When I read in the most recent Consumer Reports magazine that grocery stores carry 14 different kinds of Tostitos chips alone, not to mention other brands of corn chips, potato chips, taro chips, pita chips, and so on, it got me into thinking about choices. We Americans seem to relish having as many choices as possible when buying everything from pain killers to computers. And we especially like choices when it comes to our reading material. Just look at the variety of magazines at your local chain bookstore, and the plethora of book categories on the groaning shelves. We want to read the kinds of books that appeal to us as individuals. The husband of a children's YA fiction writer I know never reads fiction, including what his wife writes. My brother's shelves are loaded with the science fiction he used to read and the mysteries he's now into, while my husband has a generous collection of cookbooks and other food related books, as well as a smattering of volumes about Broadway and Hollywood. Me? I prefer nature books and select fiction authors.
Yet how many of you have, as I have more than once, observed the following scene:
An adult with a child in a bookstore is going through one bunch of titles as the child is eagerly thumbing through just one book. The adult chooses a totally different one to buy, pointing at the one in the child's hands and saying, "That's too young (or, too old) for you." Or, "This one looks more interesting."
And why is it that we expect school children all to read the same assigned books most of the time? Sometimes they are expected to choose books and write book reports, but often even those choices are restricted--I've been shocked to hear from some teachers that children in their school are not allowed to write reports on nonfiction books! But what if a child is one like I was, who wanted to know about the real world, not some writer's imaginary world?
A friend recently told me about his grandson, who didn't see the point of reading at first. But once he got into it, he plunged in enthusiastically and, at the age of 9, insisted on getting a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records, which he proceeded to devour the way his friends might do with a Harry Potter volume.
Let's all keep our educational focus on helping children become enthusiastic readers because they gain pleasure from the activity, especially during the early school years. Let them read as much for pleasure as possible; they will also learn in the process, either learn the tricks of story telling in fiction or the facts of what fascinates them in the real world. And the more they read, whether it's about fairies or tigers or motorcycles, the better readers they will become, which has to be the first goal of education.