Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My New Reading Life

I'm fourteen days in to my middle school teaching career. Fourteen days where I've connected with kids, recommended books, conferenced a bit, and watched them plow through novels. Many of my seventh graders are already on their third book of the year. They floor me with the rate they are devouring books. Before the year began, I worried if my library would support the reading habits of a seventh grade reader. I'd purchased some new books, brought a lot of my old library, but I knew there would be holes. For the past fourteen days I've watched, conferenced, and read myself, paying attention to what was missing. I now know with certainty where the holes are...

Romance books.

See, much of my fifth grade library traveled with me. Divergent works in seventh. It's actually a bit mature for 5th. Historical fiction, mysteries, fantasy, etc - worked in both worlds. At the start of last week a student came up to me and asked where the romance books were. I looked at her, asked if she considered The Lightning Thief series a romance (I mean, there is some tension, right?). Her eyebrow raised and then she grinned at me. I told her I'd work on it.

That night I racked my brain, what romance books did I know that were ok for middle school? And, I wondered, what do seventh grade girls (or boys) really want a romance book for? It was that question that made me stop and laugh. See, from seventh grade through ninth grade, this was my favorite series of books by far:

I read every volume in the series multiple times. There was no deeper meaning, no huge life lessons, I just loved these books. I also realized that sometime life is crazy enough. A realistic fiction book, with a bit of romance, doesn't require me to "think" as much. I can just relax and enjoy the story. So who am I to judge what my students want to read? As a result, I went on a reading binge this weekend. Here's what I read since Friday:

Other than the two picture books and one graphic novel, you might notice a bit of a theme...lots and lots of "kissy" books as one of my friends would call them.

This is a bit stressful for me, and where I feel the most unprepared for seventh grade. It was pretty easy to veto a book for fifth grade. Sex in a plot was an automatic no. Even too much romance had me cringing. But in seventh? Books, to me, have always been my safe space to learn about the world, to prepare myself before I had to deal with anything myself. So finding my line in the sand in the world of YA is much more difficult, but I'm beginning to figure it out.

After reading three YA books yesterday on my day off from school, Luke came upon me in the kitchen reading Isla and the Happily Ever After, one of my new favorites. He looked at the back, looked at the other two books I'd read that day (P.S. I Still Love You and Kissing in America) and asked me what was up with all the romance books.

I explained that I needed to figure out what ones to bring into my seventh grade class, which ones were the best fit for my new group of kids. 

Luke said, "For the girls?"

I replied, "No, for anyone." 

He grinned at me and said, "What boy would read a romance book?"

I grinned back and said, "A smart one. Want to know how a girl thinks? Want to know what makes a decent boyfriend? These book are the ticket."

I got a pause, a head nod, and then he said, "Let me know which ones are the best."

Smart kid. Now I'm off to read The Sky is Every Where by Nelson. Have to say, this new reading life isn't too bad.