Sometimes, it’s good to talk and write about all your beliefs surrounding the power of children’s literature and the standardized testing crisis in our schools today and sometimes it’s good to sit back and let someone else write eloquently about the same things.
Jonathan Kozol is an author and activist who has talked about the power and peril of public education for nearly 40 years. I first learned of Kozol when I was working as a speech therapist in an urban school straight out of grad school. At the time, a colleague recommended I read Savage Inequalities and many of it’s messages have stayed with me. Later this month, Kozol’s latest book, Fire in the Ashes: Twenty Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America, will be published as a follow up of the school children he has written about over the years.
For now, though, I am taken by Kozol’s words in the Boston Globe Books section.
He writes first of children’s literature,
“One of my favorites is “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” by Kevin Henkes and Luara Hamilton. Actually a fourth-grade student put me on to that book. It’s a delectable story of an irreverent girl. I was reading it on a plane to California, and the man next to me kept giving me strange looks. He was reading the Wall Street Journal. I said, “I’ll trade with you. This book might change your soul.”
So I already knew that Kozol was every bit as smart as when I first read his writing. Who can argue that Lily is just the best there is?
But then he wrote,
“I still reread “The House at Pooh Corner” by A.A. Milne. I love that. Eeyore is one of the great tragic figures of literature, a donkey without a tail. With all the teaching to the test mania now, kids can’t read “Winnie the Pooh”for the joy of it anymore. They have to excavate the 10 points that the book illustrates. They are killing A.A.Milne. I tell children the best reason to read a book is not the numbers it will give you on an exam but for the joy of it. That’s why grownups read books.”
I will come back to this again and again. As I talk about the power of book choice. As I talk about reading both on and off your reading level. As I talk about the potential damage of reading logs. I will talk about reading for the joy of it. Because as Kozol says, “That’s why grown up read books.” So there…