Cliff's Notes and their ilk are big business, so it is no surprise that a young adult publisher wants to share in the profits. Dismay? Yes. This new "Scholastic BookFiles" series for popular, curriculum-embedded novels, from Wilson Rawls's Where the Red Fern Grows (1961) and Mildred D. Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976) to more recent books, provides students, families, and teachers with slim, attractively packaged approaches to YA literature. The volumes include author background, chapter questions "to guide your reading," plot summary, overview essays on settings, themes, character lists, and review synopses. A glossary lists two pages of potentially new words and definitions-without context or page numbers connected to the actual reading. As a teacher, this reviewer has always bristled at guides that purport to help students, but instead arrest their growth as readers by providing ways to think about books, implying that young readers cannot possibly come up with valid ideas on their own. In reality, effective teachers can promote dialogue journals and orchestrate probing book circles; helpful parents can read and discuss books with their children; encouraged or independent youth can generate thoughtful theories about literature. To their credit, the BookFile volumes include brief essays on author process. Several, including the Lowry and Sachar guides, provide interviews with the writers; offer creative multidisciplinary activities including the recipe for Kissin' Kate Barlow's Spiced Peaches from Holes; pose inviting "You Be the Author" suggestions; suggest related readings; and provide bibliographies. In a direct, albeit brief commentary titled "Censored!" the guide toLowry's book discusses why that novel has been challenged in many communities. This reviewer has also never been overly concerned that students read guides in place of books; however, it is always troubling when students' developing abilities to probe literature are undermined in the guise of helping. The back cover of each BookFile promises to "make[s] it easier to write a great book report." Although that statement might entice some, teachers should continue to look for ways to nurture and validate ideas about novels that students generate themselves, especially teen readers. If reader confidence is undermined early on, if literary meaning is viewed as something imposed or suggested by others, educators most assuredly create more readers who can decode a page, but who cannot think for themselves. How very dismal. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2003, Scholastic, 64p.; Glossary. Biblio. Further Reading., Trade pb. Ages 11 to 15.
Patti Sylvester Spencer