Jun. 26th, 2014

rockinlibrarian: (librarians)
A friend of mine asked me for book recommendations for her 8-year-old goddaughter reading at a 6th grade level, and mentioned how her parents and teachers were finding it hard to find books that "challenged" her but were still appropriate for her age level/maturity. This is an incredibly common dilemma, judging by how many times I get this question, let alone every other children's librarian I've encountered online or in real life. "I always want to ask the grownups in these cases," I said to my friend, "is it really necessary that the kid be CHALLENGED by reading? Why not just read to enjoy? Obviously she's got the reading thing down pat, it's not like she needs to WORK on it." Maggie Stiefvater posted a nice take on this recently, that we've got this whole weird idea that Books Make You Smart And Therefore If Your Book Is Not Properly Challenging Your Brain Then What Is It FOR? Goes along with all the SHOULD ADULTS READ YA snobbery and the Reading Level Fallacy in general. Once you're a fluent reader, GREAT! HAVE FUN! READ WHATEVER YOU WANT. You don't have to keep pushing until you're reading scholarly papers at your leisure.

But this time I started thinking, maybe instead of continuing to try to find challenge in reading, maybe it's time to APPLY ones reading skills. Creating something new and bigger instead of just continuing to consume.

Like take a wordless picture book and write a (worded) story to go with it (any excuse to get people to appreciate wordless picture books). Or retell a familiar story in a new setting. Write fanfiction. Write blurbs to encourage other kids to read favorite books. Learn how to write a carefully-thought-out-critical review.

I wasn't INTENDING to make a great philosophical statement out of it. I was just coming up with alternative ways to challenge a young reader instead of just saying "NOW YOU MUST READ HARDER STUFF," and what I came up with was CREATIVE literary projects. But self-centered person that I am, I was thinking about ME, to be honest. I'd just read this article on productivity that Kristi Holl had linked to, pointing out how we can be very "productive" by getting all sorts of Necessary Things Done but how that's COUNTER-productive to creativity. The part that was sticking with me-- which wasn't even the main idea of the article-- was the difference between Reactive and Proactive tasks. Creativity is Proactive. It has to come from you. Reactive tasks are all the things other people ask you to do, or tell you to do, or you have to do because you need those dirty dishes to be clean so you can use them again. THIS is the problem with my LIFE! I realized. I keep trying to be a Better Person by keeping up with reactive tasks, but I won't SHINE as the truly unique individual I am unless I allow myself to be PROACTIVE. I'm... really bad at that. I sit there thinking, "I wish somebody would just tell me what I should do!" even though, naturally, when they DO tell me what I should do, I resent it. :P

I guess technically my literary challenge suggestions are "reactive" tasks too, particularly if they're assignments. But what they AREN'T is mere consumerism. They're making, doing, adding to creation. They're a way of giving a kid a little agency in the world-- and a sensitive kid like that, who's bound to be exposed to a lot of tough topics earlier than others just because she's reading more, is going to need to feel all the agency she can get. And, speaking from experience, the more out of habit you get at being active instead of passive, the harder it IS to act. So she might as well start practicing now.

Okay, this is good advice for ALL kids, not just advanced readers. But it's still going to be my go-to response from now on.


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