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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Reading Reality

An interesting article by Dana Goldstein at The Daily Beast providing a fresh take on why American kids lack sophisticated reading skills. According to a recent study of what grade-school students read, fiction dominates school reading lists, while serious non-fiction gets very short shrift (with a handful of exceptions, like The Diary of Anne Frank). Among other problems, this may short-change boys, who tend to be more interested in the word of fact than the world of fiction. More significant, it gives students of both genders less opportunity to develop the analytical skills they'll need to master tough non-fiction reading in college and adulthood.

I personally find this argument very appealing, having always been a lover of non-fiction (as reflected in the kinds of books I work on today). When I was a kid, my favorite reading was two series of non-fiction books published by Random House, the "All About" books, which dealt with topics from science ("All About Dinosaurs" and the like) and the "Landmark" series, which covered history and biography ("Abe Lincoln: Log Cabin to White House").

I gravitated that way, in part, because I shared a bit of the widespread attitude that "story books" were for little kids and girls. As a result of that attitude, if my literary diet had been limited to fiction, I would have done a lot less reading than I did. I've since outgrown my childhood prejudice against fiction, but I think educators (and parents) would want to be mindful of the phenomenon when designing programs to convert kids--especially boys--into readers.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Karl -- and Dana Goldstein. This makes so much sense, and reflects what I observe in my teenage son and his friends. The boys have largely stopped reading for pleasure -- even those who were voracious readers early on -- while the girls keep reading. Fiction. Part of this, I'm sure, is that so many of the protagonists in young adult literature are female, and yet I don't think that's the whole story.

    And come to think about it, the last book that my son chose to read voluntarily was nonfiction: Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. It's a great book for teens as well as adults, and offers lots of food for thought.