I brought 4 books with me for our trip to my brother’s. 4 different books, in different sizes, with different worlds, hoping that at least one of them entices me into its world so that I can have a new book to book talk on Monday. 4 hopes to read, 4 hopes of time spent sitting in another world than the one we currently reside in. It is now Saturday and I have yet to crack open a page, yet to fall into the pages of a book, despite knowing I need to. Despite knowing that I won’t regret it if I just start. Despite knowing that it really won’t take me that much time to read if I just do it.
The world continues to feel so heavy and the books still feel like work and so I push it off and think that perhaps a little later, I will take the time, make the space, find the energy. Perhaps if I just allow myself some rest then reading will not feel like such a chore.
I see this exhaustion in many of my students as well. That hope to read that just doesn’t happen. The knowing that they should read, that they will like it if they do, that if they just get started then it will not feel like such a huge obstacle. That the books look good but…
So they gravitate toward shorter books, fast-paced action books that take you to the edge of your seat right away. They grab our novels in verse telling me that this is what they need right now to feel transported. That the sparse words allow them to focus. The graphic novels and illustrated chapter books pass from hand to hand, children snuggling in with illustrations that call their names. From re-reading Dogman, to eagerly waiting for the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid, from finding old series they read before, to shorter books, fewer words, and not ones that feel so heavy, the kids are reading as best as they can.
And I get it. My own reading life has mainly consisted of the same diet of fast-paced, shorter books. Of incredible graphic novels. Of books without death. Of romance and “easy reads.” And the longer books sit on my shelf waiting for the day that I feel I have the space to take them on again. Who knows when that will happen?
I hear other educators lamenting the fact that kids are not reading as much as they used to. That the kids are reading books that are too easy. That the kids are not doing reading right, again, and that surely what is needed is more accountability, less choice, and more rigor. That if the kids are not reading what some have deemed as proper reading material then surely we just need to increase the demand so they can understand how serious we are. Remove the Diary of a Wimpy Kids. Stop booktalking graphic novels. Stop allowing free choice, when we know so much better. We have to get “back to normal” and in that normal, we take on serious topics and read long books. We grow up a bit and let go of the graphic novels. It is time to move, to get back to it, to challenge ourselves.
But perhaps the world is challenging enough. Perhaps the world doesn’t allow us much space to laugh? To sit with friendly pictures rather than frightening ones. Perhaps the world has not let up its relentless battering for so long that we barely can catch our breath. And perhaps those books we are so quick to push kids away from allow us to finally breathe. To rest. To find peace. To giggle. To fall slowly back into a routine of reading that seemed paused for so many of us.
And so I urge us all to consider the emotions attached to the act of reading. To the space we need in our life to take on reading. To the readiness we need to fall into the pages of a book and stay there. To honor the choices of the children we teach because as long as they are reading, they are reading.
We hoped for a return to familiar lands in this pandemic. We hoped for a reprieve, for the world to stop shifting below our feet, so have we considered how books that we choose ourselves provide us that beginning?
So let them read what they choose to, again. Let them fall into the pages they have read before, again. Let kids consider what they can make space for, again. And withhold your urgency to push for more, for harder, for longer, again. Kids know what they need, much like we do when we choose our own books. So honor their choices, even if they do not make sense to you, again.
If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me coach, collaborate with your teachers, or speak at your conference, please see this page.. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. 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.