Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Popular Kids' Books?

Okay, I'm throwing this one directly to the teachers in the audience (which, I have already demonstrated, make up a large percentage of my readership) and the theorists who specialise in children's literature (Ky, I'm looking directly at you).

This week, a bunch of the academic blogs are discussing the US National Education Association's Top 100 Book lists. Mostly, they are discussing the Top 100 Teachers' Books, and have turned that list into a meme (how many of these have you read?). When I went to read that list myself, I discovered that the NEA also has a list of Kids' Top 100 Books, which has some revealing similarities and differences.

I discovered that many of the commenters on the Little Professor's blog were asking the question "Where is Harry Potter?" Those asking the question were under the understanding that this list of "the top 100 kids' books" was the top all-around. In fact, Harry Potter tops the list of books that kids love, and does not make it into the top 100 for teachers. The kids list also has a bunch of series that I understand teachers not using in classes -- Babysitters' Club, Goosebumps, Mary-Kate and Ashley, Captain Underpants and Sweet Valley High. What first struck me was the fact that nearly every book listed by teachers was published well before I was born. Most of the teachers would have read these books as children. In reality, only M-K and A, and the Captain Underpants books weren't around when I was a kid.

Can someone make something of these lists? One thing that I've noticed is that teachers favour Dr. Seuss's social issues books (such as The Lorax), while children pick the "I can read this myself" books (Hop on Pop, The Foot Book, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish). I think this means that Dr. Seuss is mainly popular with very young children in the US. I hope that's what it means, and not that Horton Hears a Who is too advanced.


Anonymous said...

My question is "where is Jacob have I loved?" My other question is "How did Anne of Green Gables make it on to the teachers list when it is not in the curriculae (is that how that's spelt?) in either the U.S. or Canada?" (at least not according to the research I've read so far). Subquestion: "Why isn't it in the curriculae?" And if this were a Canadian list, where's The Root Cellar, or Shadow of Hawthorne Bay? But I haven't looked over it super carefully, or given it tonnes of thought, yet. This is first impresssion.

Chris Reed said...

The first comment that I will make is that this list was compiled by a survey in 1999. While Harry Potter had been around since 1997 it was only published in the US in 1998. Also you have to remember all of the controversy over the witchcraft in the book especially in the States. So I am not surprised that it did not make the list of recommended books in 1999. I would be surprised if it didn't make it now in 2005.
Onto all the other books besides Harry Potter. The general trend that I noticed was that almost all of these books were written before I started school. This makes sense as teachers use resources that are familiar to them. This means that they will use what they grew up with and what was presented to them in university. This is not always the case though. The more ambitious teachers will seek out new resources that are fresh for the kids. But even so, books are expensive for schools to buy and if you can get away with using an old favourite rather then buying a new class set you usually do. These factors naturally lead to teachers being more familiar with older books.
The next thing I will say is that I am glad that certain books and series like goosebumps and Mary-Kate and Ashley were not included on the teacher list. Teachers should be recommending books that will get the students excited about reading but that will not just fill their heads with fluff. For that reason I feel that some of the older books are better because they are not just mindless pop culture written by a team of writers following a formula. However, some of the older books while good are hard for those kids not interested in reading to become excited about. For this reason teachers and schools should be continually looking for new fun and exciting books that have real content.
With that last paragraph said I will come back to Harry Potter. It has real content and yes some of it is controversial. (like C. S. Lewis isn't?) It does however excite the kids and it does present good values that you can discuss as a class. And no it does not get really dark and talk about Satanism or anything like that. As with everything that kids watch or read parents and teachers should be having a dialogue to help students understand the ideas being presented to them, obviously Harry Potter is no different.
Finally onto the student made list. It obviously has Harry Potter which I would say is good. It also has a lot of similarities to the teacher list in spots. This isn't surprising as a lot of the books that kids read are books recommended by their teachers. It does however include the mindless pop culture series. These are the books marketed at kids by large corporations looking to make money. The way that you do that is you design a series that kids will want to keep reading and then you publish as many books as you can in the series as fast as you can. This leads to garbage filler content that follows an obvious formula. This is not always the case but is more often then not true. (if they publish more than 2-3 books a year they are not spending time to develop real plot and depth) These books are the ones that a kid will pick up in the library because it has a cool cover picture. The student made list then makes perfect sense as it is a mix of all of these different factors.
In summary the teacher list is good but could use some fresher content, like Harry Potter. And the student list has good points but could lose the mindless series ,like goosebumps.

Chris Reed said...

I didn't realize that I had written that much. Sorry. He it is in summary.

The Teacher list needs fresher content but the old is still good.

The student list needs to lose the garbage series, like goosebumps, etc.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

I'm not saying that the garbage series should be taught in the schools. But I do find it troubling that there isn't much (other than Harry Potter) more current that does have some substance.

And Ky, this is an American list. But oh, The Root Cellar and Shadow on Hawthorn Bay. How I love them. Maybe they should be next on my reading list. No, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn first.

age of insomnia said...

Some of my favorite kids' books I feel deserve spots on the list:

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas -- Hunter S Thompson

1984 -- George Orwell

Side Effects -- Woody Allen

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner -- James Hogg

What? They're all books I read when I was a kid...