The basic complaint of the original NPR piece really struck a chord with me. A negative chord. (As it did with many readers. You'll see if you read the comments following the article).
While the piece is talking about high school kids (and I agree with those who debate that many books are often much more complex than a simple analysis of sentence length and word complexity would suggest), there still seems to be a basic assumption in the article that it is good for kids to be reading challenging books (which I agree with) and bad for kids to be reading easy books (which I disagree with).
This assumption about easy books being a negative exists many other places as well. I often hear people complaining about younger kids' book choices in much the same way.
A child brings a book up to a grown up. "Oh no," says the parent or the teacher. "That one's too easy. Choose something harder." of "for your age." or "at your level."
Now I am a huge fan of pairing kids with "just right books". But "easy books" have a place too. A really important place in my opinion.
Here are just a few ways that easy books can help young readers (and older readers too):
1. Easy books are fun and relaxing!
And fun and relaxing is good. If you never read anything fun and relaxing, you probably won't become a reader. We must remember that the goal of reading instruction is to develop readers. Kids (and eventually grown-ups) who want to read outside the classroom.
(Think about your fun "beach reads"! Don't kids deserve to have those too?)
2. Easy books can allow readers to solidify what they've already learned.
If you're always working at the cusp of your abilities, it can sometimes be hard to put it all together.
Recently, for summer reading, my son enjoyed reading books that are several steps easier than what he was reading during the school year. And everything is coming together. His fluency. His expression. His word solving abilities. Definitely an awesome feeling (for him and for me)!
3. Easy books help kids gain confidence as readers.
After reading some easy books, a kids can begin to feel like a good reader. LIke s/he really has the hang of this reading thing. And, once a kid feels this way, that kid will often willingly take on more intense reading challenges. Because s/he will feel good enough to try.
(As a kid, I loved relaxing with every single Trixie Belden mystery and with Archie comic books too, but I also explored a huge range of books including every book by Louisa May Alcott, every book by L.M Montgomery and classics including THE SECRET GARDEN and THE THREE MUSKETEERS. I later went on to earn my B.A. with High Honors in English and American and did my senior essay on Henry James' THE GOLDEN BOWL (definitely NOT an easy book :o) ). If my parents had been worried about the easy books I enjoyed, I don't know that I would have gone on to enjoy the more challenging ones. Or to love reading so very much.
In fact, a close friend did finally start to read an easy series when he was a child. He was feeling really good about it too. He finally found some books he enjoyed. Yay! He liked reading. But the teacher asked him to switch to something harder... and he stopped reading new books... Oh how I hate that story!)
So, what is your opinion of easy books for young readers? (Can't wait to hear what you think!)