Saturday, June 14, 2008

Fact, facts, facts

Moments ago, my daughter finished her 39th Magic Tree House book (and will have to wait until September for number 40).  Besides meeting her at her zone of proximal development, with plot-driven stories and minimal psychological complexity, they've filled her with just what she needs to cope--in school and in Life.

Namely, facts.

Facts bout dinosaurs, dingoes, and octopuses; about pirates, knights, and cowboys; about the rain forest, the outback, the arctic, the ocean, the prairie; about the Greek olympics, Vesuvius, the civil and revolutionary wars; about Thomas Edison, Leonardo DaVinci, and William Shakespeare.

All that cultural currency that she's too often too spaced out to pick up from unstructured environments like school (and Life), but does absorb through focused reading.

All that cultural currency that schools no longer teach explicitly, but that surfaces nonetheless in a fleeting, haphazard kind of way--in class discussions, in social studies, and in reading assignments. (Not to mention Life).

The more cultural currency my daughter has in her pocket, the greater the number of familiar references that can attract her fleeting attention in unstructured learning environments.  

Stuffing her with facts--far from squelching her creativity and higher-level thinking--thus precipitates the following chain reaction:

The more attentive she becomes (drawn in by all those familiar references), the more she listens. 

The more she listens, the more she realizes the virtues of listening.

And vice versa...

And the more she listens to others, the more she ventures out of her own world--however creative and fantastical it is--into those that her imagination has not yet dreamt of.

Any suggestions on what to read next?


Brian said...

You might try the Magic School Bus series, in which a school teacher takes her class to all sorts of interesting places (such as Mars or the ocean floor or inside a human body) in this magical bus.

I think there's a comic book version, but the ones we used were chapter books. The chapter books are at about the same reading level as the Magic Tree House ones.

One unusual thing about them is that they have graphical "notes" from some of the characters interspersed through the story. The notes are directly relevant to the story, and contain good summaries of the facts, but they do get in the way of the storytelling.

Also, if you want a little history, you might look into the Time Warp Trio series.

My son (now 8) read all of each of these series and got a lot out of them. Might be worth a stop at the library to see what you think.

Good luck!

VickyS said...

Secrets of Droon. Then, when she's a bit older try the Rick Riordan's Lightning Thief series.

Cultural currency is so important! It's also a primary determinant for reading comprehension. Pity the child whose reading comprehension is informed primarily by "critical thinking" exercises since grade 1.

lefty said...

Thanks, Brian and Vicky, for the recs! I'll check them out. For now, she's eagerly started in on James and the Giant Peach.

lgm said...


Johanna Hurwitz - The Riverside Kids (Russell and Elisa) series

J. Peterson - The Littles

A. Lindgrid - Pippi Longstocking

B. Cleary - Ramona series & Mouse and Motorcycle

D. Sobol - Encylopedia Brown

E. Eager - Half Magic