New York Times Columnist Declares Favorite Books--
and His Readers Sound Off
The school buses are off the roads, the textbooks are stacked in storage, and educators and parents across the nation worry about how to keep our kids' minds engaged. Rightly so. As New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristoff writes in "The Best Kids' Books Ever," "American children drop in I.Q. each summer vacation — because they aren’t in school or exercising their brains. This is less true of middle-class students whose parents drag them off to summer classes or make them read books. But poor kids fall two months behind in reading level each summer break, and that accounts for much of the difference in learning trajectory between rich and poor students."
The fact that kids fall behind in the summer is not new news. Teachers have been trying to counteract this for years by requiring students to read over the summer. But what to read?
Kristof's list of thirteen recommended books hit a nerve with many of his readers because their personal favorites did not make the cut. What about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Bridge to Terabithia?! In a follow-up column, ("In Which I Apologize to Roald Dahl….") Kristof apologizes and reports how he "was taken aback by the reaction" to his list. In fact, he further notes that never before had readers posted even 1,000 comments to one of his columns, but the reaction was so overwhelming to this column that he received over 2,350 comments.
Educator Monica Edinger reacted to Kristof's piece in her blog educating alice, "Like so many similar well-intentioned pieces, this column bugged me. Not only are the books Kristof recommends unlikely to end up in the hands of one of those “poor kids” this summer, even if they were in their hands, they might not speak to them at all. The suggestions pouring in from his readers seem equally myopic— I see next to none considering what the actual reality is for those at-risk children."
We noted the erupting controversy about WHAT kids should be reading versus educators' expectations in last week's blog ("Summer Reading Lists Promote Reading for the Fun of It"). Many teachers do recognize the diverse needs of kids and have sought to transform the standard summer reading list to extend beyond the classic cannon of white men to include more multicultural works and popular favorites. Read more in the Boston Globe article, "Sands Shift in Summer Reading."
What should kids be reading? Should kids read what they want? What do you think?