Today's topic is about, as the title suggests, books that should not be read in the classroom. Now, I do have a side note on this one. I'm not just picking out horrible books, because there's many of those, too many to keep count, millions actually. This post is about books that were once great, or are still put on "must read" lists even though they're irrelevant, out of touch with today's child, or just hokie altogether at this point. So let's get to it. This could also be titled "The Great Classic Book Roast."
- Little House on the Prairie: This applies to that entire series. I realize that these books were once considered the single greatest thing ever, and many teachers still hold on to them and use them in the classroom. In fact, in the 4th grade level of the current edition of the Scott Foresman basal reader that my district uses, excerpts of Little House in the Prairie can be found. WHY IT'S TRASH: I read this book in 4th grade, and hated every second of it. That was in 1990. Add 18 years to this, and that's about how kids today for the most part feel about this book. It's from a different time, and if you're reading it for historical perspective, there are much more meaningful ways to go about that.
- Sarah, Plain and Tall: OK, this isn't really fair. Sarah, Plain and Tall and Little House on the Prairie are very similar books. This book is another outdated story that has no relevance to today's kids. WHY IT'S TRASH: See what I wrote for Little House on the Prairie, right down to the basal thing.
- To Kill A Mockingbird: Wow, I'm going to take some heat for this one, but I had to do it. The book does impart some important racial situations and big issues of Harper Lee's time. I had two copies of this book on my classroom bookshelf, and in three years it was checked out twice, neither student finished the book. I found, from talking to them, that the story actually didn't seem to make sense. WHY IT'S TRASH: Popular literary theories about reading methodology tell us that children should find cultural connections with stories for them to be meaningful. This is even more important to marginalized children (socio-economic, language, race, ethnicity, and whatever else you could add to this list). This story is a classic, and is a book that I have a lot of respect for, but it's no longer a good mainstay in the classroom, there are other books that can be read that will have more meaning in our time.
- Where the Red Fern Grows: This is another classic that put me to sleep when I was in school. It sits, to this day, untouched on my classroom shelf and in the library, where it hasn't been checked out in over 7 years (I checked). WHY IT'S TRASH: It's irrelevant, doesn't hold interest anymore, and is actually a little dated in many ways.
- Tikki Tikki Tembo: I'm going primary on this one. I actually used to read this book to pre-schoolers when that was where I taught. In those early literate stages, children enjoy rhyming books. Dr. Seuss is more appropriate than this book, which now borders on culturally inappropriate and dated. What is this 1945? WHY IT'S TRASH: All Chinese people have ridiculously long names. Yao Ming? 7 letters, end of story.
I'm going to stop this there before I start listing all of your favorite books from the past. I want to end with my theory as to why these books continue to end up on lists of teachers favorite books each year (the NEA puts out a list every year where teachers vote, and other organizations do this as well).
These books continue to stay on these lists because many teachers don't actually know of too many other books. They're teaching what they were taught, which is, if you read me and pay attention, highly inappropriate, because times are different, kids are different, and instruction should be different in order to meet those new needs in a new world. Ask teachers who do read the books that their classes read, those who have knowledge in the field, and those lists will change greatly.
**I offer a more in depth discussion of Little House on the Prairie, in response to comments from this post. Please see that post (December 3rd): Another Look at the Downfall of Once Classic Book Little House on the Prairie**