Friday Fictioneers #5 What Good is a Book?

“The school says you can’t read classic books on tablet!” and “I loved The Little Princess!” her mother said.

Leith stabbed a finger at a dumb word on a page made of dead trees. Switching book for tablet, within minutes she was humming through not just the story of Sara Crewe but along links leading to innumerable pathways to knowledge. Still she envied those who could still hold a world, instead of infinity, in their hands.

The door cracked open, letting in her mother’s sigh. “They say you’re the most brilliant generation ever and you can’t even read a book.”

claire-fuller (1)

Copyright-Claire Fuller

This story was written for the Friday Fictioneers, a group dedicated to crafting flash fiction pieces of a 100 words each with the inspiration of a photo prompt. Thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (spelled correctly this time!) for running the group and to Claire Fuller for the photo prompt. You can view more stories from the Friday Fictioneers here.

Electronic devices mean we make less regular runs to the library in my family since we never run out of something to read (web sites! I-books!) and I do have mixed feelings about that, but this story is partly a reflection of my concern over the new federal learning standards. The Common Core curriculum is weighted toward the nonfictional end of the reading spectrum. My son attends a math, science and technology magnet school so they already have related nonfictional materials integrated throughout his courses, but even there the new standards are a concern as my son’s 7th grade English teacher related in her address to parents at open house this year.

One criticism I have found with Common Core is that the committees writing the standards did not include any K-3 educators nor did they consult with a single early childhood education association or expert. Another complaint is the heavy weight given to nonfiction materials. For instance, Common Core guidelines require that a 50/50 balance in younger years will climb to 70% nonfiction and 30% fiction by 12th grade. It is claimed that schools can squeeze the great high school classics into the diminishing wedge allotted to fictional reading material but with mandatory testing of student achievement of these standards beginning in 2014 and the fact that performance is tied to federal “Race to the Top” education money there will be great pressure on educators to teach to the test – as we experienced under “No Child Left Behind”. Obtaining the new materials required will also stress many school systems financially.

It’s a very complex subject and there are pluses and minuses but its hard to watch the pendulum swing from one extreme to another. When the oldest Millennials were kids Harry Potter ignited a whole new generation of readers, firing up the youth market. Now the experts find that we have suffered in the area of nonfictional or informational reading and so the (over) correction begins. Watching that love of reading shared by almost every Millennial I’ve known, including those in middle school today, I can’t help but worry that the younger generation will lose out as a result of this swing.

What good is a (fictional) book? At the second link above reader Jane Gangi commented:

“Adam Jones in Evoking Genocide: Scholars and Activists Describe the Works That Shaped Their Lives interviews 57 scholars of genocide and human rights activists. 74% of the texts that prompted them to care about genocide were literary or fine arts, and 26% were informational. In education, if we want students to care about anything worth caring about, it seems we need to do the reverse…”

I agree that nothing awakens empathy more than a well told story. Some suggested readings in Common Core are given as MLK’s Letter from a Burmingham Jail and the U.S. Constitution so it’s really not a bad idea to incorporate more informational reading in English classes but they also include technical manuals and some of the driest science. My son who is 12 years old already tests at a 12th grade reading level and particular favorites from the library this year were “The Maze Runner” by James Dashner, the hacker suspense books of Boingboing’s Cory Doctorow (“Little Brother” and “Homeland”) and he’s now laboriously making his way through Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” so I’m not worried about his love of good fiction but concerned that we might once again be regulating the joy of learning (and teaching) right out of the classroom.

How all that resulted in Leith’s story… who knows? but I just wanted to share my concerns.

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18 Responses to Friday Fictioneers #5 What Good is a Book?

  1. Dear Kelly,
    I have mixed feelings about Kindle. As a writer, there’s something intoxicating about seeing my words on a printed page or autographing it for a reader. Hard to sign a tablet. On the other hand, my same book is on Kindle, making it more widely available. I like the convenience of reading from my iPad in bed. No need for a lamp. ‘
    There are pros and cons. I think it boils down to using our technology wisely. That’s not to say that I’ve not chosen electronics over books.
    Evocative story and back story from you. Well done.

    • Mystikel says:

      Thanks Rochelle. I have to say they can be too much of a good thing at times. We’re still working on that balance here and sometimes the parent is as bad as the kid 🙂

  2. The latest generations have been brought up with a variety of choices of reading methods and there are good and bad/convenient and inconvenient in each. I would hope that children would be comfortable with all types of reading methods and be taught the joys and uses of each. (That goes for us older folk, too.) As I said in a comment on a book vs. Kindle discussion in another time and place: who says we have to choose?

    As for fiction vs. nonfiction, stories in which living people exist are the stuff that touches hearts as well as minds, the stuff that is remembered and acted upon. Of course there’s a place for non-fiction, but a person if much poorer in a variety of ways who only reads non-fiction.


    • Mystikel says:

      Very true. I also find that when I’m reading a nonfictional book I get so much more out of it now since it’s so easy to pull up further sources right then and there on whatever device is handy.

  3. “a person IS much poorer”

  4. billgncs says:

    a thoughtful post! Excellent

  5. Anne Orchard says:

    A very thought-provoking story and post. In my very small sample of two boys, there is no need to worry – they both love physical books and would not want to read on a tablet. I think that more important than what the schools do is the parents enabling access to books at home (younger boy’s primary school – UK – also insists on home reading, so parents are encouraged in this). In my experience when you are given fiction books to read by the school they become ‘work’ and have to be analysed and picked apart rather than read for pleasure.

  6. Mystikel says:

    I agree although I found that the books read for school really helped to round out my son’s reading, exposing him to stories he might not have tried otherwise. Our local library and his school also tied reading the state’s yearly list of recommended books to lots of games and prizes in the summer so that also helped but I think reading together and taking an interest in what they’re reading is the best way to share your love for books with kids. I just hope he won’t have to read manuals and dry science for Language Arts in high school with this new approach they’re taking!

  7. For me reading on electronic device linked only to a dictionary is a way to grow my skills in English. Books are great, but your can’t write in them… But the questions are important to put.

    • Mystikel says:

      I admire how you’re able to write such great stories in more than one language. You do very well at that.

  8. petrujviljoen says:

    Kindle vs printed books. Has research been done about what a kindle does to our eyes?

    • Mystikel says:

      Well kind of… By me, Rochelle, Bjorn I think. We’ll let you know how that turns out.

      That is a good question and I wasn’t really joking. Like so many innovations you never know until a long way down the road.

      • petrujviljoen says:

        Indeed. Just reading on my laptop screen is tiresome. I haven’t as yet experienced reading on a kindle, but it can’t be much different.

  9. elappleby says:

    HI Kelly – I enjoyed your story – it made me think which is excellent exercise for my poor brain! I liked the sentence about holding a world in your hands. I’m proud to say that my kids still love real books and do a lot of reading, but they also read on screen. I’m sure we will reach some kind of happy medium between the printed word and the electronic one.

  10. Nice story and I share some of your concerns about fiction (or the lack of it) in schools. I learned so much from fiction growing up and while there needs to be a place for non-fiction, there should be a balance.

  11. vb holmes says:

    I’ve seen a child who resisted reading turn into an avid reader when given an ipad–for some reason, she found reading ink-and-paper versions a chore. Whatever works….

  12. Joe Owens says:

    I think with the ever changing market we have to be open to the new technology or we could become marginalized!

  13. Interesting. Its possible we are cultivating people with attention spans so short they cannot read a book.

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