I think about this pushy attitude when I hear a parent in a bookstore demanding something more challenging for her or his little genius. I know all of us think our own kids are geniuses, but I also know that there are some books that should not be pushed too soon. There are a couple of reasons for this. In the interest of pushing kids, we often neglect to share with them some of those essential childhood books. I still remember Pat the Bunny and other interactive books. And I still purchase Pat the Bunny for someone expecting a child. But I also had plenty of time to read and reread picture books (and another scholar of children's books, Bruno Bettelheim, would discuss why that was also important to me). I know my BH has a physical reaction to THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR and RAIN BABIES. I believe he can still recite them from memory. And I have a vivid memory of College Girl taking my big book of BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR and dragging it down the hall to "read" it to a colleague who was so impressed that she was already reading. I almost hated to admit she, too, had memorized the text from repeated rereading.
Pushing kids too soon also means that they might not return to the book after a few years and glean even more from its pages. Kylene Beers tells a wonderful story about her daughter having to read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for three different grades (long story that Kylene tells well) and exclaiming about how much better the book was the third time. She assumed it was because the book was different, but Kylene (and all of us) know it is because she was different. College Girl rereads Harry Potter, the series, each year, and tells me she finds so much more than she did even last year.
I remember reading some of Shakespeare's plays when I was babysitting. I loved the word play and the story but I got so much more from the reading a few years later and then even more when I studied the Bard in college. I could not match all of the double entendres and word play until I was a bit older with some more experience.
There is also somehow this misconception that pushing into more challenging books is the way to go, that allowing kids to read simple stories, or linger more in the land of picture books will cause them to be ranked salutatorian rather than valedictorian. I am not sure there is much research to back up this idea. I can tell you that, in my own experience, allowing my own former residents of the back bedroom to linger longer in picture book land and YA territory did not mean they could not handle the texts they encountered in college. It did mean, though, that they are still readers, still adults who carve out time to read, adults who pass along their love of reading to others.
Hazard says of children that books give them wings. I know this to be true. Readers have wings, wings that can transport them from their reality to another world. Sometimes that world is a harsher reality; sometimes the world of the book is more comforting than their own reality. Sometimes the two are mirrors. But it is the fact that books can give readers wings that lingers for me. I think of the cover of Virginia Hamilton's THE PEOPLE COULD FLY. It is that idea of flight that is freeing on so many levels. We need to make sue our readers can take flight.
There is so much more to Hazard's book. I will revisit this treasure in future posts.