How to get kids reading

At the beginning of the school year I like to have a book talk with my students -where I share a bunch of the YA books I’ve read over the summer.  I find it’s a good way to model some different ways to talk about books instead of the usual;

“I liked it.”

“It was okay.”

“It was dumb.”

So I talk about plot and characters and genre, stuff like that.  Sharing the books I read is always a bit tricky, because some of them are books I can’t really lend.  I tend to read more YA aimed at the 14-17 set, and I teach 13 year-olds.  I didn’t used to think there was a big difference but there definitely is in terms of the big 3!  That’s drugs, sex and alcohol.  Much more of these in the older YA books.   I found this out the hard way when I lent my copy of Looking for Alaska to a student, only to have her father march the offending book (full of drinking and experimenting with oral sex) into my principal’s office.

My parents never censored what I read.  So I suppose I was a little surprised at his horror.  But I understand.  (After all, my parents also used to take us to nude beaches.)  Some kids are more sheltered than others and some parents want more control over what their kids read.  (As a side note, I think the way sexuality is explored in Looking for Alaska is brilliant and not at all gratuitous.  Great book -read it!)

So even though I don’t necessarily lend the stuff I read, I do talk about it and always make sure to mention that it’s available at the public library.  Because even though I can’t lend the physical book out, there’s nothing more enticing to a 13 year old than being told a book is “dangerous”.  Or that the content is too risque for their teacher to lend out.  I pat the book lightly, talk about how good it is, and then slide it to the side and watch them stare hungrily at the forbidden fruit.

I had this experience this year with Matt De La Pena’s book Ball Don’t Lie.  This book has great voice and a story that most of my suburbanite kiddos would find somewhat shocking, exciting, and enlightening.  I was especially excited because it has a male protagonist and a basketball focus.  So it sits on my “special” shelf where I hope it will entice some of my more reluctant readers to go get a library card.

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