From Slave Ship to Freedom RoadIf you haven’t seen it yet, don’t miss this story from Monday’s Washington Post called “Question for the Ages: What Books When?” The story deals with controversies over whether certain books are appropriate for certain ages of children – particularly when the books are assigned or read aloud by the children’s teachers.

Two examples: parents objected when a third-grade teacher read aloud From Slave Ship to Freedom Road (Puffin, 1999) by Julius Lester and Rod Brown, which the parents thought too graphic and violent when describing the deaths of slaves traveling from Africa to the Americas. Other parents thought Treasure Island was too easy to be on their seventh-graders’ reading list.

It’s great to see Jon Scieszka quoted here. He tells us the real problem with books assigned to students in 2008, and I agree – it’s the unrealistic pressure and expectations of many parents and educators at the same time that we’re undergoing a cultural shift in which reading “hard books” seems less and less relevant to many bright kids (not that they’ve ever seemed all that relevant to plenty of reluctant kids):

Some educators and authors say they believe the emphasis on standardized tests in the No Child Left Behind education law has made teachers less willing to experiment with new or unusual books. “Kids are getting less and less choice, and it’s sad,” said author Jon Scieszka, the U.S. National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, adding that his son once saw reading as only a school activity.

“He thought every book comes with a test,” he said. “There is nothing sadder than making books only a school project. Reluctant readers don’t want to be quizzed at the end of every chapter. They don’t want to feel like they are stupid.”

But it’s not just the reluctant kids who have problems with the books and the quizzes that seem designed to drive kids to their video game machines forever. It’s also the kids whose parents are certain are “gifted” who are pushed to read harder and harder, and more and more sophisticated, works they aren’t emotionally mature enough to grasp. Why read Gary Paulsen when you can read Fyodor Dostoyevski?

Librarians dealing with school reading lists, who are trying to match a book to the right child, don’t have an easy time. But this article will give anyone struggling with the issue some spare comfort.