It was just before school ended that I realized that he hadn’t really read any books. That my feeble attempts at finding just the right book had been just that and that he had successfully managed to mostly fake read throughout the entire year. I remember the feeling of how I had failed, wondering how I could have been so blind. Chalk it up to 120 students. Chalk it up to my first year as a 7th grade teacher. Chalk it up to 45 minutes or to the demands of all the new, but still how could I have let a student slip through my fingers that way? How could a kid fake read in our classroom when my mission is exactly the opposite?
So I wrote a post-it note to myself and taped it to the wall by my computer. Nothing fancy but a stark reminder of what I needed to do the following year. “Find them a book…”
A year later it still hangs there. New tape applied when needed. No fancy script or colors. Yellow, slightly faded, yet so important still. Find them a book, indeed, and then find them another, and another, and another, until one day they no longer need me and they find their own.
I think of this as one student, a self-identified child who dislikes reading, has just finished sharing with me how The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is the best book he has ever read. How nothing will ever compare to that book, but that he will continue searching for one that might, but he might need my help. That he loved that book so much but now is not sure what to read.
So we book shop together and I dig deep for all of the books that he may like. I stack them high and walk away hoping that in that pile he will find a book that will move him forward on this new fragile path. That in that stack he will see glimpses of what it means to be a reader.
Because we may tell our students that they just need to find the right book to fall in love with reading. We may spend hours helping them dig into who they are as a reader. We may put book after book in front of them in the hopes that they will find The One. But it is not just about The One. It is about the one after and the one after that. It is about the many. Because it is in the repetition of falling in love with a book that we fall in love with reading.
So when a child finds their book, we must pay attention, because this is when reading is at its most precarious. This is the moment where they start to see that one great book was not just a fluke, but instead a taste of what is to come. What is waiting for them on our shelves.
So find them a book. Then find them another and another. Fill your classroom and schools with titles that beg to be read. Teach them what to look for and know when to walk away. We may start our journey with reading when we find the first book to fall in love with, but we choose to continue that journey when we find the next one.
This post is a part of the Age of Literacy that ILA encourages all of us to participate in on APril April 14th. How are you a literacy leader? 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.