I’m fairly certain that every parent feels their child is a genius in some capacity or another. I’ve heard it time and time again at school, at family reunions, and at my local library. This commonly held belief is extraordinary; it instills confidence in our kids, providing the “I’m capable of anything” mantra at an often impressive young age. This statement holds a significant amount of power, especially as that child develops into a pre-pubescent, hormones-on-overdrive stranger who rents a room of your house for free. This is the moment when “genius” crosses paths with “reading level” and a new territory is entered, an often humbling and occasionally polarizing world.
What consistently fascinates me about this transition is how we expect students to be able to locate books that are both at an appropriate reading level and applicable to their personal taste without ever teaching them how to do so. The land of children’s books is lawless. Pulling twenty books off the shelves at random is certain to guarantee some success. The pages strewn in technicolor to attract little, adoring eyes. Conversely, the books labeled “adult” live in rigidity. Each is a singular expectation of greatness, where your worth as a reader is based on your taste in novels. Attempting a discussion on the “literary worth” of Dickens’ Great Expectations versus James’ 50 Shades of Grey would be equally amusing and fruitless.
It’s what lives between these two sections of the library that we must foster. I recently read that the Young Adult genre can span from age ten through twenty eight. A separate article stated that students decide if they will become lifetime readers in the fourth grade. Naturally, I couldn’t help but notice that a fourth grader in the U.S. is roughly ten years old.
The Young Adult genre was designed for these students. Just as we taught them the functionality of a library and the simple joy of a bedtime story, it is imperative that we demonstrate how literature was made to grow with them. It is this effort that will make life-long readers out of kids who are making lasting decisions without necessarily realizing it. At twenty seven years old I have no interest in Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones. That’s ok, it’s not for me, it’s for ten year olds. I would not consider myself a Young Adult, but Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park was by far the best novel I read all summer and it’s making huge waves in the Young Adult world.
Good books exist at every age and every reading level. Teach a student to find the right book at the right time and nurture their genius.
Alyssa Littlefield, High School English Teacher/Library Assistant