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Speaking as one old fart to another

Somebody asked on the previous post (and I STILL need your questions) what I thought about Nicholas Kristof’s recommendations for summer reading. Not much–any list of the Thirteen Best Books is pretty random and thus useless and I have to wonder whether, in including the Hardy Boys, he means the ones he read as a lad (nostalgia time) or the ones currently published (out-and-out lame). I also wonder about his assertion that IQs dip during a summer not spent reading. Does IQ work that way?

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >I don't think IQ drops. In our county school system, we are told that READING LEVEL may dip. I figured he just got his facts wrong.

  2. >I was pleased to see that Kristof's daughter, when asked to name her favorites, chose A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the Twilight series, and Kira Kira. Of course, those are one girl's choices. But perhaps young people really are capable of cultivating a broad range of literary tastes that include classics, bestsellers, and "luster-free" Newbery winners. Go figure.

  3. Melinda says:

    >You bet young readers cultivate a broad range of literary tastes. That's one of the really fun things about writing for them — they're always exploring different things.

    Roger, I think Kristof was talking about the old Hardy Boys, just because a lot of the books on the list were from the 50's and 60's. Up next, the Buckinghams, with "Kind of a Drag."

  4. Lyle Blake says:

    >Yes, he starts out by stating, "I was aghast to learn that American children drop in I.Q. each summer vacation …" and then goes on to say, "poor kids fall two months behind in reading level each summer break …" thus appearing to equate the two. Last time I checked, IQ and reading level are two different things; equating the two is like trying to equate your body weight with your percentage of body fat or your resting heart rate. These measurements can be related but are measuring different things.

    On a brighter note, like others I am cheered by his embrace of a wide variety of genres. When I was in elementary school I was reading Freddy the Pig for fun, and a few years later I was reading Dickens and Dumas for fun (while reading Heinlein and Agatha Christie for fun at the same time).

    Lyle Blake Smythers

  5. Anonymous says:

    >It looks to me like a pure nostalgia list, with a couple of series he's heard about since he grew up thrown in.

    Little Lord Fauntleroy? Seriously?

  6. Deborah Heiligman says:

    >Speaking as a (cranky?) author, I'd like to ask why he didn't include the authors of the books on his list? I was also struck by how most of the books are old. But bottom line: how cool that his column generated over 2,000 comments!

  7. Martha Brockenbrough says:

    >IQ is surprisingly fluid. It's influenced by nutrition and by the number of years spent in school most of all.

    So he wasn't incorrect–just woefully out of date when it comes to literature.

    Many adults never read kids' books that come out after their own childhoods and are surprisingly clueless when it comes to books their own kids could be reading. Likewise, many adults are clueless about good adult material, which is why crappy blockbuster fiction thrives.

    It's just hard for people to find out about good books. There are radio stations for new music. Movies are often advertised on television. It's harder for books to break through the noise. You'd think a NYT columnist would be more savvy, though.

  8. Roger Sutton says:

    >Adults can be weird about kids and their reading–think of all the excellent writers of adult books whose brains turn to mush when they write for the young.

  9. Anonymous says:

    >Purely anecdotal and personal, but I know that I've felt mentally in and out of shape at different points in my life. I don't have much trouble believing that the stimulation that comes from good reading — or a lack of it — can play a part in that.

  10. Melinda says:

    >I do have to say I was really bugged by his closing quotes: "My own kids have the temerity to think they know better than I which books they’ve enjoyed," — well, I reckon they would know.

    "so I’ve deigned" aw, come on, man!

    "to post their recommendations there. But listening to one’s children is dangerous:" Why?

    "I advocate reading to them instead." Well, I can't argue with that one.

    I can't be too hard on him, since he was writing under deadline, and sometimes you throw a crappy sentence that way. But I do hope he re-examines his attitude toward kids in the future. It wouldn't hurt.

