My response to Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed titled “The Best Kids’ Books Ever”: WTF?
Kristof has won a couple of Pulitzer Prizes, so I’m not questioning his intelligence. Many kids, however, who could greatly benefit from more reading, won’t relate to the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. Yet, tons of contemporary books, like North of Beautiful, After Tupac and D Foster, and The Rules of Survival, feature relevant young characters with real-life problems.
If you’re buying your kids ANY books, more power to you. You deserve a high five for instilling in your child the love of story. But, as Roger Sutton over at Read Roger says, “Any list of 13 of the best books is pretty random and thus useless”, so instead of offering you a list of crusty old books, I offer 5 solid ways to get your kid to read.
5. Don’t make kids read the best books ever. I’ve spent a good portion of my life struggling to read books that are good for me. But when I quit trying to read what people tell me I should like and instead read what feels good, I flip pages faster that Johnny 5.
4. Don’t buy your kids a pile of books you read as a kid, especially if you’re 150 years old. Children’s lit from way back tends to be adult lit that is slightly easier to read, but not really. When I have to fish something out of the public domain for first graders, I want to cry.
Here's something that was written for children in 1905:
In the chimney corner of a cottage in Avignon, a man sat one day watching the smoke as it rose in changing clouds from the smouldering embers to the sooty cavern above, and if those who did not know him had supposed from his attitude that he was a most idle person, they would have been very far from the truth.
It was in the days when the combined fleets of Europe were thundering with cannon on the rocky walls of Gibraltar, in the hope of driving the English out, and, the long effort having proved in vain, Joseph Montgolfier, of whom we have spoken, fell to wondering, as he sat by the fire, how the great task could be accomplished.
(from Chatterbox, 1905)
Boring. Too hard. And—one more time—boring.
3. Read—not to your kids, although that’s great—but you need to read. Show your kids that even you can spend many an evening enthralled by a book because it’s fun.
2. Leave books around your house. Let your children know that at any moment they can open up one of those treasure chests and see what’s inside.
1. Take your kid to bookstores and teach them to look at the back of a book to get a peek at the inside. Then go find yourself some books. Let kids fall in love with the act of browsing a bookstore. Shopping is fun. Getting to take the books home is a bonus.
Here’s the deal: You’re in love with your old-timey childhood and there’s nothing wrong with that. But pawning off old frontier books as “the best ever” and giving them to our kids only serves as evidence for what kids already think: that reading may have been fun 150 years ago—before Wii, but books don’t know a damn thing about kids today, and that Kanye, in all of his mis-use of “English” is correct.
Plenty of incredible writers are publishing books for today's kids. Let your little readers connect to the literary voices of their generation. Open the door to literature and let them browse to their hearts’ content.