being a teacher, being me, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice

Let My Students Read

My friend John Spencer had shared this on Facebook tonight

As I got ready to share the quote myself, the comment below it caught my eye…

“It’s also the job of the school to push children to read books that challenge them and take them out of their comfort zone.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, and Captain Underpants are fine for kids to read and enjoy at home, but teachers should not permit them in the classroom. They provide no educational benefit.”

And I knew I couldn’t stay silent.  I knew I had to respond even though I try to not get into it with anyone on Facebook.  Even though I didn’t know the commentator and that I might be opening myself up to an argument I don’t feel like having as I wind down on a Sunday night.  But when something like that is said, I have to say something back.  After all, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, and yes even Captain Underpants all reside in my 7th grade library.  Their covers are torn and tattered, they are often replaced.  They are loved by many, myself included, and not because they are easy to read, but because they make students fall in love with reading.

So I took a deep breath, pushed my snark aside and wrote this reply…

Not true at all, for some students a book like Diary of A Wimpy Kid is the first time they have felt like they were a reader at school. Our job is not to be gatekeepers of which books students read but instead provide them with successful reading experiences in whichever books they choose so that they will continue to read. Then we can help them stretch into more challenging texts.

But what I really meant to say is that we must not censor.

That we must not think we know better when it comes to what a child needs to read any day.

That instead of judging we should support.

That we must create environments where students choice in books will be celebrated and discussed rather than dismissed and banned.

That it is not our job to be the gatekeepers for our students as Teri Lesene has said so many times.

That if a child is choosing to read books like those mentioned then they have a reason for it, even if that reason is that they do not know what else to read.  Our job as teachers is to help them discover why they love the books so much and then expose them to more, just like we would with any book that a child chooses to read.

I speak for the child that this year has read Diary of a Wimpy Kid every chance he got, always turning the page, rereading and laughing every time with joy when he came to beloved sections.  He tells me how long he spends reading, how it is his favorite thing to do, how every time he revisits that same old book, he discovers something new.

I speak for the child that never felt like a reader until Dav Pilkey created Captain Underpants and they finally had a character they could relate to.

I speak for the child that has always reverted back to these books until 2 weeks ago when he asked if he could read All American Boys because he had heard it was so good and now is 40 pages in and tells me it is the best book ever.  Even if he not quite sure what is going on. Even if we had to go back a few pages and get a few things straight.  Diary of a Wimpy Kid may not have been as demanding as All American Boys but those books made him feel safe.  Like he could be a reader in our classroom.  Like he could be a success story, just like everyone else.

It takes a great book to make a child believe that they too can be a reader and for many of our students that great book has been Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Why anyone would want to take that away from students beats me.

So do not tell me those books do not belong in our classrooms.  Do not tell me that my students should not be allowed to read them in school.  Do not tell me which books do or do not provide an educational benefit.

If my job as a teacher is to get students to read, then by golly those books, and any other books I can think of, will help me do just that.

I did not become a reader when I could read Huckleberry Finn, I became a reader when I chose to read.

So let our students choose to read.  Whatever that may look like.  As good teachers we know what to do.  We know how to challenge them.  How to make them reflect on their journey as readers.  How to help them stretch into harder books and protect them when they get too far out of their comfort zone.  Let our students fall in love with books so that we can help them discover more books.  So that they will leave our classrooms and choose to read, even when they are busy.  Even when life gets hard.  Even when school is over.  Let our students fall in love with reading so that they will choose to be challenged, and not because a teacher forced them to, but because they felt they were ready.

I owe so much to Jeff Kinney, Dav Pilkey and Lincoln Peirce.  I think many of us do.

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, so until then 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.


25 thoughts on “Let My Students Read”

  1. Thank you for writing this, it is important for people to hear this. I used to hate books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants, because they were not “real” books. Those books were the only books some of my self identified non-readers would read. Sometimes it led to a different book, and sometimes they read the book over and over again. The point is they were reading, not looking around the room while the rest of the class was reading. They may not have considered themselves to be readers, but I did, and hope one day they will too.

  2. Pernille,

    Your reply is spot-on and well stated. I can’t believe there are still people out there that care what book a child is reading. They are reading….that’s ALL that matters. When all students in my class are engaged in reading a book, any book of their choice, I mentally put a check in the “successful day” column in my head.

    1. I totally agree with your post. It makes me wonder if this teacher really knows her students…I, too, am a firm believer that choice is what brings students to books. If that choice is taken away, then you have taken away an opportunity for kids to connect to reading.

  3. Having witnessed numerous readers in my room take to the above mentioned books along with graphic novels, I preach what you are preaching. Had a teammate tell me graphic novels were garbage and now she is the literacy coach in my former school.

  4. I totally agree with your post. It makes me wonder if this teacher really knows her students…I, too, am a firm believer that choice is what brings students to books. If that choice is taken away, then you have taken away an opportunity for kids to connect to reading.

  5. Younger students also feel empowered with the books you highlighted because they feel like they have actually become readers if they have them in their position. Whatever it takes to hook kids on reading works for me!

  6. You are so right. I teach in an urban setting, most of my kiddos find it really hard to read at home. There home lives have so much chaos in them. It is loud and noisy and unless they are reading something they love, they won’t read at home. I have to find the time and the books to make them fall in love with reading. Choice is important and there is no room for book snobs.

