For a group of self-proclaimed non-readers, my classes are pretty amazing this semester. They’ve effectively created a community of readers, where they can share their reading without the worry of ridicule by their classmates–they’re all in the same boat together.
The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod (Series) by Heather Brewer
I blame this series on one of my first period students, JJ. He wanted a book about vampires, but he didn’t want to read Twilight, because he thought it was geared toward girls. The only other vampire book I had, Thirsty by M.T. Anderson, was already checked out by another student. So on one of my many excursions to Barnes & Noble, where I frequently make use of my educator discount, I picked up the first in the series, Eighth Grade Bites. Within a few days, he’d finished this book, come back to class raving about it, and already asking for the next one. This is the same kid whose papers I get with the symbols from this book on it. So he’s been through the first and second, another student in the class has read the first and is on the wait list for the second (he got distracted by Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar). This book is already on its third reader, and we’re a week into the second grading period.
The Hazelwood High Trilogy (Tears of a Tiger, Forged by Fire and Darkness before Dawn) by Sharon Draper
Tears of a Tiger I bought on recommendation from my mother years ago when I taught ninth grade. This is how I hooked a couple of boys who pretty much refused to do their independent reading. I’m currently on my fourth copy of this novel as my students tend to walk off with it. This is also on its third reader. I had one student come in on Wednesday–she was given Forged by Fire on Tuesday–and say she finished the novel. Then, she was upset because my copy and the library copy of Darkness before Dawn were both checked out. Two of the girls (interestingly enough) that are reading through this series were mad at me at the end of Tears of a Tiger because of what happened… mainly because they got into the novel, started to feel for the characters, and then a big event occurs and they couldn’t believe it. Have I mentioned that I really like my job?
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I present this novel by saying, “This is one of the best books I read in 2009. It makes my All-Time Top 5 list.” That right there is enough to get my students interested. There was so much interest in this novel that I went out and bought a second copy. Both copies from my library are checked out, and both copies from our school library are checked out. Many of the boys who come talk to me about what they should read next ask for books with adventure. The Hunger Games is the first novel I think of, followed quickly by the next series, and the book after that. And the kids are going through them like crazy. This one, and its follow-up Catching Fire are page-turners. Both students who have my copies checked out come to class with their questions and their thoughts on what “crazy” thing happened in their reading since I last saw them. A must read.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Series) by Rick Riordan
What’s funny about this series is that I didn’t recommend it because the movie was recently released. A boy asked for adventure, my copy and the library copy of the next book were checked out, and I thought, “What else do I have or know of that contains adventure?” And I had to think for a second. But let me tell you, they’re flying through these, too. The Lightning Thief is on its third reader, having been turned in on Friday. The student who started this viral read is now waiting on the third book, The Titan’s Curse, which I need to remember to take to school on Monday. This is another one they come in talking about. And what’s great, is that it’s a simple introduction into Greek mythology, something the 8th graders learn toward the end of the year. It’s usually a fun unit, and creates background knowledge for the students when they have to tackle The Odyssey as 9th graders.
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
One of the things I love about collaborating with people all over the country, whether it be via the Edmodo Classroom Connect project that Chad Sansing and I participate in, or via one of many PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) that I’m a member of, is that through that collaboration, I get to find out what other reading teachers and other students are reading all over the place. I bought The Maze Runner because some of Chad’s students were reading it, which I found out when our students were talking about their reads one Friday. This book is also on its third reader: two on my recommendation, and the third on recommendation from a classmate. When I talked to the student who checked it out on Friday, I asked him if he wanted to wait until Tuesday to get it. His initial response was yes. About 10 minutes later he comes to me and says, “If I check it out today, can I take it home over the weekend?” Yes. Please do. Wow.
A couple of other books that are very close to this status are No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman, Unwind by Neal Shusterman, and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney. These kids, these so-called non-readers are amazing me right now. I ask that they read three novels over the course of a semester. The idea is that they get through three and it’ll be more than they’ve read, for the most part. I have students who have already read three, and keep coming back for more. It’s a heady thing for a reading teacher. And it makes my job (harder) a whole lot of fun.
“Miss, I finished my book. What should I read next?” Because they want my help, and that makes me happy.
“Really? Already? Man, you’re making me work.”