Thursday, March 29, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: Q is for Questions

Good books bring about questions, and kid readers are especially good at asking questions about the books they read. What will happen next? Why don't bullies just act nice? How did she not know that? Who does that character think he is anyway?

Kids often (okay, maybe all the time) read books to escape--to be someone they aren't, to live in a time they don't, to solve a problem they can't. But I also think that when a reader is escaping, they learn things too--through their questions. Ones they ask aloud or ones that churn internally while they're reading.

And I understand that while kids are reading, they don't want a HUGE LIFE MESSAGE to bombard them. I get that, even though the English teacher in me wants to discuss symbols, themes, and other fascinating literary devices. Most kids read for the joy of reading, the entertainment, the plain fun of it.

But I think books can be read for fun AND bring about tough questions of life at the same time--because books grab emotions. Books help us look at life through someone else's eyes; they bring us face to face with ourselves; they challenge us to change based upon what we've read.

Yes, kids read for escape or entertainment, but in doing so, I think their questions get answered too or even bring about new questions, whether kids think so or not. What do you think?

14 comments:

  1. So agree that kids (and I do too) read to escape, not to read for a big lesson. And the questions they're asking are about what's happening next in the story if it's a good one. Great post.

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  2. Barbara, your post has inspired me to be a better writer. It was moving. Thanks. :)

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  3. Oh, I'd say good questions, or "Something to chew on" as Maurice Sendak put it, are always hiding somewhere in a well-written kids' book.
    What a great post!

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  4. I really like this post. Good blog.

    www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

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  5. I love how writing can bring up questions too.

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  6. Another in agreement - the questions can even be about other people's lives and how they differ from the readers.

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  7. i was a weirdly advanced reader, and i remember how much i really loved learning through reading. especially about other cultures. i think reading creates a sense of empathy through the questions it encourages kids to consider...

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  8. When books make kids think and wonder more, it's always a good thing!

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  9. Fiction fosters empathy. It also bypasses the defenses (mind) to reach the heart.

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  10. Giving readers "Something to chew on"--exactly what I was going for here.

    Marcia, I must say, your comment brings tears to my eyes because it speaks to the power of a story.

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  11. I agree completely! While escapism is a great trait in writing, I must admit that it's the ones that manage to do that and make me learn something that stay with me longer. Bring on the questions! :)

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  12. I think that most kids just want to read for the sake of reading; it's a great escape. I remember hating to dissect a perfectly good story to find the deeper meaning--one the author may or may not have intended...! My favorite saying was, "Maybe Moby Dick IS just about a whale."

    That's not saying kids don't want the message or the symbolism. Kids like the depth, they just don't want to be bashed over the head with it, feeling like a parent wrote a parable for them to learn from. Kids can smell an agenda a mile away and if they don't dig it, it's a major turn off. Instead, I'd think a writer should keep a it light, making the message an undercurrent to the story. It'll still be picked up by most readers, even if it's subconsciously.

    And before you start pouting that the meaning is getting lost under the dialog or storyline...it's really not. The best part about books is that the good ones stick with you. And sometimes that deeper message and meaning will hit you later, making you go back and reread the book again, from your new perspective. I totally admit to recently re-reading "A Wrinkle in Time" and "Jacob Have Loved". I realized I'd carried those messages inside since I was a thirteen. It was deliciously nostalgic to go back and see where these ideas came from.

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  13. Excellent post! I always appreciate it when I find a book that is entertaining but really makes me think about life without telling me too. It is such a tough balancing act I am sure for the writer! Two titles that did that for me recently are The Amazing Maurice and The House of the Scorpion.

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