He trudges into the classroom, back slightly bent under the weight of a full back pack, long bangs hanging in his eyes, those covered eyes gazing at the floor.
“I hate this book.”
I barely hear his voice over the cattle call sounds of classes passing, but the dejected way he lifted the paperback clutched in his hand helped me understand his words.
His shuffling steps continued on to the class but stopped abruptly at my words. “So stop reading it.”
Slinging his hair out of his eyes, he shot me a confused look. “I can’t. You make us read.”
“You’re required to read but that,” I pointed to the book I couldn’t really see, “isn’t required reading.”
Every year I give the same old speech to my students: “You want to be a great writer? READ. Read everything. Newspapers, magazines, the back of the cereal box. Whatever.” And every year I hear the long, low grumble of a class filled with kids who think I’m crazy.
They don’t know how to read for fun. Somewhere between fourth and eighth grade books become about as interesting as watching mosquitoes fly into a bug zapper on a warm spring night.
I tell my kids life’s too short for bad books, but sometimes, I don’t think they get it. They don’t understand the real magic of the library. The endless aisles of books to dip into. For some reason boys have a harder time than girls finding books they enjoy.
My goal this year is to get them to try a little bit of everything:
Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, Stephen King–anything, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Chocolate War, Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, Philip Pullman, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, The Last Picture Show, The Kite Runner…and that’s just fiction. Somewhere on those shelves is a book that will capture them, pull them in, take them away to a world they don’t realize exists. A book they’ll enjoy reading just because. No tests. No symbolism or metaphor or irony. No vocab tests or AP timed writings or five paragraph essays on what the author meant or character analysis.
I’m sure I won’t find 100% success on this mission of mine, but I’m going to try. And when that boy who sneered at the novel in his hand today finds the book he loves, I’ll write about that too.