by Sarah Andrews-Weiss
When I was first introduced to the new young readers’ series that Truman State University Press is publishing (Notable Missourians) at the beginning of my internship, all I really knew about it was that it would focus on successful Missouri residents, and that the series would “meet the Missouri Learning Standards.” As an English major who has shared more than a few classrooms with numerous teachers-to-be, this was when the ominous scary-movie music began to fill my ears.
“Fiction will be de-emphasized.” “Informational texts will be given the classrooms’ attention.” “Good literature will disappear from elementary assigned reading lists…” When it comes to criticism about the new Common Core State Standards, I’ve heard and read it all. So when confronted with this series, I couldn’t decide how to feel. On the one hand, as the books will meet the requirements teachers will be looking for, the series is likely to do well. On the other, it will be doing well by falling in line with a system many find problematic. Left feeling ambivalent with both sides, I did the only thing I could think of: I familiarized myself with the Notable Missourians series…and what I found surprised me.
The series is lovely. People like clowns, athletes, and frontier women are introduced with such fascinating stories that I was surprised they had never been introduced to me before. Eras such as the Great Depression and westward expansion are depicted using specific experiences to help the reader more fully understand how these time periods affected people on an individual level. And clear, understandable writing along with imagery (literary techniques that have been emphasized throughout all of my creative writing courses) are utilized. As I took all of this in, I wondered how a series that utilizes so many narrative elements could possibly comply with an educational change in favor of dull and lifeless “informational texts”?
Confused, I looked at the actual requirements of the core standards, and found that the Grade Level Expectations (or GLEs) for fourth through sixth grade social studies material expects a focus on “individuals from Missouri who have made contributions to our state and national heritage,” an ability to “locate and describe settlements in Missouri,” and information on the causes, effects, and events of the westward expansion… all of which are included within the individual stories in the series.
Instead of taking the new requirements asked for from the Missouri Learning Standards and creating dull accounts of overused historical figures, this series has managed to take these standards and create an end product both informational and enjoyable to read. If other book publishers take the Notable Missourians’ lead when it comes to these new educational guidelines, I am sure the quality of literature our children will be exposed to will be as high as it has always been.