18 October 2010

My new pet peeve: books with instructions

So. I sit down at lunch with a couple of picture books I have been sent to review.  I open book number one, and the first thing I see is a Parent's Introduction. 'Introduction' is a euphamistic way of saying 'instructions.' Yes, this book came with instructions on several different ways to utilize it. Because simply opening it up and reading it is clearly too difficult a concept to grasp. With scattered bold type to indicate that a child might like to try reading that word themselves, to a list of "fun" review questions in the back, we now have the picture book as text book.


I will go so far as to accept that reading out loud does not come naturally to everyone. Many was the time that my husband tried to get out of bedtime story duty by pleading, "But Mummy reads better." He was right, of course. But when push came to shove, he was fully capable of opening the book and reading it, much to the delight of our daughter. It wasn't because he inflected his voice a certain way when he read specially highlighted words, or prompted her to read with him, or broke up the story with relevant facts about the book's topic. She was delighted because he was reading to her.

This lunchtime brow-raiser, which comes fresh off the heels of the by now infamous New York Times article about the death of the picture book, confirms something I have long suspected: that all the fun is being sapped out of childhood. Kids are no longer allowed to simply experience something for experience's sake. There has to be a larger agenda on the horizon--probably Harvard or some other grandiose destiny. Learning to read can't be an organic process that develops from sharing books with a loved one; it has to follow a road map, and comes complete with instructions so that the grown-up doesn't do it "wrong." The real tragedy, is that there are adults who do feel like they need those instructions--that reading aloud is such a mystery that it's possible to screw it up. Let it go, folks. So long as you--to steal a much overused phrase--just do it, reading works.


Terry said...

My favorite memory of my husband reading aloud was hearing his Captain Underpants voice. Tra-la la!! (and in my case, he read it much better than me, so I got out of that bedtime routine. smile.) If they ever have instructions about how to read Captain Underpants, I will bang my head until comatose.
That said, I do have a teachers page with ideas for how to use my picture book in the classroom. However, am happy that it's on my web site and not in the book!

Kara Schaff Dean said...

I can live with a teachers page. But I bet it doesn't tell the teachers HOW to teach.

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