One night last week, my second grade son Nathan stayed up late reading Mary Pope Osborne’s Dragon of the Red Dawn from the Merlin Mission installments of The Magic Tree House series. I was very pleased to see this because Nathan has always been my eager reader but second grade brought about a bit of a change. He became a “take it or leave it” reader—devouring books that captured his fancy and being perfunctory at all other times. It was good to see him feeling hungry for his old friends Jack and Annie.
The next morning, he came into my room with the book in hand and said, “Mom, mom, you’ve got to hear this!” The passage he read aloud went like this:
Below the tree house was a beautiful garden filled with cherry trees and long-leafed willows. A waterfall tumbled into a sparkling green pool.
He went on to say, “Can’t you picture that mom? Isn’t that beautiful? You know, I like the Merlin Missions so much better than the “original” Magic Tree House. I have to read these books slower and I like them so much better because they don’t take me just a day to finish like the other ones.”
When I talk to teachers about book choice, I often encourage them to allow children to choose “easy” reads. I implore teachers to bless magazines and picture books and comics as valid reading but teachers are skeptical. I am often questioned about this idea of “challenging” young readers. If students are capable of reading a chapter book, why shouldn’t they? If they are always reading things that are too easy, how will they grow as readers?
I think these concerns have real merit, but my response always begins like this: If our students do not embrace reading, hard or easy, it won’t matter because they won’t be doing much of either. And the second thing I always say is that nobody stays in the same place as a reader forever. Nathan is living proof. Once upon a time, Dinosaurs Before Dark and Afternoon on the Amazon satisfied him as a reader. Now, he craves longer books. He craves books with richer description and that is why the Merlin Missions, with their familiar characters, but slightly more complex language, have rekindled a fire.
When I was in high school, I loved VC Andrews and Danielle Steel. Once I got married and settled into my grown up life, romance novels no longer had the appeal they once did. I moved on to Belva Plain and then read everything by Jodi Piccoult. I eventually tired of them and began a steady and exclusive diet of non-fiction. Now I love Malcom Gladwell and Chip and Dan Heath, and of course, all books about literacy and learning. If anybody would have told me that VC Andrews was not challenging enough and suggested that I try out something more my “speed,” I wouldn’t have. I wanted to read what I wanted to read. And when I was done, I moved on to the next thing that I wanted to read. Like I said before, nobody stays in the same place as a reader forever. If you doubt me, think about your own reading life. Do you read the same stuff you read in high school?