by Carrie Kirk
I just can't leave this reading thing alone. My last blog discussed the development of a reader: how it may or may not happen and whether the reading gene is inherent in a person or developed courtesy of parental guidance and surroundings. I returned to Kids Ink to talk more with Terri about appropriate books for children of certain ages. No, I don't mean appropriate censorship (and is there such a thing?) of reading material. That's so 1950s. I am going in the direction of how parents, teachers and the child himself arrive at the right book at the right age at the right reading level.
What got me thinking about this was an innocent comment I had made to Terri a short time ago. My oldest who is 12 is devouring the Harry Potter series. Really, he is engorging himself on these books. In fact, as a parent I happened upon a sight recently that will probably carry me into Parental Knighthood: William sitting on the couch reading book four of the series. The room he was in had a TV and IT WASN'T TURNED ON. I floated up the stairs all the while patting myself on the back. While in Kids Ink, I mentioned this (read: "bragged") to Terri, but then I added that he was coming to this book series a little late age-wise. She corrected me, explaining that it was the perfect age, because his life experiences and evolved vocabulary would only enhance the books' content.
How many times have we had the pleasure of hearing a friend or family member mention-- again, read: "brag"--that their child was reading at an advanced level and tackling an enormous book probably larger in size than the kid's head circumference? Well, I am raising my hand to that one.
It's wonderful, fantastic and utterly cool when kids of any age voraciously read and read well. But I question, is my 7-year-old ready to tackle the same material as my older 12-year-old?
Terri walked me by the store's shelves, pulling examples of titles for certain ages and at various reading levels. While she said that indeed there are young readers who have the skills and prowess to read books that are in the book bags of much older children, she wonders if they can truly, fully digest the content of those books. To test those waters, she thinks it is a good idea for both parents and teachers to casually or purposely ask the child questions about what he is reading. Especially when kids seem to be speed reading through a book or a book series, this is a way to slow them down to see how much is "sticking." Also even though an 8-year-old might have the skills and vocabulary to read The Hunger Games, they are still 8 with 8-year-old experiences, feelings of fairness and permanence (and impermanence) and possible fears about what lurks in the closet or under the bed late at night.
Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, my mother met with my first grade teacher for a routine parent-teacher conference. My mom expressed concern that I wasn't reading, explaining that I had a penchant for comic books. In her infinite wisdom, Mrs. Shepherd assured her that all was well because I was reading, pure and simple. The reading material wasn't high-brow (although I learned so much about relationships from Betty, Veronica and Archie) but it still involved vocabulary, content and context. As educators and parents, maybe the secret to maybe, possibly, developing a reader resides in patience. Hopefully it's a long life for us all, and while our child might not tackle Moby-Dick today, he just might tomorrow--and he'll be ready for it too.