Thursday, May 15, 2014

So Many Books, So Little Time

     Once upon a time, there was a boy named Leo.  Leo loved going to the library with his Language Arts class.  In fact, Library Day was his favorite day!  He would frolic amidst the shelves as if in a meadow of wild flowers, frequently pausing to thrill his classmates with a hilarious jest (or two).  If a girl was really cute, he might snatch up her pencil/binder/pom-pom hat and race away, laughing in that manner sure to capture her middle-school heart.

     Inevitably, though, these carefree moments ended with a dire warning:  "You have five more minutes to choose a book!"

     Eyes darting, heart racing, Leo knew it was time to act.  Plucking a text from the shelf at hand, he scurried up to the check-out counter just in the nick of time.  Whew!

     Back in the classroom, Mrs. McHale's students settled in for a little Silent Sustained Reading.  Only then did our hero lay eyes on the reading selection he'd made:  The History of Sugar.


     "Reading is so boring," he thought.

The End

     I love to tell this story at the start of each school year and ask my students, "Does Leo sound like anyone you know?"

     "Does he sound like you?"  

     Smothered giggles.  

     Every year, each student knows at least one "Leo."  But, the strangest part of this tale is that Leo, himself, has never once connected his aversion to books to the manner in which he chooses them. That's where we come in.  If you're lucky, you learned this precept early on in your teaching career:

No matter how many times or how many ways you explain it,
somebody, somewhere still doesn't understand.  

     I suspect that's how a surprising number of kids reach sixth grade unable to find a book worth reading.  Consequently, I've compiled a list of suggestions for them.  I give you that list today with three important reminders:  No matter how obvious an idea seems, you're going to have to explain it -- maybe even do a quick, illustrative activity.  Then, you must integrate it into your class routines.  Occasionally, you'll need to revisit and re-explain the concepts.  And after that?  Somebody, somewhere still won't understand.

How to Choose a Book You Will Enjoy!

1.  Listen to what your friends and classmates like. Every year, this is the #1 source of great recommendations for Mrs. McHale's students.

2.  Look on the whiteboard to see what Mrs. McHale is reading.  It's almost always a student-recommended book!

3.  Find an author you like. If you liked one book by that author, chances are you'll enjoy others as well!

4.   Find a series you like. It will keep you in books for a looooooooooooooong time!

5.  Find a genre you like. When you go to the library, explore those shelves first! (This presumes that your awesome librarian has organized the collection by genre.)

6.  If you are interested by a book trailer shown in class, check out that book!

7.   Lots of movies* are based on books. If you liked the movie, you'll probably like the book, too! (See How Hollywood Helped My Students Read.)

8.  Multiple copies of the same book mean that it was requested by LOTS of students! That's why your librarian bought extra copies.

9.  Look at the Local Bestsellers List posted in and outside of Mrs. McHale's classroom. People bought more of those books than any others in your local bookstores!

10.  Look for posters titled  "2013 Top Twenty Books."  These 20 books were the most frequently borrowed from our school library last year.

11.  Investigate "You May Also Like" book suggestions on websites like Destiny Quest,, Goodreads, etc. Those books are similar to the ones you've already enjoyed.

* You can find a FREE ready-made handout suitable for use at!

Don't miss our newest post: It's Never Too Late to Build Students' Reading Stamina