In the years I taught at Clemson University (2005-2011) it was almost guaranteed that almost every student read at least one book purely for pleasure and on their own initiative.
In fact, by 2007 I could be sure most of them had read at least seven books for pleasure because 2007 marks the publication year of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the final volume in JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series.
In many cases, the Potter craze had spread to other books and authors released at the time. “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games,” and John Green’s early books were probably the most common.
As a reader, I was not very impressed with the “Harry Potter” books. I argue that Susan Cooper’s “The Dark Is Rising” series is a superior adventure series that blends fantasy and folklore. But more importantly, from an instructor’s perspective, it was nice to know that students had the experience of grappling with book-length texts in terms of reading endurance and scope of analysis.
Unfortunately this may no longer be a safe assumption. According to National Assessment of Educational Progress report The percentage of students who “read for fun” every day has dropped from 27% in 2012 to 14% in 2023, according to findings released earlier this year.
One factor that has worked is the growing adoption of pre-made literature curricula that are almost entirely based on short excerpts designed to help low-performing students pass standardized reading assessments, such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s “Into Reading” and “Into Literature.” much larger texts.
This curriculum has its roots in the “science of reading” movement, which argues that students need more explicit phonology instruction in order to become competent readers. Fair enough, literacy is much more than just pronouncing words. Literacy is a broader practice that requires exposure to a range of different reading experiences as well as building a set of knowledge; one is reading and responding to book-length texts.
in New YorkToday, where the study of book-length texts was once the center of teaching, many public school students will go a whole year without reading a book from cover to cover. Advanced Placement exams, which are supposed to replace college-level study and credit, also have the privilege of interacting primarily with excerpts or abstracts from books rather than digesting the entire original article.
I’m trying not to look like the old man shouting in cloud mode here, but that’s not good.
Sure, the “Harry Potter” generation was a one-time deal, a huge phenomenon that thrived in the face of the overwhelming presence of digital culture, but there’s no shortage of engaging books written and published for teens. In fact, the variety and scope of what’s published is increasing from year to year, meaning there’s likely to be a book for every reader.
We know from long-standing research that what goes on at home has a significant impact on whether children become readers as adults, but the signals that schools send about the value and purpose of books are also very important.
Quitting all school books to prepare for high-risk exams is not a long-term recipe for success. Raising reader ratings only to have a generation completely unfamiliar with the unique challenges and pleasures of reading books would be a Pyrrhic victory at best.
There will probably not be another “Harry Potter” that will sweep the young people off their reading feet. We need to build the culture we want into our daily learning work.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”
Book recommendations from Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what to read, based on the last five books you’ve read.
1. “Maddalena and the Darkness” By Julia Fine
2. “I Went To The Wolves” By John Wray
3. “Mountain in the Sea” By Ray Nayler
4. “Real Life” By Brandon Taylor
5. “Lonely Women” By Victor LaValle
—Sarah C., Boston
I think Sarah will embrace the gothic eerieness of Sarah Waters’ “Little Stranger.”
1. “The Fraud Manifesto” By Colson Whitehead
2. “Lonely Women” By Victor LaValle
3. “The Greater Switzerland” By Jen Beagin
4. “Italian Teacher” By Tom Rahman
5. “Little Things Like These” By Claire Keegan
— Jane W., Indianapolis
I can’t find a direct link to why my biblioracle sensors are recommending “The Last Ballad” by Wiley Cash, but the signals are strong and I believe it’s a good choice for Jane.
1. “Water Agreement” By Abraham Verghese
2. “Sorrow Is a Furry Thing” By Max Porter
3. “White Noise” By Don DeLillo
4. “Tom Lake” By Ann Patchett
5. “Pineapple Street” By Jenny Jackson
— Laura P., Chicago
I’m just getting started on James McBride’s new novel, The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store, and it seems to fit what Laura is looking for in my mind and her historical-comic masterpiece, The Good Lord Bird.
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Send a list of the last five books you’ve read and your hometown to: firstname.lastname@example.org