Sunday, July 05, 2009

What Does "Best" Mean?

Over at the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes about The Best Kids' Books Ever.

There's a bit of a logical fallacy with a twist of semi-research involved is wanting to write about kids books: I was aghast to learn that American children drop in I.Q. each summer vacation — because they aren’t in school or exercising their brains.

Considering all of us who have been blogging and writing about the assigned summer reading, Kristof's "we need summer reading lists" makes some of us sigh. He may not state it explicitly, but he's really talking about how kids who don't read on their own over the summer can be encouraged to read. Which, frankly, involves more than a "best kids' books" list.

Kristof then makes the leap to "these are the books I/my kids loved, so they are great for everyone!" Conversation at his blog then turns to "my favorite books."

And you know what?

That's cool. I don't agree that the books Kristof and his kids think are "the best" are going to be "the best" for everyone; and reluctant readers need more than an assigned reading list to discover the joys of reading. But this is his personal favorite list -- and you know what? That's cool.

Everyone has their own favorites; and Kristof isn't the first to think his personal favorites are universal. Parents do it all the time -- and so do librarians, teachers, and other readers. Actually, everytime a librarian tells me they only booktalk books they love, I back away a bit, because they are doing what Kristof is doing -- only recommending personal favorites. At this blog I do review books that may not be my personal favorites but that I know, upon reading, will be favorites for others.

On a side note, he recommends On to Oregon! (aka Seven Alone). Tea Cozy readers know how that really ended; I wonder if Kristof does?

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Keri said...

If you only booktalk books you love, you're either the widest reader in the world or not doing your job. I booktalk books I personally hated (You Don't Know Me is a perennial teen favorite that makes me want to scream) and I break the rules and booktalk stuff I haven't read (I can't recommend the same four fantasy books over and over). I also try to not to formally booktalk books that I believe demand with far outstrip supply (no Hunger Games until I can buy multiple paperbacks).

Paige Y. said...

When I booktalk I try to talk about 6 - 7 books per class (all I have time to do) but the books are immediately available for the students to get. That means, during the first week of school when I'm booktalking to everyone, I pull about 250 books. It's really hard to keep up with what happens in all of them, so I do use cheat sheets. Whereas I booktalk books that I didn't necessarily love, I never booktalk books that I hated. I make every effort to be honest with kids about how I felt about a particular book. If I hated it, I'll say so and tell them why (I also tell them that my opinion isn't necessarily the one that they'll have). I think this gives them permission to be honest with me about how they feel about different books, which in the end helps me hone in to their likes and dislikes.

Mary Ann said...

Paige sort of hit on something regarding book talking - which is that when I am book talking kids are pretty good at sussing out the ones I didn't like. So I've taken to making sure I recommend books that others like, that I don't, but I'm pretty careful to be honest. i.e. I didn't love this, but i know a lot of people/teens who have, or I haven't read this but I have hear d a lot of good things ( a tact I use only when hand selling, not book talking). On the other hand I also find myself toning down enthusiasm with certain readers/populations because my enthusiasm is almost sure to kill interest - you know the too cool to care kids. What I thought when Liz mentioned backing away from librarians who don't booktalk what they don't like is that for me authenticity is important when working with teen readers, I need them to trust me and if I'm not honest about how I feel about a book I lose that authenticity.
On a different note I am a fan of lists - even if I don't agree.

Lazygal said...

I've become pretty good at booktalking books I'm not really fond of (Wednesday Wars springs to mind); students want to hear about a variety of books and genres not just "my favorites". Kristoff's list is ok, and it says a lot about him, but as a Must Read for every reader? Not so much.

Angie Manfredi said...

Hah, you are being much more rational than I! That list RANKLED me and the follow up on his blog, where he 'kiddingly' says that if anyone lists a comic book he'll 'report them to the school librarian' ... whoah, that stoked the rage. Everything you've said here is absolutely true, of course, there's no best of because that that ALWAYS means is best TO ME. (this is why that Battle of the Books at SLJ was, quite literally, the dumbest thing I'd ever heard of.) And that's awesome because it's part of what and why we love and remember books.

BUT. It was more than just that. It was Kristof's super happy tear your children away from video games to read this books from 1924! where's the problem! attitude that just made me snort with angry disbelief. It's just so typical, I guess. People think that is what librarians do: help 90% of middle class children find Lad, A Dog and whisper in a very quiet voice about Little Lord Fauntleroy. It's just so completely dismissive to, like, 50 years of growth, genre-busting, and expansion of both the field of literature and our profession. I care more about the literature part, though. It's Dead White People day over at his list, and that's problematic for me. Your kids whine about how they hate reading? Maybe it's 'cause you won't let them read comics, want them to read dog books from 90 years ago that has SAT vocabulary words. Try The Underneath Kristof, it'll make Lad cry tears.

Kary said...

It was interesting to read this post and the comments after reading Marc Aronson's take on Kristof's column (check it out at SLJ). I especially like Marc's point that he's left off any non-fiction whatsoever. My girls (avid readers) and my patrons (avid and not-so-avid readers) can read the back of a cereal box if it grabs them! And, in this Library, if you read a comic book, that's fine with us!