I am a little slow on the uptake. The buzz about The Hunger Games series has been going strong for awhile, but I just recently finished reading all three. It made me really think about age appropriate books. My hope is that this post won’t be too rambling. To begin with I teach third grade and a big chunk of my class read at a high fourth grade or higher reading level. I push the envelop in the books I read aloud, do in guided group and have on the shelves of the class library. I believe censorship is one the most damaging acts done to democracy. I don’t understand why as a society it is alright for there to be very violent shows on TV and at the movies, but The King’s Speech is given an R rating because one bad word is repeated numerous times.
With that said I DO NOT think every book should be put in any hand of a kid wanting to read it. The Hunger Games series, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and the last few books of the Harry Potter series are just a small of example of what I mean. (I won’t mention the Twilight series because my kids aren’t even talking about them. Thank god!) I will start with the Strange Case of Origami Yoda. I love this book. I love the way it is written. I love the characters. I love the message is sends. I love it. I love it for mature fourth graders and for an entire class of fifth graders. In my opinion it is not for third grade boys. It is not a challenging book and because of this the publisher is marketing it for boys. I have talked to a few boys walking around with Origami Yoda finger puppets about the book. I have asked them what they liked about the book. They respond, “It is so funny. Do you like my finger puppet?” “What did you think of the end with the dance?” I ask. “Oh, I didn’t like that so I didn’t finish it.” UM that’s what the book is about, boys liking girls and girls liking boys.
My first read aloud of the year was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I realized that many of these kids had never heard the first book or even read it. Many students in class were so engaged that they went on to read more of the series. From the beginning I told them that if it was an appropriate reading level they could read it in class. A couple of my highest readers want to read the last two books. I do not have copies of them in class because they aren’t appropriate for third graders. JK Rowling wrote the books fro kids to grow up with not for third graders to read all seven in one year. There have been many days where nine year olds are mad at me. I have told them and their parents that if the parents want to get them for their kids it is their choice, but I would need a note saying it was ok for them to read it at school. To date no parent has done this. I tell D “dude just wait until your older. You will enjoy them even more because you will understand everything that is happening in the book.” He still thinks I’m being a mean teacher. He’ll get over it.
I devoured The Hunger Game series. I downloaded all three when I got my iPad and read them non-stop. They were interesting and have a social commentary that is important for adults to read and understand. I had a student last year that in third grade read at a high school level and could easily done 6th grade mathematics. He is a very smart kid. He is funny, but not always socially in tune to what is happening around him. The other day he was reading Mockingjay. I said “N do you think that is a good book? Is it appropriate for you?” “Oh yea. I loved the first two.” “I don’t think those are appropriate for you. Does MS. T know you are reading them? Do your parents?” I ask. He replies that they all know. This blog post is about my opinion on books kids should read not on the fact that his fourth grade teacher doesn’t read kids literature. She says she doesn’t have time. Enough said. However, N’s parents are usually more involved in what he is reading. I saw his mom the next day and I asked her if N spoke to her about what I said about his reading choice. She said no. We talked about why I felt the way I did. That night she and N talked about the books. N is not very mature and I still believe he doesn’t truly understand what he read.
The reason books are challenged or banned is because they are powerful. As teachers we need to use this power for good and as important learning tools. I stride to keep an open dialog with my students about appropriate books. I look for books that will push them academically and socially.