June 25th, 2012

book and glasses

Must be something in the air.

I keep on coming up against things I HVE TO RESPOND TO. Because, well, as the cartoon has it, "someone is wrong on the Internet".

The latest culprit is THIS article,by a middle school teacher, which has my hackles standing up on end. It's the usual "classics vs. genre trash" debate, but oy VEY, not from an English teacher, not from someone who loves language and story, PLEASE!

Here's a few money quotes from the piece:

"The data, however, show that my mantra [the mantra in question is 'Any reading is good reading'] holds true only for the least experienced readers, who attain knowledge every time they read. This age group is fast acquiring verbal knowledge (an increase in word recognition) and world knowledge (an increase in understanding about the world around them), even when they’re reading comic books or relatively simple narratives. For newly fluent readers, usually age 8 or 9, any reading is indeed good reading.

But for students in middle school and high school, reading selection does matter. Students attain more knowledge of both kinds reading Stephen Crane’s “Red Badge of Courage” than they do reading the “Hunger Games” series. When the protagonist of “Red Badge” reflects on his pride in having “donned blue,” it requires both verbal and world knowledge to comprehend that he is proud of having enlisted as a Union soldier.

While “The Hunger Games” may entrance readers, what does a 13-year-old gain in verbal and world knowledge from the series? A student may encounter a handful of unfamiliar words, while contemplating human dynamics that are cartoonish, with violent revolution serving as the backdrop for teen romance. "

Now, far be it from me to defend "a backdrop for teen romance" as anything at all that's remotely and inherently "more valuable" than any other kind of reading. Nor do I believe that it always follows that a reader of any sort of "gateway drug" books will inherently go on to become a voracious reader - for instance, I simply do not believe that every kid who fell on the Harry Potter books like so much candy will put those books down and immediately look around for something to replace them.

WHat I DO think is that a child who is given "proper" reading material vetted by adults *and nothing else* in the formative years of their reading habits is even LESS likely to become a reader than that Harry Potter reader referenced above. Put a thought in a child's head that reading is boring, that reading is "educational", that reading is something that they *have to do* - and it's the fastest way to turn them off the word altogether. You can guide a child's reading habits, but enforcing them is fatal. If I had grown up being forced to read "Red Badge of COurage" or "Catcher in the Rye" to the exclsion of any fun and fantasy, I would probably never have become a reader at all - as it was, that early conditioning left me with a funny bittersweet aversion to much of Dickens (simply because I found David Copperfield, which was once one my school set books which the teacher in question simply idolised and we HAD to deal with it as it was stuffed down our young throats). People who HAVE to read "proper" literature grow up to be snobs, at best, and at worst they will be the kind of adults who will not willingly pick up a book, ever, after they leave school behind and they no longer have to write a book report on it.

There are plenty of educational books out there which can be read by a middle-to-high-schooler without them having to be bullied into it. The knowledge of being proud to be a Union soldier is a worldview, to be sure - but you can learn much about your world by reading a book like "Watership Down", too, and that lets your mind run free without the trammels of propriety and acceptability and the whole entire discussion of what is "literature"

Here's another quote - a book recommendation: "...“Iqbal,” by Francesco D’Adamo and Ann Leonori (which is a novel about a real kid)."

That "real kid" in there is a link, and it will take you to THIS, which is an acount of the, yes, real kid who is at the heart of this particular story -

"A 12-year-old boy who won international acclaim for highlighting the horrors of child labor in Pakistan has been shot dead....The boy, Iqbal Masih, was gunned down on Sunday as he and two friends rode their bicycles in their village near Lahore...Iqbal, who worked as a carpet weaver under abysmal conditions from the age of 4 to 10, attracted widespread attention in recent months. At an international labor conference in Sweden in November, he spoke about the conditions that child workers face....Iqbal was sold by his parents at age 4 and was shackled to a carpet loom for almost six years. "

Yes, this is horrifying. And frankly as a recommendation for MIDDLE SCHOOLERS - these are pretty young kids, aren't they? - I would think that an account of a "real kid" who is sold into slavery, worked half to death, and then shot dead as he was riding his bike would be a little bit hard for that kid to take. I foresee nightmares at eleven, actually. And this "real" label - why would a character in a novel be any less "Real" to a child reader than a living (or, well, now dead) child who lives in a world so distant from the experience of an average American middle schooler as to make him largely fictional in their heads anyway? Jo March was EXCEEDINGLY real to me when I was growing up although she never "lived" in the sense of being a living breathing human being. She was perhaps an archetype, and in that archetype I could find myself, and learn about the world as seen through her and therefore now my own eyes. "Real" - flesh and blood and bone and breath "real" - has nothing to do with it. She lived IN MY MIND.

