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January 1&15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more Dean's List
A big part of my work as an English teacher is free reading—having a good classroom library, in addition to the school library, and giving students plenty of time to just kick back with a book. I wonder about the fate of reading in our electronic age, in which parents often don’t read aloud to their children, kids’ lives are overscheduled, and young people are awash in electronic diversions. Still, the students at my school are reading more than ever. If I give them a whole 50-minute class period to read, they will use it.
And, as always, lots of kids who were not big readers previously have gotten hooked on reading this past year. One of my students, never much of a reader before, came in first thing one morning to return Rick Riordan’s The Lost Hero, which he had finished, along with all of the Percy Jackson books just since the beginning of the school year, and he was mad at himself for leaving The Red Pyramid at home on his dresser, knowing we’d have some free reading time later that day. Another seventh-grade boy is finding his way into reading via Charlie Higson’s The Enemy—perhaps a bit intense for his age, but if it lures him into the world of books, fine by me. Unfortunately, the sequel isn’t out as of this writing, and sequels are so crucial to keeping the reading momentum going.
Hot among other boys at the moment are John Feinstein’s The Rivalry: Mystery at the Army-Navy Football Game; Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series; Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron and Sapphique (popular with girls, too); and Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan and Behemoth, steampunk alternate histories of World War I. I have an eighth-grade boy who loved Ingrid Law’s Savvy and was thrilled when he saw that I had the sequel, Scumble, and another eighth-grade boy just read all of Susan Cooper’s Dark Is Rising series.
My seventh- and eighth-grade girls are all over the place in their reading. Caroline Cooney’s The Face on the Milk Carton caught on this past year, keeping me busy making sure the sequels would be on hand when they were ready for them. Linda Gerber’s Death by Bikini and Death by Latte were also big, and Sonya Sones’ always-popular verse novels are often the books that get nonreading girls reading. Grace, a seventh-grader, was never a big reader, but it has been novels in verse that have hooked her, giving her confidence, even an identity, as someone who reads poetry. I gave her Helen Frost’s Keesha’s House, written in dramatic monologues in verse. I did double-check reviews first, and Hazel Rochman’s Booklist review recommended it for grades 6–10. Grace was a bit scandalized by the word condom in the very first poem and created a minor uproar in what had been a quiet class. But then she settled into the book, assuring me that she was, in fact, mature enough to read it. That’s really one way to “sell” a book that you know is OK: wonder aloud if the student is ready for the mature themes in it. Well, of course she’ll want to read it to see what’s so mature about it!
Halo, by Alexandra Adornetto, was one of the biggest hits of the year. All it took was showing my classes the trailer on Amazon.com, and for a month there was a rush on the several copies I had bought. One girl read it in a couple of days and loved carrying it around, even hugging it, for the next couple of weeks. Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It and its sequels have had a steady readership, as has Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen.
So, create a culture of books in your classroom, and kids will read. Have lots of good books, give kids time to read them, read the books yourself so you know what a student might read next, and have your own books going, too. We book-people may be dissident voices in an electronic wilderness, but what can be better than sharing our love of books with kids?
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