A Surprising New Threat to Children’s Literacy
Posted by: Keir Graff
Usually, if I want to read criticism of the ALA and its works, I need look no farther than the Library Journal website. But, this fall, as the Washington Post reports (“Plot Twist,” by Valerie Strauss), attacks have been coming from unlikely quarters:
John Beach, associate professor of literacy education at St. John’s University in New York, studied 30 years of book lists chosen by children and adults. He found that less than 5 percent overlap between the Children’s Choice Awards — named every year by the International Reading Association — and the library association’s annual Notable Children’s Books list, which includes many Newbery and Caldecott winners.
Books prized by children had stories and characters “accessible” to their lives, Beach’s report concluded. “The Newbery has probably done far more to turn kids off to reading than any other book award in children’s publishing,” he said.
I like the way he softened the remark with a “probably”–it’s like saying, “That drunk driver was probably responsible for the deaths of that family he ran over.” Also, it implies that there are other serious contenders. Inquiring minds want to know who they are.
I agree that the 5 percent overlap is worth discussing. And, as we all know, awards, no matter how prestigious, are highly subjective. I’d say they sometimes get it wrong, but every award winner is wrong for some part of its audience.
But, above all–really? The Newbery makes kids hate reading? As I see it from my highly subjective point of view, learning is supposed to be challenging. If the Newbery pick reflected the kinds of books that kids already like and are already reading, what has been gained? Wouldn’t that be kind of like a certificate of participation? Kids are already reading the kinds of books they like to read–adults are supposed to broaden their horizons by trying to pick the best things they can read. Granted, the adults are adults, so there’s a built-in disconnect. But if it weren’t for my youthful attempts to emulate the reading tastes of better readers, I’d still be reading the Hardy Boys. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but, you know.