Yesterday I picked up a dozen or so used books at a thrift store. Before I put my twins to bed, I dumped them on the floor and they eagerly rummaged through the pile to choose which ones they would claim for their own. Among them were three Newbery books and three Cam Jansen's. Surprisingly, neither of the twins picked any of these books.
Wyatt is an animal lover so I wasn't shocked when he chose White Fangby Jack London (the dumbed down version--the Young Collector's Illustrated Classics.) Garrett chose Crash, by Jerry Spinelli which shocked me a bit because he loves mysteries and he's reading Cam Jansen at school in his SFA group--Success For All. (SFA is a program that tests and then catagorizes students according to their reading level. My twins have been testing poorly since 1st grade--consistantly below grade level--which bewilders me because even though they're not crazy about reading, they seem to decode the words quite well).
I've never read any of the Cam Jansen series by David Adler so I chose one and stretched out on my stomach across the floor. The twins made use of me as their pillow and we all cracked open our books and began reading. Garrett was immediately intimidated by the super small words on the pages of his book so it wasn't long before he traded for a Cam Jansen. The books are a quick read at approximately 60 pages per book, with illustrations. I was nearly finished when I said, "Garrett, how come you read these books at school?" Without hesitation he said "Cause I suck at reading."
Hmmmm. Not exactly the way you want your kid to feel about the books he's asked to read at school.
"Do you like Cam Jansen books?" I asked. "No, they're boring," he replied.
I don't always trust my children when they say a book is boring. Sometimes a book may be boring because they don't understand it, or because they are impatient and want to get to the point right away. Other times they just don't give it a chance. But sometimes a book may be boring because . . . it's boring.
After reading three Cam Jansen's last night, I think the latter may be the case. The Cam Jansen series is a cute idea and has been in circulation for 28 years, so there's obviously an appeal. A 10 year old girl has a photographic memory which helps her solve mysteries. But the mysteries I read didn't feel very mysterious, and the reader doesn't really get to help solve them. I kept trying to figure out why the book is so bogged down with extraneous (yawn) details--a lot of time standing in line to buy food. I thought the details might be clues worth paying attention to in order to solve the mystery, but there is no payoff for remembering what animal shape was stamped on Cam's hand when she entered the amusement park, or why the lady in line to buy popcorn was wearing a pink jogging suit. I suspect Adler is trying to help readers learn how to muddle through details to figure out which ones will help solve the case, but this is a risky method, which may likely confuse readers and turn them off. Details must move the story along as well as provide information. I found this series to be tedious.
It may however work well for beginning readers who are learning to decode words and are less concerned about story. (Not sure I totally agree with what I just said, but there must be a place for Cam Jansen somewhere out there beyond my book shelf). I just don't see it as a stimulating option for a 4th grader, even one who scores below grade level on the GATES reading test.