The latest to give his list of summer reading books for kids is Nicholas Kristof, op-ed columnist for the New York Times. In “The Best Kid Books Ever” Kristof writes:
In educating myself this spring about education, I was aghast to learn that American children drop in I.Q. each summer vacation — because they aren’t in school or exercising their brains.
This is less true of middle-class students whose parents drag them off to summer classes or make them read books. But poor kids fall two months behind in reading level each summer break, and that accounts for much of the difference in learning trajectory between rich and poor students.
Like so many similar well-intentioned pieces, this column bugged me. Not only are the books Kristof recommends unlikely to end up in the hands of one of those “poor kids” this summer, even if they were in their hands, they might not speak to them at all. The suggestions pouring in from his readers seem equally myopic— I see next to none considering what the actual reality is for those at-risk children.
If Krisof is so concerned about those “poor kids,” I wish he’d devote a column to them rather than listing books that he and his middle-class kids liked — why are these “poor kids” not reading? What programs for them are working? Why? And what books are they liking? What books (or other media, for that matter) are helping them keep those I.Q. points from bleeding away. (For that matter, check out Walter Kirn’s “Life, Liberty, and the Persuit of Aptitude” for another perspective on testing), Rather than producing yet another list of books for us children’s book lovers to carp over, I’d like to see someone instead really examine those children who are struggling in school, what happens to them over the summer, and why.