Naked Reading: Chapter 2

I’d always meant to take this class anyway, but the specific incident that prompted me to take it NOW and not in another semester or two was the feedback we got from our focus groups at the end of our summer reading program this last summer.  It was clear that tweens were being overlooked in our overall services.

The intro to the second chapter of Naked Reading reminded me of the older teens we had questioned, however.  It was actually rather humorous to be surrounded by a good dozen young adults and have them argue that no! they aren’t readers! when this very same group were the ones who founded and now run our Animanga club.  Normally, I don’t argue with kids when we are supposed to be asking for their opinions in a focus group, but I just couldn’t let that go completely, so I kept making the questions* more specific.  Do you read manga? Do you talk about the manga you read?  Even when I was able to get an affirmative answer, they had a qualification for every “yes” that they thought made it a “no” – such as, we read manga online, not stuff checked out from the library.  So, like Erin, they were clearly readers, but didn’t see themselves as such.

It makes me wonder when that starts, and what we can do about it. I think a lot of combatting it involves, as Lesesne says, acknowledging the value of all kinds of reading – not just the novels that win Newberys, and not just novels, period.  Unfortunately, I suspect even 17 is rather too old to try to get kids to unlearn what we’ve taught them.  With older teens, I mostly hope to just give them the chance to enjoy reading without pressuring them to call it that.  But while it’s best to start young, when kids are first reading, that’s difficult as well, because there is so much focus on learning the process and that tends to take special print material.  So while I will do what I can to encourage younger kids to continue reading non-fiction, magazines, Captain Underpants, and other materials that their teachers might not count towards their literature grades, I suspect that the tween years hold a particular opportunity to encourage the joy of reading – in all it’s forms – and to teach kids that they too, are readers.

*The focus group was part of the California State Library Summer Reading Program Outcomes Committee’s pilot program.  (yeah, a mouthful)  Which means you can read the questions at their site, in anyone is interested.  They are mostly about being social readers; I’m sure I’ll get into the reasons why before I’m done with the reflective essays.

California Library Association (2010). Survey and Focus Group Questions for Download. Retrieved from http://www.cla-net.org/summer-reading/outcome_questions.php

Outcomes, Social Readers, and Totally Wired

I mentioned something about eventually talking about the outcomes project, yes?

[Since explaining the difference between outcomes and outputs is a whole post itself, I’m going to assume you are already familiar with the terms.  Anyone that isn’t can find an easy explanation at this website.]

In deciding what kinds of questions to include on their surveys and focus group guides, the committee wanted to make sure that they were going back to the main goals of summer reading.  First, to encourage kids to read over the break and maintain, rather than lose, the reading skills they had gained the previous school year.  Secondly, to encourage more children and families to come to the library all throughout the year.
But how does one determine if the kids that are reading over the summer are doing so because of the library’s programs – or simply because they would be anyway?  To help answer this question, the committee looked to recent research* about youth that showed that while a certain percentage of youth are, like most librarians, are solitary readers who will pretty much read no matter what, the great number of adolescent readers or social readers – what they read and how much they read is greatly influenced by either peer groups or other social interactions.  So the questions they** fashioned are largely about reading as a social activity, the extent to which the library and the summer reading program fosters a sense of community.

I know a lot of people are worried that always being online will end up cutting into the amount of time people spend reading for pleasure.  However, aside from the fact that being online often IS reading for pleasure, I think that social media can – and often already is – a great way to encourage reading among social readers.

It can be argued that part of the reason for Harry Potter, and especially Twilight’s popularity, is the ease at which youth can share what they are reading on the internet.  Just as tweens and teens find friends and support and like-minded peers online where they may have difficulty finding it offline, fans of certain books can find communities online to help feed and foster their love of reading even if no one at their school is currently reading the same book.  Just as online chat rooms for gay tweens helps foster confidence and consequently GSA’s across the nation, so do fan sites about various books and other media help the fandom grow offline.

Not everything about the internet is full of rainbows and lolcats, but I do think there is a lot of potential for using it to solve some of the problems we think that it’s causing.

*Howard, V. (2010). Teacher- peer influences on young teen readers an emerging taxonomy. Young Adult Library Services, 8(2), 34-41.

(I’m not sure if this is the same article we were given to read, but the article we read was clearly based on this research.)

**we?  except that I came in on only the tail end; they had the foundation all figured out before I was asked to join, I only participated in the later discussions where we tweaked the language.

Naked Reading: Chapter 1

I have to join Lesesne in her frustrations with the Accelerated Reading program. I think that it damages the relationship between students, parents, and their local library.  Instead of trusting librarians to interview the student and give good readers advisory, students come in with lists of books to try and find.  As the lists they are given must fit within a narrow reading level range and be one of the books the program has made a quiz for, parents and students often get needlessly frustrated and disappointed when librarians are only able to locate a small number of books on the list.  It also then limits the number of books that librarians can recommend, as they must choose from the more limited number of books that are both on the list and at that library, rather than from the entire catalog.  Usually, librarian recommendations don’t even enter into it at all as there are so few books found that each one of them is checked out.*

It’s a constant frustration at my branch, figuring out how to assist the large numbers of students whose schools use the AR program – without changing our own reading philosophies to overly cater to a program that only some of our patrons use.

Personally, as someone who has always read a wide range of reading levels, I also disagree with the philosophy of having each reader read only within a narrow reading level.  I understand that its often a good practice for helping kids increase their reading level, but I’m not sure sure that’s its all that great for encouraging reading for pleasure.  I tell parents who come in asking for help finding books for their children that it’s ok – good even – to let their kids vary how hard or easy the books they read are.  That it’s good to try and find books slightly above their reading level, but very high interest, for them to read, and then also let them continue reading the easier series that helped them learn to love reading in the first place.

