Kathi Appelt's recently published Hunger Mountain essay will make you ponder a lot of things: Accelerated Reading (and I mean that with capital letters, the read and test machine), Librarians and Parents as Guardians of the Book Gates, censorship, parenting, lifelong readers, expectations, death, failure, love and loss.
It's a long essay, one I'm not capable of consuming in one swoop. But I plan to read it again, and that's why I'm sharing the link here.
The debate over requiring kids to read and report is long and complicated. Librarians I trust say it's helped immensely with comprehension. Others despise reading requirements, from standardized testing to book reports to reading discussions. I know kids who love to talk about what they read, while others- like the character Miranda in this year's Newbery Award winner- jealously guard favorite books, refusing to share.
But I believe Kathi Appelt's point that books become part of us, that we read at different life stages and take away things on many levels is so true. Of course, it doesn't hurt that she and I remember and love many of the same books, especially those read by our grandmothers.
She writes of her teenage son, and Ferdinand the Bull. How I adore Ferdinand! So does son Cooper -
"Cooper was fifteen, but Ferdinand was still with him. Remember this when you’re writing: We carry these stories with us all of our lives. There is no delineation. We don’t become fifteen and set aside the stories that we grew up with."
The Underneath, her novel about survival and love and the sheer terror of losing those you need, caused a few adult readers to doubt children would get it. I confess to having reviewed it with a caveat that the cover might draw younger readers who were less likely to appreciate it than older kids. I still think the primary audience is for ten and up, but I've always known that lines are blurred when it comes to book appeal.
We teachers and librarians, parents and writers need an occasional reminder, that Ferdinand and The Underneath, The Runaway Bunny, Hunger Games and way too many books to cite here, may impress us when we are young, but they don't leave us when the book goes back to the library or gets packed away in the attic. The Quiet Old Lady Whispering Hush stays with you long after that little mouse has scampered off the page for the last time.