being a teacher, Literacy, Reading

On Reading Gaps and Book Recommendations

I have been racing through the pages of Carl Deuker’s Gym Candy this weekend.  Finding every moment I can to read it.  Not because I love football books, anyone who knows me would probably laugh at that considering I don’t watch any football, ever.  Not because I  am under a special deadline to get it done.  The book is mine, I can read it as slowly as I would like to.  No, because the book was recommended to me by an 8th grader and I know just the right 7th grader to pass it to.  But first I want to read it, to add it to my repertoire of books my resistant readers may embrace.  And so this weekend, Gym Candy and I have been spending a lot of time together and it has led me to contemplate my own reading identity.

I  speak and write (and even think) a lot about how our classroom needs to be filled with books and children eager to read them. How one of my biggest missions in teaching is to help students fall in love with reading or remain there.  How we must create interest for many genres of books and then expose students to them through informal book talks or reading displays.  But what about our own reading identities?  Do we give as much thought to what we read, what we share, what we embrace, as we do that of the students?  Are we branching out and putting ourselves through the very motions that we try to put our students through?

I know I am not.  If you were to look at my reading display you would notice a pattern; science fiction, fantasy (but not too fantasy-y) and a great realistic fiction story now and then.  Mostly new books, geared at 12 plus in ages.  Even though I should be reading for the Global Read Aloud.  It seems as if I have found myself as a reader a long time ago and firmly stayed there, happy with the destination. Yet, within my own reading preferences I am creating limitations in how I teach.  I am missing out on entire genres of books that some of my students might fall in love with.  I am becoming less of a book lover and more of a genre lover.  And that is a problem.

When we only read for ourselves, even with a mission to find great books to share with students, we forget to study our own habits.  We forget to see the book gaps, which many have blogged about before, and how these gaps affect us as book recommenders.  If you had asked me to recommend a great sports book, my list would have had  2 on them, now it has 3, and that is still not enough.

So when my former student told me to read Gym Candy he only had to mention it twice.  Not because I owed it to him and our continuing book conversations.  Not because this would probably be the only way he would ever recommend another book to me.  While both important, these were not the biggest reasons, but instead because it allowed me to make an investment in the students I have yet to reach.  In the students who need my experience with books to guide them.  For the students who don’t know what to read and hate the very genres I love.

So I pledge to read more widely.  I pledge to ask more questions.  I pledge to not judge and I pledge to recognize my own deficiencies in order to inspire my students to do the same.  There are entire genres I would never read on my own where  I would be just fine as a reader, but I would not be fine as a teacher.  So as I finish the pages of this book, I look forward to the next challenge and not to the comfort of the books I would naturally read.  Who knows; there may be an entire genre for me to fall in love with.  I just need to find it first.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.



8 thoughts on “On Reading Gaps and Book Recommendations”

  1. Thank you for this. Before winter break, I found myself recommending the same books over and over to different students. They’d already heard my recommendation from a friend to whom I’d recommended the same book(s). I decided to create a 2016 book challenge for both myself and the students to work toward completing. It’s gotten me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to book talk and recommended newer books in a variety of genres. Not gonna lie…it was difficult to stick to once I completed all the ones on the challenge that interested me. But I’m glad I stuck with it (and students are doing more recommending to each other!)

  2. I’m curious about how you liked the book “Gym Candy?” This is so true. I like a lot of suspense and mystery books. I have students that love animal books and I can never recommend any because after reading “Where the Red Fern Grows,” I found animal books to be too sad! I’m going to challenge myself to read more genres, biographies and non fiction especially. Thanks for the post!

    1. I loved it, I gave it 4 stars. I am still not a lover of sports books and I skimmed some parts of the really technical parts of the football game because I didn’t understand it but it didn’t diminish the story. I am book talking it tomorrow.

  3. Such a great point. I avoid sports books, creepy books (although I love mysteries and even thrillers), romance, and some other genres that my students really enjoy. I need to do something about this. I steer the sports fans to Mike Lupica and Tim Green, but I’ve never read either of them. I adore Tangerine, but it’s not the most accessible book for reluctant readers. I just picked up a copy of “What is the Superbowl?” from the who is/what is/where is series.

    Chris Crutcher’s characters are usually athletes, and are super well written. Not appropriate for every middle schooler, but perfect for some. The only other sports book in my repertoire is a nonfiction book called The Boys from Little Mexico, in which a sportswriter follows a local high school soccer team that is 100% Latino immigrants as they move through their season to a state championship game. It’s not written as YA, but some of my students can really relate to it.

  4. Agree that is necessary to broaden our own reading selections, and to learn along with our students and am going to add music and lyrics to the reading selections, for with Poetry as a favorite among some of my students adding an awareness of musical choices becomes essential…

  5. This is something that I really need to work on, trying books outside my preferred genre (historical fiction). Perhaps you can recommend some middle grades sci fi?

    One of my all time favourite things is when students recommend books. My class this year are mad keen readers (such a welcome change from last year’s group!) and I’m always finding books on my desk with a little note saying, ‘I think you’ll enjoy this book, Miss D’ It makes my day!

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