  11. Anonymous says:

    >I seem to be the rare defender of Kristof. I really think people in our profession need to lighten up. The man isn't completely stupid. He recommends good books. He does so with good humor– he even jokes about his kids' reading choices. It was a fluff piece, not an attack on the profession. When did you guys get so incredibly prickly?

  12. Lyle Blake says:

    >Melissa, it was obvious (at least to me) that comments like "My own kids have the temerity to think they know better than I which books they’ve enjoyed," and "so I’ve deigned to post their recommendations" and "listening to one’s children is dangerous" were written VERY much tongue in cheek. Please don't tell me that you thought he was being serious there?

    Lyle Blake Smythers

  13. Lyle Blake says:

    >Oops, I was trying to address Melinda and I goofed. I was just thinking, if he did mean those statements as they sound, what a fatuous ninnyhammer that would make him!

    Lyle Blake Smythers

  14. Melinda says:

    >You're cool, Lyle, I've been called Melody, Melissa, Wendy, and Samantha, so you're not out of line.

    Aw, crap, obviously my irony filter wasn't on! Sorry about that, guys. Disregard!

  15. Martha Brockenbrough says:

    >In defense of us being "incredibly prickly," anon…

    What if the 13 best scientific discoveries nearly all happened decades ago? Or if most the "best" actors and athletes were long dead? People in those fields would no doubt be struck with a big case of WTF.

    It's an unintended insult to the people working in the profession today to mostly ignore contemporary work, some of which is jaw-droppingly magnificent. If people are going to write about children's literature, it's probably a good idea to be regularly reading it, particular when you have a NYT-sized platform. Had he just couched it as his personal favorites, that would have been better.

  16. (Another) Anonymous says:

    >If it wasn't explicit, it was well implied that these were personal favorites. Kristof dated himself and showed himself no insider in the current kidlit scene, but he was just trying got people thinking and talking about summer books, with a few of his favorites thrown in for flavor.

  17. Elaine Marie Alphin says:

    >I don't see that there's anything wrong with sharing your favorites with your children (who could resist The Wind in the Willows at any age?) but it's a pity not to be more aware of wonderful contemporary books that modern children would love.

    Whether or not IQ is fluid enough to shrink during 2 months out of school, I bemoan the fact that so many contemporary children fail to exercise their imaginations over the summer, something I well remember doing with my friends, making up complicated imaginary role playing games that certainly exercised our minds, and was something that we were hard put to do with homework during the school year. Often favorite books were the starting point for these games, but we didn't just read them – we lived them, going far beyond the limits of the author's story.

    Speaking of authors, while I agree with Deborah that it's a pity he failed to include the names of the people who wrote his favorite books, I've got to say that most kids don't remember the names of the authors nearly as well as they remember the names of the characters they made friends while they read, so I think Kristof might be forgiven for not listing (and perhaps even forgetting) the names of the authors who wrote the books he loved when he was young. If the characters still make their home in his heart, then I'm sure each author's spirit is smiling.

  18. Anonymous says:

    >Martha Brockenbrough,

    I disagree. But that's my own hobby horse, and I can see your point. My feeling is that the sign of a real reader is their ability to read and enjoy the works of previous generations. When libraries and schools stock their summer reading lists with contemporary books they are pointing their readers toward books most of them will find accessible, which is a fine thing. But I think it narrows the selection for readers who could appreciate more. I think libraries focus too much attention already on the new books. What gets recommended? What gets faced out? What gets pitched in book talks?

    Philip Reeve said in the Telegraph piece that he thinks classics are neglected and he picked Rosemary Sutcliff to recommend. If I had kids who were reading Percy Jackson, I wouldn't necessarily hand them Sutcliff. But man, if I had a kid who was enjoying the Bartimeaus books, I certainly would.

    I like it when old farts like Kristof remind people that wallowing in sentimentality with Little Lord Fauntleroy is just as fun today as it was back when it was written. I think it's great that his daughter recommends A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

    And I think Kristof's audience is just the kind to appreciate the old fart books, and get their kids to give them a try.

