by Kyla

I was just sitting down to blog here about children and reading when I saw this interview with James Patterson, in which he tells people that is the responsibility of parents, not teachers, to instill a love of reading in children. Well, duh. I mean, I hope that’s a duh. That’s a duh, isn’t it? If you never read at home, your kid is never going to read at home. That’s not that’s complicated.

James Patterson also shares that his eight-year-old son was not a “gung-ho” reader, and so they gave him fun books like “The Lightning Thief”, and “A Wrinkle in Time” among others, and, viola, with books that he loved, their son had vast improvements to his reading progress. Um… this point begs a couple of responses.

1) Duh.

2) Your eight-year-old who was not “gung-ho” about reading read The Lightning Thief? Because my eight-year-old who is not “gung-ho” about reading cannot even read Amanda Pig. So maybe your idea of “gung-ho” and my idea of “gung-ho” are a little different. See, my own eight-year-old would rather pluck out her own eyes than read, but I’m going to guess your eight-year-old Wrinkle-In-Time reader wasn’t quite there. So, sorry, but the inherent smuggary of your helpful tips, Jim, has just left me cold.

3) Here’s what I’d like. I’d like books for eight-year-olds who are not precocious readers to be, um, actually interesting to eight-year-olds who are not precocious readers, or, heck, actually interesting to eight-year-olds who are essentially non-readers. As a parent who is raising a child who is, among other things, a non-reader, I’d love to find her books at her reading level that did not make her want to stab out her own eyes. My Dad and I made a vow to write some of these together; Dad, me-thinky we need to get on this.

But for all of you VIU students who are going on to be teachers and/or going on to be writers, know this. There are children like James Patterson’s son, who are going to be reading epic tomes at the age of eight, and there are children like my daughter, who spends most of her time following the bees in her head. Both groups of kids – and groups in-between – want to read books that are entertaining. They’re not, (this is the important part), at all interested in stories that have a good message. Give us some snappy writing any day but spare me from the morally-fraught children’s story. While I’m as moralistic as the next person (as this blog undoubtedly makes clear), that is not what my kid, or any kid, is looking for in a story. Now, if a well-written, snappy story also happens to have a nice message, (Dr. Suess, I’m lookin’ at you), don’t be shy, but please, please, please, future teachers/writers of Canada, do not mistake a quality children’s book as being one that contains a quality message.

If you want to gauge out your own eyes while reading it, if it’s a bunch of words vomited all over a page (Richard Scary, I’m looking at you), do not force any child in your classroom/care to look at said book. There are many gorgeous and wonderful books out there that exist for absolutely no purpose other than they are fun. Those are the books I wish on the children of the world. Those are the books I hope we remember to fill our classes and our homes with, as we all of us move on to become teachers, uncles, aunts, parents, or friends to the young people of the world.

Also, it is only cultural (as in, not inherently natural) to brag about what a little smarty-pants your kid is (James Patterson, I’m lookin’ at you), so feel free to keep your smug awesomeness as a parent to yourself. Trust me, I, too, can boast about how awesome my kid is – she can fit six smarties into her nostrils before her nose even starts to bleed, and I’m going to guess your kid was too chicken to even try that – but I choose to take the high road and spare you all my fabulous parenting insights.