There’s an interesting discussion in the New York Times “Room for Debate” series concerning finding appropriate reading material for children. The “debate” centers around whether to allow children to read whatever they want, even if the book they select may present themes and issues that may be difficult for the child to understand. Is Harry Potter appropriate for a precocious 6 year old? What about other “chapter books” that expose children to evil, war, death, and intolerance? or diversity, love, and overcoming adversity?
There are 8 “debaters” that present their ideas on this topic. Most center around whether it is a good or bad idea to allow children to read books when they may not be emotionally mature enough to grapple with these issues. Here are some of the opinions:
- “But because reading is such a collaboration between the reader and the storyteller, young readers are likely to “self select” when it comes to the maturity level of their choices. If a child doesn’t have what’s required for a particular book, they’ll put it down.” (Matt de la Pena)
- “It is a disservice to children to introduce them to books they are not emotionally ready for or to books that they do not yet have the narrative, historical or cultural scaffolding to understand. They may read the words, but it will not be the emotionally consuming, imaginative, unforgettable pleasure that readers seek.” (Janice Harrington)
I especially like the opinion of Deborah Pope. She frames the question differently. She writes of the trend away from picture books, especially for gifted children. Why rush? She feels there is much to be gained from spending time enjoying picture books: visual literacy.
- “Children learn certain critical comprehension skills from picture books that cannot be taught through chapter books: interpreting imagery based on the information given in the text; understanding that there is more to a story than what the words alone convey; and visualizing a story in their own mind’s eye. Mastering visual literacy is fundamental to success with more advanced material.”
She then goes on to conclude that if we want our children to be successful, independent and motivated learners, we must share the experience of reading with them.
I remember a conversation I had with a woman I met while traveling. She had 2 children, and when they were very young, their father began to read to them every morning during breakfast. Ten years later, that family tradition continues, because the children continue to ask him for this simple gift.
When my parents moved to Florida, my father would make his own “books on tape” for my children. He started with simple picture books when they were very young, and eventually moved up to children’s classics. When those books conjured up images and memories of his own childhood adventures, he would include them in his rendition. The tapes were not tied to any birthdays or holidays. When he finished, he would mail the tapes and the book… my children loved receiving those packages. And now, though my father is gone, his storytelling is still with us.
So start a family tradition, pick a book, one with lots of pictures, and read it to your child. You will be building your child’s visual literacy, and so much more.