Posted by support01 on December 4th, 2012
(The following is a reprint of a blog post by Mike Peterson.)
Curtis touches on the current craze of horror stories for young readers.
(By the way, I love the disconnect in panels two and three between Curtis’s highly rhetorical question and Barry’s response. He wasn’t looking for an actual answer, little brother.)
I don’t know how teachers handle book report after book report based on these dystopic “Hunger Game” knock-offs and Twilightish vampire bodice-rippers. “Hunger Games” itself was quite well-written and worthwhile. “Twilight” was awful stuff.
The fact that 90 percent of it is crap isn’t a condemnation of kid lit. It’s simply Sturgeon’s Law, which was created with literature in mind but, really, applies to just about everything else, too.
As editor of a kid-oriented, kid-written publication, I am well aware that they are cranking these books out as fast as the presses can run, that the kids are snatching them up in droves, and that some of these authors have become rock stars.
Good teachers will welcome that. Not-so-good teachers won’t be able to see beyond the literary quality to the fact that kids are eager to absorb books.
The question becomes, how do you turn eager readers into good readers?
Well, you can’t inspire kids by cramming stuff down their throats, even if it’s good stuff.
I learned the hard way that teachers don’t assign a particular book to find out if you’ll hate it as much as they did: Referring to “Ethan Frome” as “maudlin Victorian melodrama” is not going to get you an “A” from a teacher who was hoping to create a classroom full of lifelong Edith Wharton fans.
But at least she missed with something good, mostly by making it a full-class assignment. It might have been great for the right individual 10th graders.
And offering choices is pointless if those choices aren’t well-considered.
I’ve seen way too many cases where teachers hand out brain-dead lists of same-old-same-old from which they require kids to choose books to report on. One school district a few years ago had a list for fourth graders that included “Gulliver’s Travels” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
I deal with some awfully bright kids, but I don’t know any fourth graders who could even get through, much less begin to understand, Gulliver. And the recurrent arguments over Huck Finn skirt the point that it is not a kid’s book in the first place.
As I’ve said several times before, if having a child narrator makes Huck Finn a book for kids, then “Black Beauty” must have been written for horses.
But I digress. Full rant can be found here.
Meanwhile, my sense is that teachers who actually care about this stuff are happy to have a kid turn in a report on any book longer and more complex than “Pat the Bunny.”
And, if you are hoping to elevate their taste beyond adolescent pulp fiction, there are two steps:
1. Let them learn how to be critical within their chosen genre. In my editing gig, I’ve had kids write reviews of these dubious books in which they noted that the writer seemed to lose track of the plot or that the story bogged down in the middle. The quality of the source material may be crap, but that’s perfectly valid criticism and analysis.
Teachers should be looking for that from their best students regardless of what they’re reading, though I’d be content with plot regurgitation from kids who do well to read “Twilight” all the way through rather than the first 30 pages of something from the canon. If they can follow a complex plot and understand even cardboard motivations, they may be excelling at their own level.
Don’t give up on improving their taste or their skills, but don’t obsess over how they get there.
2. Which is to say, if you want to move kids up to better literature, pay attention to them, not to the rulebook, and play to their strengths and interests.
A bright kid who enjoys the romance of “Twilight” can be transitioned to “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights.”
An enthusiastic report on “The Hunger Games” begs for an introduction to “Lord of the Flies” or “Brave New World.”
And a kid who just likes vampires and slashers should at least be introduced to Edgar Allan Poe, though he might also enjoy the irony of O. Henry, if you choose the right stories to start with.
But the real place to start is by having the kid put his nose in a book. That part is critical.
So, anyway, I don’t know where Ray Billingsley is taking this, but we shall see. I’m going to be as interested as Barry in finding out how the teacher reacts.
www.comicstripoftheday.com, he has a blog for his children’s stories at www.teachup.com Mike lives in New Hampshire with his dog Vaska.
Mike Peterson has been a newspaper reporter and editor, as well as an author of serialized children’s literature that has appeared in newspapers throughout the United States as well as in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Bermuda. In addition to creating educational materials, he has been a radio talk show host, magazine writer and advertising professional. In addition to his daily blog,