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Monday, August 5, 2013

Read Your Broccoli

One of the concerns I hear most from parents is about the quality of the material their kids are reading.  Just like in the adult section there are a lot of children's books that are more silly than serious, more ridiculous than realistic and more entertaining than educational.  Many of the most popular titles are fun and frivolous but their content is a source of contention.  In order to put these books into perspective I like to compare them to food.  For example, you've got your meat and potatoes books like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume that are filling staples.  Funny, smart and well written it has been a favorite with kids, parents and teachers since it's publication in 1972.  The books in question (insert any of the diary genre books here) are more along the lines of a cupcake.  Obviously it's not terribly good for them and it won't fill them up but it sure tastes good.  And lets face it, everyone loves a cupcake every now and then. 

Now you don't want them to eat only cupcakes.  You want them to eat their grilled salmon or leafy green veggies.  I get that, I do.  As much as I personally love cupcakes I wouldn't let my kids have one for dinner (ok, maybe for breakfast but then only on their birthdays).  So you say, sure you can have a cupcake - after you eat your salmon.  Your salmon is full of protein and all those good omega-3 fatty acids.  It has great nutritional building blocks that will help your kids grow up healthy and strong. As a concerned parent you are looking for something that is educationally equivalent for your kids to read.  You want them to read thoughtful, well written books like The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. 

The Mysterious Benedict Society is an incredible series about ludicrous smart kids who can solve puzzles that would stump even the smartest adult.  It consists of three fantastic novels, a prequel and a companion book of puzzles.  They are heavy books and I don't mean just in size.  The writing is densely descriptive and it will take your kiddos a little time to make their way through it.  They probably won't devour it like a cupcake (most kiddos whip through those diary or manga books in no time).  They'll have to chew on it and think it over and maybe even go back and reread a part here in there. 

You'll also want your kids to eat their broccoli too.  Newbery Award Winners make great broccoli.  Just wander through the Newbery shelves in your local book shop and you'll see what I mean.  They can choose between Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell which won it's gold medal in 1961 or Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary which won it's gold medal in 1984 or the most recent winner for 2013 My One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.  Since 1922 the Newbery Award has been given to one book - and one book only - for excellence in children's literature.  It was the first award in the world to ever single out children's books.  Now, how do you like them veggies? 

The important thing to remember is that kids need to read.  No matter what they are reading they are still developing important skills in proficiency, accuracy and comprehension all the while building their vocabulary.  Anytime they spend reading is helping them acquire the important skills they need for their academic future.   Lastly, I'll say if the only thing your child will read is the equivalent of a cupcake then give them the cupcake.  If they get nothing but pleasure from reading these books you've won a major battle.  Someday, somewhere that joy they got from that silly book just may translate into a real life long love of reading.  Just don't give up and keep offering that salmon and those fresh veggies.