As middle schoolers become more independent readers, move out of the children’s section, and start looking for good books in the adult section, there is a tendency towards finding those books that romanticize the drama they have found or stop reading altogether. According to a poll commissioned by the National Education Association, the number of students who have finished more than 10 books in a year drops from 70 percent of middle schoolers to 49 percent of high schoolers. 1 What a student reads in middle school will impact them for the rest of their life.
Knowing this, and that reading is important for maintaining the lessons learned over the course of the school year, brings us to the importance of learning how to guide your student through the library and discerning what books are best to improve their mind. At this age, summer reading is not about getting ahead it is about falling in love with literature and learning to pick up books on their own.
It would be very easy to list books like a mandate, but that is not beneficial. Every student is in a different place, they need different things, and they have different interests. Here are three things to know and three things to do to help your middle schooler navigate the library and launch into a summer of reading.
3 Things To Know
1. The Difference Between the Children’s Section and General Fiction
As students get older and grow out of the children section it is easy to assume that you can drop them off in a section of your library or bookstore to find safe and constructive reading material.
Unfortunately, libraries are based off the structure found in bookstores where books are organized by marketability. While the children section is organized by age appropriate content to gradually build good readers, the adult sections are not built this way. The goals of each section are different.
Even in the burgeoning young adult (YA) sections, they are less focused on developing thoughtful and discerning adults than they are on hooking a young mind early, so they will come back and pay for more later. Recently, many of the dystopian YA novels focus on the romance to the detriment of the character development. Many young people are easily lured by the adventure and self focus the first person narratives provide. Several authors of mature adult fiction will write a young adult novel to introduce a forming mind to their work and give them a “gateway” author into the adult world. Like many credit card companies linking their brand to toddler toys, authors know about brand loyalty and can use it to improve their bottom line.
2.Understanding Reading Levels
One way to track reading level is by a score known as the Flesch Kincaid Readability Test. This simple formula rates the difficulty of a passage of text, any text. There are apps and websites dedicated to helping parents decipher the reading level of any book on the shelf or their own writing.
The drawback here is that this system doesn’t grade content and appropriateness. There are great writers like Hemingway, who is rated at the fourth grade level, and popular authors like Michael Crichton and EL James, who rate at a seventh or eighth grade reading level. Some of the books aren’t going to be right for the maturity of a young person.
So while it is good to know your child’s reading level, it is also important to recognize that what they can read isn’t always what they should read.
3. The Classics Reading List
Many schools provide a list of canon works from great authors ranging from Sophocles to Tennessee Williams. There are many wonderful classics in the world, but several of them are written by people who have allowed themselves to become cynical through their life experience. Books like The Scarlet Letter, 1984, and The Great Gatsby are often put into young readers' hands and, if read without guidance, can either turn them off to the genre completely or create miniature philosophers who know just enough to be dangerous.
Pushing classics too early can strip the student of the joy and value they could receive from them. Many students will read heavy literature over the course of the school year under the guidance of teachers who can temper the perspectives of the authors with the truth.
So how can you feed your child’s voracious appetite for new material and develop their mind in a healthy environment?
3 Things To Do
1. Nurture Your Child’s Interests
Every child has gifts and interests they can explore over the summer. Help them look for stacks of books at the library and point out the benefits and problems with the books they choose. Encourage them to develop their minds by exploring the world around them.
When I was younger, if my mom thought I was sinking into a genre too deeply, she would make a deal with me. She would pick out one book for every book I would pick up.
It is a good idea to read the books your child reads. In our world, many things are slipped into young people's literature that need to be explained, discussed, or avoided. Develop good skimming skills to check for content issues before your child takes the book home.
Encourage good story reading. We can research topics any time, but stories shape children and stay with them for a lifetime. Great places to start include biographies and history sections as well as fiction.
2. Check Out A Series
There are many series that are time proven to attract and grow young minds. Reading consecutive books by an author increases the student’s fluency and adeptness. Once they understand an author’s style they can settle into the stories more easily, like speaking to an old friend. On the opposite side of this coin, hold off on modern authors for as long as possible. If they are worth reading, they will still be on shelves for years.
3. Visit The Library
Visit the library for reading events, games, talks, and for fun. Help them learn to navigate the stacks and look for informative material. Book stores are wonderful, too, but they have a vested interest in selling books, any books. Libraries are places for children to see everything the literary world has to offer. As a parent, you can help them learn how to avoid pitfalls, and explore on their own, all for the price of a library card.
As your child discovers this world, the best thing you can do is set a good example. Read deeply, with discernment, and widely. Talk about the beautiful and ugly books. Show them what to look for in a book and help them level up their reading steadily.
Reading is not about a destination. It is all about the journey.
1 Poll commissioned for the National Education Association by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, February 2001.