The other day I ran across Jane Resh Thomas’ essay “Books in the Classroom: Unweaving the Rainbow” published in the Nov./Dec. 1987 issue of the Horn Book. In it she bravely took issue with some basal reading programs.
During those days basal readers were part of reading programs designed to teach children to read by taking apart an excerpt of a writer’s published story or book, changing the words and then publishing it in a reading textbook, workbook or other supplemental material for children to read in the classroom. Teachers and children either loved — or hated — basals.
Jane’s essay argued that teaching through basals seemed to “interfere” with kids’ overall enjoyment of reading, as well as interfered the ability of writers — whose “basalized” work was in those readers — to communicate with children through the writers’ art. She related some experiences about her own stories that faced “basalization.”
Many educators rebelled against teaching basals in the 1980s and instead joined the “whole language ” movement. Whole language teachers (as I understood it ) allowed their students to read an author’s short story or book, enjoy that story or book, and learn from one or the other across the curriculum. Folks who didn’t understand, who didn’t teach or didn’t want to teach “whole language” in turn rebelled, too.
Thanks, Jane. Your essay is still food for thought for teachers who love to read themselves and teach reading, and for writers who want children to read exactly what they’ve written. Reading methods will continue to evolve, and I believe that we writers will continue to want to have our work connect in meaningful ways with one’s audiences. Writer Joseph Conrad even said he had a task to do for his own audience.
His task was … “by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see.”
ELEANORA E. TATE is a children’s book author who has won numerous awards, including a CBC/NCSS Notable Children’s Trade Book in the field of social studies for Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! and a Parent’s Choice Gold Seal Award for The Secret of Gumbo Grove.
Eleanora is retired from Hamline’s faculty.