Monday, December 23, 2013

Graded Reader Book Reviews

            Sounds simple enough, but it also raises the question: what constitutes a book?
            Do novellas count as books?  What about children’s stories?  What about a short 100 page history book intended for young adults?  Is a comic book a book?  Is a textbook a book?  Is a workbook or language book a book?  What about a children’s book?  Or an abridged book?  Or a simplified book?

            Recently, as part of the extensive reading program at my school, I’ve been reading a lot of graded readers with my students.
            Graded readers are books specifically written for students studying English as a second language.  They are carefully controlled for vocabulary and grammatical complexity, and are usual part of a series that is divided accordingly into several levels, or grades—hence the term “graded reader.”

            My initial instinct was not to count these as real books, but lately I’m beginning to wonder. 
            Some of these books are longer than others, but some of them, especially the higher levels, are what may be considered “book length” and it can take me a few days to read through them.

            Many of these graded readers are just simplified versions of other classic works.  And yet, in some cases I’m beginning to wonder if these simplified versions may be the only contact I might ever have with some classics.  After all, I’m not going to get around to reading every classic work of literature before I die (especially since I’m such a slow reader.)  If I’ve read a simplified version of Last of the Mohicans, does that count as some sort of contact with the book?
            Another factor is that graded readers appear to be growing in recognition.  And probably will continue to grow in popularity in the future.  Simply by pure numbers, the majority of the people in the world reading English are not native speakers, and simplified graded readers are going to have an appeal to a large percentage of the world’s population.
            I’ve noticed for example that some of the graded readers I’ve done in class have their own goodreads page, where readers comment and review them just like any other book.  (See this goodreads page on the Pocahontas Graded Reader Here).
            Also, as I.S.P. Nation notes in his book TeachingESL/EFL Reading and Writing , there is an effort by some groups, like the Extensive Reading Foundation “to recognise quality in the production of graded readers. Awards are given to the best books each year just like the Oscars for movies” (Nation, p. 53)

            So, for all these reasons, I’ve decided I may want to start doing including Graded Readers under my book review project.
            I’m going to use the following guidelines:
            In accordance with the my general policy of using this book review project for books that are new to me, and not reviewing books that I’ve re-read, I’m not going to post reviews of graded readers that are simplified versions of classic books that I’ve already read.
            I will, however, post reviews of simplified versions of classic books that I haven’t read.
            So, for example, in my classes we’ve done simplified versions of Dracula, Hamlet, Call of the Wild, Of Mice and Men, The Phantom of the Opera, and Tom Sawyer.  All of these books I’ve read before, so I don’t feel a need to review them.  (None of these books are on my book review project, because I didn’t start that project up until I was 27.  But I’ve read them all at some point in my youth.)

            On the other hand, we’ve also read simplified versions of Oliver Twist, Frankenstein, and Last of the Mohicans, and these books are new to me.  So I will be reviewing them.
            Also, there are a fair amount of Graded Readers that are originally material, and I’ll include them as well.
            I will not be writing long reviews—I’ll just maybe write a couple sentences or a paragraph.

            And if I’ve designed any teaching materials to go with the book, I’ll include that in the review.

Link of the Day
Media Control and Indoctrination in the United States
And from the Global Post The truth about America’s Mandela policy: Official US policy toward the now-revered freedom fighter makes for some uncomfortable reflections.

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