Finding the Book That Hooks You

I think we, as both adults and teachers, often mythologise our reading histories. Our formative years with books tend to become a short trip down amnesia lane: we’d like to think it was spent reading ‘The Wind in the Willows’ in a tree house; or strolling along the riverside contemplating Thomas Hardy’s difficult later works. The reality likely is, for me anyway, somewhat different. I must have given up on loads of books before I found the one that finally got me. Beyond the standards I was studying at school, I struggle to remember the one book which hooked me on to reading, and I try to keep that in mind when encouraging my pupils to choose books.IMG_0619

What brought this to mind was an interesting piece of data I received from our school librarian recently. He handed me a sheet of paper which had the number of books issued to my S1 class (year 8?) since August. Highly impressive numbers indeed. Their weekly library visit is sacrosanct and I encourage them to read often and as widely as possible. However, on closer inspection, I noticed something really interesting. The ‘league table’ – for want of a better expression – of books issued to children corresponded almost perfectly to their reading ability. Surprisingly though, or perhaps not, those children who had taken most books out were the least able in terms of reading comprehension. Almost exactly in order.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. The best readers are reading Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking series, amongst others. However, the others seem to be trying lots of books for size and, perhaps, not settling on any one yet. Is that a problem? Well, no, I don’t think so. Yet. My standard response to kids who say they don’t like reading is they they don’t like reading ‘Yet’. They wouldn’t give up all chocolate because they didn’t especially like a Mars bar. My job is to help, advise, encourage them to pick up a book. Ultimately, like me all those years ago, they will read what they want. The important thing for adults is to never, ever give up. To say of a child that ‘they are not a reader’ is shameful, especially for English teachers.

At a recent Parents Evening I had a parent tell me that her son had started reading after a recommendation by me – Mal Peet’s ‘Keeper’ series actually – and while he’d hated me persisting with books and the library, he had now found ‘his book’. I’m unsure how often that happens  but I wonder how many kids never get there because we teachers give up on them. Despite the joys books gave to us, and all of the other benefits, we are too quick to label kids ‘non-readers’; and, somewhat ironically, we wring our hands when they struggle with comprehension in other curricular areas.

What we do with Personal Reading in English class is always a tricky one for teachers. How much time should we allow, if any? Can I afford the time with something they should be doing on their own? However, when we make these decisions we need to keep in mind the book which ‘got us’? Remember your younger self and the satisfaction you felt every time you found yourself in that ‘other world’ which no-one could share with you; remember how you felt when you eventually found a book you loved; then take your class to the library. And let them quit books now and again. It’s not a bad thing, really.


4 thoughts on “Finding the Book That Hooks You

  1. Great post Kenny. My library/personal reading periods are sacrosanct too. I’ve been particularly persistent with my S3 and was thrilled at parents’ evening when a father was so obviously delighted that I had got his daughter reading at last. We found “her book” and she hasn’t stopped since. If I can transform the reading of just one person in a class then it makes it worthwhile and I try to remind myself of that when I’m struggling to get others to pick up a book!

    • Thank you. There’s no greater satisfaction in hearing stories like that, is there? It’s why I wanted to teach in the first place.
      Appreciate your comments

  2. Enjoyed reading this!
    It reminded me of a highlight period of my life as a teacher when working in a Curriculum Development Team (03-07), While developing investigative and interactive approaches to reading in P3-5 some colleagues working with older children – P6 into secondary – came along to a workshop to see if the strategies we were sharing might be helpful for them. They were!
    To cut a long story short here are two links that may be of interest.

    One of the key aims was to create a community of readers who were happy to interact /share /collaborate with each other and develop confidence with strategies which would be useful for them as readers across the curriculum as they moved into higher stages of education and of course for the pleasure of reading for life.
    I also worked for about 6 weeks (after school) with a small group of 5th year pupils introducing them to the different roles/strategies. Initially they found it challenging to acknowledge what they found difficult – new or tricky vocabulary in particular. However as they embraced the idea of using these words in their own conversations and in class ( some had a ‘beat your own record’ approach to this!!) their ‘ownership’ of the vocabulary increased and their confidence grew. All of them said it was an interesting experience and commented that they had never been taught to read like this!
    Some have also used it at university level, particularly when studying languages! It’s helpful to revisit the text from different angles whether on your own or with a group.

    I’m currently working with early years children who have additional needs and delayed development, and creating a community of readers who love the fun of sharing stories in lots of different ways and exploring different techniques, art, music, rap, ICT etc. Their enthusiasm is great and they forget that they have difficulties when they are having such fun in activities!!

    We all have so much to learn from each other!

  3. Really enjoyed this, Kenny – thank you.

    I’ve taken the same tack with pupils who are reluctant readers, and when speaking to their parents – that it’s just that they haven’t yet found the book that lights their fire. But it’s out there!

    (I’ve finished the Game of Thrones book ‘A Dance with Dragons’ today and am feeling a bit traumatised that I have to wait until 2015 or later for the next one in the series….)

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