Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Harry Potter and the SAT

Okay, that's NOT the name of the final installment of J.K. Rowling's wonderful series. But Harry's getting close to that age, isn't he? I mention this only because of a conversation I had with a parent at the school in which I am Librarian Overlord. Said parent stopped me in the hall and said:

"Is Timmy going to be restricted this year?"

If by restricted, you mean tethered to a ball and chain, I sincerely hope so.

Then out loud I said: "What do you mean, restricted?"

She explained that when Timmy was in 1st grade (last year) he was limited in his book pursuits to the PreK - 1st grade fiction section (along with some non-fiction).

I told her that as Timmy was now in the 2nd grade, a world of chapter books was open to him.

The parent replied: "Good, 'cause he's reading Harry Potter six right now."

If you have read the latest Potter tale, you know that in addition to being brilliant, it is also darker and contains episodes common (and not so common) to a young teen's life. Nothing wrong with that. We grow up; Harry grows up. But I am not going to check out the latest Potter to a seven year-old. It is simply not age-appropriate. Children should grow up reading the books, not gorge themselves on Harry's teen troubles before they themselves are sleeping without a night-light.

I was disapointed that the parent saw her child's literacy development as simply a race to the more difficult books, and hence, greater reading ability. Is Timmy understanding what he reads? And what of the frustration, and eventual burnout, that comes with reading materials you don't understand fully? Timmy may avoid that with Harry Potter, as it tends to cast a spell over its readers independent of their age or reading ability. Outside of the magical world of Hogwarts, however, this method will have a more corrosive effect on literacy development.


At 7:07 PM, Blogger Conan said...

Hey I found your blog from another. Hello from a Conservative, College Librarian and a totally lapsed Catholc who is Pro Israel!!
Mike in Florida

At 6:15 AM, Blogger Paul Pennyfeather said...

Great to hear from you, Mike! Is it hot enough in Florida? It was 101 where I am yesterday.

Wait a're Library Guy, right? I love your blog. You have the best tag line (Wine tastes sweeter...). Promise me you'll leave that line to me in your will. I've linked to your blog on my page.

Thanks for the welcome. I look forward to defending Israel with you. There are a lot of pro-Pali weasles in the blogosphere, as you well know.

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Camille said...

I have a little different take on the HP6 issue. I agree that the book is probably above a 2nd graders level, reading-wise and emotionally but I am of the mind that kids find their own level in books. I can suggest, urge, cajole but ultimately, it is their choice. I always tell them, "if you don't like your choice, bring it back, we have hundreds more."

Sometimes a book is checked out not to read but to experience.

I always remember one 3rd grade student who would checkout "Return of the King" because he loved the LOTR movies so much. I knew there was NO WAY he would be able to read that book, he had many learning disabilities in addition to the reading level thing. He did read parts of it though and while he carried that book around he felt like a king and I thought that was grand.

Sometimes library books represent more than reading, which is why your job is so important, it is a calling!

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Conan said...

Myfirst link..sob chokes me up!
Yeah hot as hell with a hurricane coming too, ah Forida.
Glad you liked the barbarian tag line. Did you listen to my sound bite?
Yes, Paul, I am fighting this pro Pal jerk who posts these illogical hateful post on my site over and over, same stuff too but can tell he never read a thing that I post or books I suggest. Keep posting comments to mine, it will drive that jerk crazy!

At 5:39 PM, Blogger Paul Pennyfeather said...

To Camille,

Thanks for your comment. You are obviously a very dedicated librarian, and your point is well taken. I have also seen kids take out books beyond their level and experience them in positive ways. What bothered me the most was that the parent was certain her child was both reading and understanding HP6.

Also, at our school there are two kinds of books a student checks out. One is the book they can read on an independent level, and the other are those books that, for whatever reason, interests them. The latter is often a non-fiction book that they cannot fully comprehend...but that's okay.

Ideally, if a 2nd grader wanted HP6 for their second book, it would be fine, although this was not what the parent had in mind. Unfortunately, even though we keep multiple copies of each HP title, there are NEVER enough copies. Therefore, we limit access to HP to 3rd grade and up.

So we do allow kids to take out books that are beyond their reading level, partly for the reasons you named, but we also draw certain lines: chapter books for 2nd grade and up; middle school only books; non-fiction books not suitable (content) for 3rd grade and under, etc.

These lines -- which are always in some sense arbitrary -- provide guidelines that I believe serve our kids well. But I have no doubt that other librarians, like yourself, get the same wonderful results with a different system.

We are a Catholic school, but we have a very strong bias against pulling books, censoring books, or putting any age-appropriate books out of a child's reach. In other words, if a book is not appropriate, I should not have purchased it.

Most of our parents insist that we show good judgement in this area; they get a bit testy if their child comes home with what they consider an innapropriate book, or one that, in their eyes, is a waste of time.

The next time I am confronted with a parent who says, "Why did you give my child a book he can't read?" I am going to counter with your description. Despite our differences in library logistics, I think you make a wonderful point about the other levels of the library/book experience.

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Paul Pennyfeather said...

To Conan,

I have NOT heard your sound bite, but I will check it out.

Isn't it interesting that commies and palis and other vermin troll conservative sites in order to put their obsence graffiti on our walls? I would never think of going to the Daily Kos just to say "You're ruining the country, swine!"

Even when I occasionally post on the Huffington Post blog (a liberal house of secular worship), I am respectful. After all, it's their place, not mine. But more and more I see conservatives having to shut down their comments because they cannot stop the flow of bile and obsenities.

And these people think Rush Limbaugh is demeaning political discourse. Ha!


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