While I absolutely applaud the idea of kids being aware about their own world - its history, its passions - the reality of those things, not the whitewashed and Disneyfied paplum that they are sometimes fed - I don't know that I would feed any middle-schooler of my own books about Hiroshima or the Holocaust or even eleven-year-old Pakistani boys who were sold into slavery and then murdered. There is nothing WRONG with "Hunger Games" as a platform to use to jumpstart such topics of discussion with one's children, but please, don't make them into little preppy mini-me adults. Not yet. They're MIDDLE SCHOOLERS. There is plenty of time to make them do things for their own good. Let them have childhood, let them have choice. Teach them to read - and then set them free. They will find their way, their level, their interest. Forcefeeding "classics" or the "real" stuff... isn't going to help them grow up to love books.

And you, reading reacher who wrote this particular article, you should know better.
book and glasses

Fifty for Four in Twenty Twelve

I just boosted the signal, over on Facebook, for THIS particular photo or (if you like) statement:

Here's what I said over there in support of the re-post:

"It works like this: if you like the sense of wonder and enjoyment that an artist (painter, photographer, sculptor, musician, writer) brings into your world, you repay that by helping put kibble in their cat's bowl and food on their own plate. Even just that part about "talking to your friends" is VITAL - that is the all-important word-of-mouth without which it is impossible to gain traction as an artist of any stripe. Go, spread the word about your favourite artist. It's the best thing (short of buying their stuff yourself) that you can possibly do for a creative individual trying to make a go of it today.

So, Here's something that I'm starting RIGHT NOW and I'm going to keep it going until the end of the world - or at least until the Mayans say the world will end, December 21 of this year. You can jump in any time. And by all means pass it on to other folks who might want to play, too. Signal boost is as much appreciated (see the poster, above!) as is direct particpation.

I have this novel, see, and its full title is "2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens".

And I'd like it to go to as many loving homes as it can during this, its banner year. SO here's what some of you out there can do, those of you with a little bit of disposbale income and some friends who you think might endjoy this sort of thing.

Here's the game, and we'll call it "Fifty for Four in Twenty Twelve". It works like this.

You send me $50 for FOUR COPIES OF THE NOVEL. The first copy is yours, for your very own, and you get it signed to you and you can even specify what you want me to write in the autograph squib that I put in there. So that's straightforward. But then what I want you to do is to take the other three books (which I will ALSO sign, but just with my name) and you inscribe your OWN squib in the first one on top of the pile, and sign it with your own name as the giver of a gift - and you give the three books to a friend, together with the instructions to do the same thing in turn - take the top copy (inscribed to themselves) and keep it as a personal gift from YOU, their own friend, and then take the now TWO remaining copies, inscribe the top one to ANOTHER friend and sign THEIR OWN NAME as the gift-giver, and pass them on. The receipient of this then gets to do it one more time - keep the personally inscribed copy for themselves, and pass the remaining one with a suitable gift-giver inscription from them, to a fourth and final recipient, with a full accounting of how they came to get that particular copy. (I'll be putting in a URL linking directly to this post in each book, so they can read up for themselves in any event - and, if they so wish, maybe play the game themselves with a different set of friends...)

You can use this button

or you can send a check, whichever is easier. All you have to do is leave me a contact email in the comments to this post (which I will be screening, so I will be the only one to see it) as well as the details of your own inscription, if you wish to have me write down something specific - and a mailing address, too, where the books need to go. I only have a limited stock on hand at the moment, so if anyone jumps on that bandwagon right now I can fulfill the order immediately - a little later on and I'll have to order them and then ship them. I won't say that I absolutely will not ship overseas, but if you DO live outside the USA let me know and I'll find out how much it would cost for me to ship the books to you to wherever you are - and then you can decide whether that would be something that you can consider. If you are going to be at convention that I will be at - at this time, this looks like Westercon (Seattle, in about ten days or so) and Orycon (Portland OR in November) and you want to avoid shipping altogether, I can bring the books and deliver them to you right there - and if at least one of the friends to whom you want to give the book is around at the same time also then we can make a party of it and you and I and they can have a meal together, or drinks, or coffee, or whatever comes nearest to that idea at the time.

So. Come play, if that is your pleasure. Or just pass it on. Let's see how many of the 2012 books we can find homes and families for before, er, the world ends in December...