Scholastic Makes Big Changes to Book Order Flyers: Should Our Kids Only Read Grade-Level Books?

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Do you know what my absolute favorite thing about elementary school used to be? Do you know what my absolute favorite thing about being a parent of kids old enough to attend elementary school is now? Scholastic Book Orders! I remember sitting on the floor in my parents' living room, poring over the colorful pages, and circling everything I "had" to have this month. My boys now do the same. But this year, Scholastic Book Orders will have a very different look.

According to the article in Publisher's Weekly, the multi-grade-level book club flyers will now be focused and "grade-specific." Why change a good thing?

“We‘ve heard the growing concerns of teachers and parents about the higher standards that kids need to meet with the Common Core State Standards and, with input from our teacher advisors, we’ve created a practical solution," said Judy Newman, EVP at Scholastic and president, Scholastic Reading Club. "The grade-leveled flyers allow families to choose appropriate books that will encourage daily independent reading practice which is critical for children to build fluency and confidence and ultimately to improve reading proficiency."

My initial response to the new grade specific format was one of annoyance, anger, and general reading angst. You see, I have two bookworms in house. One is entering the 2nd grade and the other will head off to Kindergarten -- gasp -- in less than two weeks. Bookworms from the womb it seems, they read well above grade level. The soon-to-be Kindergartener started devouring chapter books earlier this summer and hasn't stopped. Now that doesn't mean he doesn't love a good storybook, especially if it's an Elephant & Piggie because, oh, the love of Elephant & Piggie.

We encourage them to read both age-and-grade "appropriate" books, but we also don't limit their picks to what they "should" be reading at any given age. On our recent library trip, the boys each picked a wide range of books, from the easy to the not-so-easy. I helped steer them on a few books, as I always do, but otherwise I let them have the freedom to make hits and misses.

Scholastic Book Orders Will Have a New Look This Year
Credit: vblibrary.

The Scholastic Book Club -- oh wait, it's now the Scholastic Reading Club -- orders have always afforded us the ability to pick from a wide range of abilities as well. More over, we buy lots of books as gifts from Scholastic Book Orders. As our sons are the oldest in our family, we loved having younger reader books on any given order so that I could get some board books and bedtime stories for my adorable but still-so-small nephews.

Additionally, in discussing this unnecessary change with my co-workers, we wondered how the kids who aren't bookworms, who struggle to read at grade level, who don't enjoy reading will feel about being left out. No, not everyone reads above or at grade level. Some kids work really, really hard and still end up reading below the "assigned" level for their grade. Switching all of the books to grade level to encourage that they meet Common Core State Standards doesn't magically make them read at that level -- or enjoy it either.

One might argue that parents of children reading above or below grade level can simply use the online ordering option which opens Scholastic's whole catalog, leaving you with all of the books for all of the grades and all of the readers. Except... not. The problem with that line of thinking is multi-fold. First, teachers have to take the extra time to set it up with the book order, and we all know that our teachers are overworked as it stands. One of my son's teachers set it up last year and one did not. (Side note: Guess whose book order I ordered from every month?) The next problem is that despite the prevalence of the Internet, home computers and smartphones, those things are still luxuries in certain areas of our country. I live in a Northern Appalachian county. I can assure you that access to such things isn't a given here, and expecting families to take advantage of online ordering just to provide their kids with a book they might like isn't fair to vast numbers of families.

Once I stopped fuming, I reached out to Nadia Almahdi at Scholastic and asked this series of questions:

How do you think the change will affect children reading one-to-three grade levels above their own? How do you think the change will affect children struggling to read at their own grade levels? Is this change fair to them?

Nadia quickly replied with the following:

The format of the Club was changed to provide teachers and classrooms with a streamlined set of materials particularly relevant to the grade being taught. Each grade level catalog offers books that span a wide range of reading levels and interests including choices for kids reading above and below grade level. Every month teachers will also receive a supplemental catalog that covers an even wider range of reading levels and grades.

The reply only brings up more questions for me. Is the catalog that each school gets going to be sent home with each student prior to book order due date so that the kids can pick out appropriate and interesting books? Are the teachers -- whom we've discussed as already being overworked -- expected to pick out books that might interest their above- or below-grade-level reading students and send those suggestions home on a piece of paper, which is vastly less interesting than a flyer to a child (and, really, a parent)? And lastly, since we're reaching so hard toward Common Core State Standards, are we going to rid the flyers of all those toys, plastic junk and other stuff that distracts from the real meat and potatoes of reading?

As of right now, I can't decide whether or not I'm excited for my sons to bring home their first book orders this school year. I guess we'll find out soon enough. How do you feel about the changes Scholastic has made?

 

Family & Events Section Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog.

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