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Thursday, April 04, 2013

High Interest Low Reading Level?

Today I'm putting on my teacher and librarian hat. Probably I should post this on my other blog, and maybe I will copy it on at some stage, but that one gets only a few hits a week and this is where most of my readers lurk.

And, as always, I'm frustrated by what gets published for kids. I am trying to sort out my messy living room and have unearthed some books I brought home to read for my students before starting Literature Circles in class. I teach English and run the library in a school where there are some wonderful kids and some very good readers, but also some who are not so good at reading. And while there's plenty for the former, there's very little written for the latter.

These two books, which I won't name here, are thin. The print is large. The story is simple - but the words aren't. "Patented". "Leisure". "Clawing". "Finale". Long sentences scattered among the short ones. They look simple, but I have students who are in their teens and reading at early primary school level. We're working on fixing that, but meanwhile, we need books that are on teenage themes and children's reading level, to help us fix it.

I really think many publishers just don't get it. They think if it's thin it's suitable. That's when they're making an effort, mind you. I remember bringing up this matter at a SCBWI conference where they were showing off very cute stuff for Grade 3 children. When I put up my hand and asked,"What are you publishing for teens who are reading at Grade 2or 3 level?" I got a shrug and an admission that they weren't, and had no plans to do so any time in the near future. They were publishing for primary children who were reading at the right level.

I asked a publisher some time later and the reply I got was,"Oh, we know there's a need, there just isn't a market." Really? That's news to me.

There has been great stuff published in the past. We have been collecting it lovingly from our library shelves; it's generally out of print. I'm still wading through web sites and finding the occasional gem. There just isn't enough. And what is there is mostly just a little too hard for teenagers who are reading at the levels some of ours are at.

I have had to write some stories myself, just to have something to take to class. These days I'm too exhausted to write anything in this area that would be publishable by a real publisher. It's stopgap stuff in which I use words from the word lists and write my students into the stories. They enjoy it, but it's only a small thing, not usable outside my school's classrooms.

We need something better and we need it published by big publishing houses - now!

Meanwhile, I will have to go to our literacy library and see what I can find for use in my Literature Circles classes. It won't be exciting stuff, but they'll be able to read it. Not a way to get kids excited about reading.


Sarah Allen said...

My first thought was the Shadow Children Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. It's a really, really exciting read that both my 18 year old sister and my 8 year old sister absolutely love.

Sarah Allen
(From Sarah With Joy)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Sarah. I will check it out. The question is, though - what kind of readers are your sisters? And for which age group was it written? What we need is something written for the eighteen year old, with teenagers in it, which they can read and enjoy even if they're reading at the level of an eight year old.