“Good Books, Relatively Speaking…”

Last week I needed to take my husband’s truck to the local dealership to get an estimate for some body work. As I usually do when facing a waiting room situation, I try to avoid having what Donalyn Miller calls a “book emergency.” This means stashing a book in my vehicle, my laptop bag, or in last Wednesday’s case, my oversized purse so I can steal some extra reading minutes.

After handing over the keys, I settled into one of the leather chairs and pulled out Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel version of Ann M. Martin’s “The Baby-Sitters Club: The Truth About Stacey.”  I flipped to the page that held my bookmark and returned to the fictional town of Stoneybrook. A couple minutes went by and I had that feeling that someone was watching me. I lifted my eyes from the book and noticed one of the service reps glancing my way.  Returning to the babysitters, a few more minutes passed. A mechanic walked by. Then a customer. And another.

One by one, each of them took momentary note of my reading material. As the hands on the clock slowly made their way around, I grew more and more self-conscious about the book I was holding. What were they thinking? Had they formed an opinion about my choice? And if so, what was it? I had a sudden urge to defend my actions…

“I can explain!”

“I’m a teacher!”

“I’m reading this so I can talk about it with my kids!”

But most of all, if I was being truthful with myself, I was reading it because I simply enjoyed it. I had grown up with The BSC series and though I am so excited to share it with a new generation of readers, I am equally excited to transport myself back to a familiar, comfortable place and spend some time with familiar, comfortable characters. But I didn’t say that. I didn’t say any of it.  I slowly closed my book and sat quietly, thinking about what I had just experienced.

And I thought about our students.

The students whose texts evoke awkward feelings of embarrassment for them. Perhaps they’re sitting in a guided reading group or carrying around an overflowing browsing box filled with books labeled “Level G.” We, as teachers, need to be mindful of the texts we require students to read and take into consideration their perception of it.

Even more importantly, we need to foster a community of acceptance where it is safe to read what you choose, safe to experiment with book choice, and safe to take risks as readers.  I’ve seen a lot of posts recently from author friends about the fact that there should be no qualifying of literature as “a good boy book” or “a good girl book,” that there are simply GOOD BOOKS. I agree with this premise wholeheartedly.

Our children deserve to be able to make their own choices about what they choose when it comes to independent reading. They shouldn’t have to feel like they need to carry around a four-pound Harry Potter book in order to be seen as a “good reader.” Likewise, reading Elephant & Piggie books doesn’t make someone a “bad reader.” Have you read that series?! It’s darn funny and this 42-year-old highly proficient reader quite enjoys it!

This school year, I urge you to think consciously about the messages you send to your students, both verbal and nonverbal messages. Celebrate ALL readers, ALL reading, and establish a safe literacy community for ALL learners.

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