Ways of Reading
Last night I picked up one of my favorite books from our shortlist for re-reading, and my post-its, and sat there. Got my pretzels and my licorice, and sat there. And then put down the book and picked up a one on historical Japanese ceramic patterning techniques and read.
In a comment on Jefferson’s Sons part 2, Wendy said “I don’t read that way,” in response to my list of quoted passages. To which I replied that no one does, naturally. And though many of us reading this blog probably do read children’s books for pleasure, I’d posit that we don’t even do that naturally…that it’s a learned way of reading, as an adult, and that we carry with us a mix of genuine sentiments straight from childhood and some imagined from our own nostalgia of ourselves. I think this kind of adult reading of children’s books is often evident in lists like the Newbery voting on Goodreads; where we are accountable only to ourselves when we place our votes.
Many of us who have jobs working with kids and books read children’s books in multiple ways, evaluating how they might be used, and their ultimate worthiness for purchase in different scenarios based on some balance of quality and usefullness. Those kinds of readings are evident in our review media, and with the scales tipped towards quality, in many of the best of the year lists. SLJs is up, and Kirkus.
Reading for the Newbery challenges us to read text in an almost academic way. In fact, the entire idea of the Newbery award suggests that children’s books should be able to be as richly distinguished as anything that takes up a semester in a college seminar. Why should the audience for a book determine its potential quality? So, while I don’t think line by line disection is the only way to read deeply, and critically, I do think it’s important to read any Newbery contender that way at least once. It’s not a particularly fufilling way of reading, so ideally it’s a second of at least three reads. Once for first impressions. Second for minute detail. Third to look at the whole view one more time, in a fully informed way. That kind of reading (often telescoped, necessarily, into a once-through :)) will start to produce some Mock Newbery results. Sam’s library has their results, and over the next 6 weeks we’ll start to see more.
The hardest thing to keep in mind in reading for Newbery is the different ways that kids read…the different sorts of things they’re looking for. In trying to identify what makes something distinguished, we’re often looking for a physical/emotional spark… and something is more likely to spark for us if it touches that genuine-or-imagined response of our own childhood reading tastes. But there are different ways for books to be good. I was helping a very young child last night at my library, who wanted more of the Pokemon easy readers that he was holding in his hand. Well, he had them all. Making a logical guess, I started helping him find other Pokemon books; but none of them suited, because–as it turned out–he couldn’t read them. And that’s what he wanted. So, over to the easy readers. Elephant & Piggie? He clearly found the humor a little beneath him. Otto? Hop on Pop? Finally, although he squarely rejected Hi Fly Guy! from the cover (he seemed to see that it was trying too hard), his sister somehow convinced him to get excited about it, by reading a passage to him that she knew he’d like, because she saw I was having a hard time finding his spark. (Though she is only eight I urged her to keep us in mind when she is job hunting.)
The point is…my point seems to be all over the place here. And that is kind of it: that we who work a lot with books probably read books in so many different ways, that it can get very hard to push that reset button…to switch from one to the other. And to remember that when we can’t read a book from a critical point of view because we can’t locate the spark that it’s supposed to create in its ideal reader… it’s time to turn to whatever reading material is going to relight our own pilot. Favorite snacks help too.
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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