To Read or Not To Read: Kids’ “Junk”

While browsing discussion on English Companion Ning, I came across an extremely intriguing one dedicated to talking about this article–> “The Kids Are Reading…Junk” from The American Spectator website. It discusses today’s young adult literature and how, for the most part, it is judged to be garbage. Listed among the to-be-discarded literature is The Hunger Games, The Twilight series, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

In my opinion, this article does a whole lot of finger-pointing, blaming literature, and quite frankly–a lot of shivering and quivering for fear of the new. In discussing The Hunger Games, the article admits the strong relateability to the current situation in Iraq and the benefits that it has; however, in being too afraid of the violence within the book, The American Spectator suggests we throw it out. It actually claims we should question the material because–if given to a 14-year-old–we need to tell ourselves, “He might be able to wrap his head around it, but just because he can, should he?”

I am shocked and abhorred at this question.I understand the need to protect our students and children, but does that really mean that–though we have a perfectly intelligent, well-written, and NEW piece of fiction here, we should discard it simply because we need to protect Johnny from reality? Iraq is a real, current event, which can be seen in the news, on television, and on the internet. Now we have a potentially new “classic book” that is a valid fictional social representation of war, and this article is suggesting Johnny shouldn’t even be exposed to it.

I’m not saying that they don’t have a valid argument with being careful with what we expose our students to–especially with violence. We certainly ought to be careful and protect our students. We ought to carefully consider all literature that we bring in to the classroom–certainly. What I am saying is: should we be so quick to dispose of well-written literature that our students are interested in and READING solely because it has something the classic books haven’t done previously?

Perhaps the content of these books (the violence) is solely a reflection of what is going on at the time, a social commentary, much like the classic books (Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huck Finn, with questionable racist commentary) we so quickly accept into the curriculum. In this case, should we be so quick to deem some of this literature “trash”? Given, maybe some of this literature should be “trash” if it really has no grand literary fiber, but it seems to me that a lot of the new content areas of fiction like video games (technology) and  zombies (new sci-fi) are labelled as junk before their content is truly examined. New does not always mean null.

Times are changing, new books are hitting the shelves, and what’s more, kids are actually starting to read these books, buying them off the shelves. Furthermore, this article cautions us to “Ignore the hype” when choosing books. Why? If students are beginning to read, why would we turn them away from literature that could be their first step in to this world of literature. In picking up The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, or Diary of A Wimpy Kid, a student could finally have a positive experience with literature. This could start the ball rolling and give the student momentum, so that they have a better chance of picking up Wuthering Heights or Lord of Flies in the future.

The article may suggest handing one of these classically accepted books to students in the first place, but let’s be honest: what hesitant reader is going to immediately tackle an older, more difficult book to which they immediately see no way to relate themselves? Relateabliity. This is why kids pick up books. This is why they start reading and continue reading. The process of reading books is changing, and as such, we must adapt. The classic books considered to be in the “cannon” are still to be widely read for decades, perhaps centuries, but who’s to say we cannot add new books to this list? Who’s to say we can kick out modern literature…literature that our students are actually interested in reading?

Maybe it’s time we start looking for some new classics…

Igniting the Spark…

Sometimes, all it takes is a name in a newspaper, a whiff of a scent, or maybe a book list to get your mind working out. It starts as some inspiration, then maybe it turns into brisk walk, a jog. The next thing you know you’re racing around the track, and you wonder how you’d even stopped running.

All it takes is a spark to get the mind running and the imagination creating a writing masterpiece. For me today, this spark was a book list, in which I found the book title The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. It sparked in me a delicious memory, a lovely nostalgia, which felt like a warm blanket wrapped around me.

I’d read this book in 7th grade, as a personal recommendation from my teacher, Mr. Bell. He remains to this day my favorite teacher. He cared about, catered to, and inspired every single student in his classroom. One day, Mr. Bell pulled The House on Mango Street off of his leisure reading bookshelf, looked at it with a warm smile, and then said to me, “I think you’ll like this one.” Simple as it was, that was all it took. This was a book personally recommended to me that I would like. Not only did I like it, I LOVED it…so much so that a copy of the book still has its spot on my bookshelf at home.

That being said, I can’t wait to bring it up to State College, as I am going to build a lesson around it for my class. If the memories were the brisk walk, the internet surfing that these memories spurred on certainly became the jogging and the racing. I came across webenglishteacher.com, a site which provided me with many tools, lesson plans, and ideas to use for Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street.

My mind was racing as I came across a creative writing project idea that I know I would have been excited about as a student. Students would create a book, much like Cisneros’s, which let people know who they are and where they come from in a creative form. This book would give students access to a writing playground, in which they can imagine, create, and play with their ideas and their memories. The lesson plan gives students the opportunity to explore their past and their identity and construct in in an organized, creative fashion. With this project, students can discover and design themselves.

Who wouldn’t get excited about that? Even if it’s just for a second, there was a spark. And sparks mean that another spark can occur, and another, until a full fledged fire of imagination appears. Certainly I don’t want parental uproar for setting fire to my classroom of students, but something tells me parents might actually be okay with me initiating this kind of fire…