Last night, I received this email from a reader through my author website:
I've written before about why I'm not a fan of programs like Accelerated Reader. But getting this email reminded me once again of how a generation of kids is being restricted from developing a love of reading in a way that I, fortunately, was not. Then we wonder why we have problems with literacy, comprehension, writing and critical thinking and inquiry. In my experience, these things are related.
When I was growing up, I had the good fortune to be a free-range reader. I was not restricted by ridiculous programs like AR. Nor was I restricted by parents censoring my choices. I was blessed with parents who encouraged me to read well above my grade level, and librarians who handed me books to keep my habits sated.
If I found an author I liked, I was free to read EVERY SINGLE BOOK THAT AUTHOR WROTE if I wanted. When the librarians at the Marylebone library handed me Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, I subsequently inhaled Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and Around the World in 80 Days. Or when I got interested in historical fiction and read my first Jean Plaidy novel, I read the rest of them without worrying if they were "in the system." I just read, read read. And while I was reading I was learned history, often looking up things in the encyclopedia to learn more about a certain time period because it fascinated me or because I wanted to see if what was in the novel was the real story.
It enrages me that school systems are spending scare funds on expensive programs like Accelerated Reader which LIMIT kids' reading choices. If we want to encourage a genuine love of reading and creative inquiry, this is the wrong way to go about it.
Fortunately for my correspondent, my book WANT TO GO PRIVATE? is in Accelerated Reader, but when I wrote back, I said they should discuss with their parents first because it's recommended for 9th grade and up. My parents would have let me read it. I would have let my kids read it with discussion before and after. But it's up individual parents to do the parenting. Each kid is at a different level of maturity and can handle content and situations at a different time.
That's the great thing about books, when kids are allowed to read freely. If they aren't ready, they put them down and move on to the next one.
We don't need Accelerated Reader. We should be spending the money we're spending on AR on certified school librarians. Decades of research show they make a difference.