  7. Completely agree! Reading for fun secretly builds the “reading muscles” that will allow kids to tackle more difficult subjects. Expecting a non-reader to make it through a book like “Sounder” or “To Kill a Mockingbird” without any warm-up or training is just as hopeless as throwing a non-swimmer into the deep end of the pool.

  8. Couldn’t agree more! These books may not be ideal for in depth analysis or complex inferences, but if they inspire reading, they are a gift! It is our job as educators to help our kiddos find balance in text and support their interests. With these books as their “comfort zone”, we can use them as a leaping platform! These books have been “gateway books” for so many of my reluctant readers! Those kiddos are now moving on to much more complex texts because they WANT to, not because I forced them to!

  9. Pernille,
    I back you 100% of this issue! Somehow the teaching profession (esp. at upper levels) feel it is our duty to deem what is worthy reading in our classrooms. I understand if teachers have shared reading or even small groups where they expose and support their students’ endeavors with complex text. BUT I feel that during self-selected reading time, students can sit down with any text to find the Reading Zone and enjoyment. Many intermediate, middle, and HS students do not identify themselves as readers because teachers in the past have told them what is acceptable to read. The first step in being a strong reader is to identify that it is possible to read and find enjoyment. Let Whimpy kid and comic books reign!

  10. I read this, and a mighty chorus in my head sings praises and Amens. When the latest Wimpy Kid was released in the fall, I had half a dozen 7th grade boys reading it in my class at once, competing with each other to see who could get through it first. And for some of them, it took quite an effort. Their excitement and interactions around the story were wonderful. I just wish I could afford to buy as many graphic novels as I want to have in my classroom library!

  11. I so agree! I speak from experience with my now 7th grade son. He did not like reading much before 3 grade when he was introduced to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He devoured them; I couldn’t keep up with buying them! Each time a new book came out, he read it that same day. He reread and reread over and over, loving every minute… He then moved onto Captain Underpants and eventually Big Nate… These books lined his bookshelves until the beginning of this school year. He donated them to my classroom so they could be shared with my 4th graders. He now reads much more in-depth books but did so when he was ready. He was lucky to have teachers that supported this and didn’t push him or ban him from reading his “go to books.” I truly feel that these books opened his eyes up to the world of reading and he may not have liked reading had it not been for these books. Thank you for giving me something to say when others try to tell me to not let my students read these books too. I have about 5 boys that absolutely love them! I have been gingerly suggesting other books here and there but every time they have a chance, what do they pick up?? 🙂

  12. Spot on! Our 5th grade did our own March Book Madness (around 100 students) & Big Nate Series won over Out of my Mind. We have readers! Let them read.

  13. I have to confess that I was one of those parents that didn’t see the value of those books. My daughter wasn’t a reader and I felt that books like Captain Underpants just weren’t up to snuff. They wouldn’t help reluctant readers become readers, blah, blah, blah.

    But then she read what I would consider a silly chapter book. On her own. Finished an entire book for the first time! And now she is a reader. She just needed a little confidence. I blogged about the experience at

    So I totally agree with you! Let students read what they want! Let them become confident in their reading and the rest will happen naturally. I’m glad to see you speaking out and defending what are actually good practices.

  14. Absolutely! So well said! Thank you for advocating for all kids. We cannot be the gatekeeper of books. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  15. I first met you and became familiar with you and your message at the WSRA Convention in Feb. I had been having a hard time as I continued to grope for ways to get my class of more uninterested readers than usual to love to read. I was foolishly starting to wonder if maybe I needed to go back to some of those things that I had gotten away from like literature circles, reading logs, etc. After hearing you, I was so relieved and reassured that I was on the right track. I just needed to continue to stay the course and do the things I was doing already with enthusiasm. As we are now into April, I’ve seen some progress. Thanks to your reminders at the conference and in this blog, I’m feeling good about what I’m doing. ~ This post was another example of how I so agree with you on everything! I’ve dealt with some parents who have had this opinion about books, and I’ve fought (tactfully, of course) to get them to understand exactly what you worded so beautifully in this post! Thanks for being my reassurance and my inspiration.

  16. What a perfect response!! I have always felt the same way – that in order to foster a child’s love of reading, they have to want to read and having the control over what they choose to read is the perfect way to help build that. As a Literacy Coach, I have had many of my teachers use books like Middle School: Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson, Divergent by Veronica Roth and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The use of all of these titles sparked a love of reading within the students in those classes. It showed them that reading can be fun and adventurous. And when they were presented with more challenging text, they were ready to take on the challenge!

    I recently assessed a student whom we were told that he was never going to learn to read (he was a 7th grader at the time). Now, as a 9th grader he has made gains and went from a non-reader to a 1st grade reader and when he picked the newest Diary of a Wimpy kid up off my shelf and asked if he could borrow it, I did not hesitate to say yes. I didn’t question that it was going to be too hard for him. I didn’t tell him that he wasn’t ready for it. He took the book happily and even if he cannot read every word, he gets the pleasure of having a chapter book in his possession that he can work through in his own time, at his own pace and enjoy along the way.

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