Day 8: Book Shopping

This March I’m “slicing” a piece of my day every day in chronological order,11454297503_e27946e4ff_h sequentially.

In an elementary school classroom, the carpet is a sacred space.  In addition to being the place for small group work, read aloud, book talks, club meetings, reading with pillows, reading side by side, the carpet is where we shop for books at the start of each day.
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Yesterday, I offered Tiger Rising to a club of readers who flinched at the length of A Fish in a Tree. The slim book, familiar author, and enchanting cover set them at ease. I handed each a book and told them the basic plotline:

“This is a story about a boy whose mother has died and a girl who gets bullied. Both are suffering. They become friends, and together they find a tiger, a real tiger, in the forest. Strangely, this tiger helps them discover how to deal with their problems.”

I used to think giving the plot to readers was cheating, ruining the story. But I’ve come to realize, book talks need to be like everything else in the classroom, differentiated. For some readers, I might not give them all of this information. Other readers might need more. Book talks are best when they engage and inform readers so that they can access the text meaningfully, independently. I want readers to dig into the story. For some, if they know what happens, they are free to think other thoughts. For this group of readers, I wanted them to connect with the problem and be intrigued by the strangeness and excitement associated with the tiger. Tiger Rising can be understood on so many levels, telling readers the plot and what to look for enhances the experience.

Each student picks up a copy knowing their job is to read until I ask them to stop. Before they commit to any book, I want them to feel they can and want to read it. That takes some time. And why not? When I’m in a bookstore I’ll sample a large portion of a book before I commit to it. That is what readers do.

I move to another group who has strong opinions about everything. They want to look at Brown Girl Dreaming. I’ve been holding this book back for a month. I wanted them to become comfortable with novels in verse before they got to this beauty.  I give them a quick book talk about its genre and form. Then, I remind them that this is the same author as Each Kindness.  “And The Other Side,” added Dani*. They open it. Then I hear, “Langston Hughes! His poem is in here!” The poem we had read last week was there.  Dani was glowing. So was I.

I returned to the Tiger Rising group. They look at me. “We want this one,” Frankie* says. I look at the rest of the group, “Do you all agree?” They all nod and smile. Before they take off, they plan how much they should read till the next club meeting.

Back to the Brown Girl Dreaming group. I interrupt and ask if there another book they want to look at. They point to a pink book, Journal According to Ratchet. I give them the background and form of the book. I alert them to potential troubles the book might present a reader and then, let them have some time to read.

I join a group of boys who had just finished Booked. They are eyeing Brown Girl Dreaming and Lena*, reading Rachet, moves it out of their reach.  Joe* asks for Eggs by Jerry Spinelli. He tells the other boys, “It’s about a boy and a girl, and they date.”  Lena* looks up at him and informs him they are just friends. A little deflated, Joe still takes the books and hands them to his partners.

Now, the two groups are clustered together on the carpet, reading, considering. In another five minutes I stop each group and ask for their thinking. Brown Girl Dreaming and Eggs are chosen. Plans are made, eight children and eight books leave the carpet ready to read.

The carpet is the heart of the classroom. It is the beginning, middle, and end of each day. Always surrounded by books.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here.