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Can you make kids love books?

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Have high schools replace novels with nonfiction, and other dubious prescriptions for creating a nation of readers.
Interesting article. In an article by a school librarian that I read years ago was the suggestion that age-appropriate books would be better for turning kids on to reading. Not that classics should be ignored, but that (good) popular fiction with characters in or near the age-range of the readers were what she found to be better magnets for reading.
I think these days some current MG and YA fiction are used in schools, but I don't know how much.
While I loved Pride and Prejudice when I read it as a senior in high school, I'm not sure how I would have felt about it as a freshman. I can tell you I had no appreciation then for Sound and the Fury.
#1 - January 23, 2014, 08:38 AM

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My 9th grade daughter just slogged through Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities in her honors English class and hated every word. In 7th grade she did the same with Call of the Wild. Ugh.

I'm not saying there's no place in schools for the classics, but when they're painful for even good readers to read, then we're setting kids up to hate them, rather than appreciate them later on. To really appreciate Tale of Two Cities, for example, kids need to understand the political climate in France and England during that time period, and they haven't studied that yet.

If secondary school teachers are going to teach the classics, I really wish they'd pair them with modern retellings--Michelle Ray's YA Falling for Hamlet, for example, or Jennifer Ziegler's Sass and Serendipity. It would make the classic tales so much more accessible for young readers, imo.
#2 - January 23, 2014, 12:07 PM
FLYING THE DRAGON (Charlesbridge, 2012)
A LONG PITCH HOME (Charlesbridge, 2016)

I loved to read (still do, of course) and made it through reading Silas Marner in 9th grade only because I had read the Classics Illustrated version in 7th grade and therefore had some idea of what was going on and who the characters were and how they related to each other. Otherwise I would have been as lost as most of the other kids in the class!
#3 - January 23, 2014, 12:37 PM

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We have an excellent integrated program so that whatever history the kids are learning, they are also reading fiction set during that time, most of them classics. Often the kids complain when they begin a book because the style is so much different than modern writing, but once they get into the story, all is well. My daughter's lit teacher is a Shakespeare fan so they've been reading him and at the end of the year we have a festival and the kids put on their own play in contemporary terms.

This is a small parochial school, but even when the kids were in public school, we had excellent teachers. I think the key is to teach some books but also let the kids pick out their own to study and share with the class.

As to the original question. I don't know. We raised our kids without TV or video games for the first decade of their lives, books being the entertainment, both F and NF, classics and modern lit.

#4 - January 23, 2014, 02:17 PM
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I have a feeling that helping kids learn to love books starts way earlier than this. . .if parents love books, bring them home, read them, delight in them, have available all kinds of books - graphic novels, comic books, picture books, novels, etc, then kids learn to love them. My daughter felt like her 6th grade english class beat Tuck Everlasting to death this year by analyzing every word but she then came home and proceeded to devour all the books she wanted to read - Cinder, Divergent, etc. So her love of reading remains although her love of reading books for English class has diminished. . .
#5 - January 23, 2014, 07:44 PM

Yes, Lisa, having books, magazines and newspapers in the home is very important! And reading to children as soon as they can sit up--or sooner!
#6 - January 23, 2014, 08:15 PM

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I have been trying to get my seven year old son to get into chapter books. I finally gave up and told him to read what he liked. In the beginning he picked up picture books and now he pickd up books on continents and countries!!! i guess they soon discover what they love.
#7 - January 23, 2014, 08:38 PM

Kids can learn to love books at any points, but I think it's easier to point them in that direction when they are little. The big "excitement" of the week when my kids were in preschool was a visit to the library. Combine with limited screen time and they're both readers. Now if only I could get them to stop raiding my TBR pile?

It would be great if public school teachers could pair a classic with a retelling or pick and choose what they cover in English, but very few have that kind of power. The list of books you have to teach comes from above and the days of being able to ignore that and get away with it are pretty much over.
#8 - January 24, 2014, 05:00 AM

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I think we had a similar discussion here a few years ago, skewed toward getting boys to read. The upshot was that at some ages boys tend to gravitate toward nonfiction (note the "tend" qualifier) and for anxious parents to remember that reading books about dinosaurs, cars, rock musicians, travel, medieval armor, skyscrapers, space ships (including various iterations of vehicles used in universes originated by George Lucas) still qualifies as reading.
#9 - January 24, 2014, 05:37 AM
« Last Edit: January 24, 2014, 05:39 AM by AnneB »

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If the only books a kid reads are the ones s/he is forced to in school, and the majority of books forced in school are ones that are not relatable, then yes, the kid will hate reading. It will be a chore and a slog. I don't know how much a school can to do make someone love reading--I agree that a love of books usually starts pretty young--but they sure how power to make someone dislike it! I think very often, the selection of "required" reading in the younger grades is far too narrow. It differs from child to child, of course, but many boys prefer nonfiction at that age, and early reading lists tend to be veeeeery light on that. I still remember the fights with my oldest son--who LOVES books--over Bread and Jam for Frances. (He won in the end, and did not read it.)

