As with previous educational missions (whole language, multiculturalism) and mandates (No Child Left Behind), the Common Core State Standards are causing a host of interested parties to each consider what its particular piece of the puzzle — and the pie — will be. Parents want to know what the CCSS will do for their children; teachers want to know what they will need to teach and how they will be held accountable; textbook and trade publishers alike want to know what CCSS might mean for their business. I want to know what I always want to know: does this latest educational movement mean more books in more classrooms?
No doubt there will be more reading, as the CCSS emphasize the close reading of “text” across the curriculum, but will it be of books? Which books? Although the Standards include an appendix of “exemplary” — as in good examples — books, I’m hearing that many school districts are taking it as their de facto reading list, which is good news for Gail Gibbons’s Fire! Fire! if not so helpful to her Elephants of Africa. And while the fact that the CCSS insistence that students read more informational text has made authors of nonfiction hopeful, both Standards and authors are swimming against a publishing tide that has steadily brought less nonfiction to the shore each year for at least the last decade. (Thanks to Horn Book intern Siân Gaetano for bringing this particular statistic to my attention, data courtesy of The Horn Book Guide.)
In order that trade books be best poised for a place in CCSS classrooms, publishers are providing teachers’ guides to “align” their books with the Standards, or simply slapping “Common Core Ready!” stickers onto their backlist titles. Who can blame them? But as I read and reread the Standards (available at www.corestandards.org) and look at the books that come into our office for review, I am convinced that any book could rightfully wear that sticker. As Ranganathan said to no one ever, “To every book its CCSS rubric.”
As “exemplary texts,” let’s look at the ALA award winners celebrated in this special Awards issue. The One and Only Ivan? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.6: “Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.” This Is Not My Hat? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.2.5: “Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.” I, Too, Am America? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.7: “Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting).” Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.3: “Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).” And any novel by Katherine Paterson can be used to teach students to “describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution” (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.3). Say, is there any money in this? Because it’s easy.
The hard part comes in the classroom, where teachers have the task of putting these Standards, at once weirdly specific and uselessly generalized, into effective practice. The rest of us have our same old boring jobs. Authors and publishers, bring us the best books you can. Librarians, support those books and your teachers by bringing them together. Parents and kids, keep reading.