Friday, March 27, 2009

Is the Newbery Award Turning Kids off from Reading?...and my Read Aloud Choice

Picking a Read Aloud book for my 5th grade class is always tricky. I've had the students nominate books and then vote on them, but the problem with that is we usually end up with books that the majority of the kids have already read. Lately I've been choosing books that I think they'll enjoy. I've chosen novels that I enjoyed as a kid, books that I know my students liked in the past, and selected books that deal with themes that I notice have struck a chord with many of my students.

I think the best selection I've made was Esperanza Rising. It has everything that makes a great book for me- a captivating plot, characters that the students can relate with, skilled writing and deep themes that lend themselves to good conversations and analysis.

At this age, a book has to be a good read. As 5th graders, the students are still cultivating a love for reading. If a book has a deep message, but the actual story doesn't grab them then it is lost on them. That has happened a few times with the read alouds I've chosen.

Interestingly, this is a critique that some people have lobbed at the American Library Association's recent selections of Newbery Award winners. Children's literary expert Anita Silvey argues that so many of the recent Newbery Award recipients have been too difficult and inaccessible that it is contributing to the decline in reading amongst youth. You could say that the book are more of what adults wish children would read, instead of what they want to read.

The ALA claims that the Newbery was never about popularity in the first place, it's about making a significant contribution to children's literature. I agree with Silvey when she counters that you can have both quality and readability in a book and that that is what the Newbery winners should have.

Over the Spring Break I re-read The Giver by Lois Lowry and for the first time read Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Both won Newbery Awards, so which one am I going with? Well, in the end I've decided to go with the one I think my students will enjoy and encourage them to think deeply about questions around death, fulfillment and grief. While The Giver brings up great moral dilemnas and is a wonderful segue into conversations around justice the book lacks strong character development and its ordered, bland dystopia sometimes lends to an ordered and bland read! As Jonas begins receiving memories the story incorporates vivid vignettes, but it's not enough to make the story captivating. By the time he embarks on his plan, we have not grown to know him, Gabe nor The Giver well enough to really be drawn fully into the story.

At the end of the day, I want my students to love literature. That's why this time around I'm going with Walk Two Moons. Sorry Lois Lowry, maybe next time we'll pick up Number the Stars.

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