Wednesday, December 12, 2007

No wonder kids can't write

Ursula is having a fit.

This has nothing to do with any work she's editing right now, but with a book my son is reading for a Fourth Grade Book report.

Let me start by saying, book reports are hell. There's nothing that sucks the joy out of reading more than having to answer insipid questions about a story like: Why do you think the author wrote this book? [To make a living?] or What was another way the main character could have solved the problem in the book? [If I knew that I'd have written it myself?]

Anyway, as if book reports aren't torture enough, guiding a 9-year-old through a book report in which the actual writing part of the assigment must fit onto a paper shaped like a snowman [I kid you not] is something right out of the Seventh Level of Hell. What's infinitely worse is that the book my son chose to read is GOD AWFUL.

Now, as an author, I don't like to pan other people's work. I really don't because I recognize how difficult it is to create a manuscript, get it past an agent or editor and get it sold. But EGADS! This book, written for the 8-12 age group, has atrocious grammer, pointless dialogue and it seems the author tried to make up the most ridiculous character names she could, I suppose assuming that children would find it amusing.

I'm reading it with my son because his book report grades are rather dismal and if I don't know what the book is about, I can't guide him through the questions he needs to answer about it, since his response to most things is, "I don't know."

After reading a paragraph together that contained three sentences using 'had had' as the verb, Ursula stepped in and started making comments under her breath. I tried to shush her, but when a one-eyed cat rolled its eye[s] she had a conniption. A one-eyed cat can't roll both of its eye[s]. Did an editor not notice that?Please.

When one of the characters used the word 'screwed' and not in the 'putting in a light bulb' context I had my own conniption. Now, I'm not a prude [by any stretch] but as a parent, I'm not sure I want to explain what 'screwed' means to my 9-year-old. [Okay, maybe he should already know, but the book is about animals for heaven's sake, not human relationships.] In a book where the narrator is a Labrador I just don't think there's room for the word 'screwed.' Sorry.

What kills me is, this book was published by a well known educational publisher that specializes in YA and scholastic novels and text books. I'm desperate to know, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

I'm now beginning to understand why new writers make all the same mistakes - even though most of them are avid readers. When early examples of published writing are so horrendous, how are children supposed to learn how to craft a sentence or a decent paragraph?

I really don't want to start a movement, or a crusade, but is it too much to ask that YA publishers go for books that aren't just grammatically correct, but are well-written besides??

1 comment:

Jennifer Elbaum said...

um....yes

apparently