Ahh! Summer Reading

Imagine reading a book every day this summer. Yep, a whole book, cover-to-cover, every day.  That is the premise behind the Nerdy Book Club’s #bookaday reading challenge.  Picture books maybe.  A really engrossing novel if it’s not too long.  I tried last summer but didn’t make it.  Life just kept getting in the way, no matter how devoted I was to the cause.

But I did read a lot more than if I hadn’t accepted the challenge.  I found and fell in love with Wonder and 13 Reasons Why.  I rushed on to The Future of Us because it was also by Jay Asher.  It was good, but not as powerful as 13 Reasons Why.  I decided that cookbooks count.  Donalyn said so! And I read professional literature.  Barry Lane’s highly entertaining suggestions on what my students should do to write in But How Do You Teach Writing? and then revise in After the End. I played with research ideas in his Wacky We-Search Reports.  I really did read.  I even jumped into Common Core exemplars for next year, Travels with Charley (which left me so grateful for Steinbeck’s return – finally – to his home in New York) and The Catcher in the Rye (which left me wondering which eighth graders are ready for that literary work!)  I couldn’t make myself start The Last of the Mohicans, with apologizes to James Fenimore Cooper and the architects of the Common Core reading lists.

This summer I vow to do better! My stack is never-ending.  I’m now in Cris Tovani’s  I Read It But I Don’t Get It.  I got to see her in summer PD and understand – for the first time – what close reading really means and how it is probably the only way my struggling readers will make it through the Common Core texts that I have been dreading.  You see, I wholeheartedly believe in student C-H-O-I-C-E, and Common Core does not.  This word exemplar I have come to despise.

And tomorrow I spend with Penny Kittle.  I don’t care if she talks about reading or writing, I plan to just soak it all up! Then I dive into the stack next to my chair.  Code Name Verity, a Holocaust thriller which the New York Times claims I will have to read twice, is first.  I do love books set during this horrible period of history.  Then I will finish The Berlin Boxing Club because one of my eighth grade boys told me at the end of the school year that I really needed to finish it.  I had shared it with him because he is a gifted reader who would rather play sports.  I thought it might connect with his interest in sports, and it did.  He told me it was his favorite book of all time.  He knew I had started it but was repulsed by an incident in the opening chapter.  His words to me sounded very familiar, “You really should finish it.”  So I will.

Then the story of a young runner who loses her leg in a tragic accident, The Running Dream, and Girl, Stolen, about a wealthy blind girl who is accidentally kidnapped in a carjacking.  The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is the last one in this stack, but I am sure there will be more.  I might even force myself to read The Hunger Games trilogy, even though it is not my choice genre.  If not, then Chains because I love historical fiction and never have read that one.  And this is just the stack by my chair.  There’s one on the piano, the nightstand, in a corner by the door to the deck.  Oh my.  This could take all summer.  Doesn’t that sound just wonderful?

Inspiration

I remember discovering Nancie Atwell. For the very first time I felt like I understood where I was heading in my career. She opened my eyes to the workshop model and its power to unlock student readers and writers from the boxes I was kept in when I was in school. She explained to me the uniqueness of middle school, how it was not just a prep school for high school. I could see how vital the middle years were, and my passion for igniting a love of books found a home in the workshop model. So I kept reading.

Janet Allen convinced me that struggling readers needed books. Books that interested them. We call that engagement today. Are your students engaged? How many of your students are engaged? Are your lessons designed to engage the learner? Janet Allen got that. She understood that a well-crafted story could hook the most challenging students. All we had to do was match the right book to the right student. We would know our students well enough and our books well enough to know which ones to put together.

Donalynn Miller whispered of turning non-readers into readers by letting them choose what they read. I told a colleague that she claims her kids are reading by November! What a concept! But English teachers teach books, don’t they? What, we are supposed to let them explore and discard and self-monitor, and L-O-V-E books? No sticky notes? No two-column response logs? No teacher-selected, everybody reads the same book, write a journal entry at the end of each chapter reading assignments? Just read and love it? Just love reading for the beauty of the book?

In the Middle, The Reading Zone, It’s Never Too Late, Yellow Brick Roads, The Book Whisperer, Readercide, Igniting a Passion for Reading – these books changed my thinking, my teaching, and my students. We jumped in. We built a classroom library. We talked about books, good ones and bad ones, and I bought the books they asked for. We made top-ten lists and a purple passion bookcase. We blogged about what we were reading and made electronic book reports and wrote book reviews. We immersed ourselves in loving books. And students left my classroom reading. They came back from the high school asking for books. They emailed for suggestions for their next good read. Their parents kept saying thank you, thank you!

So now I say thank you to the foresighted teachers who pioneered the use of self-selected YA literature in the classroom. I say thank you to those who first experimented and then refined the reading workshop model. I say thank you to those who affirmed what I was fighting to implement, who kept me from giving in and giving up. I say thank you to those students who sat in my room and proved that young people will read if we connect them to the right books. These teacher-writers and these students are my inspiration. They are the source of the joy of my teaching and my passionate belief in reading workshop. Thank you all for making it possible for me to share with you the love of books and the adventure of reading.