I've been marking up so many passages and lines of wisdom, but something Penny writes about cultivating the love of reading in our students and helping them value their reading lives really stood out for me:
Every student needs to know the power of a reading life. Dickens simply won't matter to most twenty first century teenagers unless they have developed a love of books first - a trust that even the most difficult ones will be worthwhile. We can and must develop that trust every year in school. (page 23)This passage was floating around in my teaching brain, and I remembered so many conversations I've had with my students and children over the years when they've complained that some classic foisted upon them by a teacher or librarian has fallen flat, worse, that they now hate this book. Then I chanced to listen to this broadcast on the Diane Rehm show, where the following professors spoke about Edit Wharton's great classic, Ethan Frome:
professor of English, Ursinus College; vice president, The Edith Wharton Society
president, PEN/Faulkner Foundation
professor of English, Georgetown University
Some of the callers into the show, as you will hear, talked about this exact same thing, and wondered at the wisdom of sharing books like Ethan Frome with students who don't have the life experience to process the novel. Others believed that students from middle school on were fully capable of "getting" these texts - if they were led to such books with guidance and and imaginative teaching. Which brings me to one of the points I think Penny is trying to make in Book Love.... we need to guide our kids into believing that reading is of value and our reading lives actually enrich us. Here is what she says:
This is what I want for all students: the ability to read all kinds of books with understanding, including the literature in our cultural tradition. I choose to build capacity rather than ignoring the truth that most kids don't - and many can't read the novels in our curriculum. A system that supports volume helps adolescent brains develop structures for the problem solving necessary in more difficult reading.
So, the take away is that yes we should make these great books, our classics, available to our students - but only after we've made sure that we've taught them the skills necessary to make meaning of those texts...and given them plenty of opportunity to practice using those skills. How else will they be ready to trust that the "difficult" books they find themselves reading are worthwhile?