Monday, July 14, 2014

Put Downs or Build Ups?

There often seems to someone on the attack lately. I've been teaching for a lot of years and I've seen lots of attacks on books as well as attacks on people who choose to read certain books.

To me, the attacks are usually a waste of time & energy ... and just a little bit nuts.

Some people become absolutely inflamed because of what they think is in a book.

Whenever a new fuss pops up I think back to a student I'll call Amanda. She was in my split grade 6/7 classroom for 2 years. During our first reading conference of her Grade 6 year, Amanda admitted she'd never actually read a book on her own. Reading was very tough for her and by the time she finished sounding out words she'd almost always lost the meaning of the sentence.

She thought she might like some of the Goosebumps books everyone was talking about. There was a lot of fuss at the time from people who wanted to ban Stine's series from classrooms and libraries. There were people who claimed teachers were 'evil' for allowing kids to be exposed to them. (I question if any of those people actually read any of the books!!)

Being me, I had over 30 Goosebumps books to choose from. She selected 2 and I read them into tapes. She tried to read along with my voice during reading time.

Then she read one on her own.

Then another.

By the time she finished Grade 6, Amanda had read 17 Goosebumps books on her own.


Over the summer and during her Grade 7 year, she moved on to Stine's Fear Street series. And Christopher Pike. And Caroline B. Cooney. Then Lois Lowry and JK Rowling. And many, many more.

Her grade 8 teacher was shocked she'd been a non-reader 2 years before.

Ridiculing anyone for their choice of reading material is yet another kind of put down. The world has enough of those.

I'd rather see the build ups. I'd rather celebrate the Amandas of the world who demonstrate perseverance and are willing to admit to a difficulty and take the risks involved in becoming stronger.

If I only stocked my classroom with my favourite books, it would still be a very large library, but it wouldn't rival the 5000+ books I stock today. The more variety I have available, the easier it is to find those Home Run books for kids and turn them into avid readers. Do I have to personally like the books they choose? Nope. Do I have to support their right to like them.


How do you feel about the folks who want to dictate what we read or judge us based on the ones we choose?


  1. What a wonderful success story! She just needed the right book - and a teacher who was willing to put forth some effort.
    Some people like to mock certain authors or genres. Maybe it's jealously or something. But it's shallow. There are books and genres I don't read, but if others enjoy them, then that's awesome. I'm not put here to judge anyway.

  2. I am worried that with the reading programs we have at our school where the kids are forced to read for scoring (and testing) that students will balked at reading on their own, associating it with school work.

    I agree with your statement, "...the attacks are usually a waste of time & energy ... and just a little bit nuts." A total waste of time.

  3. Jemi, what a wonderful thing you did. If only more teachers (parents and adults in general) were like you. Students should be encouraged to read, no matter what. I don't read every genre, but I'm thankful they are there in case I ever decide to try them. I'm so happy things turned out for Amanda. Who knows, one day she may be a teacher or a writer and encourage others to read.

  4. Jemi, you made a huge impact on that girl's life. Building up is always better. Some people can only criticize and be negative though.

  5. I wish my son's teacher was like you. My son loved to read the Goosebumps books, but the teacher told him to read something else instead. So instead, my son refused to read. I think that teacher could have handled it a bit better. My son is in his thirties now and has just rediscovered reading (of which I'm glad!).

  6. Alex - I often wonder if the reactions are based on insecurities too. It's okay to like different things!

    Teresa - they are nuts! I don't like proscribed reading like that either. We've avoided that here and in our school kids ALWAYS choose their own books!

    Mason - I haven't run into Amanda in a while but I bet she's doing something successfully! :)

    Diane - and that's just so sad. Can't imagine living in such a negative world!

    Stacy - your poor son! How frustrating! I'm glad he's enjoying reading now. :)

  7. This really resonated with me, Jemi. A few months ago a bookseller came to our library and said she really was frustrated with parents who scolded their young readers when they reached for picture books.

    "You're too old for those," they'd say.

    Then this bookseller proceeded to read to us from one of her favorite picture books, but stopped just before the end.

    There was a collective, "No!" from her audience, none of which were under 30. We all wanted to hear the end of that story.

