had to be dissected like lab frogs to uncover hidden meanings. Symbolism abounded. Every novel seemed to feature a “Christ figure.” A story could no longer just be a story. It had to have a moral. A theme. A lot of convoluted English that no one had spoken for centuries.

And I hated it.

So much so that once, for a book report assignment in my Honors English class sophomore year, I did mine on a Danielle Steele novel. (Hey, there was no Twilight back then and I was a lovesick 15-year-old). My report was incredibly detailed — filled with morals, symbolism and overriding themes. I covered the whole checklist — and then some. My teacher reluctantly gave me a decent grade — but not without a big note across the top pointing out that Danielle Steele’s work was NOT “literature.”

And, that I should take my assignments more seriously.

Okay, so maybe she was technically right. But I do recall being somewhat annoyed at the time that just because the book wasn’t a “classic” (ie. written by a dead guy who had an unhealthy obsession with giant fish), that it wasn’t worthy of reading. Or discussing. Now, that’s not to say I think reading shouldn’t challenge one intellectually, emotionally and morally. It should. One of the greatest things about books is how they help us see things from another viewpoint and challenge our assumptions.

But it’s a fine line between learning how to critically analyze a work and just plug plot points into some pre-determined formula. Look! The main character’s initials are JC! He must be the Christ figure! 

So, I get what it’s like to suddenly find reading to be (sadly) a chore. For me, it probably wasn’t until later in high school and college (when I discovered Hemingway, Dickens and Edith Wharton) that reading for “homework” became engaging again. Maybe I was just more mature at that point. Maybe I had more dynamic instructors. Maybe the curriculum was better. I don’t have the answer. And I don’t have the answer now. When my son looks at me and asks if he can read something else this summer, please, do I tell him to buck it up… we all went through the same thing in school? Or is there a way to keep him engaged, especially as the reading gets more complicated… and, dare I say, “boring”?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, Mixed-Up Community… And I promise, there won’t be a test at the end!

Jan Gangsei writes stories that she hopes will keep young readers engaged. If not, there’s always symbolism. 

 

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Janet Smart  •  Aug 20, 2012 @7:31 am

    Sadly, I don’t remember much about reading when I was young. I read and had these little certificates to prove it, though. I also did not like the analyzing of books we read in school. I felt reading should be for fun, not for trying to analyze what the writer was trying to convey to his readers. I have three boys and they never were ones to love reading. But, I do remember sitting down with my youngest son at night, trying to cram in the AR points that he needed, reading the Goosebump books. We loved those and I remember one times we were found by my husband laughing so hard the tears ran down our faces. I write for children and I think reading should be fun, they grow up fast enough.

  2. Samantha  •  Aug 20, 2012 @10:34 am

    Wow, Treasure Island, assigned reading at age 11…. No wonder he is disengaged. He definitely has to finish it, but maybe get him the Illustrated Books’ version, and it won’t seem so torturous!

  3. Karen Schwartz  •  Aug 20, 2012 @11:44 am

    I couldn’t agree more, Jan. I hated high school English because my teacher was always cramming symbolism and J.C. down our throats and I just never seemed to be on the same page as her (no pun intended). I’m all for reading for enjoyment and whatever appeals to a kid should be allowed. I think the definition of “classics” needs to be broadened too.

  4. Jan Gangsei  •  Aug 20, 2012 @11:56 am

    @ Janet — interesting point about the “point” system. I’ve also heard similar complaints about that — ie. it reduces reading to some sort of formula; that you can read a more challenging book and somehow get fewer “points” because the book is short, etc.

    @ Samantha — yeah, I’m continually astonished at what kids do today in school! Pretty soon they are going to head straight from kindergarten to college! Love the idea of the Illustrated Books’ version… I’ll have to check that out!

    @ Karen — did we go to the same high school by any chance?!? ;-) Totally agree the definition of “classics” needs to be broadened, as well!

  5. Elissa Cruz  •  Aug 20, 2012 @1:55 pm

    I agree with Karen about broadening our definition of what is a classic. I remember in high school my teacher didn’t think The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas was considered as “quality” literature worthy to be used for a book report assignment (granted, it was an AP literature class, but still…). I shudder to think what he would have said if I’d brought an Agatha Christie novel instead.

    However, AC helped me learn critical thinking skills much more so than many of the books we read that year. I’d argue that there are many books not on the classics list that should be.

    My own kids’ school (k-9 charter school) has adopted a program that allows students to choose any book in a specific genre for book reports, and then they read classics together as a class. I like this idea, because then they get to choose a books that are enjoyable for them and still have a chance to be introduced to those required reading books we all know and (might not) love.

  6. Lauren Ritz  •  Aug 20, 2012 @3:00 pm

    My sister got away with doing no assignments at all in English because the teacher offered extra credit to read a book and do an essay on it. She aced the class.

