Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Books That Saved My Class

My students hate to read.

"Okay everyone, 15 minutes of independent reading!" I will announce enthusiastically.

They groan.

For 15 minutes, I encourage them, push them, remind them, and correct them.

"I need to see a book on your desk!"
"Um - there's a difference between holding a book and reading a book."
"I noticed that your book is upside-down."
"How are you reading that book if it is still closed?"
"Please sit up, and open your eyes."

It's a battle every time. I tell them to read any book that they want. I encourage them to read books from our class library, and from the school library. I remember the books that I would get lost in as a child, and they were no works of literary genius. To me, reading is the point - getting cause up in a story, connected to a character, letting it linger in your mind after it ends. This is how you become hungry for books - and that is what I have wanted for my students.

This year, I have found success. I have taken to ordering books based on their preferences, and on recommendations from others. It turns out that in their local library, it's hard to get a hold of a book, because usually there are very few copies. Luckily, my principal has budgeted to allow for books to be ordered, and my classroom library has been completely revitalized as a result.

Here, for all interested readers and frustrated teachers of urban youth, are the books that my class has fallen in love with. (I'll keep updating, these are just the ones that leap immediately to mind)

'A Child Called It' by Dave Peltzer
"Drama High" a series by L. Devine
"Emako Blue" by Brenda Woods
"The Coldest Winter Ever" by Sister Soulja
Sharon Flake - "Bang", "The Skin I'm In", "Who Am I Without Him", "Begging for Change" and "Money Hungry"
Sharon Draper - "The Battle of Jericho", "Tears of the Tiger", "Darkness Before Dawn", "November Blues", "Just Another Hero", "Double Dutch", and "Copper Sun"
"The Diary of a Wimpy Kid" Series
The "Blue Blood" Series by Melisa De La Cruz
"The Uglies" Series
"The Color Purple" by Alice Walker
"Everything Is Fine" by Ann Dee Ellis
The Bedford High Series (by Paul Bedford and others) - especially 'The Gun' for boys
"Tyrell" by Coe Booth (boys are crazy about this book)
"Monster" and "Dope Sick" by Walter Dean Myers
"Skeleton Creek" by Patrick Carman
"Thirteen Reasons Why" by Jay Asher

The books get stolen and borrowed and lost. Students from other classes show up at my door begging to borrow books, and I always say yes, though my own students protest.

Maybe they won't be able to get the books that they want in the future. Maybe they still won't remember to read each night or in the summertime. But they are all getting a taste of how wonderful a book can be - how it can transport you, and leave you breathless, dying for more. Feeling that way is a gift - one that I got when I was very young, and have never lost. Maybe I think it's so important that they understand it because once you learn that you can go to books to get this feeling, you can always find it for yourself. You don't have to rely on other people - which they often can't.

So I keep ordering books. They aren't all nice books, and they may even not be school appropriate - but they are usually raw, and real, and engaging.

Independent Reading is something to look forward to now, a time when I don't remind them to be quiet, or have to threaten them with homework or quizzes on the book. Now, 15 minutes isn't nearly long enough, and they always ask for more. I don't have to tell them why or how. They just read. And they like it.


  1. Maybe the best thing I have done in my classroom is to order (through Donors Choose) sets of all three Hunger Games books. I had to coax the first wave of kids to read it, but once a handful had finished the first book (and come back begging for the sequels) I started to hear the following conversation a lot:

    Student A: What is this Hunger Games book?
    Student B: Yo, you should read that.
    Student A: Is it any good?
    Student B: It's live. *I* read it. You know I don't read books.

    1. I also got Hunger Games for my students, and my most advanced readers read it and loved it, and begged for the second and third books! It's a great series - and the movie coming out motivated a lot of them to read the book. Not all of them, of course.

      "Why would I read a book? I could just see the movie. Then, if I like it, maybe I'll consider the book."

  2. Some other great books I helped our ELA teacher come up with were:

    The Kite Runner
    A Thousand Splendid Suns
    Nineteen Minutes
    Their Eyes Were Watching God
    The Alex Rider series
    Gym Candy
    Bless Me, Ultima

    Some of these books are more advanced level, but it would be a good challenge for your students! Now that the NYS is over in both ELA and Math, my students have all basically checked themselves out of school... is that the same with your kids?