“When my daughter first started reading The Hunger Games, I did not expect her to end up, some time later, dressed as the central character Katniss Everdeen and leading her very own rebellion against a repressive regime,” explains primary teacher Sally Ashworth. “Nor that the regime in question would be her school.”
The problem was young adult (YA) fiction, as Ashworth explains in the 30 January issue of TES.
“My daughter and her friends had worked their way through the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and the complete works of Jacqueline Wilson and were ready for something new and exciting,” Ashworth writes. “They found what they were looking for in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, as well as Veronica Roth’s Divergent and anything by John Green. I was delighted that they had shown the initiative to take their reading to the next level.”
The school disagreed. When the group asked to read their own books in class, rather than the selection on offer at the school library, they were told they couldn’t. The school felt YA books were unsuitable for their age group.
“I understand that children develop at different rates so the safest path for a school is always going to be to follow publishers’ age guidelines,” Ashworth says. “But when it comes to books for private reading time, some flexibility (in conjunction with parents) is surely sensible?”
She adds that not letting able readers push on with their reading is also sending a mixed message.
“My daughter and others were entered for the level 6 Sat in reading, which requires children to demonstrate the comprehension skills of a 14-year-old. Yet when these students wished to read material at this level, they were told they weren’t allowed. On the one hand, they were being asked to sit a test that requires the inference and deduction skills of a child three years older; on the other, they were told they couldn’t study texts that might have helped them to pass.”
On this occasion the protest proved fruitless, but Ashworth hopes that writing about the experience will help other schools to see sense.
“Of course, YA fiction isn’t the be-all and end-all – there’s a wealth of wonderful children’s literature out there and not every teen novel is suitable for a class of 10- and 11-year-olds. But I think a few carefully chosen examples could ignite Year 6 literacy lessons for some students and certainly make quiet reading time far more enjoyable,” she writes. “After all, these books keep kids turning the pages, which is what it’s all about.”