Sunday, October 14, 2012

WHAT DO CHILDREN READ?




                                                                             



I suppose an adjunct to this post title could be  Do Children Read?  But I'll leave that for another time.  I had a look recently at the Newbery Award winners.   To quote from Wikipedia it is:  "The award is given to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children."  Named for John Newbery, an 18th century English publisher of juvenile books, the Newbery Medal was the first children's book award in the world. 

I have had the opportunity to read quite a few of the winners and it is instructive and interesting to see how reading tastes and styles have changed over the years.   For example, the  1945 winner was Rabbit Hill  and the 1953 winner  was And Now Miguel.   In a way, these books, which I have read, remind me of  an era when things moved at a slower pace.   The authors let the books unwind slowly and didn't seem to feel the need to have a lot of action or climaxes.  Rabbit Hill tells the anthropomorphic story of a family of rabbits and other woodland animals, with details of their trials and tribulations.   A new family is moving into the neighbourhood and the rabbits are worried.   At the end of the book, the people turn out to be a kind-hearted couple.  

And Now Miguel concerns a twelve year old boy who wants to be old enough to go up into the mountains with the older boys and men to move the sheep to the summer grazing pasture.    We find out a lot about the details of a Mexican American farming family and their simple but happy life.  It is still available for purchase (in softcover only, not e-book) 

The reviews on Amazon for these two books are varied with quite a few from nostalgic adults.  One of the issues with both these books might be that the reading level is above what the present interest level would likely be.   

I wonder if the market for children's books  or what in the publication business is called  middle grade readers is becoming a narrow window.  Most of the children below Grade 4 (nine year olds) do not have sufficient reading skills for novels and older children today want more sophisticated fare.

Interestingly, the 2012 winner,  Dead End in Norvelt (which I have not read) is set in the 1960's but unlike the books actually written in that time period contains--according to a quick scan of the mid range reviews--mass murder, modified swear words and lots of blood.  Definitely a change!


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