Beth Fine

Educational Fiction Author – Serious Thinker – Child at Heart

Summer Readers Stay Smart with the Picaresque’s Incidental Learning

When school lets out, textbooks get sold, turned back in, or shelved at home to collect dust. However, summer brings special readers who want a freer atmosphere full of fun but that keeps them smart and alert. Fortunately, summer provides the leisure time for just such incidental and accidental learning.

Parents know that series readers are the easiest to satisfy because such kids usually devour each book and anxiously await the next installment. The best way to hook them into reading each summer is with something untried/unread like the middle school mystery series The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple. Though written in the educational fiction genre, the IMASODES have unique stories that pose dilemmas in different geographical locations. This approach keeps the brain percolating and fills in the gaps of general knowledge often not covered by textbooks.

However, The non-reader siblings in the family may get a bit jealous, wondering, “What’s the big deal about reading?” To them, summer means a breather away from books because they find most school materials “dry, boring, or unrelatable.” Those adjectives do not spark their imaginations nor motivate their desire for further reading and research. But in their hearts, non-readers somehow suspect what they dream of doing as an adult will most likely require them to read-read-read while a kid.

I’m not saying a magic “key” exists to stir the interest of typical non-readers because they often have layers of excuses of why they dislike books. Still, I believe one helpful hint for searching for an answer can begin with a parent bringing home from the library a selection of possible good-reads, preferably something different, not always attractive to the readers in the family. I believe competition brings a good outcome for “non-readers,” especially when they find or stumble onto a series of books rejected by the “readers” of the family. Ah-ha.

Meeting a group of characters who move in and out of a series (characters unknown to their siblings) can cause a feeling of involvement, attachment, even exclusivity. Then when sequential books keep coming with some of the same characters, a happy and perhaps lifelong fiction reader may be born. An even more solidifying factor can be when non-readers discover a character they “love or hate.” In the IMASODES, boy readers like the Pollibos, a gangster family in Manhattan and Detroit; girl readers “love to hate” Vanna, the gorgeous and rich Atlanta girl who trades in lies, deceit, and sleight-of-hand tricks.

The great thing about the Picaresque mysteries is they carry a freeing motto: Have Fun. Get Smarter.™ With no judgement, kids can choose to read the stories and explore or ignore the Appendices full of definitions of Cliches & Idioms, Lookup Suggestions, and Vocabulary words.

Sadly, to save money, some schools buy fewer textbooks now and are following the trend toward downloading/printing/stapling PDFs to get school content. This attempt to keep up with a changing society often means a dismissal or dismantling of valuable unchanging concepts in hardback texts. Also fewer school and public libraries promote well-written classics but opt for the current juvenile/young aduld literary canon. Now, budgets go for books about aliens from outer space, vampires from Gothic derivatives, wizards from disguised occultism, and zombies from the grave. This sacrificial premise trusts that pop books will get kids to read and that the choices offered will teach them morality, ethics, and useful skills needed in the “real world.”

Such fuzzy thinking borders on ludicrous (a good vocabulary word). The once expected result that high school graduates will have learned to think critically has been replaced by units or courses called critical thinking, mandated, taken, and checked off as “done.” What happened to practicing, applying, and polishing the fundamentals of that art to achieve success in the rest of life?

In the past 3-4 decades, school books and curricula have become replete (nay, watered-down) with rewritten history, victimology, sociology (race/gender studies meant for more mature students), progressive politics, and a pedagogy that has moved from classic content to promoting a cultural viewpoint that does not constitute education but utterly describes indoctrination, especially when it does not carry a broad alert and disclaimer so parents can monitor what’s being taught their children. Such side-stepping produces glutted administrative staffs and self-congratulatory standards of eyewash curriculum. Therefore, dogmatised, fearful, and exhausted teachers seek early retirement because of meager, unsatisfying results in spite of heavy government emphasis and funding of education.

No wonder homeschooling grows in popularity while public high schools crank out 50%+ of its graduates required to take remedial classes before admission into community college and 30%+, before matriculating university. Having taught those remedial classes stimulated me to help prevent that need. My middle school mystery series The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple grew from that concern to serve a community of parents who want to prepare their children to avoid being such a statistic.

Therefore, I designed a series with attributes that can direct readers toward success while providing them with wholesome but not whitewashed stories that are totally realistic. My series represents the late 1060s that gave us much of the real world we live in today. Although fantasy is fun for a while and monopolizes juvenile bookshelves, parents must consider what is feeding the minds of their children. Literary tastes have become a battleground between popular/unreal/disturbing content and that which is safe/helpful/exciting but maturating.

Although the Picaresque vocabulary is PSAT up into SAT level giving readers’ multiple exposures to refined word choices needed for academic tests at ages 14-18, IMASODES I & II can be easily read by kids 10-11 years old. Later IMASODES require a level of “life experience” to appreciate and heed the content. My goal for this “literature-light” offering is to give a clue of what is expected down the line for successful college comprehension and composition.

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