Saturday, September 08, 2007

Things I Don't Ever Want to Hear Again

"Oh, it's not scanning? It must be free!"

"Are you finding everything alright?"

"Yes, except my wife!"

(and yeah, it tends to be fathers and husbands that lose track of their families more often than kids, wives, and mothers. I really don't know why that is. Actually, I suspect it's mainly just that it's mostly guys who think it's funny to make me hear that stupid joke for the ten billionth time. The kids especially just say it straight.)

"But I just saw it at (blah blah blah."

well, why the hell didn't you buy it there?

"Is this a good book for [insert description of child here]?" - but then proceed to cut me off when I answer, ignore my answer, or get annoyed when I ask questions to prompt a better description.

And most of all:

"Where are you're books for kids (who are) learning to read?"

It's called half the kid's section. See a book for a child younger than 9? It's probably for kids who are learning to read.

Snarkiness aside, I really, really, want to do a boot camp for parents on how children learn to read.

The problem is that the parents don't actually seem to care - until they decide that it's time for their child to read. At which point they just want whatever will get their kid to read. As long as it's "high" literature; no Captain Underpants and get away from the pictures as quickly as possible.

Sometimes they make me want to chuck all our abridged classics out the window and require that every parent buying a phonics or sight readers set must not only prove they have a copy of Brown Bear, Brown Bear at home, but understand why it counts as an easy reader.

They mean well (most of them) but besides assuming I know nothing (or, alternatively, expecting me to be omniscient), people in general (not just parents) are so obsessive about the obvious parts of learning to read. They tend to ignore or not care about how people actually do read, because they figure the most important parts are the ones that are easy to watch kids do or explain how to do. But that's just not true. Not all kids can learn to read mainly through phonics and reading is more than just decoding sounds and symbols. In fact, adult reading rarely includes decoding sounds at all.

And even more than that, "pre-reading skills" consists of a lot more than just knowing the alphabet and the sounds each letter makes. It includes knowing things like shapes, colors, and opposites (the building blocks for learning the alphabet). It includes having a large vocabulary, so that when they are trying to guess what the sounds blend together to make, it's not always the first time they've heard that word. It includes an understanding of language; knowing rhymes so that they can use them as hints in lyrical stories. It also includes understanding that stories have beginnings, middles and ends; characters and settings; and knowing the difference between "stories that are true" and "stories that are make -believe." It includes learning to be writers as well as readers, by having crayons and paper and toys for imaginative play readily available.

I'm sure that most of the parents that come in asking for beginning readers books do all of these things with their children. But if they really want to help their children as they are making their first steps towards reading alone, it's best if the parents understand this all explicitly, so that they can pick which kind of easy reader their child needs the most. Do they need to practice phonics? Are they naturally better at sight reading? Can they decode words easily, but always race through the book and never read with inflection? Are they interested in learning to read at all, or do they need motivation?

When I'm asking all the annoying questions, I'm mainly just trying to pinpoint the kid's exact reading level, because new readers are easily frustrated and overwhelmed and they are easily bored and won't improve unless challenged. It would be nice if every once and a while parents came prepared to discuss not only reading level, but reading styles. Which sounds like a lot to expect from someone who is just making a trip to a bookstore, I know. But if getting every child reading by age whatever is really a priority, educating parents about how children learn to read should be one as well. To the point that my pie in the sky discussions are commonplace and easy to have, because we all already know the fundamentals.

And since I'm in a complaining mood, I'd also like to say that I recently watched the movie version of Knuffle Bunny, adored it to pieces, and now hate the AMA for their blanket "no TV for kids under 2" even more than before. Any kid that is capable of sitting through the book itself will benefit from watching the movie.

On a more positive note, I did run across this, which suggests (goodness, could it be?) that people are mixing up cause and effect when it comes to ADHD and TV watching, and that ADHD kids may actually be less at risk from the "deleterious effects of television viewing" than non-ADHD kids.

One last thing I don't ever want to hear: "Well, my child is reading well above reading level" - when said in that tone of voice that means "my child is so special you could never understand just how special."

I was reading Tolkien by fourth grade and no one in my family will be shocked if my 3 1/2 year old niece is reading within the year. Without any formal teaching involved. So not I'm not really bowled over by the fact that your fifth grader is reading the occasional seventh grade book. And when I suggest that they also read an actual fifth - or gasp! maybe even a fourth - grade book, I'm doing so as someone who knows first-hand that variety is really good for children, especially kids who are reading well above their grade level. We tend to go for impressive length and our parents and teachers don't always do the best job of making sure we practice comprehension and critical thinking as well. (Not entirely their fault, they end up having to spend so much time keeping us supplied with books that they tend to push us towards longer books in part for their own sanity.)


Dan Jacobson said...

Ugh. Why? Why would your apparently primary interest in your child's reading be impressing other, sometimes random, adults? So much so that it interferes with the selection of appropriate reading material for the child's tastes? I just don't understand...

Mickle said...

I get the impression it's mostly that they think I'm stupid because I work in retail and so I couldn't possibly understand how brilliant their child is. When I suggest something that isn't the most challenging book ever, they take it a sign that I'm too stupid to understand their brilliant child. Not that I'm listening to what the kids likes and dislikes.

The idea that I may have even more experience with this than they all do? Never crosses their mind. I get paid little more than minimum wage, after all. And I work with kids and kids books, not the hard, serious stuff out in science or computers.

Plus, people can be insanely snobby about kid's lit. One of my own managers even made some comment the other day about how he could write half the stuff on the picture book wall. As if. So, for a lot of parents, the more pages and the more it looks adult, the better it must be. Nevermind that I'd take either version of the Baby-sitter's Club over The Da Vinci Code any day.

Which makes it all nice and ironic, because that means the parents who think I can't possibly understand how brilliant their child is tend to be the same ones that are really impressed with big words.

julia ward said...

At least they're not asking you if you keep the "good stuff" in the back!

Way back when - I think learning to read started with being parked on a cozy adult lap, blanket in tow, entering the magic world of the Teenie Weenies or Sallie Mandy and the Shiny Penny. Hmmmmmm... believe it or not, we actually associated reading with something wonderful and important.

Our parents didn't shop for the most impressive books, or take us to pretend we're Harry Potter. We hung out on the barbershop steps, ate ice cream with hobos and dreamed of writing and adventure.

As for your plight as an Hourly Bookseller, send the really pretentious clientel packing to buy Spinoza at the Italian Ice Cream Shop on 3rd Street South in Naples, Florida. I think they finally put it on the menu board in my honor!

Wonderful blog! I'll be back to read more.

julia ward - a BLINDING heart - a writer's blog