Parents - 6th To 8th Grade

Generalization is always risky. But I'll risk it. Let's address the middle school mess. The traditional school pattern was:  grades 1-8, 9-12 or grades 1-6,7-9,10-12. Then it was changed to grades 1-5,6-8,9-12. Good idea if students have been  given a solid foundation in the 3 R's.  Then , at age 11, which is grade 5 or 6,  students are ready  to read what we read. However, due to a serious misuse of the word adult in the phrase young adult in labeling reading material, there has been  a serious dumbing down of the students' reading material at the middle school level. Easily, 90% of the so-called young adult category belongs to the 3rd,4th, and 5th grade level. These books do nothing to enhance a student's knowledge or vocabulary beyond this level.  Therefore, it is up to us, as parents and teachers, to find readable reads. By that I mean great stories, well told, that would interest a person 11 years old and older.

To put things in perspective, the educators' educators like to give us the impression that much progress has been made in education. Hogwash!  Between 1879, the publication date of the McGuffey Readers and the end of WWII, all Americans were taught English using the McGuffey Readers or their clones. Even today, the first 3 grades of the McGuffey Readers will look very familiar.  However, the grade 4,5,and 6 readers are far superior to almost anything being used today in those grades. There has indeed been a sharp decline in the quality of reading material offered to today's students, grade 5 and above.

Why shouldn't  the students of today be taught at least as well as the students of the pre-WWII era. The central idea, once students achieved the 3rd grade level, was exposure to the best literature available - not in its entirety, but as excerpts.

This practice expanded vocabulary. We learned about the narrative poem, the sonnet, the well-written play, the well-written novel.

The great modern preoccupation with relevance has deprived the student of exposure to a wider cultural world. It has led the English department down the path of sappy, poorly written books. This practice ill prepares students for high school work.

May we recommend that all grammar school teachers (grades 1-6) study the McGuffey Readers:
The Eclectic Spelling Book
The First Eclectic Reader
The Second Eclectic Reader
The Third Eclectic Reader
The Fourth Eclectic Reader
The Fifth Eclectic Reader
The Sixth Eclectic Reader

Today, these books can and should serve as a benchmark for educators. Let's respect our children and expose them to the best. They are only $9.95 each.

Another benchmark book is The American Spelling Book, originally published in 1788. This book was the 2nd best-selling book in America. Second only to the Bible. The 1824 edition has now been replicated and is available. (14.95)

I never criticize unless I have a remedy.  What do we recommend? For ages 10 -11 and up, we suggest the following:

Hiding to Survive by Maxine Rosenberg 
Twelve stories about young Jewish people and their families who survived WWII. None went to concentration camps. All used their wit and wisdom to survive. Each chapter begins with a photo of the child and ends with a photo of the person as an adult and what they are doing today. ($8.95)

Snow in August by Pete Hammill
A story of an 11 year old catholic boy and a very old Rabbi in the Brooklyn of the late 1940's. Hammill evokes the culture of the time perfectly and introduces a bit of fantasy at the end. A well-written story of the relationships between different cultures and different ages in less tolerant times. (MM $7.50) 

To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
A Pulitzer Prize unforgettable  novel of a childhood in a sleepy southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it. Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving novel about prejudice.  ($6.99)

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck
A story set in old China. The 1940 winner of the Pulitzer Prize, it gives a graphic view of the China that was - when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the 20th century were but distant rumblings for the ordinary people like the honest farmer Wang Lung and his wife Olan. ($6.99)

Cheaper by the Dozen by  Frank Gilbreth
A great story of a couple who planned to have 12 children and did. Professionally, Mr. and Mrs. Gilbreth were efficiency experts. Written by their oldest son, the book reflects life in the United States in the 1920's. ($5.50)

Belles on Their Toes by Frank Gilbreth
A sequel to the original, it continues the Gilbreth story, telling what happened to them as adults.  ($4.99) 

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
A story about ranch life in California centering on a boy and his pony  ($6.95)

The Pearl by John Steinbeck 
How unexpected wealth not only does not solve life's problems. It creates new ones.  ($6.95)

Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck
Set in September, 1960, the author and his poodle journey across America observing the obsessions that preoccupied the Americans of that era. ($10.95)

The Harry Potter Books by J.K.Rowling
Wonderful! However, in the store, I meet people who have a complete misconception about them. No. They are not books about wizardry and magic, etc. They are about the life of a young boy who was born with a gift. There will be seven books because in the English boarding school system, you attend these schools from ages 11-18. In each book, Harry gets a year older. Therefore he is confronting all the problems of "growing up". Most of us can identify the characters with the students and teachers we each knew as youngsters. The pace of the story is rapid - no dawdling over endless descriptive passages. A lovely read for everyone - no matter what the age. ($17.95-19.95)

The Wizard of Oz Series by L. Frank Baum
I don't know about you - but I didn't know that there were a whole series of Oz books. At least 12 by Baum plus some others written by another author. If you like his style, he also wrote a few others in a different setting. If the student is a good reader by the age of 9, these are wonderful reads for them too!
Here are the Oz titles:
The Magic of Oz  
Ozma of Oz  
Dorothy and The Wizard in Oz  
Tik-Tok of Oz  
Rinkytink of Oz  
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz  
The Scarecrow of Oz 
The Marvelous Land of Oz  
The Lost Princess of Oz  
The Road to Oz   
The Emerald City of Oz   
The Patchwork Girl of Oz  

If you like the Harry Potter books, these might hold you over while waiting for the next Potter book.

Non-Oz books by Baum are:
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus  
The Magical Monarch of Mo 
Queen Zixi of Ix  
American Fairy Tales   $6.95
The Sea Fairies  

In addition, I also recommend mysteries. Nothing keeps the mind working while reading like a good mystery. For those parents who are concerned about violence and sex, there are several excellent mystery writers who weave a great tale without resorting to either sex or violence. For starters, I recommend Agatha Christie, and Lilian Braun (of Cat who... fame). For adventure, Michael Crichton has written several: Congo, Sphere, Great Train Robbery, Terminal Man, Andromeda Strain.

That's all for now. Please don't hesitate to e-mail requests or inquiries about other books.

P.S. These books I reccomended for everyone age 11 and up.

We would be delighted to hear from you with suggestions, questions or comments. Our e-mail address is: We look forward to your correspondence.



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