Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"Do you have any good books in here?"

That's the question a student asked me the other day! It was an interesting question to contemplate because, really, what makes a book "good"? We have beloved childhood books we long to share with our kids, ones we remember fondly, one we believe are so good that they really must read them.

But sometimes those childhood, teen or early adult favorites don't hold up well so well when we re-read them later on, as Nadia Chaudhury's What Books Make You Cringe to Remember? so entertainingly shows. Celebrated author Neil Gaiman also describes the conundrum of Enid Blyton, one of the most widely read children's authors in the English language, who enlivened his boyhood but whom he finds unreadable years later.
Even when we're not looking back nostalgically through the mists of time, one person's favorite book is frequently someone else's stodgy bore. Every year, our kindergarten through 3rd grade students participate in a state-wide children's choice picture book award, and the process of selecting and voting for a favorite brings home to them quite vividly how different individual tastes can be, how "good book" isn't an easy concept to pin down.

As an adult in a position of authority, I am acutely aware that if I label a particular book as "good" or say, "You'll love this!" it might make a student uncomfortable if they don't care for it. So how did I answer this question? I said we had a lot of books that many people enjoyed, but that everyone had a different idea of which ones were "good." Then I asked him to describe what he liked and did my best to match him with something he'd enjoy - whether I really liked that book or not.

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