I believe that students read more when they know what is available. Isn’t that what advertising is all about? Seeing what is available, and then being tempted by it? So I start each class with book talks. I advertise books. And then I pay attention to what students seem to like, so I can keep pushing the right books.
I do this every class, almost without exception, and when I might get ahead of myself and jump right into the lesson, my students remind me, asking why we aren’t starting with a book talk. It is part of our routine, and we like it.
I try to book talk a wide variety of books, from classics, to collections of poetry, to first titles in a series, to young adult fiction, to autobiographies and memoirs, to brand new releases, and to the more hard-to-categorize books.
I often share more than one title with each class, and if a student wants one of the books, I give it out immediately and replace that title with a new one for the next class, so I go through a lot of titles.
Some titles are claimed by eager readers right away, while others go back to the shelf. But some titles rarely get the chance to go back to the shelves because they are passed around from student to student.
One of those titles is Why We Broke Up, a Printz award nominee written by Daniel Handler. It’s a beautifully written and illustrated story that starts with the end, and the line “Every break up starts with a love story” gets potential readers interested right away. The rich illustrations are of the different mementos collected throughout the course of a relationship: ticket stubs, notes written on looseleaf paper, etc. They are little things that students can relate to, and the illustrations tug at their hearts. You might also recognize Handler’s pen name: Lemony Snicket.
Another title which got a lot of attention from my students this fall was PostSecret by Frank Warren. It’s a charming collection of postcards which reveal secrets from people all over the world, and my students love it. I had to hold a raffle for this one because so many students were clamoring for it. I like it because each page can serve as a inspiration for a quick write in their readers-writers notebooks, as the postcard confessions are raw and relatable. This one has what we call “spicy language” and many of the pages are for mature audiences, but I think it’s worth a look. I’m glad to have it in my classroom library.
The last one I’ll share in this post is Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan. It’s an updated version of the classic Snow White story, set in 1920s/1930s New York City. When I book talked this one to a ninth grade class, I couldn’t get through talking about it before I had students asking if they could have it first.
It looks like film-noir, which to my students, is all kinds of cool. Students respond to the pictures and to the familiar, updated, dark story. Graphic novel enthusiasts loved it, and then even passed it around to other students who hadn’t demonstrated an interest in graphic novels before. I called it a win.
I’ve noticed some students don’t think illustrated books “count” or are “real books.” They either shy away from them and limit themselves to more traditional books, or they don’t bring the graphic novels they are reading to class, and only read them at home.
So I’ve tried to make an effort to present more non-traditional, beautifully illustrated books intended for more mature, young adult audiences. I’ve tried to send the message that not only are they “real books,” but those of us who aren’t in the habit of reading them should branch out and try something new in the form of non-traditional looking books.
I believe it’s important to meet students where they are, especially when they are emerging readers. When teachers validate students natural preferences, we gain trust and credibility, which is important when we are recommending new genres and authors to them, helping them to build their reading lives.
It’s important when we are trying to teach them anything, when we are trying to build community in our classrooms. Talking about what matters to students is one of the most effective ways to build trust, and I’m happy to read and discuss these beautiful books with them.