As a classroom teacher, sharing my own life as a reader has always been an important part of my teaching. I believe that if we are to have authentic conversations with kids about their lives as readers, they need to know that every reader is unique — and that this uniqueness is wonderful. I decided that this “lesson” of me sharing my life as a reader was an important thing for me to bring to the school in my new role as a school librarian. No matter what my role in the school, I think this is critical. For me, it has been a way to begin conversations with kids about their lives as readers and to invite kids to begin to think about their own reader identities.
Each year, I put together a new stack of books to share with students — books that tell something about me as a reader. The stack is not intended to tell everything about me as a reader. These books are mostly texts written for adults — not books that I want to read or share much in terms of plot or other information. This chat is meant to get the conversation started in a way that children might begin to do the same. I try to tell them the basics of who I am as a reader at this moment – making clear that this changes all the time as I discover new books and interests. This year’s basket includes books from my childhood, current favorites, fiction and nonfiction, and more.
I want to share my childhood reading with students for a few reasons. I want them to know that there are books that I loved so much that I have kept copies for all of these years. I am including two of my favorite books that my mother used to read to me — Time for a Rhyme by Ellen Wilkie and A Present for the Princess by Janie Lowe Paschall (the price of 29 cents is still on the cover of this one!). These were books that I heard read aloud to me over and over and over again. I’ll probably tell them about checking out lots of books from the library each week too.
I plan to share Betsy’s Little Star by Carolyn Haywood, the Nancy Drew series and one of the mysteries in The Secret Seven series. These were the series that hooked me as readers. In upper elementary grades, these were the books that I couldn’t get enough of. I read every book in the series, and the school librarian always let me know when a new book in this series had arrived. These were the books that turned me into a reader for life.
After sharing my history as a reader, I’ll pull out several books in my stack that tell something different about me as a reader. Since I love fiction, I have included several titles. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (one that I share each year) is one of my favorite books, but it took me several attempts to actually finished it. I wasn’t quite ready, for whatever reason, until that ninth try at reading it all the way through. I will also include The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger it reminded me that I enjoy fantasy books.
I also include books by favorite authors Anna Quindlen and Ann Patchett, letting kids know that I always read the newest books by these authors because I have loved everything else they’ve written. I’ll show them an audiobook and let them know that I often listen to audio books when I am driving long distances. I also have Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen on my fiction stack even though I have not yet read it. I will let kids know that I always have a stack of books that I am looking forward to reading. I call this stack my “next-read stack” and I am always on the look out for books I may want to read in the future.
Sharing a Variety of Nonfiction Texts
I also have a nonfiction stack that is a bit more varied. In that stack, I’ve included Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez because I like to learn about the way life is in other places. I’ve also included a book on Guatemala that I read before our trip there a few years ago. I have a book called Smart Organizing by Sandra Felton. I love books that can help me figure out better ways to keep things organized. I will also share a few cookbooks, letting kids know that I enjoy baking cookies and I am always looking for new cookie recipes. Of course, I will show them some of the professional books I’ve been reading, letting them know that reading about the teaching of reading is one of my passions.
Other books in the stack I’ll share include Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. I share this book to make a point about difficulty. This book was one of the most difficult books I ever read. Not because of the length or because the words were too hard – this is a rather thin book with short chapters. The book was hard because it was so sad in passages. It had big lessons and lots that I had to stop and think about. So this book was hard for me because of the thinking that it required. Even though the text was easy to decode and I understand all the vocabulary in it, there are lots of ways a book can be challenging to a reader.
I’ll include a few magazines to let them know that my reading life is not limited to books. I will also share a few pages from blogs that I read to let them know that internet reading counts. And I will show them a brand-new children’s book because I LOVE to read as many newly published children’s books as I can.
I will do all of this swiftly, in 10-15 minutes at the most. I will quickly hold each book up to make a point — not to share the actual book. I could go on and on with each of these titles and tell them more about my life as a reader. Yet I know that there will be lots of time to expand on the seeds I am planting with this conversation. I remember that my goal is to give them lots of ways to begin to think about their own lives as readers – not to know about mine.
Years ago, I invited students to each lunch in the classroom to discuss books that we were reading. I called them Lunch Bunches. They were quite popular. Many students signed up to give up their lunch and recess time to eat with a small group and talk about books. I found that more important than talk about the book, was the informal conversation I was able to have with students over lunch. It was the best way I have found to get to know students fast and to keep conversations going. This year as the school librarian, I am going to invite students to participate in “Lunch in the Library” groups. The first set of lunches will be scheduled for September and will invite students to the library to talk about their own lives as readers. It will be very informal and fun and it will give me a chance to chat with lots of students about the kinds of readers they are.