Saturday, January 16, 2010

One of the profs. I work with emailed to ask me about the Babysitter Club being reissued. He certainly got me thinking and got my "dander" up again about how important it is that there be a wide range of materials available for self selection. Including the less than literary series! I agree with the Publishers Weekly review that states the new graphic novel format based on the original series "will likely hook reluctant readers on this affable group of girls and may well spur a new generation of youngsters to move on to the original series. Ann Martin sure had/has a money maker with this series about MS age girls. The first title in the graphic novel series literally starts at the beginning with Kristy's Great Big Idea . This truly is the first book in the series - when the girls decided to form the babysitters' club.

Nostalgia is a big deal in publishing right now. So many of the titles the parents of today's children and tween read themselves are being reissued for this next generation. Publishers aren't dumb - they know we'll buy books for our kids that we loved. Anyway, below is pretty much my response to him:

I have blogged the BSC Graphix versions and other older series, which are being published to kindle interest in the current generation of series readers. They are junk, just like many of the other series out there for kids, but we all read some junk, no matter our age. Series books fulfill the stage of literary appreciation often called unconscious delight – in other words, reading these books does not require a whole lot of effort as basically we are reading the same book with a slight plot change. I haven’t looked at any of the recent research on this but Nielsen and Donelson went so far as to say this type of reading is essential for a person to become a lifelong reader.

Basic Stages of Literary Appreciation:
1. Learning to read. 2. Losing oneself in a story (the unconscious delight stage). 3. Finding oneself in a story. 4. Venturing beyond themselves. 5. Reading widely. 6. Aesthetic Appreciation.

Based on my Children's Lit student responses to their first book and discussion of their childhood reading I would have to agree that series/genre/favorite author focused reading is important. Unconscious delight readers understand that this type of reading is pleasurable in itself. Adults do this type of reading with Daniel Steele, Steven King, James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks, etc. It doesn’t mean that we can’t read at other levels, such as aesthetic appreciation, but we have gotten to that pinnacle because we were given the time and space to read our way out of the unconscious delight stage and on to books about kids like us – happens with the tweens - and when teens are ready, begin venturing into the world through books to find out about others who are not like them. Most teens can read critically and do so for their English classes, but reach for the Twilight series or other leisure reading titles when reading “on their own time”.

When I first started teaching children’s lit back in the early 90s I would say the unconscious delight stage occurs around 3rd to 4th grade. Now we are seeing it at all ages, often older than expected, as electronic reading programs such as AR and the push to cover the complete curriculum in preparation for testing allows for less time to introduce books and read aloud to students. Even when they go to the library they are rarely allowed time to serendipitously find a book while browsing or to read every book by their favorite author or in on a topic. My son did that with Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. Instead, they are told what their reading level is and to choose only from books with that color dot on it, or they are limited to those approved by the teacher.

The luxury of self selecting books has been destroyed in most elementary schools. We don’t often see the 2nd grade boy staggering up to the circulation desk with an armload of dinosaur books, with a Cheshire Cat smile on his face. We know he is “wallowing” in this stage – he isn’t reading about dinosaurs for an assignment – he is reading and re-reading the same information because he wants to - because each time he reads about his favorite dinosaur the book confirms how smart he is as he is reading what he already knows. No one is teaching him to compare accuracy in sources, but he certainly is learning it on his own. Just ask these boys how to pronounce those dinosaur names – they have it down pat and can spell most of them even though they may do poorly on the mandated spelling test. They are quite indignant about a book that has an incorrect pronunciation key or a fact not quite right.

Girls often do their unconscious delight reading with the babysitter’s club and other series like it. They are also more likely to go through this stage with a favorite author or genre. Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series was really popular when I was in the USVI. The 43rd title in the series Leprechaun in Late Winter comes out this month. This is not a series we need to read aloud to kids or booktalk with them - they find this on their own or from watching the other kids checking them out and talking about them. I hate to see teachers reading aloud titles in these popular series. These books don't need the PR. Introduce them to the many wonderful "mid-list" authors whose books don't get the hype these series do, or the books with movie tie-ins everyone seems to know about.

That's it for today - I am watching football and can't concentrate enough to blog about what else I am reading - will do that next time but I have to tell you how excited I am to see Arnold of the Ducks by Mordicai Gerstein is being reissued by Roaring Brook Press next month. You may recognize Gerstein because of his Caldecott award winning The Man Who Walked Between the Towers itm=1&usri=man+who+walked+between+the+towers but he has other thought provoking picture book titles as well. I love the illustrations in his 1983 debut (self written and illustrated) about a boy who is raised by ducks. It is a beautifully touching story.

How about starting to expand the focus from AR or RL and introducing and reading aloud the debut titles by favorite authors in your school that the students may not know about? Or bring out those delightful "sleepers" on the shelves that will circulate if you introduce them but now sit there gathering dust because they aren't popular or they don't have a quiz written for them.

Sorry - but I say - To heck with points! How about introducing children/tweens/teens to new friends in books so they can wallow in some extended unconscious delight reading. A whole lot better then seeing them basically unconscious with the title they were told they HAD to read. Not a way to help create lifelong readers. Let's all spend some time "wallowing in unconscious delight reading" - it helps relief stress and is just down right fun!!