Monday, April 20, 2009

The Best Reading Material

Quality literature opens up a door, giving the reader direct communication with its author. For this reason, reading material should be thoughtfully chosen. It should be deeply interesting, and not dulled down in attempt to make it child friendly. "Imagination does not stir at the suggestion of the feeble, much diluted stuff that is too often put in children's hands... Let a child have the meat he requires in his history readings, and in the literature which naturally gathers round this history, and imagination will bestir itself without any help of ours..."(1)

The Bible is the best of all books to read to children, because it gives the reader direct contact with God. It's best to give reading directly from scripture, rather than a watered down version intended for children. When reading together as a family, each member will take in something different from the reading, on his or her own level. "Our job is to give the best nourishment regularly. The child takes what is appropriate to him at that time."(2)  Of course, the parent should be the one to read aloud any material where omissions are made (such as the Old Testament). Before the daily reading, have a conversation about the previously read material to get it fresh into their minds before building upon it for the day.    

Biographies are valuable reading material as well. "Biographies let you see how decisions at each point affect not only the future, but they affect the way, looking back, you see your past. I don't think it would take too many of those, before somebody saw their own life as a coherent story that they're writing themselves. Then they can't ever say that somebody else wrote a bad story and they got a bum deal."(4)    

Anne Sullivan, (Helen Keller's teacher) says that she "always observed that children manifest the greatest delight in the lofty, poetic language which we are too ready to think beyond their comprehension... (She is also) convinced that original composition without the preparation of much reading is an impossibility... Reading should be kept independent of the regular school exercises. Children should be encouraged to read for the pure delight of it..."(3:287) She also remarked that a byproduct of such reading with Helen made "her mind.. so filled with the beautiful thoughts and ideals of the great poets that nothing seems commonplace to her; for her imagination colours all life with its own rich hues."(ibid)

In closing, consider a librarian's explanation of why to avoid the school versions of books: "It goes without saying that, in the process of condensing and rewriting these books down to a fourth-grade reading level, most of the distinguished aspects of the works--writing style, language, atmosphere, characterization--have been sacrificed for a simple, not to say simplistic, master-plots approach that conveys the incidents but fails to impart the justification for their continuing endurance in the canon of juvenile literature... For those who persist in the fallacy that knowing what the so-called "classics" of children's literature are about is a satisfactory substitution for actually experiencing them by reading the original, this series is acceptable. For the rest of us, it's as if someone's painted a guppy white and called it Moby Dick."(5)   

A Few Links of Interest... 

Click here to see how far educational standards have declined by seeing reading lists from 100 years ago vs today.
Click here to learn how the children's book industry dropped timeless subjects in favor of political agenda in the period of 1890 and 1920.

Click here to see where Dick and Jane have taken us. 

(These last two links are to highly recommended excerpts from the book The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor Gato. To read the book online in its entirety, click here.)

For more great reading resources, check out this page! You'll find resources for raising your children to be great readers, teaching your children how to read, and assessing their reading comprehension and level.

Works Cited:
1 Charlotte Mason, Home Education
2 Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children's Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School
3 Anne Sullivan in Helen Keller's The Story of My Life
4 John Taylor Gatto, Interview of John Taylor Gatto by Mary Pride. 27 Feb 2010.

5 Christine Behrmann, Review of Swiss Family Robinson for grades 3-5. School Library Journal. 5 Jan 2010.

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