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.
For those unhappy with Newsweek’s choice of Jenna Bush to weigh in on essential books for kids, a great antidote is today’s Telegraph piece, “Summer Reading for Children: Adventures to enchanting worlds.” Some terrific suggestions from Geraldine McCaughrean, Philip Reeve, Neil Gaiman, Anne Fine, among other British writers for children.
Your mother was a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid with Dick Clark. Did she practice every evening like Miranda’s mom?
I don’t remember her practicing—and there was also a different outcome.
She didn’t win?
No, she didn’t. But we did get consolation prizes, and one of them was a case of Panel Magic.
From Upper West Side Story: An Interview with Rebecca Stead
Do you remember what you read for that first discussion group?
Oh, I do. Actually, it’s really kind of a funny story. Nowadays one of CCBC’s discussion guidelines is that you can only make positive comments first. If you have things that kept you from appreciating a book, you have to wait until everyone has had a chance to say what they appreciated. But back then, when I went to my first discussion, I didn’t say anything about the first book they discussed—which I absolutely loved—because right away they just started ripping it to shreds.
I was really embarrassed. I’d written a fan letter to the author, and I just thought it was the most amazing book. But I didn’t say anything. Then when I went back the next month, the same thing happened. They just started ripping to shreds a book I had really loved. But that time I spoke up and said, “You know, I really like this book, and I want to tell you what I liked about it.” And I felt vindicated, because it went on to be a Newbery Honor Book that year.
What was the name of the book?
A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle.
From KT the Magnificent: An Interview with Kathleen T. Horning