    I wish I’d had teachers like that. Instead I was failed for reading too much. Weeeelllll, I was reading in class when we were supposed to be doing other things…

    Lauren

  7. Diana  •  Aug 20, 2012 @4:09 pm

    I remember reading books by Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts, and the likes as early as Jr. high! They were what my mom had around the house and I had to read something? :)

  8. Rebecca D.  •  Aug 20, 2012 @4:42 pm

    Maybe see if you can get him to listen to the audiobook from your library or audible. Nothing kills a book like being required to read it AND then overanalyze it. and I’ve always been an avid reader. My 9th grade teacher had us do SO MUCH with The Scarlet Letter that I completely hated it by the time we were through. Read ploddingly through in class one chapter at a time, & disscussion & character charts & quizzes & vocabulary & side readings on the historical context & on & on FOR EVERY BLESSED CHAPTER. I think we spent 9 weeks on the thing. I’d finished it the first week and was completely over it by week 3. Shudder.
    Anyway, hope your son (and you) survive it.

  9. Jennifer  •  Aug 20, 2012 @5:30 pm

    It’s so strange to come home from having this EXACT conversation with a friend today to find this post. We were wondering why so much MG is aimed at boys and then YA is strictly girl territory (with a few exceptions- hi there, James Patterson!) We theorized that boys stop reading at that age because of assigned reading in school and your post seems to support that argument. I think kids could learn every bit as much from dissecting HUNGER GAMES or WONDER as they could from LORD OF THE FLIES. While there is certainly something to be said for having a knowledge of the classics, perhaps middle school is not the place to introduce this type of literature. Maybe easing kids into analytical reading with more contemporary reads (paced the way books today are) would ensure kids stick with reading long enough to get to those classics!

  10. D. Lee Sebree  •  Aug 20, 2012 @11:42 pm

    As an English teacher who emphasizes literature, I have to agree -to some extent- with all of you. Age should be considered when assigning “classics” and I don’t know many eleven year olds who would really appreciate or benefit from Treasure Island. Carefully chosen, well presented required books can be a good thing. It is up to teachers to not get set in their ways and be flexible and creative. I channel my inner performance artist and do quite a bit of reading aloud. It works for me, but wouldn’t for everyone.

    That said, a lot of classics are mind-numbing drivel. That’s from someone who has read LOTS of them.

  11. Michele Weber Hurwitz  •  Aug 21, 2012 @8:50 am

    Great post, Jan. My three kids (one boy, two girls) have gone through this too! And in junior high and high school, they start annotating, which really takes away from the enjoyment of the book–no matter what it is! When my daughter (a sophomore in high school) got to read a book of choice last year for English, she chose “The Help.” She recently told me it was the only book she liked reading all year!

  12. Vonna  •  Aug 21, 2012 @9:23 am

    I suggest letting him read whatever he wants, but listen to Treasure Island on audio–as a family, or just the two of you in the car while running the usual errands. Sharing the drudgery of any homework makes it less odious. Talk about it. Make fun of it. Brainstorm over it. Laugh. He’ll remember the story better as well as the fun he had with you.

  13. Beth MacKinney  •  Aug 21, 2012 @11:19 pm

    I’d say hang in there. The thing with classics is that it’s not always the story that’s the issue, but the language itself. I read everything from J.R.R. Tolkein to Agatha Christie to James Michener to Isaac Asimov during my teen years. And I read the cereal boxes, too. I couldn’t help it. If it had words, I read it. But when, as an adult, I decided to read ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ I found my self struggling with the language, even though I knew the story. English has changed and continues to change. Sometimes that’s the issue. Reading loses some of its charm when you have to read a paragraph three times and think about it awhile to understand just what the author is saying.

    Solution: For old works that are in the public domain, have your son listen to them in audio form from the library or on Librivox(dot)org instead. I did this with my kids on old works that I wanted to them to read for home school. The written language from way back was just not something they wanted to grapple with as high school Freshmen. I got them the hard copies, too, but they were better able to follow the stories, some in language that dated back much farther than ‘Treasure Island,’ with surprisingly little trouble once it was being read by someone else.

    Hope it helps.

    Beth

  14. Beth MacKinney  •  Aug 21, 2012 @11:21 pm

    P.S. I hope J.R.R. Tolkien doesn’t roll over in his grave because I spelled his name wrong. It’s that goofy ie/ei thing.

  15. tricia  •  Aug 22, 2012 @8:32 am

    My husband is a high school English teacher and he, too, dreads summer reading assignments! Choosing the book is usually not up to him, yet he has to administer a quiz on it, lead a (usually desultory) discussion etc. It’s far from the way he’d like to start his school year!

  16. Kelly  •  Aug 23, 2012 @11:45 am

    I so agree with this! When I was a kid, I read tons of books…and I still remember all the plots. (well, mostly) Then I hit junior high (which was middle school way back when) and got the analyzing and dissecting and uncovering the “true meaning” of books…and it was like getting hit with a wet fish.

    I actually tried to read the books before we got to them in class, so that I could enjoy them as a book before I had to see them as an object. That sometimes worked, but not if it was a book I wasn’t ready for. I remember being assigned “Wuthering Heights” in eighth grade and absolutely detesting it. I vowed never to read anything by a Bronte again. That pretty much summed up Shakespeare, Hemingway, and most of the dead white authors high schools love. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college, when I was once again assigned “Wuthering Heights” and finding out that I loved it that I went back to look again at the classics with a different eye.