Yesterday, I read a post on Reflections of a Book Addict about balancing your reading diet. I started to comment on it about six different times before realizing that I should probably just write my own post about it, or else risk writing a novel of a comment.
Before I say anything else, I’ll have you know that I agree with the premise: “In Ms. Gati’s 6th grade reading class, we follow a strict reading diet. This is in an effort to facilitate healthy growth of our thinking and schema.” Yes. All good things. But it goes downhill, for me personally, in the next sentence: Favorite or “default” genres, authors, and topics are put into the category of “doughnuts” and “pizza,” while challenge genres, authors, and topics are our “broccoli.”
At first, that didn’t bother me. I thought, “Okay, if we’re going with the food thing here, that makes sense.” But then I started to think that it doesn’t, really. And here’s why.
If you’re going to classify books/genres as food, classifying your favorites as “junk food” seems demeaning and possibly even harmful to your literary edification. “Broccoli,” to me, describes something nutritious but kind of bleh, while “junk food” is something delicious but with little or no nutritional (or literary, as it were) value. I’m sure there are plenty of people whose literary tastes line up with this metaphor, with Dickens and Hawthorne and Poe in the “broccoli” category, and Nicholas Sparks and Stephenie Meyer filed under “junk food.” But, and not to toot my own horn or anything, what if you’re like me, and one of your favorite genres is classic literature? I’m not comfortable calling Jane Austen, the Brontes, and Oscar Wilde “junk food.” By that logic, trashy romance novels are my “broccoli,” and I should therefore read less Jane Austen and more Danielle Steel to “balance my diet.” Um…no?
I agree with putting it in terms that kids will understand, and “broccoli” and “pizza” is probably a good way to do that. But I still wonder if describing books outside of their comfort zones as “broccoli” will do more harm than good. As a sixth grader, I would be reluctant to read anything described to me as “broccoli.” And frankly, even as a sixth grader, I would be a little insulted to hear my favorite genres described as “junk food.”
Not that I don’t need to branch out from my favorite genres, because I think everyone should do that once in a while. I’m doing it right now, actually: I started The Eye of the World last week, even though I’m not much of a fantasy person. I am, however, the type of person who will begin to avoid a book I don’t like but also refuse to let myself pick up another book, out of guilt for abandoning the first. So in order to keep my interest in reading in general from waning, I’m reading other books that don’t require as much focus and attention (i.e. thrillers from NetGalley) concurrently with The Eye of the World. So far it seems to be working pretty well for me, and I’m keeping my “diet” balanced.
Basically, my bottom line is that I love the idea of keeping a balanced reading diet. I just don’t necessarily like the way it’s presented as “broccoli” and “junk food.” It looks like she’s getting good results, though, and for that I applaud her. It’s wonderful to get kids excited about what they’re reading, and it seems like she’s doing just that. So, Ms. Gati, props for getting your kids to read outside of their comfort zones! I just hope the “broccoli” and “junk food” language doesn’t put them off finding something they truly love.