From the Office of the Future of Reading

Please help me welcome today’s guest blogger, Samantha Steinberg, a second grade teacher at Trinity School in Atlanta, Georgia. A mother, reader, and book lover, Samantha hopes to inspire children to find the books they love to read. She has 16 years of teaching experience.

Samantha Steinberg

Genre Studies Open Doors to New Books

As a second grade teacher, matching books to readers is a big part (and a favorite part) of my job. I love getting to know my students– their personalities, likes and dislikes, reading level, hobbies, etc—so I can figure out which books, authors, or series to recommend. It is an amazing feeling when my suggestion ends up being the perfect fit for that student at that moment, propelling the reader forward as a result.

In second grade, many readers gravitate toward realistic characters whom they can relate to: Junie B. Jones, that funny “Wimpy Kid,” Ramona Quimby, and Nate the Great. Most children this age love the hilarious exploits of Captain Underpants and the adventures of the Magic Tree House books. Given these typical favorites of the eight year-old set, I was pleasantly surprised this year when our genre study of folktales enthralled and engaged my students in a way I had not anticipated.

Every year prior to writing our own folktales, my class delves into reading lots and lots of folktales and identifying the unique characteristics of this genre. We read many different folktales, compare them, and identify commonalities and differences. Often, I will read several versions of the same folktale to my class, so they can notice how different authors retell the same story, or put their own spin on an old classic, such as in Jon Sciezska’s Stinky Cheese Man (always a huge hit!).

This year, I grabbed some old favorites from my bookshelf. As we read Verna Aardema’s beautiful Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, my students were excited by the colorful illustrations and the rhythm of the words. After just a few pages, they caught on to the repetitive parts of the story and joined in, reading along with me. I’m not sure why it surprised me, but my students’ level of enthusiasm for the story gave me pause. Not because it isn’t a great book (it is), but because it was so different from their usual book choices.

As we continued reading folktales aloud, in partners, and independently, the children’s enthusiasm grew. They began talking about books, asking to borrow their favorites, and seeking out the usually lonely collection of folktale books in our classroom library. Although I had planned to work on Reader’s Theater a little bit later in the school year, the buzz and excitement in the classroom gave me an idea to use some of our favorite folktales and turn them into Reader’s Theater plays. My students couldn’t wait to get started! They used the books to help them write scripts and began practicing immediately. No one needed to be prodded or cajoled. The entire class was incredibly engaged.

Our genre study of folktales opened the doors to a whole new world of books for my second grade students. The experience made me wonder: If I had not exposed my class to this genre, what wonderful reading experiences would they have missed? Opening up children’s eyes and minds to a new genre, author, or series could be just the hook they need to become life-long readers and book lovers.


Thank you Samantha for sharing your adventures into folktales, and for reminding us that just one step outside our reading comfort zones can be the beginning of an amazing new reading/learning experience!