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Trade Books

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First and foremost among learning materials for the independent learner are, of course, trade books and reference books. The wealth of offerings in all academic fields is staggering. The student who is a dedicated reader can find a great deal of interesting material, both fiction and nonfiction. The teacher looking for curriculum-relevant materials can take home an armload of books from the library.

However, anyone accompanying a class of students on a visit to the library will notice much aimless wandering among some students. It's as if there were too much offered, as if the offerings were overwhelming. From all this wealth some students can't find a single book they want. There are several reasons for this disappointing fact. First, the books that children look into are often too difficult for them. Poor readers in elementary schools shy away from "baby books" out of shame - they would rather walk away with nothing than have other children notice their weakness. Second, their interests are not well defined - they look here and there, not knowing what section of the library they want. The children interested in sports or animals or history are in those sections finding books, while the wanderers see so much and at the same time see nothing. Third, they have a poor understanding of library organization - they are in the fiction section when they should be in nonfiction or vice-versa.

Librarians and teachers, well aware of these problems, respond in several ways. Many of them construct grade-by-grade reading lists and then establish book clubs so that children receive credit for the listed books that they have read. While still in the classroom, teachers meet with students to set up objectives for a library visit so that even the wanderers have a purpose for the visit.

Several publishers, too, have come up with book lists. Learning Links, Houghton Mifflin, DC Heath, Harcourt Brace, and Dandy Lion, among others, offer sets of children's literature by grade level. These and other publishers also offer sets of theme-related trade books. Houghton Mifflin, for example, offers sets of mathematics-related trade books by grade level. Learning Links offers sets of graded books related to many topics: adventure, adult friends, animals, children as victims, city tales, coming of age, coping with divorce, country tales, and so on through survival and young classics; other sets of trade books from Learning Links are related to social studies, such as exploring ancient civilizations, immigrating to America, remembering the Holocaust, and saving our planet, among others. DC Heath offers sets of books in Spanish by grade level. Royal Fireworks Press offers sets of Aesop's fables graded according to reading difficulty. ECS Learning Systems offers a set of trade books related to American history and another related to world history. The Harcourt Brace classroom collections are related by theme and author to their Student Anthologies.

Poor readers do better reading many easy books than reading one "challenging" book. If they are guided to the easy books and become enthused about reading, their reading abilities will grow. If they feel obliged to tackle the "challenging" book, they will become stuck; furthermore, their liking of reading will plummet, and the hope of their becoming lifelong readers will suffer a setback.

The enthusiastic, dedicated readers are never, as we all know, a classroom problem. They are eager to finish their assigned work so that they can get to the book waiting for them in their desk. They can then be seen absorbed in a world of history, science, sports, biography, humor, or fiction. Theirs is a great gift, which virtually everyone respects. As adults, they are the ones who can be seen on an airplane, bus, or subway transfixed by a book.


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