Let's face it, reading is HARD. It's a complex cognitive ability. The more you do it, the easier it gets, but to get over that initial wall of difficulty, you've got to have something that interests you enough so that you forget that you are reading. So yeah: that might mean a 200 page book on Lego designs. Or a graphic novel. Or a book on space. At older grades, I think it's certainly possible to take a good book and analyze the life out of it. There's a difference between discovering the links that bond your soul to a particular book, and having the author's supposed meaning gagged down your throat.
#10 - January 24, 2014, 06:24 AM

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My son, previously not a reader, was forced to read 25 books (though some books could count as two if they were long) in 5th grade - anything they chose, with teacher approval - and it actually worked.  He got into a couple of series, and he's going with them many months later.  I am optimistic. :)
My daughter (3rd grade) has always been a reader.  She doesn't like the required school reading, but her teachers have always had shelves stocked full of fun books to borrow and have taken the time to read to them in class. 
Bedtime reading is the nightly event in our house and has been since my oldest could chew on a board book.  After I read a chapter or two, we make up a story of our own.  It takes, like an hour and a half to get them to bed, lol.  But it's my favorite time of day!
#11 - January 24, 2014, 09:05 AM

A lot of the schools in our area require that kids either read a certain number of books a school year or that they spend a certain number of minutes a day reading. As a result, we have parents in our bookstore seeking reading material for school. What I hate is when teachers have lists of "approved" books that are clearly many years old (and many of the books are now out of print).

Some kids automatically turn down everything their parents recommend, and do better working with a bookseller. Others don't like to get recommendations at all. And some of those kids spend at least an hour browsing the store, picking their own reading material. These self-selectors do best when they are allowed to choose from everything, not just the things the teachers or parents think they should be reading.

The trick to getting a kid to enjoy reading lies somewhere between finding those key books and topics that will hook them, and acknowledging the pain they may be feeling as a result of restrictive requirements. Let your kid know that you're advocating for them to find the best books possible, and don't get trapped fighting with them over the act of reading. Feel free to tell them about the books you loved and hated as a kid--sometimes they just need to know that they have the freedom to have their own opinions about required reading. They aren't required to like everything, and if they can articulate why they DON'T like something, that is a valuable reading skill, too.
#12 - January 24, 2014, 09:31 AM

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I think it takes everyone to learn to like reading in their own time. I started reading at the age of four and never stopped. No, I did not like everything I had to read in school. I clearly remember kicking my chair in first grade reading group because I was sooo bored. They moved me into a second grade reading book. By fourth grade I learned the art of reading a second story while the class was reading one story aloud. While the teacher tried to catch me out on this, I always knew where we were in the story the class was reading. A trick I managed to keep throughout high school. Yep, I was the one with the hidden book.  Freshman year we moved during the beginning of the school year and I was placed in a remedial class - need I say more.  I do not really remember all we had to read except that we did read Agatha Christie in Junior year. I blanked out the rest. I was good at going into my own world in English class. It was not until my Senior year where they figured you were going to college that I had a decent class and teacher (it was rumored she taught college, but I do not know if it was true or not) However, she did teach us how to look at a book and look at it's background. I remember reading Gulliver's Travels - not a book I would recommend personally, but she gave us all the political background and what the meaning was behind all the weird stuff that went on in the book.  It made more sense and I learned how to look at period books in a different light, and only then can you fully understand some of those classics.  Jack London's books would make a great more sense to any 7th grader if they talked more about the gold rush and perhaps read Will Hobbs books (his character even talks about meeting Jack London).

Now teachers are somewhat hampered by that good ole core curriculum, the SAR points, and less money every year going into things like libraries - oops media centers. I wish for every dollar they cut from libraries and the arts programs they would cut two dollars from sports programs.  In the end is a child going to learn more from having a decent library, music program and art classes or being able to play in the newest of uniforms on the best of fields or courts. (I am not against sports, they have there place, just should not be the highest priority).

My younger brother is severely dyslexic - completely reverses words and letters. Barely read a book as a kid and now reads constantly. He admits that on some books, mostly non-fiction, he sometimes reads them two, three and four times before he gets the entire understanding of the book and he still uses a piece of paper in many cases under each line. If you would have told me when I was in high school listening to him struggle to read that he would love reading as an adult, I would have called you a liar. 

Today kids have all sorts of things to distract them. Not just TV, but video games, texting, computers. Things that move at a much faster pace than a book. While I think some of the Classics should probably stay, most of them should be shunted off to college or AP classes. They are outdated, in a time that is hard for many adults to understand, especially if they do not have a knowledge of history - I know US history, but while I might enjoy Jane Eyre - I miss the subtle undertones I know are there relating to that period of history.  We may need to redefine what is classic and what the average reader needs to read. 

I hated reading Death of a Salesman (though I got an A on  my paper), Gulliver's Travels and I have forgotten what other Classics I had to read in Senior English. Remember I loved reading, carried a fun reading book with me to every class.  I might add I graduated from high school quite a long time ago, can't imagine reading those books today.

#13 - January 24, 2014, 03:59 PM
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

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I love that our junior high English classes allow kids to pick their own books throughout the year (teacher has to approve, to make sure it's not too easy). The kids just have to complete a certain number of book talks with the teacher over the course of the year to discuss. They do require (for honors English) a *classic* of their choosing to be read over the summer, between grades (Alice in Wonderland was about enough to turn both of my voracious book-loving daughters away from reading. blech. But there have been some great ones, too.).
In high school, the teachers assign all reading. Unfortunately, I haven't seen them incorporate any recent YA novels...and I do think we have some outstanding recent YA novels to choose from--modern classics, so that's really a shame.
#14 - January 24, 2014, 04:15 PM


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