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September 2019 – Letter From the President

Dear Friend,

My two boys – especially the older one who is about to enter kindergarten – really love hearing chapter books read to them. This summer, they’ve listened to Runaway Ralph, the Piper Green series and several books by Kate DiCamillo. Right now, we’re reading Ramona the Pest, which was the first chapter book that I remember being read to me when I was in first grade.

In contrast to the first time I listened to Ramona’s adventures, I find myself sympathizing far more with the grownups in the story. For example, on Ramona’s first day of kindergarten, the teacher reads Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel to the class. After hearing that Mary Ann and Mike spent dawn to dusk excavating the cellar for the new town hall, Ramona asks where Mike went to the bathroom. It’s definitely a reasonable question, but I very much sympathize with the teacher’s response that it just isn’t pertinent to the story.  I can’t tell you how many times my children’s inquiries – however logical – have derailed a straight-forward bedtime story.

While I sympathized with the teacher, I admired Ramona for her self-confidence in asking the question. I pointed out to my boys that she wasn’t the only one who wanted to know where Mike Mulligan went to the bathroom; several of her classmates had the same question. I encouraged my sons to be just as assertive in asking questions as Ramona.

For a book that’s over fifty years old, I was surprised by how much it holds up. Other than the 1960s gender stereotypes and how often the kids call things “stupid,” the story feels quite contemporary. One of the contemporary aspects that I found especially dismaying was the amount of “seat work” in the classroom. Ramona seems to spend most of her school day writing out numbers or letters, and relatively little time engaged in music, art or imaginatively playing.

Do you have any chapter books that you’ve enjoyed reading or that your children can’t put down? I encourage you to share them with us on our Facebook page or Twitter feed or by emailing me directly at Steve@CMEE.org.



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