Reading murder mystery

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By Leslie Crawford

Which is...?

As an adult, I love Shakespeare, but I don’t curl up with Shakespeare. I read crime novels. I read things that are interesting to me. I think when kids are really young, they need a lot more stupid reading.

OK. That’s unexpected advice from a literary expert! You mean like The New Captain Underpants Collection? That was my son’s gateway drug to reading.

Yes, they need gross reading, they need stupid reading. Jon Scieszka, author of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs talks about stupid reading. Stupid reading turns into lifelong readers. Use comic books, magazines, digital print, graphic novels. I’d get Sports Illustrated or Sports Illustrated for Kids. I’d go to a massive bookstore and say, “You get to pick a book.” A lot of kids say they don't like to read, but they’re wrong. I can take the most reluctant reader and turn them around. I can take any senior and find a book the senior wants to read. It's a question of matching kids to the right kind of text.

Parents obviously have more control at home, but what about in the classroom?

If I were a parent of a young child, the first thing I’d want to see when I walk into a classroom is a classroom library, and I’d want to see my kid surrounded by lots of things to read. In school, they need to have access to text. You can’t be a swimmer if there’s no water in the pool. You’ll see a lot of [great books in] lower elementary, but it’s amazing to me how in many middle and high schools, kids don’t have access to anything interesting to read. There’s a precipitous drop off of reading at 13 – that's the age where it really hits. I’m a big proponent of teaching classics; there’s value in Romeo and Juliet that doesn’t come in reading Sweet Valley High, but the balance has gotten way out of whack. I think half the reading at school should be recreational and I see schools where there’s zero recreational reading. If I had to do the reading they have to do in school, I wouldn’t like to read. When was last time you curled up and read a textbook over the weekend?

But what if kids’ recreational reading doesn’t challenge them so they don’t grow as readers?

It is the teacher’s job to give kids books that are a little bit too hard. But if all the reading they’re doing is too hard, if it’s not mixed with a “just right book,” you've lost them. The irony of schools removing so much recreational reading is that kids who read the most, read the best. It shouldn't be an “either/or.” It should be, “Let’s get kids to read as many pages as possible.” That should be the goal. The kids who read the most actually write the best. There are things that happen to your writing when you’re a prolific reader. Worse, a lot of kids who don’t like reading are put in situations where they’re doing even less reading. They are getting the exact opposite treatment.

Next page: good news, bad news about the Common Core Standards.

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.