    Anon 11:42

    ps. I will totally not bend your ear about the greatest science discoveries. I won't. Biting my tongue now.

  19. Anonymous says:

    >I'm not sure if this will work, but it is the url for the piece in the Telegraph where a number of British authors make their suggestions for summer reading.

    via Monica Edinger at Education Alice.

    Anon 11:42

  20. Anonymous says:

    >Please, ladies, do take it easy on Kristof! He wasn't trying to pass himself off as the A.Silvey or the R Sutton of the NYT – just offering some thoughts based on his own and his kids' reading.

  21. Anonymous says:



    Anon 11:42

  22. Anonymous says:

    >I think many of you are overreacting to Nick's piece which was basically meant as nostalgia – certainly he knows his favorites are not very current and he must also know that some of these books would not be popular to modern children in translation. However, given that he grew up in Yamhill, I was sorry he didn't mention Beverly Cleary! It is very refreshing to read one of his columns that doesn't make me want to cry!

  23. Lyle Blake says:

    >Another thought prompted by Elaine Marie Alphin's comment that "while I agree with Deborah that it's a pity he failed to include the names of the people who wrote his favorite books, I've got to say that most kids don't remember the names of the authors nearly as well as they remember the names of the characters …"

    In between stints working as a librarian, I took two jobs working in the children's sections of two national bookstore chains (that would be Barnes & Noble and Borders). Hey, it was what I could find at the time.

    I was shocked (SHOCKED) to find that in both stores the most popular series are shelved under the series title, not the author. So if you want Captain Underpants you look under "C" and not "P" for Dav Pilkey; if you want the Magic Treehouse books you look under "M" and not "O" for Mary Pope Osborne. I was told (1) This is the way corporate headquarters wants us to do it, so shut up, and (2)We want to make it easy for people to find what they are looking for.

    Two valuable concepts for us to ponder.

    Lyle Blake Smythers

  24. >I don't think judging a piece that technically reaches thousands of readers necessarily constitutes being prickly. It's okay to have an opinion of a list that's put out on a publication like the New York Times.

    Most kids I know who are avid readers would roll their eyes over Kristof's list, just because it's so obviously dated. Maybe if he acknowledged that he hasn't considered many books published after the 1950s, the list would have been easier to take.

  25. Roger Sutton says:

    >I didn't mind the old-fogeyness so much as his obliviousness thereof. But I also know from experience you can talk new books to parents until you are blue in the face and they will STILL insist that Junior will love Tom Swift "just the way I did."

  26. Anonymous says:

    >surely some of you must be aware that in the summer doldrums "serious" NYT columnists are permitted to take a break, indulge themselves with casual essays on topics of general (at least to them) interest. Kristof was not presenting the official NYT position on "correct" reading lists. Nor was he competing for editorial or reviewing jobs. (He probably isn't even writing a chbook, so you may never have a chance to reprove him in your offical roles.} One imagines that he may be amused at your disproportionate and pompous rage.

  27. Anonymous says:

    >Q&A with Kristoff:

    You can read about his Darfur coverage and then sock it to him for his dated taste in books!

  28. marie creste says:

    >Gentle Ben? Little Lord Fauntleroy? As a K-4 librarian, I would lose all credibility with my students if I tried to use this list! It IS summertime, and I assumed this was a throwaway column, so Kristof could get back to whatever he was doing. There was no real thought or passion behind the words.

  29. Anonymous says:

    >marie creste,

    you don't see any difference between what a librarian, who sees kids for a very brief part of the day, might recommend and what a parent might read aloud?

  30. Anonymous says:

    >One imagines that he may be amused at your disproportionate and pompous rage.

    One might also imagine that he ego-googles.

  31. Beth Kephart says:

    >I'm not entirely certain about that IQ argument. Nevertheless, I am using it (unscientifically) to persuade my college freshman son to read Paul Horgan's The Richard Trilogy this summer. After that, I'm sneaking Out Stealing Horses into his agenda.

    I'll use any ammunition I've got to persuade him toward magic.

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