Dear America … Let the Kids Read What They Want

Growing up my favorite novels were the Dear America series. These books, written in diary prose that told the stories of history through the eyes of young boys and girls, were captivating, informative, and interesting enough to have me reading several of these books every week. Because of my affinity towards not just historical fiction, but these books in general, I would spend days upon days reading for leisure. I would spend my elementary and middle school days sitting in the corners of the school library completely entrenched in the Revolutionary War, the days of the Great Depression, and even the rule of Maria Antoinette, Princess of Versailles. I would lose myself in these books because of the content, the writing style, the way I could almost relate to the female characters of these novels, even though there stories were written before I was even alive. When I was able to fall in love with these novels reading was never a chore, it was an exception to the days of routine and structure. Reading was fun, but unfortunately that all changed when I entered high school.

No longer was I able to lose myself in the stories of poverty, grief, triumph, and victory. I now had to lose myself in the stories of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. Sure, these books are literary classics, but they never held my interest for more than a graded assignment. In the most crucial of times, when it was necessary for me to read and understand great books of literature I found myself bored, uninterested, and unimpressed. I found myself enjoying reading a little bit less and because of that I would dread literature. I was forced to read these books that I simply could not relate to. As a woman of color I held very little interest in reading the tales of Pip in Great Expectations or the Joads family in the Grapes of Wrath. I wanted to read and get academic credit for novels that were fun, tongue-in-cheek commentaries on modern life. I wanted to lose myself in the crass behavior of the Upper East Side elite in Gossip Girl or the magical world of Harry Potter. Sure, the story of Moby Dick will always remain one of literary greatness but I wanted to enjoy reading again and I was not the only one that felt that way.

Kids are not willing to read. The solution? Allow them choose the books that are of interest to them. Students would be more apt to enjoy the activity of reading if they were able to choose the books that they find interesting. In trainings I have participated in that analyze the best methods for tutoring, the idea of taking on a student-based approach is always an important one. The material should be taught for the student, even if this means tailoring the material to the student’s interest. Why can we not do the same for reading? Of course I am not suggesting we do away with the classics because these books are history in itself, but if supplementing these classics with the books of students choices means the stigma surrounding required reading will decrease, there is no use in not giving this a try. Students should have the choice to not only read the works of Shakespeare, but the works of sports writers, historical fiction, contemporary romance, or even the short collection of stories of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Reading is meant to be a fun escape from reality, a chance to explore new worlds and ideas and it should never stop being this way. Growing up reading the Dear America books not only exposed me to the vast history of our world, but also allowed me to get lost in a single book for hours on end. Speaking of the Dear America series, I recently discovered that the novels were re-released in 2010 and I now have hundreds of years of history to read through the eyes of those that “lived” through it. I intend to start reading now.

Marrisa

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About marrisarose

Marrisa is a student at the University of North Carolina who enjoys Sweet Frog frozen yogurt and trying to keep up with one million emails a day.
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4 Responses to Dear America … Let the Kids Read What They Want

  1. natercole says:

    I almost completely agree with this. I disagree in that certain classic books need to be read because of their literary merit and style (which warrants them as classics), but exclusively forcing classics on students is the wrong idea, especially when they’re tedious and dry like Moby Dick. That being said, an exposure to classic works of literature, in which literary geniuses intertwine their contemporary issues to create a (usually, but not always) engaging story, is necessary to diversify and build a basis of classical works. However, you’re right, when they are forced on us, the joy of reading is lost.

    What worked in my high school english class was an extensive list of classic books, from which we, the students, could pick any one book to read and report on. Since it became our choice, rather than a forced assignment, we were able to choose which classic interested us the most. It’s unfortunate that most teachers don’t take similar approaches that emphasize student choice in reading.

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    • marrisarose says:

      Hey Natercole! Thanks for the comment. I completely agree with what you are saying and I iike your suggestion of having student pick their own books from an extensive list of classic books. It’s almost like a “best of both worlds” option!

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  2. leighahall says:

    So how do you get better at reading? You read of course! Letting kids/teens have control over what they read is important. I think you did a nice job of addressing the issue of curriculum and choice. In English, books are curriculum, and that curriculum (and what books should be read) has always been contested. But, as you have pointed out, we can have both. It doesn’t have to be either/or. Kids can have books they are required to read along with choice. I think this would work very well and maybe even lead to more kids trying out books that are required that they might have turned away from.

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  3. Pingback: If the United States is a Melting Pot | The Politics of Reading

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