A Fine, Fine Book About School?

I don’t know why we own this.  I really like Sharon Creech, but I can’t imagine that I bought this, even at the thrift store.  However, when BalletBoy cleaned out some mysterious space in his room (it also contained two bristle blocks from a set we gave away well over a year ago), he found it and presented it to me.

It’s not a bad book at all.  The illustrations evoke a sort of old fashioned newspaper comic strip style that I like.  It tells the story of a girl who goes to a school that’s so wonderful, they decide to hold school all the time, even on holidays, weekends and summers.  Of course, it turns out to be a mistake.   There are some potentially good messages about school here.  After all, the central message of the book is that some things can’t be taught in school and it’s important for kids to have free time to discover things outside of school.

However, I really struggle with books like this – good books where school is the primary focus.  The other day, a friend recommended an Andrew Clements book as a read aloud and I thought to myself, well, yes, he’s a wonderful writer, but his books are so very schooly.  Most of the really good books about school show the bad side of school, but then in the end, the message is that school has a really good side too.  The middle grades novel Ida B. really typifies this for me.  In the story, Ida goes to school as a young child and has a terrible experience, so her mother decides to homeschool her.  When her mother gets sick, she has to return to public school.  After resisting it, she discovers that school is actually wonderful.

I don’t disagree that school can be wonderful or that stories about school can be wonderful.  However, I’ve made this decision for our family that, at least for the near future, school is not for us so it feels very strange to me to read my kids a book that essentially tries to teach that school is always a positive force that you have to submit to in the end (once you’ve helped fix or work around the bad parts, anyway).  It also feels strange to me to read my kids what’s clearly supposed to be an everyday kid kind of story when it doesn’t reflect their experiences.  It’s my own hangup, but it’s there for me.

In the end, books about school aren’t banned from the house by any means.  They may not be the ones I get most excited about, but we do read them if they’re well-written stories that stand on their own.  But I think it will continue to be a struggle for me until Mushroom and BalletBoy are reading on their own with more confidence.  Once that happens, let them at whatever they can tackle and we’ll discuss it.  Then I can choose read alouds that don’t make me uncomfortable with any part of their message.

6 thoughts on “A Fine, Fine Book About School?

  1. Hi, I’m visiting from Secular Homeschoolers. I have to agree with you on the ‘school’ books. Do you know the Shirley Hughes books ? I love them all – but when a friend many years ago gave us “Lucy and Tom at School’, lovely though it was, I just didn’t read it to the children. Life is so full of cultural representations of school. I don’t feel they missed out in any way by us avoiding those kind of books. Now of course they are older and read what they like! but that’s a whole other story. Enjoying your blog 🙂

  2. The “school is great” books always make me feel awkward too. I’m so unsure of myself sometimes anyway, and I’m always questioning myself. So when a book is going “school is fabulous,” I wonder if I’m doing the right thing even more. Of course I’m also worried that my daughter will start to think that public school really does sound like a great idea and want to go.

    1. Yes, that really is the heart of it, isn’t it? Except I also think school is just… not always right and the books seem to imply it is. But I also struggle with how much I’ve totally brainwashed my kids to think school isn’t the best thing. I believe it, but I also want them to have their own opinions… Oh, it’s just tough.

  3. We have the same issue with Kevin Henkes books. I LOVE his books, but a full half of my favorites are about dealing with ‘school’. That theme isn’t terribly prevalent in our books of choice, so it’s not an issue that I worry about overmuch. I look at it much the same way as we view the Harry Potter books in that regard. I’d never consent to sending my kids ‘away’ to school, but we love the HP books and view it as a different experience – not necessarily one that we need to have, but fun to read about anyway 🙂
    ~h

    1. One of the things that distinguishes the Kevin Henkes books for me is that they often also show the family and the characters are so well-developed for such short picture books. I think my hesitation with the Andrew Clements comes from the fact that school is the main setting for his stories. If you have, say, a Judy Moody, there’s a balance between her friends, her family and things going on at her school. School doesn’t drive the whole plot and the parents are just appendages that are in the way for the author. Those are the books I have the most trouble with.

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