A decade after I let my membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators guild lapse, I have decided to renew it.
I was actively working on manuscripts while my 13-year-old was brand new and into his toddler years, but full-time work along with my interest in mainstream fiction and the romance genre eventually won the battle of time.
But I’ve always been a big believer that good children’s literature is empowering. The most effective stories are those that provide a snapshot of life and troubles that a child can understand, and then show how the characters come to a resolution on their own. My son is no stranger to the ins and outs of building friendships, learning how to deal with arguments, dealing with the death of family members, financial woes from his parents being laid off, and now puberty wreaking havoc with his wiring.
On Monday, which was his first day of eighth grade (he attends year-round school here in NC), we got to engage in our of our favorite activities: school supply shopping. Whoever said free public education was free is smoking crack. After a trip to Barnes & Noble for required reading and Staples for supplies, we were $150 poorer. But, it’s the required reading that gave me pause.
Three stories they’ll cover this year in Language Arts: My Brother Sam is Dead; The Giver; and The Pearl. Yawn. Really, with all of the spectacular children’s literature that’s come out in the last decade, I wonder why public schools continue to push the same required reading that I had in high school 20 years ago. In searching the required reading table for this year’s three selections, I was not surprised to see that I had read probably 90% of the titles–either in grade school, college (I’m a literature major), or on my own. Many of the books are good and do have good messages, but how about Kate DiCamillo’s The Tiger Rising, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games … or hell, how about Harry Potter? I think classic required reading titles definitely have their place, but I wish Language Arts teachers would include a newer novel from the last five years in the list. But realize this: new stuff is worthwhile, too, and focuses on age-old issues with very current situations. One of the reasons required reading should be required is to foster an interest in sitting down and actually, you know, reading. Morals and lessons are extremely important; but so is learning that books can take you anywhere, regardless of where real life has you.
More to come on my regenerated interest in children’s literature … soon.