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.