“If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff.” – Remy (Ratatouille)
The same analogy applies to books. Not all books are created equal. Some books I wonder how they ever got published in the first place. Many are good. But then there are some books that are truly exceptional. Those books that really speak to you and that you connect with – these are the ones that are really worth reading and should become part of your “go to” read aloud stash.
I recognize that as educators the world over we are always pressed for time but I have always made it a point to keep read aloud as one of my non-negotiable balanced literacy pillars. There are weeks that I can get through two or three books, and then there are those weeks where I only manage to start one and it carries on. The point is that it becomes a part of our classroom culture. My students know that it is what we do, and they know where the read aloud books are displayed. It is something they look forward to. They scour the cover anticipating and discussing what the book might be about, making their own predictions, and they are very good at keeping me accountable. Especially when in a time crunch I say “we will read it tomorrow” and then tomorrow comes and the day slips by and then the protest erupts “but you said you would read it!”
When I started teaching read aloud was just something you did and I remember not being very mindful about the books I read. I thought a book was a book and maybe a quick Google search would give me a few titles I could pull and that would get me through. Read a little. Discuss. Done.
Then one day as I watched Ratatouille for the umpteenth time Remy’s analogy struck me and I thought “I don’t have the time to waste on books that are just blah.” It was a mind shift. A good book connects and serves as the launching off point for really rich conversations. Sometimes those conversations connect to curriculum, and sometimes they don’t. It’s ok. It’s the thinking behind those conversations that really matters and serves as evidence that the students are comprehending and engaging with the text in a way that “just any old book” won’t do.
Like everything, the more you practice the better you get. You become more adept at making those trans-disciplinary connections and you also become more adept at picking the right book for the right time. Having perseverance issues? Then choose a book that demonstrates the value of resilience. Students leaving to another country? Then choose a book about new beginnings and friendship. And don’t forget wordless picture books! Sometimes it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words. At the end of the day it’s not about the book. It’s about the thinking and conversations those books stimulate.
Finally, latch on to those who know more about books than you do. Talk to them. Ask them for their advice and opinions. People that love books also love to talk about them and want to share their love of books with others. Personally, I know that I have Erika Victor to thank. Thank you Erika! Not only for providing me with much needed advice, but also for so willingly sharing her wonderful book collection she has curated over the years. It’s a little like magic really. You need a book she has it (and miraculously almost always knows where it is too)!
So if you too believe that what you read matters then be purposeful and make it matter. My new mantra is “if you are what you read, then I only want to read the good stuff!”