My partner in crim — fellow test creator Roxanne Feldman reminded me of the CLAT: Level III Children’s Literature Application Test we created some years ago for the Horn Book Magazine. Go do it and then come back and let us know in the comments how you did….go on. Don’t worry — it is tongue-in-cheek and fun.
Here are the beliefs we articulated when we created the test in 2007 along with notes from me about how they look in 2015.
Never assume. Every year we interact with children new to us, children we already know, remixed classes of those children, and a myriad of other situations, giving us constant new and altered puzzlements. And we often discover that what we think we know for sure . . . we don’t.
This seems more true than ever.
Trust readers. Time and again we watch children select books that appear to be too hard for them. Sometimes the child will eventually abandon the book as it was indeed too difficult, but sometimes the child will be highly motivated to read the book and enjoy every hard page of it. By letting them take these books, by saying nothing to discourage them, we show children that we trust them to decide for themselves.
This was deep in the time of Harry Potter when younger and younger kids were reading the books (or, more likely, the parents were reading them to them). It and similar large fantasy books seemed to –in our school at least — be a sort of test. I always remember the fall after the 4th Harry Potter book came out. It was big and a large number of my students brought copies to school. I was certain some of them had them only because of buzz, not because they really wanted to read it and I was right. Once they felt comfortable there was no judgement in not finishing it the books stayed in their cubbies and they went off to read books that really spoke to them. (Of course, there were some rabid Harry Potter readers in the class too.)
Peers are powerful. While the enthusiastic recommendations of teachers and librarians matter, those of kids can matter even more. We have watched many a book or series (Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Candyfloss) become enormously popular due to word of mouth.
See above. Peer and popular culture pressure can be both positive and negative. These days I see graphic novels making the rounds in my classroom. Fortunately, my students’ parents are largely relaxed about what their children read.
Collecting counts. Over and over we have observed the enjoyment many children, just like many adults, derive from collecting things: all the titles in a series, all the books by an author, all the books on a topic, or everything in a particular genre.
This is certainly true today of Wimpy Kid, the various Percy Jackson series, and certain graphic novel series.
Design matters. A book speaks to its readers not only via the text but also through its cover art, trim size, interior decorations, font choices, and other design aspects.
These days this is attended to much more — especially the power of the cover.
Books are literature. While the best books invariably provoke important conversations about love, courage, community, exclusion/inclusion, social justice, and other life issues, we prefer to select books for our students to consider as literature rather than as teaching tools, confident that all those other issues will be an organic part of the classroom experience.
Interestingly, the issue today is more about reading for reading’s sake — what with all the test taking prep and CCSS going on in classrooms.
Value art for art’s sake. We believe strongly that books are works of art and that any form of art is crucial in anyone’s life. It does not have to serve another purpose other than to bring deep and satisfying pleasure to one’s life. While we both are addicted to reading, we know that reading does not necessarily make someone a better person. We both have encountered avid readers who do not prove to be upright citizens of the community. Similarly, we are not alarmed when a child turns out to be a nonreader. There are so many forms of art and entertainment, so many character-building activities in life. Just because a child is a nonreader, it doesn’t mean he or she won’t turn out to be a successful and contributing member of the world.
Sadly, I think this needs more attention than ever. The focus these days is so utilitarian in schools — preparing children to make it in some sort of financial way. The aesthetic experience of reading seems to be overlooked. As is art in general in schools. This is too bad and hopefully will change before long.