Monday, June 28, 2010

READ. By All Means.

The title of this post is the title of a recently announced Scholastic global initiative to emphasize to children the importance of reading.

"READ By All Means" includes a "Reading Bill of Rights" which includes the line "We believe...that young people need to learn to read nonfiction for information and literature for imagination."

I immediately signed up as a supporter and hope you will, too. However, while I feel this Bill of Rights line is true in what it says, at the same time I feel it may inadvertently reinforce a problematic belief that some kids have: nonfiction is only about information. More to the point, some kids believe that information
—and therefore nonfictionis dry.
I know the line was written to be practical and punchy, not exclusionary, and I realize that kids won't be reading this Bill of Rights but rather benefiting from adults heeding its call.
I also know I'm reading too much into this, and likely sounding petty for nitpicking over word choice when a critical larger task is at hand.

However, that
task is to motivate young readers...and that compact description of nonfiction will not get some of them pumped about it. While the line doesn't say nonfiction is not imaginative, it almost implies that by saying literature is. (Also, "literature" includes nonfiction. I believe the word here should be "fiction.")

Yes, we do read nonfiction to pick up information, but also to ignite the imagination. Well-written nonfiction can be as entertaining and breathtaking and harrowing as fiction (while still being informative). Of course Scholastic has long demonstrated this by the books they publish. But it doesn't come across in that Bill of Rights line.

What would I suggest as an alternative? I don't know that a single word could replace "information" and serve the purpose. Perhaps the whole line could be reworked to something like "...learn to read fiction to discover imaginative new worlds and nonfiction to discover real worlds we never knew." Not as punchy, I know, but maybe it makes up for it with playfulness.
Scholastic made it to their 90th anniversary by doing something right, again and again. No matter my little quibble, I'm confident their noble initiative will be a success.

Meanwhile, those who write true stories for young people will continue to work hard to shed the image of nonfiction as being purely academic.

By all means.

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