I've been thinking about last week's discussion about "literature" vs. "fluff." The debate over what books children and teens *should* read is one that's been important to me for a long time. I always cringe when I hear parents tell their kids not to read the books they like because they're afraid the books aren't good enough, because it seems to me to discourage reading in general, as well as undermining the child or teen's interests.
Not being a parent myself, I can only say what I've observed as an outsider. It seems to me that people have a variety of interests, all of which could be constructive uses of time, that are not necessarily reading. I think of my own family: I was always the huge reader, one of my brothers is a huge music fan, and the other brother loves movies. We all read, though I read the most, and each of my brothers brings a depth to their interests in music and movies that I don't share with them. Not all children and teens will develop into huge readers. Some of them will never read classics. Some of them will not be interested in books in the same way as an English major. I think that's OK.
I don't think the point of having lighter reads is so that, eventually, a teen will move on to more in-depth literature. I don't have a problem with suggesting a classic I think someone will like based on their other reading choices, or offering it as one of many choices. But at the same time, I think that light reads should be enjoyed for themselves, not as bridges to the award winners. Personally, I do not think that award winners are always the best books. They often seem to me to be written, whether through subject matter or in-jokes, for adults. This doesn't mean that kids will never like them or read them, just that they won't understand the depth that seems to mean so much to those who hand out the awards. One example that comes to my mind is The Tale of Despereaux, a recent Newbery Award winner. One of the chapter names is a play on "The sandman cometh," and a rat is named Chiarascuro (in art, the interplay of light and dark). And yet, the cover of the audiobook says "For ages 7 and up"? It was a cute enough story, but...I don't know. I think adults have a tough time reading like kids.
DiCamillo, Kate. The Tale of Despereax. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2003.