On the very first day of book shopping this year, with the piles of brand new books waiting on the tables. Sharpened pencils ready, to-be-read lists in hand. Time set aside to meander. Books displayed and discussed. On the very first day of book shopping, two kids refused to even look. One sat in a corner, hood up, eyes down. Another child, more than an hour later, but this time at a table, arms crossed, no to-be-read list, no pencil, not even a word.
I approached both with caution, sometimes children who so actively refuse to even pick a book remind me of a wounded animal. They are someone who clearly has not had a good experience with books. Someone who must be treated with the gentlest of hands, because otherwise, it will just become another power struggle and one that I will never win.
As always, I asked quietly; What is wrong? How may I help? Then wait, hold my breath, and soon the refusal. Soon the dismissal, “Leave me alone, I don’t like books, I don’t like reading.” Whatever the words, the stories always so familiar. The emotions raw, the conversation careful, and yet unexpected. It happens every year. So after a few gentle moments, I pull out my secret weapons; my graphic novels and my picture books. I grab a pile of those perpetual favorites or some brand new ones, I place them in front of the child and I walk away.
It happens without fail, a few moments later, a page being turned, a book being read, the angry stance in the shoulders gradually fading away. Books change minds. The right books change lives.
Yet if I were to take the advice of some. If I were to listen to the words of those who say they know better. If I were to be a “real” teacher of English, those books would not have a place in my classroom. No more Captain Underpants, Where Is My Hat, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. No more Tales from the Crypt, the graphic novelization. No more rows of picture books waiting to be read and shared. Those books that many of my students think they are too old to read. Those books that some might think are not appropriate for a student to read. Those books that some deem too easy, not enough, not real reading. Those become the books that capture my hardest students. Those become the portal that lead them back into believing that they too can be readers. That reading can be for them. That reading is something that matters.
So when I see a call for censorship, for teachers telling students what they exactly need to read. When I see a call for parents to study our classroom libraries to make sure that the books we have are not inappropriate, too emotional, or lord forbid too fun. When we are once again told that something that is too easy for our kids, not challenging enough, not enough of whatever the right thing is. That is when I am reminded of who I serve. That is when I am reminded of who my library is for. Because it was never for the adults of those children I teach. It was always for the kids. And those kids need all of the great books we can hand them.
I am currently working on a new literacy book. 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. The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge. 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.