What we are using

12 January 2008

Literature Ponderings


I woke up this morning thinking about literature and it has been on my mind all day. What do we want our kids to know about literature? Why do we read to them? Is it really important that we read "good" books to them and if so, what makes a good book?

Mortimer Adler in How To Read A Book said, "You must tackle books that are beyond you, or, as we have said, books that are over your head. Only books of that sort will make you stretch your mind. And unless you stretch, you will not learn." He also said that the highest class of books are books that seem to grow with you. The more you read them, the more you get from them.

Trying to teach high school literature to my son has changed how I discuss books with my girls. I am much more careful about what we read, but that is only a small part. We generally read books multiple times and in different settings. We read more than one book by the same author and we try to read two or more different versions of the story of two or more similar stories. We discuss the story - what was the author trying to say? why do you think this happened? did the author make a good story? would you like to live in that world? what is different from our world? was this a good story and if it was, why? I am still amazed at the connections my kids make between books.

For example, while CC and I were picking up books in her room this week we had an interesting discussion about literature. She commented that Morgan Le Fay was very different in the Magic Tree House books than she was in Half Magic. I asked her what was different about them. Next we discussed why she thought that one author might use her as a good guy and one might use her as a bad guy (note to self: reinforce protagonist and antagonist lessons next week while they are fresh). We also compared each author's description of Camelot and King Arthur. I'm not sure I could have planned a better discussion if I had tried, and I never considered using the Magic Tree House books for anything other than fun reads for fluency.

I was planning to try to read some books that were challenging for me then I realized that many of the books that I am reading with BB are on all of those lists of "good" books. So I guess I will read the ones I have to for school first. However, I am excited to read Milton's Paradise Lost next with my ds. I have never actually finished reading it. It always seemed like it was beyond me - maybe because I don't like epic poems? However, I am dedicated to finishing it and being an active reader. I am ready for my mind to be stretched. It is supposed to be good for me. Right?

1 comment:

kdzugan said...

You may be interested in several other books Dr. Adler wrote. The first is “The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto” in which Dr. Adler lays out how we should be educating people to prepare to become citizens. The second book is “The Paideia Program: An Educational Syllabus” in which he goes into greater detail on the program, but more importantly includes a 54 page appendix of recommended readings by age and grade and then by author and type of material.

For more information on Mortimer Adler and his work, visit The Center for the Study of The Great Ideas

Ken Dzugan
Senior Fellow and Archivist
The Center for the Study of The Great Ideas