being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

On Real Reading and the Kids We Teach

I asked our oldest daughter, Theadora, how many books she thought she had read this year.  Crestfallen and quiet she answered four.  Four?  I asked, confused.   How can you only have read four?  She reads all of the time, never without a book, always asking to read just one more page before the lights are turned off.

Don’t you mean real books, mom?

Real books? I said.  What are real books?  I mean all books, graphic novels included.

She lit up.  Fifty, Mom, maybe more, at least fifty though.

Fifty books for a child who didn’t think they would ever be a reader because reading was just too hard.

Fifty books for a child who has been in reading intervention for four years.

Fifty books for a child who wasn’t sure that she would ever get through a whole book on her own, at least not one with a lot of pages.

Thea is a voracious reader, and yet, if you were to believe some adults, all of that reading she does doesn’t really count.  If I were to listen to some adults, some teachers, then all of those graphic novels wouldn’t count as real reading because they had pictures in them.  Because they were too easy.  Because they were silly.

I would have to tell Thea that all of those books she loves aren’t real books and that it is time for her to read something real.  To read something hard.  To grow up a little.

Could you imagine?

Yet, this happens to so many kids in so many schools.  When they come to us proudly bearing their Captain Underpants, their Diary of A Wimpy Kids, their manga, we take one look and tell them that in this school, we need to read real books.  That this year, they need to grow as a reader.  That this year it is time to get serious as a reader.

We tell them it is time to try something else or else they will not really grow.

Thea became a reader because of Dav Pilkey.  Because of Dogman.  Because of finding a book where she could decode the images and then decode the words, synthesize the two and come up with meaning.  I will never forget the look on her face when she declared herself a reader.  Her teachers may not know that, there is so much we don’t know,  and I think of how many teachers do not understand the journey that some kids have been on to finally identify as readers.  That some teachers may not see just how big of a mountain becoming a reader has been to climb.  And so we dismiss their journey in the finality of our words as if real reading is only when a book is devoid of pictures or doesn’t make you laugh.

When we tell a child that the book they are reading is too easy, we have no idea how hard it just might be for them.

When we tell a child that the book they are reading is not challenging them, we have no idea just how much work they may be doing.

When we tell a child that it is time for them to try something else, we have no idea just how much they have tried before they finally had success with the book they are reading.

What if we instead reveled in their success?

What if we instead encouraged them to keep reading “easy” books knowing that at some point they will choose something else?

What if we instead told them how glad we are that they know themselves enough as a reader to know that this book, that this series is a great fit for them.

What if we instead gave them more books?  More time?  More appreciation for the work they are doing so that they could see their own success.

We are so quick to tell kids to challenge themselves.  We are so quick to dismiss their entire reading experiences.  We are so quick to tell them that what real readers do without realizing the damage our words may have.  It has to stop.

Thea is still a vulnerable reader.  A reader who finds comfort, courage, and strength within the pages of a graphic novel.  She grows her confidence in bursts and once in a while she branches into a book with no pictures.  She is on a journey.  My job is to support that journey, not destroy it through my well-meaning intentions.

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.





13 thoughts on “On Real Reading and the Kids We Teach”

  1. If I could draw, I’d depict your message this way: a bed of fluffy turning pages, bright covers, and a child, book in hand, falling backward with sheer abandon into this bed of books, the caption? “Fall into a Comfortable Book.” I know that has been my go-to position. We grow while we “sleep.”

  2. Do you think Thea would share her list? I am always reading and finding new graphic novels for my fifth and sixth grade reading intervention students. I love Raina Telgemeier and Kazu Kibuishi, but my favorite graphic novel so far is Page by Paige. I also love Doug TenNapel, but I’m curious about who Thea loves best.

    1. I would love to see Thea’s list too! I always offer graphic novels to my reluctant readers (5th/6th)…always happy when they pick up anything!!!

  3. Yes to graphic novels! My husband and I are voracious readers and all he reads are graphic novels, good ones, from our local library. I read them too but in about a one to five ratio to him! As an educator I’m constantly reassuring parents that graphic novels are okay, and can be an excellent choice for kids, especially reluctant boy readers!

  4. I think I have been, upto some extent, one of the people who don’t consider graphic novels as “real” ones. Thank you for this perspective. I really appreciate this post. Do keep blogging!

  5. Pernille,
    It’s so funny that you mention Dav Pilkey in your post. Just last night, I ran into a former student, who is now nineteen, and told him I’d been thinking about him yesterday. It was after you had posted a picture of Dav at the Scholastic Summit and Day always makes me think of this student. I explained why I’d been thinking of him and he replied, “Yeah, Captain Underpants, Kat Kong, Halloweiner. I haven’t thought about that in forever.” I remember this student in Grade 2 gobbling up Pilkey’s “Dragon” series and every other book of his that I could find. I can honestly say that it was the content this student needed to engage with reading. Every child is different and as teachers we need to recognize that reading in all forms is reading.

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