    Choose to read what delights and engages you. Your experience with the girl who'd never read a book on her own proves how well that can turn out.

  8. How lucky your students are to have such a thoughtful and understanding and non-judgmental teacher, Jemi. That is such an inspiring story.

  9. 17! That's more than most people read in their whole lives :(
    I do believe that some books should never enter schools, but using sense and morals in choosing which ones.... I personally wouldn't expose kids in schools to popular books, they can read those in their free time, but to carefully selected classics because they need to establish standards and not just read crap.

  10. Hi Jemi,

    I read you loud and clear :) Your encouragement is representative of all the Amanda's of this world.

    You instilled the passion of the written word. You are a remarkable lady and the world needs more non-judgemental folks like you.

    I read Dr. Seuss. My son was captivated by those books at a very early age.

    And now for a horror story. This most worrying. The idiot party in power in Britain, wants to ban "To Kill a Mockingbird", from the high school curriculum. And people might wonder why I get angry about the outrage of that.

    Once again, thank you for sharing your contagious, upbeat, caring attitude, dear Jemi.

    Gary :)

  11. Lee - that's so completely awesome!! I use picture books all the time in my classes (up to grade 8) and the kids love them!

    Karen - awwww! Thanks so much. Your words made my day :)

    Dezzy - good point! I tend to read aloud the older books they wouldn't choose on their own. The Giver is always a favourite - plus Farley Mowat!

    Gary - thank you so much - your words mean a lot! How can anyone consider banning To Kill a Mockingbird - it's SUCH a powerful book! One of my all time faves -with so many incredible life lessons! So frustrating!

  12. My one son became a pleasure reader because of the Harry Potter series. Kids need to read something they enjoy.

  13. I think if you don't like a book, don't read it. You even have the right to not allow your kids to read it. However, to stop the rest of the world population from reading a certain book is a terrible thing to do. We all have free choice. Ban To Kill A Mockingbird? Seriously? People need to get out more.

  14. The people you speak of (it's my way or the highway) positively bore me to death. I'm sure they must love the sound of their own voices ... oh to be so perfect.

    All I can say is, thank goodness we are all different. And thank goodness for people like you who actually talk some sense.

    Oh, and good on all the 'Amanda's' in the world too. It takes courage to raise ones hand in class because it separates us from the others.

    I remember someone saying to me; if there's something or someone (more to the point) negative in your life, get rid of them. And I did. Never been happier :)

  15. My daughter used to have terrible taste in books in grade school, mostly reading the Captain Underpants series or graphic novels. But she read and then found Percy Jackson and other wonderful books. So agree with your approach.

  16. Kudos to you! It doesn't matter what we read as long as we read. Without reading we become ignorant. I'm certain this student will always remember you opened up the world for her.

  17. I dislike any sort of snobbery or elitism in reading choices. With kids, reading anything is better than nothing because it helps their minds expand. If they like it and want to read more then it's all good.

  18. I remember a children's librarian who suggested the Captain Underpants books for my daughter (she was not a reluctant reader at all, we just needed to find more for her; all the books for her age were below her reading level). "I don't like them very much," the librarian said, "but the kids love them." Sure enough, she loved them.

    It's fine to share opinions, but we really shouldn't try to make others feel bad for THEIR opinions.

  19. I am right there with you and much prefer to have people celebrate reading! There are books for everyone out there and I think variety in a classroom library is especially important. :) How wonderful that Amanda was honest with you and you helped put her on the reading path. Thank goodness she found books that were the right fit for her.

    Yeah for Goosebumps and wonderful teachers like you. :)

  20. You are so right. When I taught third grade, some parents would be judgy on what their kids were reading on their own at home. I asked if they seemed to enjoy it. And if they did, encourage them. Let them read what they want for fun.

    5000 books! That is a huge library. I loved reading the success story about "Amanda." Those students are lucky to have you, Jemi!

  21. Great post, Jemi! It makes me miss teaching. I too had a huge classroom library. I still bump into a parent every now and again who always reminisces about her son in my class and how he brought home every Matt Christopher sports book I had in that library (which were quite a few.) Non reader to reader by the end of the second semester. He's now a sports journalist.

