There are a lot of great things about books. Academically there are studies that show the more kids read the better they will perform in school, increase their vocabulary, strengthen spelling skills. Aside from academic gains, the development of compassion and empathy, experiencing other cultures and situations that one might not be exposed to in their own lives are continued reasons to read.
As a kid I was not a reader. I liked to imagine my own stories but my attention to a book was lacking, I would read a comic book but the idea of reading taking more than 10-15 minutes out of my very busy day of video games and watching wrestling was not appealing. The first novels I can remember reading by choice were Star Wars Jedi Academy novels in the 90’s then Harry Potter caught me after the first 2 movies came out. Beyond that I do not remember the books I read in school, I do not have any recollection beyond that I had to read books for my teachers. I did not enjoy them and did not truly learn from them. I still remember the all powerful Suncrusher from the Star Wars books and the iconic Mrs. Weasley line “Not my daughter, you (censored for student readers) from Deathly Hallows. We hear a lot about choice and the impact it has, that all said I do think it is important to read good literature with others and discuss it as groups to get other perspectives but to get the full bang for your buck as teachers we should make sure we have a culture of readers who enjoy reading before drowning them in books they do not care about.
This summer I have been reading a fair bit, I like to read when the sun is out. To turn off the sounds of TV, Music and people and just hear the wind blow, maybe the pool filter and just enjoy the sun and a great book. People often ask me what I am reading or what my favourite book is and I think the list all depends on the purpose or the audience. So I am going to talk about some of the books I have read in different categories and if you want to check them out great.
Favourite Novel of ALL TIME-The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
This story was suggested to me by a librarian friend and I loved it right from the start. A sinister villain and a magic idea of a boy raised in a Graveyard. Nobody Owens is a unique character trying to find himself while also solve the mystery of why his family was taken from him. With characters like Vampires, Ghouls and Werewolves Bod must learn the lessons of survival to find the man who took his parents from him. I have read this story for the last few years to my class and have not ever had a complaint except from a parent that thought it was too dark (spoiler alert some people die). I just love the development of Bod throughout the story and how his journey is really like that of any child toward independence. This story has served well as a great start to my reading year.
Runners Up-Top Favourites
Both of these stories appeal to me because they tape into my favourite genre (fantasy) in different ways. Night Parade is set in a small traditional village in Japan with the main character being a girl that is not too happy about having to “waste” her summer in the land of no technology or friends. Her choices set forth a chain of events that involve spirits and Saki discovering the importance of family and tradition. I have spoken about Some Kind of Happiness in this post. Both books are great, fair warning the Night Parade starts a bit slow but definitely picks up.
Favourite Summer Read- Refugee By Alan Gratz
I have written about Refugee here. But I would like to emphasize that in this time we need books that help students connect to the “other” those unlike them and see that there are connections we can make to each other. I believe so much in this book and the power it could have in building empathy, compassion and seeing our similarities with others rather than just our differences that I ordered 30 copies and plan to use it with my whole class and give copies to other teachers. It is an important book that everyone should read.
Honorable Mention Novels- The Hate U GIve, A List of Cages
The Hate U Give has been on the NYT Best Seller list I think at number 1 for weeks and it deserves it. It was a great book that addresses a very important topic especially as racism seems to be taking up more of the mainstream media coverage and students are going to be asking questions. I have a summary of my reading experience with this title and A List of Cages in the Book Box. I liked both titles but I did not recommend them as my top summer read as I am not sure the content of them is appropriate for my students. I would recommend either title highly to High School Students or Adults. Content Warning: A List of Cages deals with some very extreme abuse. It is detailed and tough to get through at times.
Favourite Series- Nightmares by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller
Great stories, great characters, great messages. Overcoming Fear, being courageous and forgiveness are all themes in the Nightmares books. Charlie Laird thinks his Stepmother is a witch and she is coming for him…My students have loved these books the last few years. I have moved up to grade 7 and will not be using them for a read aloud this year but they will be on my shelves and are well worn. I plan to start the year book talking the heck out of the Nightmares Series.
Reluctant Readers Series-Tales Dark and Grimm
This series has helped a few of my reluctant readers. Fair warning the content is a bit graphic and violent and I would not suggest this book for anyone under 5th grade and even that might be too young for some. The story tells the “real” story of different fairy tale adventures. It is a fun reimagining of stories kids may know with characters like Hansel and Gretel and Jack and Jill. One student just kept on coming up to my desk to talk about it and how “cool” it was when this person was beheaded or how the mermaids are super creepy. It is a great series but a lot dark haha.
Favourite Picture books to teach with: What do you do with…by Kobi Yamada
As the world is moving to a more complicated place we ask students to be inquisitive and explore their thoughts and ideas. These books address that idea and what to do when encountering a problem. Beautifully illustrated and powerful in their message. I love using these books in class.
Favourite Picture Book for responses and reflection: Baseball Saved Us
This is a powerful book, I have used it for Notice and Note Lesson, Disrupting Thinking Lessons, Quadrant of Thought Lessons…Lessons haha. It promotes a critical thinking and opportunity for discussion with parallels to events that are occurring today. Students will connect with the lead character of this story and definitely be pulled from their comfort zones in discussions around internment and why this policy was in place.
Favourite Children’s Author- Peter Reynolds
I love the beauty of Peter Reynolds books. The messages they contain and the simple artwork. My students line up to take a Peter Reynolds book off my personal shelf. I have always read The North Star and discussed it’s meaning on the first day of class. This year will be no different. Each of these unique stories addresses the uniqueness in us and the power in being creative. Wonderful stories and side note The Smallest Christmas Gift might make your eyes leak a bit.
Favourite Teacher Book-Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst
I have written about this book here. I highly recommend all teachers read it. This book is not about just reading but how we think, challenge the words that are put in front of us and question how they can and will impact our lives. I love it.
Reading has become an escape for me. Cris Tovani talks about one of our ways of losing meaning in reading is through loss of attention to the text. I like to block out the world when I read. By finding text that we can lose ourselves in, enjoy without reservation we can go to different places, experience new things, places and people. I was not always a reader and I am still not a fast one, but I am a thoughtful one.
While I know some of you who read this are teaching already, I do not start with students until September but I hope that everyone can have a successful teaching year. For my non-classroom teacher/readers out there, send me your recommendations because the stack can never get too high.