A new list has hit the world of children’s literature–the Renaissance Learning Report on What Kids Are Reading. After gathering answers from more than 3 million students in U.S. schools, the report announces that first graders love Dr. Seuss, second graders are reading Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, E.B. White’s classic Charlotte’s Web is the third grade favorite, fourth graders flock to Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and fifth grade’s number one choice is Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is the most popular book among sixth graders.
Then the news becomes dismal. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is universally beloved by seventh and eighth grade readers and for that yawning chasm of ninth through twelfth grade, To Kill a Mockingbird wins hands down as most popular book for people ranging in age from fourteen to seventeen.
Please don’t get me wrong. These are two wonderful books and deservedly popular among every age group, from Generation Not Yet Born to the Baby Boomers. What bothers me immensely is that these two titles are quite evidently being widely read because they are on school reading lists, and that is the kiss of death for any book. There’s nothing like a good, stiff essay test to drain the life and enjoyment from any piece of literature.
Teachers and librarians deserve a hearty round of applause for rescuing students from the required reading of my youth, which was also the required reading for my mother in the days before World War Two. Silas Marner may well be a dazzling piece of English literature, but you’ll never get me to admit it–or, for that matter, my eighty-plus-year-old mother. Both of us, in our different generations, read it thoroughly enough to pass the following test with flying colors but neither of us would claim it as our best-loved book of that particular year.
This latest list does a great job of showing what is being assigned in classrooms across the country. What it doesn’t show is what “kids are reading,” especially when they hit adolescence, and this is something we all need to know, if only to enlarge our own reading horizons.
At the Tiger’s Bookshelf, we’ve asked questions about ways to make children readers. Perhaps one of the easiest ways is by finding out what they truly enjoy reading, picking it up for ourselves, and then talking with them about it, rather than making us talk to them about what we think they should be reading.
This may lead us into the graphic novel arena, or the world of fantasy and science fiction, or other literary roads that for some of us are less traveled. We could end up reading poems written for a poetry slam, or a zine or two. If we ask questions, read what’s recommended and then talk about it with teenagers, we’re certainly going to enter interesting territory.
What’s being read for pleasure by our children and why are those choices popular? When they go beyond the snack reading that every age group indulges in, what books do they turn to? What is being devoured, read again and again,and then passed on to friends?
I don’t know and I would certainly like to find out. Is there anyone out there with some answers?