In the spring of 2016, I asked 1,200 students aged eight through thirteen in North America to explain how they felt about book abandonment. I was curious because I had realized that working with my own students, that something as simple as letting go of a book in search of another book was not second nature to them. In fact, many of my students struggled with the notion of letting go of a book even if it meant they were not reading. Even if it meant they avoided the book.
This struggle had prompted me for years to do an actual lesson on abandoning a book. On giving all of our students specific permission to step away from a book they had either indicated they wanted to read or actually started reading. To step away from a book without having to try it for so many pages, for so many days. To step away from a book even if their teacher recommended it. Even if their best friend loved it. Even if they loved it at first.
When I asked those 1,200 students I had an inkling of what they would say and yet I was taken back to see the answers. Out of 1,200 students, more than 400 of them reported feeling guilty and disappointed. That’s 33% of the respondents reporting that something as simple as letting go of a book made them feel bad.
My follow up question was why they felt the way they had felt. There were three main responses. Some children reported feeling like they had disappointed their teacher, after all, it was the teacher that had recommended the book to them in the first place. Other’s reported that they were disappointed in themselves for picking a “bad” book to begin with. And some even reported feeling guilty about not liking the author’s work, as if the author would somehow know that they didn’t like the book.
We know there is a lot of emotion tied up with being a reader, but we should not have guilt be one of them.
Students should rejoice at first when they realize that a book is not for them. They should celebrate this milestone knowledge and be happy that they have uncovered another part of their reading identity. And then they should move to not caring. To simply seeing book abandonment as yet another part of being a reader. Of knowing when to let go. Of knowing when to search for something better.
Now you may think, but what about those serial book abandoners? The kids that never finish a book? That haphazardly pick up a book only to leave it behind seemingly having checked off the reading requirement for a day? They are a conversation waiting to happen; kids who do not know themselves as readers yet. For ideas of how to work with them, please see this post.
And while we need to teach students how to work through challenging text, we also need to give them opportunities to discover what love to read, what they cannot wait to read, what will bring them further into reading. Book abandonment helps us with that if we embrace it as yet another skill that all readers know how to use.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.