Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It Just Takes One

Each year I have students who enter our classroom and profess loudly that they don’t love reading. Some whisper it. Some don’t say it out loud, but the feelings are still there. They struggle to connect to books. They have no real issues with the act of reading, but have yet to find the joy in it. They see reading as a chore, one more thing they have to do during this game we call school until they can take a break when summer begins.

That is where my work begins. I work to get to know the kids, to know the books. I become a matchmaker, trying to find the perfect book that will hook them, draw them in, and teach them the magic that is a good book. It is a process that is quick at times, laborious as others. There are still kids who leave my room and I know, they haven’t found the book – the book – yet. I have to hope they will in the future.

I’m a firm believer that there is a right book out there for every person and, conversely, that not every book is right for every kid. I have to remind my students of that each year. When I have recommended a favorite title to them and they quietly return in without comment. I ask, what did they think? Sheepishly, they admit they didn’t love it. We talk about that, how it is perfectly ok not to love all of the books that I do.

But, sometimes they do. Sometimes you get to witness magic. It is made up of two simple elements – a child and a book – yet you know when you see them that something has changed.

This was the case with a student in my class this week. She wants so badly to love reading, yet hadn’t found that book. I handed off Kate Messner’s upcoming book, All the Answers, and suggested it. I mentioned that there weren’t many kids that had read it yet; this was the only advanced copy I had. She went off and read.

She read, and she read, and she read. It was longer than any book she’d tried so far this year. Each time I checked in, she whispered that it was good, and then would duck her head and go back to reading. And then, the magic. Early this week I received a message from her mom. She was finishing the book that night, long after when her “20 minutes” were up. She was still reading. And crying. And reading. And crying. She told her mom she loved this book. Her mom messaged me. My heart soared.

We’ve hooked another one.

The next day she came into class. Quietly she came up to me and whispered that she finished. I looked her in the eyes and asked what she thought. It was beautiful was her reply. What should I read next? I sent her off with another stack of books. She emerged with Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind and told me she was going to read it, then See You at Harry’s up next and Bigger Than a Breadbox after that. Making reading plans? Recommending a book to her classmates? I was beyond thrilled.

This is why we need to know our kids. We need to read books, have them in our classrooms, and be able to match kids to book. It is a lot of work at times. We have to try again and again with some kids. But when it finally takes? It is an amazing sight to behold.

And, just a side note, Kate’s book All the Answers? Yes, it is that good. Look for it January 27th.