There have been some really interesting articles on reading around the internet lately. I’ve seen one on reading ebooks, there was the one on the canon and the one about easy and difficult books. I’ve seen articles on YA books and several on books and children. The ones on books and children could be playing a match at the Australian Tennis Open for all the back and forthing. Do we crack down on kids and make them read? Do we let kids choose their own books?
Has there always been so much anxiety about children and reading? I don’t have kids so I generally don’t pay attention, but at the moment is seems to be particularly volatile. Personally, I agree with Max Ehrenfreund’s blog post at the Washington Post, If we stop telling kids what to read they might start reading again. There have been some recent surveys that suggest kids who get to pick their own reading material enjoy reading more and as a consequence, spend more time reading. Kind of a no-brainer, really. As an adult I wouldn’t want anyone telling me what to read, why do adults think kids would like it?
Now and then when I read one of those bookish memoirs of people who grew up with the gentle guidance of adults directing them toward The Iliad or Jane Eyre at the tender age of ten, I sometimes wish that had been my experience. But if I think about it longer than a few minutes and I consider what I was reading when I was ten, I’m glad I was left to my own devices.
About that time is when I began venturing out into fantasy and science fiction. I loved all things unicorn and Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn was totally awesome. And then I discovered science fiction with A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle and read it because it had a unicorn on the cover. But it turned out to be the third book in a series so after I read it I started at the beginning and wow science and space travel and time travel! I found these books on my own because my mom let me wander around in a bookstore and choose them for myself. Never once did my parents tell me what I could and could not read; never once did they frown at my choices and tell me I should be reading something else. They let me explore on my own and discover for myself what I liked and didn’t like to read. I got plenty of assigned reading at school, they didn’t need to give me assignments too.
My reading choices were an eclectic mix of age appropriate teenage angst novels by Judy Blume and generally adult fantasy and science fiction. Being able to choose my own books helped me develop into a self-confident reader willing to try any kind of book at least once. If my parents had ever told me I couldn’t read something because it was too easy or too hard or silly or any other way not right or good or appropriate, if they had put limits on me I suspect I would be a very different kind of reader today.
I appreciate what my parents did for me. I want kids these days to be allowed to have the same opportunity. Let them choose their own books no matter what those books might be. Let them explore and discover. It will help them love reading and it will help them be better readers because of that love.