Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Importance of Reading Whatever You Want

A child recently came to me and asked for help finding a non-fiction book.  She wasn't looking for something specific, but thought maybe a biography would be a good place to start.  She liked reading, she told me, but an adult told her that she reads too much fiction.  After asking, I found this was not assigned reading for school, but reading on her own time for fun.  I quietly helped her find a biography that she seemed somewhat interested in and bid her farewell.  I readily acknowledge that I wasn't witness to the conversation that took place between this girl and the adult, so perhaps I have misunderstood what lead up to it.  But, when kids average eight hours of screen time a day, and in a year when new reports show the lowest SAT reading scores in history, and while math and science scores are going up in Ohio, reading scores have gone slightly down, is it really necessary to tell a kid that she's reading the wrong things or the wrong way? 

Various studies have shown that reading -- any reading -- has a positive impact across all areas of life.  If you haven't seen any reports on the impact of summer reading, they're pretty convincing.  Kids reading even a few books over the summer months do measurably better in school the following year.  Beyond that, there's a growing field of research in the psychology of fiction indicating that reading fiction improves empathy.  This is all not to mention that there's an awful lot of fact that you can pick up from reading fiction.  How do I know about the Cairo Conference and its impact on modern-day Iraq?  Not from the History of the Middle East class I took in college, but because of the fiction book Dreamers of the Day.  I only know anything about the Sarajevo Haggadah -- or even what a Haggadah is -- because of Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book.  Kids can learn a lot about pioneer life from the Little House series and if you've never been around a kid who's read The Magic Treehouse books, you're in for a treat.  From this series alone, my seven-year-old daughter has gleaned information on everything from the mummification process in ancient Egypt to dinosaurs to how many different types of noses Leonardo Da Vinci had categorized (if you're curious, I think it's seven but I'm not exactly sure because I haven't read the book).  And, if your kid likes the Percy Jackson books, get that kid ready for Jeopardy because Greek mythology questions pop up all the time on that show.  

If you remain concerned about the balance between fiction and non-fiction, remember that fiction can also be a great doorway into non-fiction.  Your kid is in love with The Diary of a Wimpy Kid?  Use it as a springboard to talk about other kids who have kept diaries and given us valuable information about life in another time or place, like Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young GirlFor some, non-fiction is going to be more appealing, and that's great to encourage, too.  Either way, treat reading books for pleasure the same way you would treat watching movies or TV for pleasure -- it's okay if they're not all documentaries.  Sometimes, it's fun to just escape in a story. 

I guess, at the core of it, my point is this: read what you want.  To paraphrase S.K. Ranganathan, for every reader there is a book and for every book there is a reader.  If your reader has found a book to love, embrace that and use it as a platform to introduce new books -- don't rip it out of her hands. 


MamaBearPing said...

Fiction/Non-Fiction - good writing is what makes for good reading. While we don't know what that conversation was, I do agree with you.

Some people never have the opportunity to acquire literacy. Those of us who are fortunate enough to receive that gift, we should use it often, in whatever capacity we can.

Being a homeschooling mom, one of my greatest joys is watching my six year old blossom into literacy. It's my hope that her desire for stories (fiction and non-fiction) will always be at a premium.

KO said...

Great blog! I couldn't agree with you more. I think it is wonderful whenever a child gets excited about reading--whether it is fiction or non-fiction.

Amy A. said...

M- Great blog!! Great points and I couldn't agree with you more :) Glad we've got you posted this!