From the Office of the Future of Reading

Please join me in welcoming today’s guest blogger, Sara Ralph, who has been an elementary school librarian for eleven years. She has always loved reading and is dedicated to making sure her students and three daughters do, too. She has a blog and you can find her on Twitter.

A Right Book for Every Reader

When I hear the term reluctant reader, I picture two men who look like bouncers, dragging a student, most likely a boy, into a library and forcing him to pick a book. I recently read a great quote from author James Patterson, who initiated “There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading, and kids who are reading the wrong books.” So how do we help kids find the right books? One word: choice.

It seems simple, right? However, in the educational world of Common Core, grade level text, exemplar titles, close reading, Lexile levels, and Accelerated Reader/Reading Counts programs, students having the freedom to read what they want to read at school is something that is in danger. It is up to educators to preserve it. What does freedom to read look like in my elementary school library?

Picture books are for everyone. The first thing I did was change “Easy Fiction” to “Everyone.” I read picture books to all students, and they know I love picture books. I wanted to undo the idea that students outgrow picture books.

Out with the old and in with the new. Library collections are living organisms; they needed to be weeded and new books need to be purchased. Budget challenges in schools are no joke. I have advocated with my principal for library funding. I have two book fairs each year to raise money to purchase library books. I have been awarded a grant from the NC State Library. I have asked the PTO to help purchase books. I purchase $250 worth of books for the library each year, using the educator tax credit provided by the federal government. For title ideas, there are endless kidlit blogs on the web; a great place to start: The Nerdy Book Club.

Graphic novels are awesome. Kids love graphic novels. They are NOT junk reading. Publishers have realized the popularity of these books and more are being published than ever, even for elementary students. Kidlit blogs and professional magazines can provide guidance on finding high quality graphic novels.

Two books are not enough. If you want students to read, they need access to more books. One of the best moments I’ve experienced as an educator was at the beginning of the school year when I suggested to a student that five books was a good number to check out. The excited look on the students face as she whispered to another student, “She said we could check out FIVE!” is something I will never forget.

Taking risks is encouraged. Say a third grader who reads below grade level comes in and checks out Harry Potter. In terms of “just right books,” this is a poor choice. However, it is important that we allow students take risks as readers. Telling someone they can’t read a particular book is a terrible thing to do to a child because all they hear is “You can’t read.”

Thank you Sara for sharing your insight and for all the wonderful work you do getting kids to love reading! And to repeat the information from Tuesday’s post, First Book might be an additional resource for you in terms of adding to your library collection. Here’s my Author in Action link! Also, check out the Target Early Childhood Reading grants.

No Responses to “From the Office of the Future of Reading”

  1. Susan Hill Long

    Thank you, Sara, for encouraging your readers! Early on, my daughter had a librarian who said “no,” but a teacher who said, “yes!” and slipped a book in her cubby with a note: “I saw this book and thought of you.” That little note, that yes, made all the difference.

  2. Anonymous

    Loved your post, Sara, and agree with everything you wrote! Your students are very lucky to have you 🙂 Tanja
    (And btw – I also have an Everyone section in our Primary library.)