I just love Chinese food. My favorite dish is number 27.
Not long ago, I spent the morning with a colleague completing a long and arduous online course to secure recertification required for our state’s teacher evaluation system.Together we slogged through countless training modules, quizzes, and ultimately, a stressful and difficult test. When we finally finished, we were frustrated, weary, and ravenous. A large order of salty, greasy Chinese take-out seemed a logical remedy for both our mood and hunger. We found a menu for a local Chinese restaurant online, and we printed two copies–each about four pages long. I handed her one and began to skim.
I tried to focus, but the choices seemed to swim around the page. What should I order? Chicken, pork, beef, or seafood? What vegetables, what sauce, and what nuts? The rice–should it be fried or white? Or should I get noodles? Appetizers–one must get a spring roll when ordering Chinese food, yes? Or an egg roll? Oooh! Crab rangoons! Oh, no–the soup conundrum: Wonton soup is necessary, certainly, but you can’t leave out egg drop soup or hot-sour soup, can you?
I looked up at my colleague and saw bewilderment on her face. “This is what I hate about Chinese food,” she groaned. “Everything sounds so good, but I have no idea what to pick. There’s just too many choices.” She glanced down at her menu again, and then tossed it on the table. “Oh, jeez. Just order me the chicken fried rice.” She sighed. “I always just get chicken fried rice. It’s too much work to figure out something else to order.”
I agreed with her. Our identical orders of chicken fried rice tasted perfectly fine that day, but they also tasted just like every other chicken fried rice we’d ever eaten. Our lunch seemed a disappointment, a waste. I realized I had wanted something a little more special. Remarkable, even.
Because here’s the thing: I like to try new things, yet having too many options makes me anxious. I don’t want to become the type of person who never tries new things and thereby ends up an old, grumpy, predictable bore.
It goes beyond choosing a meal, of course. A whole world full of books is a marvelous thing, but it’s a difficult thing, too. It is always hard for me to know where to start. I want to experience new authors, writing styles, and genres, but I don’t want to waste time or money on a book that doesn’t speak to me from the very first page. Blindly choosing a book is risky and only occasionally successful.
As I have gotten older, I’ve solved this by seeking recommendations from a trusted reading friend to guide me toward a book I know I will love. It works.
As teachers, we have the perfect opportunity to be a student’s “first recommender.” We can turn students toward books we know they will like and books that will challenge them, so they don’t feel overwhelmed by the possibility of being stuck reading a book they don’t enjoy. And it goes beyond just teacher-to-student recommendations. We can connect each reader with peers who read and think like they do, so they have a community of friends who share reading experiences. In doing so, our young readers will learn the value of reaching out for support when choosing a text–a skill they will draw upon for years.
It doesn’t have to be a lifetime of chicken fried rice. Chicken fried rice is good. But it is plain, predictable, and easy. It keeps us from experiencing remarkable. That’s why we should seek input of others so we experience the endless other deliciousness there is to discover. Our palates–and our minds–will thank us.
This week we consider what’s appropriate in matching readers and books, in honor of National Banned Books Week. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Jennifer Schwanke is a principal in Dublin, Ohio. She also blogs about her personal pursuits athttp://jengoingbig.blogspot.com/.
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Here are two features from the archives to help you think about what makes any book appropriate (or inappropriate) for a student.
In our quest to always match students with “just-right” books, what do we miss by not watching children struggle with a text that is a little beyond their range? Andrea Smith explores this issue in Learning from Not Just-Right Books:
Shari Frost’s classic article Just Because They Can Doesn’t Mean They Should: Choosing Age-Appropriate Books for Literature Circles is one of the all-time favorites at Choice Literacy:
September 21-27 is National Banned Books Week. You can access teaching resources at this link:
This List of Banned Books is fun to browse with students — many are beloved by children and adults:
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Shari Frost asks a provocative question: Can books harm children? She explores practical ways for teachers to walk the fine line between support and censorship in matching books to students:
Jennifer Schwanke has a student who just won’t sit still and behave appropriately in her middle school classroom. She finally gives up. That’s where the learning begins in What Kenny Taught Me:
In this week’s video, Katie DiCesare confers with first grader Jude. He is inspired in his writing by Captain Underpants, the #1 challenged book series in schools over the past three years:
Katherine Sokolowski finds many of the boys in her classroom love to read about violence, weapons, and crude humor. Her Top 10 Books for Intermediate Boys challenges teachers to appreciate boys’ interests and set some of our own criticism aside:
New PD2Go: Books with strong female characters can also include dark themes of homelessness, social awkwardness, and bullying. Franki Sibberson shares her favorite books with strong female characters in this small group:
This video and workshop guide support Common Core State Standard ELA-Literacy.RL.4.10: By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
That’s all for this week!