    Absolutely need those build ups. In lots of situations!! thanks for sharing your story!!

  22. Susan - totally agree! Reading for pleasure is priceless!

    Clarissa - agreed! Parents have the power to decide what a child reads but other than that we can all make our own choices! :)

    Wendy - I agree - life is to short to fill it with the nay-sayers!

    Natalie - exactly! The important thing is to get the kids excited about books - the rest falls into place :)

    Carol - thank you! Reading is such a powerful skill.

    Nick - I agree. Once they fall in love with books, the rest is easy! :)

    Jeff - exactly! If it gets a kid reading, it's working!

    Jess - thanks! Amanda was a great kid and a hard worker!

    Kelly - thanks so much! Once a kid's been in my class, they always come back to borrow books - better choice than the library :)

    Ava - that's awesome! I have a bunch of the Matt Christopher sports books too. The hockey ones go well in my class :)

  23. Jemi, thanks for sharing that success story. Some kids just need the right person/book to help them get to that place of finding reading enjoyable. 5000 books is a huge library! : )

  24. Susanne - I think there's a Home Run book out there for everyone that'll help them be a reader :) And yes, it takes up two full walls of my classroom! :)

  25. My daughter's teacher last year had a rather low opinion of graphic novels, which is my girl's favorite genre. Super-visual thinkers like her will always engage more with a story that isn't purely words. I've seen her go on to pick up the text-only version of a book she first read as a graphic novel to compare how the storytelling differs, which is quite high-level analysis for an 11-yo.

    I agree that responding with encouragements rather than put downs is the best thing for reluctant readers. Heck, I wasn't much of a reader until age 12, when a teacher found my "secret door" (horse stories) that led me into a library of joy. That joy carried me forward to more "high falutin'" reading materials. And now I edit PhD-level literary criticism.

  26. What a fantastic story. When a genre or author grips a child, they won't stop reading, and this does wonders for non-readers. I never understood the fuss over Goosebumps.

  27. Medeia - agreed! I love having a kid say 'can you hang on a minute, I HAVE to finish this book!' And I hang on every single time :)

  28. There are a few genre's I think you can and probably should steer clear of, but I'm all for finding the book that sets a kid on fire. I'm still looking for that one for my youngest. We've pretty much resorted to graphic novels.

  29. Laurel - my response to you seems to have disappeared! (sorry) I love that your daughter is comparing those - analytic skills at its best and most natural. Love it!!

    Crystal - I've always found kids able to self censor without a whole lot of guidance - they truly are amazing. And there a ton of great graphic novels out there! :)

  30. Wow, what an inspiring story! You did such a wonderful thing for Amanda. I truly believe any and all kids can get into reading -- there are books (as well as types of books, such as e-books and audio books) out there for everyone. :)

  31. My grandkids' elementary school has a program where the kids read a book and take a computerized test on it. They earn points based on the test score and the reading level/difficulty, and there's a contest to see who has the most points in each grade (complete with a weekly top ten list). Sounds encouraging, right? Expect the pressure to read books in higher and higher reading levels ended up killing my grandson's enjoyment of reading. By the way, he loved the Goosebumps series...until he was told they were below his reading level.

  32. Shelley - I agree completely! I always promise the kids they'll love reading by Christmas time - and it almost always works! :)

    Linda - that's so sad!!! Why does everything come down to numbers? Ridiculous. Studies have proven that 95% of our reading should be at the easy level for us to improve!

  33. I had no idea this problem existed… wow. To answer your question, it would be really hard for me to take a person who judges me based on the books I read seriously.

  34. Reading your post gave me … goosebumps! Honestly, I think almost anything that gets a kid to read is a good thing. I remember some of my friends' sons would only read books from that series, and it helped turn them into proficient readers, who actually like to read.

    I don't know what attacks you're referring to, but I guess there's always a discussion of some kind. Like you, I have my favourites and others that I don't care for as much, but I try not to put any books down - other than in my book group, where everything is fair game!

  35. Agnes - exactly! It's such a bizarre kind of snobbery!

    Beth - goosebumps! Love it!! I like a wide variety of books, but there are still several genes I don't enjoy. But I love that others enjoy them!