Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Rights of the Reader

I'm reading: The Rights of the ReaderTweet this!

I know a lot a parents of gifted early readers or precocious young readers stop by this blog. When you've got an advanced young reader, it can be tough to find the age-appropriate reading material.

Many books designed for older elementary school students deal with themes that are beyond the life experience of many youngsters. I was not keen to be passing my innocent six-year-old books about parents divorcing or dying or those dealing with real-life trauma.

Eventually though, we caved. Before he finished first grade he'd read all the Harry Potter books (there were three or four of them at the time) and I realized much of it was likely over his head if not in vocabulary than in life experience. But he got out of them what he got out of them. He enjoyed them. Was that so bad?

As he grows (he's now 11!), he takes more responsibility for choosing his own books. Indeed, it's hard for me to keep track of what he's read or what book he's on in which series, so it's best we leave things up to him.


DH and I have banned a few books in our time, but never without a fight from our son.

He reads (mostly) what he wants and when he wants. The only arguments we've had about his reading is that he does too much of it. Believe me, I've confiscated my share of flashlights from him over the years.

So it was interesting when I received a review copy of Daniel Pennac's The Rights of the Reader.
(Last Fall. Y'all know I'm in catch-up mode, right?)

As the name implies, Pennac's book is a treatise on the rights of readers. It's an interesting drawn out essay that points out the myriad of ways parents and schools sabotage eager readers. When I first got the book, I intended to pass it along to some teachers, but as I read on, I realized it might offend those teachers.

One year we got a note from a teacher suggesting that Smartypants wasn't doing enough reading outside of class. This shocked us. Truly, the boy is an obsessive reader.

But some of his reading material consists of Nintendo Power magazines, old comic books and other low-brow stuff; not exactly report-worthy items. Still, unlike most of American kids, he's reading. That counts for something; right?

On the other hand when my boy picked more challenging books like those from Dean Koontz, the teacher wasn't thrilled with that either. Too mature for him.

Like his teacher, I'd love for my son to read the classics or dive into historical fiction, but I'm happy to let him set the tone when it comes to personal reading material. I don't want to tread too deeply on one of his favorite pastimes.

Pennac is on my side, no doubt. What about you? How does it work in your house? Do you set reading time? Require specific books? Am I letting my boy's brain turn to mush?

By the way, I'm passing the book along to one of my blog sistahs, Jessica over at It's My Life. Months ago she mentioned a love for this brilliant book via Twitter. Though I don't know how she has time for twitter AND books.

More musings on parenting gifted children.


Marketing Mommy said...

As the mother of a rather accomplished 4 year old reader, this will likely affect me sooner rather than later.

I always told myself I wouldn't limit my kids access to reading materials (hell, I'm GLAD I read Judy Blume's Forever at 13), but it's tough when you're talking about a kindergartener or first grader!

RL Julia said...

We have had the same issues - what they want to read they can't quite understand, what is "age appropriate" is boring etc....and then there is the re-reading of the same book over and over and over. Its taken me a long time to learn .... to shut up.

Books like Harry Potter need and can be be re-read lots and lots of time and the kid can get something different every time. The beauty of a good book is that you can get something out of it no matter where you are at in life.

As for other reading materials- there is a STRONG preference in my house to read books that are parts of series. The Battle of the Books reading lists( been great for breaking this habit - as are getting the list of all the Newberry Award winners or other youth book award lists (check out the ALA for the types and etc...). Some of the books are easier to read, some of them are harder but they are generally well written, thoughtful and expose the kids to lots of different authors.

Even if the kids don't like the book at first, they know that these are good books and they just have to read a little more to get into them.

Yeah- the classics are great and I wish we read more of them but most of those books aren't emotionally accessible (or are written in complicated ways etc...) to people much younger than 14. Plus, the writing styles are also dated and harder to access. Last summer I started reading Tom Saywer out loud to the kids and between the dialect and the references to things that no longer existed we barely made it through a chapter. I practically fell out of my chair laughing which just goes to show you something. I read Tom Sawyer (and the obligatory Huck Finn)in early adolescence and at the time found them.... BORING.

