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Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Children's Books 2015 and why we still need fiction

Wanted to share the New York Times Notable Children's Books for 2015. Some good holiday reading!

Also, I recently read this post on EdWeek about how American schools are teaching more non-fiction and less fiction. While I love non-fiction, and I'm all for kids reading a wide range of genres and building their knowledge base, I don't like the idea of sacrificing fiction.

Why do our kids still need fiction?
Because, most importantly, it helps us understand what it means to be human.

Here's what I say in Beyond the Tiger Mom:

Books, stories, and poetry are part of our shared humanity; they help us understand and make sense of the human experience. Across time and place, in a wide range of languages, humans have been telling stories, crafting poems, singing songs, and expressing their deepest feelings and fears through the spoken and written word. While our technologies and lifestyles may have changed unrecognizably over the last millennia, the words of Kabir and Kalidas, Li Bao and Cao Xueqin, Milton and Shakespeare still resonate today – a broken heart then is not unlike a broken heart now; the ache and longing of love one thousand years ago is much the same as the ache and longing of love today.

I have so many memories of intense and moving reading experiences as a child and a teenager. I remember clearly my induction into the world of readers. One hot summer in Chennai, when I was almost seven years old, the sun filtered through the leaves of the mango tree outside our house and glinted off the pages of my book. I sat with my back against the trunk of the tree, reading each page with studied concentration. I held my breath, my heart pounding in my chest, as I wondered whether or not Joe, Beth and Frannie would ever escape from the clutches of Dame Snap. The children had climbed up the ladder to one of the magical lands at the top of the Faraway tree, and they had, unfortunately, gotten trapped in a terrible land.  Would they find their way out? Every day that summer, I retreated to the shade of the mango tree and read. Every night, I fell asleep dreaming about magical lands and fantastical adventures. By the end of my summer vacation, I had finished reading The Folk of the Faraway Tree, my first chapter book, and I had become a reader.

Now, as a parent and teacher, I feel a sense of deja-vu as I watch my own children and students enter the world of books and stories. When my eight year old son laughs out loud as he reads about the terrible fate of Augustus Gloop, that “big fat nincompoop” in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I am reminded of the humor and laughter of childhood reading. When my five year old daughter begs me to read her one more chapter from Charlotte’s Web, I am reminded of the way books draw us into their worlds, allowing us to imagine all kinds of possibilities. And when one of my ninth graders clutches The Kite Runner tightly in his hands and tells me that he has never loved a book so much, I am reminded again of the power of books and words to move us, literally, to tears.

As a parent, there are plenty of reasons to surround your child with books and provide your child with the space and time to read, read, read. When you see your son or daughter curled up in bed with a book, don’t dismiss it as a waste of time. That time is precious. Your child is learning more than you know.

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