English Language Arts Department Book Selection Guidelines
- Students are encouraged to select and read books in their reading levels as suggested by teacher assessments.
- Students wishing to read and earn points for books above or below teacher recommendation need to have a conference with teacher and written parent approval.
- Teachers reserve the professional discretion to not award points for books that are too basic, or in the rare, extreme occasion that a child selects a book with highly explicit content.
Dear Parents,I recently read Paper Towns by John Green, and I really enjoyed it! It was humorous and witty, adventurous, and worked in scholarly discussions about Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." The literature nerd in me jumped with excitement at the college-level intertextual analysis Green laced throughout his novel. It is a book I would readily suggest to my adult friends and especially my English major friends from college, but the fact that it is widely read by middle school students concerns me.By the time I got to page 20 of Paper Towns, I found myself worried about the material that was being discussed so lightly with such young readers, who I know from my experience in the classroom are generally not yet emotionally or intellectually armed to understand this content. The cover is seemingly innocent with a magnified thumb-tack stuck into a map, but by the end of the book, Quentin, the main character who is a senior in high school, has casually discussed suicide, infidelity among teenagers, and STDs. Each page is wrought with sexual innuendo. This is a book I would tell a 7th grader to save for later.As a teacher, I know that learning mature content when one is not intellectually, emotionally, or academically prepared for it can be detrimental to a young adult's development. It's akin to trying to learn calculus without learning algebra: it either gets learned incorrectly, isn't taken seriously, or the child forms negative associations around the topic due to feeling dumb and unprepared for the material. It could spill into a child's character development as their immature understandings become outward behavior (inappropriate references at school, developing the idea that this is how to be an adult and adopting those behaviors).My goal as a language arts teacher is to properly guide students' intellectual, emotional, and character development through literature. We do tackle some difficult material in the classroom as they come up in the books we read, and we address it in a safe space: an academic setting where they are held to a high standard of behavior and have adults both at home and at school who can guide their understanding. But when it comes to their independent reading, parent involvement is very important where they don't have the scaffold of an academic setting to discuss newly learned ideas.I fully respect and honor your choice as a parent to determine what you think your student is ready to read. I am addressing this topic because I get the sense from students that the adult community is not fully informed of the content students are accessing (“No, my mom hasn’t read this,” or “Dad said I can download any book.”), and to let you know about some resources at your fingertips. Our community is full of hard-working, very busy parents, so of course finding time to read or pre-read all of the books your students pick up is unrealistic. However, if you would like to know more about a book your child wishes to read, below are some great resources:
- Mrs. Ammirati, our school librarian - firstname.lastname@example.org - her passion is vetting books for our school library and finding great books that have depth and meaning for our middle schoolers and which execute this without needing to include content they are not yet mature enough to handle. She is also very familiar with our students as individuals and can suggest books based on her observations of their reading and maturity levels. Feel free to send her an email any time if you have questions about a book. Chances are that she has read it and has made an educated decision on whether it belongs in our school library.
- Common Sense Media - CommonSenseMedia.org is a website where you can type in a book title, movie title, video game, and other media forms and get both parent and child reviews, propriety ratings, and content (violence, sexual content, consumerism, etc.). This is a great resource, but I have found myself slightly disagreeing with some of the website's (not user) ratings of books. CSM tends to grade a little liberally, perhaps to advance sales to a wider audience.
- Scholastic - Scholastic.org is a great first or second opinion on book and age propriety.
- Plugged In - PluggedIn.com another resource at our fingertips!
- Yourself or fellow parents - I love that this community is so interconnected and that we have a great information network! I encourage you all to take advantage of it. If you find yourself still unsure about a book for your child, consult with others in the community. If you do make the decision to give your child access to a book that may be too advanced for him or her, read the book before or along with your child or connect him or her to an adult who has. This way he or she has a trusted adult to connect with and scaffold their experience with content that is more advanced.
I always tell my colleagues at other schools how lucky I am that I don't have to push my students to read; they are hungry readers and love the written word which makes teaching English in this community a joy! My aim in addressing this topic is not censorship of material. My goal in opening this discussion is creating a parent community that is in touch with the content their children are taking in and helping to make decisions about what they are ready for. It's about the education of the whole child.Sincerely,Holly K. HulewatEnglish Language Arts 7 & 8C.T. English Middle School