Heather Kennedy said...

An issue near and dear to my heart. Our children's librarian was a great help in pointing out a handful of series to get us started, but after a while the same old girl + friends + mystery wears thing.
I did just find a set of adapted classics at Costco and let her read Black Beauty. BUT I had to read it first and give her a two minute synopsis of the plot, the sad parts and how it ends. I have a feeling I'll be reading ahead of her as time goes on and that's not such a bad thing.
I'm debating letting her get a crack at Harry Potter if only because I'd like to see her face sometime this summer. Given her choice she'd only come up for air for meals! ;-)

WkSocMom said...

I'm still trying to find something my son wants to read. He's not an early reader, but now at 6 he can read very well. He started whipping through the Magic Tree House books, but got stuck when we could not stay in order, so clearly he was more interested in just finishing than the story. My dad started reading him the graveyard book, but he doesn't want scary stuff, and the length of Harry Potter initially intimidated him.

I've tried checking out various books (2nd-4th rade) but he still chooses from our original kids book shelf. How does your son find books he likes?

As a side note, my mom made us read high school level books in 5th grade (1984, brave new world, animal farm and metamorphisis) and those all went way over my head. I love reading, but not sure if I'd enjoy more literature now if I'd perhaps read them when I was older.

Misha said...

This post is very interesting to me. My 11 years sounds a lot like yours. Max read Harry Potter in the first grade as well. The teachers at his school thought it was so cute that this little 6 year old was carrying around such a big book. Then my friend, another 1st grade teacher, pointed out that he was "really reading" it!

Max is now headed into the 6th grade. His reading habits have changed, but I'm not sure there is anything wrong with that. He is very much a series reader. When he finds a series he enjoys, he won't stop until he finishes. However, now he also enjoys blogs, news sites, Nintendo Power, strategy guides, etc. Does that still make him a reader? Most definitely. Now he is reading for "knowledge" more than just for pleasure.

Looking forward to reading more of you blog!

Shari said...

Our girls were reading simple books to their preschool class last year. I know I'll have to supplement their reading because the school won't push reading until the second semester of kindergarten.

Dani L said...

I was reading by age 3. My parents never limited what we could read as we got older - and we could pick anything from their extensive library we wanted. (My Dad suggested reading The Source when I was 10 and Shogun when I was 12.)

I also used to love any book or materials I could get my hands on - from Encyclopedia Brown to mysteries - to Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, etc. etc. etc...

Follow your instincts. If it is too sophisticated, they will put it down or ask questions. Read along with him as well so you can discuss if needed. (I am not 100% sure my mom knew I read some Sydney Sheldon when I was 13... but....)

Misha said...

I agree with not limiting what they can read. I've never told Max he can't read a certain book. (He's 11.) My 7th and 8th grade students know that he reads a lot of the same things they are reading (and has for the last 2-3 years). They can't believe he hasn't read the Twilight series. I've had to remind them more than once that he hasn't reached the point yet where he wants to read anything about anyone or anything having any kind of romance. That's still "yuck" to him. :-) If he starts reading something that might be too mature for him, he'll just put it down. I know there have been a few books that he tried to read in 2nd or 3rd grade and couldn't get into them, but at the end of 5th, he loved them. If there was something that I had concerns about, I would read it with him and talk about it.

2KoP said...

Ugh, the Accelerated Reader program at our school almost killed reading entirely for my children. In third grade, my daughter was told she could not read the first three books in the "Little House" series because they were "below" her reading level. So she started in the middle of the series without having built a love for Laura and her family and never finished.

A good children's librarian (my mother was one, lucky for me) is a great resource for finding age-appropriate reading material. I stopped monitoring once my kids got into middle school, but before that I believe many complicated issues need to be discussed with children (I'm thinking of The Giver and even Holes, which both scared my children.

Definitely check out Esme Raji Codell's incredible blog, The Planet Esme Plan (in terms of children's literature, she knows ALL). She has many fabulous recommendations.