Summer is the best time.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the fall. Really. The beginning of the school year is so full of potential and possibilities, how could a teacher not love it?
But summer is traditionally my time for reading. And I get to read whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want. That is glorious.
Before I started teaching reader’s workshop, I didn’t worry about what I was reading. I read a ton of brainless detective fiction and thrillers all summer long, and I loved it. And I won’t apologize for it.
But no one was asking me what I was reading, and I didn’t have my students in mind. It wasn’t expected that I would talk to my students about my reading life, and even rarer that a student would ask about it. It’s wild to think about now; I don’t understand that as an English teacher, as a person who loves literature, I wasn’t a book pusher. I was an assignment giver. Erg.
Things are different now. Better.
I’m a book pusher, and boy does it feel good.
Now that I’m teaching workshop, I can’t help but think about my students as I pick up a book and begin to read. Is it a great first sentence? Could I book talk this one? How about putting it on a themed list?
Which means no more mindless thrillers… nothing too gruesome, nothing that I wouldn’t want to go public about.
A year ago I might have balked at the idea of this – that I was supposed to report back to teenagers regarding my reading life.
But now, I can’t wait to share it!
I’ve read thirteen books so far this summer, and it’s only July. I could have read more, I’m sure, but some summers I’ve read less. I call it a win, especially because I can talk to my students about (nearly) all of the books I have read.
I started with Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton. My husband had read it and recommended it to me, and when I got to my parents’ house in Oregon, my mother recommended it to me. How could I not with these two recommendations?
I know I’ve got some students who will enjoy it based on the fact that they loved Jurassic Park and Sphere, and it’s nice to have that “in” with some historical fiction, which can be a hard sell.
Next I read All the Light We Cannot See. It was a book club selection more than a year ago, and I somehow skipped it. How glad I am that I picked it up and tried it this summer. This time, I recommended it to my husband, and he loved it too. I look forward to sharing this title with students – watching the different stories converge was both fun and tense.
After that, I listened to Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. It was glorious. I was on a five hour solo drive in my convertible, driving through Oregon’s forests and high desert. I know that under these circumstances, any book would be fantastic, but honestly, this title is a winner. I’m more likely to recommend it to colleagues than teenagers, but I’ll happily talk about it with students. It made me laugh out loud, and it often hit way too close to home. It has one of the best first paragraphs I’ve heard in a while.
My next book was a YA, Openly Straight, recommended to me by my son. I’d wanted to read this one for a few months, and was happy to have a book to discuss with him. It is a great story about a teenager trying to figure out who he is and who he wants the world to see him as. Any teenager, any human, can relate to this struggle. It’s a beautiful book. I can’t wait to recommend it to my students.
Next was The Crossover, part of the Book Love Foundation Summer Book Club. I have to admit that I don’t always love books about sports, nor do I usually pick up books written in verse. This book pushed my thinking, and I look forward to sharing and discussing it with my students next year. Now I understand why a few of my ninth grade boys loved it last year.
I read The Silver Star by Jeanette Wells next, a book I didn’t even know existed until I found it on the shelves of a used book store. It reminds me of The Death of Santini and The Great Santini, and I think it will make a nice bridge of a book for some of my students who loved The Glass Castle, and might be able to get into some of Pat Conroy’s heavier novels. What I love about these books is that I can talk to my students about the power of writing. These children grew up in wildly difficult circumstances, and through writing, they found success, they found their own paths, and are now respected authors, and most importantly, respected and loved humans.
Since The Silver Star, I finished In The Woods by Tana French. I had read and book talked The Secret Place last year, and one of my freshman girls put in a ton of effort to get through it. I was proud of her and she was thrilled that she finished it. I look forward to talking to her about the rest of the series, and I think other students who love detective fiction will like this set of books.
After In the Woods I read Tigers in Red Weather, which was a really fun, quick read, and had some great nods towards The Great Gatsby. I also read spy novel Legends by Robert Littlel. One of my favorite summer reads is The Company, so I thought I’d try something new by the same author. I wasn’t disappointed. I also re-read A Prayer for Owen Meany. This is another title from the Book Love Foundation Book Club, and it shouldn’t need much introduction. If you haven’t read it, drop everything and read it. It’s that good. It also has a great first sentence.
Orphan Train is a book I finished today and can’t wait to book talk. It references Anne of Green Gables and Jane Eyre, it’s a quick read, and super-compelling. The main character feels alone, alienated, and wants to find a safe place in this world. I think all of us have felt that way in one sense or another, so it will be an easy “sell” to my students.
I’m still reading The Liar’s Club. For some reason it’s a slower read for me, so I keep going back to it between books. Maybe it’s the thread that will tie my summer reading together, I’m not sure. I like it, and it reminds me of The Glass Castle. I think I have some tenth grade girls who love a good memoir, so this will be a great match.
The last book on my list is the one I probably won’t talk to students about. It’s Find Her by Lisa Gardner. I like the author, and I’ve read several of her books over the last few summers. I’ll keep reading her books, no doubt. But reading it also made me realize that I don’t want to read the gruesome, serial killer thriller type of book as much I used to. I like detective D. D. Warren. I like her back story, and I generally really like detective fiction. It’s just that I don’t feel as comfortable talking to students about it as I do the other books I’ve read this summer.
Here’s the hopeful takeaway from this blog post: As I’ve chosen books to read this summer, I’ve felt that I would be a bit more public about my choices than I was in the past.
I think the same is true for students who are in a reader’s workshop class, and that’s the really important part. Maybe it’s too obvious, but when people – students, teachers, whoever – feel that they are going to talk about what they are doing, when they feel that someone else cares, they are likely to do better.
Last year, I watched my students stretch from middle school level books to young adult books to contemporary fiction. It’s not simply because they felt a sense of confidence. They also felt compelled to share with others, and that brings its own internal push.
I’m feeling that internal push to go public with my reading life.
I think the workshop model does that to all of us, and it makes us better readers. It makes us better thinkers. By being better thinkers, we become better readers.
I think going “public” is going to be really important. I’ll be careful, respectful of my students’ privacy, of course, but talk is what it’s going to be all about next year. Talk about books, about what we are reading.
I think we should all go as public as possible, because our next reads lists will become phenomenal.