Yes, I know that many of you also sighed in relief as your reluctant reader *finally* read a book. Your child might even be *hooked* on reading -- as long as it is a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, but nothing else. I wholeheartedly acknowledge that some reluctant readers -- many reluctant readers -- have finally finished a book because of this series. However, I think we must ask ourselves, “Why read?” Is the purpose of reading simply to put a book in a child’s hand to check off the box labeled "Child read a book," or does it have another, more valuable purpose?
I believe that reading is a gateway to understanding -- to understanding ourselves -- to understanding society -- to understanding history.
I believe that reading is a gateway to understanding -- to understanding ourselves -- to understanding society -- to understanding history. I believe that books have more power to change the world than any other single piece of media. Reading is implicit in shaping well-educated individuals. It’s absolutely necessary to be a successful adult. Reading is also a rich form of entertainment that can allow readers to escape to another world and make new, albeit, fictional friends. Reading allows children, and adults, access to limitless information and understanding. Reading is power.
Reading doesn’t come naturally, nor is reading a skill that is ever fully mastered. It’s a learning process. When students are very young, reading serves a pretty narrow purpose -- learning to read and, hopefully, teaching our children to appreciate and love books. Of course, the picture books and bedtime stories that we read to our children usually also have some overwhelmingly positive theme or message that we would like to instill in our children too. We don’t, for fairly obvious reasons, read our children a story in which bullying is accepted or profanity is the norm. So, why do we accept this a few years later?
When students reach their first chapter books, learning to read becomes a more natural process. Many chapter book series are designed to naturally help a child gain reading comprehension skills. As students become more fluent readers, a door is opened to a whole new world of books. It’s a world full of choices, opportunities, and experiences to be had. This is also the point at which most of our readers become more independent. They’re reading on their own and we don’t necessarily read everything they are reading and that’s OK. We want our children to be independently motivated readers. We certainly want them to beat the national average literacy rate of about a 5th grade level. We definitely want our children to beat that statistic.
I’ve had the privilege of seeing student outcomes from hundreds of different schools -- public, private, charter, home school, online, hybrid -- you name it, I’ve seen it. While I exclusively work with students performing above grade level, I frequently have students come through my doors for placement testing that don’t qualify. Some come close. More often than not, if students don’t qualify it is because their reading skills are lacking -- they are reading below the 80th percentile. While some students have a naturally longer learning cycle that would not be well-served by our accelerated curriculum, many gifted students simply don’t read or only read Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Some have a bit more variety, I suppose. These students might also read “Dork Diaries,” a series that’s strikingly similar to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The result? Gross underachievement. Parents stare at me in despair. Their child flies through these books. They can’t put the book down. That seems like a reader, doesn’t it? Not to me. This series doesn’t encourage students to naturally make cross-text connections. This series doesn’t develop vocabulary. It doesn’t help students develop a sense of self -- at least not the sense of self that we want them to develop. It doesn’t teach them to respect the people and world around them. It doesn’t encourage them to read other books. Many become stuck on the series and begin to expect the same crude humor, barely grazing the surface content, instant entertainment that the series provides out of every book -- creating a reader reluctant to read anything of sustenance.
Some may call this censorship. I certainly do not. I’m not prohibiting students from reading the series. I’m certainly not encouraging them to read the series. I’m absolutely not spending my minimal book budget on the series. There are billions of other books that I also do not purchase. Upwards of 1 million books are published each year. I certainly don’t purchase all of them - no one does. An elementary school typically (I hope!) doesn’t purchase romance novels filled with steamy sex scenes. My library doesn’t include “Fifty Shades of Gray.” I’m pretty sure it’s not included in most school libraries. It was insanely popular in its day, but school librarians didn’t rush out to buy it. Most schools have very extensive anti-bullying programs in place. Yet, schools provide students with a series that actually promotes bullying. Not me. I rebel.
I believe that my book selection is a reflection of my values, the values I wish to instill in my students, and the values of HEROES Academy.
I believe that books have the power to shape our children into the successful and respectable individuals that we want them to be.
I believe that books have the power to shape our children into the successful and respectable individuals that we want them to be. I also believe that books have the power to do the exact opposite -- to teach our children values and behaviors that we don’t want to see in them.
An estimated 1,000,000 books are published per year. Google estimates that there are about 130 million books in the world. So many books, so little time. Here are just a few books your reluctant reader might enjoy.