Avi: We Need to Honor That

Catch You Later, TraitorEvery par­ent, teacher, and librar­i­an wants chil­dren to read. The rea­sons they wish for this are end­less­ly var­ied, rang­ing from edu­ca­tion­al skills, enter­tain­ment, to learn­ing a les­son. Some­times, how­ev­er, we need ask, what is it about read­ing that chil­dren like?

I’ve come to believe the answer lies in the dif­fer­ent way kids and adults read books. When adults read a book, they encounter a sit­u­a­tion, a char­ac­ter, a detail, which enables them to say, “That’s some­thing I have expe­ri­enced.” Or, “How inter­est­ing. I have seen that hap­pen.” “Oh, I’ve done that.” And so forth. That’s to say, they see the fic­tion as a con­fir­ma­tion of their own lives, some­thing they rec­og­nize as true.

When young peo­ple read fic­tion, they absorb the depict­ed expe­ri­ence as if it were about them. Just the oth­er day I asked a sev­enth grad­er why she liked fan­ta­sy so much. “Because I’m always in the clouds, dream­ing,” she said. “Those books are what I want to do.”

In oth­er words, young peo­ple engage with read­ing best when they can put them­selves into a book. The expe­ri­ence relat­ed in a sto­ry becomes their expe­ri­ence. Yes, lit­er­ary qual­i­ty can enhance that expe­ri­ence, but it’s most­ly what hap­pens in a sto­ry that engages kids.

When one writes for young peo­ple, you have to find a way to allow your read­er to con­nect to your sto­ry in this very per­son­al way. The young read­er must rec­og­nize himself/herself in the tale. The sto­ry must — ulti­mate­ly — be about them, their world, even if they can­not artic­u­late that fact. Indeed, some­times what engages the young read­er is that they want the expe­ri­ence depict­ed in the story.

WouldbegoodsYears ago, for bed­time, I was read­ing E. Nesbit’s, The Would-Be-Goods (1899), a charm­ing British Edwar­dian nov­el, to my six-year-old boy. As far as I could tell, there was absolute­ly noth­ing in the book which was sim­i­lar to his life. All the same, he was enjoy­ing it immensely.

One night — hav­ing learned that kids wrote to authors, he said, “Can I write to the author (Nes­bit) and tell her how much I love this book?”

Me: “That would be nice, but I’m afraid she died many years ago.”

My boy sat bolt upright in bed. “That’s impos­si­ble!” he cried.


Because she knows so much about me!”

It was a great book — for him — because it was, in some way, about him.

I did not know that. I doubt if he could have explained it to me. I rather sus­pect he iden­ti­fied with the char­ac­ters in the book because they con­stant­ly got into some kind of mis­chief. It’s the kind of life he would have liked to have lived.

That’s why it’s so impor­tant to allow kids to choose the books they wish to read. Some­thing about the title, the image on the book, the open­ing para­graph, some­thing, has caught the atten­tion of the young read­er. They wish to con­nect to that. We need to hon­or that.




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Cathy Bonnell
Cathy Bonnell
9 years ago

I I have always believed that we need to pro­vide young read­ers with sto­ries they can live vic­ar­i­ous­ly through – will an inner city kid ever get to expe­ri­ence life on a ranch, in anoth­er coun­try, or even a day at the beach. A book can take that read­er there!