As a fourth grader, I once refused to read the number of pages required for an A in independent reading just because I didn’t want someone, including my teacher, telling me how much I had to read. And I liked to read.
It’s not the same as being told which books to read, but it’s in the neighborhood. Without my own personal reading choices, I wouldn’t be the reader I am today. It was not Where the Red Fern Grows (read to the class by the teacher) that turned me into a reader, although it’s a great book. It was The Babysitter’s Club series, R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series, and Christopher Pike’s books that really created my thirst to read. None of those would have been chosen as read-alouds for the class, which I can understand. Luckily, I picked them up on my own and figured out that I love to read.
A year or two ago, I read Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer, a great book that brings up the issue of choice in creating readers. It helped put voice to something I felt growing up. This issue has arisen again, and is one of the main points of a recent School library journal article Meeting Readers Where They Are.
Roger Sutton’s response to the decline in publishing of picture books also gets to the heart of this issue. He referenced parents trying to force their children into reading ever-harder books so they keep “progressing." My favorite line, "People who think reading is supposed to be difficult most often--surprise!--don't like to read themselves..."
Parents push, even though studies routinely show that if children just get a chance to read what they want, good test scores follow. The hope is that these arguments will convince us that "teaching to the test," is not the only way to get good test scores. It does, however, get results in disengaging readers.
It’s about choice. A great way to create non-readers is to tell them what they should be reading. That's why I'm proud of all the books coming out of Capstone nonfiction. Many of them are not what I would have chosen as a (mostly) non-reluctant-reader, they are certainly what a lot of young reluctant boys and girls would love to get their hands on: Gross stuff, the zodiac, Voices of War, extreme sports, and tuner cars.
People seem to think that kids will somehow never move on to harder reading material if they don’t push, push, push. Will today’s 8-year-old boy be reading picture books when he’s 13? Not likely. With luck, he’ll have moved on to great middle-grade novels or nonfiction. Unless, of course, the pushing makes him stop reading altogether. If he withdraws, maybe that picture book will be all he can read.