Archives For Independent student reads

The Southport Pequot Library in Southport, Connecticut, hosts a summer book sale every July under large tents that cover most of the lawn and in the library’s auditorium. Browsing for books under this acreage, one can only imagine “Where did all these books come from?”

The most logical conclusion I can come to is that Southport residents must do nothing all day but read.

They must read a book a day…maybe more.

I tried as hard as I could to lessen the load of titles on the young adult tables, but the six boxes (approximately 250 books) I hauled out from the sale barely made a dent. These books will go into classroom libraries for independent reading (silent sustained reading -SSR), literature circles, book clubs, etc. The premise of bringing these books to the classroom is to make sure that students at all grade levels have access to books at any given moment during the school day.

In under two hours, I filled six boxes with plenty of favorites (grades 5-10) from authors Gary Paulson, Meg Cabot, Ann Brashares, Jerry Spinelli, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Rick Riordan. I also grabbed selections of book series that fall into the “popular culture categories” such Goosebumps (RL Stine) , Captain Underpants (Dav Pilkey), Ranger’s Apprentice (John Flanagan), and Alex Rider (Alex Horowitz).

These are not the books that teachers will “teach” but they are the books students will read; the difference is described in an earlier post.

There was a box of a dozen copies of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. I picked up 10 clean copies of this best seller as a reading choice for students groups who prefer non-fiction. This is the story of a young boy in Malawi (Africa) who developed a contraption that would provide his village with electricity and running water:

With a small pile of once-forgotten science textbooks; some scrap metal, tractor parts, and bicycle halves; and an armory of curiosity and determination, he embarked on a daring plan to forget an unlikely contraption and small miracle that would change the lives around him. (The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind)

There is increased attention to incorporate informational texts such as this book because of the design of the  Common Core State Standards in Literacy which suggest that by 12th grade, 70% of a reader’s diet should be non-fiction. The copies I have are enough for a small group(s) to read in literature circles or book clubs.

I also collected copies of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for the American Literature classes (grade 10). This apocalyptic novel is worth including in a curriculum because of McCarthy’s style and message. In an earlier post I describe how The Road was the first book I collected for use in the classroom; its integration into curriculum was very successful. Copies of the book with its distinctive black cover and bold lettering were easily found among the 10 or 12 tables of donated fiction….as if there had been a massive book club after-party.

Screenshot 2015-07-26 14.16.55There were large crowds attending the Southport Pequot Library’s annual sale on Saturday, and the long lines of patrons waiting patiently to check out at the volunteer cashier tables might cause one to wonder if the sale has become a victim of its own success?

On the other hand, as they slowly snaked past the tables of nature books and cookbooks, patrons continued to browse and added even more purchases to the piles in their arms or bags. No one complained as there was always something to read.

Overflow of books or marketing geniuses??…those long lines on a Saturday afternoon could just be another successful marketing technique by the Friends of the Pequot Library.

Every generation of readers has one. That book. The book with racy passages. The book with the “reputation”. The naughty book.

The proliferation of  Fifty Shades of Grey-that book- means that is entirely possible that at least one of my high school students will bring in copy as an  independent choice reading text. Of course I will require the student choose something more age- appropriate if this particular book is being read for class credit, but there are many books that teeter on acceptable boundaries.  I have had middle school students bring in copies of Twilight, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn; a series built on heart-pounding sexual teasing for three prolonged book lengths. I have seen a 10th grade student engrossed in reading Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and although I was aware of the steamy material, I saw no such reaction from the student who was being deeply exposed to Swedish misogyny. Popular culture books, particularly steamy popular culture books, are passing fads in literature.

Naughty book popularity rises and falls with readers. Every year there is some student who could be sneaking  “for mature audience” materials. When I was growing up, the paperback copies of The Godfather opened automatically, like Lucy for Sonny, on page 18. Yes, Mario Puzo’s bestseller was full of quivering and pulsing, when it wasn’t violently establishing the dominance of the Corleone family.  Coffee, Tea or Me? , which detailed the escapades of stewardesses during the sexual revolutionwas the other “naughty” text that I remember the adults keeping out of my reach. No matter. I “borrowed” my aunt’s copy during Thanksgiving dinner and read furiously in an upstairs hallway. Hiding from the relatives celebrating the holiday, I wasn’t missed, probably because I had been seated at the “kid’s table” with at least a dozen cousins.

I also know other adults have had brief flings with inappropriate literature in their youth. I know this also, because Pamela Munoz Ryan, author of the award winning  children’s book  Esperanza Rising, discussed her naughty book adventure at a keynote address at the 82nd Saturday Reunion at Columbia Teacher’s College in March 2012. Opening her remarks, Ryan claimed, “to read because it’s safe and to write because it’s dangerous.” She explained how her love of stories made her choose to write, and then she shared her own “naughty book” story.

When Ryan was young, she discovered racy romance novels in the home library shelves of a Coca-Cola addicted neighbor. Ryan would return those empty soda bottles for candy money, while at the same time, she would “borrow” a copy of a torrid romance novel. She recalled one specific incident, however, involving The Valley of the Dolls, a steamy best-selling fictional account of the rich and famous. She snuck the book out of her neighbor’s house in the back waistband of her pants. At the time, she explained, the only “safe” place for reading was the town public library, and Ryan was soon holed up in a little used aisle of books pouring through the Valley of the Dolls. There, she was approached by the town librarian.

“I could not help notice how engrossed you are in reading,” said the librarian while Ryan desperately tried to hide the title of the book, “and I wondered if  you ever read this book?” In her hand the librarian held a copy of Anne of Green Gables.

Ryan said she had not read the book and feeling obliged, checked it out.

“I rode home on my bike that day,” says Ryan, “with a copy of Valley of the Dolls tucked in my waistband, and a copy of Anne of Green Gables  in my bicycle basket.” She paused for a moment with the recollection, “You know,” she stated to a congregation of teachers, “I have read the Valley of the Dolls only once, but I have read, reread, and revisited Anne of Green Gables many times.”

Teachers too know that a student will at some point in his or her life be exposed to reading materials that may be too mature, or too salacious, for his or her age. We can counter these sensational texts because we know what books will last, what books will transcend the effects of time, and what memorable characters will help our students as they mature and grow into adults. Students should read because, as Ryan stated, “it is safe”, and we need to encourage their reading as much as possible. We should be ready to help them make good choices, such as the classics Little Women or  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. We should be ready to recommend a contemporary Esperanza Rising, The Book Thief  or Dairy Queen. We must allow students a choice in their reading but look for the opportunity to suggest a more appropriate title, because we know that the Fifty Shades of Grey tucked in the backpack ,or in their waistband, is a passing fad. Great literature endures, and fortunately, Anne of Green Gables will be there for the reader.