Having poked around the internet for some opinions and studies, it sounds like Lesesne isn’t the only one to question AR’s effectiveness in creating lifelong learners.  In this blog post Mark Pennington lists 18 reasons not to use AR.  One of the parts that I found most interesting was his comment about AR minimizing the opportunity to share reading with others; for the past 6 months I’ve been on the California State Library Summer Reading Outcomes Committee, and one of the main focuses of the survey and focus groups questions the committee developed was the idea of reading as a social activity, especially when it comes to the kids that don’t identify as bookworms.

 

A recent report from the Department of Education on AR found that it “[had] no discernible effects on reading fluency or comprehension for adolescent learners.”  I rather suspect that AR is one of those programs that helps some kids in some ways, but – like anything – does not help all kids in all ways.  But, because of the cost and the time it saves teachers (who have very little to begin with) it ends up being relied on more than it should.

 

*I was curious about why this happens, so I checked out AR’s bookfinder to see if a bunch of books on my reading list for this class – most of which I have checked out from my own branch – had quizzes.  Just about all of them did.  I also checked a few authors and found some of their books missing from the list, but most of the series I was looking for all had quizzes.  So, now I’m more curious than ever why the lists the parents and students bring in seem to have so many books that we can’t find in our library.  While I do know that we need to repurchase some classic titles that have become damaged and withdrawn, I did not think that our collection had that many holes in it, and many of the titles on the list parents bring in are books I’ve never even heard of.

Packaging Boyhood Interview

I absolutely loved the interview with the author’s of Packaging Boyhood.* So often when people write or talk about boys and their needs in newspaper articles and the like, it’s written in a very adverserial way that buys into the myths that Tappan, Brown, and Lamb are trying to dismantle. Which, needless to say, only makes the problem that much harder to tackle. Sadly, the other two articles have some stellar examples of this. I think the part that stood out most to me** was the way that this response from the Packaging Boyhood authors:

If Harry Potter told us anything, it’s that boys do read and they read long books with complex storylines if the books interest them. Harry Potter’s great — it doesn’t play into what boys are “supposed to like.” They’re supposed to like farts, burps, yucky things, explosions, violence, and action action action.

Is in direct opposition to the way the article in The Awl ends:

I can remember boys herding like that, snickering furtively and elbowing ribs. The book was the dictionary, and the passage in question was the definition of “mount.” Boys were then boys, as they ever will be, and it turns out we really ought to have been praising them: not only were they reading, they were kind of discussing relationships too.

Ok, story time: When I was younger, I used to draw all the time. One day I drew a kid in a karate uniform (Karate Kid had come out maybe a year or two before). All nice and shiny and ready for pictures. And then I drew him again. After a fight. Beat up, cast on, bruises on his face, hobbling on crutches. But still smiling. My mother was not pleased. I dunno if she ever reacted that way to my brother’s drawings, but in any case a mother’s displeasure often feels different when you are a girl, yes? Unlike my brother, the only karate uniforms I drew from then on were worn by koalas.

I think, when talking about gross, weird, and nasty books – as well as violent, scary, and terror-inducing stories – we focus a lot on the fact that boys will like them, and forget that girls might like them too. And that a lot of girls may be afraid to admit it because they think they aren’t supposed to. (Trust me, I get plenty of girls asking for Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark).

I think that the same thing happens with boys and the types of books we figure girls like – books about characters’ social and inner lives – their emotional lives. When I think of all the shows that do feature boys, shows like Zeke and Luther, Drake and Josh – the shows that “The Great Retweening” doesn’t think exists (and even many that have boys as secondary characters, like Sonny With a Chance) the most striking characteristic is that the boys on them always clearly have rather rich emotional lives. It’s often mocked, but it’s also always still there. Boys on television are almost never without a best friend, whether they be 5 or 55. But at the same time, that friendship and the emotional turmoil that boys want to explore is so often undermined on those same shows – as if the only way that boys can feel comfortable watching such shows is if they don’t admit why.

This same topic came up a few years ago at a really fascinating panel discussion at the LA Times Festival of Books. It was made of up their 2006 YA Book prize winner, Coe Booth, and the finalists, M. T. Anderson, Nancy Werlin, John Green, and Meg Rosoff. At one point someone asked the panelists if they thought there was a lack of books for and featuring boys. It was pretty unanimous that that meme was bullshit. (having shelves books for years at both a library and bookstore, I agree.) The one not quite dissenting opinion (Green) – which also got nods from practically everyone after he made it – was that there aren’t enough quality books for boys.*** That the books with teen male protagonists tended to be pretty stereotypical, and their plots tended to avoid the emotional. Green didn’t say this specifically, but the overall argument seemed to be that there were hundreds of Eragons, but very few Colins or Octavians.

I remember thinking at the time that I wished all discussions about literature for boys – and boys reading habits – could be that nuanced and grounded in reality. They still aren’t, generally, but Packaging Boyhood looks like it should be a positive voice for change in literature for boys.

*yes, it’s already on my to-read shelf

**ok, not really, but the parts that really stuck with me the most are prompting responses not appropriate for homework.

*** I don’t think that this is in opposition with the idea than kids shouldn’t be ashamed to be reading genre books and the like, because really the issue is more about variety of protagonists’ characteristics than the quality of writing, although quality writing tends to go hand in hand with more flexibility and nuance.