How could I have been so wrong, for so long? I always thought of The Magic Tree House series as perfect "bridging" books---those rare books that are at that just right reading level for kids just beginning to really strengthen their vocabulary and fluency muscles. I read a few, okay, okay, only two; but I found both the gorilla and dinosaur adventures fairly engaging. It's never been easy coaxing students into the series, but I thought it was just cuz their reading muscles were still a bit weak. But now, I've had a 180 degree change of heart.
There's a lively discussion over at Read Roger all about books that explicitly TEACH. Are the Magic Tree House books didactic? Well, yes, they pretty much epitomize didacticity. But I never realized how painfully so, until reading one this evening with my nine-year-old, Easter. Last week I had the reading guru of our building do a thorough assessment of E's skills. Her single, very strong recommendation: we gotta find a way to make reading more relaxing and enjoyable. The kid needs confidence more than anything else. Don't forget, Easter was being whipped daily at school while also experiencing the grief of her mother's death during her Ugandan equivalent of first grade. She's come a long way, in two years, here, and is even approaching that ridiculous but enviable benchmark "on grade level", but she still isn't enjoying it much. Reading causes Easter feelings of extreme anxiety. Arrrgghhh.
But I'm a determined mother and a fairly skilled teacher, and so I reread some words of inspiration from Mem Fox, grabbed a stack of books, and set out, this evening to have some relaxing reading fun, dammit. Well, we were having plenty of fun alright, up until we started reading Season of the Sandstorms. Try as I might, it was impossible to imbue a dry desert wind storm and Jack's citing of research books with anything approaching Mem-Fox-ish enthusiasm. For two whole, painful chapters I kept hearing Roger's questions rattle around my subconscious: Who's in charge here? When do we, the "bridging", but still quite intelligent young readers get to laugh, imagine, question, or create a small part of this story? Contrast this with the tender good fun we had reading Cynthia Rylant's Henry and Mudge and the Great Grandpas. (Betcha "skivvies" is one of the jolliest words in our lovely language.) Or with the knee-slapping stand-up routine we perform together every time we read a Pigeon book.
Poof. A belief of mine, in the necessity of kids passing through a Magic Tree House stage, has completely vanished. Thanks Roger, Mem, and Easter. And my future students thank you as well.