Wednesday, May 20, 2009

If some books are good for you, are others bad?

Any librarian who sees kids eagerly grabbing commercial series paperbacks off the racks experiences some decidely mixed emotions.

On the one hand - hurray! These kids are treating books like hot commodities, and that's got to be a good thing, right? Books as cool objects of desire - yes!

On the other hand, what if it's some fairly mediocre literature they're checking out - indifferently written, incoherently plotted, and commercial to the core?

Can kids actually be harmed by this stuff? Can young minds be warped by terrible writing? Are these books the equivalent of candy, to be snatched away from kids with loud warnings? Careful, you'll get brain caries! Try this nourishing fare instead - and here we hand them a title we deem more healthful for young minds.

Nope, I don't buy it. Although there are some absolutely awful books out there, I don't shudder even a little when kids pull those bright, tattered copies off the rack. Books can be mediocre, but all reading is good. We all know a version of this mantra (I'm quoting a version from Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook):

"The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow."

The type of reading material isn't specified - anything that grabs the reader will do. And although there are plenty of good books in our libraries, a child has to feel confident about her reading before she will tackle them and she has to be fairly certain that reading is a fun and pleasurable activity. Those Spongebook books on the shelf have a familiar character on the cover and are being toted around by lots of classmates - they feel safe to read.

Remember, the more kids read for pleasure, the better they get at it, and the better they get at it, the more confidence they'll feel about reading. And the more confidence they feel, the more likely it is that you'll be able to convince them to read some of your own favorite titles or some titles (without commercial characters on the covers!) that other kids have read and loved.

Give kids the reading material they want - series paperbacks, graphic novels and manga, magazines. Encourage them to read whatever the heck they want. Don't feel guilty or worry that their minds are being destroyed by mediocrity. They are coming to the library! They are reading! They think books can be cool! These are the building blocks upon which to build your campaign to expose them to ever more challenging, ever more wonderful books.


  1. By letting them read anything and everything, they will learn how to figure out what's good writing and what's less than good writing. And heck, who even cares about that? That sort of skill set cannot be learned by a diet of "the classics" alone and probably hurts their appreciation of the canon.

    Let them read books... :)

  2. I love this post Eva! I think you are spot on! I cringe when controlling reading of any kind is brought up.

  3. Interestingly, a friend of mine told me that while he agrees that kids should be encouraged to read anything and everything (because mediocre books are better than, say, mediocre tv), he feels that adults should be held to a higher standard! Hey, I read classics, literary novels - AND plenty o' fluff (including some fairly embarrassing magazines). Some adults read only fluff - so what? I've never understood the need or desire to limit folks' reading, be they kids or adults.

  4. Amen to this! I learned long ago the key to get and keep kids reading is to give them what they like. Who cares if it's a "trash" novel, they're reading right! And my fear is that the wrong book could turn kids off reading forever. I would rather they read SOMETHING rather than NOTHING.And eventually their tastes may change and turn towards better literature.