Once upon a time a parent wrote to us, and she said that her son had trouble getting interested in chapter books, and that she was hoping to find something to really engage him. We seem to have recommended The Secrets of Droon, and other people recommended things he loved (particularly that famous conquerer of little boy's and girl's hearts, Captain Underpants), and the boy loved many, many of the books, and we all lived happily ever after, the end.
Except it wasn't the end.
What happened was, the mother went in for her parent conference, and this happened:
When we told [the teacher], at conferences, how much he was enjoying his
chapter books, she said that she's trying to encourage all of them to
read picture books too, to emphasize "core concepts," by which I think
she meant things like story arc, character development, etc. She said
that there are some really great picture books that the kids can enjoy,
and without those "core concepts," they will be in trouble in higher
grades, and she added, sort of offhand, that "Captain Underpants won't
be winning any awards."
This leads me to two questions. First, I guess, do you have any
suggestions for picture books for kids who'd rather be reading Captain
Underpants? But secondly, and maybe more importantly, do you agree?
Well now, here's the thing. I am not a reading expert in the sense that I know or understand what will make children "better" readers (which term I'm uncomfortable with anyway; ones who get better grades? Happier? More omnivorous? Life-long? Able to write a better book report?), so on one level I feel that no doubt teachers will know something about how to make the kid…better in whatever way they mean.
And I want to say that I strongly feel that picture books are amazing. Some of them are great literature, just as some chapter books are great literature, and some poems, too. The medium is not the issue. One parent wrote in when we talked about reading logs to say that her child had to log according to a system in which each book got assigned a certain number of points, for instance Where the Wild Things Are got 2 points, and The Boxcar Children got 10 points or something. And it made me positively ill that they seemed to be measuring by length or something, instead of how good a book is.
That said, I think we can agree (or at least I can, having seen the rest of this first parent's e-mail) that Captain Underpants is speaking to this boy. This is, for the moment, love. And if it's not great literature, and it's not, as the teacher noted, winning any awards, who are we to step into that delicate personal relationship between a person and his or her chosen reading matter? I just, at heart, don't think it's right.
As for wonderful picture books, it depends on what is meant by picture books. I love beyond reason The Velveteen Rabbit, but it might not thrill a Captain Underpants fan. Robert Munsch wrote a lot of amazing picture books, and so did many others. But for this young man, I am going to choose one of my very favorites of all:
You know why? It's about a boy having a moment all to himself. No one else gets in there. It really kind of kills me.
What do you guys think? What should this guy read? And why?