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Editorial: Common Core Ready?

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 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.

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. …not to mention that teachers are being held accountable via tests, tests and more tests. ( Can I say for the millionth time how happy I now am that I was forced into private school teaching because there were absolutely no jobs in public school in 1976.)

  2. Laura W says:

    Great points, Rodger. At my office (an educational publisher here in the Boston area), we often refer to the Common Core State Standards as the “common sense standards.” Much of what the standards specify is what good teachers have been doing all along. Read several different texts and compare points of view, for example. And, it’s a good sign that the standards can be applied to nearly any quality trade book – because the standards are supposed to prepare you for reading in any situation that arises, whether you go directly into a career or make a pit stop at college. It’s my belief that the standards themselves are quite solid – but it’s the implementation and some of the misconceptions that need attention for them to be effective and for teachers to be comfortable adopting them and implementing them in their classrooms.

  3. Elizabeth Bush says:

    How unfortunate that the purpose of the “exemplar” texts is relegated to the CCSS appendices. Appendix B states rather clearly (if anyone can find it):
    The following text samples primarily serve to exemplify the level of complexity and quality that the Standards require
    all students in a given grade band to engage with. Additionally, they are suggestive of the breadth of texts that stu-
    dents should encounter in the text types required by the Standards. The choices should serve as useful guideposts in
    helping educators select texts of similar complexity, quality, and range for their own classrooms. They expressly do
    not represent a partial or complete reading list.

    Which leaves us with what we knew all along–that librarians are well positioned to recommend materials tailored to an individual student’s or classroom’s needs and interests. The CCSS “triangle” (quantitative, qualitative, and reader + task aspects of text complexity) models what librarians already consider when making recommendations. How hard are the words? How complex is the structure? How much does the student already know? What does the student need to do with the text?

    Perhaps we book-ish librarians are still relevant after all.

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